A short History of Finchley’s Development A talk for the Barnet Borough Sight Impaired Group at St Mary’s Hall 2 November 2015 Finchley emerged from the mists of time as a back-water, only to return to virtual oblivion in 1965 when amalgamated into the London Borough of Barnet. You can tell from Finchley’s shape that it was a piece of land left over after neighbouring territories were carved out. Rather like the shape of a leg of mutton, suspended by its knuckle end, almost 8 kilometres long but never more than 3.7 km wide. A long time ago in a recent ice age the ice cap extended southward across Finchley and when it receded it left behind an upland deposit of boulder clay, roughly triangular in shape, bordered by streams on two sides and draining north east by countless rivulets towards the River Lea. With no easy access, a patchy ill-drained terrain which was not easy to work and covered in forest, it is hardly surprising it was bypassed by the Romans, with Watling Street to the west and Ermine Street to the east. Archaeological remains of the Roman period show that people did venture there occasionally but there is no evidence of permanent settlement until after the Romans left. When settlement did eventually come, the type of terrain meant that it was in small scattered hamlets rather than in one centre. Finchley is not mentioned in the Domesday Book, yet has an Anglo-Saxon name (-ley meaning a clearing). That is because it was given by a Saxon King to the Bishop of London as an appendage to his estate in Fulham. Remote and unimportant, it will have been regarded as a source of income and raw materials. Not much is known of the early development of Finchley but it seems to have begun from the south west with access from Hendon and spread north- eastwards, the swathe of uncultivated land to the north and east being known as Finchley Wood, or later, the common. The first settlement is thought to have been established at that south west corner, at a point high enough above the flood plain, where a church was established, hence Church End. As the area coalesced, settlements grew up along the edge of the common. From north to east these included Woodside, Fallow Corner, Cuckolds Haven, Marketplace, and Park Gate. The Bishop carved out a hunting park on the south-eastern side – Hornsey Great Park – straddling the boundary with neighbouring Hornsey which he also owned. Cherry Tree Wood remains from this park.
While it lasted, wood was a valuable source of income. The farmland formed from the clearings in the south and west was initially arable, oats in particular but gradually became mixed. At some time during the formative period a manor was established. It was mentioned in 1199 when King John granted an exemption to the tenants of the Bishop from paying taxes to the king. Clearly it was sub let, the Bishop having grander locations to live in, and often occupied by wealthy and influential men in the city. It gained the name Bibbesworth after Sir Edmund Bibbesworth who enlarged the house and lived there until his death in 1443. Eventually in 1622 it was bought by Edward Allen, a fishmonger turned Alderman of London and his descendents lived there until 1883 when it was auctioned. The existing building on East End Road was built in 1723 by Thomas Allen. Confusingly, 170 acres of the demesne lands was leased out separately, three generations at a time, from at least as early as 1437 and called Bibwell. Of the first church of Our Lady at Finchley no part remains. The Normans erected a more substantial building on the site and some fragments of this building remain set in the west wall of the north aisle of what is now known as St Mary at Finchley. Major revamps took place in the 14th century and 15th centuries but most of the building is substantially younger. The oldest remaining parts, the north wall and the tower (which seems to have had a steeple during the 16th and 17th century), date from the reign of Henry VII. For many centuries the population remained below 250 families, fluctuating at times of disease and famine. The relative importance of the various settlements changed when the Bishop constructed a new road northward from Highgate through his park and across the common to Whetstone. Woodside drifted eastward towards this road and settlements that were close to the new road – Park Gate and Marketplace grew to service travellers. Today we know this road as the High Road. Until enclosure in 1811, however, the common remained virtually unbuilt-on except for a settlement called Brownswell by Strawberry Vale, one or two cottages on the edge and later a chapel was built there by the Congregationalists. By the 16th century farming was just beginning to supply the needs of London and by the late 18th century this was said to be exclusively hay, although pig dealing was important, and a nationally known hog market developed in East Finchley. Animals were turned out onto the common until the hay had been harvested. Before its enclosure the common had been used for many things including herbage and
pannage, a refuge from the plague, encampment of troops, a refuge for non-conformists, military manoeuvres, horse racing, boxing, collection of herbs as noted in Nicholas Culpeper's Herbal of 1652. It was at this time, that education for working classes became an issue. In 1813 a local resident commented that no parish within 300 miles of London had a greater proportion of its inhabitants in a more deplorable state of ignorance. The driving force to put that right came from the non-conformists who started opening their own schools at their chapels. The Church of England, fearing their influence, was finally goaded into providing National schools — in Church End in 1813, Whetstone in 1833, East End in 1847 and North Finchley in 1869. When the education act of 1870 enabled secular schools to be set up with government funding, this was vigorously opposed by the local C of E but welcomed by the non-conformists who were struggling to fund