Gospel Oak is an inner urban area of north London in the London Borough of Camden at the very south of Hampstead Heath. The neighbourhood is positioned between Hampstead to the north-west, Dartmouth Park to the north-east, Kentish Town to the south-east, and Belsize Park to the south-west. Gospel Oak lies across the NW5 and NW3 postcodes and is served by Gospel Oak station on the London Overground. The North London Suburb, Gospel Oak, has many schools around it.
The name Gospel Oak derives from a local oak tree, under which parishioners gathered to hear regular gospel readings when the area was still rural. The oak of Gospel Oak marked the boundary between the parishes of Hampstead and St Pancras, and was said to be situated on the corner of Mansfield Road and Southampton Road. The oak vanished sometime in the 1800s and was last recorded on a map of the area in 1801.
There are reports that the founder of Methodism John Wesley preached from the oak, with the 18th century farming population meeting there regularly. The small street named Wesleyan Place, off Highgate Road, was the original site of a very early Methodist chapel that was connected with the famous oak.
Local resident Michael Palin attempted in 1998 to re-plant a new oak tree for Gospel Oak in Lismore Circus, but the tree has not survived.
The history of Gospel Oak can be traced as far back as the history of Hampstead, which was documented in AD 986 by Ethelred the Unready to the Abbot of Westminster. Situated as it is in the southern part of Hampstead Heath, the area was, in years past, referred to as nearby South End Green. When the now-lost great oak tree of Gospel Oak became famous as a preaching spot in the 1700s, the area was referred to as Gospel Oak, and the name continues today.
The neighbourhood began serious development in the mid-1800s when Lord Mansfield, Lord Southampton and Lord Lisburne were the local landowners. Plans were drawn up for elegant streets radiating from Lismore Circus but after two railway lines were extended across the area in the 1860s the first buildings were two- and three-story cottages, based around present-day Oak Village. The area was for many years rather remote from the rest of the wider Kentish Town development and streets were not fully completed and the housing stock was regarded as relatively sub-standard.
During this early building period, there was a risk that Parliament Hill Fields (the southernmost part of Hampstead Heath, entered from the ‘Gospel Oak Entrance’ near Gospel Oak station) would be built over. In the 1840s, Lord Southampton’s estate initially proposed building on the fields, but a campaign led to the fields being bought in 1889 by the Metropolitan Board of Works as an extension to the already protected Hampstead Heath. The fields now host Parliament Hill itself, the Parliament Hill Lido, an athletics running track, a bandstand, café and various children’s play areas.
On the evening of 2 September 1861, an excursion train returning from Kew Gardens hit an empty train on the bridge next to Gospel Oak station. The engine left the line and plunged down the embankment, killing 14 and injuring 300.
A curious story of Victorian Gospel Oak relates to a story that appeared in the local press of the time, called "The Elephants of Gospel Oak". In March 1884, Sangers Circus was booked to perform at Gospel Oak (presumably on Parliament Hill Fields). Four elephants were transported by train to Kentish Town but on leaving the train, two of the elephants bolted and ran up Fortess Road, knocking over a child, running further beyond Tufnell Park station and ending up falling into cellars in Pemberton Gardens. The other two elephants were then drafted to pull out the trapped elephants using ropes. All four elephants then paraded down the streets of Dartmouth Park, accompanied by hundreds of onlookers, arriving back at Gospel Oak where the elephants performed to packed audiences.
Later development including the areas of the Mansfield Conservation area to the west of Gospel Oak station led to the neighbourhood becoming more respectable and solidly residential - although in 1909 when John Betjeman's family moved to the more affluent Highgate they obviously felt that they were a cut above Gospel Oak:
Here from my eyrie, as the sun went down,
I heard the old North London puff and shunt,
Glad that I did not live in Gospel Oak.
Bombing during the 1940s and post-war regeneration affected Gospel Oak considerably. During World War Two, the area around Gospel Oak station was bombed, and on the night of 16 November 1940, Mansfield Road School (Gospel Oak Primary School is now on this site) and other parts of Gospel Oak were bombed. The school was acting as a fire station at the time and 4 local residents died and many more injured. The present-day school was subsequently built on the site, and the damaged Victorian houses opposite were torn down to make way for the more modern estates that are seen today.
Topography: One of ‘London’s lost rivers’ the River Fleet flows hidden under Gospel Oak, following the line of Fleet Road, and crossing under Southampton Road, Kingsford Road and continuing along the line of Malden Road to eventually meet the Thames.
Gospel Oak is part of the wider Holborn and St Pancras parliamentary seat currently held by Labour's Keir Starmer.
Residential areasOak Village, and its neighbouring road, Elaine Grove, are some of the prettiest residential parts of Gospel Oak. These streets remain relatively unchanged since the cottages were built in the early Victorian period.
The Mansfield Conservation area, contained by Roderick, Savernake and Mansfield Roads contains the bulk of Gospel Oak’s larger terraced Victorian and Edwardian properties.
