A walk along Mill Hill’s Ridgeway:
the historical background to its houses and buildings by T. John Wright
We start at the junction of The Ridgeway with Hammers Lane, at the south entrance to Belmont.
Belmont was built in 1760 for Sir Charles Flower Bt. At the time he was Lord Mayor of London. It was built in the style of Adam with James Paine the younger as Architect. Just inside the entrance there are the remains af a small Gothic ‘temple’ (which rated a mention by Pevsner). Flower was generous and gave the land on which St Paul’s Church was later built. His baronetcy passed for one more generation to his only son and his estate then passed to his six daughters. Belmont’s ownership then passed through many hands, until in 1911 the house and grounds were purchased for £8,000 by A. J. Rooker Roberts who founded there a Junior School for Mill Hill School, and led it as Headmaster for 25 years before handing it over to his son Arthur. There has been continuing development of the grounds and buildings before and since the war. The School Chapel is near the north entrance. A. J. Rooker Roberts was the son of Reverend Edward Roberts, a Congregational Minister at Lavington Chapel, Bridport. “Rooker” was his mother’s maiden name, and her family trace their roots to their Rooker forebear who came to England from Holland with William and Mary in 1688.
Fifty yards down Hammers Lane stands the house named “Sunnyside” when occupied by Sir James Murray (1837 - 1915); a “Blue Plaque” Commemorates his residence there from 1870 to 1885. It was Reverend Doctor Richard Weymouth who had persevered in persuading Murray to join the teaching staff of the School, where he was immensely popular, through his vast and varied range of knowledge and interests. In addition to his teaching duties, he carried on with his philological work which led to his appointment as Editor of what eventually became the Oxford English Dictionary. He built a “Scriptorium” alongside his home, where his card index slips were sorted and stored. He left Mill Hill to continue his work full time at Oxford and died there in 1915. His Scriptorium was dismantled, transferred and eventually re-built in his memory in the quadrangle of the School, where it is now a computer centre.
Walking along the east side of the Ridgeway, we come to the “Sheep Wash Pond”, much in use when the Ridgeway was a drovers’ road for watering the cattle coming out of London and moving on northwards through Barnet, and for shrinking the metal bands of the cart wheels in hot weather. The pond may have been formed from a gravel pit. It has been lovingly and expertly preserved in recent years. Across the road is the Mill Hill War Memorial. Beyond the Sheep Wash Pond are four Church Cottages which date back to the 16th century. They were owned by the School from 1929 to 1989 but are now privately owned. The path to No 3 was once laid with schoolboys’ ink wells.
We now come to St Paul’s Church, built by William Wilberforce on the land donated by Sir Charles Flower. Wilberforce had retired to Mill Hill in 1825 and lived at Hendon Park on Highwood Hill. He did not wish to make the journey to the Parish Church at Hendon and decided to build a church nearer his home, much to the annoyance of Reverend Theodore Williams, Hendon’s Parish Priest. The style used was “Commisioners’ Gothic” and its status, a “Chapel of ease”. It did not become a parish church until 1926. Wilberforce had to leave Mill Hill in 1831 through ill health and died ten days before the Church was consecrated in 1833. The adjacent Hall was opened in 1931, and the Church School flourishes on the other side. In the churchyard is the grave of Reverend William Hardy Harwood, the first Minister of Union Church.
We cross the road to take advantage of the wider pavement and pass a series of the buildings of Mill Hill School.
The Chapel was built in 1898; the architect was Basil Champneys;
The new Favell Building, completed in the bi-centennial year of 2007;
The main hall, known as The Large (which incorporated the second Chapel completed in 1832);
The main School block of Sir William Tite’s 1825 buildings fronted by…
The Gate of Honour, erected in 1921 to commemorate 193 old boys of the School killed in the first World War, to whose names were added those of 121 killed in the second World War. Each year since, all the pupils of the School have lined up on Remembrance Day in the arc of the driveway to pass through the Gate in pairs in memory of those whose lives were lost.
Looking back across the road we see Cleveland and The Bungalow, two houses owned by the School and used by members of the staff.
