Belmont Mill Hill Preparatory School (Barnet)
Belmont Mill Hill Preparatory School is on the site of Belmont House, built in 1772. When the estate was sold in 1911 it comprised over 14 ha. of land, including c.4.05 ha. of pleasure grounds. Belmont School opened here in 1912 and its grounds contain remnants of the earlier planting and an early C19th gothic folly, although changes have been made over the years to accommodate new buildings including the chapel of 1925, sports and other educational facilities. Today the school grounds comprise the original house, school buildings, quadrangle, sunken garden, Master’s Lawn, open areas and extensive playing fields, as well as wooded areas, a pond used by a local angling club, a smaller pond and wild life area. There are numerous fine mature trees and also a number of younger trees with plaques commemorating particular pupils or events. The grounds around the main buildings are particularly well planted.
- Previous / Other name:
- Belmont House
- Site location:
- The Ridgeway, Mill Hill
- NW7 4ED
- Type of site:
- Institutional Grounds
- Open to public?
- Opening times:
- Special conditions:
- Public transport:
- Tube: Mill Hill East (Northern) then bus. Rail: Mill Hill Broadway then bus. Bus: 240, 251.
The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/02/2012
Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.belmontschool.com
Full Site Description
Belmont School is situated 10 miles north west of central London in Mill Hill Village on the Ridgeway, a mile long ridge over 400 feet above sea level, close to the borders of Middlesex and Hertfordshire. Mill Hill was once part of the ancient Manor and Parish of Hendon, known as Lothersley, which was given by Dunstan and by Edward the Confessor to the Abbots of Westminster. The Ridgeway has been a thoroughfare since ancient times linking London with St Albans and beyond. The fields all around were important farming areas for the cultivation of cereal crops, especially hay, oats and barley for the horses providing transport serving London and the surrounding areas. From the C17th Mill Hill attracted Protestant Dissenters, Non-Conformists and Quakers. Subsequently numerous other religious establishments grew up in the area, including St Joseph’s College (q.v.) and St Mary’s Abbey, immediately opposite Belmont. In 1830 William Wilberforce, who lived nearby in Highwood Hill, established St Paul’s Anglican Church (q.v.) on the Ridgeway.
The earliest reference to this site is in 1741 when the then owner William Jarman of Hendon died and bequeathed the 'said house, with outhouses, garden and appurtenances and freehold and copyhold fields nearby and all my freehold estate in Hendon' to his son William for life, and thereafter to his son’s male issue. Nevertheless the son, William Jarman, who, like his father, was a distiller, very shortly sold the house and grounds, then extending to 24 acres of arable land, to John Rayner of Old Fish Street, London. It appears, however, that this deed of sale may have been a fiction to enable William Jarman to secure the freehold for himself without the limitation of only a life tenancy because in 1768 William Jarman sold the house and site for £80 to Peter Hammond, a brewer of St. Martin in the Fields.
Hammond was a friend of the Jarman family and had married Ann, one of Jarman’s daughters. Hammond was based in Long Acre, with a town house in Bloomsbury Square. His brewery, Combe & Co Ltd, eventually became a part of Watney, Combe Reid & Co (later Watney Mann). After the sale Hammond acquired adjoining land and by 1772 the site amounted to about 33 acres, including a 'house, offices, coach house, stables, yards, melon house, slips and part of the pleasure ground'. Shortly after the purchase, Hammond commissioned the design of a new house. Although sometimes ascribed to Robert Adam, Hammond had subscribed to a volume of designs in 1767 by James Paine senior, an eminent architect, and he subsequently instructed the practice to design and build a new house for him at Mill Hill. The commission was entrusted to James Paine junior (1745-1829), and while the resulting design owes much to the father’s style, there were a number of notable touches of his own. Paine junior was destined for a bright career in the profession until he fell out with his father. Belmont in Mill Hill is his only known completed commission and although the building was very well received, Paine eventually left the architectural profession and became a modest topographical watercolourist.
