"In the end, it's not the years in your life that count, it's the life in your years." - Abraham Lincoln

Posted on October 5, 2018 by Sioux under General


The area I was working in is called Chipping Barnet or High Barnet, a market town in built around a 12th-century settlement, and is one of the highest-lying urban settlements in London, with the town centre having an elevation of about 130m. In 1199, a charter was obtained from the king to establish a market at Barnet. Thus ‘Barnet’ became ‘Chipping Barnet’, ‘Chipping’ being derived from the Anglo Saxon word ‘ceap’ or ‘cheap’ – the sign of a place with a market.


The name Barnet comes from an ancient settlement recorded as Barneto in 1070, Barnet in 1197 and La Barnette 1248. It means ‘the land cleared by burning’, from Old English bærnet, referring to the clearing of this once densely forested area. The area is also the site of many historical battles and Barnet Hill is said to be the hill mentioned in the nursery rhyme “The Grand Old Duke of York”.


I made good use of the clear weather and went walkabout almost every day, during my 2-hour break. An interesting area with many historical buildings and a lot of green park areas; I also spent a fair bit of time exploring my clients’ beautiful garden! 


During my first walkabout, I came across the strangest form of gate posts – a whales jaw bones! Set into six feet of concrete, the jaw-arch was installed in 1939, apparently to replace an earlier set of jawbones that had eroded to the point of collapse.


The Blue Whale had been killed in the South Seas, from where its remains were shipped to London, via Norway. The name Whalebones first appears on maps in 1872, however the namesake house is a half-century older, so the tradition may stretch further back.


According to local legend, the great polar explorer John Franklin lived part of his life in Whalebones House and was the first to erect whale bones in the entrance. Whalebones Park is 14 acres of green space in High Barnet, but unfortunately the ‘Private Property’ sign at the entrance ensured no uninvited visitors went wandering about. A pity as I would have liked to have seen the house too! 


During a trip to the shops, I passed these houses and wanted to learn more, so did a

bit of digging on Google. It appears that almshouses are a great British tradition,

dating back more than a thousand years, and is now a concept that has been

taken up around the world.


The first almshouses were established in York in 970. There have been almshouses in Barnet since 1672 and the area still has well over a hundred. Few outer London boroughs can boast a richer heritage, Barnet clearly having benefited from the fact that it was a day’s ride from the city and was regarded as a nearby country town where the poor were in need of support. Most of Barnet’s many almshouses bear the names of the original benefactors and still play a significant role in providing accommodation for elderly people of limited means.


Eleanor Palmer was an English philanthropist who established a charity to help the poor of Chipping Barnet. Her charity, The Eleanor Palmer Trust started in 1558, still exists and owns and runs 74 almshouses and sheltered homes for the elderly. The Leathersellers’ Company has 21 flats at Leathersellers’ Close.


The foundation stone for the almshouses built by The Leathersellers Company, one of the ancient livery companies of the City of London was laid in 1837, with further wings added in 1849 and 1866. Originally intended for poor members of the company or their widows the white brick Gothic with its Victorian chapel, decorative chimneys and ironwork gates now provide accommodation for the elderly. The Ravenscroft Cottages were built in 1672 but rebuilt in the 19th century. 

Not too far from the house is a small but pretty park, Ravenscroft Gardens, where I spent quite a few hours, chilling in the sunshine, and people watching. It’s a scenic area well used by the locals for allowing the spending of pent up energy of children and dogs alike. Although it’s not an imaginatively planted garden, it boasts a beautiful collection of mature trees, providing shade from the summer sun.


A lady I saw there every day, approached

and asked that I take a photo of her. I mentioned that I had no way of getting the images to her, she replied “I don’t want them; please send them to Prince Harry, I’m sure he is mistaken by marrying that other lady, because he is in love with me!”

The park was originally called Barnet Recreation Ground but the name was changed to Ravenscroft Gardens after the 17th century lawyer and merchant, James Ravenscroft, the ‘Great Benefactor’, whose local charitable projects include almshouses which are still in use today. 

Over the road from the park is The Black Horse pub, which boasts its own a brewery yard, home to the Barnet Brewery who brew their own beer in casks and bottles. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to enjoy the wares, but may well do so in the future! 


The Barnet United Reformed Church stands where there has been a church since 1669, with the present church dating from 1893. The Ewen Hall to the left of the church is widely used by church and community groups and was opened in 1907. During WW1 Ewen Hall, which had opened in 1907 as the church hall, was lent to the War Office by the Deacons of the Church for use as an auxiliary military hospital. 

I stopped in at the St John the Baptist Church which stands at a crossroads on the high street of Barnet. Records indicate that a chapel was in existence here in 1272, built to serve the needs of the people of the village, the market and those who passed through.


In the early 1500’s the town was growing and the small church inadequate so granted permission in 1415 to enlarge the church of St John the Baptist. In around 1420, the church was rebuilt in the perpendicular style. In 1872 major restoration and building work was carried out and the church was re-consecrated in 1875 making St John the Baptist one of the largest parish churches in the area.


Records of baptisms, marriages and burials in the church date as far back as the 1700’s!  


This massive alabaster and marble tomb was erected as a dedication to Thomas Ravenscroft and his family.


It features his prone figure, carved from a single block of pink alabaster, on an altar tomb, with six shields of arms in memory of his six children.


The ornate canopy is supported by three columns, and behind the figure is an inscription plaque to Thomas Ravenscroft dated 1632, with two further heraldic shields dedicated to his two wives. 

Not far from St John’s is Tudor Hall, the original site of the Queen Elizabeth’s School for Boys. It was built around 1577 following the granting of a charter by Queen Elizabeth I in 1573. Although the building was erected in 1577; ‘1573’ is the date of the foundation of the Grammar School which can be seen on a plaque and above the door. According to the current school records, for several hundred years “boys had to attend church on Sundays ‘in an orderly manner’ or face a punishment of six lashes”. The school has long outgrown these premises and the hall is currently used as a banqueting hall and conference space and is available for private hire.  


With loads of places still to explore, I was glad of the good weather!


2 responses to “New places, new faces, new fun #1 – settling in & exploring.”

  1. Cheyrl Wilkinson says:

    Awesome info and pics thanks for sharing S take care x x

  2. Pauline Smith says:

    As usual, some beautiful photos. Had a good laugh about the lady, her photo and response.

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