their schools, saw the benefits of grants on offer and put education before ‘souls’. Around 1820 onward, slowly at first, several factors coincided which were eventually to change the face of Finchley beyond recognition. The growth and dominance of London and improvements in transport each contributed. The construction of another north-south road, the Regents Park Road turnpike in 1825 tilted the balance of population back westward. The turnpike from Marylebone connected to Hendon Lane north of East End Lane, obliterating the parallel but winding Ducksetters Lane. Ballards Lane was extended to a new junction with the High Road on the newly enclosed common that would become known as Tally Ho Corner, completing a new north-south route. Along these main arteries came fast and frequent coach services. By 1835, over 90 stage coaches passed daily through Whetstone and in the 1860s the coach journey from Whetstone to London took about 1¾ hours. Next came the railway, which connected Finsbury Park to Edgware in 1867, followed by a branch from Finchley to Barnet in 1872. It was possible to get a direct train to Kings Cross or Broad Street in the City and trains even ran through to south London and beyond to the south coast. As a result of these new transport links Church End started to move its centre of gravity up to the Broadway, at the junction of Regents Park Road. As a consequence of the local government act, Finchley became an Urban District Council in
1895. But to go back for a moment: in 1836 the wooden building next to the church, owned by Finchley Charities and housing the Queens Head Inn caught fire and burned down, killing a man who slept in the stable loft and narrowly missing setting fire to the roof of St Mary’s church. A new fine brick building was erected but in 1857 the then Rector Thomas Reader White objected to the inn being located there and with a little bit of devious dealing secured the site for the opening of a private school and had the building renamed Finchley Hall. The school proved popular and expanded across the road in 1860 into a new building financed by his brother, with a 120-foot tower and its green conical roof, adopting the name Christ’s College. When, in 1902, Finchley Hall was no longer needed it was released to become the municipal offices of the UDC and school board. There they remained until bombed in 1940 when the offices moved to the King Edward Hall and thence to Avenue House. The site is now occupied by the library. The inn was relocated to the corner of East End Road. Another consequence of the improved transport links was to accelerate the arrival or expansion of elegant houses of the affluent middle classes. These included Woodside (Baxendale of Pickfords), Elmhurst (Anthony Salvin, architect and restorer of castles) The Grange (Edward Sayer), Falkland House (The Tate family) Grove House (Henry Stephens of Stephens Ink), Avenue House (Henry Stephens junior). During this time agriculture turned to dairy farming and market gardening. Claigmar, east of Ballard’s Lane, had 18½ acres under glass and produced annually 100 tons each of grapes and tomatoes and a ¼ million cucumbers. The period of elegance was short-lived. After the railway came the trams. In 1905 the radial route along the High Road, went from under the Archway Bridge in the south (the limit of Middlesex County Council authority) to Whetstone in the north. The east-west route along Woodhouse Lane and Ballards Lane followed in 1909, and a state of the art tram depot was built at Tally Ho Corner where the two intersected. Low fares and frequent stopping points made them accessible to ordinary people. Combined with the approach of the London conurbation this meant that Finchley was ripe for development. Starting from East Finchley housing estates appeared everywhere, spreading north and west. As green field sites shrank and the elegant houses were surrounded by housing estates these too succumbed, the houses being knocked down and replaced by yet more estates. The three ‘ends’ of Finchley (East End, North End and Church End) were joined by continuous lines of buildings by 1920.
The King Edward Hall replaced market gardens on the corner of Hendon Lane and Regents Park Road in 1911. Opening as a ballroom and banqueting suite, it was a popular venue for dinners, dances, concerts and receptions. Its opulent chandeliers, gold décor and plush red velvet curtains draped over the tall windows evoked an atmosphere of grandeur and luxury. As the housing estates grew, small industry moved in. By 1921 a tenth of the male work force worked in workshops, including 841 men in metal-working, 253 in electrical works, and 335 in carpentry and furniture-making. After the First World War there were several firms connected with motor cars, including Blaker Motor & Welding Company in East End Road, the East Finchley Motor Engineering Company in High Road, East Finchley, De Dion Bouton in High Road, North Finchley and Simms Motor Units at Oak Lane, East Finchley, later CAV. There was a large bakery in East Finchley employing 200 and Advanced Cleaners and Launderers employed 176. Much later, firms started moving their offices out to Finchley, notably Eveready and the Anglo Continental Clock Company. Finchley gained the status of a Borough in 1933 amid much pomp and ceremony, only to be absorbed into the London Borough of Barnet in 1965. A new road, Kingsway, was constructed from Woodhouse Road to Ballards Lane in 1935, bypassing the difficult apex junction at Tally Ho Corner for east-west trams and creating space for a new tram station the Gaumont Cinema, recently replaced by artsDepot. The trams were scrapped three years later and replaced by trolleybuses. Finchley’s railway was finally connected to the tube system in 1939. The line to Edgware had never been successful as a result of the competing Midland Railway at Edgware and was truncated at Mill Hill East. The other end to Finsbury Park gradually withered away, part of it becoming the Parkland Walk.
