Thursday, 3 November 2011

From Thunderbirds to Pterodactyls

The Greenacre Project and Greenacre Writers present:

Join us for an evening of film and fun.

Tuesday 29th November 7.30pm.

Shane Rimmer has featured in over 50 films and was the voice for Scott Tracy of Thunderbirds. This event combines film extracts and fascinating autobiographical insights. Shane will talk about the ideas behind his latest autobiography: 'From Thunderbirds to Pterodactyls', and about the writing process.

Trinity Church, 15 Nether Street,
North Finchley, London N12 7NN.

Suggested donation £3.00

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Greenacre Times, Summer 2011

The Book People - A Very Short History of Libraries by Rosie Canning

When I was five years old I used to visit my local library. I spent many happy hours sitting cross-legged on the wooden floor discovering the magical world of books that took me on journeys to make-believe lands. As I grew older I progressed from fairy stories to teenage adventures and then to murder mysteries, romance, horror and literary fiction. Although I loved Lord of the Rings and the Narnia adventures, for some reason I couldn’t abide Science Fiction. That lasted until I went to university and discovered the intellectual worlds of Arthur C. Clarke and others. What I also remember about my childhood visits to the library were the clandestine experiences of discovering what I thought were secrets on the shelves. Books, I was sure, that had been accidentally left behind and should really have been removed. I loved peeping into the lives of other people whilst at the same time keeping a furtive eye for the Librarian who would surely discover the book I was reading should have been removed or withdrawn. Oh how I sweated at the issue desk! And I never minded the peace of the library, in fact, I hoped library staff would tell those noisy people to be quiet, it was the hallowed space, the wardrobe into other lands, a place to study, to read and to write. Libraries were my escape from a sometimes, harsh world and books my medicine, they made me well.
When writing Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury explained how he needed somewhere quiet after the birth of his daughter. He was wandering around UCLA and heard typing in the basement of the library. He found ‘a room with twelve typewriters that could be rented for ten cents per half-hour.’ Nine days later and $9.80 poorer the book was completed. Fahrenheit 451 is about book burners, the book explored the effects of television and mass media on the reading of literature and describes how:

‘…the books were burned first by the minorities, each ripping a page or a paragraph from this book, then that, until the day came when the books were empty and the minds shut and the library closed forever.’

This is not a new fear as far back as 378AD, the historian Ammianus Marcellinus commented, "The libraries are closing forever, like tombs,” and as the Roman Empire fell, libraries seemed doomed to extinction.

A reconstruction of the The Great Hall of the ancient Library of Alexandria in Egypt.

One of the first libraries was the Great Library of Alexandria founded about 300BC. Books were not what we think of today, the library held nearly 750,000 scrolls made mostly from papyrus, but sometimes of leather and kept in pigeonholes with titles written on wooden tags. However this was not a lending library but was a public library open to those with the proper scholarly and literary qualifications.

Though the public library first appeared by the 4th century BC, the private library was more prevalent. Aristotle, for instance, amassed a large private collection. He was the first to have put together a collection of books and to have taught the kings in Egypt how to arrange a library. It was, Demetrius, Aristotle’s disciple, who suggested setting up a universal library to hold copies of all the books in the world. Thanks to the Great Library, Alexandria assumed its position as the intellectual capital of the world and provided a model for other libraries to follow. By the middle of 2BC, Rome also boasted rich library resources. Initially comprising some scattered private collections, holdings eventually expanded through the spoils of war. Even Aristotle's famed collection was among the bounty. Julius Caesar dreamed of establishing a public library in Rome, but his vision was cut short by his assassination. After Caesar's death, Asinius Pollio acquired the requisite funds to make the dream a reality. The library was divided into two sections - one for Greek and one for Latin, serving as a model for subsequent Roman libraries.

Rome had only three public libraries at the time of Augustus' death in 14AD. But libraries remained the domain of the learned: teachers, scientists, scholars. Where were the masses to go? To the imperial baths, of course! At the baths, men and women, rich and poor could take a bath, meet with friends, play ball - and read a book. Libraries were added to the baths until the 3rd century. In 350AD there were 29 libraries in Rome.

