Birds flying over Coldfall Wood and its surroundings look down on a patchwork of roofs, treetops and grass. To the south and the east of the wood are residential areas while to the north and west there is a playing field, a cemetery and two sets of allotments, making one huge green space. North of the cemetery, two small patches of woodland – Glebelands and Coppett’s Wood – are separated from this green space by the North Circular Road.
Even a hundred years ago trees and grassland still covered most of the area, with Coldfall Wood reaching Tetherdown, Fortis Green and Durham Road in an unbroken swathe of trees. The remaining interconnecting green areas are precious. They provide a range of habitats for wildlife and, in some cases, ensure survival. For us, they provide separate yet complementary ‘islands’ or breathing spaces in our urban environment.
Islington (St Pancras) Cemetery
182 acres of land, with two small, deep streams briefly emerging from culverts in the north-east corner; overgrown ‘wild’ areas; and some fine original specimen trees and avenues of cedars and limes. Entrance is from the west side (High Road, East Finchley) although traditionally many visitors and walkers have used gaps in the fence bordering Coldfall Wood and the field.
As soon as the 1852 Metropolis Burial Act was made law the St Pancras Burial Board bought 88 acres of land, adding a further 94 acres later, to create the first publicly owned cemetery in London, opened in 1854. Confusingly, it is still known widely as St Pancras cemetery although that borough became Camden long ago. Within a year some of the land was sold to Islington and now Islington manages the whole cemetery. There is no ‘Friends’ group, unlike Highgate and Kensal Green cemeteries.
Inevitably, the ‘wild’ areas where foxes, birds and other creatures have thrived are being cleared to make burial sites, but the cemetery is still a wonderfully tranquil and interesting place to explore.