The City of London Corporation has been managing and preserving the Heath since 1989. During that time, the Society has been working closely with the City and it was only fitting to host a party to mark that anniversary and honour the relationship. The selection of photographs, courtesy of Diana Von R Photography, and the reprint of the addresses by Society Chair Marc Hutchinson and Karina Dostalova, Chair of the City’s Hampstead Heath Management Committee, recreate the festive ambience from that late summer evening.
On Wednesday 11 September, the Society hosted an evening reception to celebrate the City’s custodianship of the Heath over the last 30 years. Leading figures from Camden, Haringey and Barnet together with leaders from City of London Corporation joined in the celebration.
Councillor Sheila Peacock (Mayor of Haringey), Councillor Lachhya Gurung (Deputy Mayor of Barnet), and Immediate Past Mayor of Camden Jenny Headlam-Wells met City of London Sheriff Elizabeth Green, and other dignitaries at the party. Some two hundred guests gathered at the Cricket Ground near the Parliament Hill Pavilion in fine weather and fine mood.
The party not only celebrated an anniversary, but also paid tribute to the Heath rangers, ecologists, constabulary, lifeguards, and other dedicated staff who keep the Heath a special place through their daily efforts, come rain or shine.
At the gathering, guests enjoyed the world premiere of a musical tribute to the Heath, specially written and performed by world famous guitarist John Etheridge and singer Vimala Rowe.
Guests also heard from Society Chair Marc Hutchinson who highlighted the connections between the City and the Heath since Tudor times, and the close cooperation between the City and the Society over the last 30 years to preserve this unique open space and its surroundings. In reply, Karina Dostalova, Chair of the City’s Hampstead Heath Management Committee, also addressed the gathering and particularly acknowledged the vital role of everyone who works on the Heath.
Marc Hutchinson’s Speech
I warmly welcome you all here today, and may I extend a particular welcome to Sheriff the Hon Elizabeth Green and Common Councillor Karina Dostolova from the City of London. The Mayor of Camden sends her last-minute apologies, but I am delighted that we can welcome here today, to represent Camden, Councillor Jenny Headlam-Wells, the Immediate Past Mayor of Camden and a good friend of the Society. I also particularly welcome the Mayor of Haringey, the Deputy Mayor of Barnet, and many local borough councillors also here.
On the 31st of March 1989, under an order made by Nicholas Ridley, Mrs Thatcher’s Environment Secretary, the Heath was transferred to the City of London. Article 3 of the Order states simply, “on the transfer date there shall vest in the City all interests of the Residuary Body in the Heath lands”, and the Order went on to provide that £15m was to be paid by the residuary body to the newly created Hampstead Heath Trust Fund to defray maintenance costs.
What a fateful order that was. Not only did it finally remove the threat that portions of the ancient Heath would be parcelled up and transferred to a variety of local bodies, but it also secured the future of the Heath, as London’s greatest and world-famous open space, by entrusting its custody and care to another ancient body that already had, not only centuries of experience of owning and managing public open spaces, but also the financial resources and expertise to carry out the task.
In the long historical context, the City’s eventual ownership of the Heath is perhaps less surprising because the City has had strong links to Hampstead and its Heath since Tudor times, when the City was licensed to take a water supply from the Heath, and throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, when the City, and City aldermen and livery companies, helped, on a purely charitable basis, to save the original Heath and extend it with new parcels of land.
So we are here today to celebrate the City’s achievements for the Heath over these past 30 years, and to express our heartfelt thanks to the Heath staff; the Superintendent and his team; Paul Maskell and his team who have helped us with this party; and the rangers, the ecologists, the lifeguards, and the sports staff, who work, every day and in all weathers, to protect this rural refuge, and to provide so many opportunities for such a variety of human and – it has to be said – canine recreation.
I want to pay tribute especially to those staff who have worked here all their lives, and in some cases for the past 30 years.