In the early 500s in Egypt, Pachomius established a monastery and insisted on literacy among his monks. This was to have a long-lasting effect and throughout the rest of the eastern empire, monastic communities emerged with small and mostly theological libraries. Even though libraries disappeared in the western empire owing to invasion, lack of funds, and lack of interest, monasticism gave rise to an explosion of learning.

As Europe emerged from the depths of darkness into the light of learning, its people began to look to the Greek and Roman artistic and literary classics for inspiration. Many aristocrats of the period were dedicated to developing their private libraries. Cosimo de Medici of the famous Florentine family established his own collection, which formed the basis of the Laurentian Library.
Also in Italy, the Vatican Library opened in the 1400s. Rome's Vatican Library is one of the richest manuscript depositories in the world, with more than 65,000 manuscripts and more than 900,000 printed volumes. Most works are in either Latin or Greek. Accompanying the growth of universities was the development of university libraries, which, in some cases, were founded on the basis of a personal donation. For example, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, donated his large collection to Oxford University in the early 1400s. Gutenberg's movable type innovation in the 1400s revolutionized bookmaking. Printed books replaced handwritten manuscripts and were placed on open shelves.

A lot of factors combined to create a "golden age of libraries" between 1600 and 1700: the quantity of books had gone up, as the cost had gone down, there was a renewal in the interest of classical literature and culture, nationalism was encouraging nations to build great libraries, universities were playing a more prominent role in education, and renaissance thinkers and writers were producing great works.
Some of the more important libraries include the Bodleian Library at Oxford, the Mazarine Library and the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève in Paris, the National Central Library in Italy, the Prussian State Library, and the M.E. Saltykov-Shchedrin State Public Library of St. Petersburg (founded by Catherine the Great). The earliest public library in the UK was associated with London's Guild Hall in 1425. A second opened in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1580. Neither of these still exists, but one established in 1653 in Manchester, England survives.

The beginning of the modern, free, open access libraries really got its start in the U.K. in 1847. Parliament appointed a committee, led by William Ewart, on Public Libraries to consider the necessity of establishing libraries through the nation: In 1849 their report noted the poor condition of library service, it recommended the establishment of free public libraries all over the country, and it led to the Public Libraries Act in 1850, which allowed all cities with populations exceeding 10,000 to levy taxes for the support of public libraries. It was after this that libraries began to spread throughout the nation. Another important act was the 1870 Public School Law, which increased literacy, thereby the demand for libraries, so by 1877, more than 75 cities had established free libraries, and by 1900 the number had reached 300. This finally marks the start of the public library as we know it. Also at this time, Florence Boot, married to Jesse Boot (son of John Boot 1815-1860, who was founder of Boots, the chemists) inspired by her interest in literature and the arts, founded a subscription library, the Boots Booklovers' Library.
She also had the idea of opening elegant cafés in the larger stores. These had an impact on sales, attracted the more affluent middle classes to shop at Boots and encouraged loyalty. By 1935, the Booklovers' Library was flourishing, with branches in 450 stores supporting over half a million subscribers. Just 30 years later in 1965, it was announced that the Booklovers' Libraries were to close - the last branch shut in 1966.

Public libraries exist in most places in the world and are often considered an essential part of having an educated and literate population. Public libraries are distinct from research libraries, school libraries, or other special libraries and are there to serve the public's information needs, as well as offering materials for general entertainment and leisure purposes. Public libraries typically are lending libraries, allowing users to take books and other materials off the premises temporarily; they also have non-circulating reference collections. Public libraries primarily focus on popular materials such as popular fiction and movies, as well as educational and non-fiction materials of interest to the general public; computer and internet access are also often offered.

When deciding what changes to make to public libraries, local authorities are legally obliged to abide by the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964. The legacy of the Act can be followed through subsequent legislation that built on and expanded the powers granted in 1850 and the 4,540 public libraries that exist in the United Kingdom in 2010 can trace their origins back to this Act. This law means that public libraries are a statutory service; councils have a legal duty to provide them. Councils must ensure that the service they provide is “comprehensive and efficient”. They also have a duty to promote the service and to encourage people to use it. The Law also makes it clear that councils cannot charge people for library facilities that make up part of their statutory provision.

