Finchley: Public services

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

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.

'Finchley: Public services', in A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 6, Friern Barnet, Finchley, Hornsey With Highgate, (London, 1980) pp. 79-82. British History Online [accessed 1 March 2024]


The 'fine spring water' of many wells was noted as a feature of the parish as a whole in 1717 and of individual houses in the 19th century. (fn. 1) Wells were supplemented by numerous ponds and by rainwater tanks. (fn. 2) Public wells included Brownswell, which was used by travellers across the common and repaired by the feoffees of the charity estates. (fn. 3) In 1717 the conduit had recently been mended. (fn. 4) The feoffees also maintained wells at Church End in 1791, abandoned in 1792 after it had fallen in, and in Nether Street from 1793 until after 1844. (fn. 5) The town well at Whetstone was ordered to be opened in 1819, whereupon the encloser brought an action against the parish officers in 1820. The vestry had to pay damages but the inhabitants' right to use the well was upheld. (fn. 6)

The Regent's Canal Co. acquired land for a reservoir at Strawberry Vale in 1811 but the scheme was abandoned and the site drained c. 1820. (fn. 7) There were water works in High Road and Hampstead Lane belonging to the New River Co. in 1859. (fn. 8) In 1866, when considering the problems of drainage and sewerage, the vestry declared that it was not necessary to do anything about the water supply but by 1871 the East Barnet Water Co. was supplying cottages at Whetstone. (fn. 9) In the 1880s water was still drawn from wells, many of which were contaminated by sewage. (fn. 10) By 1890 the East Barnet Water Co. was the Barnet District Gas & Water Co., which in 1901 defended itself against the U.D.C.'s charge that the water-rate was too high by claiming that deep boring had been necessary. (fn. 11) The company, called the Barnet District Water Co. in 1955, was absorbed into the Lee Valley Water Co. in 1960. (fn. 12)

Sewerage, because of large-scale building, presented problems by 1867, when complaints to the Home Secretary led to an inquiry. (fn. 13) The inspector stated that he had long been worried by Finchley's sanitary condition: open pools and streams were polluted and many houses were being built without sewers. Cholera provided the necessary stimulus to spend money, which was borrowed to build sewers and tanks at Church End, East End, North End, and Whetstone. By 1868, however, the sewers were full and other houses needed cesspools, especially in Whetstone. Privies were made compulsory for all houses in 1869. In 1870 the Lee Conservancy Board complained about sewage from Bounds Green brook, while East Finchley's sewerage flowed through St. Pancras cemetery, where it was further polluted by the shallow graves of paupers. A special vestry meeting vetoed plans to draw up a drainage scheme for the whole parish, and a committee, unable to find a panacea 'any more than they have discovered the Philosophers' stone', decided that the existing system of six outfalls of sewage in the east was the cheapest. Finchley blamed Colney Hatch asylum for continued pollution of Bounds Green brook, open drains were still a nuisance in 1871, (fn. 14) and typhoid broke out at Whetstone in 1872. In 1874 Barnet rural sanitary authority drew Finchley's attention to the need for comprehensive drainage.

Sewerage was one of the main problems facing the new local board of health, whose medical officer in 1879 revealed that little had changed since 1867. (fn. 15) Finchley, after considering plans to co-operate with Friern Barnet and Edmonton, (fn. 16) acquired over 100 a. at Strawberry Vale (fn. 17) and built a complete system to serve 2,355 a. of the most populous part of the parish, with high- and low-level sewers discharging into works built at Summers Lane in 1885. (fn. 18) Later improvements included bacteriological treatment of the sewage from 1897 and works to deal with surface water draining into the near-by brooks in 1903. (fn. 19) Sewage was rerouted to Deepham, Edmonton, in 1963, the Summers Lane works being demolished. (fn. 20) A refuse destructor was built near the sewage farm in 1928 and demolished in 1965. (fn. 21)

Hospital provision had been foreshadowed by the addition of two rooms to the workhouse in 1805. (fn. 22) In 1831, expecting cholera, the vestry set up a committee which issued instructions for cleanliness and took the opportunity to warn that in cases of insobriety the disease was 'most peculiarly fatal'. (fn. 23) The outbreak was less severe than had been feared. (fn. 24) Poor sanitary conditions, especially in Whetstone and East End, made diseases like typhoid common throughout the 19th century, (fn. 25) although in 1880 Finchley was said to have less tuberculosis than most areas. (fn. 26)

