Volume 8 - Down the Roman Road to Edgware

R S Brown, 1976

pages 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18

High Street

Mr L. Scadden describes the old High Street of over half a century ago as, "A long, wide street made up of the usual types of buildings to be encountered in a country town, including small antiquated shops and humble cottages interspersed with better class dwelling houses.  A few respectable taverns and hostelries remained, which in the good old coaching days were undoubtedly houses of some consequence.  Nowadays there is not much left of the old shops and buildings."

Perhaps it will help the reader to get the scene at that time in better perspective if the actual establishments which then existed are set out in detail.

Approaching from the London end of the High Street, the first shop in the row on the west side was Mialls - where cycles were sold and this was followed by an upholsterer (Warwick); butcher (Cheshire); dairy (Angus Keen); the Old Court House; mens' outfitters (Allpress); fishmonger (Barlow); saddler (Pruden); removal agent (B.N.Taylor); newsagent and confectioner (Shoobridge); and then the Mason's Arms public house on the corner of Whitchurch Lane.  On the other side of this lane was a baker (Thorndicks); another newsagent and confectioner (Hoding); butcher (Stone); grocer (Cheeld); greengrocer (Seabrook); Edgware Hardware Store; undertakers (Stonebridge & Son); Beehive public house and Ballards Yard (which housed Mr Newell, the village blacksmith and, farther down, the Middlesex Steam Carpet Beating Company).  Doctor Findlater's house was the last building before the stone pillars and iron gates leading to Canons Drive, once the carriageway to the Chandos mansion of Canons.

Crossing to the east side of the High Street at this point to return to the village centre, the first building to be encountered was the post office on the corner of Manor Park Crescent.  On the opposite corner was Barclays Bank, with the corn chandler, Piggotts (later functioning in the role of seedsman) next door.  Then came an area of waste land hidden behind a hoarding followed by a baker's shop, (Rodwell); grocer and provisioner (Hendon Cooperative Society) and a row of six cottages.  Then came a bootmaker with solicitors (Vivian Wells) on the top floor.  On one corner of Station Road was the Boot public house with a large, crescent-shaped shop on the other corner.  This establishment was followed by another greengrocer, (Seabrook Senior); chemist (Horace Wright); watch repairer (Magill) - now in Station Road; - the George Inn; a rag and bone merchant, (Smith) and finally a greengrocer called Sears.

A few of the old establishments remain among which, happily, is the White Hart Hotel.  This is an interesting building which was thought to have dated from about 1700, but in 1972, well-preserved beams were discovered in a bedroom and in a kitchen attic which date back 200 years earlier.  This area of the building is regarded as being a rare example of late medieval architecture although the old coach entrance and remaining hotel structure were later additions.

Several old Edgware coaching inns once provided (and some still do) welcome refreshment and accommodation for travellers proceeding along the route to London, including - the Leather Bottle (now a popular restaurant); the Beehive (the Barn and Hay Wain); the Black Boot (demolished to make way for shops and flats); the Mason's Arms; the George Inn (demolished and moved to other premises); the Chandos Inn (although demolished, once boasted a fireplace originally installed in Canons); the White Hart (previously mentioned); the Crystal Palace (demolished); Prince of Wales (in Burnt Oak); the Royal Oak and the Stag.

In such a convivial atmosphere, numerous interesting local characters frequented the various inns, one of whom was nick-named 'Back Peddler'.  Local youths christened him thus because, when inebriated, he would retreat backwards from the last public house on his 'round' and continue walking in this strange fashion until he arrived home at his nearby cottage.  'B.P.' was regarded by the village children with affection as he rewarded them with pennies in return for a song.

There was a reference in volume 5 of this series (in the Whitchurch Lane narrative) to the 'Harmonious Blacksmith' of Edgware, William Powell, who was buried in St. Lawrence's Church in 1780.  According to tradition, the famous composer, Handel, took refuge in Powell's blacksmith's shop in the High Street during a shower of rain.  Handel was so impressed with the blacksmith's rhythmic performance on the anvil that he was inspired to write the well-known melody.  The blacksmith's shop - which was in reality just a barn, has been transformed into a shop for curios.