What is now, generally speaking, the Public Library service grew through commercial, religious and secular libraries. For example, Cowings Library in Chipping Barnet, a commercial library that was accessible to the public, was established in 1805 and charged a rental fee for books. Later in the 19th century religious organisations and institutes also endeavoured to provide libraries:

“I may mention that the Parochial Lending Library, which has lately been disused, has been replenished with some new books and is open to any who like to avail themselves of it, at the charge of 1d per month.” (Reverend Robert Morris, Vicar of St James’s Church, Friern Barnet, 1850)

Philanthropic provision of books was a common Victorian activity. From the mid 19th century there was a rise in secular libraries. In Seymour Terrace, North Finchley, a voluntary library was opened in 1896 called The Finchley Public Library. The stock of books started with around 1,200 volumes, which expanded by March 1897 to over 5,500 volumes.

However, by the end of the 19th century, many libraries were finding it difficult to cope with demand and members of the public began to request funding from local authorities. And so local councils began to fund and build public libraries. Within the area that is now the London Borough of Barnet, there were five smaller local councils: Finchley, Friern Barnet and Hendon that were with Middlesex County Council and Barnet and East Barnet that came within Hertfordshire County Council. If we look at the list below, we can see that the 1930s were the ‘boom years’ for public library openings.

Hendon Library Dec 1929
East Finchley Oct 1938
Friern Barnet Mar 1934
Totteridge Jul 1942
Golders Green Nov 1935
Edgware Nov 1961
North Finchley Nov 1936
Child’s Hill Mar 1962
Osidge (Cat Hill) Dec 1936
Church End Nov 1964
Mill Hill Sep 1937
Burnt Oak Nov 1968

Many of our libraries in the Borough of Barnet grew from those initial part-time commercial, religious and secular libraries, so although the above list illustrates the ‘public’ opening many of the libraries already had a part-time library service.

Fast forward to 2011 and public library users face the same fears as Ammianus Marcellinus back in 378AD – that the libraries are closing forever and once they are gone they will NOT be reinstated. Back in 2004, Totteridge library was closed and sold to property developers for £1.5 million.

As reported in the local Times Series, one local councillor, Cllr Robert Rams (already gaining a reputation for axing public sevices such as museums, library services and cycling grants!) said: “Maybe people could order books online and pick them up at their local supermarket.” Can you imagine trying to read a novel in a supermarket? Does Cllr Rams even use the local library service? Does he have any idea of how important it is, especially during a recession when libraries are needed and used even more? He seems to have totally undervalued the breadth of what library staff do or what the library can offer the local community:

"My two favorite things in life are libraries and bicycles. They both move people forward without wasting anything. The perfect day: riding a bike to the library." (Pete Golkin, Arlington, Virginia)

In response to planned funding cuts and library closures, the East Finchley Library Users’ Group (EFLUG), Barnet Unison and Barnet Alliance for Public Services have held a series of protests earlier this year at East Finchley and East Barnet libraries. Stalls were set up for the public to sign a ‘Save Our Libraries’ petition, which has already been signed by more than 1000 residents.
There was also a demonstration outside Friern Barnet Library in May this year, organised by residents opposed to the planned closure. Hampstead Garden Suburb library in Marketplace, which has been in its current location for some 60 years, will close and there are plans to relocate North Finchley (in the artsdepot), Finchley Church End and Graham Park. Barnet Council have announced plans to cut £1.41 million from their library budget over the next three years. According to Barnet’s Strategic Library Review, library services will be provided from the artsdepot to compensate, but residents say the artsdepot is too far for many users to travel. And let’s not forget back in 2004, Mike Freer, the then leader of the council, stated that a replacement library facility was planned for the High Road, Whetstone to replace Totteridge library that was sold for £1.5 million to property developers. This never happened. Was the £1.5 million part of the £27.4 million lost in the Icelandic banks fiasco? And is this real reason why Barnet have made such drastic cuts to our public services?

Over 10% of UK libraries are currently under threat – over 500 out of a total UK public library provision of just over 4500. Some councils are suggesting that library services can be run by volunteers. This takes no account of the professional and ethical standards to which professional librarians must adhere, including data protection. On a local level, a number of councils including Gloucestershire and Somerset are facing legal challenges because they appear to be in breach of the Public Libraries and Museums Act, as well as other laws including the Equality Act 2010. If it looks as if a council seeks to make changes to the library service that may be illegal, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Jeremy Hunt, has a duty to intervene. Many people around the country have made requests for him to do so, but as yet, he has not stepped in. As a result, Alan Gibbons, an author and library campaigner who runs the Campaign for the Book, has launched a national legal challenge because he believes that national government have failed in their duty. Voices for the Library ( are helping to collect information for the case.

