Friern Barnet: Public services

Pages 27-29

A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 6, Friern Barnet, Finchley, Hornsey With Highgate. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1980.

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Pymme's brook in Southgate was thought capable of poisoning the whole neighbourhood with sewage received from its tributary Bounds Green brook, until in 1856 public pressure secured a proper sewerage system for Colney Hatch asylum. (fn. 1) There was still some leakage from the asylum in 1875, when the streams were otherwise barely polluted. (fn. 2) After complaints by the Lee Conservancy Board in 1869 over sewage from the Avenue area, a tank was built at Ely Place and by 1873-4 there was no discharge into Hertfordshire. In 1873 the vestry regarded Friern Barnet as a rural parish with only minor problems and considered that earth closets were adequate for the thinly populated Oakleigh estate. On grounds of expense the parish wanted no part in schemes for East Barnet in 1873-4 (fn. 3) or Finchley in 1875, and candidates for election as guardians at Barnet rural sanitary authority regarded demands for a sewage farm as 'humbug'. (fn. 4) By 1883 sewerage was out of control in several areas and improvements including an additional tank at Ely Place were inadequate. (fn. 5) Edmonton was unwilling to take the parish's sewage (fn. 6) and the rural sanitary authority was sued for polluting Pymme's brook. (fn. 7) Accordingly the authority, which had already laid some pipes, (fn. 8) decided to carry out an expensive scheme, (fn. 9) whereupon Friern Barnet obtained its own local board of health. (fn. 10)

The sewage farm was on 30 a. in Wood Green and Edmonton, adjoining Cromwell Road in the Freehold, (fn. 11) as only there could the parish process its own sewage. (fn. 12) Able to serve 30,000 people and discharging a purified effluent into the brook, it was regarded in 1891 as a great credit to the designer, Baldwin Latham. (fn. 13) The surplus land was used for rubbish and allotments. (fn. 14) The asylum's pipes were connected to it in 1898 (fn. 15) and in 1932 it was altered to make room for the North Circular Road. There were six houses with an inadequate supply of water to their closets in 1892-3 but only two in 1925. (fn. 16) From 1963 Friern Barnet's sewage was processed at Deepham's works, Edmonton, and the Cromwell Road works became redundant. (fn. 17)

Three brooks and surface wells supplied water until c. 1866. A conduit house adjoining the residence of John Cleeve the elder was to be freely used by all in 1718 (fn. 18) and a public well at Whetstone was demolished in 1820. (fn. 19) Queen Elizabeth's well near Friern Barnet Lane was insanitary in the early 20th century (fn. 20) and in 1925 a drinking fountain was erected on the site. The New River Co. erected a pumping station at Colney Hatch by 1876, (fn. 21) when the vestry was told that water would be supplied under even pressure to New Southgate and that hydrants must be adapted. (fn. 22) The New River Co., from 1904 the Metropolitan Water Board, supplied less of the parish than did the Barnet District Gas and Water Co., later the Barnet Water Co., from 1892 to 1950. (fn. 23) The water from Barnet was excellent but insufficient. (fn. 24) Although Barnet was found to have an unlimited supply in 1893, (fn. 25) pressure in 1899 was still too low for a mechanical fire-engine. (fn. 26) Except for the inhabitants of the Freehold, who feared the expense of changing all their fittings, the whole parish wanted and in 1887 the board demanded a constant supply. (fn. 27) Part of the parish was receiving it in 1907, (fn. 28) when fittings in the remainder were being adapted. (fn. 29)

The Southgate and Colney Hatch Gas Light and Coke Co. was incorporated in 1858 and was supplying Friern Barnet from a gas-works in Edmonton, adjoining Colney Hatch station, by 1866. It was then reconstituted as the Colney Hatch Gas Co. and the whole parish was included in its sector. (fn. 30) Mains were extended from Colney Hatch to the Great North Road in 1862 but there was no main to the parish church in 1868-72, when the East Barnet Gas Co. was supplying it. Both companies had mains at Oakleigh Park in 1877 and the Colney Hatch Gas Co. had mains in Athenaeum Road in 1882. (fn. 31) There was still no gas supply in the Freehold in 1887. (fn. 32) In 1883 the vestry adopted the lighting provisions of the Lighting and Watching Act (1834). There were 42 street lamps in 1884, when plans were agreed with the gas company, (fn. 33) a further 45 were erected in 1885, (fn. 34) and others followed in response to local pressure. (fn. 35) The company was taken over by the Tottenham and Edmonton Gas Light and Coke Co. in 1938 and later by the Eastern Gas Board. (fn. 36)

In 1889 the local board considered using power from the manure engine at the sewage farm for electricity but instead sought expert opinion. (fn. 37) In 1901 Friern Barnet U.D.C. was authorized to supply electric lighting to the whole of the U.D., including private roads, and to lay mains in Station and Friern Barnet roads. (fn. 38) The order was revoked in 1907, (fn. 39) when the cost of electric lighting was an issue at the elections. (fn. 40) In 1909 responsibility for the parish passed to the North Metropolitan Power Supply Co. (fn. 41) It established an outside department at Friern Barnet Road, New Southgate, by 1923, (fn. 42) later the London Electricity Board (Northmet Sub-Area) central stores and meter-testing department.

