Inventory Site Record

Highgate Wood (Haringey)

Brief Description

Highgate Wood is a remnant of the Great Forest of Middlesex and has evidence of prehistoric earthworks, and C1st/C2nd pottery kilns. From at least 1227 it was part of the Bishops of London's hunting park and it went by various names over the centuries. In 1885, known as Gravel Pit Wood, it was presented to the Corporation of the City of London by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for public open space, following the successful campaign against development by Henry Reader Williams, Chairman of Hornsey Local Board, who fought to preserve 'the lungs of London' for the people. Highgate Wood opened to the public in 1886 with alterations to the landscape including tree-felling, clearing of undergrowth, provision of paths and rides, enclosure by fence and railings and a neo-Tudor style Lodge near the east entrance. In 1888 a drinking fountain was erected in the wood commemorating poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge who reputedly walked here.

Practical Information
Previous / Other name:
Gravel Pit Wood
Site location:
Muswell Hill Road/Archway Road
What 3 Words:
Type of site:
Public Park
Open to public?
Opening times:
7.30am - dusk
Special conditions:
no cycling
Play area, café, sports areas incl. cricket, natural history information centre, toilets.
various - bat watch, children's events, walks, schools events
Public transport:
Tube: Highgate (Northern). Bus: 43, 134, 263.
Research updated:
Last minor changes:

Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/openspaces

Full Site Description

One of Haringey's first public open spaces, Highgate Wood is a remnant of the Great Forest of Middlesex and part of the Bishops of London's hunting/deer park for which references go back to 1227. Evidence has also been found on the site of prehistoric earthworks, and of C1st and C2nd pottery kilns. Hornbeam trees were coppiced for fuel, and oak from here was used for timber, which may have been the source from which English ships fighting the Spanish Armada were made. The wood went through various names over the centuries, including Brewhouse Fall and Brewhouse Wood. In 1885, and now known as Gravel Pit Wood due to gravel extraction in the western section, it was presented to the Corporation of the City of London by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, to be 'maintained in perpetuity for the benefit of Londoners'. However, their decision was largely the result of the successful campaign against building development here by Henry Reader Williams, Chairman of Hornsey Local Board, who fought to preserve 'the lungs of London' for the benefit of the people.

Covering an almost semi-circular site to the west of Muswell Hill Road it is an area of forest land densely covered with mature deciduous trees (predominantly oak and hornbeam, with many old hornbeam coppice stools). It was opened to the public in 1886 and the Corporation made a number of alterations to the landscape including tree-felling, clearing of undergrowth and provision of paths and rides and enclosed it by fence and railings. There is an attractive red brick lodge (1886) in the neo Tudor style near the east entrance on Muswell Hill Road.

At the crossing of two rides is a drinking fountain (1888) with a polished red granite obelisk surmounting a grey granite bowl and pedestal standing on an octagonal plinth. An inscription on it, a quotation from S T Coleridge, commemorates the latter's association with the woods in which he is reputed to have walked; it reads: "Drink, pilgrim, here! Here rest! And if thy heart be innocent, here too shalt thou refresh thy spirit, listening to some gentle sound or passing gale or hum of murmuring bees!"

On the west side is a playing field with a large modern pavilion/cafe laid out on an area that was already an open field by the mid C19th. The woods today are much more open than they appear in C19th photographs: many trees have been limbed to raise the canopy and the shrub understorey is much reduced. Reforestation began in 1968 to create a healthier woodland habitat and new conservation areas are made every five years when an area is thinned to allow light to enter and a greater variety of plant species to grow. Highgate Wood supports much wildlife, including foxes, various species of bat, and muntjac deer, also called 'barking deer' due to its call, a small species originating in southern China and introduced at Woburn Abbey at the beginning of the C20th since which time some escaped and have been steadily spreading across southern Britain.

Sources consulted:

Victoria County History; Andrew Crowe, 'The Parks and Woodlands of London' (Fourth Estate, 1987); Gay & Whetstone, p10; Richardson 1983, fig. 126; Schwitzer & Gay, pp 10-11; Stokes, Malcolm 'The Bishop of London's Hunting Park and Lodge at Hornsey', HHS Bulletin no 25 1984

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ282886 (528284,188708)
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
City of London Corporation
Site management:
Open Spaces Dept.; Highgate Wood Joint Consultative Group; Friends of Highgate Wood
Listed structures:
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:
Tree Preservation Order:
Nature Conservation Area:
Yes - Metropolitan Importance
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Other LA designation:

Highgate Wood

Highgate Wood - Photo: Colin Wing
Date taken: 21/09/21 15:35

Click a photo to enlarge.

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