During a smallpox epidemic in 1881 St. Pancras put up temporary tents on its land in Finchley in spite of opposition from the local board, which sent its own smallpox victims to Barnet union workhouse or to Highgate. (fn. 27) In 1889 the board built its own hospital for infectious diseases, unsuitably sited near the sewage farm in Summers Lane. (fn. 28) It accommodated 24 in 1913 but was superseded by Coppetts Wood hospital in Hornsey, with whose council Finchley and Wood Green agreed to share costs in 1922. (fn. 29)

Finchley cottage hospital, built mostly by subscription on a site at Fallow Corner given by Ebenezer Homan, (fn. 30) opened with 18 beds in 1908 and was renamed Finchley Memorial hospital and extended to 46 beds in 1922. A private wing was opened in 1933 and there were 124 beds by 1977. (fn. 31)

A convalescent home belonging to the National Hospital for Diseases of the Nervous System, Bloomsbury, had opened in East End Road in 1870 and had 16 female patients by 1881. It moved to the Bishop's Avenue in 1895, where it had 36 beds in 1931 and 25 in 1961. A rehabilitation building was opened in 1967. (fn. 32)

Woodside Home for incurable and infirm women moved in 1888 from Great Ormond Street to Whetstone, where H. Lloyd Baxendale gave it a house and grounds. (fn. 33) It had 44 patients in 1891 (fn. 34) and 54 beds in 1931 but closed between 1937 and 1941. (fn. 35) The Grange, a private lunatic asylum, had opened by 1901, when it had seven inmates and twice as many staff. (fn. 36) St. Elizabeth's, a female geriatric hospital, opened in 1953 in Friern Watch, Ebenezer Homan's home on the Friern Barnet border at Whetstone, and had 40 beds by 1975. (fn. 37)

A cage on the waste near the church, with stocks near by, was to be built in 1784 on the magistrates' recommendation. (fn. 38) In 1801 the parish contributed towards Highgate cage (fn. 39) but in 1806 a bricklayer was to repair a cage which presumably stood in Finchley. (fn. 40) In 1812 Finchley and Friern Barnet failed to agree on a joint plan to build a cage aginst the toll-house at Whetstone. (fn. 41) In 1815 the vestry asserted that a place of confinement was absolutely necessary and again planned cages at Whetstone and near the stocks at Church End, suggesting that the earlier cage was no longer in use. There was still no agreement with Friern Barnet but a brick cage was built at Church End close to the Queen's Head. (fn. 42) Pupils of the National school had to pass the cage and in 1860 the prisoners' behaviour led the vestry to demand its closure, but the Metropolitan Police insisted on keeping it: 143 persons had been confined there during the last five years. (fn. 43) The cage was eventually removed in 1880. (fn. 44)

Three police forces operated in the mid 19th century: the parish constable, (fn. 45) the Metropolitan Police, and the Bow Street horse patrol. (fn. 46) The patrol, revived in 1805 to safeguard the turnpike roads out of London, (fn. 47) was first recorded in Finchley in 1818. By 1828 its third division operated as far as Whetstone and in 1836 four constables worked from Finchley and two from Whetstone. There was still a Bow Street horse patrol station on the Great North Road in 1851, with four men. There were then eleven other policemen, presumably from the metropolitan force, in the parish. (fn. 48) From 1840 Finchley was included in the Metropolitan Police District. (fn. 49) A police station was built at Whetstone, on the east side of the main road, in 1851 and was inadequate in 1911, when a new site was bought in Friern Barnet Lane. It was only in 1948, however, that the adjoining premises at the corner of High Road and Friern Barnet Lane were bought and in 1960 that the new station opened there and the old one closed. (fn. 50) In 1865 the vestry requested more police (fn. 51) and in 1873 a police station was opened in Church End, in a rented house. Wentworth Lodge in Ballards Lane was bought in 1886 and a station was opened on the site in 1889, closed in 1965, and rebuilt shortly afterwards.