In 1875 it was a matter for congratulation when the fire brigade from Finchley arrived within 30 minutes of an outbreak. (fn. 43) Ratepayers at New Southgate in 1883 resolved to establish a fire station in the Avenue area (fn. 44) but it is unlikely that it was done. There was a fire committee of the U.D.C. by 1907, when the formation of a volunteer fire brigade was an election issue, and it proposed to purchase a manual engine as water pressure was inadequate for a mechanical one. (fn. 45) By 1912-13 there was a fire station near the sewage farm, another beside the council offices, and a third near All Saints' church. (fn. 46) In 1936 tenders were invited for a new fire station and mechanical fire pump. (fn. 47) The central fire station by the town hall was the M.C.C.'s Fire and Ambulance Service Depot in 1960 and closed in 1968-9. (fn. 48)

The first allotments provided under the Allotments Act (1887) were on land not needed for the sewage farm in 1894. In 1909 encroachments were made by the farm (fn. 49) but the number of allotments increased with the spread of council housing in the 1920s. (fn. 50) There were 5 a. of permanent allotments by 1934 and 51 a. by 1946. (fn. 51)

Parochial lending libraries were provided by the church from before 1850 until at least 1907. (fn. 52) A branch of the county library existed at St. Peter's school by 1926, when new branches were opened at St. James's schools and the Priory for the north and central wards. (fn. 53) The existing library in Friern Barnet Road was built in 1933-4 (fn. 54) and the South Friern branch library in Colney Hatch Lane in 1963-4. (fn. 55)

Friern Barnet had no hospital of its own. In 1894 the vaccination Acts were executed by the guardians of Barnet union and from 1935 the area came under the jurisdiction of the Hornsey, Finchley and Wood Green hospital committee and its successors. (fn. 56)


  • 1. Hunter and Macalpine, Psychiatry for the Poor, 32.
  • 2. Barnet Press, 23 Jan. 1875.
  • 3. M.R.O., D.R.O. 12/I/C1/3, 4.
  • 4. Barnet Press, 10 Apr. 1875.
  • 5. Ibid. 14 July 1883.
  • 6. Ibid. 28 Apr. 1883.
  • 7. Ibid. 30 June 1883.
  • 8. Ibid. 21 May 1887.
  • 9. Ibid. 14 July 1883.
  • 10. Barnet Press, 28 Apr., 2 Apr. 1883.
  • 11. Ibid. 28 Apr. 1883; 22 Aug. 1891.
  • 12. Ibid. 28 Apr. 1883.
  • 13. Ibid. 22 Aug. 1891.
  • 14. Friern Barnet U.D. Ann. Rep. of M.O.H. (1893; see below.
  • 15. Hunter and Macalpine, Psychiatry for the Poor, 33.
  • 16. Friern Barnet U.D. Ann. Reps. of M.O.H.
  • 17. Ex inf. works manager, Deepham's sewerage treatment works.
  • 18. M.R.O., Acc. 262/5A/1.
  • 19. Home Cnties. Mag. vi. 218.
  • 20. Friern Barnet U.D. Ann. Reps. of M.O.H.
  • 21. Thorne, Environs, 115.
  • 22. M.R.O., D.R.O. 12/I/C1/3.
  • 23. Friern Barnet U.D. Ann. Rep. of M.O.H. (1892, 1954).
  • 24. Ibid. (1892).
  • 25. Ibid.
  • 26. Barnet Press, 13 Mar. 1909.
  • 27. Ibid. 17 Sept., 31 Sept. 1887.
  • 28. Ibid. 28 Mar. 1891.
  • 29. Ibid. 12 Jan. 1907.
  • 30. 29 & 30 Vic. c. 82 (Local Act).
  • 31. M.R.O., Acc. 1153/II/196-7.
  • 32. Barnet Press, 21 May 1887.
  • 33. B.L.H.L., Friern Barnet loc. bd., min. bk. (1884-6), pp. 102, 104, 135-6.
  • 34. Ibid. pp. 284-5.
  • 35. Ibid. p. 330; (1886-9), pp. 20 sqq.
  • 36. V.C.H. Mdx. v. 181.
  • 37. B.L.H.L., Friern Barnet loc. bd., min. bk. (1886-9), pp. 447, 456.
  • 38. 1 Edw. VII, c. 174 (Local Act).
  • 39. Barnet Press, 2 Mar. 1907.
  • 40. Ibid. 30 Mar. 1907.
  • 41. 9 Edw. VII, c. 12 (Local Act).
  • 42. Kelly's Dir. Finchley (1923).
  • 43. Barnet Press, 20 July 1895.
  • 44. Ibid. 10 Mar. 1883.
  • 45. Ibid. 23 Mar., 20 Apr. 1907; 13 Mar. 1909.
  • 46. Kelly's Dir. Barnet (1912-13).
  • 47. Barnet Press, 13 Feb. 1936.
  • 48. P.O. Dir. Lond. (1960 and later edns.).
  • 49. Barnet Press, 14 Aug. 1909.
  • 50. Kelly's Dir. Finchley (1927); see above, p. 14.
  • 51. Briggs, Mdx. Old and New, 120; B.L.H.L., Friern Barnet educ. cttee., min. bk. (1946-9).
  • 52. M.R.O., D.R.O. 12/I/K2/1 (ann. rep. for 1850); K1/9 (par. mag. Jan. 1907).
  • 53. Barnet Press, 15 May 1926.
  • 54. M.R.O., D.R.O., 12/I/K1/26 (par. mag. Jan. 1934); plaque on bldg.
  • 55. P.O. Dir. Lond. (1963, 1964).
  • 56. Friern Barnet U.D. Ann. Reps. of M.O.H.