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London Gardens Online


Mill Hill School Barnet


Information about the site dates back to 1321 when it was owned by the Nicoll family. Ridgeway House was built in c.1525 and from 1702 was occupied by a series of Quakers, the most famous of whom was the foremost botanist, Peter Collinson, who lived here from 1749 to his death in 1768. The garden contained an extraordinary range of trees and plants collected from North America and elsewhere in the world. People came from all over Europe to visit his gardens here. In 1807 the property was bought by Mill Hill School who in 1826/7 built the present main school building and demolished Ridgeway House. Over the years additional lands were purchased and the site expanded to over 100 acres, with many school buildings and extensive sports fields. The grounds contain some of Collinson’s original trees as well as fine trees planted over the years since. In front of the school is the Gate of Honour, a war memorial for ex-pupils who died in the two world wars.

Basic Details

Previous / Other name:
Ridgeway House; Protestant Dissenter's Grammar School

Site location:
The Ridgeway, Mill Hill

NW7 1QS ( Google Map)

Type of site:
Institutional Grounds

C18th; C19th

Peter Collinson (C18th)

Listed structures:
LBII: Mill Hill School, Gate of Honour, Library and Murray Scriptorium, Chapel, C18th walls and decorative iron railings from Wills Grove to school along Ridgeway


Site ownership:
The Mill Hill School Foundation

Site management:
Mill Hill School Foundation, Walker House, Millers Close, The Ridgeway NW7 1AQ

Open to public?
By appointment only

Opening times:
visit by appointment only

Special conditions:



Public transport:
Tube: Mill Hill East (Northern) then bus. Rail: Mill Hill Broadway then bus. Bus: 240

The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/12/2009
Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news.

Further Information

Grid ref:
TQ225926 (522420,192360)

Size in hectares:

Green Flag:

On EH National Register :

EH grade:

Site on EH Heritage at Risk list:

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:

Conservation Area name:
Mill Hill

Tree Preservation Order:
Yes (30 individual/64 groups/3 areas of trees listed + Tree Management Plan

Nature Conservation Area:

Green Belt:

Metropolitan Open Land:

Special Policy Area:
Yes - Area of Special Archaeological Significance

Other LA designation:
Article 4 Direction

Fuller information

Mill Hill was in the northern part of the ancient Manor and Parish of Hendon, known as Lothersley, which was given by Dunstan and by Edward the Confessor to the Abbots of Westminster. The Ridgeway has been a thoroughfare since ancient times linking London with St Albans and beyond. From the C17th Mill Hill attracted Protestant Dissenters, Non-conformists and Quakers. Subsequently numerous other religious establishments grew up in the area, including St Joseph’s Catholic College (q.v.), which established the Mill Hill Missionaries, and St Mary’s Abbey. In 1830 William Wilberforce, who lived nearby in Highwood Hill, established St Paul’s Church (q.v.) opposite the School.

According to the 1321 ‘Black’ Survey of Hendon, the site was owned by Stephen Nicoll, members of whose large land-owning local family were here for the next 300 years. There is a memorial tablet in Hendon Parish Church to two William Nicolls, the older of whom was one of two ‘Clerkes of the Cheque’, i.e. paymasters for the 40 special messengers Charles I dispatched to deliver important royal messages throughout the realm. Ridgeway House probably dates back to c.1525. In 1702 it was owned by John Harman, a Quaker and a son of Captain Edward Harman of Abingdon, one of Cromwell’s Ironsides, devolving to his son Jeremiah in 1720. In 1729 Harman sold Ridgeway House for £750 to Michael Russell, another Quaker and a prosperous weaver and landowner. Russell died in 1748 and his daughter Mary, married since 1724 to Peter Collinson, inherited the property for her lifetime, the property then to go to Michael Collinson, her son. Mary and Peter Collinson moved to Ridgeway House on April 8th 1749.

