N2 is East Finchley. This area is mainly residential, although N2 is also home to the UK headquarters of the fast food giant McDonald’s and has a rather special cinema. For this walk I had fellow Footprints of London guide Jenni Bowley to show me round. So thank you, Jenni.
We start the walk at the N2 Royal Mail office in Market Place (It is a lovely Edwardian building which unaccountably I failed to take a picture of). It is perhaps the only attractive thing about this street. And curiously although it is called Market Place there is no sign of a market or even a shop today.
Our first stop is just off Market place – a street called Prospect Ring.
Stop 1; Prospect Ring
This is an intriguing little estate dating from the late 1950s and grouped around a traffic circle. On the far side is an 11 storey block of flats – it is quite a surprise to find a council built tower block here.
On the left hand corner is a rather old fashioned looking stone plaque.
This explains the foundation stone was laid by the Mayor of Finchley on 25 April 1959 in the silver jubilee year of the incorporation of the borough. How different local government was in those days, when even a small municipal borough like Finchley (population under 70,000) called its senior councillors aldermen and had its own Architect.
The motto of the borough was “Regnant Qui Serviunt”, which apparently translates as “They rule who serve”. Now that is a no nonsense motto and entirely fitting for the area that chose Margaret Thatcher as its MP.
Now leave Prospect Ring cross over Market Place and go down Kitchener Road. Cross over the High Road and almost immediately opposite is Huntingdon Road
Stop 2: Huntingdon Road
According to Wikipedia, Thomas Pierrepoint, the official British hangman, lived in Huntingdon Road in the early 1900s – and by chance this was not far where the 18th century gibbet stood in Lincoln Road.
Not surprisingly there is no plaque to show which house. So I do not know where to point you, so here is a view of the street and the street sign.
Go to the end of Huntingdon Road and turn right into Durham Road. As you will note the streets here are named after English places. There is also Hertford, Bedford, Leicester and Lincoln. Local Estate Agents call this group of streets “The County Roads”. Now if you were being pedantic you would say this is strictly not right as the roads are named after towns and cities rather than counties. But that is a detail that would probably not worry Estate Agents.
At the end of Durham Road turn left into Fortis Green. Our next stop is across the road after Western Road.
Stop 3: Number 85 Fortis Green
This was the home of poet, Coventry Patmore (1823 – 1896), who is apparently best known for “The Angel in the House”, his narrative poem about an ideal happy marriage.
And there is a plaque to prove it.
This by the way appears to be the only memorial plaque on a building in N2. There are certainly no English Heritage blue plaques in N2 and this is the only local one I could find. So I thought I would include it even though I have to confess never to have heard of Mr Patmore!
Retrace your steps along Fortis Green and turn left into Eastern Road, then left again into Francis Road and right into Lynmouth Road
Stop 4: Martyrs Memorial House, Lynmouth Road
The Martyrs Memorial House is the last house on the left. I was slightly thrown by this street sign at the junction with Lauradale Road.
Is “Cheddington aviv riposa roselle dunottar” some kind of motto or foreign quotation? I was puzzled but then looking at the houses all became clear. They have no numbers, only names and these are the names of the 6 houses here – the end one being called “The Martyrs Memorial House”
Here is an article from September 2011 which sort of explains this unusual house.
I have not been able to find anything more recent. But whoever lives here clearly has a parking permit which runs to May 2015.
At the end of Lynmouth Road turn right into Southern Road. Continue along this until you reach Summerlee Avenue where you turn left. Go to the end.
Stop 5: Cherry Tree Wood
We have now reached Cherry Tree Wood where the sign says “Welcome to Cherry Tree Wood. This is a locked park”. How welcoming can Barnet Council be?
If you venture in (assuming it is not locked!), you will see a sign with a map. This explains the wood used to be called Dirt House Wood. When the railway was built, this area became boggy and watercress beds were created as a source of revenue for the local community. The wood was acquired by Finchley Council in 1914 and became known as Cherry Tree Wood a year later in 1915.
Still looks a bit waterlogged today, but perhaps not suitable for watercress anymore.
Now retrace your steps along Summerlee Road and turn left into Baronsmere Road. At the end turn right and our next stop is at the next corner.
