NW4 is Hendon and if you say Hendon to people they might reply Police Training College or the RAF Museum. But although the former is in NW4, the latter is in NW9 and really they are both in Colindale – as was the British Library’s Newspaper Archive (which has been despatched to Yorkshire now).
I have decided to give these big ticket items a miss and so I will concentrate the NW4 walk on the smaller charms of Hendon starting in Hendon “Central”. This is at the northern end of the A41 arterial road known as Hendon Way – we saw the southern end in NW2, where Amy Johnson lived.
We start our walk at Hendon Central Post Office which is at 58 Vivian Avenue, NW4. Turn left out of the Post Office and head towards the Central Circus which is the focal point of the 1920s development around Hendon Central. Ahead at the circus are our first two stops. On the left is our first stop.
Stop 1: Hendon Central station
The Underground arrived here from Golders Green in November 1923.
When it was built, the area around here was undeveloped – it was south of the old village of Hendon and north of the Midland Railway station which was called Hendon but was really West Hendon. So it was a little audacious of the Underground to say the least for them to name their new station “central” given there was actually nothing here when the station was built.
The station is a Grade II listed building in a neo-Georgian style and is by Stanley Heaps (1880-1962). He was assistant to Leslie Green, who designed the original Underground Electric Railway stations from 1903. Heaps succeeded Green and his first stations, on the northern extension of the Bakerloo line, were similar to those designed by Green – as we saw at Maida Vale in W9.
During the 1920s and 30s, Heaps worked closely with Charles Holden (1875-1960) on new tube stations. And it was on the 1920s extension of the Hampstead tube to Edgware that we see his style flourish. Heaps is said to have described the design of the new stations as ‘sufficiently dignified to command respect, and sufficiently pleasing to promote affection’ but he rejected the need for ‘buildings that blatantly advertise the railway’.
As this area was largely undeveloped, there was the ability to coordinate between the station and the surrounding buildings that were constructed over the next few years. The station was intended to be at the centre and it faces what was originally a roundabout 240 feet (73 m) in diameter from which four roads fan out to the rest of Hendon and beyond. Although this is called ‘Central Circus’, it is now a crossroads controlled by traffic signals.
However the scale of the building and the width of the roads does give it presence, even today with a roaring dual three lane highway running though the middle of it.
Stop 2: Former cinema (which had 6 names in its 64 year life!)
The south east corner of the circus is taken up with a cinema.
This opened as the Ambassador Cinema in February 1932. It was equipped for live variety shows and there was a cafe. It was taken over by Gaumont in December 1933 and but only re-named Gaumont in 1949. It was sold to the Classic chain in 1967. They modernised the building and it re-opened as the Classic Cinema in December 1968. In 1973 it was split into three screens. It went through a number of ownership changes which caused more changes of name, becoming the Cannon in 1985, the MGM in 1993 and finally the ABC in 1996. The ABC was closed on 20th January 1997 and has now been converted in to gym and fitness centre, which is today is run by Virgin Active. So at least there is no gaping hole or an inappropriate building where the cinema used to be.
Walk north from Hendon Central station along the main road. At the next main junction take a right. This is a street called “The Burroughs”. Continue until you reach the next group of buildings which are on your left.
Stop 3 The Burroughs (four public buildings)
Hendon was created an urban district council in 1894 and became a municipal borough in 1932. The municipal borough was abolished in the London local government reorganisation of 1965 when it became part of the London Borough of Barnet. And here along the north side of The Burroughs are a group of four public buildings which even architectural historian Pevsner considers make “quite and impressive show”. He says they are “typical examples of official architecture in brick with stone dressings, the earlier ones still quite jolly, the later two more genteel.”
The first we come to is the Town Hall, one of the two earlier ones, dating from 1900. It is still in use by Barnet Council, and is where the Council meets.
And next door is the Library from 1929, which Pevsner calls “eclectic Neo Baroque”.
The fire station follows – this is from 1911. It does not have any London Fire Brigade signs as far as I can see, but it does appear to be an operational fire station, and not one that has been closed.
And finally there is what is now part of Middlesex University, but was built as Hendon Technical College in 1937.
Yes these certainly make for a great group of buildings but you can’t help feeling it is a bit odd having them in this location. Just look across the road and the other side is somewhat less imposing.
Maybe the idea was that a centre would develop around them, but the gravitational pull of the tube station probably prevented this.
