Hampstead Pergola: London’s Prettiest Garden?
I realise this isn’t a groundbreaking discovery, but Hampstead is rather lovely isn’t it?
In a recent bid to explore a bit more of North London (I grew up South West and we Londoners can be very territorial) I re-visited the Hampstead Pergola and had forgotten what a truly stunning gem it was.
Escape The City
Hampstead has always been set apart from the dirty and polluted City below. Up until the mid-1600s it only had around 600 inhabitants.
The draw of clean air and space meant Hampstead was a suburban town by 1800, but today it retains a sense of separation from the rest of London.
The distant City and Canary Wharf skyline, viewed from Spaniards Road.
Even the climb up a busy road is glorious. I enjoyed a bit of urban safari – spotting a grey heron – at Whitestone Pond, one of the highest points in London at 134m above sea level.
But on to the main event…
Hampstead Pergola began with just a house. I say just, but it’s a pretty substantial one.
Known as The Hill it was purchased by William H Lever (later, Lord Leverhulme) in 1904. Leverhulme made his fortune in soap manufacturing and had become an arts patron, dabbling in architecture and landscape gardening.
So when he purchased some of the house’s adjoining land, he hired Thomas Mawson – celebrated town planner and landscape architect – to construct an extravagant setting for lavish summer strolls and garden parties.
Construction was pretty speedy, with the main section completed in two years, largely thanks to the Northern Line extension happening nearby.
With the contractors in desperate need for somewhere to dump the tunnelled spoil, they actually paid Leverhulme a small fee to get rid of it for them, so he happily arranged for it to be carted to Hill House, providing the necessary material for the raised garden!
Extensions continued after WWI, with the whole pergola, Summer Pavilion and viewing terrace completed in 1925.
Sadly, Leverhulme didn’t have much time to enjoy his finished pergola, dying in May 1925. The House and grounds were subsequently sold to Baron Inverforth and renamed Inverforth House until his death in 1955.
The building then became Manor House Hospital, but the gardens started to become overgrown and dilapidated until bought by London County Council in 1960.
When the GLC was abolished in 1986 the City of London Corporation stepped in to protect the Pergola, continuing restoration work. It was in a pretty sorry state at that point, described by The City thus;
“…many of the original timbers of the Pergola were twisted and rotted beyond repair and smothered by a profusion of climbing plants that had been allowed to grow unchecked. Much of the stonework was missing or damaged.”
Today the house has been split into private flats and – although still requiring considerable work – the pergola is Grade II listed and is a stunning London hideaway.
Visiting Hampstead Pergola
The gardens and pergola are most easily reached through Inverforth Court off North End Way, here’s a handy map below.