What is also becoming apparent is that the ‘google generation’, lack the necessary skills for evaluating information and developing “effective search strategies”. Young students just do not read a screen in the same way as books are read, they flick from one piece of information to another not really digesting or getting to grips with the heart of the study. Their research will ultimately lack depth and future research will be seriously threatened and compromised by researchers that use basic searching tools, do not visit libraries, do not take time to investigate ideas in depth and lack the concentration to produce gold standard findings. Librarians still have theses skills, libraries still have the physical space that remains important and is where real people meet and real objects are used but as the libraries change, close and are devalued, there can be no doubt the future of humanity will be at risk:

"It is, however, not to the museum, or the lecture-room, or the drawing-school, but to the library, that we must go for the completion of our humanity." (Owen Meredith)

The thought of a world without libraries fills me with horror and leaves me in a cold, dark place. Will children of the future read everything through a screen? Will humanity forget the pleasure of opening a book, turning a page or discovering some old forgotten masterpiece? The Greenacre Project will do all it can to reverse this trend and to begin with is collecting literary books and books about the writing process to form our own Greenacre Library for which we welcome donations. Quite simply, in the words of Ray Bradbury:

"What a wonderful experience it was to be in the library basement to dash up and down the stairs reinvigorating myself with the touch and smell of books that I knew and books that I did not know until that moment."

As we go to press, more than 5,000 Barnet residents signed petitions against the closures. Their pleas fell on deaf ears. Friern Barnet, North Finchley and Hampstead Garden libraries will close. Totteridge is already closed. There is talk of the community taking over some of the libraries, the council’s idea being that the community should find ways to save the libraries itself. It is not the responsibility of the community to run libraries with untrained volunteers. The Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 says a local authority which is a library authority must ‘provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons…’ Its stock of ‘books and other printed matter, and pictures, gramophone records, films and other materials’, must be ‘sufficient in number, range and quality to meet the general requirements and any special requirements both of adults and children’. If the local authority has been providing this service ANY reduction is likely to be unlawful and the statutory duties will not be adequately fulfilled. We will end this piece with Kate Salinger, councillor for Coppetts ward, who told the cabinet at the Hendon Town Hall library closures meeting, "…You are going through the motions of democracy – some of you don’t even look like you’re listening." And of course, she was right!

Sunday, 21 August 2011

The Greenacre Times - Issue 18

Issue No 18 is out. Mr Greenacres discovers the history of the velocipede. 

Locally we learn about the Friern Barnet swimming pool that never was, while further afield we find out how The Maldives manages to get enough fresh water, and about the plight of sea turtles.

For those who love books, the important matter of libraries is examined by Rosie Canning, from the earliest libraries to those on our doorstep.

This issue also includes the winning story from the recent Greenacre Writers nationwide Short Story competition.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Greenacre Times, Spring 2011

The House On The Hill

Church Farmhouse Museum Faces Closure,
by Mike Gee

You know, I don‘t normally believe in coincidences, I prefer to think that everything in life happens for a reason. But in this instance I think it may really be a coincidence, for at the very same time as Lindsay Bamfield was writing her article on Harry Beck for the last issue of the Greenacre Times, Gerrard Roots, Curator of The Church Farmhouse Museum, was preparing a Harry Beck exhibition for display there.

A fine day in early March. It seems like an early spring. Daffodils are already out in places. It’s a mild, hazy, sunny day and just perfect for exploring. Today - Church End, Hendon and the Church Farmhouse Museum. As I approach the bend of Church End, NW4, I see a picture that hasn’t changed all that much in 100 years. True, the row of Edwardian shops has been replaced by the architecturally dire Meritage Centre and the timber framed and clad Clerk’s cottage was rebuilt in the 1930s but the scene is still dominated by St Mary’s Parish Church and the three-storey Greyhound Pub. As I round the bend where Church End becomes Greyhound Hill another building comes into view, a fairly large, old-looking red brick house with a hipped roof, massive chimney left of centre and three windowed gables on the front. I have arrived at Church Farmhouse, the oldest surviving house in the parish of Hendon.

