Sunday 20 October 2013

At risk: the historic landscape of Broken Barnet

 Church Farmhouse, c 1908 - pic courtesy

*Updated Monday: see below

As we know, culture, art, and heritage are of absolutely no interest to the philistine Tory councillors of Broken Barnet. A library or a museum is a propery waiting to be developed; an asset on a list. Art and culture are, according to Councillor Robert Rams, freely available at the end of a short journey on the Northern Line, so no need for it round here. And after viewing a scale model of the Battle of Barnet in the local museum, still clinging on thanks to local campaigners and a confusion over the ownership of the building, he reportedly asked: why does Barnet need a museum?

They closed the Church Farmhouse Museum, without even the slightest shudder of remorse, keen to sell the building and grounds for development, and happy to flog the entire collection of local artefacts, built up over many decades in a shabby auction in a church hall in the midlands. Barnet Tory leader Richard Cornelius sneeringly dismissed the collection, our heritage, as being of no value. Value, for the Tory councillors of Broken Barnet, if not financial, exists not at all. 

They see everything as a commodity, and a source of profit, or they do not see it at all. This is how they were so easily persuaded to sign up for the Capita contracts, of course: the keywords profit, savings, were dangled in front of their eager shining faces, and they immediately fell into a submissive, trance-like state, open to any and all suggestions from the senior officers and consultants pushing the mass privatisation plans.

Sometimes, like the appetite of small boys ransacking an unsupervised sweet shop, the greed of our Tory administration overcomes any sense of restraint, or need for caution, and they find themselves in trouble, caught sticky handed, and nowhere to run. And this has happened with the attempt to sell the former Church Farmhouse Museum.

The sale of the former museum, a grade 2*listed house, dating back to the seventeenth century, was cunningly conceived by certain Tory members, who thought they could offload the building to Middlesex University, a body which has been very keen to buy up other council property in what is the oldest part of Hendon, and a conservation area. 

The deal fell through, however, after the closure of the museum when the University found itself in a less advantageous financial position, and unable to bid for it. No other offer was forthcoming, unsurprisingly, for this unique property, the listing meant to protect the fragile fabric of its internal and external features making development a difficult and unprofitable prospect. 

You may recall that until Mrs Angry asked about security, and the prospect of occupation, there was none, which is rather odd, is it not? Readers may well be wishing that as well as the Carnegie endowed library in Friern Barnet, the museum had also been occupied, and saved for the borough.

What to do? Lumbered with a closed museum, and an unsaleable property, the desperate council managed to persuade the University to take a short lease, which would take them over the election period and partially disguise the total failure of their infamous plan. Part of the deal was that the tenants would spend a bit of money on making the property 'more marketable'. We do not know what exactly that meant, or if English Heritage had agreed to any such proposals.

The latest development is that Middlesex University is now reported to have pulled out of this agreement because, or so rumour has it, the deteriorating building is in such a state of disrepair: one story suggests that the staircase needs replacing, at an estimated cost of £800,000.

So: they shut the museum, sold its contents, left it unsecured, unrepaired and disintegrating, a perfect metaphor for everything precious left in their hands by the residents of this Capitalised, re-barneted borough - and all for nothing. No profit, no savings, no future.

It seems clear now that the use of this delicate building as a museum was in fact the most appropriate way to keep it in good order, and serving the local community. Numbers of visitors were proportionate to the risk of damage, and perfectly suited the function of the museum. Nothing has been achieved by the closure, except a huge bill for the upkeep of an empty building.

The obvious thing to do is bring the building back to life in the way it was: as a local museum. True, the collection has been sold, but local societies such as HADAS and the Finchley Society have plenty of material, and indeed, so does the local archive collection. Unfortunately the local archives are apparently of no interest to the current administration, and indeed have been relegated to a desk in the reference library in Hendon. 

If you look at the online image bank, you will see that the council owns a large number of pictures and historic photographs of local views, many of which should be on permanent display - and would be in any other borough. 

Why not use the Church Farmhouse? Local groups could be co-opted into running the venture, and lottery funding or similar grants could be applied for. Surely this is a more positive outcome than subsidising an empty, decaying property?

Let's turn to another act of council enabled vandalism - the development of Hendon Crematorium. Mrs Angry has a leading letter in the Barnet Press on this very subject, this week, as it happens.

