Mill Hill Preservation Society
...making change worthwhile


A Brief History of the Mill Hill Preservation Society from 1949

What caused a group of Mill Hill residents to from a preservation society in 1949?

Lawrence Street fields:
The immediate event, which, they believed called for concerted action was Hendon Corporation’s attempt to buy by compulsory purchase the 19 acres of field bounded by Lawrence Street, Marsh Lane and Sunnyfield fro a housing development. It is difficult at this distance in time to appreciate the passions that this proposed action aroused. But, in a very real sense, local residents looked on Lawrence Street fields as the physical and almost psychological break between urban Mill Hill and the countryside. People spoke of walking up Lawrence Street into these fields and being ‘on the roof of Mill Hill’, with unbroken views all round. Only 4 years before the start of the Society a dairy herd in Lawrence Street field had given the biggest milk yield in Middlesex.

The Post War Housing Shortage:
In fact, a month before the Society was formed Hendon Corporation had already requested the Minister of Health to permit the Corporation to acquire by compulsory purchase 81 acres on seven sites in the Mill Hill area on which to build houses. We must remember the acute and distressing shortage of housing that followed the end of the Second World War. The local authority naturally felt an obligation to assist in alleviating this shortage. The founders of the Society saw the implementation of the Council’s proposals as a threat to the entire character of Mill Hill.

Mill Hill’s History, Institutions and Situation:
It might be thought that much of the motivation for the formation of the Society was (in the acronym made famous by Mr Ridley) simply ‘NIMBY’-ism, building developments anywhere else, but ‘not in my back yard’. No doubt there was an element of this. But our founders were also united by a sense and love of history. Many of them were members of the Hendon and Mill Hill Historical Society and had studied our local history in depth. They were naturally concerned that the buildings in which so many famous people had lived or had associations might also be under threat from ill-considered development.
Another factor, which, they believed made Mill Hill not just another London suburb was the number of religious and educational institutions placed in substantial grounds – Mill Hill School, St. Joseph’s College, St. Vincent’s Convent and others. This gave (and thankfully still gives) as sense of green spaciousness, so different from many other London suburbs.
The final spur to the formation of the Society was the need to protect Totteridge Valley. Mill Hill’s situation on the southern ridge if the valley gives it a marvellous panorama north across hundreds of acres of farm and woodland, a priceless asset for Mill Hill and unique in its proximity to London. If Lawrence Street fields were earmarked for development, so might Totteridge Valley be.

The Early Years – a First Reversal:
Thus, in 1949 there was much worth fighting for, especially as Mill Hill has yielded more rural land to the builder in the previous 25 years than any corresponding region around London. The Society’s 1st chairman, Mr Ivar Gunn, quickly formed a committee and the first subscriptions, coupled with contributions to the ‘Lawrence Street Defence Fund’, gave enough money for the Society to print leaflets and recruit members. Soon, several hundred members had joined and the committee began the long battle to try to save Lawrence Street fields. As we all know, this first battle was lost. The Reddings development now stands in the pastureland of bygone Mill Hill and only the allotments remain of the original fields, Abbey View and other roads off Marsh Lane having been built later. The Reddings development is curious. It started as a council housing estate, but because of supposed difficulties in building due to the steepness of the terrain, the council concede development to a private builder. It never became a council estate.