N20 is Whetstone – and Totteridge, although Totteridge and Whetstone seems to roll off the tongue better, maybe because that is the name of the station. They are neighbours for ever associated with each other but oh so different as we shall see.
We start our walk at Whetstone Post Office, which is at 1293 High Road. Our first stop is across the road.
Stop 1: former Green Man pub
We are used to see former pubs being reused for other purposes, usually this is a small supermarket or apartments. But here is a really unusual reuse, as a tyre and exhaust replacement workshop. Clearly a small business, it has even taken its name from the old pub.
And if you look up you can see the building dates from 1890.
I guess the publican who moved into the new building in 1890 might be shocked to discover what the building was being used for 125 years later.
Continue walking along the main road towards the road junction with traffic lights. Our next stop is by this junction on the left.
Stop 2: The Griffin
Whetstone is on the old Great North Road and was an important stopping point for stage coaches on their journeys to and from the North. Many of these staging posts became pubs. I think there could have been at least five pubs in the centre of Whetstone, but today only one survives – the Griffin.
There has been an inn on the site of the present Griffin pub for centuries, though the present building dates from 1928.
Now note the Pizza Express to the left of the pub. This is at 1264 High Road and according to the architectural bible, Pevsner, behind the brick frontage, there is a rare survival of a late medieval timber framed rear wing.
Continue along the main road and take a left at the junction into Oakleigh Road North. Continue along this until you see a road veering off to the left (which confusingly is called Oakleigh Park North). Ahead you will see our next stop at this corner.
Stop 3: Christ Church
This is a United Reformed Church. This is part of a protestant Christian denomination formed in 1972 by a merger of English Presbyterians and English and Welsh Congregationalists.
On the side is a sign which proudly proclaims “225 years 1788 – 2013”
But of course this building is nowhere near that old, as can be seen from the foundation stone at the end of the building.
Pevsner describes this building as “An odd specimen of its date and of the fanciful leanings of the Congregationalists about 1900”. But I have not been able to find out why there is this 225 year old claim as there does not seem to be an operational church website or other information coming up when I search.
Go down the road to the left of the Church (Oakleigh Park North). Our next stop is a little way along as the road bends
Stop 4: Numbers 13 and 17 Oakleigh Park North
There is an intriguing story attached to the buildings which used stand hereabouts. It appears that in the years during and immediately after the Second World War, this was a centre for spying.
Here is a link to a 2001 report from a local newspaper, which is has the headline “Neighbours from Hell?”
The gist of the story is that the Barnet & Potters Bar Times had reported the week before that the Soviet news agency, Tass, had a radio monitoring station in Whetstone from 1941. It was used to spy on the British until 1951, yet apparently no-one seemed to know exactly where it was.
The newspaper was then inundated with calls saying that the base was in Oakleigh Park North. Three sites along that road have repeatedly been named, which suggests that there could have been more than one base where intelligence was gathered.
Then local historian, John Heathfield unearthed a copy of the Barnet Press from 13 October 1951.
Under the headline, ‘Britain Silences Russia’s Listening Post in Friern Barnet’, it reads: “The radio monitoring station of Tass, the official Soviet news agency housed in The Lodge, 13 Oakleigh Park North, closed down by Foreign Office request on Sunday, not two years after Friern Barnet Council had tried unsuccessfully to have it shut on planning grounds.” The report continued: “The Lodge, a solidly-built double-fronted house standing in large grounds is surrounded by an extensive network of aerials and cables.”
But it went on to report Emil Bryden, whose family lived across the road from Tower House from 1955, said that it was owned by the Admiralty and used by the British secret services as a safe house. He thought that people may have been confused because the British base at number 17 also had aerials and receiving equipment. Mr Bryden went on to say the Soviet base was at number 13 and had been owned by the Russians since before the Communist revolution in 1917.
Neither building still stands, so here are a couple of pictures of what is there now.
This is Greenleaf Court.
And Number 13 now seems to have at least three houses on the site. Here is a view.
The 2001 newspaper report mentions that it could also have been Number 5.
Who knows! But what I am not sure about is why the 2001 newspaper report thought this spying activity amounted to “neighbours from hell”. Surely they were too busy listening to make much of a nuisance of themselves.
Now retrace your steps back to the main road. Ahead you cannot fail to see a twelve story tower block which is totally out of keeping with the area.
Stop 5: Barnet House
This is called Barnet House. It dates from 1966 and was designed by none other than Richard Seifert & Partners. It is occupied by Barnet Council.
It seems incredible now that in the 1960s a building like this was allowed in a small scale suburban village.
Take a right at the main road and then a left (which is Totteridge Lane). Our next stop is a little way along at the corner of Birley Road.
Stop 6: Number 35 Totteridge Lane
There are no blue plaques in N20 so far as I could establish, but there is a Barnet Council one on this house.
And here is the plaque. It is to a golfer who I have never heard of who lived here from 1903 to 1937.
Harry Vardon (1870 – 1937) was a professional golfer originally from Jersey. Vardon won The Open Championship (one of the major Golf contests) a record six times.. He had great rivalries with two other golfers James Braid and J H Taylor, who each won five Open Championships. Between them, they dominated the world of golf from the mid 1890s to the mid 1910s.
Seems quite a modest house, and it is not next to a golf course!
Continue walking along Totteridge Lane. Our next stop is just a bit further on the right.
