Away from Hampstead village, on the heath, is a cluster of pretty white weatherboarded buildings. One of them is the Spaniards Inn. The country lane that passed the inn is now a busy road, it cuts through the pub and an 18th century toll keeper’s cottage. Buses, lorries and cars squeeze past one another, but as both buildings are listed, they can’t be altered.
Why Spaniard’s Inn? When pubs get to this age, fact and folklore become entangled. It was built in 1585 as the country house of the Spanish ambassador; or, it was later owned by two brothers, also Spanish, who turned it into a pub around the mid 18th century. Perhaps neither claim is mutually exclusive. The brothers fought a duel over a woman, who decided that neither of them were worthy of her.
The connection between Hampstead Heath and highwaymen is legendary. The most famous of them, Dick Turpin, is said to have drunk here and used it as a hide-out. According to the pub’s own information, his father was the landlord here in the early 18th century and Richard was born at the inn. Turpin’s father did run a pub, but in Hempstead, Essex. Furthermore, it seems likely the Spaniards became an inn some years after Dick was hanged in York in 1739. If Turpin’s ghost haunts this pub, as well others, it’s because he was a cruel, unscrupulous thief and murderer, who made most of his money by terrorising farmers and torturing their families. Nonetheless, a bar is named in his dubious honour.
Whatever the history, the pub itself is a fascinating old building and is wonderfully atmospheric. Low beams, dark panelling and creaky floors are typical of a nice country pub, however the Spaniards is in the metropolis and gets heavingly busy, particularly in summer. On fine days the garden is the place to be; nicely laid-out with plenty of tables, pergolas with climbers providing shade, and a lawn with a large cherry tree.
The ground floor consists a main bar with long counter and fireplace, a dining area and a small snug by the front door, which is a favourite hideaway and invariably taken. Upstairs is a gorgeous oak panelled dining room with an undulating wooden floor worn to a silky shine.