Community Focus Trail: Wood Street (Chipping Barnet)

By Community Focus

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Community Focus is a specialist arts organisation in the London Borough of Barnet. It exists to encourage disabled and older people to participate in the arts in pursuit of education, recreation, personal development and comradeship - cultivating creativity, equality and strength in an inclusive and caring environment.

The word 'chipping' means market and it was the presence of one at the western end of Wood Street that gave this area its original importance. A Royal Charter had been granted in 1199 to allow the buying and selling of cattle, horses and at a later date, pigs — although a variety of other goods, including corn, pottery, wool and hides were also sold.

However, by the 1830s the market was in decline and a thriving coach trade replaced it as the main source of local income. Chipping Barnet became a staging point for travellers going towards St. Albans and the North and a large number of inns, taverns and alehouses were established to provide for their needs.

With the coming of the railways (which bypassed Chipping Barnet), the coach trade disappeared and there then came a period of economic decline. It was followed by a growth in house building that brought with it streets of small terraced houses and numerous large villas.

The Wood Street Trail begins at its eastern end, Ravenscroft Park. Here one can find a parish boundary stone. These were important markers, because the Poor Law Act of 1601 had made local parishes responsible for caring for those who fell on hard times and the parish wardens kept a watchful eye upon whether or not any claimant was a bona fide resident of the parish.

Shows a photo of a boundary stone, about two feet high, next to a redbrick pillar.

Parish Boundary Stone

A few yards away there is a cattle trough placed there by the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association. This association was founded in 1859 by a then Member of Parliament called Samuel Gurney. Its aim was to improve the supply of drinking water available to the poorer classes, as the contamination of such supplies was held largely responsible for recurring outbreaks of cholera during the 1840s and 50s.

At a later date, the association also recognised that providing clean water for the large population of working horses, cattle and dogs, was also to be commended.

Shows a photo of a weathered stone trough.

Cattle Trough

Continuing to the left, there is a pair of large iron pillars and gates which guard the entrance to the Leathersellers Close. The Leathersellers Company bought this piece of land in 1603 and during the following 200 years it was mainly used for grazing animals.

Then, in 1838, the company decided to build almshouses here for its elderly members. These buildings were largely rebuilt in the 1960s although the small lodge beside the gates survives in its original form.

Shows a photo of a set of ornate iron gates.

Leathersellers Close Gates

With ones back to the Leathersellers Close, one can move forward into Wood Street and the Garrett’s Almshouses. These were the gift of John Garrett, a citizen and merchant of London who died in 1728.

He left, among other bequests, a sum of £800 which was to be used to purchase a piece of land upon which could be built six almshouses. Both of these things were achieved in 1731, at a cost of £400 — so the remaining monies were then used to establish a maintenance fund. The existing buildings were much restored in 1902.

Shows a photo of a long one-storey redbrick building separated into several dwellings.

Garrett’s Almshouses

Continuing along Wood Street, one comes to the Ravenscroft Almshouses. These were erected by James Ravenscroft in the 1670s and were built to provide for 'six sisters who may not be addicted to witchcraft'.

James Ravenscroft was a lawyer and a merchant whose wealth came from dealing in lace, currants and glass. He also owned land and left 10 acres of it to provide an endowment with which to support the almshouses. These buildings were restored in 1887, although the central archway and large stone tablet above, as well as the tablets in the rebuilt gate pillars, are all original.

Shows a photo of part of a church.

United Reform Church

Wood Street has two churches - one is the United Reform Church. There have been several places of worship on this site. The first was in 1669 and was described as 'a room in a common yard'. It was followed by the building of a small chapel in 1719 and this was then replaced with a church in 1824. The existing building was erected in 1893.

The Ewen Hall next to the church was built in 1907 and served as a hospital during the First World War.

There are several small cottages on either side of Wood Street - most of them having been built in the early 18th or 19th century. One such cottage bears the name 'Pepys Cottage'. Although he did not live here, the 17th century diarist did have links with the district in that he visited a local and once popular well called the 'Physic Well' in order to sample its medicinal water.

Shows a photo of the body of a church with a thin spire.

St. John the Baptist Church

At the western end of Wood Street there is the church of St. John the Baptist. It is known that a small chapel was on this site during the 13th century but this was replaced with a larger building in the 15th century.

The existing building is largely a rebuild and enlargement carried out in the 1870s by the architect William Butterfield. He specialised in church architecture and was a leading exponent of a style called 'Gothic Revival', which included the decorative use of light and dark brickwork or stone.

Shows a photo of a church tower in gothic revival style, with chequered sections.

St. John the Baptist Church

The tower of St. John the Baptist is about 70 feet high and from the top provides views over London and Hertfordshire. The bell chamber holds eight bells - all recast in 1892 - and there have been bells there since at least 1420. This date can be verified by the fact that the congregation were excommunicated in that year for failing to ring the bells when the Archbishop passed through Chipping Barnet. When standing at the top of the tower, one is about 550 feet above sea level.

Shows a photo of an sculpted alabaster tomb depicting a man lying down.

The Ravenscroft altar tomb.

Thomas Ravenscroft was an important landowner during the 16th/17th century and his altar tomb was erected by one of his sons, James, in 1630. The reclining figure is carved from a single piece of pink alabaster and the shields of arms set along the front of the tomb are those belonging to his six children.

Shows a photo of a lead crystal jug.

Lead Crystal

George Ravenscroft was a person of great importance in the world of glass manufacture, for it was he who helped free English glassworkers from a dependence upon imported raw materials. In the 1670s he began to experiment with materials available in England and eventually produced a lead crystal of such quality that English glass reigned supreme for the next 100 years.

Shows a photo of a carved wooden pew end.

Pew End

There are 159 pew ends within the church, each one carved with a different symbol or picture from the Bible or Christian history. The carving was carried out in 1896 by Harry Hems, who was considered to be one of the foremost sculptors of that time.

Shows a photo of an old redbrick building with an arched entrance above which is the date 1573 in stone.

The Tudor Hall.

Across the street from the church is the surviving part of the original Queen Elizabeth Boys School — founded by a Royal Charter that was granted in 1573. Although Elizabeth gave her approval to the school, its building had to be funded by monies that were raised locally and all pupils had to pay an admission fee.

Shows a photo of a blue plaque to William Cattley.

Cattley Plaque

Further along Wood Street, at its eastern end, is a blue plaque to William Cattley. Cattley was a keen botanist and is credited with introducing to this country what is commonly called the 'Corsage Orchid'.

Shows a picture of a pink orchid flower in close-up.

The Queen of Flowers

The ‘Queen of Flowers' orchid was introduced into this country by accident, when Cattley received an import of plants from Brazil in 1818. He noticed what appeared to be a kind of bulb amongst the packing material and he decided to nurture it in his greenhouse, curious to see whether or not it would produce anything. This flower was the result.

Community Focus hopes that you have enjoyed this trail. The 'My Life-Our Heritage' project has devised several trails within the London Borough of Barnet and the group hope that other individuals or groups may avail themselves of the Heritage experience that they can provide.

Community Focus can offer guided walks or slide shows related to these trails and if you would like any further information about this - then please contact us at: 020 8346 9789.

All photography and pictures courtesy and copyright of Community Focus.

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