Dispute over bowls green is nothing new

The Flask pub in Highgate

The Flask pub in Highgate - Credit: Archant

Plans to overhaul historic Mansfield Bowling Club in Dartmouth Park have met with a seemingly unprecedented ferocity of opposition by neighbours – but pitched battles over similarly treasured lawns in Highgate stretch back more than 300 years.

Historian Patrick Nother looks back at battle over a Highgate green

Historian Patrick Nother looks back at battle over a Highgate green - Credit: Archant

Historian Patrick Nother has delved back through archives at the British Library and the Guildhall to uncover a dispute over a small parcel of green, used as a bowls lawn, outside the Flask pub in Highgate West Hill.

It was during the reign of Charles II that a cabal of powerful well-heeled neighbours squared up to a local vicar to contest the rights to the small plot of land.

Mr Nother, who wrote a book on such cases called Kith & Strangers in the Fields of London, said: “It was the same reasons as it is now. The village of Highgate was a desirable place to live.

“It was only really during the Restoration that it saw its first development and started to change from a country village.

“In every society you get these gangs forming. You call kids hanging around on street corners a gang, but you don’t call them gangs if they live in posh houses – residents associations are a fine example.”

In the late 1600s Reverend Randolph Yearwood claimed a “confederate” of locals was trying to snatch the “common” land “without license” from the parish.

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He contested the matter in the local manorial court, held in the Flask pub, which dealt with spats in the surrounding area.

Ownership was granted to 10 powerful landowners in the group on the understanding they would “protect this part of the green for the use of the public”, as was noted in the Survey of London.

Mr Yearwood, who was described as “difficult”, was so incensed that he wrote to the Privy Council in 1687 saying: “Ancient rights, good government, order and peace of the parish have been almost totally lost and taken away by the bold and rude administrations of the said men.”

He accused the confederate group of everything from manipulating the court system to physically attacking him.

Mr Nother, 59, who lived in King’s Cross for more than two decades, said: “Although there is no exact evidence of the method of their fraud, the trustees of the Highgate Hill wasteland and bowling green were members of a powerful local establishment, who the vicar appears to have crossed when they disposed of the property to one of their number.”

By 1736 the green outside the Flask pub was no more and two houses had been built on the site.

The historical fight may hold a cautionary tale for residents battling to save Mansfield Bowling Club from development.

Its outdoor green and two tennis courts are under threat after Mansfield Bowling Club submitted plans to build eight homes on the land in Croftdown Road.

Comments on the application have closed and Camden’s planning committee will consider the scheme.