The house has been described as a distinctly individual version of the developed Anglo-Palladian villa, with a circular hall, two oval lounges, attractive hand-decorated ceilings, a circular wrought iron staircase and some fine curved doors. An original watercolour for the façade is in the British Library, but the finished design departed somewhat from this original proposal. The house, which was un-named, was built in 1772 and is the basis of the school buildings today.
In the following years up to 1792 Hammond continued to buy land in Mill Hill, particularly around the property along the Ridgeway and in 1791 he served as reeve to the Manor. Hammond died in 1794, leaving a life tenancy to his sister-in-law Jane Jarman, who herself died the following year and the property then went to Hammond’s daughter Ann, who in 1768 had married Somerset Davies of Ludlow. Ann and Somerset Davies then let the house and lands to a series of tenants, one of whom, from 1799 to 1801, was Rufus King, a friend of William Wilberforce and American Ambassador to the Court of St James from 1796 to 1803. In 1801 Ann Davies conveyed the house and 83 acres including six cottages to Robert Anderson, a wine and wool merchant. He became bankrupt in 1803, when the estate was bought by Captain Robert Williams.
Between 1803 and 1812, Williams commissioned the construction of a Gothic building at the east end of the grounds at a cost of more than £1,000. Probably originally designed as a chapel with interior mouldings and recesses, the building has been variously described as a dairy, a folly, a garden building, a garage, a bicycle shed, a pottery, a cottage ornée, a temple, a hermitage and even a night shelter for the Home Guard in World War II. It is currently used as an office and store. Its origins and usages have excited much comment in specialist publications, including in particular ‘Follies Magazine’ issue of Summer 2009. Brayley & Brewer’s 'Beauties of England and Wales' talks of a Gothic dairy with splendid decorations. Pevsner in 'The Buildings of England: Middlesex' refers to a pretty early C19th Gothic cottage or hermitage. It has also been noted that the design of the building makes it appear larger and further away than it actually is.
Captain Williams died in 1812 and was buried at Hendon Parish Church (q.v.). The property was then bought by a Robert (or David) Pryer (or Prior), on whose death in 1820 the property was bought by Sir Charles Flower Bt, a former Lord Mayor of London from 1808 to 1809. Flower had made his fortune supplying the Government with provisions during the Napoleonic Wars and later he developed other business interests, including a large financial holding in Watney, Combe, Reid & Co, of which he had become a director in 1811. That company incorporated Combe & Co, the brewery of which Peter Hammond, who had commissioned the building of Belmont, had been a director.
The map published by Francis Whishaw in 1828 clearly shows the site as Plot 26 and for the first time the property is named Belmont House, and the site has an area of some 35 acres. Sir Charles added considerably to his land holdings and by 1828 he owned a total of 441 acres in the area, as well as estates in Essex and Oxfordshire. He gave a portion of land fronting the Ridgeway for the building of St Paul’s Church, which was funded by his near neighbour William Wilberforce. Sir Charles died in 1834 and the property and the baronetcy were inherited by his son James, who did not live in Mill Hill, preferring his house in London and his estate at Eccleston Hall in Suffolk. The property was then let to a series of tenants, including from 1841 to 1845 the second incumbent of St Paul's Church, Revd. Bartholomew Nicols with his wife and seven children. Sir James died in 1850 and his sister then lived at Belmont for three or four years, followed by Luke Trapp Flood, JP, DL, a land proprietor, and then in 1863 by Thomas Cave, M.P. for Barnstaple, whose son George spent his childhood at Belmont and subsequently became Solicitor General, Home Secretary and Lord Chancellor.