Stop 6: Phoenix Cinema, 52 High Road
This is quite a survivor. Although started in 1910, the developers went bust and it only opened its doors in 1912. It is one of the oldest continuously operating cinemas in the UK. It has gone through a number of names: Picturedrome, Coliseum, Rex and finally since 1975, it has been known as the Phoenix. It had a makeover in 1938, so it’s auditorium has an odd combination of an Edwardian barrel vaulted ceiling and art deco features on the sides.
There is extensive information about the history of the cinema on its website. Here is a link to the first page of many pages:
Demolition was threatened in 1983 so an office block could be built on the site, but the Cinema and its supporters put up a fight and in 1985 ownership was passed onto a Trust that was set up to operate it, which continues today.
Here is a nice piece by BBC’s Mark Kermode for whom this was his childhood cinema.
Now walk back along the High Road towards the railway bridge. Our next stop is across the road.
Stop 7: McDonald’s
It is a favourite of pub quizzes to ask where the first McDonald’s opened in the UK (Answer: Woolwich 1974), and a lot of people know that.
But not many people will know that the UK headquarters of McDonald’s and its “Hamburger University” is here in High Road, East Finchley. So if this pops up in a pub quiz you will now know the answer.
Last November, the Daily Telegraph (of all newspapers) published what they described as 15 fascinating facts about McDonald’s to celebrate 40 years in the UK.
Number 14 reads “McDonald’s UK head office is in Finchley. It was opened in 1983 by Margaret Thatcher, the prime minister but also the local MP. She described a Big Mac as “absolutely enormous” and doubted how anyone could hold it in one hand. ”
But there is also something called Hospitality House on this site.
It is home to an organisation called the Hospitality Guild which was established in 2012. This describes itself as “an alliance of employers, skills bodies, individuals and training providers dedicated to simplifying and promoting the professionalism of the hospitality industry.”
Needless to say McDonald’s was a founder member along with Hilton Hotels, the Compass Group and City and Guilds. Well it is good to have a body with these aims. Let’s hope they can make a different in this sector. Goodness knows, hospitality service can after all be a bit hit and miss in the UK.
Our next stop is just past McDonald’s ahead on the right.
Stop 8: East Finchley Station
Today East Finchley station presents a very 1930s image to the world but actually there has been a station on this site since 1867. When it opened it was called East End Station. It was initially on the route that ran from Finsbury Park to Edgware. This is the line we saw the remnants of in NW7. A branch line to High Barnet was added in 1872, diverging at the next station, Finchley Central.
The station was given its current name in 1886, apparently after representations that the name East End was associated with the poorer parts of London.
The section of the High Barnet branch north of East Finchley plus the Mill East branch became part of the London Underground network in 1939 through the “Northern Heights” project which begun in 1935.
For the introduction of London Underground services, the Victorian East Finchley station was completely demolished and was rebuilt to an Art Deco/Streamline Moderne design by Charles Holden.
Dominating the main entrance is a 10 foot tall statue by Eric Aumonier of a kneeling archer who has perhaps just let go of an arrow along the railway line towards central London. The archer supposedly is to remind us Finchley’s historic association with hunting in the nearby Royal Forest of Enfield.
It can also be seen as a visual joke in that the archer is facing towards Archway. Apparently when this was put up there was an arrow at Morden at the southern end of the Northern Line, but it soon disappeared and no one seems to know where it went!
Fascinating fact: For many years, the tunnel from here to Morden was claimed to be the longest tunnel in the world at just over 17 miles (if you go via Bank). It is not now – there are around 20 railway tunnels longer than this, including of course the Channel Tunnel.
As part of the rebuild, the station was provided with two additional platforms, giving four in total . The two inner platforms were on the route from Finsbury Park whilst the two outer ones were on the new line coming from Highgate as an extension of the Northern Line. The original plan was for underground trains to serve both routes.
Underground trains first served the station on 3 July 1939 which acted as a temporary terminus for the Northern line until the electrification of the line north was completed the following spring. But the line between here and Finsbury Park was never converted to an Underground line with the abandonment of the Northern Heights project after the war. The inner platforms are now used only by trains starting or terminating at East Finchley from Barnet, or coming from or going to the depot south of the station.
If you can do go into the station and have a look around. It is one of the really great Underground stations of the 1930s.
