NW7 is practically in the country! Even though we are still in a London post code, we are at the very edge of built up London – unlike in the South West and West post districts where the London postcode area ends well before London does. Just to warn you some of the stops on this walk are quite a distance apart but that is the way it is out here “in the sticks”.
But it is not all countryside as can be seen from our first stop.
We start out walk at the main Post Office in Mill Hill Broadway. Turn right out of the Post Office and our first stop is ahead on the left.
Stop 1: Mill Hill Broadway station
Now this is an uninspiring station – and another one that has lost its original buildings and has little character as a result. But even worse the entrance is literally underneath the viaduct which carries the M1 motorway.
Hard to believe this station was actually built in 1868 by the Midland Railway, Then it was known as simply “Mill Hill”. It was renamed Mill Hill Broadway in 1950 presumably in recognition of the fact it is nowhere near the village of Mill Hill.
The station was reconstructed in the late 1960s when M1 motorway was built along the railway just here. At least the motorway has been fitted in so it is not too intrusive here compared with say how Westway “fits” in. But it is still ugly and noisy.
Turn left out of the station forecourt and go under the motorway and railway. At the roundabout take the left hand road. Cross when convenient as the pavement does not continue on the left hand side.
Stop 2: Bunn’s Lane “bridge”
Ahead where the pavement stops on the left, it seems like we are going over a bridge and yet looking over the parapet it is hard to see what is being crossed.
To find out go past the walls and take a right into the park. Go down the steps and you will see a little pathway has been worn going into the undergrowth. Follow this and you can see the bricked up arches of a bridge.
Here was an old railway, which originally ran from Finsbury Park to Edgware. It was promoted by the Edgware, Highgate and London Railway but before the line could open in 1867 the company was taken over by the Great Northern Railway.
In 1935 London Transport proposed as part of its new Works Programme an ambitious scheme called the Northern Heights which included taking over this line, making it double track and extending it beyond Edgware to Elstree and Bushey Heath. Work started before the war but with the war stopped and in fact so did passenger train services between Finchley and Edgware.
After the war, the area beyond Edgware was made part of the London’s new Green Belt, which in effect prevented the intended residential development, and the potential demand for services beyond Edgware vanished. Edgware was already served by the Underground and Mill Hill had the station we have just seen.That just left a little spur line to Mill Hill East which had re-opened as a part of the Northern line in 1941 and which survives today. We will come to this at the end of the walk.
So with money short, available funds went towards completing the eastern extension of the Central line instead, and the Northern Heights plan was dropped in 1954. But the line through here to Edgware continued to be used for goods traffic, primarily coal, milk and building materials until 1964. Then it was abandoned, hence this bridge over nothing.
Now retrace your steps to Mill Hill Broadway and keep walking down the shopping street until nearly the end. Our next stop is by the corner of Hartley Avenue.
Stop 3: Athene House (former Capitol Cinema)
This green building may look like a modern office block but actually it was once a cinema called the Capitol.
According to the Cinema Treasures website, this was a conversion of the pre-existing Assembly Rooms by architect Robert Banks and probably opened in the 1920s. It does not seems to have been linked with any of the cinema chains.
The Capitol Cinema was closed in April 1955 and was converted into an office building. The front of the building has been rebuilt in glass and green panels, while some of the side wall has a corrugated covering.
Interesting that Mill Hill never seems to have had a large suburban style cinema of the kind we found in Hendon. Perhaps it just was not big enough.
Walk to the roundabout and cross the main road (A1) at the crossing to the right of the roundabout. Turn right after crossing and walk a short distance along the main road and veering off to the left is a street called Daws Lane. Go along here to the end (a kind of cross roads) and take a left into Hammers Lane.Our next stop is a fair way up this lane.
Stop 4: Marshalls Estate
Suddenly on the right you come across a late Victorian gated estate. This was created by James Marshall – son of one of the founders of the Marshall and Snelgrove Department stores. Dating from 1898 it was built not for himself but to provide housing for retired shop workers.
And it continues with this function today, under the auspices of a charity called Retail Trust. There are some 70 one bedroom cottages and flats on this site.
Retail Trust website describes itself as “looking after the needs of all the three million people in retail, improving lives for all involved – yesterday, today and tomorrow. We are here to help with a wide range of services including debt advice, counselling, hardship grants, career development and retirement housing.”
And they do not just have this estate of retirement homes, they have four other estates in Derby, Glasgow, Liverpool and Salford. Well, who knew?
Retrace your steps back down Hammers Lane which continues after Daws lane as Wise Lane. After Mill Hill Park, take the first right which is called Parkside.
Stop 5: Number 32 Parkside
Keep walking along Parkside and on the right just before you get to a turning called The Rise, is Number 32. This was the home of racing driver Graham Hill (1929 – 1975), and it has a blue plaque to prove it.