When our Society was founded in 1897, its first chairman laid down its two founding principles: first, the desirability of interfering as little as possible with the natural beauty, that is to say, the natural growth of plants and shrubs and the natural bird life, of the Heath; and secondly, the necessity of working in harmony with the Heath’s then owner, the London County Council.
Today, we pursue that second founding principle by working in harmony, albeit not always in complete and perfect harmony, with the City of London. The projects we have jointly and successfully pursued over these years are simply numberless. Some of them are recorded in the new and definitive biography of the Heath written by Helen Lawrence who is with us today. Let me mention only three.
First, working with Camden Council and the Highgate Society, our Society and the City managed, in a fight which lasted 18 years, to save Athlone House from demolition, and how gratifying it has been not only to save the building but to see its current restoration by Mikhail Fridman, one of the Society’s life members.
Second, in 1993 with the Vale of Health Society, we were able to persuade the City effectively to assert rights to the Heath’s common land under the Commons Registration Act, and so prevent the construction of a new road across part of the Heath to a property known as Manor Cottage at the Vale of Health. The owner of the property claimed a personal right-of-way across the Heath after 20 years of use, but that claim could not stand in the face of the Act. My point here is that the Greater London Council, the previous owner of the Heath, consistently failed to assert those commons rights during the owner’s claimed 20 years. It was the City who subsequently did so and, thereby, prevented the building of the road.
Third, and most recently – last week in fact – we worked with the City to bring sheep back onto the Heath after an absence of sixty years to demonstrate, among other things, the ecological benefits of grazing on the Heath. Even with so much competing news, you must have noticed the extraordinary level of media interest created by this unusual project which seems so to have captured the public’s imagination that we hope it will be repeated next year.
And the City’s and the Society’s joint endeavours are not confined to the Heath lands; they extend to the fringes of the Heath. The City and the Society are, at this very moment, in some cases with the Highgate Society and the Vale of Health Society, working together to prevent inappropriate development on no fewer than five sites on the Heath fringes.
As a Society, we happily and often say how fortunate London is to have the City as the Heath’s guardian. We live presently in uncertain times, but I feel confident enough to look forward to the next 30 years, and so to ask you to join with me in a toast to the City of London and its wonderful Heath staff — to the next 30 years!
Karina Dostalova’s Speech
Many thanks to the Society for hosting this wonderful event to celebrate 30 years of the City of London Corporation’s custodianship of the Heath. I am delighted to have the opportunity to say a few words to express our gratitude for the support and guidance which the Society provides so willingly.
This is my third year as Chair, and it has been wonderful to be able to reflect on the challenges and successes over the 30 years that the City Corporation have had the responsibility for managing our much-loved Hampstead Heath.
The Society has played an integral role in protecting, enlarging and conserving the Heath since its foundation in 1897. It has fought with passion and commitment to preserve the Heath’s wild and natural state.
In the 30 years that the City has cared for the Heath, we have worked closely with the Society – who are represented on both our decision-making bodies, the Management Committee and Consultative Committee.
I would particularly like to thank Marc Hutchinson, John Beyer and Thomas Radice for their support and commitment to the Heath.
Our frontline staff keep the Heath clean and pristine, and although it may look wild and natural, an incredible amount of skilled work goes into ensuring that it remains this way. They are the oil which keeps the cogs turning to ensure the Heath is, in our opinion, the best green space in the country.
We are proud that many of our staff show their dedication and stay with us for many years. We have a few key members of the team who have been here the whole 30 years and were even involved in the Heath before then. A heartfelt thank you to all members of staff, new and old, this place would not be the same without you.
We are also joined today by my fellow members of the Hampstead Heath, Highgate Wood and Queen’s Park Committee, and members of the Hampstead Heath Consultative Committee. I would also like to thank you for your wise counsel and support.
The City of London Corporation is proud to be the custodian of this remarkable open space and we will continue to work with our partners and the wider Heath community to protect and conserve Hampstead Heath to ensure it continues to enrich the lives of current and future generations.
Let’s look forward to the next 30 years and work together to ensure that this special place remains just that.