A distinctive feature of the station is the glazed stairways leading to the enclosed bridge over the tracks occupied by staff offices. These and the narrow deck-like platform buildings, give the impression of a ship.
However it is a curious design. Here we are high on an embankment with the station accessed by passengers through a subway. And yet the design included a totally unnecessary bridge across the tracks. But you have to admit it does make for an interesting scene.
Go under the bridge and we see the Old White Lion pub.
According to the Barnet website this was once known as the Dirt House.
The road here was improved in 1712 and a tollbooth was set up near the White Lion to pay for the road to be repaired. In the 18th century, there was quite a trade in the waste products from the streets and cesspits of London. And much was brought to Finchley to be used to manure the fields. The carters of the manure did not want to pay the extra cost of the toll so stopped at the inn. I would guess therefore this is how Dirt House Wood (which we saw at stop 5) got its name. Strange there is no mention of this on the sign there.
The toll ceased in 1862 but the toll gate was only removed in 1903.
Now go under the railway bridge and take the first road on the right (The Bishops Avenue). Continue to the junction with the A1 dual carriageway where you turn right. Our next stop is the housing development just on the right.
Stop 10: Belvedere Court
This late 1930s apartment development was where American chat show host and former mayor of Cincinnati, Ohio, Jerry Springer lived for a time as a baby.
Wikipedia includes in its East Finchley station entry that he was born inside the station on 13 February 1944, during the Blitz and cites a 2007 interview.
Although East Finchley is undoubtedly the closest station to Belvedere Court, this does seem unlikely as it is not Underground and so would probably not have had a shelter. Springer’s own Wikipedia entry has him born at Highgate, which is the next station into town and which is underground. This is confirmed by an article based on a 2009 interview.
Maybe one day someone will get round to tidying up this contradiction. But it is one of the pitfalls (some may say charms) of Wikipedia, that you can never quite believe everything you read.
Now continue along Lyttelton Road and take a right into Norrice Lea, then right into Linden Lea and finally left into Lytton Close.
Stop 11: Lytton Close
I had to include this street as it is the most complete example of 1930s moderne style houses I have seen – all dazzling white still with original metal window frames in curved bays. Not just one, but a whole street.
Is this really England?
Now retrace your steps to Lyttelton Road and turn right, without crossing over. Go past Belvedere Court (which is on the other side of the road) and take the second right which is The Bishops Avenue.
Stop 12: The Bishops Avenue
I am treating this as a single stop but in reality it is a long street which is worth a look, just because there is nowhere else quite like it in Britain. This is known as Billionaires Row because it has some of the most expensive property in Britain.
Most of the buildings are single houses on large plots – almost all are vulgar displays of wealth. Like this one.
One or two have a bit of gravitas, like Number 59. Known today as Heath Hall it was built in 1910 as East Weald as the London residence of William Park Lyle, son of sugar magnate Abram Lyle (whose company went on to become part of Tate and Lyle).
According to this article in the Daily Mail this 14 bedroom house was on sale for £65 million in 2013.
But a number of site are in the process of redevelopment.
And then there are some which are just boarded up and rotting, like Number 58, which apparently is on sale as an ambassadorial residence set on 1.8 acres with planning permission for a new 30,000 sq ft house
This may boast some of the most expensive property in the country but I have to say it strangely soulless. And it must be annoying to have constant building work together with virtually abandoned properties as your neighbours.
We are now at the end of our N2 walk.
The Bishops Avenue is actually served by a bus route – the H3 which runs the full length of the street and will take you back to East Finchley or on to Golders Green. But it only has 7 journeys a day (Monday to Saturday) and the last one is at 14.15, so you might have a long wait.
If you have walked to the end you will have reached Hampstead Lane where you can get a 210 to Highgate or Golders Green. Otherwise head back to East Finchley.
So that is N2. Thanks once again to Jenni for showing me round.
We actually saw a lot more that I did not have space to include, such as the Bald Faced Stag pub and the East Finchley Constitutional Club And we failed to find 211b High Road which is where Peter Sellers lived with his mother in the late 1940s.
Nor did we venture into the St. Pancras and Islington Cemetery. This was established in 1854 and is the oldest municipal cemetery in London. The Victorian painter Ford Madox Brown is buried there.
But I hope there was enough in N2 to keep you amused!