A fire-engine had to be brought from Highgate in 1813 but by 1824 Finchley had its own, (fn. 52) which the churchwardens were responsible for repairing in 1845 and 1849. (fn. 53) A volunteer fire brigade was formed c. 1870; (fn. 54) composed mainly of traders, it kept a hose and cart in a shed opposite Woodhouse Road and later at the Queen's Head hotel in East End Road. A fire station opened in 1888 in a shop in Hendon Lane and later in adjoining shops. (fn. 55) In 1890 the brigade consisted of twelve men and five auxiliaries. (fn. 56) The local board had a fire committee by 1889 but decided against a new station on grounds of expense. (fn. 57) The new U.D.C. took over the voluntary brigade and in 1899 formed a professional force, (fn. 58) which in 1904 acquired one of the first motorpowered fire-engines. (fn. 59) A sub-station for North Finchley opened in 1890 at Tally Ho Corner, moved in 1902 to Torrington Park, and closed in 1930. Another for East End opened in 1895 near the Baldfaced Stag, moved to Church Lane and then to Chapel Street, and closed in 1931. Whetstone was served by a sub-station opened near the police station in 1896 and closed c. 1933. (fn. 60) In 1935 a combined fire and ambulance station opened at the junction of Long Lane and the North Circular Road, superseding the Church End station and the recently closed sub-stations. (fn. 61)

The Hornsey Gas Co. opened negotiations to light Finchley in 1861 but by 1863 decided that the hamlets were too scattered and withdrew in favour of the Southgate Gas Co. (fn. 62) The latter, as the Southgate and Colney Hatch Gas Light and Coke Co., tion, notified its intention to enter the parish in 1866, as did the East Barnet Gas and Water Co. (fn. 63) Meanwhile the Finchley Gas Co. had retired in 1863 in favour of the North Middlesex Gas Co., founded in 1862 to supply Finchley, Hendon, and Mill Hill. (fn. 64) The company began work in Hendon and in 1870 was permitted by the vestry to enter Finchley. (fn. 65) By 1879 the Southgate, the East Barnet, and the North Middlesex Gas companies had laid mains in Finchley, although none had gas-works there. (fn. 66) Street lighting was introduced in 1883. (fn. 67) The Southgate company was absorbed into the Tottenham and Edmonton Gas Light and Coke Co. in 1938 and on nationalization in 1948 became part of the Eastern Gas Board, which supplied northern Finchley in 1973. The other two companies in 1948 became part of the North Thames Gas Board, which in 1973 supplied the rest of the area. (fn. 68)

The West Middlesex Electric Lighting Co. unsuccessfully proposed to supply Finchley in 1882. (fn. 69) Finchley Electric Light Co., incorporated in 1900, installed a small gas-engine generating station near Mountfield Road but soon clashed with the U.D.C., which in 1897 began considering whether it should provide electricity itself. By 1899 the U.D.C. obtained a provisional order under the Electric Lighting Act of 1882 and in 1901 it started to cut the Finchley Electric Light Co.'s cables. Cutting was forbidden after litigation but in 1902 the U.D.C. drew up a scheme and in 1903 it opened a generating station, from which 130 houses were supplied by 1904. Some street lamps were then converted from gas to electricity and in 1905 the Finchley Electric Light Co. was bought by the U.D.C. (fn. 70) By 1955 control had passed to the Eastern Electricity Board. (fn. 71)

A voluntary public library opened at Seymour Terrace in High Street, North Finchley, in 1896. (fn. 72) Ratepayers pressed for libraries from 1912 but it was not until 1933 that the first municipal library opened at Avenue House. A second opened in Ravensdale Avenue, North Finchley, in 1936 and a third in High Road, East Finchley, in 1938. (fn. 73) The library at Avenue House closed in 1939 and thereafter used temporary premises in Regent's Park Road and Hendon Lane. (fn. 74) A new library for Church End was opened in Hendon Lane in 1964. (fn. 75)