The Gatehouse at Hendon Crematorium: about to become a Capita cafe?

At a recent council meeting a Capita representative cheerfully announced that they would be turning the cemetery grounds into 'an open green space', and install a cafe there, all no doubt in order to facilitate an enhanced bereavement experience for grieving customers, and something to cheer up those foolish residents who made the mistake of dying before they could directly experience the joy of living in Capitaville.

The  Crematorium was opened in 1903, its tudoresque Gatehouse designed by architect Alfred A Bonella. Run by Capita now, who must seek to make profit out of us in life, as in death, and probably in the world to come. In the meanwhile, we all look forward to picnics and barbeques amongst the gravestones, and skateboarding along the pathways, dodging the gatherings of mourning relatives and the funeral corteges of new customers.

But what lies behind the proposed development of the cemetery grounds? 

The land is protected from most forms of building development - or so we hope - but is there a wider agenda? 

Under planning regulations, proposed buildings in any undeveloped land may be refused on the grounds of a lack of local open space. Designating a new open space would free up other less protected sites for exploitation by speculative developers.

This week has seen the emergence of other threats of inappropriate development of our open spaces, and most worryingly in two cases, locations with immensely important historic significance.

The first of these proposals is simply unbelievable - 'staggering', as it is described in the local Times article here :

Go back to the story of Robert Rams staring incomprehendingly at the model of the Battle of Barnet. That battle, a pivotal moment in the history of this country, where the young Richard III fought, and Warwick the Kingmaker died? It took place in the Hadley Green area of Barnet, and many sources place much of the fighting, and possible the location of the elusive mortuary chapel, in the grounds of Old Fold Manor, since 1910 a golf club.

Old Fold Manor House and grounds

The management of this club is now proposing to turn part of its grounds into a landfill site, for a private company's waste disposal business.

This venture will not only disturb the highly sensitive archaeological evidence that is still waiting to be properly assessed, these scandalous plans include the removal of sixty trees.

Apart from the indefensible loss of any trees for any reason, and the impact of such an action on the ecology of the surrounding environment, this location is known to have ancient hedgerows, one of which has been dated back to the time of the battle, (an assessment featuring in an episode of the BBC series 'Two Men in a Trench') - contemporary sources refer to a hedge in accounts of the battle, which demonstrates the particular sensitivity of such landmarks. Such atrocious vandalism cannot, must not be allowed.

There are now, Mrs Angry can exclusively reveal, plans to carry out the first widespread survey of the site of the Battle of Barnet, which will aim to cover the wider area of the potential archaeology. If any trace of this momentuous event is found, the implications and interest it will provoke will be of immense significance, not least because it is the only battlefield site within the greater London area, but would be a discovery of national importance.

Tory leader Cornelius, mindful no doubt of further damage to the Conservative vote in what was, but is no longer, the secured heartland of his own local association, is quoted in the article as mildly critical of the proposed landfill site:

Personally I am opposed to this as it doesn’t sound like a sensible idea at all. I look forward to the planning process scrutinising it closely.”

That would be the planning process now handed into the safe hands of ... Capita. And relying on the scrutiny of our elected Tory members is not a course of action that has proved awfully effective in the past, is it? Still: a Tory ward, and in the last few months before an election. That helps.

Another application which may or may not be helped by electoral considerations is the proposal not to develop part of an existing golf course, but to create one, in the ancient farmland belonging to Edgwarebury Farm, a location well known to me, as it was within walking distance of my childhood home. See this infuriating story in the Barnet Press here .

Edgwarebury Farm is a rural retreat, on the very edge of London, with a weather boarded, seventeenth century farmhouse documented as being the target of Dick Turpin's gang, a violent episode involving robbery -  and the rape of a female servant. There used to be a clutter of other dwellings there, including one of great fascination  to us as children, a tiny house made from a disused railway carriage. Public rights of way allow easy access - you can walk all the way from Edgware to Elstree through the farm, if you wish.
The farmland - on greenbelt land - is owned by All Souls College, but the area has a very long history that predates their ownership, including evidence of a celtic field system, and then, most significantly of all, is its proximity to the Roman site of Sulloniacis, at Brockley Hill, which has the remains of an important pottery, and is believed to have been a stopping post and settlement mentioned in the Antonine itinery of routes.

pottery from a dig on Brockley Hill, in the 1970s

You might argue that installing a golf course is a suitable use of greenbelt land. I would disagree, at least in this context. Farmland which has been so for such a long time should be protected as such, just as a listed building would be. Such a landscape has an instrinsic beauty and an integrity of purpose which would be ruined by the anachronistic imposition of a golf course. 

