The Finchley Society

"We care for Finchley and Friern Barnet"
Society Activities > Local History > History of Finchley

A short history of Finchley

There is no mention of Finchley in the Domesday Book (compiled in 1086), the first complete survey of the country. At that time Finchley was part of the Bishop of London's lands and was probably not shown separately. Finchley Common ran northwards from the edge of the Bishop's Park to the county boundary. It was made up of heavy wet clay soil which, being difficult to cultivate, was given over to woodland. The trees were gradually cut down to provide timber for housing and, most importantly, firewood for cooking and heating. By the end of the 13th century settlements had grown up at the edge of the common.

Church End is named after the parish church of St Mary's. The church is first mentioned in 1274 although some of the fabric may be even older. A new northerly route from London was opened in about 1350 when the Bishop of London allowed travellers to pass through his park. The gate at the top of the hill became the Highgate. A small settlement grew up near the gate at the foot of the hill and this became East End (now known as East Finchley). North End (now North Finchley) developed where the road from Totteridge met the King's Highway. Finchley's development continued to be governed by the transport system and The Great North Road, first mentioned as such about 1690, provided a stimulus for the establishment of inns, smithies and other support services.

By about 1680 a Hog Market had been opened by John Odell on open fields near East End. East End Road, as now, ran from Church End to East End. There were a few large houses, owned by wealthy Londoners, along the road but, on the whole, most inhabitants were cottagers.

In 1659 Hendon Lane, running from Hendon to Church End, was known as Finchley Hill. Around this time the Common was gradually tamed and put to grass. In turn small dairies grew up, each one serving an area of about 5 miles, but the most important crop was hay for the teeming horse population of London. Two hundred years ago hay was as important as petrol is today. Most of the ordinary people living in Finchley were agricultural labourers earning a meagre living.

From 1855 onwards Cemeteries for the more central parishes of St Pancras, Islington and Marylebone were opened on former Common land. Avenue House and Hertford Lodge were built in 1867 whilst The Express Dairies opened College Farm in 1883.

The shape of the area was again changed by the development of London’s transport network. New railway stations were opened at East Finchley, Church End (Finchley Central), Woodside Park and Totteridge and Whetstone. The 1870’s and 1930’s saw the rapid development of new housing estates fanning out from the stations. The construction of the tram network, later to become trolley bus and passenger bus routes, provided ordinary people with a cheap way of getting into London for work. The last 50 years has seen some reversal of this trend with office blocks being built locally.

Prepared for The Finchley Society by John Heathfield