N11 is New Southgate according to the Post Office. But this area was not always known by this name. Much of New Southgate was once the hamlet of Betstile or Betstyle, and this is recalled today in a couple of road names Betstyle Road and Betstyle Circus. The more southerly part of the area was known as Colney Hatch Park, but the name Colney Hatch was associated with a Lunatic Asylum, which lay over the border in the neighbouring parish of Friern Barnet. So the name New Southgate was adopted in the 1870s to appease local residents.
In fact for convenience sake, we are starting at Friern Barnet Post Office, 215 – 217 Woodhouse Road which is actually just in N12. Turn left out of the Post Office and head to the roundabout which is at the border between N11 and N12. Our next stop is on the other side of the roundabout.
Stop 1: former Friern Barnet Town Hall
This is the former Town Hall of the Friern Barnet Urban District Council. This was a small council which was actually in Hertfordshire but surrounded on three sides by Middlesex, until the boundaries were tidied up in 1965 with the creation of the London Borough of Barnet.
English Heritage’s site provides the following information:
“Friern Barnet had become an Urban District Council in 1895. A competition for new civic premises, assessed by C. Cowles Voysey, was held in 1937: the winning design was much influenced by Voysey and Brandon-Jones’s Watford Town Hall, designed in 1935. The foundation stone is dated 16th September 1939; the hoppers, 1940. Work on the town hall continued after the outbreak of war, as it housed a large air raid shelter capable of housing up to 600 persons and a control centre for local civil defence. This opened in July 1940: the town hall as a whole was opened on 16th June 1941. Friern Barnet ceased to be an independent borough in 1965, from when the building was used for council offices. Little altered, the building is a good example of pared-down modernism, showing clear European influences, but executed in traditional materials and techniques, and with elements of neo-Georgian as well. Its unusual date of construction (cf. Walthamstow Town Hall), the extent of survival, its subtle form and pronounced sense of civic pride mark it out as an exceptional civic building, on this scale, of its day.”
It has a rather nice clock tower feature.
And it still says Friern Barnet Town Hall over the door, although I guess it has been some years since this was a council office.
I often wondered about the name “Friern” as I used to travel on the 43 bus which terminates here (but which I used further south). Well it seems “Friern” derives from the French for “brother”, and refers to the fact that the local manor was under the control of the Brotherhood or Knights of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem in the Middle Ages.
(Oh and by the way if you are not sure how to pronounce the word – it is said “Fry Urn” or at least that is how the nice lady announcer on London Buses says it).
But what a disappointment Friern Barnet turns out to be. As American writer Gertrude Stein said of her home town Oakland “There is no there there”. Well I think the same could be said of Friern Barnet which does not appear to have much going for it apart from the Town Hall – and confusingly it not even anywhere near Barnet.
Walk along Friern Barnet Road. You will not miss our next stop which is on the right.
Stop 2: Princess Park
This rather grand entrance drive looks a bit forbidding with the security post by the gateway.
But actually the public can go in this gate as there is a public park inside.
When you get to the main building you might be at a grand spa or a railway station.
But it was neither. This is the “lunatic asylum” which caused New Southgate to get its name. It was opened in 1851 by Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert, no less. It was initially known as the second Middlesex County Asylum (the first being in Hanwell which we did not quite get to when we were in W7). It was known as Colney Hatch but was later renamed Friern Mental Hospital and then just Friern Hospital. It closed in 1993.
Initially it housed some 1,250 people but at its height Colney Hatch was home to 3,500 patients. It was also said to have the longest corridor in Britain (did people really go round measuring corridors to find this out?)
It has been redeveloped retaining this quite impressive building and with new developments elsewhere on the vast estate site. But by giving it the name “Princess Park”, they are clearly trying to erase all memory of what was here before.
The main building by the way has a massive entrance hallway which has been converted into a swimming pool on the lower level and a gym above. If you go in the front door you can see this. But almost everything else seems to be converted to apartments.
Apparently it is (or has been) home to numerous celebs. Here is an article about this from the Wall Street Journal – of all places! It dates from 4 October 2012.
Now keep walking along the main road and after Regal Drive, take the next right, an unlovely track called Station Approach. This will lead you down to what is today New Southgate station.
Stop 3: New Southgate station
The station is accessed from this horrible bridge.
And there is this rather nasty mural panel which is I guess supposed to make the place look better, but which is just plain ugly.
It has an even more uninviting ticket office.
Hardly a great advert for rail travel, and sad given at some point this station must have had proper buildings.
The station first opened in August 1850 as Colney Hatch station. The Great Northern Railway provided a station here for the benefit of the Second Middlesex County Asylum which as we have seen is very close by. Interesting that unlike some of these Asylums, this one was not hidden away. It was right by a main railway line, with a station practically on its doorstep.
The station went through several name changes: Southgate and Colney Hatch in February 1855; New Southgate and Colney Hatch in October 1876; New Southgate for Colney Hatch in March 1883; New Southgate and Friern Barnet in May 1923. It finally got its present name in the 1970s.
Cross over the bridge . On the other side, do a left along Station Road and then a right into Woodland Road. At the end of Woodland Road across High Road is our next stop.