It was built around 1660 and most of the main building is actually original. The rear addition was built in the late 19th century and there have been other small additions such as ‘lean-to’s over the years. Following the outbreak of several disastrous fires, including the Great Fire of London, in the 17th century, brick building began to take over from timber building. The walls of the original building are three bricks thick (14”) and the bricks are the same size as modern bricks. In fact as early as 1477 a statute had been passed standardizing the size of bricks. John Moxton, wrote in 1680, “The common bricks that are made here in England, are 9 inches in length, 4 inches and ¼ in breadth, and two and a half in thickness: and sometimes 3 inches thick.” If you can be bothered, go outside with a tape measure and see for yourself, exactly the same size today.

Although most of the brickwork is fairly plain and standard on this old building, there are interesting little parapets built between the front gables, and the tall chimney stack is quite intricate. The front porch is a relatively modern, a 19th century addition. Originally, the ‘front door’ to the farmhouse opened onto the farmyard which is now the rear of the building. If you look closely, you can see evidence here and there of windows having been moved, bricked up or added. Not much of the original exterior woodwork will have survived and there have, of course, been many additions, changes and replacements to doors and windows over the last 350 years. There is a mix of sliding and hinged sashes and if you look up at the rear you can see examples of oak mullioned windows in the gables. One thing you can’t tell from looking, is that the large bay on the western end, suffered bomb blast damage in WWII and had to be rebuilt. The original timbers such as the rafters and flooring beams are in oak (there are exposed beams on the ceilings), but the floorboards have been replaced and the staircase to the exhibition rooms looks, to me, like an early 19th century replacement. All in all, a charming old building.

The history is just as interesting as the architecture. The village of Hendon was mentioned in the Doomsday Book and there was a church on the site of St Mary’s around 950AD. Parts of the current church go back to the 12th century though much of what’s visible on the outside is early 20th century additions. Church Farm once had 200 acres devoted to hay-making and dairy cattle. Hendon village was a thriving community and most inhabitants were employed in agriculture or associated crafts. In 1796 there were four carpenter’s shops, three blacksmiths, a wheelwright, collar maker, plumber, butcher and baker. The village commanded a good view of all the surrounding woods and fields, a sight that would remain largely unchanged until the onset of London’s creeping sprawling suburbia. An 1876 guide book said that Hendon, “…used to be rural and somewhat picturesque…Recently a great number of villa and cottage residences have been built …and the number seems likely to be largely increased.” The London Underground arrived in 1924 and then, of course we had the motor car and the property developer, say no more.

By the end of the 19th century, demand for hay had dwindled as mechanised transport progressively took over from the horse, and in the early 1900s much of Church Farm’s land was sold for housing development. Dairy farming continued to the late 1930s, but in 1944 the farmhouse, outbuildings and what remained of the land were sold to Hendon Borough Council and the house was turned into flats to accommodate families whose homes had suffered bomb damage. The building was opened as a museum in 1955 and carried on as such after Hendon Council was incorporated into the London Borough of Barnet in 1965.

The ground floor of the museum is laid out to represent a mid 19th century working farmhouse, with a laundry, kitchen and dining room all fitted out with period furniture and accoutrements. There is a baking oven and a massive fireplace in the dining room (under the huge chimney) that backs on to a fireplace in what is now the shop. Sometime after their construction a passageway was opened up and you can now walk between the fireplaces. The ground floor is the most popular part of the museum for school visits with over 1,200 schoolchildren using the facilities each year. This is a most valuable education resort, the children learn a lot and have a lot of fun in the process. The curator is very supportive of schools; there are boxes of artefacts and notes available for teachers and he will often do outreach work, regularly attending schools to lecture or give advice on setting up mini school or classroom museums. Popular school presentations have included ‘Victorian Home Life’, ‘The Home Front in WWII’ and ‘Old Toys’.

Gerrrard Roots has been the curator since 1979 and perhaps his most remarkable achievement has been the staging of a quite fantastic number of wonderful exhibitions on the first floor of the museum, sometimes as many as six a year. The subject matter has been far-ranging but always fascinating and having some connection to the borough. I can give but a few examples that have been staged in recent years; ‘Weird and Wonderful Contraptions‘, ’The Explosive History of Fireworks’, ’Do You Believe In Magic?’, ‘The Festival of Britain: 50 Years On’, ‘The Phoenix Cinema: 100 Years’, ’The Sound of the Suburbs - Pop and Rock Music in the Borough of Barnet’, ‘Sidney Paget’s Sherlock Holmes’, ‘Lewis Carroll in Wonderland’, and the list goes on.

