Barnet Post

Barnet Post

Hendon’s Civic Quarter

A tour of The Burroughs

Hero for Hendon’s Civic Quarter
Hendon Fire Station designed by Herbert Welch Credit Mark Amies
By Mark Amies 27 September 2021

The Burroughs, in Hendon, is a rather splendid area in one of Barnet’s oldest parts. It is also home to a collection of rather fine early 20th Century civic buildings, erected by the former Hen- don Borough Council, the forerunner of Barnet London Borough Council.

This is really an opportunity for me, as someone who has known the area for forty-five years, to write about a place that I feel is special, and I am sure that a great many of you who know The Burroughs will feel the same way. However, it is not going to be a potted history of the area, because there are a great many people who have done that already. The name ‘The Burroughs’, is derived from its name ‘the Burrows’, dating way back to the early Fourteenth Century when the area was covered in rabbit warrens. It is also where the Lord of the manor held court, until around 1916, at the site of the old White Bear public house, whose last incarnation was demolished in 2017.

In my mind The Burroughs and the adjoin- ing Church End, with the ancient Church of St Mary’s, is Hendon but I am sure that many will have their own concept of ‘Hendon’. The fact is that Hendon covers so many different parts and is spread over a large area, it’s hard to pin it down. But to me, The Burroughs has a definite sense of place and time, and it is a distillation of a civic ‘hub’.

The first purpose-built civic structure to go up was the Town Hall, erected by the recently formed Hendon Urban District Council in 1901. It occupied part of the site of the Grove House estate. The new building was designed by Thomas Henry Wat- son in a Pre-Renaissance style. It is wonderfully grand, but not over the top, and the detailing is an exquisite selection of brick, stone and windows. It’s literally all there and, to finish it off, it has a lovely bell tower with a weather vane on top.

Hendon Library Foundation Stone Credit Mark Amies

Reminiscent of Trumpton

As a child of the 1970s, my mind conjures up the Town Hall in the BBC children’s classic Trumpton and, I can picture the character of The Mayor and his clerk at the superb first-floor windows. These days the Town Hall is called Barnet Town Hall, and its main civic duties are as the borough’s main registry office and as a setting for Barnet Council’s full council meetings. The original purposes for the building have now been replaced by the new council offices in Colindale, a building that considerably lacks beauty but is probably representative of a more ‘corporate-like’ London borough in the 21st Century. The Town Hall also holds the historical distinction of being where Margaret Thatcher made her first speech as Prime Minister, in May 1979.

Sitting right next to the Town Hall is the old Hendon Central Library, built in 1929 in a Neo-Georgian style. It was designed by the architect T.M. Wilson and is very complimentary to the neighbouring buildings. The library is grand and imposing and leaves you in no doubt that this is a place of importance, which, of course, libraries were and still are. By the time of its opening, Hendon had developed enormously since the Town Hall had gone up, twenty-eight years before. The changes were marked by the arrival of the London Underground down the road at Hendon Central, the large numbers of factories that had been established and a population that had grown, moving into the increasing numbers of homes built in the area.

Civic libraries fulfilled this need and were greatly treasured by all ages. It was a time when the word ‘public’ really meant something, and public buildings were just that – places where everyone could go, from all parts of society and share a space that was paid for out of public taxation. To enter a library like the Central Library was to enter the world of information, much in the same way one now searches on the internet, they were also peaceful places to escape the hustle-bustle of everyday life. Sadly, as time has moved on many perhaps took for granted these palaces of knowledge, and time was not so kind to Hendon Central Library. In 1973 it was given a rather unsympathetic modernisation, removing a great deal of its wonderful interior decoration.

As I write this, another change is to befall it, and it will no longer be a public library. Middlesex University is due to take possession of the building, and a new library facility, in a much-reduced space, will be made in a set of new buildings across the road.

Hendon Library and Middlesex University Credit: Mark Amies

London’s longest fire pole

The next building along is Hen- don Fire Station, designed by Herbert Welch and opened in 1911. Historic England describes the building as being in a ‘free Arts and Craft style with Renaissance influence’ and who am I to disagree? This true public building with purpose is still in use, which is remarkable in itself. It was built to be more than just a place to store fire equipment and train staff, it also included accommodation. There was a flat for the Chief Officer, a dormitory for single men (this now serves as a mess area) and four flats for married men on the second floor. The second largest room after the engine room was the recreation room, which contained a large billiard table. The fire station also had the distinction of having the longest fire pole in London.

The last of the original civic buildings is the Middlesex University building, originally built as the Hendon Technical Institute between 1937 and 1939 for what was Middlesex County Council. It was designed by H.W. Burchett, in a Neo-Georgian style, with an imposing central archway. Unlike the other three buildings I have mentioned, this much larger building doesn’t, (in my humble opinion), fit in sympathetically with its neighbours. I suppose that is not too much of a surprise, given that it was built much later, and in essence, it wasn’t really a Hendon Urban District Council building. It was, originally, a place for local young people to get a good, basic level of higher education, in a time when such things were less expensive to undertake. Over the years it has become much larger, as it changed its status, first to Hendon College, then Middlesex University, in 1973. The University now dominates The Burroughs with other new buildings in other parts of the area.

Of course, change happens and perhaps The Burroughs, once a place of civic pride through grand public buildings in pleasant sur- roundings, reflects how our own society has changed. By 1965 the old Borough of Hendon had morphed into Barnet Council and the public’s perception of public buildings has changed. The for- tunes of the immediate area have declined and money for public services is scarce. However, despite the changes that have happened in The Burroughs over the last century, it still retains its air of grandeur and a set of fine buildings, most of which are listed and hopefully protected from unsympathetic development.