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Local History nuggets

These extracts of Finchley History make for entertaining reading.

The Murder of Lord George Sanger

Born in Newbury to the entertainer son of a Wiltshire farmer, and with a knack of training wild animals, ‘Lord’ George Sanger became 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 two 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.
He retired in 1903 to Park Farm and sold his zoo and circus effects. Auctioned at the farm, these included 200 horses, ponies, and mules, four trained elephants, four camels, lions, tigers, leopards, hyenas, and monkeys and numerous wagons and costumes.
In 1911 he was murdered with an axe at the farm, the axe embedding itself in his skull. The perpetrator, Herbert Cooper, had been an intimate employee and the son of his bailiff.
Herbert had developed a jealous grudge resulting from a fall in his status. After attacking another with a razor and fatally wounding Sanger, he fled the scene.
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.
Acknowledgements: Foul Deeds and Suspicious Deaths in Barnet, Finchley & Hendon, N Papadimitriou

Collision under Highbury Fields

An unusual incident occurred on the commuter line from Finchley to the City soon after the opening of the line, and took place in the tunnel 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.
Acknowledgements: The Railway in Finchley, George Wilmot

Finchley’s new fire engine

By 1824 Finchley had its own fire engine, which the churchwardens were responsible for repairing. A volunteer fire brigade was formed around 1870; composed mainly of traders, it kept a hose and cart in a shed opposite Woodhouse Road and later at the Queen's Head hotel in East End Road. A fire station opened in 1888 in a shop in Hendon Lane and later in adjoining shops. In 1890 the brigade consisted of twelve men and five auxiliaries. The local board had a fire committee by 1889 but decided against a new station on grounds of expense. The new U.D.C. took over the voluntary brigade and in 1899 formed a professional force.
Meanwhile, in 1902 Superintendent 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 steam engine to the scene of the fire, to the ironic cheers of the populace.
The engine was commemorated in April 1974 by the issue of a 3.5 pence Royal Mail postage stamp. The actual vehicle is preserved in the reserve collection of the Science Museum at RAF Wroughton, Wiltshire.

Acknowledgements:: One Hundred Years of the British Fire Engine, Neil Wallington; Wikipedia

Miss Butler’s greenhouse

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.
Acknowledgements: Collected Memories of our Neighbourhood, The Cromwell Hall Residents Assn

The baby farm and the Magdalene Laundry

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.
Acknowledgements: The Archer newspaper

The cooling pond

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.
Acknowledgements: The Finchley Society Newsletter

The demise of Henry Stephens Senior

Henry Stephens senior lived at Grove House in Finchley. A chemist who had studied for a medical qualification at Guy's & St Thomas' with John Keats, it is he who subsequently developed that famous indelible ink, early experiments and manufacturing taking place near Waterloo before moving eventually to Finchley. It was his son, Henry Charles, who earned the epithet "Inky" for marketing the ink while living at Avenue House.
In January 1863, some four years before Finchley’s own railway, the Metropolitan Railway opened from Paddington to Farringdon Street. Dr 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 at the age of 68 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.
Acknowledgements: The parallel lives of three medical students, W Pierpoint

A Breeder of Goats

Sam Woodiwiss, was a noted breeder of Abyssinian Cats and Bulldogs as well as being the owner of the Sedgemere Faith, which is believed to be the foundation female of the British Alpine Goat.

Mr Sam Woodiwiss lived at Sedgemere House, East Finchley, around 1888-1901, before moving to Chelmsford. At Sedgemere Kennels there was room for at least 50 dogs but also an extensive menagerie with monkeys, exotic birds and a piggery for rare breeds.

During this time, Woodiwiss introduced the Dogues de Bordeaux Bull Dogs to Britain, co-founded the Abyssinian Cat Club as well as the National Mouse Society. His most famous dog was Baron Sedgemere, a Bull Dog who won Crufts in 1898 and sold for 350 guineas in 1899. One of his cats, and another Crufts winner, "Xenophon", was valued at £2000. he was the first president and founder of the National Mice Club in 1895, as well as a founding member, past president and life member of the Essex Pig Society when it was formed in1918

His work on breeding Abyssinian Cats and Bulldogs is world famed. The first Abyssinians to appear in the National Cat Club Stud-book and Register were 'Queen Jumbo', followed by 'Sedgemere Bottle' and 'Sedgemere Peaty', 'Sedgemere' being the cattery name of Mr. Sam Woodiwiss. 'Sedgemere Bottle', a male, whose colour is not given, was born in 1892.
Both Mr. Sam Woodiwiss and Mr. Issac Woodiwiss served as Vice-Presidents of the National Cat Club, and Sam was particularly well known as a breeder and fancier of Manx and English shorthairs, as well as a supporter of 'foreign' varieties, such as the Abyssinian and the Russian. He was an experienced judge of cats, and could be counted among those cat fanciers who were also considered to be recognised authorities on dogs.

Among the famous English winners owned by Sam Woodiwiss, were the brown classic tabby 'Ch. Xenophon'; the white, 'Ch. Sedgemere Snow King'; the silver tabbies 'Sedgemere Silver King, and 'Sedgemere Silver Queen' ; and the black, 'Sedgemere Black King' . 'Xenophon' was probably the most decorated English Short-hair in feline show history. 'Xenophon' was prized at £2,000, and won eight championships, over twenty first prizes, besides cups, specials, etc., etc. He is a most homely cat of immense size, and with exceptionally fine sable markings. His pet name is 'The Man'."

He showed prize goats at the Dairy Show from 1894. Besides an interest in the Toggenburg goat he was instrumental in firmly establishing the Anglo Nubian breed as well as being the owner of the famed Sedgemere Faith believed to be the foundation female of the the British Alpine breed.