Central Square, Hampstead Garden Suburb (Barnet)
Central Square was to be the focal point of Dame Henrietta Barnett's Hampstead Garden Suburb, the site selected for its height and views; its design underwent numerous revisions. Raymond Unwin's first design for the suburb (February 1905) had communal buildings including a church, chapel, hall, library and shops; the site of the square was to be levelled and extended to the north. Unwin and Edwin Lutyens, appointed architect in May 1906, proposed a more formal plan in 1906-7; this and a third scheme by Lutyens did not meet with Mrs Barnett's approval. The final plan of 1911 of Central Square as built is a variant on Lutyens' plan for a rectangle broken up into four clearly articulated spaces each defined by a double row of trees and a lily pond. The two churches face each other on the horizontal axis of the square, with the Institute centrally on the northern side. Prior to 1950 tennis courts were constructed on the western perimeter above the orchard.
- Site location:
- Central Square/Northway, Hampstead Garden Suburb
- NW11 7AG
- Type of site:
- Public Gardens
- Open to public?
- Opening times:
- Special conditions:
- no ball games
- Tennis courts
- Public transport:
- Tube: Golders Green (Northern) then bus. Bus H2, 13, 26, 82, 102, 260.
- Research updated:
- Last minor changes:
Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.barnet.gov.uk; www.hgstrust.org
Full Site Description
Central Square is part of Hampstead Garden Suburb, which was conceived by Dame Henrietta Barnett in 1903 when the Underground tunnel from Hampstead to Golders Green was completed. Through energetic fund-raising she acquired the money to buy 80 acres of land from the owners, Eton College. Hampstead Garden Suburb lies on the north-west side of Hampstead Heath with the Hampstead Heath Extension creating a Green Belt link to the heath on its southern side. The AI bisects the Suburb along its northern edge. Central Square is a roughly rectangular site towards the centre of the Suburb for which it was intended to be a focal point, and its site was selected by Henrietta Barnett for its height and views over the surrounding countryside. The first plans included shops and a library, with a view towards Harrow and the hills beyond, but in Edwin Lutyens' final plan of 1911 these are gone and the site's irregular terrain has been levelled. Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, writing in 1951, noted that 'in spite of its public buildings [Central Square] has never become a real social centre, because not only shops, but also cinemas, pubs, cafés have been refused admission', a situation which remains the same today. Central Square, as finally built, is a variant on Lutyens' plan for a rectangle broken up into four clearly articulated spaces each defined by a double row of trees and a lily pond.
Raymond Unwin's first design for the suburb is dated 22 February 1905, and in the same month Henrietta Barnett published a prospectus for the suburb in The Contemporary Review. Unwin proposed six communal buildings for the 5-acre site including a church, chapel, hall, library and shops in an informal arrangement. Around this time decisions were taken to level the site on which the square was to be built and to extend it on the northern side.
A second plan was proposed by Edwin Lutyens and Unwin in 1906-7 after Lutyens was officially appointed architect on 28 May 1906. This plan was more formal, with a clearly defined central axis. Lutyens submitted a third scheme for the square, which was almost entirely his own, on 18 February 1908, but without references to landscape or planting. Mrs Barnett objected to Lutyens' third scheme. Her sketch design for a more symmetrical square with the churches and their ranges retained, but widened to the north and opened up to the west with an orchard of apple trees where the land sloped away to give panoramic views, is recorded in her letter to Unwin of 24 February 1908. The two churches face each other on the horizontal axis of the square, with the institute building in the centre of the northern side. This layout was the one adopted and taken forward in a modified form in Lutyens' subsequent designs, although the designs of the buildings in the square were to undergo further revisions.
During the next phase of planning Lutyens was to experiment with the articulation of the architecture in Central Square. In 1909 and 1911 the 1st and 2nd editions of Unwin's Town Planning in Practice contained two different versions of his design for Central Square. A coloured plan labelled 'Block Plan of Site', 'A Revised' and attributed to Lutyens but not signed is held in the archives of the H.G.S. Trust; this plan was also published in The Builder on 30 August 1912. The whole area of the plan is washed in green, and shows a long rectangular pond bisecting the square on its horizontal axis, crossed by a path and bridge on the vertical axis, the two creating a Greek cross shape which is outlined and followed by a double row of trees. The sightlines of dormer windows on the two churches are shown aligned with the vistas created by the horizontal avenues of trees, rather than blocked by them. There is no indication of a layout for flowerbeds. Around the square the buildings are deployed as they were indicated in Barnett's sketch of 1908 and Lutyens' designs of 1909-11. The H.G.S. Trust Minutes for 31 May and 11 July 1911 refer to the plan as follows - 'Lutyens's suggestions for Central Square adopted, except his suggestion that the central path should be done away with, this it was resolved should be retained for the present'; 'Mr. Lutyens' plan for the layout of the open space of the Central square was submitted and approved, the Management authorises to plant trees, lay out the flower beds, make such paths shown thereon as might be necessary, but not to incur the expenditure for the pond and bridge at present.'
This plan seems to indicate that Lutyens had expected that this more formal arrangement of the landscape would be executed once the buildings in the square were completed. In fact, Lutyens' building plan was never entirely realised, as the halls designed for the west ends of the two churches were not carried out and the range of buildings along the east side of the square was not completed; only one of the four Baroque arches planned by Lutyens was built in the north-west corner. The planting and canal shown on Lutyens' 'A Revised' design would have enhanced the effect of four interlocking spaces within the square.
