London Borough of Barnet

Finchley, Friern Barnet and Totteridge

Whetstone (Finchley N20)

View pages in this section

Whetstone may be named because it is on the western edge of East Barnet. But the name may come from a stone, perhaps the one outside the Griffin Public House (possibly the base of a medieval cross, which some used to sharpen blades).

Some believe that soldiers sharpened their swords on the stone before the Battle of Barnet in 1471. As Whestone as a name occurs many years before this, the story is clearly wrong. However, it is a popular local legend and was told to coach travellers in the 18th century.

Until the beginning of the 12th century the main route to the north from London ran up Friern Barnet Lane. However, the Bishop of London opened up a new route through his estates from Highgate which joined the older route at Whestone. The settlement grew up as a consequence of the new junction, with the local community providing for travellers. There was brewing and tile making by the late 15th century.

In 1712 the road was tumpiked as far as Whetstone. Travellers bought a ticket at a tollbooth before they used the road, and the money was then used to pay for the road's upkeep. By this date there were seven inns on the Friern Barnet side of the road alone. As late as 1831 most families were employed in servicing the 130 stage coaches which passed the tollgate every day. The population grew and in 1832 St Johns Church was paid for by Joseph Baxendale, owner of Pickfords the removers.

The railways had ended the old stage coaches, but in Whetstone road traffic continued to contribute to the local economy even after the railway. Of the five inns on the Friern Barnet side in the 1800s four survived into the 20th century. A bus company called "Compangnie Generale des Omnibus de Londres" had two omnibuses running through Whetstone in 1856.

In 1863 the tollgate was removed, and in 1872 a railway station was opened on the Great Northern Railway. Where Blakeney Close is the company had a hospital for horses near to the station. It seems odd that a railway company should have horses, but they did, and it was opened around 1884.

Where Sweets Way is today, William Davies opened a nursery in the 1860s. He built hothouses for growing camellias, and had one plant (the tallest in England) which was about a hundred years old. His nursery was bought by Mr J Sweet, who greatly expanded the site between 1886 and 1914, and grew grapes, tomatoes, and cucumbers. By the 1890s he was employing 100 workers during the summer.

Sweet's innovative use of large glass panes and hot water heating in his greenhouses led to his description as the father of modem nursery gardening. During World War Two Sweets' nurseries were taken over by the army for use as an anti-aircraft gun battery and to keep captured German officers.