Victoria park (18 a.) was opened in 1902 to commemorate Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee. (fn. 76) It was still Finchley's only public pleasure ground in 1912, when Middlesex C.C. offered to meet a quarter of the cost of acquiring another 43 a. (fn. 77) In 1914 the U.D.C. finally bought Brook and Wyatts farms, 62 a. adjoining Dollis brook in Whetstone, and in 1915 it bought another 13 a., Cherry Tree wood on the Hornsey boundary, from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. (fn. 78) The bequest of Avenue House by H. C. Stephens in 1918 included 10 a. of landscaped gardens. (fn. 79) In 1930 the U.D.C. drew up a town-planning scheme for Hampstead Garden Suburb which included Lyttelton playing fields (23 a.), Big (18 a.) and Little woods, and a walk alongside Mutton brook; (fn. 80) land was also being acquired along Dollis brook to create Brookside Walk. By 1932, after the acquisition of c. 90 a. of glebeland, once part of Finchley common, Finchley had some 412 a. of open space. (fn. 81) The glebeland, part of which was sold to the army in 1938, comprised 46 a. in 1955. (fn. 82)

Slipper and swimming baths were opened at Squires Lane in 1915. An open-air swimming pool was opened as part of a sports ground on the former glebeland in High Road, north of the junction with the North Circular Road, in 1931. (fn. 83)


