North Finchley is centred on Tally Ho Corner, the junction of the roads to East Finchley, Finchley Central, Friern Barnet and Whetstone. and numerous local businesses have taken their name from this including a gym!
The phrase tally-ho! originated from hunting with hounds. It comes from an old French phrase and is shouted when a rider or follower sees the fox (or other quarry). The term has evolved to have other meanings. Apparently, it is sometimes used as slang in air traffic control to verify a radar contact has been visually confirmed. And it was also the name of a stage coach company as we shall see.
We start our walk at North Finchley Post Office which is situated at 751 High Road.
Turn right out of the Post Office and cross the road. Our first stop is just ahead.
But this was the site of the massive Gaumont North Finchley which was located on the large island site of Tally Ho Corner. Tally Ho Corner was a terminus for the trams in this part of north London and in later years became a terminus for trolley buses. So it was an ideal place for a cinema.
The site was created in the 1930s for a road widening scheme and in July 1934, the land was purchased by Gaumont British Theatres. The cinema opened in July 1937 with seating for 1,390 in the stalls and 725 in the balcony . It had a brick exterior with a semi-circular tower on the left-hand side. Half-way up the tower was an elaborate bas-relief carving in Portland stone, created by artist and designer Newbury A Trent and depicting the shooting of a film, with lights, camera, director and actors. There was a restaurant with a large window which stretched across the main facade, just above the canopy level.
The Gaumont closed in October 1980 and lay unused for some years until it was demolished in February 1987. There seems to have been some effort to preserve the bas-relief panels but sadly they do not seem to have survived.
There were grand plans for a new building which would include a banquet hall, twin cinemas and offices. But it turned out that the Rank Organisation (who by that time owned the cinema) had put a restrictive covenant on the sale of the site, stipulating that it could not contain cinema use. The site then stood empty for the next 15 years with just some temporary use as an outdoor market and for car parking.
Finally in 2004, a new arts centre named artsdepot was opened on the site.
The artsdepot has a 395 seat theatre, 148 seat studio theatre, gallery, and a cafe and bar, but interestingly not a cinema, so maybe that restrictive covenant still had effect.
Just by the entrance to the artsdepot in a pedestrianised street to the left of Aldi is this strange step arrangement
But go round the other side and you see this is actually a model of the old Gaumont cinema.
Follow the building round in front of Aldi and on the side street you come to the pedestrian entrance to the Bus Station.
Stop 2: North Finchley Bus Station
This is possibly the worst modern bus station I have seen. It looks like a loading bay in a shopping centre and only seems to have one stop.
The bus station opened in 2004, but later had to be closed because a person was killed after they walked into the bus station through the wrong entrance and was hit by a bus. The bus station was reopened in March 2007 after safety improvements were implemented. They included the addition of a barrier at the exit and a public address system.
One curious thing about this bus station is that most of the bus routes which serve North Finchley do not actually go into the covered area of the bus station.
It is one thing to get public facilities as part of new developments, but they have to be done sensibly, which this one clearly was not.
Now head down the High Road away from Tally Ho corner (south). Our next stop is a few minutes walk on the left hand side.
Stop 3: Great North Leisure Park
You cannot really miss the Great North Leisure Park – which looks like a little bit of America dropped into N12.
Now often these kind of sites are built on old industrial land, but this one was not. It actually was the site of a 1930s Lido. The main heated pool opened in September 1931 and stayed open until 11 November. But the officially opening was the following spring. On 22 April 1932 the Duke of York (later King George VI) unveiled a ceremonial wall tablet made of Staffordshire marble. Apparently this tablet is on display behind the counter of Nando’s restaurant, which was built around the original site. However when I went in, I was greeted with blank stares when I asked about this.
It seems there was also a cinema on the site, although strangely I can find no reference to this on the bible of cinema building: http://cinematreasures.org/theaters?q=finchley&status=all
The original Lido with its main pool and children’s pool was closed in 1992. The present multi screen cinema opened in July 1996 as the Warner North Finchley and it became the Vue cinema in 2004.
Now return along the High Road and turn right down Churchfield Avenue. At the end turn right into Woodhouse Road. Our next stop is just along on the left.
Stop 4: Woodhouse College
Today this is a sixth form college but it was once the home of Woodhouse Grammar School.
According to Wikipedia,
“After the First World War, the former residence of ornamental plasterer Thomas Collins (1735–1830) in the Woodhouse area of Finchley was reconstructed; the house became The Woodhouse School in 1923. A blue plaque commemorating Thomas Collins is on the wall outside the present college office. The school coat of arms with the motto ‘Cheerfulness with Industry’ is still displayed above the stage in the college hall. A pink chestnut tree was planted behind the main school building to mark the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1937. This tree had been presented by the Third Reich authorities to a member of the British team who attended the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and subsequently became known as ‘the Hitler tree'”.