Stop 7: Totteridge and Whetstone station
This station dates from 1872 but only became an Underground station in 194o when the Northern line took over the line to Barnet
It has a modest street level building- half of which seems to be an estate agents.
And if you go down into the station, there is an odd arrangement on the platforms with the canopies on both platforms in two separate sections.
Also noticeable are the stairways. here they still have roofs, unlike the series of stations we saw in Tottenham and Stoke Newington. This is an indication of how much better London Underground has looked after its stations compared to British Rail and its successors.
Useless fact! Totteridge & Whetstone has one of the longest station name on the Underground, with 20 characters (including an ampersand). High Street Kensington also has 20 characters as has Heathrow Terminals 2 & 3, but the latter used to be longer as at one time it was known as Heathrow Terminals 1, 2 & 3. Maybe it will get its crown back at some point in the future, if Terminal 1 returns.
This is the sort of trivia fellow guide Ian Swankie comes up with. He loves to pose these kind of questions – such as what Underground station name contains all the vowels (a, e, i, o and u)? I will give you the answer at the end – there are actually two stations that fit the bill.
Continue along Totteridge Lane. At this point you might wish to hop on a 251 bus for 3 stops to Totteridge Green.
As you come along Totteridge Lane you will see a large green on your left (this is Totteridge Green). And our next stop is at the corner just before the Orange Tree pub. If you have come on the bus. you will get off beside the Green.
Stop 8: Totteridge Green
It is hard to believe you are still in a London post code area; it is so countrified. Pevsner says that the survival of the rural setting (of Totteridge) is due to the Green Belt and to the efforts of the Totteridge Preservation Society before the Second World War and the Totteridge Manor Association, formed in 1955, which took over the management of the surrounding common and woodland.
And there are signs which on one side say “Manor of Totteridge”, like this one here on Totteridge Green.
And on the reverse have a set of byelaws. Very English.
Now head towards the school building ahead. This is St Andrews School rebuilt in 1938 in what Pevsner calls “a demure domestic style” and later extended. It was built by Wallis, Gilbert and Partners who are apparently better known for their factories.
Just before the school, there is a path heading alongside the green. Take this and keep on crossing the grass before reaching a side road. Just a little way ahead is our next stop.
Stop 9 Green Lodge
This picturesque late 19th century gothic style house was a former lodge for a large house known as Copped Hall. The hall was demolished in 1928. This was a major house with extensive grounds which were possibly landscaped by Humphry Repton, one of the great landscape gardeners of the late 18th century. A lake survives, as part of a nature reserve but it is bit far to walk.
But the interesting connection with Copped Hall is that it was the birthplace of Cardinal Manning (1808 – 1893). This was his grandfather’s house, and he spent his boyhood elsewhere. Although he became Archbishop of Westminster and a cardinal, he did not start off as a Roman Catholic.
He was originally ordained in the Church of England, rising to become Archdeacon of Chichester, a post he held from 1841 to 1851. Manning was received into the Catholic Church in 1851 after he and a number of prominent Anglican clergy objected to a Court ruling that the church had to appoint a priest called Gorham. He had been refused an appointment because he held unorthodox (for High Church followers) views on baptism. Gorham had appealed to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. This was somewhat controversial as it meant a secular court was deciding on the doctrine of the Church of England.
Soon after converting, Manning was ordained a Catholic priest and in 1865 he was appointed Archbishop of Westminster. Among his accomplishments as head of the Catholic Church in England were the acquisition of the site for Westminster Cathedral and expansion of Roman Catholic education.
Just a little further on from here was the residence of the architect T E Collcutt, of whom we will hear more later.
Retrace your steps to the main road and turn left. Go past the rather lovely Orange Tree pub, which by the way appears to be the only commercial building in the whole of the village.
Just as the road bends on the opposite side from the pub you will see the village church, our final stop.
Stop 10: St Andrew’s Church and churchyard
This church building dates from 1790 although there has been a church here for much longer.
The church is often open – or at least the entrance porch is and you can look through the glass doors at this lovely little church.
The churchyard has some interest. Immediately behind the church is the tomb of Peter Meyer (died 1727) .
He was born in Hamburg and was a major City of London merchant in the West Indies trade as well as being a merchant banker and co-owner of the leading London international trade firm Meyer & Berenberg. He had an estate here in Totteridge called Poynter’s Grove, but like Copped Hall the house was demolished in the 1920s.
Go into the Churchyard extension. Towards the end of the main path, you will find on the left the Collcutt family plot.
Thomas Edward Collcutt was an important architect in the late Victorian period. He was responsible for the Lloyds Register of Shipping building in Fenchurch Street (1899) as well as the Palace Theatre (1889) and the Wigmore Hall (1901). He also designed the original Savoy Hotel (1889 which has been extended and altered since) and the Imperial Institute (1887 – 1893), of which only the central tower remains – this is now Imperial College.
Then if you venture further and turn right down the side path. you will soon come across Harry Vardon’s grave.
Well that brings us to the end of our N20 walk. This was very much a walk of two halves. The suburban village of Whetstone and the rather rural village of Totteridge – neighbours for ever yoked together in a station name. As ever what seems perhaps a less promising area has come up trumps, what with spies, a famous (in his day) golfer, an eminent architect and an influential leader of the Catholic Church in England, not to mention a rather lovely village with a lone pub and no shops.
Probably your best bet for onward travel is to take the 251 bus back to Totteridge and Whetstone station.
And in case you were wondering the station names with all the vowels. They are Mansion House and South Ealing. So now you know!