The fragments of ancient woodland in Cherry Tree Wood have probably been in existence since prehistoric times. Records show that Cherry Tree Wood was once part of the hunting park of the Bishops of London dating back to the early 12th Century and was probably a gift from Henry II during that period. At that time the Bishops created a huge enclosed park called the Great Hornsey Park with their adjoining manors of Hornsey and Finchley and at one time there was a hunting lodge on the area now occupied by Highgate Golf Club.
The Bishops’ Park was divided into two sections referred to as the Great Park, which was west of the present Great North Road and Little Park, which was in the north west. One small remnant, now called Turners Wood, is the remains of the Great Park and the Little Park is represented by Highgate Woods and Cherry Tree Wood. Ancient maps show that the area of the northern boundary of the medieval hunting park still exists as the boundary of Cherry Tree Wood alongside Brampton Grove.
Latterly, the area became known as Dirthouse Wood after the night soil and horse manure cleaned from London’s streets that was brought as fertiliser for the hay meadows to the Dirthouse, now the White Lion pub next to the station. Mutton brook also rose in the woods and originally flowed west to join Dollis brook at Bell Lane in Hendon
In 1863 the Edgware, Highgate and London railway arrived, further reducing the woodland and blocking the brook to create a boggy area known locally as “the Quag” or “Watery Woods”. This water proved useful to one entrepreneur who used it to grow watercress.
Dirthouse Wood in the 1900s still stretched as far south as Hilderidge Wood close to the foot of Highgate Hill. But with the development of Launton Road and Woodside Avenue c1910 the wood was given a new southern boundary, the one we see today.
The need of a recreational space in East Finchley was first considered as early as the 1880s, when Fuel Lands, now allotments, was suggested as an excellent space. It was not until 1912 that Cherry Tree Wood was seriously considered. At the time the wood had a reputation for rowdy behaviour and it was believed that they would kill two birds with one stone if it became a recreation ground. The park was purchased by Finchley UDC (Urban District Council) from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1914 and opened to the public in 1915. The name was changed from Dirthouse to Cherry Tree Wood, after Cherry Tree Hill which rises from the station to Wellington Corner.
Over succeeding years, Cherry Tree Wood has continued to evolve to meet the changing needs of its community, adding sports facilities, a café and a children’s playground along the way. The East Finchley Community Festival, the longest standing free festival in the borough, has been held annually in Cherry Tree Wood since 1974, and the area is now firmly established as an essential cornerstone of life in this vibrant part of North London.
Sources include: LB Barnet
Many birds can be found in Cherry Tree Wood and a good time to see native birds is in winter or preferably early spring, before the oak and hornbeam trees come into full leaf, when the birds are in full song prior to the breeding season. The birds are usually to be found in either the middle or upper canopy of the wood except for the wren which will be close to the ground and which has an unmistakeably loud voice for such a tiny bird!
Native birds seen in the wood have included: goldcrest; long-tailed tit; blue tit; great tit; mistle thrush; song thrush; blackbird; jay; crow; magpie; green woodpecker; greater spotted woodpecker; starling, dunnock; robin; chaffinch; nuthatch; little owl; pied wagtail; wood pigeon (and feral pigeon); goldfinch; greenfinch and wren. Many of these birds have been successful in rearing young in the wood. Recently, green parakeets have also been seen feeding in the wood.
Migrant summer visitors to the wood include the chiffchaff, so named because of its song, the blackcap which has a very beautiful song, and the whitethroat; and a frequent winter visitor is the redwing which arrives in flocks of forty or more.
Cherry Tree Wood is dominated by Oak and Hornbeam, although in most of the wood , the Hornbeam now greatly outnumber the Oak. Other tree species include Ash Silver birch, Osier, Field Maple, Cherry, Sycamore and a few ornamental varieties.
In much of the Wood the Oaks range from about 100-150 years old. There are Hawthorn and hybrids especially where gaps occur in the main tree canopy around the edge of the Wood where escaped garden species such as Laurel, Snowberry Cotoneaster and Juneberry can be seen.
Wild flowers which have been recorded include Dog Mercury, Lesser Celandine, Wood Avens, Dog Violet, Foxglove, Cow Parsley, Enchanter’s Nightshade as well as Wood Anemones, Arum Liles and Bluebells.
PLAY AREA & SPORTS FACILITIES
There is a large enclosed play area for young children, including some equipment designed for children with impaired mobility. Completion of the new play area for older children and teens is scheduled for summer 2010. There are several tennis courts and a basketball court, and ample green space for outdoor games and picnics. Toilets and changing rooms can be found near the Fordington Road gates.
Lazy Sally kiosk is run by local East Finchley resident Sally-Ann Wigfield, and is open throughout the year, weather permitting. The menu includes a range of fresh and healthy options such as falafel and hummus wraps and vegetarian mezze platters, as well as toasted sandwiches, jacket potatoes, ice cream and cakes. Lazy Sally welcomes babies and children – there is a kids menu and several high chairs. Dogs are also welcome.
Sally has submitted plans to use the site of the now defunct Pavilion to create a not-for-profit community cafe and education space. There are disparate views and opinions amongst the Friends of Cherry Tree Wood concerning the future of the Pavilion. As such, we remain neutral regarding the development, however we will engage fully with all stakeholders throughout the ongoing discussions.
You can read about progress on the Cherry Tree Wood Pavilion website.
Click here to read news and updates of conservation activities to preserve and and regenerate trees and flowers in Cherry Tree Wood.