History of Monken Hadley Common

What is now Monken Hadley Common is a small part of the former 3,380 ha (13 square miles) royal hunting ground of Enfield Chase, which was part of the Duchy of Lancaster estate. It is believed that Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth I) often hunted on the Chase after she was granted the estate of West Lodge Park by her brother Edward VI in 1547. Much of the Chase lay in the parish of Enfield, but its inhabitants, together with those of the neighbouring parishes of Edmonton, South Mimms and Monken Hadley enjoyed certain rights of common over it, such as the right to fatten their pigs in the autumn on acorns and beech mast, and the right for their sheep and cattle to graze (eat grass) and browse (eat the tender shoots and twigs of shrubs and trees); the sheep and cattle also ate the browsewood cut to feed the deer in the winter.

Princess Elizabeth, about 1546

The Princess Elizabeth, aged about 13 (1546). Portrait sometimes attributed to William Scrots. - Photo © Lara E. Eakins

The Enfield Chase Act of 1777

In 1777 the Chase was “enclosed” by the 1777 Act (in essence this means that it was turned into farm land) and parcelled out between the Crown, the four parishes of Enfield, Edmonton, South Mimms and Monken Hadley and certain local landowners. All the rights of common over the former Chase were extinguished, including those enjoyed by some of the inhabitants of Monken Hadley, and in compensation for their loss the Act set aside 190 acres (97 ha) to be held in trust for their benefit, the trustee being a newly-created statutory corporation called the Churchwardens of the Parish Church of Monken Hadley in the County of Middlesex (hereinafter simply referred to as “the Churchwardens”) and thereby Monken Hadley Common came into being. At the same time the Common also became part of Monken Hadley parish - which is why the northern boundary of the Common eventually became the boundary between the present London Boroughs of Barnet and Enfield.

The gates leading from the Common to Monken Hadley church

The gates leading from the Common to Monken Hadley parish church; under the terms of the Enfield Chase Act the churchwardens (acting as a statutory corporation) held the Common in trust for the commoners from 1777 until 2022 - Photo by Chris Wilkinson

The South Mimms allotment was quickly partitioned between the various freeholders and copyholders, also under powers contained in the 1777 Act. There were no similar powers for the other villages but the Edmonton and Enfield allotments were, nevertheless, divided out under separate Acts in 1800 and 1801 respectively, meaning that Monken Hadley Common is now the only common to have survived the enclosure of the Chase.

Grazing rights

From time to time Rules and Orders to regulate the Common were made under the 1777 Act, and people could be (and sometimes were) prosecuted for contravening them; amongst other things they set out the rules which determined what types of animal could be grazed on the Common, and how many each person could turn out. For example the Rules and Orders made in 1799 provided “That no beast or cattle whatsoever shall be commonable” [i.e. allowed to be turned out on the Common] “except geldings, mares, foals under a year old, fillies, steers, cows, female calves, heifers, female asses ... and hogs well rung with iron rings in their snouts”, and penalties were imposed for anyone turning out any “stoned horse or stallion, rig bull, sheep or jack ass”. This list of commonable “beasts” (i.e. animals) was, however, changed in later revisions of the Rules and Orders to include only “geldings, mares, foals under a year old, fillies, steers, cows, heifers, calves and asses”.

Horses and cattle on Monken Hadley Common about 1911

Horses and cattle on Monken Hadley Common about 1911, with Hurst Cottage in the background- Postcard, postmark 1911, unknown publisher

Until the second half of the 19th century all grazing and other rights over the Common were “appurtenant” (i.e. attached to buildings and their surrounding land rather than being owned directly by individual people) and how many animals could be turned out was determined by the number of “stints” attached to each property, this being calculated according to formulae laid down in the Rules and Orders themselves. Each stint entitled the owner (or, where appropriate, the tenant) to turn out one commonable beast. Only properties which were either standing in 1777, or were later built on the site of pre-1777 buildings, were entitled to grazing rights, and in a predominantly rural economy these rights were valuable in that, for example, they allowed farms in the parish to keep more cattle than would otherwise have been possible, and the owners of properties in the High Street to graze their horses, which were then the only form of transport available.

The coming of the railway

In 1847 the area of the Common was reduced in size through the acquisition by the Great Northern Railway Company (GNR) of a strip of land for the construction of their main line into King's Cross. The service opened on 7 August 1850 from a temporary station at Maiden Lane.