In 1867 James Macandrew took possession with his wife and five children. A wealthy Far East merchant and Chairman of the National Bank of New Zealand and of the Indo-China Steam Navigation Company, Macandrew purchased the property in 1875 from the trustees of the late Sir Charles Flower. After his death in 1902 the house stood empty for some years and it was sold in July 1909 for £6,000 to a widow Louisa Harrison. The title deeds showed a total area of about 35 acres, of which 24 was pasture. The conveyance plan clearly shows the layout of the paths as they are now and the garden area planted with trees. Five days after the conveyance to her, Louisa Harrison conveyed the property to a Baron Alexander Gabriel de Bernicey for £11,000, with Louisa Harrison lending the money for the purchase. Louisa and Baron de Bernicey married in May 1910 but the Baron was soon overwhelmed by debts of over £31,000, largely arising out of horse racing and gambling. Belmont was mortgaged, re-mortgaged and given as security until in 1912 one of the creditors exercised his right and sold the property for £6,700, probably just enough to cover the amount of the debt owing to him.
At its sale in 1911, the Belmont estate comprised over 14 hectares of land, of which c.4.05 hectares were described as 'pleasure grounds'. The purchaser was Arthur James Rooker Roberts, an old boy of the nearby Mill Hill School (q.v.), which had been founded in 1807, to which he had been sent because of the favourable fees granted to the sons of Non-Conformist ministers. After leaving Mill Hill School, Rooker Roberts went to Jesus College, Cambridge to read Modern History and he then became a teacher at Blundells, an independent school in Devon, setting up a small junior boarding house with his new wife Pattie Vincent. By 1910 Mill Hill School, worried about numbers of pupils, had began plans to establish a Junior House nearby and Rooker Roberts entered into correspondence in early 1912 with his Old Millhillian contemporary Dick Buckland, the School Treasurer. After initial doubts about the suitability of Belmont, Rooker Roberts was licensed to set it up as a Junior House for up to 10 pupils, to be increased to 30 if the premises could be made fit. Although Belmont House had been empty for some 10 years and much renovation and alteration was needed, Rooker Roberts nevertheless went ahead with the purchase and the School opened in September 1912 with just one pupil, Harold Pearse Soundy, who later inherited his father’s flour milling business and became responsible for supplying flour to the whole of south-east England during WWII.
Numbers of pupils increased rapidly and in 1919 it was decided that Belmont would become the Junior School rather than the Junior House, with the Governors of Mill Hill School having supreme control but Rooker Roberts having supreme authority in the House. In that year, the first block of 4 classrooms was built at a cost of £5,037. In 1923 the space between the old house and the classroom block was mostly filled with a new building designed by John Carrick Stuart Soutar, a Scottish architect who was a major architect of the buildings at Hampstead Garden Suburb (q.v.). The cost of the new building was just over £9,000 and it took 9 months to build. Later, in 1937 the first block of classrooms was connected to the Soutar building. Approval was given very shortly after completion of Soutar’s new building for the construction of another, but very different, building, the Chapel. Also designed by Soutar, the Chapel came into full use in January 1926, having cost approximately £7,000. In 1934 funds were raised to enable an organ to be installed. Soutar was also commissioned to design additional classrooms and this became the cloister block. Work began in May 1928 and was completed by January 1929. The Cloister Block completed the playground quadrangle of 1923, and in 1929 completion of the masters' hostel enabled all staff to live on site.
An open-air swimming pool was constructed in 1933, opened in July of that year by Princess Alice of Athlone, but in 1985 maintenance costs were considered to be too high and use of the pool ceased. Eventually the pool was filled in and the site is now used as an additional car park. Belmont pupils now use the new Dame Angela Rumbold swimming facilities at Mill Hill School. The handsome changing rooms at Belmont, however, still remain.
One particular tree at Belmont deserves special mention. A magnificent specimen of Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani) used to grow on the Master’s Lawn and was the pride and joy of the School. It was originally thought to have been planted by Sir Charles Flower at the beginning of the C19th but expert opinion later suggested about 1765 as more likely. A watercolour by Rooker Roberts shows the tree in its late prime with a height of about 85 feet, but in 1977 its height was reduced for safety reasons. In 1973 a parent gave the school a sapling of an Atlas Cedar (Cedrus atlantica) to plant near the Cedar of Lebanon with a view to replacing it when it finally had to go. The Cedar finally had to be taken down in 2005 and its stump is concealed by a Rhododendron bush. A slice of the old tree has been kept and is now mounted and on display in the rear drawing room. In 2006 a new Cedar of Lebanon was planted.
