Sunday, 15 July 2012

Broken Barnet: The Shadow of the Workhouse

photo courtesy

Here is another scandalous tale to draw to your attention, citizens of Broken Barnet. And here is a pleasant surprise: Mrs Angry is going to praise the work of Barnet Council. Yes: me.

Ok: this was in the good old days, when the Leader of Barnet Council was a leader, and a Labour leader - former Councillor Alan Williams. To explain:

A few weeks ago, Mrs Angry wrote a post about the state of the NHS in Barnet, and referred in passing to the sad spectacle that is the site of the demolished Workhouse that once stood on what is now part of the grounds of Barnet General Hospital.

This is what I said then:

Unfortunately yesterday morning I had occasion to see for myself that all these years later, (and despite the continual complaints from patients and visitors about the cost and chronic shortage of parking at Barnet General) the workhouse site is still derelict, still fenced off with temporary (or rather, no: long term interim?)- barricades, so old now that some of the sections are themselves disintegrating, or being held up with lengths of rope staked in the ground.

I suppose the land is more valuable as a potential source of development, rather than a car park, and will, like so many other former public building sites in the borough, be flogged off as soon as they think they can get away with it.

Peering through the fence, now, you find an ugly wasteland of self sown weeds, rough patches of grass, a opportunistic collective of ash trees squatting amongst the remaining bricks and discarded fixtures of the old workhouse. It occurred to me that it all presented a fitting metaphor for so many of the things that are wrong with Broken Barnet, and wrong within a wider context too. The destruction of our social history, and heritage, the use of land for profit, rather than the benefit of the community - and the new reality of lessons forgotten from our social history coming back to haunt us now, nearly two centuries after the workhouse was built.

Now look: Mrs Angry's favourite councillor, new boy Arjun Mittra, whom she is thinking of adopting, (happy to do a swop for one of her own children, Mrs Mittra) and who rather refreshingly reminds readers on his blog, in between appreciative reports of the buffet at the full council meeting, that he has been elected to serve his community, wrote recently about the new pressure on healthcare provision in Barnet due to big changes (CUTS) in services at Chase Farm hospital - made in contradiction to David Cameron's specific pre election promises, by the way.

The increased burden on Barnet General's resources will be immense, not least in the dramatic increase in demand for what is already a chronic shortage of parking. Ah: parking ... read what Arjun has to say in these posts:

and updated here:

Clearly something is afoot, and Mrs Angry's instinctive suspicion that the land supposedly set aside for parking, but left unused for so many years, has been secretly earmarked for a more profitable development may well be correct.

When the original plans for the development of the hospital were made, more than ten years ago, the developers somehow failed to flag up the interesting fact that the Workhouse, dating from the early 1830s, and one of the first to be built in the country, was included in the list of buildings due for demolition. In fact there was no need for the demolition, as it was nowhere near the main building of the hospital. When we told Alan Williams what had happened, and how we were about to lose a building of such significance to the history of Barnet, he immediately had it added to the local schedule of listed buildings. The hospital knocked it down anyway, allegedly due to a pressing need for extra parking. The site was left, fenced off, since then, despite the constant complaints about the lack of parking for patients and their visitors.

Councillor Mittra has had problems writing to Mr Mark Easton, the Chief Executive of Barnet and Chase Farm Hospitals, and so has Mrs Angry. For some reason, his in box rejects emails raising this thorny issue. Mrs Angry will therefore publish her letter here, and keep trying until she gets a response.

Dear Mr Easton

I am a resident of Barnet, and I also write the 'Broken Barnet' blog about a variety of local issues.

A matter which I am about to address again in my blog is the matter of the site in the grounds of Barnet General Hospital which marks the spot of the sadly demolished Workhouse.

About ten years ago, I was involved, with Dr Gillian Gear of the Barnet Museum, in attempting to save the Workhouse, the demolition of which had only been approved by default as the original development plans failed to highlight the fact that the historic buildings, dating from the 1830s, were included in the area to be cleared. The then Labour leader of the council, when alerted to the imminent loss of a building of such importance - apart from the fact that it was one of the earliest built, it had associations with Dickens & Oliver Twist - immediately had the building put on the local schedule listing. Ignoring this, the hospital knocked it down. The reason given for this wanton act of destruction was that extra parking was urgently needed. That was, as I repeat, ten years ago, and yet the plot has remained unused, fenced off, while patients and visitors have been kept desperately short of parking spaces.

I wrote about this disgraceful situation fairly recently, and speculated then that the hospital trust was deliberately waiting until a suitable time to redevelop the site. It seems I was right.

I should like to ask you some questions, and I would be very grateful if you would respond.

1. Why did the hospital trust destroy this historic building, in defiance of the local authority's scheduling?

2. Why did the trust not, as we suggested, retain the building and use it for accommodation for key workers or social housing?

3. Why has the site remained unused for ten years despite the chronic shortage of parking?

4. What are your intentions for the future use of the site now?

I look forward to your response,

Yours sincerely,

Mrs Angry

Let's see how long it takes to get an answer, shall we?

*PS: thinking about this post, and the awful loss to our social history that the needless demolition of the workhouse represents, Mrs Angry reread that marvellous Victorian poem, 'Twas Christmas Day in the Workhouse' ... you can read it here if you want: a fabulous, mutinous response to the contemptible notion of the deserving and undeserving poor, now fashionable once more with our coalition government, and here in Broken Barnet, where Councillor Tom Davey and his Tory colleagues are allocating social housing on the basis of moral judgement, rather than need, and withdrawing entitlement for those unfortunate residents who, as Davey told us this week 'will not help themselves'.

You come here to watch us feeding, as they watched the captured beast;
Here's why a penniless pauper, spits on your paltry feast.
Do you think I will take your bounty and let you smile and think
You're doing a noble action with the parish's meat and drink?


John Salmon said...

Fascinating Blog Mrs Angry. Will follow closely to see how things develop. Well done to you.

Mrs Angry said...

thanks John. Let's see what happens now ...