Community Focus Trail: Ridgeway, Mill Hill in Barnet

By Community Focus | 12 August 2004
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Community Focus Participants

Community Focus is a specialist arts organisation in the London Borough of Barnet. It exists to encourage disabled and older people to participate in the arts in pursuit of education, recreation, personal development and comradeship - cultivating creativity, equality and strength in an inclusive and caring environment.

One activity that Community Focus has developed over the past two years is the ‘My Life – Our Heritage’ project. This has been in two parts – the first was to visit locations within Barnet that could offer an awareness of Heritage and that allowed participants to make photographic records of their visits.

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Photography Group

All the locations were selected because of their accessibility to wheelchair users and elderly people and because they also included - within a relatively short distance - features that were of historical or architectural interest. The second part then offered everyone an opportunity to record their life story and to comment upon what Heritage meant for them.

The Ridgeway Trail

One site that was selected was that of The Ridgeway, Mill Hill – London NW7. The name of ‘Mill Hill’ was first recorded in the 16th Century and The Ridgeway was then a track that ran through Middlesex Forest. It is probable that foresters established small settlements at points along this track but over time, the forest was cleared to provide timber for building as well as charcoal making and some of the cleared land was turned over to farming.

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Location - The Ridgeway

Wealthy landowners established large estates in the area and many large houses were built here throughout the 17th & 18th Centuries. Now, although Mill Hill is a well-developed part of Barnet, it still retains many areas of open space and The Ridgeway itself is relatively untouched.

Among those individuals who once lived in Mill Hill and are worthy of note – are Sir Stamford Raffles (who founded Singapore and also the London Zoological Society) – William Wilberforce (who for over 20 years led a Parliamentary Campaign to abolish the Slave Trade - which was achieved in 1807) and Celia Fiennes (who travelled on horseback throughout the country during the late 17th century and then published her journals - ‘Through England on side saddle in the time of William & Mary’). It is said that she may have been the ‘fine lady’ associated with the nursery rhyme - ‘Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross’.

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William Wilberforce

The Ridgeway Trail begins at its northern end (on the right hand side) with Holcombe House. This house was built in the style of Robert Adam, in 1778, for John Anderson. He was a Glove Merchant who was later to become a Lord Mayor of London. Some of the interior decoration was carried out by Angelica Kauffman, a Swiss artist who was recognised as having a precocious talent when she gained her first commission, a portrait of the Bishop of Como, when only 11 years old.

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Holcombe House

Moving further along, one can enter The Mill Field and view: St Joseph’s College. The College was built during 1869/71 by a workforce of Dutch masons and craftsmen. It realised a plan by Father Herbert Vaughan (later to become Cardinal Vaughan and then Archbishop of Westminster) to establish a Missionary seminary. Herbert Vaughan was ordained at the age of 22 – with five of his seven brothers and all of his five sisters also becoming priests or nuns.

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St. Joseph's College

Leaving The Mill Field one can view (on the other side of The Ridgeway), Belmont House. This house is one of the largest on The Ridgeway and was built in 1760 for a wealthy brewer called Peter Hammond.

As with Holcombe House, it was designed in the style of Robert Adam. Two later occupants of the house - John Wilkes and Sir Charles Flower - both became Lord Mayors of London. Further along in the grounds there is a small chapel or hermitage, built in the Gothic style.

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Belmont House

Remaining on the right hand side of the Ridgeway there is The Mill House. It is thought that this may be erected upon what was the site of a wooden built mill that stood here in the 1600s and gave its name -'Mill Hill' - to the surrounding area. Both of the existing houses were built in the 1700s and have had a variety of use since then, although the one still named as the old Post Office, did have that function when listed in maps of 1873.

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The Mill House

Moving along to the junction of Hammers Lane & The Ridgeway are Clapboard Houses. This small group of houses were built in the 1720s and provided both places of residence and of work – having served at various periods in time as a butchers shop, coach house, farriers and blacksmith.

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Clapboard Houses

Just past these houses there is a Blue Plaque to James Murray. James Murray not only taught at Mill Hill School for several years, but also spent more than 40 years of his life working on the creation of the New English Dictionary (later to be known as the Oxford English Dictionary).

The editors of this Dictionary had issued an appeal during the late 19th century for ‘men of letters’ to help them in their work. One person who did so and corresponded with James Murray - sending him thousands of entries for the Dictionary - later emerged as being a convicted murderer and certified lunatic, who had been committed to Broadmoor Asylum. This man's name was Dr WC Minor – an American Civil War veteran.

shows a round, blue plaque with the words: 'Sir James A.H Murray, schoolmaster, philologist and editor of the New English Dictionary lived here 1870-1885.

James Murray plaque

Crossing The Ridgeway to be on its left hand side - one comes to The Sheepwash Pond. The pond itself may well have been created when this was the site of a small gravel pit and it is thought that it would often have been used by passing drovers or farmers, when resting livestock or cooling the metal rims of wagon wheels. Warm days often bring into view basking terrapins that inhabit the pond.

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Pond sign

Further along are Church Cottages. The pathway at No.3 is faced with embedded clay ink wells - possible rejects collected from the class room desks of Mill Hill School and in use when steel nibbed pens and ink were the order of the day.

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Church Cottages

Next, St Paul’s Church. The Church was erected by William Wilberforce at a cost of £3,527 and 4 shillings. It was designed by Samuel Hood Page in a style then known as 'Commissioner's Gothic' - which aimed to produce functional and economic buildings, using brickwork that was then rendered with cement and painted. The very basic interior, including a gallery supported on cast iron columns, was designed to create a space within which as large a congregation as possible could be gathered.

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St. Paul's Church

Crossing The Ridgeway to again be on it's right hand side - one comes to Mill Hill School. The original school on this site was founded as a Protestant Dissenters' Grammar School and opened its doors in 1808. The existing building, designed by Sir William Tite, was erected in 1825 and is described as being in the Greco-Roman style.

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Mill Hill School

Finally - past the school - there is another Blue Plaque - to Peter Collinson. Collinson was a Quaker, Woollen Draper and Botanist, who traded with the American Colonies and through his business interests and his Quaker associations, he introduced many American plant species to this country - among these was the Hydrangea.

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Community Focus hopes that you have enjoyed this Trail. The 'My Life-Our Heritage' project has devised several Trails within the London Borough of Barnet and it hopes that other individuals or groups may avail themselves of the Heritage experience that they can provide.

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Community Focus Participant

Community Focus can offer guided walks or slide shows related to these Trails and if you would like any further information about this - then please contact us at: 020 8346 9789.

All photography and pictures courtesy and copyright of Community Focus.

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