Photographs of the 1930s in the archives of the H.G.S. show the Square with paths of beaten earth and gravel cut into the turf of the lawns, and the central pathway paved with flags, with narrow gravel borders and flanked by low, wire-work fences. Geometric parterre-beds introduced into the four grass quadrants are densely planted with shrubs and herbaceous plants. Photographs also show the neatly clipped lime trees in box-head form, but by 1950 this pruning had ceased. Prior to 1950 tennis courts were constructed on the western perimeter of the square above the apple orchard.
In 1950 the Hampstead Garden Suburb Trust and the Church Commissioners transferred the ownership of the site to the Borough of Hendon under the terms of the H.M. Land Registry Acts of 1925 and 1936. As outlined the borough's responsibilities were to maintain 'as public walks and pleasure grounds' the layout of the square as it then stood, and to repair existing seats and light the street lamps.
His plans also incorporated halls at the west end of each church, closing off the west corners of the North and South Squares, but these were never built, and neither was the pond constructed. In its present state the square is bisected by an avenue on its short axis aligned with the Henrietta Barnett Institute and by two paths on its long axis, connecting the churches of St Jude and the Free Church, all designed by Edwin Lutyens. It is laid out with grass with a single row of trees lining the two long paths, a double row along the short avenue, and with Lutyens' monument to Henrietta Barnett at its western crossing, a Portland stone block in the centre of interlaced bronze arches. Geometric parterres were formerly laid out in the four outer quarters of the square, and the green areas fronting the churches are bordered by beech and yew hedging. The paths are coated with a skin of red asphalt and have a high camber which raises them above the level of the surrounding lawns. The tennis courts on the south-western side are dilapidated, and the geometric parterres in the four outer quarters of the square are only partially planted out and generally neglected looking. Some trees are missing from the double avenues on the western side of the square, and some losses have been replaced with immature trees, while the clipping of the trees to create a pleached, formal effect has been abandoned. The trees on the site of the former apple orchard have grown up and obscured the view from the south-western side of the square. The planting and layout of the square is unresolved and appears incomplete, despite the fact that in 1936 the suburb was described as 'the most satisfactory and characteristic contribution of the Edwardian age to town planning and social architecture,' (Hussey). In 1967 the Leasehold Reform Act made it possible for residents to purchase the freeholds of their houses, which meant that ground landlords no longer had control under the covenants of the old leases to protect the character of their estate. As a result of this legislation and fears by some residents that the character of the suburb might suffer, in 1968 the New Hampstead Garden Suburb Trust was set up in order to conserve and preserve the Suburb. In 1969 it was designated a Conservation Area. The Leasehold Reform Act also enabled the ground landlords of selected ‘well run’ estates to apply to the High Court to set up a Scheme of Management which would bring many alterations to the appearance of the estate under its control, and in 1974 this was granted to Hampstead Garden Suburb Trust.
A report commissioned from London Division, English Heritage in February 1994 in response to proposals to re-landscape Central Square suggests that Lutyens' tree planting plan of 1911 should be completed and his long canal should be carried out, while the planting of the geometric beds should be improved and trees should be planted to fill in the gaps west of the two churches which were intended as the sites of church halls.
A second report by English Heritage of December 1994 on the townscape management of the suburb, 'Greening the Garden Suburb,' suggests that Lutyens' original scheme should be instated as a Lottery/Millennium Project, together with other minor and cosmetic improvements to the landscape and management of the square. In 2007 a HLF bid to improve Central Square - 1st phase was agreed and in 2008: public consultation took place, including an exhibition, showing 3 options proposed by landscape consultants Land Use Consultants, for authentic restoration of Lutyens design, formal design and contemporary design.
The Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England was established in 1984 and was commonly called English Heritage. In April 2015 it split into 2 separate entities, Historic England (HE), which continues to champion and protect the historic environment, and the English Heritage Trust, whose role is to look after the 400+ historic sites and monuments owned by the state. HE manages the National Heritage List for England (NHLE) that includes over 400,000 items ranging from prehistoric monuments to office blocks, battlefields and parks, which benefit from legal protection.
English Heritage, 'Greening the Garden Suburb' (December 1994); EH London Division, 'Central Square, Hampstead Garden Suburb' (February 1994); M Millar and A Stuart Gray, 'Hampstead Garden Suburb' (1992); C W Irkin and B G Green, 'Hampstead Garden Suburb, Dreams and Realities' (HGS Residents' Association, 1990); F Jackson, 'Sir Raymond Unwin: Architect, Planner and Visionary' (1985); R Unwin, 'Town Planning and Practice', (New York (1932); Geoffrey Lee, 'London's Edwardian Village, Hampstead Garden Suburb' in Country Life, 19/9/1974; Melissa Hay, 'Hampstead Garden Suburb: Cottages with Gardens for Londoners' (Paper presented at the Autumn Conference of London Historic Parks and Gardens Trust, 'London's Garden Suburbs, Community Landscape and the Urban Ideal', 4 and 5 October 2000).
Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
- Grid ref:
- TQ254884 (525485,188417)
- Size in hectares:
- Site ownership:
- LB Barnet
- Site management:
- Leisure and Youth Services, Green Spaces Division. Hampstead Suburb Garden Trust; Hampstead Garden Suburb Residents' Association
- Edwin Lutyens
- Listed structures:
- LBI: St Jude's Church; Free Church. LBll*: Henrietta Barnett Institute, The Manse, The Vicarage. LBII: Henrietta Barnett Memorial
- 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:
- Hampstead Garden Suburb
- Tree Preservation Order:
- Not known
- Nature Conservation Area:
- Green Belt:
- Metropolitan Open Land:
- Special Policy Area:
- Other LA designation:
- Small Local Park; Article 4 Direction
Please note the Inventory and its content are provided for your general information only and are subject to change. It is your responsibility to check the accuracy.