Early this century the blacksmith was also a volunteer fireman together with other tradesmen such as the milkman, butcher, grocer - and a turncock operator!  When a village fire was reported (usually a farmer's hayrick which had overheated and burst into flames) the old solid tyred engine was man-handled into the road while horses were rounded up from the village, hitched up and hurriedly driven to the scene of the conflagration.  The fire brigade head quarters was then situated on land adjoining the Black Boot but it was later transferred to the premises of the Leto Works where, ironically a serious fire gutted both station and engine.  A second hand petrol-driven engine was then purchased and during the period of the second world war the station was located in Whitchurch Lane.  In more recent years the brigade has been operating from a modern station in Honeypot Lane.

Another landmark in the High Street has for many years been the Council School.  Over half a century ago it was a combined junior and senior school with the more intelligent pupils moving on to Kingsbury County School at The Hyde, Colindale.  In those days Mr Swalwell was the headmaster and his staff consisted of Messrs Johnson, Smart, Blake, Partridge and Miss Coomber, the infant teacher.

A bell was rung in the school tower to call the children to lessons and late-comers were greeted at the main gate by prefects who escorted them to the headmaster's office for suitable punishment (usually the cane).

A new junior and infants school building and forecourt was opened in 1938 but the old classrooms are still in use.  Currently these premises accommodate the infants school where Miss B.Cooper is the headmistress.  The junior school is in Homing Road and the Com prehensive School in Green Lane.  All these establishments are under the jurisdiction of the London Borough of Barnet.

In this narrative it is appropriate to mention the electric tram car service which was extended from Cricklewood to Edgware by the Metropolitan Tramways Company in December, 1904, a thirty-minute journey which cost passengers 4d (2p).  The original terminus was in the High Street just north of the village centre but in October 1907 a single track was extended up the hill to Canons Corner.  Before the first world war this location was known as Stanmore Corner but the tramways company designated the stop as Canons Park.

Trams arriving from Cricklewood passed a coffee shop on the approach to the village crossroads and it was a common sight to see a conductor leap from his car, and hurry over the road to leave an empty flask with the shop-keeper for collection on the return journey to Cricklewood, duly filled.

For 31 years the trams rattled noisily through the village - sometimes brought to a halt when the arm extending from the roof became disconnected from the overhead cable: passengers would then sit patiently while the conductor struggled to reconnect the arm by means of a long pole, to the accompaniment of frequent bumping noises.

In 1936 the extension line to Canons Corner was abandoned and two years later trolleybuses replaced the main tramway link with Edgware.  Over the next fourteen years London's trams were gradually phased out in favour of trolleybuses and one of the last to run was a number 184 which finished at New Cross depot on 5th April, 1952.  The old lines were to remain embedded in main roads for many years as a final reminder of the popular tram service.  The trolleybus era ended in 1962 to be replaced by diesel buses.



Stonegrove is a continuation of the High Street route and was known earlier this century by its original name - Watling Street: it climbs steadily for about a mile, finally extending to Canons Corner beyond which is the steeper slope of Brockley Hill.

About half way up on the west side is a large three storey property built in Victorian style and called Stonegrove House.  Lower down on the other side is a pleasant, green open space called Stonegrove Park.  Stonegrove is obviously a prominent name in this region but its origin has yet to be discovered by our research team. 

The Leather Bottle Public House, which is on the same side as the park, is known to have been in existence since the mid-18th century and in 1860 Samuel Atkinson founded an almshouse for four elderly women.  This establishment is still functioning but was entirely rebuilt in 1957.  On the same side is another large almshouse - for eight persons - founded in 1828 by Charles Day, beautifully restored in 1959 with a stone ashlar facing.  Other large properties on the same flank of Stonegrove included Edgware Place, Hill House and Oakleigh House.

Stonegrove House is one of the older properties which still survives today but many others have been replaced on both sides of the slope by groups of large modern flats which stand well back from the highway.  Numerous large trees help to soften the outlines of the square buildings and despite the heavy weight of traffic which streams continuously in both directions, Stonegrove succeeds in retaining a pleasant, elegant image.  It has been a popular location for show business stars; among the personalities who have had homes nearby is Max Bygraves.