Historian Peter Barber OBE: ‘Highgate is mostly occupied by a wealthy elite’

Historian Peter Barber OBE is head of maps at the British Library and has lived in or near Highgate nearly all his life. The 66-year-old, now of Crouch End, sits on the council at Lauderdale House and has documented its history in 1993 tome, Lauderdale Revealed

What brought you to Highgate? My parents. I came to Highgate aged 18 months in 1950, a few months after my parents, who were Czech-Jewish refugees, had arrived in England from Libya where my father, a doctor, had been medical officer in Cyrenaica.

If you were editor of the Ham&High for a day, what local issue would you champion? The future of Lauderdale House – and I’m glad to say you are doing so already.

What would you change about Highgate? The number of estate agents and the mentality of some of its wealthiest inhabitants, or – thinking of Athlone House or Witanhurst – its prospective inhabitants.

How has Highgate changed over the years? Architecturally very little. The environmental committee of the Highgate Society and, Michael Hammerson in particular, should take a lot of credit for that. However, socially it has changed. When I was a child, Holly Village was largely occupied by clerks, dinner ladies and the like whose families had lived in the neighbourhood for several generations. Now it seems to be largely occupied by a wealthy elite.


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What is the area’s best kept secret? Possibly the little hill garden between Makepeace and Holly Lodge Mansions on the Holly Lodge Estate which was depicted – as Traitors’ Hill – in 18th century engravings.

Who is the most inspiring person you have ever met? My father who was forced by circumstances to make several fresh starts and despite everything that fate threw at him, just got on with it. He also grew to love Highgate and the Heath and told me when he was 94, and we were looking across the meadows towards Kenwood from Parliament Hill, how fortunate he felt at having ended up in Highgate instead of among the coal mines of his home town.

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