Stop 4: The Bombie
Today you see a little green called “The Bombie”, so called by the locals because it was a Second World War bomb site.
There is an information panel with a map showing how much devastation was caused by bombing.
A little fragment of one of the garden of one of the houses survives.
Now go along High Road (as if you had done a right out of Woodland Road.)
At the end you will see another green – and a path called Weld Place). Go along this and our next stop is across the road you soon get to.
Stop 5: Millennium Green
This is one of a number of Millennium Greens across the country which as the name suggests were developed to celebrate the turn of the Millennium.
Millennium Greens are areas of green space for the benefit of local communities. As local people had an input into the design of their green, each one is different. 250 were planned but in the end 245 were actually created across England, funded in part by the National Lottery through the Countryside Agency. They are run by local volunteers and not the council.
This is an interesting green space. It is not a conventional looking park. And at its heart it has an artwork which reminds us that New Southgate was home to Jerome K Jerome, writer of “Three Men in a Boat”. He is commemorated here with this.
But I have to say this is not the most attractive setting. We are close to the North Circular Road here and next to the gardens up looms a hulking great builders merchant.
Now retrace your steps across the road and through the other green. At the end of that green space, do a right into Springfield Road.
Stop 6 Garfield School
Our next stop is Garfield School on the right. We only stop briefly here to note that this site was the location of both the houses where Jerome K Jerome lived when he was in New Southgate. (at least that is what one of the information panels in the Millennium Green says)
Well as he seems to be the only vaguely famous person connected with New Southgate you have to make the most of it!
At the end of Springfield Road turn left into Palmers Road. Our next stop is on the main road at the end of Palmers Road.
Stop 7: Arnos Grove station
Arnos Grove tube station was opened in September 1932, as part of the extension of the Piccadilly line to Cockfosters.
The ticket hall is quite well preserved including the original ticket office.
There are some good information panels but some of them are hard to reach as the detritus of a modern station gets in the way.
How different this feels from the depressing spectacle of New Southgate station. And also odd that there is no proper centre here – or indeed around New Southgate station. Here there are just a couple of dozen local shops and New Southgate does not even have that.
Now go past the station and take the side road by the pub on the left (Arnos Road). This leads you to our next stop, Arnos Park.
Stop 8: Arnos Park
This park was the southern most part of the grounds of a large house purchased by Southgate Urban District Council in the late 1920s.
There was a Tudor manor house but this was demolished in 1719. A man called James Colebrook bought the estate and built a mansion called Arnolds. Locals called the estate Arno’s and the next owner, Sir William Mayne (later Lord Newhaven), renamed the house and estate Arnos Grove. It should have an apostrophe but apparently never has. So it really should be Ar-noes Grove rather than Ar-noss Grove which is how most people say it.
The house itself was much further north than where we are – in Cannon Hill. In fact this is N14 so we skip over that for now.
Retrace your steps back along Arnos Road and then turn left. Our next stop is a little along on the right.
Stop 9: Bowes Road Library and Swimming Pool
Almost all the area around Arnos Grove station was built in the 1930s. And here we have Bowes Road Library and Swimming Pool. This is a nice example of late 1930s municipal architecture dating from 1939 – as architectural historian Pevsner points out, this was unusual combination at the time.
The sign says the library is open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. One wonders how long a library with these limited opening times can carry on.
Keep walking along Bowes Road to the junction with the main road, which is none other than the North Circular Road
Stop 10: North Circular Road
This is the missing link in the North Circular. We are here between the stretches of high quality dual carriageway and this main road actually does an almost 90 degree turn at this junction.
There have been many plans to sort out this over the years and it even got to point where there were large numbers of houses bought up. But although there has been some modest improvement it looks like this will never be properly addressed.
Whilst it is said that building roads just encourages traffic, surely willfully ignoring a bottleneck like this for decades is crazy. The traffic is already there on either side, so why not do a proper job and tidy this up. However it looks like the pass has been sold because there are new buildings going up right by the road here, when that space could well have been used to straighten the main road and improve the junction.
Continue ahead under the footbridge. Our next stop is a little way along on the left.
Stop 11: former ABC Cinema
This is not the prettiest of 1930s cinemas but it has somehow survived.
According to the great Cinema Treasures website, this cinema was built and designed by Major W J King as one of several Ritz Cinemas planned for a small chain. Although the project was sold to Associated British Cinemas (ABC) prior to completion, it opened as the Ritz Cinema on 21st December 1933. Cinema Treasures describes it as “Styled in a rather plain Art Deco style… Inside the auditorium, the main features were a central dome in the ceiling and abstract decorative designs on the splay walls each side of the proscenium.”
It was renamed ABC from 1969 but closed in February 1974, never having been split up. After laying empty for a while, it was taken on by the Jehovah’s Witnesses who now use it as an Assembly Hall.
Well that brings us to the end of the N11 walk. When I first started this I thought there would not be much to detain me but as I have discovered we have a mental institution, a classic 1930s tube station, a typical 1930s cinema and an unexpected literary connection celebrated in an unusual little park.
For onward travel you are about midway between Arnos Grove and Bounds Green tube stations. For the former, head back the way you came. For the latter go right down Brownlow Road.