Between Dollis Brook and Pymmes Brook there is an area of hilly land around Friern Barnet that the Trust has not often visited in my articles or on the walks organised by the Trust; so I thought it would be a good place to go exploring.
We start from Totteridge and Whetstone Station at Whetstone Stray, which is part of the Dolls Valley Greenwalk opened by Finchley Council in the 1930s. Councillor Alfred Pike was the man behind the concept. It is a mixture of grass and trees and runs from Moat Mount Park to Hampstead Heath Extension in Hampstead Garden Suburb.
Our first park is Dame Alice Owens Recreation Ground in Chandos Avenue. It is a large area of playing fields and has a pavilion that is probably Edwardian. I have not been able to track the history of this site, but I assume it was once owned by Dame Alice Owen's School and has since been taken over by Barnet Council.
Baxendale, once the grounds of the council office and shown on older street maps as open space, is now a residential care home. Woodside House, built on the site in 1841 by Joseph Baxendale was described at the time as a 'beautiful villa with a pretty conservatory, in a setting of lawns, groves and a lake'; the lake is still there forming a pleasant outlook for the residents, but there is no public access. A short distance south of Baxendale is Swan Lane Open Space, opened in 1980 in the grounds of a nineteenth-century estate. It has a café, a pond and some play equipment. Many of the trees date from the original gardens.
There is a series of open spaces along the North Circular. The first is Glebelands, with an entrance on the northern side of the road, by a large pond. A path leads behind a mixed estate of housing, retail and leisure facilities. The path passes a bike-resistant entrance to woodland. The woodland path is easy to follow and passes several small ponds, although it is fairly dense with a lot of undergrowth. Ultimately the path leads out onto the metalled path we started on, and we are in a playing field with rugby posts. If you walk back up the path you will notice some large clumps of Japanese knotweed which, in summer, will look majestic, but which ought to be removed. If you follow the path the other way, it is possible to walk to the next open space, Coppett's Wood. However, I chose to go and look at an unnamed piece of green in Crescent Way marked on the A to Z.
This turned out to be a large square of grass with a few trees and is the central feature of a housing estate, which Finchley Urban District Council started to build before the Great War. Building was suspended until August 1920; a stone inscription unveiled by Cllr Martin, the Chairman, on 30 October 1920, commemorates the recommencement. Next to the stone is a large, and no longer working, drinking fountain. The estate is in the Garden Suburb tradition but uses short terraces rather than semi-detached pairs. It is fairly easy to guess that the houses round the square and in Ingle Way, where there are large grass-verges, were built before the First World War, and the areas built at higher densities are post 1920. There is a single-storey primary school in red brick that looks as though it was built in the thirties. It is finding hidden places like this that makes exploring London such fun.
We can now get back to Coppett's Wood, once part of the great Finchley Wood. However, by 1500 the forest was much reduced and the area became an informal village green. After the typhoid epidemic of 1872 it became a sewage farm, which closed in 1963 and was cleared by 1983. During the Second World War, the army used it and there are still several tank traps on the site. The paths are reasonably well marked. The site is mainly woodland, although there are some open areas as well. A walk eastward through new housing brings us to an open space. Coming from the west the first part is rough ground and woodlands, but as you get towards the railway it gets a bit more formal with mown grass and trimmed shrubs. There is an ornamental lake with a bridge over it. This area is Friern Bridge open space and was once part of the land of the Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum, as was the land where the new houses are.
SW Daukes built the Asylum in 1849 for Middlesex County Council. It is a large impressive building with a cupola over the central block. The hospital closed some years ago and has been converted into flats called Princess Park Mansions. The central block includes a fitness centre. The land in front of the building has in recent years been opened as a public park and is called Friern Village Park, echoing the name chosen for the housing built on hospital land to the south, Friern Village. The entrance to the park is on Friern Barnet Road and the entrance drive passes a gate lodge and runs to the main entrance of the former hospital. There is formal planting along the drive and in front of the housing, and there are many mature trees. These include a willow that is partially collapsed and the fallen branch has re-rooted in several places. This is the natural growth pattern of many deciduous trees, but it is seldom seen in public parks. There are some tennis courts to the edge of the park. As a benefit to the residents, organised ball games are not allowed. The division between private and public is handled very well. In the grounds is a hexagonal building, which was a water tank that acted as a summer house.