  • 1. Geol. Surv. Map, Mdx. XI. NE., SE. (1920); M.R.O., Acc. 262/4/42; T.L.M.A.S. xix. 48. e.g. B.L.H.L., S/C (Moss Hall, 1830); M.R.O., Acc. 262/4/15-18; Finchley Press, 28 May 1954.
  • 2. e.g. B.L.H.L., S/C (Long Lodge, 1876).
  • 3. Mdx. and Herts. N. & Q. iii. 65.
  • 4. T.L.M.A.S. xix. 48.
  • 5. Passmore, 'Finchley Par. Rec.' i, ff. 62-4, 88, 92.
  • 6. B.L.H.L., P.A.F. 1/5.
  • 7. Barnet Press, 4 Sept. 1954; M.R.O., Hist. Notes 21/7/70.
  • 8. B.L.H.L., Church-rates (1859).
  • 9. B.L.H.L., P.A.F. 1/9, 3/3.
  • 10. B.L.H.L., Banks Colln. xiii.
  • 11. Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1890); The Times, 19 Dec. 1901.
  • 12. Finchley Boro. Official Handbk. (1955); Barnet L.B. Official Guide [c. 1973]; V.C.H. Mdx. v. 297.
  • 13. Except where otherwise stated, information about sewerage is based on B.L.H.L., P.A.F. 1/9. (vestry mins. 1864-74).
  • 14. B.L.H.L., P.A.F. 3/3.
  • 15. Finchley Press, 6 Oct. 1933; Finchley local bd., min. bk. i. 56-8.
  • 16. Finchley local bd., min. bk. i. 79-80; ii. 117-18; Finchley Press, 16 Nov. 1928.
  • 17. Finchley U.D.C. Ann. Rep. of M.O.H. (1907); Finchley local bd., min. bk. ii. 262; N. Mdx. Chron. 19 Nov. 1881.
  • 18. Finchley local bd., min. bk. iii. 451; B.L.H.L., Banks Colln. xiii. 5947.
  • 19. Finchley Press, 6 Oct. 1933; M.R.O., Reps. of Local Inqs. (1895-1907), 1903 inquiry.
  • 20. B.L.H.L., Print Colln. 6717; ex inf. the works manager, Deephams sewerage works.
  • 21. Finchley Press, 6 Oct. 1933; B.L.H.L., Print Colln. 6710.
  • 22. B.L.H.L., P.A.F. 1/4.
  • 23. Ibid. 1/6.
  • 24. Ibid. 1/7.
  • 25. e.g. the prevalence of 'fever' at East End in 1849: B.L.H.L., Acc. 6787/6; cholera in 1866: B.L.H.L., P.A.F. 1/9; typhoid at Whetstone in 1872: ibid. 3/3; typhoid and diphtheria in 1889: ibid. 4/1.
  • 26. N. Mdx. Chron. 26 June 1880.
  • 27. Finchley local bd., min. bk. ii. 135-8, 211, 300; M.R.O., P.R. 13/34 (illus. of temporary hosp.); B.L.H.L., P.A.F. 4/2.
  • 28. Finchley local bd. of health, Ann. Rep. of M.O.H. (1892); O.S. Map 6", Mdx. XI. NE. (1897 edn.).
  • 29. Finchley U.D.C. Ann. Reps. of M.O.H. (1913, 1923); see below, p. 171.
  • 30. B.L.H.L., Banks Colln., biog. Homan.
  • 31. Ex inf. Finchley Memorial hosp.; The Times, 8 Sept. 1922, 4 Mar. 1933; Finchley U.D.C. Ann. Rep. of M.O.H. (1923).
  • 32. Ex inf. Nat. Hosp. for Nervous Diseases; Census, 1881; Hospitals Yr. Bk. (1931, 1961).
  • 33. Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1908).
  • 34. Census, 1891.
  • 35. Hospitals Yr. Bk. (1931, 1937, 1941).
  • 36. Census, 1901.
  • 37. Ex inf. Barnet area health authy. dist. administrator; Hospitals Yr. Bk. (1975).
  • 38. B.L.H.L., P.A.F. 1/2.
  • 39. Ibid. 1/3.
  • 40. Ibid. 1/4.
  • 41. Ibid.; M.R.O., D.R.O. 12/1/D1/1.
  • 42. B.L.H.L., P.A.F. 1/4, 5.
  • 43. Ibid. 1/8.
  • 44. Finchley local bd., min. bk. i. 213, 267.
  • 45. See p. 76.
  • 46. Except where otherwise stated, the following paras. are based on information from Police Constable L. Martin of Finchley police stn.
  • 47. A. Babington, A House in Bow St. 194.
  • 48. H.O. 107/1701/136/3/2a. The horse patrol was under the Metropolitan Police from 1836, although the old name was retained: Babington, Bow St. 234.
  • 49. Lond. Gaz. 13 Oct. 1840, p. 2250.
  • 50. O.S. Map 6", Mdx. VI. SE. (1867-73 edn.); ex inf. New Scotland Yd. rec. officer.
  • 51. B.L.H.L., P.A.F. 1/9.
  • 52. Ibid. 1/4, 5.
  • 53. Ibid. 1/7.
  • 54. Barnet Press, 7 Oct. 1933.
  • 55. B.L.H.L., Banks Colln. xiii. 5948.
  • 56. Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1890).
  • 57. Finchley local bd., min. bk. viii. 3, 119.
  • 58. B.L.H.L., Banks Colln. xiii. 5948.
  • 59. See illus. in Smith, Finchley As It Was, 6.
  • 60. B.L.H.L., Banks Colln. xiii. 5948.
  • 61. Finchley Press, 28 Dec. 1935.
  • 62. M.R.O., Acc. 880/46.
  • 63. B.L.H.L., P.A.F. 1/9.
  • 64. Ibid. 1/8; Finchley Press, 17 June 1932.
  • 65. B.L.H.L., P.A.F. 1/9; 34 & 35 Vic. c. 144.
  • 66. B.L.H.L., highway-rate (1879); Kelly's Dir. Mdx. (1890).
  • 67. Barnet Press, 7 Oct. 1933.
  • 68. V.C.H. Mdx. v. 181; Finchley Boro. Official Handbk. (1955); Barnet L.B. Official Guide [c. 1973]; ex inf. N. Thames Gas.
  • 69. Finchley local bd., min. bk. iii. 69.
  • 70. B.L.H.L., Banks Colln. xiii. 5945; Finchley Press, 6 Oct. 1933; The Times, 17 Oct. 1901.
  • 71. Finchley Boro. Official Handbk. (1955).
  • 72. Barnet Press, 7 Oct. 1933.
  • 73. Finchley Press, 13 Oct. 1933; 21 Jan., 7 Oct. 1938; Finchley Review, 3 Oct. 1938.
  • 74. Finchley Press, 15 Sept., 22 Dec. 1938; Finchley Boro. Official Handbk. (1955).
  • 75. Datestone.
  • 76. Biggers, Finchley, 19.
  • 77. The Times, 29 Nov. 1912.
  • 78. M.R.O., M.C.C. C/E & H 47.
  • 79. The Times, 11 Sept. 1918; see above, p. 78.
  • 80. The Times, 5 Mar. 1930.
  • 81. Ibid. 12 Mar., 23 Apr. 1932; Briggs, Mdx. Old and New, 126-7.
  • 82. The Times, 29 Jan., 18 Mar. 1938; Finchley Boro. Official Handbk. (1955).
  • 83. Finchley Press, 6 Oct. 1933.