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Stanmore Common: The untold history and mysteries

Harrow is full of great walking spots, and as we head towards the Summer – and it is coming! – we will take a look at a few of the best spots to take a picnic and discover their historical importance, starting with Stanmore Common.

This local nature reserve, over 49 hectares in size, and the Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation is located at the top of Stanmore. Although it is a relatively small patch of land, it has a rich and fascinating history that stretches back centuries.

From our research, the first recorded mention of Stanmore Common dates back to 793 AD, when land in the area was granted to St Alban’s Abbey by the King of Mercia. The abbey held onto the land until the Norman Conquest when it was seized by the Crown Estate. In the centuries that followed, the land changed hands numerous times and was eventually subject to an Enclosure Act in 1813, which saw much of it lost to private ownership.

Before the Enclosure Act, Stanmore Common was largely heathland, which was used by people for collecting fuel and rough pasture. The area had poor soil, which made it unsuitable for agricultural improvement, and so it remained largely untouched. Grazing and occasional fires were used to maintain the common heathland, and this allowed a diverse range of plants and animals to thrive.

Stanmore Common: The untold history and mysteries Harrow Online
Picnic area at Stanmore Common. Credit: David Howard

Over time, however, the common began to change. As livestock numbers dwindled in the early 20th century, the heathland began to convert to secondary woodland. Today, much of the common is covered in trees, but there are still some areas of open heathland that provide important habitats for a range of wildlife.

One of the most fascinating features of Stanmore Common is the presence of two archaeological relics. The first is a tumulus of Bronze Age antiquity, which is thought to date back to around 2000 BC. Tumuli were often used as burial mounds, and it is possible that this one was used in this way. The second archaeological relic is a pillow mound, which may have been artificially created in the Middle Ages as a rabbit warren. Pillow mounds were used to encourage rabbits to breed, as they provided a warm and secure place for the animals to live.

In addition to its natural and archaeological features, Stanmore Common has also played a role in more recent history. During World War II, part of the common was used as a training ground for soldiers, and it is still possible to see the remains of the trenches and earthworks that were constructed at that time. In the post-war period, the common became a popular spot for picnics and family outings, and it continues to be enjoyed by local residents today.

In recognition of its importance for wildlife, the Common has designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest in the 1970s. This designation recognized the common’s value as a habitat for a range of rare and endangered species, including heathland birds like the nightjar and the Dartford warbler. However, the common was de-notified as an SSSI in the early 1990s, largely because much of the heathland had been lost and replaced with secondary woodland.

Stanmore Common: The untold history and mysteries Harrow Online
Stanmore Pond. Credit: David Howard

Despite this loss, Stanmore Common remains an important site for wildlife, and it is home to a range of plant and animal species. The common’s woodland is dominated by oak and hornbeam trees, which provide important habitats for a range of birds, insects, and mammals. The heathland areas that still remain are home to a range of rare and endangered species, including the silver-studded blue butterfly and the grayling butterfly.

In 2023, Stanmore Common is managed by Harrow Council, which is committed to preserving and enhancing its natural and cultural heritage. The common is open to the public, and it is a popular spot for walking, cycling, and nature watching. Visitors can explore the woodland and heathland areas, as well as the common’s archaeological features – we strongly recommend checking out the ponds which are perfect for a picnic or Sunday walk with the family.

To access the Common – A car park is available off Warren Lane (HA7 3HQ). Alternatively, a route extends from Stanmore Common to Stanmore Station which is within walking distance.

 

Credits: The Stanmore Tourist Board, Wikipedia and Harrow Nature Conservation Forum.

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