Little Known London - The Hampstead Pergola

  • Posted on 24th May 2017 by Guest - Emma

  • If you were to be dropped into a little-known place called the Hill Garden, you might look around and guess that you were on a glorious hilltop near Florence or perhaps in a quaint English country garden. But, no, this magnificent floral paradise, is, in fact, hidden away on London’s very own Hampstead Heath.
     
    The highlight of the garden is undoubtedly its pergola with its imposing stone structure, adorned with spectacular flora. Green vines wind their way around its columns and in the spring, lilac wisteria nestle along its arches overhead. Indeed, the Hill Garden is a unique little spot and its secluded serenity carries with a slightly eerie atmosphere. Whilst clambering its stairs and nipping through its snickets, all alone, you might almost imagine yourself as a character in a Shakespearian romantic tragedy, or a gothic Brontë melodrama.
     
    The garden was the vision of Lord Leverhulme, who owned the attached house. The soap tycoon started brands like Sunlight and Lux and began the organisation that has today become Unilever. More than a businessman, though, he was a philanthropist, who had many friends and enjoyed socialising with, and helping others. The garden was created in 1905-6 as a luxurious way for him to entertain his various guests. It was built just as the Hampstead Northern Line extension was being constructed – and they used much of the soil dug up for the tube tunnels in building the garden, making for easy disposal of the underground spoils – a handy Edwardian win-win.
     
    Left to fall into disrepair during the twentieth century, its more recent renovations have made it accessible, but have left it with a certain rustic feel, which only adds to its almost otherworldly charm. It’s certainly beautiful, but prim and proper it is not. It feels ever so slightly dilapidated and overgrown. Mary Berry might call it ‘informal’. If you stumbled upon it unawares, you might even wonder if you were the first to see it in a century, such is its secret, time-capsule-like atmosphere. It’s as close as you could come to a real-life Secret Garden.
     
    The Hill Garden pergola is one of the few places in London where it’s possible to feel transported in both place and time to somewhere quite astonishingly different to the rest of our modern bustling city. Once an extravagant Edwardian pleasure garden for parties and promenades, this rugged, mysterious paradise is easily one of London’s most enchanting hidden gems.


    (PHOTO CREDIT PETER O'CONNOR)

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