The 'Flying Scotsman' passing Hadley Woods

The "Flying Scotsman" passing Hadley Woods (i.e. the Common), about 1906 - Postcard, postmark 1906, unknown publisher

Before the railway was constructed a road ran from Monken Hadley church as far as Folly Farm (which was roughly on the site of the present Jewish Community Secondary School), and the GNR initially constructed a level crossing to carry the road over the railway. Under the terms of the 1777 Act the owners of the properties with appurtenant grazing rights were also the beneficial owners of the Common, and as a consequence were entitled to compensation for the loss of land to the railway; they were, however, not happy with the level crossing. In negotiation with the company they made a number of demands, including the diversion of the road via a new bridge over the railway cutting and the provision of a new road to connect the Common to any new station which might be built under “Lions Down”. (Such a station was in fact built, and is now known as New Barnet.)

The GNR wouldn’t agree to these demands, and case went to arbitration; the bridge was granted, along with a footpath (rather than a road) by the side of the railway from the Common to the new station (this footpath is still in existence and is well used). In order to construct the bridge the GNR wanted to purchase two strips of land to carry the road on both sides of the bridge, but there was a problem in that under the 1777 Act the Churchwardens had no power to sell the land. The matter was eventually resolved by the insertion of additional powers into The Great Northern Railway Company’s Increase of Capital Act, 1853; the land was sold and the road was diverted from near the present car park, over the new bridge and for some considerable distance along the bottom of a new cutting and beyond on the far side. These two strips of land are now the property of Network Rail, and together with the original purchase they brought the total area of the Common acquired by the GNR to about 2.2 ha. (Subsequently, in 1977, the road on the eastern side of the railway was legally converted into a bridleway and a barrier was erected by the railway bridge, but the legal status of what is now a track between the bridge and the car park is very unclear.)

The track between the railway bridge and the car park

The track between the railway bridge and the car park - Photo by Les Bedford

Though the total amount of compensation for the loss of land to the GNR had been determined, it was far from clear how it should be divided up; the case went to court as the suit of Monro vs Proctor (1858) and the Chief Clerk in the Chancery Division of the High Court eventually drew up a list of the Properties and their Owners and Occupiers entitled to Rights of Common and of the number of Stints allowed by each. However, the costs of the determination swallowed up almost the entire amount received, so a number of property owners may not have bothered to prove their entitlement. (It would appear that the original list may not have survived, though it was reconstructed and published in the 1902 Report into the question of Common Rights - see below.)

The Common as a potential development site

By the last part of the 19th century much of the land to the south of the Common had been developed for housing. In particular the 16.6 ha of Woodcock Farm had been purchased by the British Land Company, which had laid out and started to develop Woodville, Hadley and Clifford Roads, and had connected Hadley Road to the road which crossed the Common via a new gate. The old farmhouse, which was sited close to what are now The Crescent gates, together with three acres of land were sold by the company to one Charles Dickens, a “ribbon warehouseman” who moved to Monken Hadley from Forest Hill in Kent (he was not the famous author!); he built the original Latimer House and laid out the rest of the land to form what is now known as The Crescent as a series of development plots overlooking the Common.


Monkenhurst - the home of the famous comedian, writer and actor Spike Milligan from 1974 until his death in 2002 - was built in 1880 on one of the plots on The Crescent overlooking the Common - Photo by Philafrenzy, reproduced under licence CC BY-SA 4.0

The 14 stints which had been attached to Woodcock Farm were purportedly severed from the property and sold to Dickens, thereby being turned into what are known as rights “in gross” (i.e. rather than being attached to a property they were now owned directly by individual people, and could be freely bought and sold) something which was eventually accepted as being legally valid.

By the end of the 19th century it had become apparent that the Common would have had had a greater value as a development site than it had for its grazing, and momentum started to build for it to be sold. A legal opinion was obtained to the effect that the sale of the Common would have been legally possible provided that all the beneficial owners agreed, and in 1902 a Committee was appointed to investigate the question of Common Rights; the resulting report (which was directed at establishing a list of the stintholders who owned the Common) raised as many questions as it resolved. Meanwhile the possibility that the Common might be sold was being vigorously opposed by the incomers living in the newly-built houses nearby, and the Hadley Common Preservation Society was formed to fight this. However the incomers were many - and had votes - and no doubt with this in mind the East Barnet Valley Urban District Council purchased the derelict Albert Cottage on Hadley Green with its one stint. (Albert Cottage was situated near Joslin’s Pond and was soon demolished, the site eventually being used in the construction of East View). Though the legality of this purchase was brought into question it eventually succeeded in doing what it was intended to, which was to completely block the sale of the Common. Notwithstanding this many more stints which were no longer needed for grazing were subsequently severed from the properties to which they were attached, and were speculatively purchased by people who still hoped to make a profit from the Common’s eventual sale.

The Common after the Second World War

Grazing on the Common steadily declined from the mid 19th century onwards as more and more farmland was developed for housing, a decline which accelerated when motor vehicles started to replace horse drawn ones from the early 20th century onwards, and grazing would seem to have ceased completely by the 1950s. From that point onwards the Churchwardens had neither the time nor the money for the upkeep, and the Common fell into rather a state of disrepair, which continued until it eventually came under new management in 1981 (see below).

