For three centuries or more, the estate of Kenwood has been a designed landscape combining formal gardens, parkland and woods.
Earliest documents dealing with Kenwood are found from 1226, when a William de Blemont granted to the Priory of Holy Trinity, Aldgate, his lands in “Kentistun” in the parish of St Pancras.
This was confirmed following year by royal charter by Henry the third.
Known as the Bishop of London’s park (Hornsey Park), the estate covered Kenwood and Parliament Hill.
It was enclosed on all sides by ditches.
The western boundary of Kenwood Estate must have been the boundary between Hampstead and Tottenhall, which runs across the Heath today.
A long stretch of this boundary follows the ancient ditch which starts where the footpath from Hampstead Ponds to the summit of Parliament Hill crosses another footpath leading from the railway bridge at Savernake Road to the western end of Ken Wood.
The ditch follows this second footpath, keeping just to the left of it all the way; it lies between two banks, with a hedge of ancient oaks and hawthorns on the eastern bank.
In the bed of the ditch parish boundary stones of Hampstead and St Pancras lie in pairs at irregular intervals.
After passing the western end of Kenwood woodland, the ditch continues to the left of the footpath, accompanied by a wooden paling, which soon turns off sharply to the left.
From here on the boundary is marked by a line of old oaks, two of which have parish boundary stones at their feet.
This part of the ditch was levelled by the Mansfields as part of the landscaping of Kenwood, but existed as late as 1761.
The ditch we see today is clearly the western section of William de Blemont’s boundary ditch.
In 1525 the Kenwood Estate divided into two parts…southern covering Parliament Hill, was an arm called Canewode Feildes or MIllefeldes.
In 1543, southern end, the farm which covered Parliament Hill was sold by the Crown..
(This property, known as Millfield Farm was later leased to Hampstead Water Company.)
In 1565 the Crown sold wood which formed northern part of the estate.
Kenwood then passed through several hands, eventually being bought by John Bill, King’s printer in 1616.
His son inherited it in 1665 but had to lease off Kenwood House, due to financial problems.
He sold it in 1690 for £3,400.
The Jacobean House replaced by new red-brick at end of the seventeenth century.
The house & farmland became separated in 1712, when the house was sold to Duke of Argyll.
It was conveyed 3 years later to his brother and brother-in-law, the Earls of Islay and Bute.
They subsequently sold the house, in 1720, to William Dale, an upholsterer.
He went broke and and mortgaged the house back to the Earl of Islay.
In 1746, the house passed to the third Earl of Bute.
1754 Bute sold it for £4000 to William Murray, later Earl of Mansfield.
He was responsible for landscaping to the grounds.
In 1793 Mansfield died and had bequeathed the estate to Lord Stormont
In 1789, Lord and Lady Mansfield had bought Millfield Farm.
They bought Lord Erskine's land (He lived in Evergreen Hill, near The Spaniards Inn) on the edge of the Heath and from 1829 onwards strongly opposed Sir Thomas Maryon Wilson's efforts to build on the East Park estate.
When Fitzroy Park estate was sold by the Southampton family in 1840, the Mansfields bought the land on the Kenwood boundary, on the Highgate side of Millfield Lane.
It was added to the Kenwood Estate and now forms north-east corner of Heath.
From 1909 to 1917, Kenwood was let to the Grand Duke Michael of Russia.
In 1917 the 6th Earl of Mansfield decided to sell Kenwood for immediate building development but then decided to sell it to the public.
World War I halted his early his plans but a preservation council formed in 1921 bought 132 acres, designated Kenwood Fields and South Kenwood and it is was opened to the public informally in 1925 and formally in 1928. .
The Metropolitan Public Gardens Association had first choice so it was offered to them for £550,000 but the war stopped further negotiations.
It was Arthur Crosfield and Lawrence Chubb, in 1918, who formed The Commons Preservation Society.
A price of £340,000 for the sale of Kenwood House was agreed and in 1921 an appeal was launched.
Response was poor and the Preservation Council opted to buy only the meadow south of the wood and the fields on the Highgate side of Millfield Lane…about 100 acres….
Lord Mansfield agreed to sell these at £1350 per acre.
The money was raised in 1922.
Eventually Lord Mansfield agreed to sell a further 32 acres, including the woodland and two lakes at £1000 per acre.
These purchases were opened to the public in 1925.
Despite problems with Kenwood House and its contents, Edward Cecil Guiness, the first Earl of Iveagh, a wealthy businessman and public benefactor, bought Kenwood House and its grounds in 1925 for £107,900 and arranged that they become public property.
He died in 1927 and Kenwood was opened to the public in 1928
The first Lord Iveagh bought the house and grounds in 1925, mainly to own a suitable period house for his collection of pictures.
When he died in 1927 the house, with the paintings and the surrounding park, become public by his bequest.
Private trustees took over the house and the LCC the grounds.
Kenwood House passes to the LCC in 1949.
When the GLC was abolished in 1986, the house, listed Grade I and grounds, listed Grade II in the Register of Parks and Garden of Special Historic Interest in England were taken over by English Heritage.