diamond geezer

 Monday, January 16, 2012

Random borough (32): Barnet (part 2)

Somewhere sporty: Barnet FC
It's been a rags to not-quite riches story for the lads of Barnet FC. Once non-league stalwarts, the Bees managed to climb into the 'proper' divisions 20 years ago, and have mostly stayed there ever since. But they've never climbed higher than Division Three, back when there was a Division Three, and are currently languishing a few places above non-league oblivion. The club's based at Underhill, which (not surprisingly) is at the bottom of a hill south of Barnet town centre. Surrounded on three sides by an estate and the fourth by a park, the pitch slopes noticeably from one goal to the other (which is what you get when you build a ground in a river valley). There are immediate plans to move elsewhere, exacerbated by the ground's freehold having been sold by the council in 2002 for a knock-down price. One possible escape would be to Copthall Stadium, an athletics track in far flung Mill Hill, but that's also being eyed up by rugby giants Saracens. Alternatively the club could redevelop its training ground in Canons Park, called "The Hive", but building league-worthy facilities there won't happen any time soon. With the council being typically obstructive and the club keen to escape, this season could be Barnet's Underhill swansong.

Normally when I visit a football stadium for my random borough visit, it being a Saturday, there is at least some activity going on. Not so at Underhill. With the team off thrashing far-flung Accrington Stanley, there was absolutely nothing doing, not even action from Barnet's high-flying ladies. The roadside end of the stadium is for away supporters, and that was gated and shuttered. Access for everything else is down Priory Grove (still flyposted for "Christopher & Cassandra's 21st"), past a pitch-long corrugated iron wall (and the local Scout HQ). All was dead here too, every last gate, window and door. No service at The Bacon Butty, which I assume does good porcine business on match days [photo]. And not a soul in the locked shop, which is a portakabin in the corner of the car park, filled with such goodies as Bee Army flags, "Mister Bumble" t-shirts and a variety of tangerine clothing. There's a fair amount of orange paint across the main building, and the abbreviation B.F.C. built into the brickwork near the main entrances. Stand beside the main gate and you can see past the fire escape to the pitch - a far better view than most clubs allow you to get for free [photo]. But, emotion aside, there's little here of architectural worth were the whole place to be bulldozed and replaced with flats, which I fear is what the council ultimately have in mind.
by tube: High Barnet   by bus: 34, 84, 107, 234, 263, 307, 326, 384, 389

Somewhere random: Spike Milligan's house
Should you ever attempt a pilgrimage to the many homes of Spike Milligan you'll have to start in India. Then it'll be off to Honor Oak, which is where the Milligan family moved in the 1930s after Spike's Dad's discharge from the army. And thence to Finchley in 1955. Spike had already found fame in the Goon Show, and this move would have been a financial step up in the world. He took up residence at 127 Holden Road, a double-fronted Edwardian house with garden stretching down to the Dollis Brook, and here he wrote more Goon Shows, his 'Q' comedy series and books of children's poetry. He stayed for nearly twenty years, long enough to bring up a family, and a blue plaque on the wall records his presence.

An intriguing place to visit, I thought, as I stepped off the tube at Woodside Park station. And there were indeed a few Milliganesque Edwardian villas on the even numbered side of the road, but none on the odd. That was lined with flats, in a variety of styles, and there was nothing I could possibly imagine Spike having lived in. I tried to locate 127, only to find the blue plaque on the end wall of a not terribly inspiring row of white-boarded houses [photo]. Surely Spike hadn't lived in one of these regular suburban residences... and by their age I realised not. 127 and its neighbours are long gone, long replaced, with several new homes crammed in where the Milligans' back garden would once have been. In the words of youngest daughter Jane, "Somewhere in the soil under these flats are the bones of our family hamsters, rabbits, fish, air rifle pellets and unread letters to the pixies and fairies." I walked down the frosty passageway past their front doors, to a large car parking area beside a steaming litter bin, and then to the banks of the Dollis Brook. I'd never have got this far while Spike was here, and by the overgrown look of the shallow channel I wouldn't have missed much.

Plans are afoot to remember Spike's stay in Finchley with a statue, if funds can be raised. The Finchley Society are on the case, with a bronze Spike sitting on a bench and turning as if to speak to an imaginary person beside him. It's already designed, and now awaits family approval, and casting, and final installation in the grounds of Avenue House, Church End. You can contribute here, should you so desire. And as for where Spike moved next, that was Monken Hadley, but I hadn't properly researched this before setting out so never found it. Here he lived in a rambling Victorian pile called 'Monkenhurst' overlooking the common, with a Gothic tower, and stained glass staircase window. That sounds much more Spike, and resold ten years ago for £1¾m. But by that time he'd already moved on from his beloved Barnet, to the village of Udimore near Winchelsea, where his body was later buried. If you're attempting a Milligan pilgrimage, expect a long journey.
by tube: Woodside Park   by bus: 326, 383

Somewhere pretty: Mill Hill
How have I never been up here before? A road along a ridge, once plied by coaching traffic leaving London, now an affluent residential location blessed by a jumbled collection of great buildings. It's called Mill Hill for fairly obvious reasons, although there's no sign today of any mill except for the twee iron signs at either end of the village. Mill Hill's heritage has survived by the fortunate chance of its elevation. When the railways passed through they took the valleys, hence the urban sprawl round Mill Hill Broadway and central Finchley. But up here wasn't so commuter friendly, unless you count the spur line to Mill Hill East at the foot of Bittacy Hill, so remained mostly untouched. I nipped off the bus at the top of Highwood Hill, then walked down the edge of rolling fields to the Folly Brook valley and immediately back up twisting Holcombe Hill. I'm not used to such compact contours in north London, but Barnet's an atypically hilly borough.

The Ridgeway, as Mill Hill's main road is named, is broad and grassy. You can never quite be sure what structure will be up next, but "private school" is a pretty good bet. I passed through at Saturday kicking-out time, which seemed to be 1pm). Girls from The Mount waited for parents and boyfriends to drive them home, while non-boarder boys from esteemed Mill Hill School waited patiently for a bus. Even the playgroup at St Paul's Church was emptying into 4×4s, from a building far less impressive than William Wilberforce's 4×spired church up the road. Every religious denomination appears to have been catered for in Mill Hill, including an African church by the pond on the village green [photo]. Close by is a Quaker meeting house, and a closed-down convent whose grounds are being swallowed by a gated residential development. Best not mention the National Institute for Medical Research, an X-shaped brick fortress which you might recognise from Batman Begins. But the village also boasts its own farm, several quaint almshouses and a variety of higgledy cottages [photo]. There is a High Street (at 100m, the shortest in London) but there are no shops anywhere (although there is a huge Waitrose a mile down the hill, so that's OK). If you live up on Mill Hill, lucky you. And if you don't, I wonder if you know what you're missing.
by bus: 240, 251

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