Springs on the Heath

Hampstead and Highgate have always been well known for their springs as a source of water for different purposes.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the springs were a basis for a busy laundry service for the growing population of London. Some waters were ‘hard’ (a high lime-content), while others were ‘soft’. These properties were used for starching linen.

Other springs containing iron salts (known as chalybeate springs) were thought to have medicinal properties and became a basis for health spas.

The waters for springs accumulates in the porous sands of the Bagshot Beds, which form the upper parts of the Heath. They absorb water like a sponge and allow rainfall to pass downward until it reaches underlying clay beds, at which point, groundwater flows laterally to emerge on the hill slopes as visible springs.

Springs flowing from the sand-clay junction then form the head waters of the streams of the Heath, all of which join up to become the Fleet River.

All springs reflect the types of rock that lie beneath the surface of the Heath and so help us to create the geological map of the Heath.

In winter and early spring, water can flow freely from the sands, and springs will be quite obvious on the hill slopes of the Heath. Later, it may not be quite so easy when the drier, warmer weather comes along. In some areas, however, there will always be a good chance of finding the spring-line.

Where are the springs?

Plant life will give the best clues. Look for areas of yellow irises and where the yellow buttercups are thickest. These colourful flowers identify ground that is permanently wet.

South Meadow, running down to the Ladies Bathing Pool, is one good place to look.

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Cross section X-Y through the above map:

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