The latter point is marked “citation needed” so maybe that is just a local urban myth. And being a school behind security gates, I could not get to see the plaque or the tree, or indeed the coat of arms.
Return along Woodhouse Road. At the end you will see the big building which houses the artsdepot, the bus station and Aldi supermarket. Turn right at this junction.
As you head up the main road note the Bathstore on the ground floor of the This was apparently the location of the entrance to the former Gaumont which we heard about earlier.
Keep walking along the main road. Our next stop is just on the left.
Stop 5: Grand Arcade
Now here is another little bit of the 1930s, but unlike the Gaumont and the Lido is still standing.
Even though the shops are a little sad, it does look nice – especially with this wonderful floor, which has echoes of the new floor in the rotunda at Tate Britain
Turn right at the end at the end of the Arcade. Our next stop is just a little way along.
Keep walking along the High Road and soon on your right you will see a Sainsbury’s supermarket.
Stop 7: Sainsbury’s supermarket
Nothing too remarkable about that, but in front it has a couple of interesting things. First a milepost. This apparently is the smallest listed building in Barnet. (well that is what it said on one of the information panels by the Tally Ho!)
And then to the left is a little model of a building, which is actually just around the corner as we shall see.
Take the right immediately after the supermarket. This is Ravendale Avenue. Our next stop is just a little way along.
Stop 8: North Finchley Library
This is the local library, which appeared as a model outside Sainsbury’s.
Return to the High Road and turn right. Our next stop is a little further on the right hand side of the main road.
Stop 9: site of Odeon cinema (894 High Road)
Today this site is being redeveloped but once this was the site of the Odeon Cinema and a parade of 1930s shops.
The Odeon cinema was one of the original Odeons built for Oscar Deutsch. It opened in October 1935. It had a 270 feet long facade, taking the entire block between Friern Watch Avenue and Mayfield Avenue. There were two wings with shops and two floors of flats above and the cinema had its auditorium behind parallel to the High Road with an entrance at the centre of the parade.
The Odeon was closed in December 1964 and the building was taken over by Halls (Finchley) Ltd. as a garage and car showroom. The company had operated out of one of the shop units since it was built in 1935.
From the pictures on the cinema treasures website, it looks like the central section which contained the cinema entrance was rebuilt after the cinema closed. In the early 1980s, it became as a furniture store named Furnitureland. This seems to have lasted until around 2006. The whole block was then demolished in Spring 2013 and redevelopment is now taking place.
Continue along the High Road and turn left down Woodside Lane. Our next stop is a little way along as the road bends.
Stop 10: Finchley Catholic High School
Today this is Finchley Catholic High School, but the current school site is centred on an old house called Woodside Grange, which you can just see through the fence.
This castellated folly was built by a local doctor Dr James Turle as a home and consultancy. It was later owned by Sir Arthur Douglas Derry, some time owner of Derry and Toms Store in Kensington. In 1928 it was purchased as the home of Finchley Catholic Grammar School and which today is known as Finchley Catholic High School.
Again as this is a school site, we cannot get any nearer.
Continue walking along Woodside Lane. You will cross the railway and the road becomes Holden Road. Our next stop is quite a walk along this road on the right.
Stop 11: site of Number 127 Holden Road
Just about opposite a building called Barchester Lodge, you will a modern development and at the end of the terrace going away from Holden Road you will see a blue plaque.
This was the location of a house (numbered 127 Holden road) which was for a time the home of comedian Spike Milligan. As we heard in N3 he was one of the founders and a strong supporter of the Finchley Society. His old house here in Holden Road is now demolished but a blue plaque was placed at the site in 2004.
Continue walking along Holden Road and take the turning on the left called Station Approach. At the end is a station (as one would expect).
Stop 12: Woodside Park station
We are now at Woodside Park station, one of the lesser known stations on the Underground.
Like West Finchley, this just does not feel like an Underground station. And of course as we heard in N3, this line was originally not part of the Underground but was actually built as a suburban route going into King’s Cross.
It opened in 1872 as Torrington Park station. There does not seem to be an actual park called Torrington Park, but there is a road of this name which comes into the High Road just south of Sainsbury’s. In other words nowhere near this station. Presumably as the name was a bit misleading, it was renamed Woodside Park in 1882. It finally became part of the Underground in 1940, as part of the Northern Heights project.
You are approaching the station from the west side which has the northbound platform and there is a public bridge across to the east side with the southbound platform.
The main station building is on the east side.
Unusually for an Underground station, there are no shops whatsoever on either side of the tracks. You could almost be in the country.
Whilst we are here in Woodside Park, I should just mention one other famous former resident. Woodside Park is the area where ex-Spice Girl Emma Bunton grew up. Not sure where though.
So we reach the end of our N12 walk. As so often happens when I started it looked like there was not that much of interest and yet I have found the sites of two 1930s cinemas and a Lido, plus a couple of old houses now schools, and a Spike Milligan connection.
We are at an Underground station for onward travel, so that makes life easier!