Wednesday, 7 June 2017

A Hidden Treasure

The Pergola and Hill Garden in the West of Hampstead Heath is one of London's
hidden treasures. People often walk into it's grounds believing that they've invaded
someone's private property. But it is very much open to the public. And it does have
that look of being a secret garden. It's often been described as having a sense of faded
So it's hardly surprising that it has become a popular place for artists, film-makers
and photographers.
And it was all brought about by a wealthy philanthropist who bought the surrounding
property in 1904, and then proceeded to build a Pergola, completing it in 1906.

Up until around the mid 1990's before the major overhaul and building refurbishments,
the Pergola had fallen on hard times and many of it's pillars had collapsed and
were scattered everywhere. It was basically an abandoned ruin. 
Oddly enough I thought it had it's attractions before the big overhaul.
And being situated in the West Heath, home of one of London's major gay cruising
areas, the Pergola was a place of clandestine meetings during the day as well
 as the night.
And although the Hill Garden and Pergola was locked each night, that didn't
stop couples climbing over the gate for privacy. In fact the Hill and Pergola was,
and no doubt still is, a magical place at night, particularly with a full Moon in the
night sky.
I'd seen so many photo and film projects taking place there that it even gave me
the idea of doing several of my own photo shoots as well as a bit of filming there.
And walking around there on a warm Summer night really heightened your senses.
There was a kind of feeling of excitement with a hint of danger. You never knew
what you might see.

I probably wouldn't attempt it now as the place is now more looked after, but back
in those heady days of the 1990's a friend and I did some very early morning filming
around 5.00 am one night when there was plenty of Summer daylight while the rest of the
London was sleeping. I was the model for my friend who was the video cameraman.
And sometimes back then we weren't the only one's there. There were others. 

And I say others because one night I saw a boy dressed in a Greek tunic looking like
Apollo, or was it Mercury? And he was walking around the appropriate settings
of The Pergola looking like some ghostly vision. I tried to catch up with him in the
hope of arranging some filming with him. But when I thought I'd caught up with
him he seemed to just vanish into the night. I always remember that as he walked
around the pillars and vines he sang a soft tune that faded as I lost him. It was all
so surreal, like another world. But that's what the Heath was like at night, totally
surreal. I guess that it's not so active these days and hasn't been since the birth of
 modern technology with it's hook up apps, the webcam sites and just generally the
world of social media.

I didn't actually start blogging until Jan 2007 but I sometimes wonder if I would
have been brave enough to write about all the eye-popping things I'd seen and done
there if blogs were around in the 1990's. I always imagined that I might have called
that blog 'The Secret Garden of Delights' or maybe 'Debauchery After Midnight.'
Although I'm sure I would have kept it's location a secret. It's odd but I don't think
I've had a night time walk on the Heath since just before my illness 5 years ago.
I just might take a Summer night walk up there soon if that warm weather does arrive.

And so on my visit to the Pergola on Thursday on a sunny early evening I passed
at least three different groups of  film makers and fashion photographers, all taking
advantage of the early Summer evening light. And it is a popular place for fashion
shoots with it's faded grandeur setting.  I'm forever opening up a magazine
and recognizing images of where the Pergola has been used as a backdrop.


Being such a nice evening it wasn't long before I came across one of those film
crews taking advantage of the beautiful backdrop of the Pergola.
Apparently they were doing some preparatory stills for a Dance video.
And while the team were setting up for a new shot I managed to have
a quick word with the model. 

Above: Another photo shoot taking place just outside The Hill Garden.
The model being shot by a Japanese camera team cant be seen as she's
lying low in the grass.

Above: The Pond in The Hill Garden.

Below: The Hill Garden leading to The Pergola.
Below: A couple of shots from when we filmed in the Hill Garden and Pergola.
Yes I'm afraid that's me. And just what was I thinking by walking
around in that mucky Hill Garden pond, well maybe not mucky
but it was full of slippery green pond algae.

As my friend and I had loan of a big beast of a video camera that weekend
I thought we'd use it to do some indoor shots. He was a real video camera nut,
always talking about his dream to become a professional cameraman one day.
Thankfully his dream came true and he's now a fully fledged News cameraman.
But what a twink he was back then just before the new millennium.
We actually used The Pergola several times as a backdrop for many
pictures that I took of him.

Below: Another still of me that I made from the original video using my friend's video camera.
And all this before the explosion of the selfie culture.


On a visit to The Pergola last Autumn I picked a few Honesty
seed pods (above). They're often used in dried flower displays.
I've also seen them used as part of  Christmas decorations
when they are sprayed in gold paint. But I wanted to grab
a few so I could plant them and see what happens.
In fact I just planted the seeds this week, although according
to my plant book they wont flower in the first year. 
Above: A Moonlight wreath made of Honesty seed pods.
Image via & more info at Local Harvest website.

Above:  This is the spot I took a few Honesty seed pods from at The Pergola.
And as you can see I left plenty there last Autumn so as to allow
what was left to self seed. No doubt I'll have a little look in on
them during the Summer when I'll be able to see them in
flower... a nice purple blueish colour.

Above: The first Honesty seedling broke through just yesterday.
And I only planted them about 5 days ago
having stored them away over the Winter.

Summer Roses in Golders Hill Park, The West Heath.

Above: Golders Hill Park, all part of Hampstead Heath.


  1. What an interesting place and interesting personal connection. The photos are great, both human and the Heath.

  2. Andrew, Well I do feel privileged living fairly near to these parts of Hampstead.
    And yet some Londoners might need to travel miles to get to such a big green open

    I should try and get in a smiling photo amongst those old stills.

  3. A green and pleasant land indeed. I've never been to HH and if I ever get back to the UK, I must take a long walk there. Too bad you didn't get a shot of the Asian boy up on his tippy toes, flexing every muscle. It would have been a long wait I suspect. - Ian

  4. Well, Dee, weren't you the pretty little thing!

    1. Thanks Vera. How sweet of you to say. And still trying to keep young looking.