London Borough of Barnet

Barnet

Wood Street

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Behind the St John the Baptist Church is Church Passage where the old Chipping Barnet Library used to be. The new library behind the Spires was opened in 1991.

The old library had been founded as a literary institute and reading room with £10,000 given by Julia Hyde. Then two sisters called Paget left more money so that a proper hall could be built in Church Passage.

On the other side of the road there are a number of interesting and ancient buildings, with a number of houses being built on Wood Street during the 18th century. Tudor Hall was built in 1573. It is now part of Barnet College but until 1932 it was Queen Elizabeth's School.

Barnet Council bought the Old Court House in 1923, and opened it as a park the next year. The courthouse itself had been used as council offices since 1916. There was a Barnet Brewery in Wood Street from the 18th century until final closure in 1909, after which the council used the buildings as offices. 

Thomas Smith developed the last of the manorial wastes in front of the Black Horse Inn on Wood Street in the 1880s. In 1883 he converted part of the land to a public park. It was for many years Barnet Recreation Ground, but was renamed after James Ravenscroft. Manor Road was one of the first roads to be laid out between Wood Street and Mays Lane across the former Barnet Common and can been seen on maps of the 1890s.

More curiously on Wood Street there is a house called The Whale Bones, which gets its name from two large whale bones in the entrance way. There is a local legend that the polar explorer John Franklin (1786-1847)  put up the first set of whale bones up some time in the 1830s.

Another set was put up around 1875, which were in turn replaced in 1939 by the present bones. The bones are 24 foot long and come from a 90 foot Blue Whale caught in the South Seas.

Barnet enjoyed both the benefits of a short journey time to London, while being far enough away to be a country town, therefore a number of almshouses for the old were built.

Around Wood Street are a number of these almshouses. James Ravenscroft (whose effigy and tomb is to be seen in St John's) established six almshouses (Jesus Hospital) in 1672, which still stand in Wood Street.

They received much of their funding from the rent of land in Stepney. The houses were for six widowed women, who were described as "sisters", and led by a "governess", and the trustees were called "visitors".

Two further almshouses, John Garretts Almshouses (1729) and Palmers Cottages (1823), were established from a charity set up by Eleanor Palmer, the daughter of the courtier of Henry VIII. The almshouses were built with money realised when the original investments of land (mostly in Kentish Town) became valuable to developers during the first half of the 19th century.

All were established to help the poor of the town. The Leathersellers almshouses (1838) were sensitively rebuilt (1962) retaining their gothick exteriors, and were set up by the John Garretts Almshouses to help those associated with that trade. Elizabeth Allen's School buildings (opened 1824 and closed 1973), are now sheltered accommodation.

Elizabeth Allen left her estate to pay for the education of boys and girls of Barnet in 1727, but the money was used to pay for Queen Elizabeth's School instead. Eventually it was used to pay for a National School. South of Wood Street along Leecroft Road are the Thomas Watson Homes (1914), twelve small cottages built for ex-employees of Sutton's, a firm of carriers.

Where Barnet Hospital is today was once Barnet Workhouse. Until 1834 each civil parish looked after its own poor, but in 1834 parishes were brought together into Unions. Families who were too poor to feed themselves were sent to a building called the workhouse.

Here the family was broken up with the men, women, and children having to live and sleep in different sections. Barnet workhouse was built in 1837 on part of Barnet common. It could house about 200 people. In 1895 an infirmary was added to the Workhouse, which was extended during World War One, to look after wounded soldiers.

When the old workhouse closed in 1939, the hospital took over the buildings. The Workhouse building was demolished in 2002. Victoria Hospital opened in 1888 as part of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee and was funded through a public subscription. It moved to Wood Street from Barnet Hill in 1923, became a maternity hospital after the war, and closed in 1988.