There were two ponds here originally. Both man-made, the first had been single-handedly dug out by a local hermit in the fourteenth century, possibly as a hobby in the days before tv and social media. The ponds are no more. In 1864 they were filled in by the local council to make way for the Square’s gardens and surrounding road. What man giveth man taketh away. One of the reasons for filling in the ponds was that local”drains and privvys” emptied into the ponds so there must have been a pleasant odour to the place as well as the odd suspicious item floating on the surface of the water.
Francis Bacon (the scientist not the painter) lived locally in Highgate and would have known the ponds in their pomp. He conducted experiments into freezing food (a chicken) to prolong its edible life by packing its carcass with ice in this Square in 1626. The experiment was successful and the life of the frozen chicken was extended. Sadly Bacon’s was not. Shortly afterwards he caught a cold and proceeded to die of it. Chicken 1 Bacon 0. There are tales that the chicken (already deceased of course) went on to haunt the Square.
The Square is very pretty as you can see from the photos, with some superb Georgian houses. It has culture, too. The home of the Highgate Literary and Scientific Institute is here as is the Highgate Society. Keats would have sat and looked out at the ducks on the ponds while thinking about Grecian urns. Dickens, inevitably, knew the place well.
Today there are too many cars to fully appreciate the beauty of the Square but on a quiet day, you can still imagine what life must have been like in the village of Highgate in the nineteenth century. The yellow front door featured in the montage below is one of my favourite London doors. It seems to smile at you when you look at it.