Follow the road round the corner and then take a left at the next junction (Church End). Continue along this until you reach the Church.
Stop 4: St Mary’s Church
Here is a lovely little church with a nice pub nestling right by it.
The church is dedicated to St Mary and parts of it go back to the 13th century. The tower has a weathervane in the form of a “Lamb and Flag”, which is the badge of St. John as opposed to St Mary. It is not entirely clear why but it may be a sign of the cult of Mary Magdalene said to have been promoted by the Templars and their successors.
Sadly I have not had the chance to go in as Pevsner calls it “a rewarding building, much more so that the exterior … would suggest”. The architect Temple Moore who built All Saints Tooting SW17 is responsible for greatly expanding the church in 1914/15, and surprisingly Pevsner approves of the new work as greatly enriching the original effect.
Return along Church End and at the end turn left and continue until you reach Sunny Gardens Road on your left.
Stop 5: Sunny Gardens Road
I had to stop a awhile here and go up this wonderfully named road.
But first impressions were not good.
Second impressions did not improve, as the sunny gardens along the street were full of cars!
This is however a long road and maybe it is better at the other end. However I do not have the time to explore as I am on a mission to find Hendon Hall.
So if you have headed up from the main road you will have passed Fuller Street on your left. Then you will have seen a pathway crossing Sunny Gardens Road. Take the right hand path and this will bring you out to a street called Downage and ahead you will see Parson Street. Go to Parson Street and turn left. A little way along you will see a side street called Ashley Lane. Our next stop is just at this corner.
Stop 6: Hendon Hall
Hendon Hall has been hotel since 1912 but the core of the hotel is Hendon Hall, built in 1756.
This frontage does look like something out of Gone with the Wind. Like someone had decided to build a grand house and had put together what they thought would look imposing, even though the bits do not quite fit properly. Don’t those columns look odd. I wonder whether the columns were originally bare brick – perhaps they once had a stone or stucco covering.
There is said to be a connection with the actor David Garrick. He was Lord of the Manor of Hendon between 1765 and 1778 but there is no evidence he actually lived here.
One fascinating thing I discovered was that for some time Hendon Hall had a ceiling painting by 18th Century Italian artist, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, called Allegory of the Planets and Four Continents. It was sold in the mid 1950s and ended up in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Return along Parson Street, until you get to a major cross roads with traffic lights. Our next stop is at the corner on your right.
Stop 7: Ferrydale Lodge (site of Odeon cinema)
Like the grouping at Hendon Central we have a group of buildings at a road junction which have a scale and a presence. Sadly one corner is out of character and this is where the cinema stood
This was the last of the original Oscar Deutsch built Odeon Theatres to open before the outbreak of World War II. It opened on 28th August 1939 and unusually for Odeons of this period it was built of brick and not faced with cream tiles. Here is a picture:
The Odeon closed in January 1979 and was demolished in December 1981. A residential block named Ferrydale Lodge was built on the site. At least it is the right bulk even though the cinema probably looked better than this nondescript block.
Continue straight ahead. The road becomes Brent Street and our next stop is a little way along on our left.
Stop 8: Sentinel Square Shopping Centre (site of Carlton/Classic/Gala Cinema)
Brent Street is a small shopping centre that never really made it but it clearly was not improved by this ugly looking early 1970s shopping which was plopped down into it.
This was actually the site of a 1930s cinema. It seems to have opened as the Carlton. It had become the Classic then in 1961 it was renamed the Gala Classic and finally Gala Cinema from 1965. At the end it played “continental” films, finally closing in March 1967. The cinema was demolished and the site re-developed as Sentinel Square Shopping Centre.
Strange is it not that this fairly modest shopping street should have not one but two sizable cinemas, but there is nothing left to remind us of this.
Just after Sentinel Square is a side street on the left called The Crest. Go down here to the street at the end which is Golders Rise.
Stop 9: Hendon School
Ahead of you is Hendon School.
It was previously Hendon Grammar School and famous former pupils include Peter Mandelson, Rabbi Lionel Blue, and author Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.
But our stop is more for what was here before – Hendon House which was home to John Norden (1548 – 1625) between 1607 and 1619
He was an early cartographer. He planned (but did not complete) a series of county maps and accompanying county histories of England and his maps of 16th century London and Westminster are important representations of Tudor London. Looks like the plaque says Morden rather than Norden, but I think it is the latter.