Lissenden Gardens, a mansion flat estate consisting of Parliament Hill Mansions, Lissenden Mansions and Clevedon Mansions, is a popular residential area of Gospel Oak, with its own interesting and diverse history, famous as the birthplace of John Betjeman.
Kiln Place, an estate in Gospel Oak, was built on a former brick kiln, called the ‘Gospel Oak Brick Works’.
The Dunboyne Road estate is an award-winning Grade II-listed modernist estate, designed by Neave Brown in the late 1960s.
Waxham, a low-rise estate block running along much of Mansfield Road was completed in the 1970s and is said to be the longest single block of public housing in Europe.
ChurchesAll Hallows in Savernake Road, Gospel Oak, is a vast hall-style church, designed in the early English Gothic style with aisles as high as the nave. It was described by The Times in 1914 as "the Cathedral of North London" due to its vastness. The architect was Henry Brook, originally the Church of the Good Shepherd, its foundation stone was laid by Mary, Duchess of Teck (mother of the future Queen Mary) on 23 July 1892. The church was consecrated in 1901 and eventually dedicated by the Bishop of London in 1914 once all building work was complete.
The Church of St Anargyre on Gordon House Road is a Greek Orthodox church serving the local Greek and Cypriot communities of Gospel Oak.
St Marks's Church was one of three London churches paid for by John Derby Allcroft (1822 - 1893).
St Martin’s, in Vicars Road, Gospel Oak, Grade 1 listed, built 1864-66. A curious-looking church designed by Edward Buckton Lamb and discussed by John Summerson in his Victorian Architecture in England (Norton 1970). The church was built at the personal cost of J.D.Allcroft to commemorate his late wife. It is a listed building which architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner described as "the craziest of London’s Victorian churches".
St Dominic's Priory Church, a Grade II* listed Victorian church in Gospel Oak, designed in accordance with the Rosary Prayer and administered by friars and nuns - said to be one of the largest Catholic churches in London.
Leisure and recreationThe Gospel Oak entrance to Hampstead Heath leads immediately to Parliament Hill Lido, built in 1937 at a cost of £34,000 (the costliest of its type) and is now a popular Grade II listed outdoor swimming pool.
The southernmost part of Hampstead Heath, accessed from Gospel Oak also contains many other leisure facilities, including an athletics running track, various children’s playgrounds, paddling pool, and Hampstead Heath’s Education Centre. Wing Chun Kung Fu and other martial arts are on offer at SAS Martial Arts, on Gordon House Road.
Notable shopsKristin Baybars’ Toy Emporium, at 7 Mansfield Road, is a Gospel Oak attraction and is famous for beautifully hand-crafted doll’s house furniture and old-fashioned toys.
Public housesThe Old Oak is the most central public house in Gospel Oak, which is a 1950s rebuilding of an original corner-sited inn called the Old Oak Hotel built as an integral part of the Oak Village estate in the 1850s.
The Southampton Arms is a short walk down Highgate Road, winner of CAMRA’s 2011 London pub of year, famous for its very large selection of real ales and ciders, and traditional piano nights.
The Bull and Last, across Parliament Hill Fields and on the edge of Dartmouth Park, is a historic listed gastropub famous for its Observer Food Monthly award-winning Sunday lunches.
SchoolsGospel Oak Primary & Nursery School
Parliament Hill School
William Ellis School (founded in 1862 as "Gospel Oak Schools")
Fleet Primary School
Gospel Oak is well-served by the London Overground network, with Gospel Oak station being the start of the Gospel Oak to Barking line as well as an intermediate stop on the North London Line. The nearest station with a service into central London is Tufnell Park station on the London Underground Northern line.
Gospel Oak station dates back to 1860. The name of the current Gospel Oak station in Mansfield Road/Gordon House Road has changed over the years. When it first opened in 1860 it was the very first station in the area that took the name ‘Kentish Town’ which it held until 1867 when it was renamed ‘Gospel Oak’ due to other stations taking the Kentish Town name. Given Gospel Oak station’s immediate proximity to Parliament Hill (just an 8-minute walk from station to summit), there was a movement in the 1950s to rename Gospel Oak station Parliament Hill station – a proposal which was quashed by local residents.
Route 24 from Pimlico to Hampstead Heath runs through Gospel Oak and other bus routes passing through Gospel Oak include the 46, 214, C2 and C11.
PastJohn Betjeman, poet
George Orwell, novelist and journalist
Richard Henry Tawney, socialist and founding father of the welfare state
Frederick Tatham, sculptor and painter
Anthony Green, senior Royal Academician and painter
Denny Wright, Jazz guitarist and composer
Jerome K Jerome, novelist, editor (lived on site of Bacton Low-Rise)
PresentMichael Palin, comedian, actor, writer and television presenter
Alistair Campbell, British political aide and Labour Party strategist
Fiona Millar, journalist
Edith Bowman, radio DJ and television presenter