Thursday, April 26thth 2018
Dr. Henry Stephens, inventor of the indelible ‘blue-black writing fluid’, the ink used by generations of businessmen, civil servants, schoolboys and just about everyone else capable of wielding a pen, in 1844 moved his family to Grove House in Ballards Lane, Finchley, where he could use the outbuildings for experimentation and the manufacture of his famous product.
Upon Dr Stephens’ sudden death in 1864, his son, Charles Henry ‘Inky’ Stephens, took over the running of the business, being already conversant with the manufacture and marketing of the ink. In 1874, having married, he bought Avenue House, a Victorian mansion set in extensive grounds. Stephens set about renovating and enlarging the house and having the gardens restyled by the horticulturist and garden designer Robert Marnock. In his will, Stephens bequeathed the house and gardens to ‘the people of Finchley’ and today it is run by a charitable trust. The grounds are open to the public.
We visited Avenue House and gardens under the misapprehension that the house could be visited. Unfortunately, this is not the case. It can be hired as a venue for weddings, conferences, etc. but not visited.
We took a stroll in the gardens which are beautifully set out and maintained. Stephens’ generosity has provided Finchley, and indeed the wider public, with a fine park.
We found this sculpture that seems to have been carved from the remains of a tree. There was no panel giving the name of the sculptor, just a notice that had slid down onto the ground, reading ‘WET PAINT DO NOT TOUCH’.
As you would expect in such a property, there was a large building that once served as stables. No horses or grooms are to be found within these days, though.
Instead, the stables have been converted into a very pleasant cafe, just the place to rest and take refreshment after exploring the grounds.
Near the cafe is this artwork by John Somerville, created as a monument to the comedian Spike Milligan who died in 2002. Entitled A conversation with Spike, it takes the form of a bench, one side of which is occupied by an effigy of Spike Milligan and the other is left free so that, if you wish, you may sit beside the comedian and engage him in imaginary conversation. I am uncertain whether this is amusing or somewhat macabre. The figures carved into the bench represent various episodes of Spike’s life and the shows in which he took part. Spike was a resident of Finchley and president of the Finchley Society which commissioned this memorial.