Continue to the end and you will have returned to Brent Street, where you should turn left. Our next stop is a short way along Brent Street on the right.
Stop 10: Pillar Hotel
This is a strange looking hotel. Clearly not built as a hotel and why is it called the Pillar? Over the gateway are the numbers 19 twice, so was this built in 1919?
According to Pevsner, this was built in 1897 as St Saviour’s Homes in 1897 for women in need of care. Wikipedia puts it less tactfully as a home for “feeble minded women”. In 1925 it was taken over by the Pillar of Fire Society – an american evangelical protestant organisation founded by a woman called Alma White in 1901. The Hendon site became a bible college, school and chapel.
According to the Charity Commission website Pillar of Fire became a charity in 1992 with the aim of the advancement of the Christian religion and in particular by maintaining a church and teaching the doctrines and practices of the Pillar of Fire USA. Apparently one of their aims was to evangelize the local Jewish population in the vicinity of the mission. http://www.pillar.org/missions_england.html
The charity was removed from the register in 2003 as “it has ceased to exist”. Wikipedia suggest this followed a Charity Commission inquiry but the Commission website does not give any information on this. The mission was sold, and in a wonderful twist of fate, the property became a “kosher boutique” hotel in 2010 – there cannot be many of them!
Isn’t it interesting that they chose the name “Pillar” for the hotel. You might think they would want to distance themselves from the Pillar of Fire name.
Oh and the 1919 mystery. Well the postal address is number 19 Brent Street. So it is just the street number of the building shown twice!
Continue walking along Brent Street and take the next turning on the right (Shirehall Lane). Take the 5th turning on the left which is Haslemere Avenue. Go almost to the end and our next stop is on the left.
Stop 11 Number 6 Haslemere Avenue
This modest looking interwar house is that of football manager Herbert Chapman. Today largely forgotten but he had great success in charge of Northampton Town, Leeds City, Huddersfield Town and finally Arsenal before his sudden death from pneumonia in 1934.
Continue to the end of the street and then turn right into Shirehall Park. You then reach a junction. Turn left and soon on the right is our final stop.
Stop 12: Number 93 Shirehall park
This was the residence of a virtually forgotten Music Hall star called Harry Relph, better known by his stage name, Little Tich. Today we associate Tich or Titchy with being small. And indeed he was short – just 4 foot 6 inch tall. This is apparently 7 inches shorter than Ronnie Corbett (who is 5 Foot 1 inch). But I always wondered by he was called Little Tich at it seemed tautological.
This is the story. Little Tich was a nickname which has its origin in the Tichborne case (mentioned briefly in SW4). This was a legal cause célèbre in the 1860s and 1870s. A man who went by the name of Arthur Orton claimed the title of Tichborne. He was a fat man and the name Tichborne was frequently used to describe large people. In his early years, Harry Relph was overweight and he became known as “Young Tichborne”. So when he appeared on stage, audiences would often shout “come on little Tichborne” . By the mid 1880s, he had lost almost all of his excess weight, but the name Little Tich had stuck – an ironic endearment contrasting the large stature of Orton with the tiny one of Relph. So that is how we come to associate Tich with small and why Little and Tich were not originally tautological.
His trade mark was the Big Boot Dance for which he wore boots with soles 28 inches long. Here is a snippet of film from around 1900:
He was also a popular performer in Christmas pantomimes across the country and appeared with Dan Leno and Marie Lloyd at in three pantomimes at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane between 1891 and 1893.
He had a somewhat complicated love life. He bought the newly built house in 1925 for his lover Winifred and their child, Mary. But his actual wife died in 1926 allowing him to marry Winifred and move into the Hendon house.
In 1927 he suffered a stroke, which was partly triggered by a blow to the head which he had accidentally received during an evening performance at the Alhambra Theatre. He never recovered fully from the injury, and died the following year at his house here in Hendon, aged 60.
This is not the loveliest of location today as it is close to the North Circular Road and right by the river Brent which here has been encased in a masonry and concrete sleeve. Maybe it looked nicer in the 1920s when the North Circular was less busy and the river more natural.
Now you could pop into Brent Cross Shopping Centre from here. It was one of the first shopping malls in Britain dating from 1976. However if you want to stop here then continue down Shirehall Park to the end, where you will see the North Circular Road. Turn left and cross the road by the footbridge. On the other side turn right at the both of the steps and take the first turning on the right (Heathfield Gardens). You will find an entrance to Brent Cross station just up here.