A beautiful destination park, filled with heritage, in the heart of Leavesden. The rejuvenated park, with contemporary signage, provides a home to Leavesden HIVE (Heritage/Information/ Volunteering/Education), full time Park Ranger, a Friends of Leavesden Country Park group and Leavesden Hospital History Association. It’s a biodiversity haven for wildlife, boasting an impressive collection of specimen trees and wildflower meadows. Respectfully restored features include the hospital railings, Font, Edwardian Garden and steps and a peaceful Remembrance Garden, paying respect to the people that worked here and the hospitals. A stunning Heritage Trail has been installed and interpretation boards pay tribute to the rich heritage of the area – the Leavesden Hospitals, Aerodrome and Film Studios. Visitors can also enjoy the brand new Woodlands Café, exciting play area, cycle hub, inclusive sensory garden and new outdoor sports facilities.
All of this work is as a result of community engagement to improve the area and was made possible through the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Three Rivers District Council and support from Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden.
In the late 1800s the streets of London were struggling to cope with the growing issues of homelessness, abandoned children and deprivation. The Metropolitan Poor Act Amendment of 1867 was introduced and a new asylum in Leavesden was commissioned along with the St Pancras Orphanage/Workhouse, which opened in October 1870.
The 'Leavesden Asylum for Idiots and Imbeciles' was 90% self-sufficient for 2,085 patients, 639 orphans and staff with school, nursing college, gas works, sewage treatment system and 42 acre farm and livestock. The Asylum provided work for hundreds of local people and played a significant part in mental health treatment and attitude in Victorian times. By the 1950s there were over 3,500 patients and a staff of 1,200. Staff at the Leavesden Hospitals pioneered the way we understand, recognise and treat mental health conditions and learning disabilities today. By the 1960s, patients were taught life skills with the aim of self-sufficiency and to prepare them for being discharged from the isolated hospital and to become members of the wider community.
Some of their buildings remain intact such as the church and East Lane Cemetery with its beautiful Lychgate entrance and the administration block, which has been converted into housing.
The Leavesden Aerodrome was a nearby site and in 1939, with the outbreak of World War II, came to its peak usage. The de Havilland company, based in nearby Hatfield, were under contract by the Ministry of Defence to produce the Mosquito fighter craft and the Halifax bomber. This new site was acquired as the large scale hangars needed to accommodate the production of a huge number of planes required could not be constructed at de Havilland's Hatfield base. 710 Halifax bombers were built at the Leavesden Aerodrome and manufacturing of Mosquitoes soon followed, totalling 1,476 planes built. The two planes were both critical successes for Britain during the conflict.
After the war, the aerodrome was acquired by Rolls-Royce who used it as a factory producing engines for airplanes and later helicopters. However by the early 1990s they had sold their interests in the site. Eventually Rolls-Royce departed during 1992/93 before the airfield's final closure in 1994. Unable to find a new owner, Leavesden Aerodrome was left disused.
The Film Studios
In 1995, Eon Productions' James Bond film GoldenEye was to be the next film in the series. Pinewood Studios, the series' traditional home, was fully booked with other productions and so Eon discovered the large unoccupied Leavesden Aerodrome. The cavernous aircraft hangars were uniquely well suited to conversion into a studio space. Eon Productions leased the site for the shoot and converted the Rolls Royce factory into a working studio.
A succession of major feature films quickly made use of the site, including the first of the Star Wars prequels. Every one of the Harry Potter films was based out of Leavesden Studios over the following ten years.
In 2010, Warner Bros. announced their intention to purchase the studio as a permanent European base and since then have invested more than £100m into the site. The Studios opened for business in June 2012 and is one of the largest production facilities in Europe, helping to place the UK as a centre of film making excellence. Almost twenty years after the complex was converted from aerodrome to film studios, the newly refurbished studios are one of the largest and most state-of-the-art secure filming facilities in the world.
New Heritage Trail
The Heritage Trail can be enjoyed from wherever you join it. Set against a backdrop of the park, with each art installation leading you to the next. The sculptures and their themes carry significance to the community and local history.
Nine stunning sculptures have been created to pay tribute to the history of Leavesden. They have been created using a variety of materials; oak, steel, granite and marble. The sculptures invite the visitor to interact, by spinning the zoetrope or nestling into the cockpit to listen to stories of the past. In contrast, visitors can view the subtle movements of the MINDS pieces, whilst reflecting on the artists’ concepts.
Leavesden Park Ranger - Leavesden HIVE and The Garden
Leavesden HIVE (Heritage*Information*Volunteering*Education), a centre for learning is supported by a specialist historical association, dedicated to the hospitals’ history. The Park Ranger uses the HIVE as a base for a diverse and exciting activity programme. Opportunities for learning extend into The Garden – an inclusive eco-friendly space, which stimulates the senses, designed to invite the visitor to interact with nature and search for bugs in the bespoke bug hotel.
Wildlife and Conservation
The park is home to wildflowers, fruit orchards, butterflies and animals, including a collection of impressive specimen trees, like the Chilean Pine, known as the Monkey Puzzle Tree; the inspiration for the new branding at the park. A meandering woodland walk has been established to enjoy the peace and quiet and view the nature of the woodland.
Tree and wildflower meadow planting has taken place and the autumn will see the addition of a new community fruit orchard.
The design concept for the play area, weaves in the heritage and wildlife themes of the park in an exciting way. This unique play space stimulates a child’s imagination to play beyond the physical boundaries of the equipment. There is something for all ages, including a ‘flying carpet’ swing, multi-climbing unit with wavy slide, stage and ticket office and an interactive airplane.
Café, Cycle Hub and YMCA Woodlands
Woodlands Café is located opposite the new play area and adjacent to Leavesden HIVE and The Garden. The café offers a range of hot and cold drinks, delicious home cooked food, including a pizza oven, delivering a host of exciting flavours.
Leavesden Cycle Hub is also on site, offering a range of courses, led bike rides, reconditioned bikes and an on-site mechanic to help with a whole range of bike needs.
YMCA Woodlands is positioned behind Leavesden HIVE and Woodlands Café. Home to Charters Day Nursery, Airies Gymnastics Club and community space for hire, the building offers a whole range of activities and programmes to meet the needs of the local community.
The park is a brilliant use of green space offering an environment in which to explore, discover and learn. Come as a visitor and leave as a friend.