Opposite the gate to Friern Village Park is a nonconformist church in a red brick Gothic style. The churchyard has a few benches and some trees, so it counts as open space. Its claim to fame is that its first minister, Revd Benjamin Waugh, founded the NSPCC. Some distance west along Friern Barnet Road next to the Town Hall is Kennard Road Park. This is a tiny park with a brick path, benches and some good trees.
Going back to our starting point we can follow a series of open spaces towards the Pymmes Brook.
The main entrance to Friary Park is in Friary Road opposite St James the Great Church. The church is medieval in origin, although the only remaining part of the original building is the present south aisle. The church was greatly enlarged in 1853 by W. G. & E. Habershon in the Gothic style. The churchyard has a country feel and look and has some good monuments. The church is now used exclusively by the Greek Orthodox community and is dedicated to St Katherine.
Friary Park is on land that once belonged to the Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem. The current house is nineteenth century and is currently home to some community groups and a small café. It was made a park in 1910. There is some splendid concrete and stonework around Blacketts Brook, a small stream that runs through the park. Between the gate and the house are formal beds, mainly given to perennials and shrubs. There is a variety of play equipment. Most of the park is grass and trees. At the highest point in the park is a statue of 'Peace' standing on a rocky mound. This was given by Sydney Simmons in honour of Edward VII and dedicated on the day after the King's sudden death.
Opened in 1926, Bethune Park is entered from Manor Road. The entrance has seats and some stonework that is typical of parks of that period. This leads to an area of grass and trees via metal bridges over a small stream. The park is much used by runners. The ground was very wet when I visited. A large area of the park is managed as a nature reserve. South of the park are several playing fields. If you want to avoid the mud, there is a path that runs along the north of the playing field and under the railway to New Southgate Recreation Ground. The land adjacent to Bethune Park in Beaconsfield Road is left as rough land.
New Southgate Recreation Ground, a large rectangle of grass with trees round the edge, is mainly playing fields and play equipment.
The last site on this walk is the Great Northern Cemetery, opened in 1861. This restored Victorian cemetery is now called the New Southgate Cemetery and Crematorium. It is laid out on a small hill with the chapel (now converted to a crematorium) on the top of the hill. There is a splendid Gothic entrance on Brunswick Park Road. The many burial sections reflect a broad range of communities, including the Roman Catholic, with a large Italian presence, the Greek Orthodox and Caribbean communities. The Baldi community lease part of the Cemetery, which contains the burial site and memorial to Shoghi Effendi, the grandson of the founder of the faith.The Baha'i community presented the cemetery three pieces of Mount Sinai, which are placed around the cemetery. Hendon Reform Synagogue has its own burial area and columbarium in the grounds. Bodies from several demolished London Churches are reburied here. The most unusual is probably the Lutheran Marienkircke from the Savoy, which served the German staff of the Hanoverian monarchs. This was demolished when the Embankment was built and the bodies moved here together with their memorial slabs. In time they became overgrown and were forgotten until the Anglo-German Family History Society rediscovered them in 1993. There are two war memorials, one for British service personnel and one for interned German civilians who died at Alexandra Palace in the Great War. The variety of faiths and traditions has given rise to a great variety of memorials and the management of the cemetery accepts a wide range of styles and display: toys for SANDS (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death charity) burials and in the Cradle Garden for cremated SANDS, images and lights in some communities, and food offerings on the Chinese graves. The active area is well managed and the wooded areas are used for woodland burials.
The Pymmes Brook runs along the eastern edge of the Cemetery. Like the Dollis Brook it forms a walk – in this case from Pickett's Lock to Monkton Hadley Common.
As I found more open spaces, it became clear that this would become a tangled amble rather than a walk. We have visited a very wide range of open spaces, and touched several historic links. Buses are a good way to visit most of the sites.