By 1970 most of the Common had been registered as common land under the Commons Registration Act 1965 (the register is now held by Barnet Council). Several small areas which had been leased by the Churchwardens were (correctly) omitted from the register plan, together with other small areas around the periphery, which - it is now clear - should really have been registered. In addition to this, three areas of land were included in the register when they should clearly not have been; two of these are very small, but the third was an egregious mistake in that all the land within the railway security fence was registered as common land (the Trust is not affected by this, though, because it does not own any of the three areas concerned). For these and other reasons the boundary of the registered common land and the legal boundary of the Common are not contiguous over substantial parts of their lengths.

In 1981 new Rules and Orders were formed which placed the management of the Common in the hands of a Management Committee appointed by the Commoners at their Annual General Meetings, together with two Curators appointed annually by the Committee; additionally the Committee was advised by the legally qualified Clerk to the Churchwardens who also acted as its Secretary. The Committee was to meet not less than three times a year to receive from the Curators a report on their management of the Common since its last meeting, and to give to the Curators “such directions with regard to the management of the Common as it thought proper”. At each Annual General meeting the Curators were also to submit a printed account, duly audited, of all moneys received and expended by them during the previous year. Though there was no specific provisions in the Rules and Orders for this, the Committee appointed from amongst itself a financially qualified Treasurer, and (although in practice this varied from the provisions laid down in the Rules and Orders) all monies and investments were held in the name of the Churchwardens as trustees of the Common.

Under the terms of the 1777 Act, a number of leases of parts of the Common had been granted prior to 1981, and the Committee was empowered to renew any of them for terms not exceeding 21 years. The Committee was also empowered to “grant license and permission to the owner or occupier of any lands bordering upon or adjoining to the common to have, make and use any gates, ways or passages over the Common, which may be convenient although not necessary, to lead to any house or outhouse or lands of such owner or occupier, provided always that an annual rent be reserved for such license, and that the term thereof shall not exceed 21 years” (this wording closely reflects that of the 1777 Act itself). Such easements and leases were to be “by an instrument in writing and where necessary or appropriate under seal expressed to be made by the Churchwardens of the Parish of Monken Hadley as trustees of the Common by the direction of the Management Committee but so drawn as to impose no personal liability on the Churchwardens or either of them”. (Under the terms of the 2022 Act all the existing leases were transferred from the Churchwardens to the Trust.)

Church House Garden

Part of the Church House garden was leased by the Churchwardens to the Diocese of London (the Trust is now the lessor) - Photo by Les Bedford

The 1981 Rules and Orders retained the provisions of earlier versions regarding the exercising of grazing rights, though these were never actually called upon, grazing having ceased many years earlier. Provisions were also included which were directed mainly at the conduct of members of the public using the Common and related to matters such as: fires; the use of guns, snares and nets; the deposition of rubbish; the protection of the flora; the damaging or carrying away of wood, turf, gravel and the like; and the use of the Common by organised groups.

In 1991 the Council of the London Borough of Barnet claimed that they owned the Common by virtue of section 269 of the Local Government Act, 1933. The Trustees and their advisers disagreed with this interpretation and eventually the claim was withdrawn.

For over 40 years the Common was very successfully run on the basis of the 1981 Rules and Orders, until its ownership and management were transferred to the Trust by the Monken Hadley Common Act 2022.

The erroneous repeal of the Enfield Chase Act in 1978

In 1978 Parliament, acting on erroneous advice from the Law Commission, repealed the Enfield Chase Act of 1777. Although the repeal did not affect the title to the Common, it did affect, for the limited time during which the repeal took effect ie 31st July 1978 to 5th November 1993, the validity of the Rules and Orders made under the Act.

When the Churchwardens learned of the repeal some years later, strong representations were made to the Law Commission, and in 1993 the Act was reinstated “as if it had never been repealed”, which means in law that the Rules and Orders made under the Act are now, and have been since 5th November 1993, regarded as having had unbroken and uninterrupted validity from 31st July 1978 onwards. In particular the Rules and Orders made in 1981 have been valid from the date they were made and will continue to be so until they are eventually repealed by new Regulations made under s.10 of the Monken Hadley Common Act 2022, the erroneous repeal of the 1777 Act in the meantime being entirely disregarded in law.

The Friends of Hadley Common

[To follow]

Five-year Management Plan 2024-29

Please find attached the Five-year Management Plan 2024-29

AGM Minutes

Please find attached the AGM minutesof meeting 16/10/2023.

Vacancies corner

  1. Woodlands volunteer - we are looking for someone with expertise on woodlands in general to join either as a volunteer or, possibly, as a trustee. Please contact treasurer@mhctrust.org.uk for more details.