One of the most controversial was ‘Images From The Spanish Civil War’ staged in autumn 1996. This exhibition displayed the photos of Bill Williamson who had left Finchley to join the International Brigade in the fight against fascism. Our Tory councillors were apparently not happy with the communist connotation. How silly! This was a very important 20th century conflict that had far reaching implications, some say that if the allies had properly supported the Republicans, the Second World War may not have broken out. And this was the only exhibition to mark the 60th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War in this country. Of all the exhibitions staged over the years, I am gratified to learn that one of Gerrard’s personal favourites is ‘A Century of Bears’ from 1999, because this is one of my favourites too - I lent my entire collection of Rupert Bear Annuals for the display and I have every one from 1936 to 1986 (after this period the style changed as Alfred Bestall, who had drawn all the illustrations since 1936, retired). The rest of the display space was devoted to a fine collection of old teddies and the whole exhibition gained a lot of media attention also proved to be very popular with the public.

Despite the sun and the early spring, my visit is a sad day, a very sad day. I have come to Church Farmhouse Museum to see the current exhibition, ‘Harry Beck and The London Tube Map’. Gerrard happens to be at the door to greet me, he is putting on a brave face, he is dealing with all the visitors as normally as he can, but they are sad too, and his daughter Harriet, sitting at the computer, is sad. There is sadness all around me for this Harry Beck exhibition is to be the last ever. Church Farmhouse Museum has been axed from the council budget for 2011/12 and after 56 years is set to close its doors for the very last time at the end of this month. There is to be no reprieve, they are quite determined of that, for our council does not care about history and heritage, culture or education, or the important things in life, for they are Philistines of the highest order, Machiavellians who scheme to change everything that’s just and decent and important in our society, under the fashionable smokescreen of cost-cutting. What will we save? The cost of one curator’s salary, routine running costs and buildings maintenance and publicity costs.

The present round of council cuts are draconian in the extreme - we learn that all youth clubs and centres are to go completely, and this despite council officers’ own warnings in their written reports of possible increases in anti social behaviour, vandalism, drug taking, theft and unwanted teenage pregnancies. The secondary-school pupils’ careers advice service is to be cut, artsdepot (our community arts centre) will have its grant axed, library services will be reduced, everything, including old people’s wardens, gone or about to go. Things that we now view as essential as food and water, things that were often a great struggle to get established in our society in the first place, things that were once treasured and valued, are now discarded as if they are worthless pieces of trash on their way to landfill.

Of course people protested; over 600 marched from Finchley Central to arts depot in February, armed with banners and placards. 150 descended on the council chambers when the budget was set. Does the council listen? Does it compromise? It does not.

There is huge controversy surrounding our council and the way it administers local democracy. Our council have tried to ban filming of council meetings, despite the fact that most other councils not only allow filming, but screen proceedings themselves for the public to watch. Local government minister, Bob Neil, was forced to write to Barnet Council to ask councillors to allow bloggers and journalists to be allowed to tweet and film sections of meetings to make them more transparent. He said; “Bloggers, tweeters, residents with their own websites and users of Facebook and You Tube are increasingly a part of the modern world, blurring the lines between professional journalists and the public. There are recent stories about people being ejected from council meetings for blogging, tweeting or filming. This potentially is at odds with the fundamentals of democracy and I want to encourage all councils to take a welcoming approach to those who want to bring local news stories to a wider audience.” Despite this edict from government the leader of our council, Cllr Lynne Hillan, remains adamant that anyone caught filming will be asked to leave the public gallery.

