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High Street Below St John the Baptist Church

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Until the 1820s the Great North Road came into Barnet through the small Victoria Lane, which runs down the side of the Graseby House building part of Barnet College. The lane is now cut short, but it used to run down to the Red Lion at Underhill. The road was an important military route to the port of Holyhead and Ireland. From 1818 a new straighter road was constructed on the embankment we see today, which was less steep. The new road allowed armies to move more swiftly along it. Another difficulty for travellers using the Great North Road at Barnet was a section locally known as the squeeze, and because it was never corrected it is still visible today where the road passes between the Kings Head, and St John the Baptist. The squeeze used to be longer, as a number of shops, which occupied an island in the middle of the road in front of the church. These shops were called Middle Row and were the original location of the Barnet market. Middle Row was demolished after a fire in 1889.

There were a number of inns in the High Street that took care of the needs of travellers on the road, as well as the horses and drivers of the coaches. The Mitre inn existed in 1633 and is possibly the oldest remaining coaching inn building. In 1660 General Monck stayed at the Mitre on his way to London following the restoration of Charles II. His 5,000 troops had to camp on Finchley Common. The Mitre we see today was described as "new built" in April 1785 with "stabling for upwards of one hundred horses", and "roomy conveniences for carriages" in 1790. The Avenue Pub used to be known as the Red Lion. The life size model of the lion we see today was added in the Victorian period, and was kept when the pub was rebuilt in 1931. Like the Mitre the Red Lion was a coaching inn, and there was stout competition between establishments for customers; particularly the Red Lion and the Green Man. It was not unknown for fights between the ostlers* of these two inns.

Even before the railway station was opened in 1872 coach travel was in decline. One of the side streets, Tapster Street, was laid out in 1825, but it was an exception. Only in the late Victorian period did the lower part of the High Street begin to have side streets. There were houses in Park Road by 1883. Elliott and Son established their photographic printing works at Talbot House in Park Road around 1890. In 1892 the film pioneer Birt Acres joined Elliott and son, and in 1895 shot Britain's first moving picture, showing his assistant leaving adjacent Clovelly Cottage.

Between 1907 and 1938 a tram service ran from Archway to Barnet Hill. Fitz John Avenue, Bedford Avenue, and Normandy Avenue were only laid out with the news that Barnet was to have a tram service. Until 1929 the Meadway was a simple foot path down to New Barnet railway station. There has been a police station in High Barnet since it became part of the Metropolitan Police district in 1840. There have been several police stations, built in the 1860s, in 1915, and lastly in 1974. Queen Elizabeth's Girls' School opened in 1888.

*The ostlers were the men who would take care of the traveller's horses.

Contacts

  • Local Studies Centre
  • Hendon Library (first floor), The Burroughs, London NW4 4BQ
  •  
  • Tel: 020 8359 3960
  • Email: library.archives@barnet.gov.uk

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