Highgate’s documented history begins in the 14th century. By this point, a hamlet had already been established around the Bishop of London’s tollgate on a new road through his hunting grounds.
Over the years, a small settlement grew up, with shops to serve the increasing number of grand ‘country’ houses and inns to provide shelter for travellers, and later, fresh air and fun for Londoners.
Historical photos courtesy of the Highgate Literary and Scientific Institution, Michael Hammerson and Chris Southwood
The land we now know as the Highgate Bowl is what remains of the extensive pasture lands used to fatten up cattle and sheep after their sometimes arduous journey to Highgate before the last push down to the London meat markets. The drovers who brought them no doubt made good use of Highgate’s many inns.
The yards behind the shops and inns on the High Street and North Road were used as stables and enclosures for animals (particularly pigs) kept by local butchers.
This changed as Highgate entered the 20th century but, remarkably, the core of the Bowl remained open space.
The eastern section (currently woodlands) was owned by the London Cemetery Company who used it to grow flowers for Highgate Cemetery until 1956, when it was sold to the Pearl Brothers who owned Martin’s Motors in Duke’s Yard.
The site of the former garden centre was already being used as a nursery by the 1950s. Southwood Nurseries was acquired by Capital Gardens Ltd for use as a garden centre in 1986.