There are also sensitive ecological issues to consider, but the underlying concern should be, as in the case of Old Fold Manor, to preserve any latent archaological features, as well as the historic landscape itself. 

 Edgwarebury Farm

See the website of the Broadfields Resident Association for further information about this latest threat to one of the last remaining farms of this former part of Middlesex - and to sign the petition against the proposals:

The danger to our historic legacy, from so many different proposals, is continual, and increasing as the laws that are meant to protect such  buildings and locations are watered down by a Coalition government intent on supporting developers and business rather than the legacy of our past and the preservation of our environment. On a local scale, vigilance is the eternal duty of all of us, and with that duty comes the need to stand up and be counted, when it counts.

Stand up, then: and do the right thing. Tell your councillors why you object to these proposals, and object to them through the planning process - while you still have the right. 

*Updated Tuesday: 

It seemed to be rather an odd coincidence that two such contentious proposals regarding golf courses and local historic sites should emerge in the same week. 

On further investigation, Mrs Angry has discovered further coincidences and some deeply disturbing new aspects to the proposals, the implications of which we may not yet be in a position fully to understand.

The company proposing to impose a golf course on the historic Edgwarebury Farm is 'Bridgedown Ltd', owned by a Mr Tony Menai Davis, who is already the owner of another local course, The Shire, in St Albans Road, in Barnet. 

If you look this course up on a map, you will see that it is just exactly on the other side of the St Albans Road to the longer established Old Fold Manor House club and golf course.

Mr Menai Davis, we learn from this article, made his money from landfill. 

Old Ford Manor is of course under threat from a proposed creation of a landfill site - there is no suggestion that Mr Menai Davis or his company is involved in the Old Fold Manor proposal; indeed at this point we do not know the identity of the company behind the current plan - but it is clear that the association of landfill and golf courses is not as unexpected as some might think, and it seems that a number of modern courses, including The Shire, were created in this way, using material from some very surprising sources.

"Developer Tony Menai Davis has built The Shire using landfill from a number of large construction projects including Heathrow's new Terminal Five and Wembley Stadium. Being paid to dispose of material transforms the economics of developing a golf course, especially one on a site that was, in its previous state as Bridgedown Golf Club, essentially pancake-flat."

Clearly the plans for Old Ford are indeed, as the Club manager suggested, that a development of the course will be achieved by this rather controversial method of landscaping.

Here is the really disturbing discovery, however: in the last quoted article new plans to build other golfing facilities are outlined, including one in the North London area:

"Menai Davis said the north London course, which is believed to be located on a site near the intersection of the M1 and A41 in Edgware, would be the first UK course for a world-renowned golf architect. He added the family intended to file a planning application for the project before the end of the year. The developments are all believed to be inert landfill-based projects."

Inert landfill.

Edgwarebury Farm lies between the M1 and the A41. And so it seems that if these outrageous plans are agreed, the historic landscape of this beautiful place will also soon be mercilessly torn apart, and shoved full of landfilled junk.

In case you are under any illusion about what this ravaging of the countryside will entail, take a look at this website detailing a campaign in Basildon which was fiercely opposing a similar development by another company, Jack Barker Golf.

There is already an abundance of underused golf courses in the greater London area. Redevelop them, if you must, with sensitivity, and without doing any further harm to the environment or the historic context. But to propose to destroy the unique landscape of ancient farmland at Edgwarebury, or a site of such national importance as Old Fold Manor: that is monstrous - absolutely unthinkable, in terms of the damage to the archaeology, the ecology, and the aesthetic impact that would be the result of such wilful destruction.

These plans must be stopped: and don't sit back and assume your council will do anything - they won't, unless you do. Please sign the petition via the link above to the Broadfields Residents Association, and write to the council to object to both proposals.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Someone should tell Philippa Gregory - she would be a very vocal opponent - especially after the BBC series actually dramatized the Battle of Barnet in 'The White Queen' - and it happened here!