Peter Collinson (1694-1768) was a wealthy textile merchant and one of England’s foremost botanists and naturalists, one of the first importers of shrubs and trees to this country, and a friend of Carl Linnaeus. He became a fellow of the Royal Society in 1728. Collinson had a warm personal relationship with Benjamin Franklin and he acted as unpaid agent for the subscription library established by Franklin in Philadelphia in 1731. Franklin often visited Collinson at Mill Hill. Collinson asked a fellow Quaker merchant for help in getting plants from America and was recommended to John Bartram, a farmer in Philadelphia with a good knowledge of native species and also a Quaker. Collinson for many years received 5 guinea boxes of seeds and cuttings, which he then distributed to the aristocracy and landed gentry, bringing about considerable changes to the landscape of England.

Collinson had originally established a garden at his house in Peckham, containing many of the plants and trees sent by Bartram and others, and when he moved to Ridgeway House he personally transferred all the plants over a 2-year period, his brother having taken over the Peckham house. Collinson put some plants into his father-in-law’s garden at Ridgeway House before his wife inherited the property and in one of his letters he states that his Hydrangea (evidently arborescens) “perhaps the first in England, flowered in August, 1746, in my garden at Mill Hill”. A plaque at the School commemorates this. In 1762 his magnolia acuminata, raised from seed in 1746, flowered for the first time. In 1763 he wrote: 'I often stand with wonder and amazement when I view the inconceivable variety of flowers, shrubs and trees now in our garden . . . very few gardens, if any, excel mine at Mill Hill for the rare examples which are my delight' (Hortus Collinsonianus, 1843). People came from all over Europe to visit his gardens here. The catalogue of his collection at Mill Hill was published after his death.

Mary Collinson died in May 1753 and under the terms of her father’s will, ownership passed to her son, Michael Collinson. Peter Collinson remained at Ridgeway House until his death in 1768. He is buried with his wife in the Friends Burial Ground, Bermondsey. Michael Collinson remained in occupation of Ridgeway House, continuing his father’s botanical work in the gardens. Following his death in August 1795, his executors held the estate for the benefit of his son, Charles Steynson Collinson. In 1799 the property was sold to James Anderson and Barnard Cranston Crocker, who in turn sold it in 1801 to Richard Anthony Salisbury (1761-1829) for £2,000. Salisbury was a botanist and was one of the founder members, and the founder Secretary, of the Royal Horticultural Society in 1805. In 1807 Salisbury sold Ridgway House and the gardens to the Protestant Dissenters Grammar School Mill Hill for £1,912 and they ran the new school in Ridgeway House from 1807. The extent of the purchase is shown on the John Cooke map of 1796, being Plot numbers 156, 157 and 158, amounting to just over 8 acres in all. The principal founding members of the School were Samuel Favell, a successful mercer in the City of London, and the Revd Dr John Pye Smith, one of the best-known Nonconformist preachers in London. The founding Committee decided that the new school had to be beyond the restrictions on worship imposed by the Church of England at the time and be at least 10 miles from the corruption and temptations of London. The remains of the ’10-mile stone’ are a few hundred yards along the Ridgeway and the position of the stone is shown on the Cooke map of 1796. The coach house and stables of Ridgeway House were converted into a chapel for the School.

The School numbers gradually built up and eventually money was raised for a new building. Sir William Tite (who later designed the Royal Exchange building in the City of London) was commissioned to prepare designs. The foundation stone, containing coins of the realm and a printed report of the School, was laid on 16th June 1825 and the new school, the present main building, was opened in June 1826, and some time later Ridgeway House was demolished. The building was to provide accommodation for 120 boys, 5 masters, a housekeeper and 4 servants, together with service rooms, classrooms, dining hall and chapel. The estimated cost of the construction was £15,000. It was considered that the prime view was to the south, over London and towards the North Downs and consequently the principal elevation was at the rear. In 1822 additional lands had been purchased extending the grounds to the west and south. Some small further lands were purchased in 1847 fronting Hammers Lane but of these the Three Hammers Inn was subsequently sold.

