Inventory Site Record

Waterlow Park * (Camden)

Brief Description

* on The National Heritage List for England, Parks & Gardens

Waterlow Park is a C19th landscaped park with remnants of earlier garden features of the C16th-C18th. It covers the land of 4 former private estates, Lauderdale House, Hertford House, Elm(s) Court and Andrew Marvell's cottage, which were amalgamated after 1865 by Sir Sydney Waterlow to create a single park. There are remnants of the older gardens, as well as those of Waterlow's time. A strong believer in provision of public open space, in 1889 he presented Lauderdale House and the 29-acre estate to the LCC 'for the enjoyment of Londoners'. The park opened on 24 October 1891; Lauderdale House, extensively restored, opened in 1893. The overall layout has changed little since the LCC plan of c.1895 and has formal flower beds, terraces and herbaceous borders, lawns and secluded areas, numerous fine trees and 3 ponds. Other features included a thatched bandstand, aviaries and tennis courts. The park was substantially restored in 2003-5 through an HLF grant with a new Park Centre on the site of the old glasshouses.

Practical Information
Site location:
Highgate Hill/Dartmouth Park Hill/Swain's Lane
Type of site:
Public Park
Open to public?
Opening times:
7.30am - dusk. Lauderdale House Café Tue-Fr 11-4pm, Sun 12-5pm
Special conditions:
Café, toilets, playground, aviary, tennis courts, putting green
Events in park and numerous events run by Lauderdale House including concerts, workshops, exhibitions, poetry. Occasional wild food walks take place in the park, led by Forage London - see www.foragelondon.co.uk for details of dates/cost.
Public transport:
London Overground: Upper Holloway. Tube: Archway (Northern) Bus: 143, 210, 271
Research updated:
Last minor changes:

Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.camden.gov.uk

Full Site Description

Site on The National Heritage List for England, Parks & Gardens, for Register Entry see https://www.historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list

Waterlow Park opened to the public on 24 October 1891. It was on the former lands of four private estates dating from C16th - C18th, which were amalgamated when they were purchased by Sir Sydney Waterlow: Lauderdale House, Hertford House, Elm(s) Court and Andrew Marvell's cottage. A fifth house, Fairseat, was also part of Waterlow's estate and was where he lived. James Pennethorne, who designed Victoria and Battersea Parks (q.q.v.) lived at Elm(s) Court from 1842-64. The cottage where poet Andrew Marvell (1621-78) lived was to the north of the park near Lauderdale House, a plaque recording the site was erected by the LCC in 1899. Waterlow demolished Elms Court and Andrew Marvell's cottage soon after he purchased the land in 1865, his intention being to create a single park of the combined grounds.

Lauderdale House was built c.1582 for Sir Roger Martin and substantially altered c.1640 by Lady Home; in the 1640s -1660s it was owned by the Second Earl of Lauderdale, who married Oliver Cromwell's widow and from whom it takes its name. Another previous occupant was Charles II's mistress Nell Gwynne, and Lauderdale House contained a marble bath that she reputedly used. In c.1760 the half-timbered exterior of Lauderdale House was rendered to its current neo-Classical appearance. From 1850-71 Lauderdale was leased by James Yates who constructed a palm house within the C18th upper kitchen gardens and he may have been responsible for developing terraced gardens, adding glasshouses, hedged kitchen gardens, and an orchard. Between 1872-78 Sir Sydney let Lauderdale House and parts of the garden rent free as a convalescent home to St Bartholomew's Hospital.

Unable to sell the estate in the 1880s, in 1889 Waterlow presented Lauderdale House and the estate of 29 acres as a gift to London County Council 'for the enjoyment of Londoners' and the house was extensively restored prior to opening in 1893. It had been his intention that the Fairseat House estate, in which he had a leasehold interest, would eventually be amalgamated in the new park, but the freeholder opposed this. It was occupied until 1925 when the LCC was unable to get the freeholders to sell their interest and in 1926 it became Channing House School and remains privatel. Sir Sydney strongly believed that the provision of public parks, recreation grounds and open spaces was 'one of the best methods for improving the social and physical condition of the working classes of this great Metropolis' (letter to LCC Chairman in November 1889). The roof and part of the interior of Lauderdale House were destroyed by a fire in 1963, since restored in the 1990s. Remains of C17th garden walls around formal gardens can still be seen, having stone piers at the top of steps with stone statues of a seated rustic couple in the style of John Nost c.1700. Two C19th sundials, one dated 1893 a marble dial plate on a stone pillar with a plaque inscribed "This dial plate is on a level with the top of the dome of St Paul's Cathedral". On the terrace in front of Lauderdale House is a large wrought-iron sundial set in C20th brick and stone surround, the hours marked by surrounding carpet bedding, a surviving feature of Sir Sydney Waterlow's formal garden at Lauderdale House.