He was a two time Formula One World Champion. He is the only driver to win the Triple Crown of Motorsport—the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Indianapolis 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix.
Should you be interested in such arcane information, here is a link to the Wikipedia page which explains a bit more about this mythical “Triple Crown” and also shows the drivers who did not quite manage it but have achieved two out of the three.
Hill and his son Damon are the only father and son pair both to have won the Formula One World Championship. And as Damon was born in 1960 this would have been his childhood home.
Continue walking along Parkside, past the roundabout (which has no apparent purpose). The road is now Hillside Grove. At the end turn right and then turn left into Bunn’s Lane. Our next stop is a short way along on the right at the corner of Colenso Drive.
Stop 6: John Laing’s offices
John Laing was for years a familiar name in construction. The business started in Cumbria in 1848. By 1920 the firm had become a limited company, and a couple of years later moved its headquarters from Carlisle to a 13 acre site at Mill Hill – which was just about where we are now.
Although they have moved the head quarters away and most of the site has been developed, they retain a little foothold here in Mill Hill as this building in Bunn’s Lane is where the John Laing Charitable Trust is based. The Trust exists to enable John Laing and its subsidiaries to make charitable donations and provide welfare support to existing and former employees.
Laing was responsible for building some of Britain’s landmark structures of the second half of the 20th Century – the initial stretches (Junctions 10 -18) of M1 motorway (1959), Coventry Cathedral (1962), Sizewell B nuclear power station (1995), the Second Severn Crossing (1996) and Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium (1999).
John Laing has not been involved in building and construction itself since the sales of its construction division in 2001, and of its property developments division and house building arm in 2002.
It now describes itself as: “a leading international infrastructure investor and asset manager. By combining its unique mix of technical, commercial and financial skills with those of its investment, construction and operational partners, the company has built a world-class reputation for efficiently delivering successful public infrastructure.” It is the private sector bit of many Public Private Partnerships which manage things like hospitals, waste and transport infrastructure.
One of Laing’s enterprises which has been in the news just recently is Agility Trains. This is a consortium with Hitachi and which has been awarded a contract to design, manufacture, and maintain the new fleet of long-distance trains for the East Coast and Great Western main lines.
Continue along Bunn’s Lane. At the end do a right then a left into Pursley Road. There is a fair trek along here past the school and playing fields. Walk until just before the road bends to the right, here take the left turn (Milespit Hill). A short distance along on the right is an entrance to Mill Hill Cemetery. Go in here.
Stop 7: Mill Hill Cemetery
This is another of the City of Westminster Cemeteries (like the one in Hanwell, W7) that Shirley Porter sold off cheap and Westminster City Council had to buy back expensively. There are a couple of things worth stopping for.
Follow the path from the gate (which is East Avenue) and soon on the left in the area called Plot L4 is the first of two civilian Second World War graves. This one is for people who died in Paddington and is here because at the time this was the Paddington Borough Council’s cemetery.
And just a little further along in Plot L1 is a similar monument but this time for people killed by enemy action in Hendon. (Presumably Hendon Corporation did not run to its own cemetery).
It’s noticeable how many fewer names there are on the Hendon stone but interesting nonetheless that there were still casualties out here.
Now head over towards the chapel and the A and B plots. Ahead from West Avenue beyond Plot A6 is a little graveyard dedicated to Netherlands war dead, with a sculpture at the end.
Retrace your steps and go parallel to the right hand boundary of the Netherlands War cemetery going into Plot B1. Here a little way along on the right is the grave of Billy Fury, who popped up in our NW6 walk.
Now go back down West Avenue and you will soon be at the other entrance to the cemetery. Go out these gates and turn right up Milespit Hill. Going up this road does really have the feel of what you might call suburban countryside.
And then suddenly you find yourself by a pond with a red brick chapel ahead and to the left some almshouses. This really looks like a country village.
And just by the almshouses is a terrace of modern mews type buildings, called Angel Cottages.
Stop 8: Angel Cottages and The Nicholl Almshouses
The Nicholl Almshouses date from 1698 and architectural Historian Pevsner describes them as charmingly minimal.
Angel Cottages on the other hand date from the mid 1960s and are by Richard Seifert and Partners – best known for Centrepoint and the Natwest Tower (now called Tower 42).
Pevsner is not so sure about Angel Cottages, saying they “try to be sympathetic by using red brick, timber boarding and tiled roof, but spoil the effect by intrusive mansards.” Perhaps that is a little hard on them especially given what else was being built in this period.
