HISTORY OF THE AREA
The history of Friern Barnet is closely linked with the Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem who cared for pilgrims and the sick during the Crusades in the 11th and 12th centuries. In 1199 the Knights were given an estate, approximately where Friary Park is now, and it is possible that they built a hospice near where St James Church now stands. At this time the main road to the north ran from Muswell Hill down Colney Hatch Lane (then called Halwykstrete) and along Friern Barnet Lane (Wolkstrete) so a hospice would have provided comfort to travellers. In 1540 the land passed back to the Crown and then to the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s.
The name Barnet means “a place cleared by burning” (the area at this time was very heavily wooded) and the first mention of Frerenbarnet occurred in 1274, presumably referring to the Knights, or “freren”.
In medieval times the area where Colney Hatch Lane meets Friern Barnet Road was the site of a hamlet known as Colney Hatch (“hatch” being an old term for gate). At the other end of Friern Barnet Road (Betstile Lane) was Betstile (or Betstyle), another small settlement. There was also a small village at Whetstone. Even as late as 1802 there were only 12 houses at Colney Hatch, and the total population of Friern Barnet Parish amounted to only 432.
In the 14th century the Bishop of London permitted a road to be driven through his land, to the west of Friern Barnet, and as this was on higher ground it provided a drier and easier route to traffic which had previously been bogged down in the valley of Colney Hatch Lane. The new route was called the King’s Highway (it came to be known as the Great North Road) and it led to the building of inns and stables in what are now North Finchley and Whetstone.
Because the area is comprised of boulder clay, left over from the last Ice Age some 10,000 years ago, hay was the only sustainable crop and this was used to support the horse traffic on the Great North Road and was also used to supply London.
Two things led to the growth of Friern Barnet in the 19th century. First was the building of the Great Northern Railway from King’s Cross to the north (now known as the East Coast main line) with a station at New Southgate. The second was the building of the Colney Hatch Pauper Lunatic Asylum in 1851, which provided jobs and commerce.
The building of the first Alexandra Palace in 1873 also required a large labour force and many of those lived in The Freehold, to the south of what is now the North Circular Road.
However, the biggest spur to population growth in the area was the coming of trams in the early twentieth century. These provided cheap and easy access to London and thus enabled workers to move out from the centre. Although trams had reached North Finchley and Whetstone by 1905 via Archway, they did not run along Friern Barnet Road until 1909.
Trams at Tally Ho Corner in the early 1920's
In 1851 the population of Friern Barnet was 974, by 1881 it had reached 6,424 (including 2,351 in the Asylum) and in 1911 it was 14,994. It reached its peak in 1961 with 28,813. In the twentieth century the creation of two large factories provided jobs for local people. Standard Telephones and Cables, in Oakleigh Road North, was the largest employer (over 11,000 in its heyday) and John Dale, in Brunswick Park Road, provided many skilled and unskilled jobs.
Crime has a part to play in the local history, and Finchley Common became notorious as the haunt of footpads and highwaymen in the 18th century; many travellers on the Great North Road were relieved of their belongings, or even their lives, by armed robbers. However, contrary to popular legend, there is no evidence that Dick Turpin ever frequented the area. A gibbet was erected at what is now Tally Ho and the bodies of criminals who had been hanged were displayed there as a deterrent to others. Earlier, in medieval times, each parish was responsible for cripples, vagrants and the poor, and there are several examples of Friern Barnet and Whetstone granting passes to these people so that they could be ushered over the border for some other parish to deal with. However, Friern Barnet’s greatest claim to judicial fame came in the reign of Elizabeth I, as the Lord Chief justice of England, Sir John Popham (1531-1607) was a local resident. He presided at the trials of Guy Fawkes and the other gunpowder plotters as well as those of Sir Walter Raleigh and the Earl of Essex.
Unlike Friern Barnet, which has a long history, the district of New Southgate only developed with the opening of the Great Northern Railway and the Colney Hatch Pauper Lunatic Asylum.
In 1858 a gas works was also built nearby. They were all major local employers and the area flourished. The Edmonton School Board opened its first school here, at Garfield Road. This was eventually demolished in 1974 and the school was moved to a new building in Springfield Road.
Garfield Road School
Several parish churches also opened. In 1873 New Southgate had its own parish church in Woodland Road, designed and built by the noted architect George Gilbert Scott. The Wesleyan Methodists built a chapel in the High Road, the Primitive Methodists in Springfield Road and the Baptists in Grove Road.
In 1911 a cinema (the Coronation) opened in the High Road. By 1930, talkies had been introduced, so a new cinema, The New Coronation, was built next door. This ran until 1952 and both buildings were demolished in 1970. The huge Arnos Grove estate was sold by Lord Inverforth in 1928. 44 acres were saved to become Arnos Park, but the rest was sold off for housing. The Piccadilly Line was extended from Finsbury Park to Arnos Grove in 1932 and the North Circular Road completed in 1933.
New Southgate suffered badly in World War II. There was much bomb damage, with many houses destroyed. After the war, Southgate Council carried out a survey of the area and concluded that it was in need of development. A long term scheme was drawn up, which started in 1959. In the early 1970s the final phase saw the demolition of all the shops in the High Road and Station Road and the Victorian houses south of Woodland Road and Springfield Road. High Road was closed off and Station Road realigned as the main north-south route.
High Road, New Southgate in the 1970's, shortly before demolition