A bronze statue of Sir Sydney Waterlow by F A Taubman was unveiled in 1900 in Waterlow's presence by Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyle; he is shown in contemporary dress holding hat and umbrella in his right hand and keys to the park in his left, the stone pedestal inscribed 'Sir Sydney H. Waterlow Bart./Donor of this park/1889/Lord Mayor of London 1872-1873/Erected by public subscription 1900'.

The park is on a sloping site and has a fine landscape and views. The layout has changed little since the LCC's plan of c.1895 and has formal flower beds, terraces and herbaceous borders, secluded garden areas, numerous scattered trees and 2 sheets of water joined by a waterfall and a smaller pond overhung by trees. Trees include Cedar of Lebanon, swamp cypress, deodar, gingko, lime, ailanthus, ash, oak, beech, catalpa, cherry, horse chestnut, philadelphus, prunus and weeping willow. South of the terraces in the south east corner are gardens in the former kitchen garden, with the part to the north used as a nursery for the park, and an arboretum in the south part. The glasshouses were used for growing chrysanthemums for shows in the autumn. Among the early park features were a rustic bandstand surrounded by banks of flowers and climbing plants, demolished and replaced in late C20th, and a large octagonal aviary and some smaller aviaries. The main entrance from Highgate Hill has C18th gate piers and gates, with three other entrances having C19th Lodges on Swain's Lane and Dartmouth Park Hill. During WWII the park had underground bunkers built and some of the land was used for allotments for the Dig for Victory campaign.

In 1971 responsibility for the park passed from the GLC to LB Camden. Friends of Waterlow Park was set up in 1991 to restore the park, which by then had deteriorated. It has been restored as a result of a Heritage Lottery Fund grant awarded in 1997. The works commenced in 2003 and included restoration of some of the historic features such as walls, ornaments and statuary; provision of new features such as the Park Centre; repairs to paths and ponds; and replanting, particularly restoring the upper and lower terraced gardens. The park was re-opened on 2 June 2005 by Glenda Jackson MP.

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.

Sources consulted:

Pam Cooper 'Waterlow Park A garden for the gardenless' (Chico Publications, 2006); Waterlow Park - History (document by Friends of Waterlow Park, 1990s); Reprint of Langley & Son's Illustrated Guide to Waterlow Park, Highgate' 3rd ed. 1895; Michael Waite, Daniel Keech, Meg Game, 'Nature Conservation in Camden', Ecology Handbook 24 (London Ecology Unit), 1993; R Hawkins, Green London: A Handbook (Sidgewick and Jackson, 1987); LB Camden, Highgate Conservation Area Appraisal and Management Strategy, 2007 EH Register: Hornsey Local Board, 'Review by the Chairman . . during the year 1889/90; E Cecil 'London Parks and Gardens' 1907; J J Sexby 'The Municipal Parks, Gardens and Open Spaces of London', 1898; Survey of London XVII, 1936; N Pevsner 'London except . . . Westminster', 1952.

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ287870 (528674,187160)
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
LB Camden
Site management:
Parks & Open Spaces. Friends of Waterlow Park. Lauderdale House Society for Lauderdale House
1889/91; C20th
Listed structures:
LBII*: Lauderdale House. LBII: Lodge at Swain's Lane entrance and attached railings, piers and gates; Entrance gates & walls to Lauderdale House adjoining Highgate Hill, Garden steps to south of Lauderdale House, C17th Garden walls to south-west of Lauderdale House, C19th Sundial, Sundial approx 5m from south angle of Lauderdale House.
On National Heritage List for England (NHLE), Parks & Gardens:

NHLE grade:
Grade II*
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:
Tree Preservation Order:
Not known
Nature Conservation Area:
Yes - Borough Importance I
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Yes - Area of Special Character: Hampstead & Highgate Ridge
Other LA designation:
Public Open Space (Local)

Waterlow Park *

Waterlow Park, Lauderdale House from Lower Terrace Garden, October 2009. Photo: S Williams

Waterlow Park, New Park Centre on site of old glasshouses, October 2009. Photo: S Williams
Waterlow Park, Lower Terraced Garden below Lauderdale House, September 2008. Photo: S Williams
Waterlow Park, Steps from Lower Terrace have existed since the C17th, September 2008. Photo: S Williams

Click a photo to enlarge.

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