Sunday, March 19th 2017
After the usual Sunday shopping trip, we spent much of the day in dolce far niente, otherwise known as sweet idleness. Come the evening, we thought we had better bestir ourselves an earn our supper (morally, at least) by engaging in a little meaningful exercise. We took the trusty single-deck number 214 bus up Highgate Hill into Highgate Village.
Where South Grove meets Highgate High Street, one finds the Angel Inn and a couple of restaurants. In one of the latter we had supper before setting out on our ramble. Walking down the High Street afterwards, we came to Waterlow Park and entered through the gate.
The map shows the relationship between Waterlow Park and its better known neighbour, Highgate Cemetery, the final resting place of a number of famous names including Karl Marx. In what looks like a green mushroom, we have the park on the right-hand side of the ‘cap’ and the West Cemetery on the left, with the East Cemetery as the ‘stalk’.
Though somewhat overshadowed in renown by its neighbour, Waterlow Park is of interest in itself. For one thing, it merits a prestigious Grade II* listing in Historic England’s Register of Parks and Gardens. The notice board at the entrance gives us a succinct account of its origins and name:
Waterlow Park was formed out of the combined grounds of five houses; Andrew Marvell’s Cottage, Elms Court, Fairseat House, Hertford House and Lauderdale House. During the late 1800s Sir Sydney Waterlow, Mayor of London and respected businessman, purchased those properties and their grounds and subsequently bequeathed the 29 acre site to London County Council in 1889.
In Sir Sydney’s oft-quoted phrase, the park was to be a ‘garden for the gardenless’. For more information, see Historic England’s listing entry, Waterlow Park.
I am used to finding old drinking fountains, sometimes quite elaborate ones, in public parks, which offer a natural setting for such once useful sources of clean water. But what about this object? It obviously isn’t a drinking fountain as there are no spouts or basins. Is it possibly all that is left of an old pump? I cannot find any useful historical references to it and the question will remain unanswered for now.
There are three ponds in Waterlow Park, all fed from local springs. The one in the photo is called Upper Pond and resides within the area set aside for wildlife. The fencing allows people to observe the pond without interfering with its denizens.
At one end is a platform, provided no doubt so that water fowl, when tired of swimming and dabbling, can haul out for a rest and a doze. This pair of Mallard Ducks was illustrating its use.
When human visitors to the park need a rest, they too have an appropriate facility, not an island but seats protected from the weather with a hexagonal roof.
Referring to the map, you will see that the cap of the ‘mushroom’ is divided by a road called Swain’s Lane. The park lies to the east of the lane and to the west is the western section of Highgate Cemetery. The park has an entrance on Swain’s Lane with beautifully fashioned railings and gates.
In the background you can see the gatehouse entrance to the West Cemetery. The gates themselves are very decorative and finely made.
Beside the Swain’s Lane entrance with its gates stands the park lodge. Historic England distinguishes it with a Grade II listing (see here). It is certainly a handsome piece of work and rather more elaborate than is usual for park lodges. The listing text assigns it to the mid-19th century (which would mean that it was built before the park was created) and seems to suggest that it might have been the lodge of Lauderdale House, a mansion that still exists and lies within the park, to which it contributed its grounds.
Just opposite the park entrance is the gatehouse that provides an entrance to the West Cemetery, that is, the western portion of Highgate Cemetery. Built in 1838-9 and designed by Stephen Geary, it included mortuary chapels at either side. In style it is reminiscent of a medieval mansion with overtones of a Gothic castle. It certainly embodies the solemnity that attaches to the rituals of death and burial.
Further down the lane, sited on a corner at a crossroads, lies what one might be tempted to call a Gothic extravaganza but for the fact that it is actually rather beautiful (unless you are a member of that dedicated band of detractors of all things Gothic and Victorian). You might also be tempted to dismiss it as the home of a wealthy eccentric if you did not stop and decipher the legend around the archway. In rather overblown pseudo-medieval script, it reads ‘Holly Village erected by A G B Coutts AD 1865’. Village?
Yes, exactly; at least, if you think that a village may consist of half a dozen rather plush Gothic-styled houses that only the well-heeled could afford to live in.
Holly Village was the brain-child of Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts (1814-1906), the well known philanthropist. (For more about her, see, for example, here.) She commissioned H.A. Darbishire to design and build Holly Village in a full-blown Gothic style. The project seems to have been successful and people still live here in what must seem to be a community of its own within the wider community.
A small, unused-looking gate in the hedge was decorated with two carved heads, a man’s and a woman’s, respectively. The woman’s head showed wear and tear while the man’s was still smooth and showed stylistic differences. I wondered whether it was a later replacement for a damaged original.
A gap in the hedge allows a view of the interior of Holly Village. Is life there as peaceful as it looks on a quiet Sunday evening?
We have visited Highgate Village on many occasions before but this was the first time we had explored this particular corner of it. You never know what you are going to find until you find it!