Ever noticed the City of London Corporation logo emblazoned on the signs at Hampstead Heath? It seems rather odd, given that Hampstead Heath is in the boroughs of Camden and Barnet, not the Square Mile.
The City of London Corporation runs green spaces all over the capital, no matter how far outside its jurisdiction they are. Highgate Wood is in Haringey. Kenley Common is in Croydon. Spring Park is in Bromley. Epping Forrest is partly in Waltham Forest, but partly entirely outside of London. Burnham Breeches and Stoke Common are both miles outside of Greater London. Which brings us back to the question of why they are run by the City of London Corporation.
Take a look for yourself at the seemingly random spread of green spaces that the Corporation owns on the map below:
So we asked the City of London Corporation how this came to be. The response did little to enlighten us:
We do this [run green spaces outside their parameters] because we believe the City of London Corporation has a responsibility to use its resources to protect green spaces for the public good in London and south east England.
Why does the Corporation have any more responsibility over these spaces than their own local councils? This led us to doing some digging of our own.
The first thing to note is that with each of these spaces, there's a different story as to how the City of London Corporation acquired it. Some of them were simply given to the Corporation, while others were actively procured.
We start with Epping Forest in the Victorian era. Epping Forest was traditionally common land, but moves were made to enclose it. Between 1760 and 1870, roughly seven million acres of England countryside was enclosed. London boroughs and their respective councils weren't around at this time, so the City of London Corporation was the only body with the resources to save Epping Forest from privatisation.
The City of London bought the forest to ensure that it would be open to all. In 1878, the Epping Forest Act was passed officially, establishing the City of London as conservators of Epping Forest. In 1882 Queen Victoria opened the forest officially declaring:
It gives me the greatest satisfaction to dedicate this beautiful forest to the use and enjoyment of my people for all time.
This is how it came to be known as 'the people's forest'.
Some other cases have been rather more passive on the Corporation's part. Sir Thomas Maryon Wilson attempted to enclose Hampstead Heath, presenting 15 bills to Parliament on the matter. He failed, and after his death, his heir sold the Heath to the Metropolitan Board of Works. Hampstead Heath was then juggled around like a hot potato through a couple of bureaucratic bodies before ending up with the City of London.
If these spaces were acquired in a pre-borough era, then why hasn't the City of London returned them to their rightful boroughs now? Well, in many cases, those boroughs don't actually want them.
As with so many things in life, money is at the core of the issue. The City of London has it and these local councils don't. It's this obstinate fact that has led to so many councils selling their souls to private land developers. They need cash, fast.
Running a space the size of Hampstead Heath would drain Camden of funds, so the borough council would rather leave it in the hands of the City. The City of London spokesperson also told us that the Corporation invests over £29 million in its green spaces every year. Even if they're leaps and bounds away from the Square Mile, many of London (and beyond)'s green spaces would be in much rougher state without the City of London.