Historical Nuggets Lord George Sanger (source Foul Deeds and Suspicious Deaths in Barnet, Finchley & Hendon N Papadimitriou) ‘Lord’ George Sanger was a colourful circus owner, who wintered his animals at Park Farm on East End Lane. When on the road, his circus train was said to be 2 miles long and included 10 wild beast wagons full of lions, tigers, bears and others. He was well-known to the extent that he took his circus up to Balmoral at the express wish of Queen Victoria and had a personal audience with her. In 1911 he was murdered with an axe in a brawl at the farm, the axe embedding itself in his skull The perpetrator, Herbert Cooper, a disgruntled employee, vanished. The following day at about 7.20 am a train on the line between Highgate and Alexandra Palace stopped in the fog at a signal and a passenger noticed a pair of legs sticking out from the rails. The neatly decapitated body was Cooper’s. The whole of Sanger’s funeral route from Finchley to Holborn Viaduct was lined with people sheltering under black umbrellas from torrential rain. Collision under Highbury Fields (source The Railway in Finchley George Wilmot) An incident on the commuter line to the City soon after the opening of the line proved to be far from usual and took place under Highbury Fields. The 8.35 train from Finchley, bound for Broad Street, was stopped by signals at the south end of Canonbury tunnel on a snowy 10th December. A few minutes later this train was knocked forward slightly by a crash in the rear. Delighted at the break from the daily monotony, a number of passengers eagerly clambered out of the train to find that the 8.58 from Finsbury Park had run into the rear. They were ordered back into the train by the driver, who had received cautionary permission to proceed into Canonbury. The Finchley train arrived there without damage, giving its passengers a lively morning talking point. Unhappily the incidents were only just beginning. The standing 8.58 from Finsbury Park was struck violently in the rear by the 8.43 from Enfield. Hardly had some of the passengers
alighted under the escort of a guard when a fourth train approached. In spite of the efforts of this guard the fourth train crashed with great impetus into the third train. The engine and carriages reared up and crashed against the walls of the tunnel. The guard, Harry Catherall, ran back the 500 yards to Finsbury Park signal box and was in time to stop a fifth train from entering the tunnel. Six people were killed and 127 injured as a result of the collisions. Finchley’s new fire engine (source: One Hundred Years of the British Fire Engine Neil Wallington) In 1902 Superintendant Eddington of Tottenham Fire Brigade produced an outline design for a bespoke motorised fire engine and in 1903 the Brigade took delivery of the first British motor- propelled fire engine. However Chief Officer Sly of Finchley Fire Brigade, located then at Royal Terrace, also had plans. In 1904 his brigade took delivery of a similar engine. The difference was that Finchley’s new fire engine was the first to have its fire pump driven by a power take-off from the road engine. The pump delivered 500 gallons per minute and it also carried 180 ft of canvas delivery hose. The Finchley Merryweather was the world’s first truly self-contained motorised pumping fire engine. However, when in 1905 two fires broke out at the power station, the engine would not start! Eventually some cab horses were rounded up to drag the old discarded steam engine to the scene of the fire, to the ironic cheers of the populace. A commemorative stamp depicting the vehicle was later produced by the Royal Mail. The engine can be seen today in the Science museum. Miss Butler’s greenhouse (Source Collected Memories of our Neighbourhood The Cromwell Hall Residents Assn) A building of note on the southern slopes of East End Road was Cromwell Hall. Not the first on the site, it was renamed Cromwell Hall by Edward Butler around 1827 after Richard Cromwell, who was Lord Protector of England for about a year, succeeding his father Oliver Cromwell. In fact Richard Cromwell stayed next door, incognito, towards the end of his life in a house later
named Belle Vue.Cromwell Hall, a much larger estate in Gothic Revival style, was home to some colourful characters. In the late 1800s the Butler family led an extravagant lifestyle; a Miss Butler used to drive hectically around in a Brougham, paying her bills in sovereigns drawn from a bag. There was a large greenhouse – the highest and widest single span roof at the time – from which came bananas, oranges and lemons. The house passed to the Honri family. Percy Honri was a well-known musical entertainer in music hall fashion, married into a family that owned and ran theatres and with children that were entertainers too. There were concerts at home. When the recession came Honri turned the estate into a commercial concern, with a restaurant, shops and a putting green but to no avail. The estate was sold off and replaced by Abbots Gardens in 1932-35. The baby farm and the Magdalene Laundry (source: The Archer newspaper) In 1902 there existed on Hertford Road one of a growing number of private lying-in homes to cater for unwanted pregnancies, otherwise known as a baby farm. This one was run by Amelia Sach, who claimed to be a certified nurse and midwife. However, the dirty work was carried out by Annie Walters, who described herself as a short stay foster mother (as it happened, very short stay!) On receipt of a telegram she would visit the home, collect a bundle and scurry across London. Unfortunately for her she boasted about her fostering and the fine adoptive homes she found for babies to her landlord, a policeman. She was followed and apprehended with a bundle, which was found to contain a baby boy, dead for at least eight hours having been poisoned by a few drops of narcotic in his feeding bottle. It wasn’t long before both women were arrested and had incriminated each other. At the Old Bailey it took the jury just 40 minutes to find the women guilty. Henry Pierrepoint, one of the two hangmen at Holloway, recorded in his diary that “they had to be literally carried screaming to the scaffold, where they were hanged by different lengths of rope according to their body weight and buried within the prison grounds. One of England’s last remaining Magdalene Asylums was on East End Road, run by The Sisters of the Good Shepherd. Named after Mary Magdalene, they were set up as refuges for so-called fallen women. Operated by orders of nuns, the asylums financed their operations by functioning as commercial laundries, providing service to schools, prisons and other institutions. The women had to labour in silence 52 weeks a year, symbolically washing away
their sins. They were forced to bind their breasts, had their heads shaved and were regularly humiliated, beaten and made to fast. Census returns from the period show that many of those locked away in East Finchley’s asylum were little more than young girls, as young as 13-years- old. Technically, everyone who entered one of the laundries did so voluntarily, nearly always with the connivance of their own families. The demise of the Magdalene laundries appears to have been driven more by economics than concern for the women’s welfare. By the 1960s, the wide availability of automatic washing machines reduced the requirement for the laundries to the extent that they were no longer viable. Most of the original East Finchley convent burned down in the 1970s, although the Good Shepherd Sisters still occupy a small convent there today. The cooling pond (source: The Finchley Society Newsletter) Finchley Power Station was built by the UDC in Squires Lane in 1903; its tall brick chimney could be seen from miles around. It supplied houses, street lights and the trams. It included a cooling pond. Some believed that the pond was originally a clay pit owned by a local firm of brick- makers. Others thought the lake was fed by an underground spring and although natural evaporation accounts for some water loss, it was always assumed that there must be a natural ‘runaway’ somewhere. The water is quite deep, up to 18 feet in some parts and an ideal environment for fish. One enterprising employee introduced Golden Carp into the waters with the intention of breeding them and selling for profit. However, he reckoned without the keen local fishermen and the carp didn’t last long! In the 1930s there was a plague of mosquitoes in the Squires Lane area. Neighbours complained that the lake was to blame so Finchley Council decided to stock the lake with Carp and Golden Orfe, and the mosquitoes disappeared. During later years, Pike mysteriously appeared and grew to an enormous size. Many other types of fish were also recorded. The lake of Winston Churchill’s home at Chartwell was said to have been stocked with Golden Rudd from there during the War. On entering the grounds on one of the first very hot dry summers in the mid 1960s, one was immediately aware of a very strong fishy smell. When the lake came into view, there was the incredible sight of thousands fishes heads poking up out of the water. The heat had caused a layer of hot air to settle over the lake and there was insufficient oxygen in the water for all the
fish and they were gasping for breath. Because of a water shortage it wasn’t possible to pump in fresh water so many died. The maintenance team was kept busy for days rowing out and fishing out all the bodies which were taken away by the barrow-load. It was amazing to witness the hardiness of some of the pike. Having been fished out and laid on the bank amidst piles of other bodies, some of them revived and somehow found the energy to jump back into the water! After that episode, advice was sought on ways to avoid repetition and a circulatory pump was installed. The power station is long gone but the pond remains, in landscaped surroundings, a haven for wild life including black swans, overlooked by a works restaurant which arches over the water The demise of Henry Stephens Senior (source: The parallel lives of three medical students W Pierpoint) Henry Stephens senior lived at Grove House in Finchley. It is he who developed that famous indelible ink and his son lived at Avenue House. In January 1863 some four years before Finchley’s railway, the metropolitan railway opened from Paddington to Farringdon Street. Stephens used it frequently, travelling by horse-drawn coach to Paddington thence by railway to Farringdon and onward to his office. On 15 September 1864 he was returning home with his son. On entering the crowds at Farringdon in the fog the men lost contact. Henry Stephens junior, thinking his father had already boarded the train, got on only to find no father. It was only the next day that his body was located; he had presumably collapsed in the fog and died on the platform without anyone noticing.