Regular readers of this blog will know that I spend a lot of time eulogising about the wonderful trees to be found all over Hampstead Heath – and indeed there are wonderful trees on the heath. But not everyone thinks that all of them should be there.
Two hundred years ago the upper slopes of the heath were all but treeless – as the name would suggest and as this Constable painting from the 1820s shows.
When Humphrey Repton landscaped the Kenwood estate, lying just below Sandy Heath, in the 1790s he included carefully planted trees and lakes to give interest. But the focus from the house was the view over London – ‘the most magnificent that can be conceived’ – as this sketch in his Red Book shows.
As the notice on the Kenwood terrace tells us, ‘Repton moved roads, planted woods and redirected water courses to complement the house and make the estate seem endless. Before he began work the view towards London was already celebrated. He opened up the valley further and built this terrace as a viewing point. It looked towards a pond and resevoir, cleverly joined together to give the illusion of a wide river flowing towards the city.’
Well, the lake/pond/resevoir is still there…
..but you can scarcely see it from the terrace (it is just down there between the middle group of trees)…
..and no matter from where on the terrace you look, the view of London has disappeared behind a thick barrier of trees.
There are those who would like to see all those trees gone – but they are greatly outnumbered by the tree preservationists. However, the whole issue of tree management on the heath is a fraught one and has been for centuries – remember the objections to Sir Thomas Maryon Wilson’s plantings around his ill fated villa development at the Viaduct Bridge. Many are the campaigns that have been fought, and still are, on the issue.
For those who are interested in how the heath – trees, ponds, meadows, bogs and heath – is actually managed, see The Heath and Hampstead Society’s Heath Vision. It is now 15 years old but not a lot has changed.
The reason I thought of this was that yesterday evening I walked past the Viewing point above Kenwood. The evening sun was just catching the spiky buildings of the city, gleamingly white against the dark cloud above.
I think Repton would have cleared those trees in the near distance. With them gone we would have a much better view.
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