The Hill Garden And Pergola

A tale of an Edwardian garden

The Edwardian age was known for its elegance and opulence, the king (Edward VII, 1901–1910), being a leader of the fashionable era. His political and social impact may be a subject of debate but his taste for luxurious living is one that remains to be questioned. Britain’s imperial power was one of the main factors to a change in their economical situation. However, it faced a period of uncertainty as it was discussed that countries such as the US and Germany were taking over the industrial trade.

Like everything else Edwardian, the Hill Garden and Pergola was not exempt from the lavishness of that period. Coming into formation in 1904, Lord Leverhulme– a nature and landscape gardening enthusiast and philanthropist (not to mention, a very wealthy man), purchased a house on the Heath and named it ‘The Hill’. With big ideas and a need to establish a legacy, he acquired the surrounding land known as ‘Pergola’. He wanted the area to be used as not only a beautiful environment to host Edwardian occasions but as a place where his family and friends can enjoy the surroundings during warm summer evenings.

Photo taken of the Pergola and Hill Gardens, Hampstead Heath

Overlooking the West Heath and situated in the affluent area of Hampstead, the location has a touch of the otherworldly because it does not really feel like a part of London. It has an air of the untouched made up of hills, a lot of greenery and narrow roads compared to the well-worn ambience of most areas in the city. If you visited the place maybe 100 years ago, the palatial setting might shine so bright, but now walking around the interior, you get a sense of faded grandeur of what it might have been had it not been abandoned.

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The quickest and easiest way to get to the Hill Garden and Pergola is by exiting from the Hampstead tube station and continuing to walk straight ahead (no need for left or right turnings), for about ten minutes. You will then reach a crossroad with three pathways; take the second turn that is positioned to the left. After a two minute walk, turn left to the steep lane leading away from the bustle of the main road where you can see the approaching gates of the garden.

There are some text inside a glass sign screwed onto the green gates mentioning:

‘Pergola and Hill Garden closes at 3.45-

NO DOG

(NOT EVEN YOURS)’, the latter being a stern reminder to visitors. Underneath the text, three images in black– no dog, cycling and barbeque painted on a white background and circled in red further highlight the strict rules of the location signed by the city of London.

The spiral steps and earthy smells may give the impression of somewhere that has been enclosed for so long but fear not. Upon reaching the top of the steps, you are immediately drawn to the sheer beauty of the garden structure. Green ivy leaves and dried up branches tightly encircle the aged roman columns and wrought iron green windows overlooking a mansion named ‘Inverforth House’. Resembling a mansion rather than the described ‘detached house’, it belonged to William Lever, 1st Viscount Leverhulme from 1904–1925 before being converted into two houses during the 1990s. Passersby could not resist taking photographs of the house through the gated windows of the pergola. You can look but cannot touch.

It may be labeled as a secret garden or London’s ‘hidden gem’. However, you find that it’s not so secret after all as you would occasionally run into small group of friends, couples and the individual explorer. Even the odd runner or two and a dog walker. A variation of languages can be heard when walking around the interior from Chinese, German, French, Italian and even American accents. This brings to question whether it’s a part of London that the traditional Londoner will often overlook but be identified by the foreign traveller?

The garden itself feels like it was split into two sections, the main part focusing on the ancient Roman architectural pergolas while the remaining area is overrun with trees, flowers and plants. A pond takes central stage to the layout of the garden, being a mediator to the old buildings with the wild plants and the elegantly manicured hedges. The Pergola almost feels like you have been transported back to an ancient Italian city, somewhere in Pompeii– situated near modern day Naples, while the garden resembles a renaissance setting.

Brown furry looking oblong objects hanging on branches of the pergolas brought about wonderment to the people staring up ahead and speculating if they were kiwis. Looking on the ground confirmed their answers as the green contents of the fruits lay squashed on the floor.

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Walking around the overgrown pergola with views of ‘the Heath’ before entering the neat section of the garden, you arrive at a medium sized area that has the look of a room but not quite as it only included three walls (and a roof), that have two door entryways. The cream walls with the small dark grey and larger stained white tiles completed the room’s interior. Neatly trimmed hedges and bushes with a few red and pink flowers (amidst all the green plants), revealed the subtle sweet smells of the flowers. The whole area itself has the fresh air of mother nature, a pleasant change to the pollution filled mainland of London.

The occasional sparrow flying from place to place amongst the bushes and a crow cawing can be heard in the background. Cute wooden litter bins are hidden under the greenery while brown benches with commemorated texts of past sponsors are situated in convenient areas. Few people can be seen reading newspapers and eating sandwiches on the benches. A sort of peaceful interval away from viewing the remainder of the garden.

At times, the Hill Garden and Pergola will remind you of a maze like layout without the complicated turns. It leads you into different pathways that often have steep entrances. Wearing trainers or shoes that are easy to walk in is highly recommended to get the full garden experience.

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This quiet and often forgotten area of Hampstead Heath offers a place for contemplation and relaxation; elements that sometimes stay on the sidelines when people go about their hectic daily activities. It’s also a place far away from the more popular tourist hotspots.

Written by

Writer and visual artist // I write about culture and societal issues with a focus on the effects of colonialism, globalisation and capitalism.

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