After the opening of the new School House in June 1826, the old chapel attached to Ridgeway House was retained until 1832 when a new Chapel was built using the bricks of recently demolished old Ridgeway House for some of the foundations. On 31st October 1896 the foundation stone of another new Chapel was laid and the building, to the designs of Basil Champneys, was completed in 1898. The 1832 Chapel was extended and converted into the Large and in 1905 further extended with the Marnham Building, designed by T. E. Colcutt. The original Chapel had served as a Nonconformist chapel for the area but shortly after its completion the new Chapel became used exclusively by the School. In 1869 the School formally adopted an interdenominational policy and became open to children of other religious tenets and the name changed from the Protestant Dissenters Grammar School to Mill Hill School.

In the years after 1897, a number of further purchases were made, largely with the assistance of Mr W H Wills, of the tobacco firm W. D. & H.O. Wills, subsequently Imperial Tobacco Company. Wills became the first Baron Winterstoke and his name is remembered in the Winterstoke Library. These purchases included the Farm Field, Gears Field, and the Cricket Field. In 1910 27 acres to the south of Wills Grove, now the Park and Long Field, were purchased, again with assistance from Lord Winterstoke. In 1911 an 11 acre tract of land fronting Hammers Lane was acquired, between the Cricket Field and the Three Hammers Inn. In 1928, the main School Building was extended to the east; great care was taken to match the existing building and today the extension is quite indistinguishable from the original. Between the Wars the only purchases made were to the north of the Ridgeway of buildings for staff or pupil use, and further properties in the immediate vicinity of the School came into its ownership after World War II. From the original site of some 8 acres, the land owned and used by the School grew to 14.5 acres by 1828, to 32 acres by 1886 and now extends to over 100 acres.

Over the years extensive buildings have been constructed to provide School facilities and there are also many boarding houses, in particular St Bees (formerly the Headmaster’s House, built 1896, architect F Wills), Collinson House (built 1903, architect T E Colcutt), Ridgeway House (built 1911, architect T E Colcutt), and Burton Bank (built 1935, architect S H Hamp). In front of the school is the Gate of Honour, a war memorial for ex-pupils who had died in the two world wars.

The grounds have also undergone change. Originally sloping down fairly sharply to the south, the Top Field was terraced and levelled in 1902, the work carried out mostly by pupils under the direction of one of the masters. The Gears Field (a name dating back to 1321), was levelled in 1906, the Park sports field was created in 1925/6 by levelling part of the Park (to the designs of E. H. White, garden architect), and the Memorial Field was levelled in the late 1940s. The Buckland Garden, laid out by Woods of Taplow, was created in 1949 as a memorial to Richard (Dickie) Buckland, a former pupil and then a Governor from 1889-1947. In his long years as a Governor, Buckland was a powerful force behind the expansion of the School buildings and of the grounds. He spent a considerable amount of time walking round the grounds with the ‘bailiff’ of the School, “planning their lay-out, and seeing them, with his powerful visual imagination, as they would be 40 years on” (words used at his Tribute Service in the Chapel a few days after his death). During his time, Top Field, Gears, the Hockey Field and the Park Cricket Ground were all levelled. No detailed information is available on specific plantings attributable to his direction but his love of the School and of Mill Hill were significant factors in the preservation and expansion of the beauty of the grounds.

In more recent times a major contributor to the planting in the school grounds has been Trevor Chilton, Head of Biology from 1979 to 2009. One of his first acts on joining the School was to save the Collinson Tulip Tree at the front, which had been struck by lightning with only a 3ft stump remaining. Having fought off efforts to have the stump removed, Chilton nurtured the tree, selected a strong growing leader and saved a fine historic specimen. Over the years Chilton supervised the planting of new trees and hedges and established a Tree Fund whereby individuals and organisations contributed funds for the planting of new trees. There is a list of 32 specimen trees planted, together with a map showing their location on the site, in most cases giving the name of the donor and date of planting. All but 4 of the trees are flourishing and will be continuing to make their contribution to the rich diversity of specimen trees on this site.

