When I mentioned to friends that I’d visited Ashby’s Mill, their universal response was “I had no idea there was a windmill in Brixton!” And it’s true enough that the south London district of Brixton isn’t somewhere that one immediately associates with windmills and rural life – it’s a built-up area that’s more likely to attract comments about crime or gentrification. But in a little park by an ordinary housing estate is an extraordinary survivor from the days when Brixton was just an open space a few miles from London. Today, the Brixton Windmill has been carefully restored and provides a wonderful opportunity for local people to get in touch with their area’s history.
Not far from London’s Euston station is a slightly spooky old derelict building. The former London Temperance Hospital on Hampstead Road has been closed for many years now, leaving a shell of mismatched buildings falling into disrepair. The idea of a hospital set up by members of the temperance movement intrigued me, so I decided not only to have a closer look at the old hospital itself but also dig into its history.
Situated just to the south of trendy Exmouth Market, Spa Fields in Clerkenwell is today a park that is enjoyed by locals and office workers alike, a rare green space in an area filled with offices, tower blocks and retail units. Only a couple of plaques installed by Islington Council give any indication of the area’s raucous and sometimes dark history.
London’s Square Mile is notoriously short of green space. A crowded maze of winding streets for many centuries, the City of London was originally bound by the ancient Roman walls and as the city expanded open spaces became further and further away for those living in the dirty and overcrowded centre of town. Although the Royal Parks of London have a longer history, it was the Victorians who first advocated a wider movement for open spaces in Britain’s industrialising towns and cities. Much of the reasoning behind the parks movement came from the belief that the widespread disease in urban areas came from dirty air – or ‘miasma’ – and parks were seen as a way to improve the health of those who could not afford gardens or country retreats of their own.
Barnes Old Cemetery is elusive. There’s not much information about it to be found online, and it hides amongst the trees close to the tennis courts on Rocks Lane – most people using the courts or passing in the car or on the bus probably have no idea that it’s there.