Beyond those two houses, built no earlier than the late 19th century, lies The Grove, possibly the oldest surviving of all the houses along The Ridgeway, as it dates back to the mid or late 16th century. In the mid 17th century it was acquired by the Haley family, Quakers and landowners. The Quaker leader George Fox stayed with them on several occasions. The Haleys were related by marriage to the Nicoll family and both families were involved as “Moneyers”, - turning bullion into coinage for the Royal Mint. The last of the Haleys died in 1895; his daughter had married a Swede named Holm, whose son became owner in 1830, but died in 1846; his widow lived to 1891 and let out a part of the house as a shop (Scott’s). Mill Hill School bought The Grove in 1907 and since 1955 it has been the Headmaster’s House.
Passing on there is a rare glimpse through the hedgerows eastwards across the valley, which is still Green Belt land dividing Mill Hill’s Ridgeway from Totteridge.
Beyond two modern dwelling houses (one on this site of the old Kings Head Inn, demolished early post war in 1949), we come to Rosebank, timber and weatherboarded building which housed a Quaker Meeting House from 1678 to 1719, (which was eventually merged with the Meeting at Guttersedge, Hendon). The Hayleys at The Grove, the Nicolls and the Harmans at the old Ridgeway House were the three families involved at this time. (The building was bought by the School in the 1930’s but sold in 1987. Rosebank is now a private dwelling, but still in its original outward form, bearing a commemorative Blue Plaque.)
A few steps further on lies the site of the house named Jeanettes, a 16th century house to which Richard Swift, a curate at Edgware, came after being ejected from his living under the Act of Uniformity in 1662. At Jeanettes, he started a school which lasted until his death in 1701, having survived many imprisonments. Later in that century the house became the home of Lady Anne Erksine; she was a friend of the Countess of Huntingdon, who founded the Connexion bearing her name, and after her death in 1701, Lady Anne became a trustee of the Connexion Chapels; she was also connected with the Union of Friends and Evangelical Seceders, which was founded in 1728, and linked with Celia Fiennes’ group of Prebyterians which met at her house, Highwood Ash on Highwood Hill. The bare facts which have survived surely indicate how the area around Mill Hill’s Ridgeway was for centuries a haven for families who were not members of the established church. Jeanettes, before it was demolished in 1928, stood in the grounds of the next large house along the Ridgeway, which is called…
“Littleberries”. Its name is first recorded in 1574 and three centuries of constantly changing ownership followed. In the last stage of this phase of its history it was rented in 1880 by the Earl of Aberdeen, who there entertained William Gladstone on several occasions. On one such visit, Gladstone addressed the School on New Foundation Day, 1879. In 1885, “Littleberries” was sold to the Order of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul as their Provincial House. Alongside the house they built a splendid Chapel, often used for ecumenical worship in recent years. Sadly, however, the buildings have now been sold (the completion date being 31st August 2007), and the charitable caring and educational work of the Sisters is being continued across the road at The Priory, which the Order acquired in 1930.
Turning back towards the school, we go around The Angel Pond. There stand the Nicoll Almshouses, looking as they looked when they were built and endowed in 1696, albeit renewed again and again. On the tongue of land beyond the Angel Pond is the Methodist Chapel built in 1892, closed in 1973 and now occupied by the Brotherhood of the Cross and Star. The Chapel was built on the site of a structure known as The Iron Hall, built in the early 1870’s during the chaplaincy of Reverend Robert Harley; it was a Temperance Hall, used for Community functions and must have had links with the School as it was listed as the place for Services of Worship for the local Congregational Church in the Congregational Union Year Books of 1885 - 87, when Reverend J. Radford Thompson was School Chaplain. The house lined High Street, leading away from the Angel Pond has a house named “The Orchard”, built in 1924, which became the home of Martin Shaw Briggs, Architect and Author, who designed the two Village Signs which stand at both ends of the Ridgeway.
As the old High Street merges with the Ridgeway at its junction with Wills Grove, we come to the site of the old Ridgeway House, in which the Protestant Dissenters Grammar School was housed after its foundation in 1807. The house had been occupied from about 1525 to 1675 by a branch of the Nicoll family and then by a succession of other Quaker families, the Harmans, then Michael Russell, whose daughter married Peter Collinson, the renowned Botanist, who planted out the grounds with rare and wonderful trees; fifty years later this was the house acquired to fulfil the Founders’ vision for a new School “to compare with the best in the land”. The old Ridgeway house served as its base, with stables converted to serve as the School’s first Chapel, until it was replaced in 1825 by the Portico fronted building, where we go to end our walk.
T. John Wright