Walking with John Goodier:

Hendon's Rural Past

John Goodier finds rich historical interest amongst Hendon's urban landscapes.

Pictures of Hendon

Hendon is a modern urban town: alongside the expanding Middlesex University sit grand municipal buildings, major roads and motorways. Yet hidden within this are remnants of a Saxon landscape.

At the top of the hill is St Mary's Church, a Gothic building with Saxon origins and a Norman font. The building has been much altered over the years and it doubled in size just before the Great War. The entrance to the churchyard is planted with flowering plants between the graves, and there is a small colourful bed just behind the tower.

To the west of the church is a 17th-century house that was once the local museum. Behind it is a small park with seats, a pond and a brick maze in memory of Mary Dunning, wife of the museum's curator.

North of the church is Sunny Hill Park, which runs down the hill via metalled and mown paths. Much of the park is managed as meadowland - listen for the continuous buzzing of insects in the grass. At the bottom of the hill the land flattens out - perfect for playing fields.

To the north east of the playing fields are Hendon Cemetery and Crematorium, which opened in 1899 and 1922 respectively. Enter through a medieval gatehouse, currently being extended, to see the finest collection of mature trees in Barnet. Two streams run through the grounds and the space is rich in wildlife, with honeybees managed from an enclosure. I was struck by how many of the recent burials list family roles up to great-grandparent - testament to our increasing longevity. The original flint-faced chapel was converted into the Crematorium.

The main street in Hendon is The Burroughs, and on it sit the Town Hall, library, fire station and Middlesex University, all of which were built on the site of Grove House, one of the largest private houses in Hendon. All maintain good public planting - even the fire station, where the engines now enter and exit at the side, allowing planting around the original doors.

The University retains parts of the gardens of Grove House, including a grass quadrangle and a small flight of steps that now go nowhere. Between the new university buildings are many gardens in various styles, with a wide choice of species and plant shapes. Special note should be taken of the Ritterman Building which has the largest green wall in Barnet, and a green roof that manages and recycles rainwater. To the eastern side of the campus is a group of historic buildings and an open space called the Paddock.

On Wykeham Road the houses are reached on both sides by flights of steps; early maps show that the road runs through a valley, originally the main drainage stream for the south side of Hendon Hill.

Running down the southern slope of the hill from Queens Road is Hendon Park, a more standard urban park with a café, basketball and tennis courts, an outdoor gym, children's play equipment and the Millennium Wood, planted by children. The park runs alongside the Northern Line, and, when the line was built, emphasis was given to the planting of shrubs in the cutting. At the north end is a formal garden commemorating the Holocaust, and nearby Princes Park hosts a memorial to Nicholas Winton, who organised the Czech Kindertransport. Designed by Lara Sparey, a local sculptor and teacher, it features a screen cut into a sheet of Corten steel, showing Winton's name and children playing. Appropriately there is good range of play equipment in the park, and a café.

Hendon has a number of pocket parks which look like unclaimed land sites - one opposite the museum, another opposite the Paddock, and a third off the Burroughs by the Methodist Church. My guess is that these are remnants of an early, maybe even Saxon, landscape. There is certainly plenty to explore!

All photos © Sally Williams

Photo of St Mary's Churchyard
St Mary's Churchyard

Photo of Church Farmhouse Garden
Church Farmhouse Garden

Photo of Sunny Hill Park
Sunny Hill Park

Photo of Hendon Cemetery
Hendon Cemetery and Crematorium, Main Entrance

Photo of Hendon Library
Hendon Library with 'Family of Man' sculpture

Photo of Hendon Town Hall
Hendon Town Hall

Hendon Park, Rose Garden