The Spaniards Inn is a historic pub on Spaniards Road between Hampstead and Highgate in London. It lies on the edge of Hampstead Heath near Kenwood House.
Built in 1585 as a tollgate inn on the Finchley boundary, the Spaniards formed the entrance to the Bishop of London’s estate – an original boundary stone from 1755 can still be seen in the front garden. These boundaries are still relevant today – the pub is in Barnet and the tollhouse is in Camden, both are now listed buildings and traffic is reduced to one lane between the two. A proposal to demolish the tollhouse opposite the Spaniards in 1961 was successfully resisted, partly on the grounds that it would lead to more and faster traffic.
The Inn remains a quaint, oak panelled and atmospheric pub with one of the best pub gardens in London which were originally created as pleasure gardens, with an artificial mound from which one could see views over London and even as far as Windsor Castle.
Dick Turpin is thought to have been a regular at the Inn and his father is rumoured to have been a previous landlord. What is certain is that highwaymen frequented this area and likely used the Inn to watch the road; at that time the Inn was around two hours from London by coach and the area had its fair share of wealthy travellers. Records from the Old Bailey show that on 16 October 1751 Samuel Bacon was indicted for robbery on the Kings Highway and was caught 200 yards from the Spaniards. A tree (now gone) at the end of the road was a famous site where highwaymen were hanged when caught.
The pub also has a great literary heritage. Not only has it been mentioned in Dickens’s The Pickwick Papers and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but it can count among its previous frequenters the artist Joshua Reynolds and the poets Byron and Keats. If you believe the Inn’s spiel, Keats allegedly wrote his Ode to a Nightingale in the gardens, and Stoker borrowed one of their resident ghost stories to furnish the plot of Dracula.
It is said the father of famous highwayman Richard (Dick) Turpin (1705 – 7 April 1739) was landlord of The Spaniards Inn and that Dick spent much time here, probably watching the road for potential coaches to rob.
It is thought that the Inn’s name may have come the Spanish Ambassador visiting it, or perhaps from two early Spanish landlords Francesco Porero and Juan Porero. According to legend Francesco and Juan fell deeply in love with the same woman and fought a duel over her. Juan was killed and buried near the Inn. It is thought that Juan’s ghost haunts the pub still. There are however two other ghosts often associated with the Spaniards Inn, a woman in white reputedly seen in the garden and a figure thought to be Dick Turpin haunting the road outside.
In The Haunted Pub Guide (1985), Guy Lyon Playfair was not convinced this pubs claims: ‘As you stroll across Hampstead Heath from Kenwood House you may or may not be overtaken by Turpin and Black Bess (his horse) as they hasten towards their favourite safe house. And late on a quiet evening you may be lucky enough to hear the sound of Bess’s hooves as they vanish into the night. This is in fact the only phenomenon to have been reported here. The Spaniards Inn is a delightful place……but it is far less haunted than it is generally thought to be’.
Many famous people are thought to have frequented the Inn, including:
John Keats (31 October 1795 – 23 February 1821) (poet)
Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson (13 November 1850 – 3 December 1894) (novelist and poet),
George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron (Lord Byron) (22 January 1788 – 19 April 1824) (poet)
William Hogarth (10 November 1697 – 26 October 1764) (painter)
Sir Joshua Reynolds (16 July 1723 – 23 February 1792) (painter)
John Constable (11 June 1776 – 31 March 1837) (painter),
Mary Shelley (30 August 1797 – 1 February 1851) (novelist)