Amongst the special trees is one of which only the stump now remains, a cedar tree which legend has it was originally planted by Carl Linnaeus on a visit to Ridgeway House in 1735 – although there is no historical evidence of such a visit. However, the tree was evidently planted in Peter Collinson’s time and it stood until as recently as 1998 when age and disease finally took its toll and the tree had to be removed. The remains of the tree are in what is now the School House Garden.

Particularly noteworthy in the School’s history is that James Murray was an English teacher here between 1870 and 1885, during which time he began work on a New English Dictionary on Historical Principles, which was to become the Oxford English Dictionary. He lived nearby in a house owned by the School in Hammers Lane where he had built a corrugated metal building in the grounds, called the Scriptorium, where he carried out the work of sorting out some 3 tons of paper ‘slips’ containing word usages. In 1884, the first part of his Dictionary was published. When he moved to Oxford in 1885 to complete the work, he was unable to move the Scriptorium, which he then gave to the School as a reading room. Funds were raised to enable the Scriptorium to be dismantled and re-erected in the School grounds. That building burned down in 1902 and the new Murray Scriptorium was erected in 1903, which has an inscription to record its origins.

In the Science School are three plaques of special note. The first records the opening of the building in 1924 by Edward Prince of Wales. The second commemorates the appointment to the Order of Merit in 1991 of a former pupil, Sir Francis Crick, who had been awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962 for his part in the discovery of the molecular structure of DNA. The third plaque records the making from this building of the first ever two-way radio communication with New Zealand, only 8 months after the building was opened. The amateur radio operator was Cecil William Goyder who at the time was a pupil at the School and who later became chief Marconi representative in India.

The history of this School and of the site continues to unfold. Initially a boys only school, Mill Hill admitted girls into the sixth form in 1975 and went fully co-educational in 1997. In 2007 there were celebrations for the School’s Bicentenary, for which a new tree was planted by the Countess of Wessex and the Favell Building was constructed, and the School is maintaining its tradition of preservation, conservation and renewal. With its site of over 100 acres, the School continues to play a vital part in the preservation of the Green Belt in North London.

Sources consulted:

LB Barnet Library Services, 'Local Maps and Views, 1600-1850', 1972; J O'Neil, 'Plants for an Intire Stranger: Peter Collinson's Contribution to Eighteenth Century Botany' in Country Life 21 May 1981; Ralph Calder, 'Mill Hill: a 1000 years of history', 1993; Arthur Mee 'The King's England: London North of the Thames except the City and Westminster' (Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, 1972).

LPGT Volunteer Research by Colyn and Barbara Reece: Braithwaite, Roderick, ‘Strikingly Alive’-The History of the Mill Hill School Foundation 1807-2007’ (Phillimore & Co Ltd, 2006); Brett-James, Norman G, ‘The History of Mill Hill School 1807-1907’ (Andrew Melrose, London); Brett-James, Norman G, ‘The History of Mill Hill School 1807-1923’ (The Surrey Fine Art Press); Brett-James, Norman G, ‘Mill Hill’ (Blackie & Son Ltd. London and Glasgow, 1938); Calder, Ralph, Notes on the early history of Mill Hill; Dillwyn, Lewis Weston, ‘Hortus Collinsonianus’ (Printed by W C Murray and D Rees, 1843); Walker, T.D, ‘An Account of the Development of the Land and Buildings at Mill Hill School 1807 - 1990; Wulf, Andrea, ‘The Brother Gardeners (William Heinemann, London 2008); Memorial Service Pamphlet to Richard (Dickie) Buckland, 26th November 1947.

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