The Corporation of London's powers over their new property were quite closely defined:-

'As regards the said lands at Highgate the Corporation shall at all times as far as possible preserve the natural aspect thereof and as regards all the said lands shall take all necessary steps for the protecting of timber and other trees pollards shrubs and underwood heather gorse turf and herbage now or at any time hereafter growing thereon and for preventing the felling cutting lopping or injuring thereof or the digging of the gravel and clay loam and sand therein except as may be necessary for the purpose of this Act.'

W.H.Hudson, the great naturalist, described the wood only three years after the City of London took over the unmanaged Wood:

'A very large proportion of Highgate Wood is veritably a wood, very thick and copse-like, so that to turn aside from the path is to plunge into a dense thicket of trees and saplings, where a lover of solitude might spend a long summer's day without seeing a human face'

Apparently the City of London began to cut undergrowth and saplings soon after it took control of the Wood and an unpublished photograph of Highgate Wood mentioned by Silvertown, shows bundles of wood stacked by newly cut coppice stools. The effect was to open more parts of the wood to the public, with the consequent trampling of the ground and destruction of wild flowers. In March 1894 A.E.Houseman, who lived opposite Highgate School and walked regularly in Highgate Wood wrote a letter to the Standard.

Highgate Wood

Sir, in August, 1886, Highgate Wood became the property of the Mayor and Commonalty and Citizens of the City of London. It was then in a very sad state. So thickly was it overgrown with brushwood, that if you stood in the centre you could not see the linen of the inhabitants of Archway Road hanging to dry in their gardens. Nor could you see the advertisements for Juggins' stout and porter which surmount the front of the public house at the south corner of the wood. Therefore the Mayor and Commonalty and Citizens cut down the intervening brushwood, and now when we stand in the centre, we can divide our attention between Juggins' porter and our neighbours' washing. Scarlet flannel petticoats are much worn in Archway Road, and if anyone wishes to feast his eyes on these very bright and picturesque objects, so seldom seen in the streets, let him repair to the centre of Highgate Wood. Still we were not happy. The wood is bounded on the north by the railway to Muswell Hill, and it was a common subject of complaint that we could not see the railway from the wood without going quite to the edge. At length however the Mayor and Commonalty acid Citizens have begun to fell the trees on the north, so that people in the centre of the wood will be able to look at the railway when they are tired of the porter and the petticoats---

The letter appears to have had little effect because in 1916, in an article on the botany of the district, Nicholson wrote:

'Highgate Woods, which thirty years ago were a blaze of colour in spring, are now so intersected by cinder and asphalt paths that their beauty has almost been destroyed. Bluebells are practically non-existent, and the thousands of wood anemones are now represented by a few miserable clumps of leaves here and there. The better drainage of the woods has destroyed numerous plants, and several fine clumps of such as Carex pendula amd Carex vesiearia have been lost.

 

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Literary Associations of Hornsey, by F.W.M.Draper.

The Botany of the District, Transactions London Natural History Society, 1915:40-43. by C.S.Nicholas.

 

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