How will they be asked to leave? Well, I’ll be brief, but at a council meeting earlier this week, our council showed what they thought of the public and their rights to democracy. Some 20-30 police-officers were in attendance but they were not in control, for Barnet Council had employed its own private army of black-shirted, pseudo-military clad, muscle-bound bouncers to keep order. There are 45 places in the council chamber public gallery, and on this night there was a long queue of people trying to get in, but not many got through the bag searches and security checks. Seventeen seats were kept empty. Large notices had been erected, THE PUBLIC MUST REMAIN SILENT AT ALL TIMES, but mid way through the proceedings a cry erupted, ‘LET THEM IN, LET THEM IN, LET THEM IN’ amid cheering and foot-stamping. Labour Councillors asked the Mayor to let people into the empty seats, the Liberals demanded too, and the Mayor agreed and then…nothing happened. This evening was filled with stories of intimidation, people escorted out of the building, a confiscated camera, people having to ask permission to go to the toilet. The private security company is called Met Pro and their website displays a winged badge with a serpent coiled around a sword and flames leaping in the background. One can’t help thinking of Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, or Brave New World or 1984. Make no mistake about it, this oppressive regime we have right here in Barnet is slowly but surely steering us into a full-blown police state, the sort of horrific, totalitarian, dystopian nightmare that George Orwell dreamt up over 60 years ago.

Anyway, let’s leave our future world and return to the present - our day out in Hendon. Church Farmhouse is closed for lunch between 1 and 2pm so I take the opportunity to tour the grounds, take photos and have lunch. I take photos of the old Model Dairy that’s now part of Middlesex University and a row of picturesque houses built in 1908, that are partly hidden behind hedges. Although Gerrard doesn’t recommend the beer, I go to the Chequers. I’m not drinking beer, the food’s fine and there’s some lovely stained glass there. There was a beer retailer and grocer on this site in 1850 and local folklore has it that it used to be a penny bank for local people. It was known as the Chequers by 1870, chequer being a place where money is deposited. The existing building was built sometime between 1890 and 1900.

Back to Church Farmhouse, fully replete, and Gerrard is ready to give me a guided tour of the exhibition. Maps of all descriptions and many other tube artefacts such as large enamelled signs and period postcards are on show, all generously loaned by one collector. Everyone who visits is talking of the impending closure, no one can quite believe it. There is to be a three-month ‘discussion period’ from April 1st to try and work out a future. There is talk of setting up a trust, The Hendon and District Archaeological Society (HADAS) is keen to save the museum but a new management group would have to be formed. There are other problems too, there seems to be no goodwill from the council, Cllr Robert Rams, Brian Coleman’s ‘Mini-Me’ pint-sized axe wielder supreme, has said that any proposal must be zero cost to the council and furthermore they will expect a ‘commercial’ rent of £40,000 per year to be paid. Can HADAS go through all the cost, trouble, legal complications and find £40,000 for rent alone in the allotted time? Even if the bid were successful we would, in all probability lose the first floor exhibition rooms as the new trust would surely need to rent them out as meeting rooms to raise revenue.

The alternatives are far from clear. Who could take over this building on a commercial basis? It’s a Grade II* listed building, the rooms are small and wibbly-wobbly with no disabled access, and every little bit of maintenance or modification needs to be discussed with English Heritage in great detail before works can proceed. You certainly can’t change the structure in any way, demolish or add on, and as for residential use, there’s no proper bathroom and the listing restrictions would disallow that. There is, of course, the fear that a developer could build a block of flats in the gardens. Anything’s possible in this climate.

If you haven’t visited the museum, you’d better get your skates on, there’s only a few days left. I shall attend the leaving-do on 24th March and the local press may take photos and run a story on the last day but it looks very much a case of the now all too familiar adieu - FAREWELL OLD FRIEND. I’ll leave the last words to Gerrard Roots, Museum Curator 1979-2011.

“This is the last real physical remnant of Hendon’s rural past. Where we’re standing people have been living for 2,000 years - 2,000 years of continuous settlement. In the midst of all that’s changed in Hendon you still get a sense of a village here. The museum is one of the most interesting buildings in North London. It would be absolutely tragic if it were lost.”

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Putting Finchley on The Map

Putting Finchley on the Map - a brief history of Harry Beck's Tube Map.

Question: What do the Spitfire, Concorde and the tube map have in common?
Answer: They were voted as Britain’s top three iconic designs of the twentieth century.

All users of Finchley Central station will have seen the plaque commemorating Harry Beck and his tube map. The map we all use today is based on his 1931 sketches but when Harry Beck drew his first map, Finchley Central didn’t even appear on it. 
For the full article read Harry Beck's tube map.