Fascinating fact: According to “A History of the County of Middlesex: Vol 5” (found on British History on line),
“Thomas Nicholl of Hendon erected a single storeyed brick alms-house at the junction of Milespit Hill and the Ridgeway, Mill Hill. He did not endow the premises, which accommodated 6 pauper residents of Hendon at a nominal rent, and the parish was forced to undertake repairs. Consequently the building was generally called the parish alms-house, although it was later known as Nicholl’s alms-house.”
So it just goes to show, Nicholl was not quite as generous as it might have seemed, and the parish ended up with the tab for maintaining the buildings.
Interestingly Richard Seifert lived locally. In 1946, when he returned from the army, Seifert bought himself a modest semi-detached house in Milespit Hill, which remained his home until his death in 2001. Rather than move, he enlarged it over time by purchasing and demolishing three neighbouring properties to make room for expansion.
Continue walking along this street which becomes possibly one of the shortest (and least commercial) high streets in London. There are no actual commercial premises here. As you get to the end take a look across the little green and main road at the white boarded property. This is our next stop.
Stop 9: Rosebank
This is a late 17th century house, which has a plaque announcing it was a Quaker Meeting house from 1678 to 1719.
It was apparently often visited by George Fox, founder of the Quakers. But he was always travelling around so I guess this is a claim for pretty much all the early Quaker meeting houses.
Continue along the main road and on your left are the various buildings of Mill Hill School.
Stop 10: Mill Hill School
Mill Hill School is a coeducational independent day and boarding school with around 640 pupils. It has an impressive array of buildings with a rather grand one built by Sir William Tite in the mid 1820s as its centrepiece. This was his first major work and he went on to build the Royal Exchange, South Metropolitan Cemetery in Norwood and a lot of railway stations, one of which we saw in SW13. And of course Tite Street in SW3 was named after him.
The site was the location of Ridgeway House which was the home of 18th century botanist and avid gardener Peter Collinson (1694 – 1768).
Collinson was a cloth merchant, largely trading with North America, but his real love was gardening. In the 1730s he began importing seeds from North America for English collectors to grow the newly discovered plants here. Collinson maintained an extensive correspondence and was friendly with notable scientists in London and abroad including Hans Sloane, Carolus Linnaeus, and Benjamin Franklin.
One of Mill Hill school’s old boys was actor Patrick Troughton (1920 -1987) – best known as the second incarnation of Doctor Who (1966-1969 with brief returns in 1973, 1983 and 1985). And guess what the school’s theatre is called.
He was in fact born in Mill Hill and a resident of Mill Hill for most of his life.
In the green just in front of the school is a war memorial.
This turns out to be nothing to do with the school. It was transplanted here in 2012 from the site of the Inglis Barracks which were down the road and are being redeveloped for housing. The Barracks were named after Lieutenant General Sir William Inglis, were built in 1905 as the depot for the Middlesex Regiment. The Barracks were also the location of the headquarters of the British Forces Post Office from 1963 to 1988.
Now cross the road and have a look at the church,.
Stop 11: St Paul’s church
This was built in the late 1820s (so just about the same time as the William Tite school building) as a chapel for the anti-slave campaigner, William Wilberforce, who had a house up the road on Highwood Hill. It was consecrated in 1833. Pevsner describes this church as “A typical cheap church of its date … cement rendered with the plainest of turrets…”. It does almost look like it is a film set.
It became the parish church in 1926
Now it is quite a way to get to Mill East Station and although there are some things on the way (the National Institute for Medical Research, started in 1938 and finished in 1950; the site of Inglis Barracks, now being redeveloped as housing), we have probably walked far enough, so I suggest hopping on a 240 bus to get you to Mill Hill East station, our final stop.
But I just have to include this just to reinforce the rural image – it is a picture taken at the end of St Vincents Lane, which is a little along the main road towards Mill Hill East.
Stop 12: Mill Hill East station
This is perhaps one of the most unusual stations on the London Underground. It at the end of a single track spur line with just a single platform. Mill Hill East is one of only three (Chesham & Heathrow Terminal 4 are the others) Underground stations to have only one platform. It also one of the few Underground stations without any ticket barriers.
We heard about the ambitions plans in the 1930s for this line but when the war came, a passenger service as part of the Northern line was created just to here in 1941 because of the Inglis Barracks. The Inglis Barracks site was sold by the Ministry of Defence in 2012 and is now being redeveloped for housing.
Also just near this station was a gasworks established in 1862 by the North Middlesex Gas Company and the line was used to deliver coal to the works. The gasworks is now occupied by Waitrose.
Here by the way is a link to a fascinating story about a walk along the route of the disused line
So we are now at the end of our NW7 journey. I was not expecting to find that Mill Hill Village was so different from Mill Hill Broadway or Mill Hill East. Or to find much of the area so “rural” in character, a housing estate for retired shop workers or a massive school with such impressive buildings.
You are now at Mill Hill East station which has a regular Underground service, although for most of the day you now have to change at Finchley Central.