Rooker Roberts retired in 1937 and in 1939 at the outbreak of war Belmont and Mill Hill School were evacuated to Cumbria. Rooker Roberts came out of retirement in 1940 to become Headmaster of Mill Hill School but he died in 1943. In 1946 the school returned to Belmont.
The walled garden, about 1 acre in size, originally supplied vegetables and fruit and other produce to the house and subsequently to the school. This use continued until the 1960s but increasing labour costs made this uneconomic and for many years the garden was leased to a tree nursery company. That arrangement came to an end in the 1970s and the site then became derelict until recently when it became used as the gardeners’ and maintenance stores and workshops for the Mill Hill School Foundation, serving both Belmont and the senior Mill Hill School almost opposite.
Expansion continues today, with the Jubilee Hall built in 2002, adjacent to which is a large wooden adventure playground. Other facilities for children's recreation include a giant chessboard and a gardening area where seasonal plants and flowers are grown and cared for. The school is flanked by large well-kept lawns, with the Master's Lawn fronting the driveway with a rhododendron bank planted in the early C20th. The quadrangle is largely paved with seating and a few small trees and at the rear entrance to this is a formal sunken garden with a central pond and fountain. Sports facilities within the landscape include rugby, football, cricket, rounders and hockey pitches, cricket nets, tennis and netball courts, and a cross-country course runs through the woodland. An old lake with densely wooded shelving sides, Belmont Pond, is to the north-west of the house within a belt of thickly wooded land. By 1996 the woodland had a swathe of c.10 feet wide cut through it to make way for additional parking. To the east of Belmont Pond, another smaller body of water and its surrounding area was opened as Poon Nature Reserve in 2009, providing an educational resource for pupils.
Belmont remains a preparatory school and from 1995 girls were also admitted. Now known as Belmont Mill Hill Preparatory School it s governed jointly with Mill Hill Secondary School by the Mill Hill School Foundation. The Grimsdell Pre-preparatory Mixed School nearby is also part of the Foundation.
Ralph Calder, 'Mill Hill: A thousand years of history', (Angus Hudson in association with The Mill Hill Historical Society, 1993); LB Barnet information sheet 1986; Gordon Smith 'Belmont Mill Junior School 1912-1994' (Belmont School, 1994); Lesley Richmond & Alison Turton, ‘The Brewing Industry: a Guide to Historical Records’ , Manchester University Press, 1990; Architectural History: Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians of GB Vol 27 pp 392-405; A Survey of the Woods & Grounds of Belmont by N L Jackson 1987, revised by Matthew Newcombe 1998; A History of Belmont by Debrett, 1991; Follies, Issue 73, Summer 2009, published The Folly Fellowship.
LPGT Volunteer Research by Colyn and Barbara Reece, 2010-2011.
Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
- Grid ref:
- TQ222930 (522377,193042)
- Size in hectares:
- Site ownership:
- Mill Hill School Foundation
- Site management:
- Mill Hill School Foundation
- 1772; C20th
- Sunken garden (2007): Finchley Nurseries
- Listed structures:
- LBII: Belmont House, Gothic Temple or Hermitage, Chapel
- On National Heritage List for England (NHLE), Parks & Gardens:
- Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:
- Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:
Local Authority Data
The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.
- On Local List:
- In Conservation Area:
- Conservation Area name:
- Mill Hill
- Tree Preservation Order:
- Nature Conservation Area:
- Green Belt:
- Metropolitan Open Land:
- Special Policy Area:
- Other LA designation:
- Article 4 Direction
Belmont School, main building front and east elevation, 2011. Photo: Colyn and Barbara Reece
Click photo to enlarge.