Hampstead’s Hidden Secret – The Hill Garden & Pergola

Hidden in one corner of Hampstead’s West Heath is what must be the country’s most unusual garden feature – an extensive pergola built for Sir William Lever between 1905 and 1925 to compliment his Edwardian mansion, The Hill.

The Hill Garden that surrounds the pergola structure was the result of the acquisition of the third and fourth parcels of land adjacent to the mansion, which together allowed Lever to create substantial ornamental gardens around the building. In order to raise this steep plot to the required level for the pergola to be built took back-breaking effort by hundreds of navvies, and construction was interrupted for several years by the Great War. By the time the final sections of the gardens were completed, a Summer Terrace and a viewing platform to provide views over Hampstead Heath, Lever (by that point Lord Leverhulme) only had a few months to enjoy them before his death in May of 1925. The mansion was purchased by Lord Inverforth in that year and renamed Inverforth House, and he lived there until his death in 1955.

While the house went through several uses in the following years, the pergola and gardens had been largely neglected ever since the end of the Second World War, so the then London County Council stepped in to buy the gardens in 1960. Opened to the public in 1963 as the Hill Garden, the slow restoration of the pergola continues to do this day…

If you’re interested in what happened to Inverforth House, it became Inverforth House Hospital, a women’s hospital specialising in orthopaedics, which unusually was funded by the Trade Unions rather than falling under the control of the NHS. Sold off in 2001, the main house has now been subdivided into five luxury apartments – it and the other two houses on the site are now part of a private gated community…

I have to say that the Hill Garden and pergola form one of the most delightful public gardens in London – almost the entire length of the pergola itself offers commanding views over the wooded hills of Hampstead Heath and it has lots of interesting nooks and crannies to discover – for example, you’ll discover that the Italianate gardens below which appear inaccessible as you’re walking around can actually be reached by a spiral staircase which you come across right at the end of the walkway. This leads you down into a series of cool, shaded archways and the pretty gardens beyond.

You really should visit if you find yourself in this part of North London – it is a national treasure, and no mistake. In addition to the photos in the post you’ll find all of the other images I captured here on Google+.