This is Millfield Lane, now a delightfully shady path running up the eastern side of the heath from Highgate West Hill , past the Ladies Bathing Pond, to Kenwood. But, way back, it formed the boundary between the Kenwood Estate and Fitzroy Farm.
On the 1940 map above (found on the excellent London Inheritance – A private History of Public City) you can see it running up to Kenwood while you can also see Fitzroy Park, the original carriage drive through the Fitzroy Farm estate, branching off to the right.
(In the early 19th century, btw, Millfield Lane became the romantic haunt of romantic poets including Leigh Hunt and Messers Keats, Lamb, Hazlitt and Coleridge who met there to read each other their poetry.)
Fitzroy Farm was a 100 acre estate, encompassing the original Sherrick’s Hole farm, developed by the Hon. Charles Fitzroy, 1st Baron Southampton in the late 18th century. A ‘handsome square red brick’ Palladian villa with extremely fine grounds including a Ferme Ornée – ‘a garden in which an operational farm is included in the overall design and where the farm both contributes to the effect and is itself planted up with ornamental trees and hedgerows’. (Michael Symes in his 2006 A Glossary of Garden History)
There is an excellent account of the Fitzroy Ferme Ornée in Barbara Deason’s article on the London Parks & Gardens Trust site. – including the rivalry between Lady Southampton and her neighbour Lady Mansfield at Kenwood as to who could make the most/best butter from their vaches ornées!
Sadly the Fitzroy Farm dairy has long since disappeared but this is the dairy at Kenwood – thanks to English Heritage for the image. You can go and see it as it is now a visitor centre – or you could if were open.
By the early 19th century the Southamptons had lost interest in their Hampstead estate and put it up for sale. Some of the land was sold to build two ‘elegant villas’, Caen Wood Towers (now Athlone house) and the Elms, both of which are still standing. Then, to prevent unsightly development on his doorstep, the fourth Earl of Mansfield at Kenwood bought the rest.
It remained with the Mansfields until the 1920s when the money was raised to buy most of the land for public use as part of Hampstead Heath. (For the details of this amazing story, along with countless others of how Hamsptead Heath was saved from developers (private and municipal) who wanted to cover it with housing estates, see Helen Lawrence’s fascinating How Hampstead Heath was Saved.)
However, the deal was not simple. St Pancras Borough Council bought some of the land for allotments while the balance was eventually sold to the owners of Caen Wood Towers and the Elms but under stringent covenants that they were only to be used as private gardens and never developed.
So, what of today?
Well, the allotments are very much there and much sought after. Why wouldn’t they be – on a private road and a sunny hillside overlooking Hampstead heath.
As are with a row of four slightly twee country cottage style, but obviously very plush, houses – not quite sure how they came to be there – and….
..the North London Bowling Club – closed now of course by the virus so I could only peer through the railings.
And Fitzroy Farm?
Well, there is still a house called Fitzroy Farm, just beside the bowling club. But it hides behind large wooden gates so that this is all that you can see of it.
And, nothing new here, a battle is still being waged over its owner’s development ambitions. Back in 2008 a major victory was won by local campaigners to prevent the farm being turned into ‘a dream home’ or ‘ a vile pastiche of Kenwood House’, depending on your point of view. (See the Camden New Journal report)
But a house there definitely is – and works are still very much going on. This is the back entrance in Millfield Lane which I caught with the gates open the other day. Maybe the ‘two storey basement with a swimming pool and a leisure complex’ is not entirely dead….
Next up, but possibly not tomorrow, Fitzroy Park.
24th July. As I was walking along Millfield Lane yesterday, the builders had the gates the the new Fitzroy Farm fully opened so I grabbed the moment to look and to snap. Not exciting…. Well, not in my book anyhow.
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