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Fascinating history of unique village within a village

PUBLISHED: 12:14 11 July 2008 | UPDATED: 15:13 07 September 2010

Baroness Burdett-Coutts set up the quiet enclave using striking gothic architecture

Baroness Burdett-Coutts set up the quiet enclave using striking gothic architecture

Historian Melanie Backe-Hansen explores the history of Holly Village in Highgate HOLLY Village is a unique group of cottages created by one of the richest women in Victorian England, second only to Queen Victoria, Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts. With t

Historian Melanie Backe-Hansen explores the history of Holly Village in Highgate

HOLLY Village is a unique group of cottages created by one of the richest women in Victorian England, second only to Queen Victoria, Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts.

With the help of Charles Dickens and architect Henry Darbishire, Baroness Burdett-Coutts set up this quiet enclave of cottages in Highgate using striking gothic architecture. Today, the homes in the Dartmouth Park conservation area are all Grade II* listed.

Angela Burdett was the daughter of Sir Francis Burdett and the granddaughter of Thomas Coutts of Coutts Bank. With these connections she grew up with associations as diverse as politicians such as Gladstone and Disraeli and European royalty and nobility, including the French royal family.

In 1837, at the age of 23, Burdett inherited a large portion of the Coutts estate, making her one of the wealthiest women in Britain.

The difference with Baroness Burdett-Coutts was that along with being extremely wealthy and having some of the most illustrious connections in Britain, she was one of the most generous and gave large sums of money to charitable causes. Her generosity led to schemes for improvement in sanitation in London slums, ragged schools (those for poor and neglected children), homes for prostitutes and homeless women, and she gave vast sums to the building of new churches. She was also responsible for the establishment of the NSPCC, the RSPCA, and schemes in Ireland and Scotland including the token statue of Greyfriars Bobby in Edinburgh.

Baroness Burdett Coutts became good friends with Charles Dickens who helped her in her philanthropic endeavours and was said to have planned Holly Village with her, "down to the last details".

She was also a close friend of the Duke of Wellington, even to the point of possible marriage. In 1871 she was bestowed with the title Baroness Burdett-Coutts of Highgate and Brookfield and was given the freedom of the City of London in 1872. Edward VII said, that after his mother Queen Victoria, she was "the most remarkable woman in the country".

There have been many conflicting theories as to the motivation behind the building of Holly Village, the most popular being that they were built as homes for her former estate workers or retired Coutts Bank employees. However, the evidence shows that even if this was her first intention the cottages were in fact home to those from the professional middle classes.

Holly Village is not only noted for its benefactor but also for the ornate gothic architecture, characterised by highly decorative adornments.

Holly Village was completed in 1865 by Henry Darbishire, who was also responsible for a number of designs for another Victorian philanthropist, George Peabody. Italian craftsmen were also hired specifically for the ornate wood carving.

The 12 cottages that make up the village were built with colour stock brick and stone dressings. The entrance gate features a gabled archway with two stone female statues, one holding a lamb and the other a dove.

Each home within Holly Village may look similar but they all have distinct features, including variations of ornate wooden turrets and stone gargoyles. When built, the homes also included a unique cleaning system - a dust-shoot below the floor that took dust directly into the cellar.

Melanie Backe-Hansen is an historian for the estate agent Chesterton.

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