Managed and maintained by volunteers – funded by voluntary contributions
Source: Postcard, postmarked New Barnet, 1912
The Common as it was
before the First World War
Following a consultation on the future of the Common in 2019 (details of which can be found here), the Trustees decided to promote a Bill in Parliament the effect of which would be to transfer the Common to a new charity - The Monken Hadley Common Trust CIO - which would own and manage it for the benefit of the public. This Bill is currently going through Parliament, though its progress has been significantly delayed by the lockdowns.
The article reproduced below was written by Bill Boyes, who is Clerk to the Trustees, and puts this development into an historical context and summarises the progress to date.
MONKEN HADLEY COMMON BILL 2019
REPORT, JANUARY 2021
The Common was established by the Enfield Chase Act 1777 and the ownership was vested in the Churchwardens of Monken Hadley Church (“the trustees”) as freeholders to hold it in trust for the commoners. They were the owners and occupiers of houses around the Common, on the east side of Hadley Green and also in Barnet High Street as far south as what is now Boots. The Commoners had grazing rights and for the best part of 200 years until the early 1950s cattle were grazed on the Common. Sadly, the increase of traffic across the Common, the changing nature of the communities in the area and, obviously, economic change brought an end to grazing but fortunately the Common has been preserved as an open space for the benefit of the public. It is a Metropolitan Common, protected since 1925 under section 193 of Law of Property Act of that year, which means that it is not open access land under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, but this has little practical impact on how it is used.
Whilst grazing continued till the early 1950’s and for the best part of 30 years thereafter there were enough Commoners who took an interest in the Common for it to be managed substantially in the way that it had been since its foundation. However, at the end of the 1970s the Diocese advised the Commoners that it was no longer prepared to authorise the trustees to manage the Common and in 1981 new rules and orders were passed to establish a formal management committee. This body assumed responsibility for the supervision of the curators who were and are responsible for the day-to-day management. Even at that time the rules were not ideal for managing and regulating the Common and that is even more the case today.
For many years both Barnet and Enfield Council provided annual grants but these were withdrawn in the late 1990s and the trustees faced a serious financial crisis. The Friends of Monken Hadley Common (“the Friends”) was established as a charity to support the Common and has provided vital financial assistance since then. During the last 20 years the five White Gates around the Common, which are listed structures, have all been replaced and the weir on the dam at Jack’s Lake has been rebuilt to ensure that the lake’s contents do not overwhelm Pymmes Brook. Even when the trustees withdrew from active management in the 1970s, the Commoners felt that the best option would be to repeal those parts of the 1777 Act which related to the Common but there were no funds available to pay for a new Act of Parliament.
In 2019 the trustees and committee decided that the nettle had to be grasped and a petition should be lodged with Parliament. A fundamental reason for this is the fact that virtually no Commoners now take an interest in the Common and it is therefore impossible to amend the rules and orders. A consultation was undertaken in that summer and the Barnet Society and many other interested organisations were consulted. The consultation document was delivered to some 114 properties to which it is believed common rights are attached and two of the owners responded. The proposals included the transfer of ownership from the trustees to a new charity which is to be known as the Monken Hadley Common Trust (“the Trust”).
The vast majority of respondents to the consultation were in favour of the proposals and the petition for a Bill was lodged on 27 November 2019. The Bill provides that the primary objects of the Trust are the preservation of the Common as a place for peaceful open air public recreation and enjoyment and the conservation, protection and improvement of the physical and natural environment of the Common for the benefit of the public. These objects will therefore be “embedded” by primary legislation so that, for example, any attempt to develop part of the Common would require another Act of Parliament.
The Bill had first and second readings in the House of Commons and, as there was no opposition, it passed to the House of Commons Unopposed Bills Committee for consideration. It was listed for a hearing in early March 2020 but that had to be adjourned as further preparatory work needed to be done and then Covid 19 intervened. It was decided that a charitable incorporated organisation would be the most appropriate charity structure and an application for registration was made to the Charity Commission in September 2020. There have been discussions with it and the form of the constitution has been agreed but it will not be registered until further progress has been made on the Bill.
A hearing took place before the House of Commons committee on 17th November 2020 and it started well as the chairwoman, Dame Eleanor Laing, mentioned that she was reading one of Anthony Trollope’s political novels and I was able to tell her that he and his mother had lived on Hadley Green and one of his novels, The Bertrams, was set in the area. The committee was satisfied with the Bill, subject to some relatively minor amendments to be agreed with counsel for the committee. After its third reading, which will hopefully be a formality, it will pass to the House of Lords for consideration and with luck the Bill will become law towards the end of 2021.
Those who run the Common are very keen that local residents should take an active interest in it. Already many provide financial support through the Friends and it is likely that after the Act come into force the Friends will be amalgamated with the Trust. This will be a membership organisation with annual elections of the trustees and the management committee. In practical terms the Common will probably still be managed by the Curators, who are supported by a volunteer group of some 20 people who work in the woods each Tuesday, and be supervised by a committee. Despite the inadequacy of the rules, the Common is managed satisfactorily within the limit of its financial resources. Felling a dangerous tree can cost up to £750 so it is to be hoped that a new charity which actually owns the Common will encourage donations and, just as importantly, obtain a membership which has a genuine interest in the preservation of the Common as a place to be enjoyed by the public and wild life.
The Common website (www.monkenhadleycommon.net) is updated from time to time with progress on the Bill. If anybody would like to be emailed the draft Bill and/or a transcript of the House of Commons committee hearing or requires further information please email me. A petition to Parliament requires the employment of a Parliamentary Agent and this is an expensive operation so that additional donations to the Friends will be very welcome not only to pay for this but also to repair some of the extensive physical damage caused during the lockdowns by the massively increased use and the exceptionally dry and then wet weather.
Clerk to the Trustees