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MILL HILL CEMETERY is a public burial ground comprising 8.75 hectares (21.6 acres) of gently sloping hillside at Meldex Close, Milespit Hill, Mill Hill, London NW7 2RR (map; OS grid reference TQ231917). It is within the London Borough of Barnet but owned by the City of Westminster.

History Edit

Because its existing cemetery was rapidly filling, the Metropolitan Borough of Paddington advertised in 1929 for a new cemetery plot within eight miles of Paddington. It acquired 10.5 hectares (26 acres) in Mill Hill, and the site opened as the New Paddington Cemetery in 1936. With London's local government reorganisation in 1965, the cemetery came under the ownership of the enlarged City of Westminster. In 1987 Westminster City Council famously sold Mill Hill and two other cemeteries for 5p each. It was forced to buy them back in 1992 but lost some unused land, including 1.75 hectares of the Mill Hill site.

Burial place of Billy the Birder Among the permanent inhabitants of Mill Hill Cemetery is an enthusiastic birder who died in 1983 at the age of 42. His name was Ron Wycherley but he was better known as the 1960s rock star Billy Fury. Fury’s teenage fans were generally not aware of his passion for birds nor that he had been ill since childhood, having contracted rheumatic fever during a rain-sodden bird-watching trip when he was aged six or seven. The disease damaged his heart and eventually restricted his live performances, although not his birding. His interest in wildlife conservation led to him spending time in 1967 living in a caravan in Cornwall so that he could care for seabirds affected by the Torrey Canyon oil spill. After heart surgery three times during his 30s, Fury finally succumbed to heart failure at the age of 42. He had himself chosen Mill Hill Cemetery as his final resting place, and his grave can be found at one of the highest points of the cemetery, next to the roadway in Plot B2.

Habitat Edit

On the basis of a habitat survey and protected species assessment, the site has been evaluated as being of local value for nature conservation. The most ecologically valuable habitats within the site are the semi-mature and mature trees, areas of scattered trees and scrub and botanically diverse areas of neutral grassland. Areas not yet needed for burials have been turned into “wild flower meadows”, managed so as to encourage wild flowers to grow and diversify. The potential for birds is boosted by the surrounding scrubland, woodland and gardens.

Species Edit

BIRDS A bird survey in 2007 identified 19 breeding species: Mallard (1), Stock Dove (2), Woodpigeon (10), Great Spotted Woodpecker (1), Magpie (up to 3), Carrion Crow (2), Great Tit (3), Blue Tit (up to 10), Chiffchaff (3), Blackcap (2), Goldcrest (1), Wren (3), Starling (1), Blackbird (up to 11), Song Thrush (up to 9), Robin (up to 12), Dunnock (5), Chaffinch (4), Greenfinch (2). (The numbers in parentheses represent the total number of breeding pairs recorded or estimated.) In addition, breeding was suspected, but not proved, for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Green Woodpecker, Jay and Long-tailed Tit.

OTHER VERTEBRATES Bat surveys have recorded Common Pipistrelle, Soprano Pipistrelle and Noctule. It was concluded that these species were unlikely to be roosting on the site, even though the survey found 31 trees supporting features of value to roosting bats, of which eight had high potential value as a bat roost site. The survey also recorded a possible Brown Long-eared Bat in the vicinity of the chapel, where it may have been roosting. The presence of this species has since been confirmed. Overall, the cemetery was identified as an important bat habitat within the context of London.

Practicalities Edit

DIRECTIONS Mill Hill Cemetery can be reached by bus 221 from Mill Hill East (London Underground) or Mill Hill Broadway (Thameslink). Alight at Salcombe Gardens and walk up Milespit Hill. The cemetery is on the right: if the lower gate is closed, continue to the main gate. Bus 240 also passes nearby. The cemetery can also be reached by a not-uninteresting 20-minute walk from Mill Hill East station, mainly along the tree-lined route of the former extension to the railway line. Parking is available in the cemetery and includes designated parking places for disabled badge holders. There is also street parking outside the gate in Milespit Hill.

ACCESS The cemetery opening times are as follows: November to February, Monday to Friday 8.30am–4.30pm, Saturdays, Sundays and Public Holidays 11am–4pm; March to October, Monday to Friday 8.30am–6pm, Saturdays, Sundays and Public Holidays 11am–6pm.

The site has an extensive network of roadways and footpaths. The paths are mainly suitable for wheelchair users but may be subject to damage by tree roots and by subsidence due to the nature of the subsoil.

FACILITIES Public toilets are located behind the cemetery chapel. There are no other on-site facilities for the living, but there is a small parade of shops nearby in Salcombe Gardens (post office/newsagent, fish and chip shop, pharmacy, grocer, off-licence).


Information compiled by Andrew Haynes

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