The fine old house in the title is Church Farmhouse Museum in Hendon, and the reason for the sad goodbye will be explained later though the Web site to which I have linked it is clear enough.
We started our day by returning for breakfast to Cafe Maya (see Rained Off) and then went for a little walk around Clerkenwell. We were meeting friends for a trip up the line to Hendon but, in the meantime had an hour to spare.
Our first discovery was this building. Today it is one of the Clink Backpackers’ Hostels but alterations have been carried out fairly sympathetically. Tigger asked if we might take photos inside and permission was granted.
At least two of the courtrooms have been largely preserved (though with added decoration), one as a TV lounge and one as a computer room. Brass plates still indicate the various positions in the room. The young man in the check shirt, for example, is seated at the Court Usher’s desk.
Now a grade II listed building, the court house was built in 1840-42, but as this splendid stained glass roof shows, certain refurbishments were carried out during the reign of Edward VII and perhaps at other times as well.
Beneath the glass roof in the entrance hall is this mosaic. Its age is less easy to determine and it may date from the original construction. We assume that the initials “MP” stand for Metropolitan Police. This was in fact a police court and a police station stood close to it in the grounds. The Metropolitan Police was formed in 1829, earlier than the building, so the association is quite plausible.
On the way up the road to King’s Cross where we were to meet our friends, we stopped for a couple of pictures of Willings House, better known to some people as the Grays Inn Road branch of Travelodge. Built in 1910 for Willings Advertising, on the roof it sports a rather famous sculpture of Mercury. I didn’t photograph it this time but you will find pictures of it on the Web easily enough, for example here.
Instead, today I preferred to photograph these two carved panels. The one on the left is perhaps the more striking because of the contrast of sunlight and shadow.
Having met our friends, we made our way by tube, bus and foot to Church Farmhouse Museum on Greyhound Hill, Hendon. It is one of the oldest dwelling houses in Hendon. The house and the surrounding land served as a farm from no later than 1688 until the 1940s. It is a fine, if somewhat fragile, example of its kind.
Three of the rooms hold permanent exhibitions. The first (see above) is the 1850s dining room, possibly my favourite. These rooms perhaps contain more articles than would be found in a real lived-in room but they give an good impression of the rooms when in use.
The second permanent room is the 1820s kitchen with the wonderful fireplace and the long table for food preparation.
The Victorian laundry room with its sheet press and stoneware sink (using water from the well outside) is the third permanent room. Today’s modern machines may blind us to the importance of laundry in times past. It was so time consuming and labour intensive that it was a major part of the household work.
The upper rooms are used for temporary exhibitions. of which there has been a rich and varied sequence, admirably set up by the museum’s director, Gerrard Roots. Currently, an exhibition on Beck and his Underground maps is being shown. We were not allowed to photograph this so, of course, we didn’t.
An exhibition entitled The Moving Toyshop was being wound down, lending a rather desultory look to the place. The floors in these upper rooms are so fragile that the number of people in a room at any one time must not exceed 15.
In one room, the exhibition was being packed away and this gives some impression of the work that goes into setting up and subsequently dismantling the quite complex displays.
Behind the farmhouse is a large garden with a pond and a well. Perhaps there would have been fruit trees here as well. It must have been a pleasant spot where one could sit and relax on a sunny day, though the inhabitants would have had precious little time for such lazing.
Beyond the garden gate, there is land which would have been farmed but is today a park. It seems that the families living here farmed different amounts of land at different times, perhaps according to need and their ability to work it.
This view shows how these three traditional elements of village life – farmhouse, pub and church – here stand in close proximity to one another.
Once the Church House, and later rebuilt several times, what is now the Greyhound is a country pub in a busy part of London, a remarkable survival on its own account.
As you may have read in the museum’s Web site, Barnet Council now wants to close the museum, despite protests and demands that it be kept open. As well as being an important part of Hendon’s living history, Church Farmhouse is an educational resource, visited by parties of school children as well as the general public. At a time when many children do not know that milk comes from a cow or think that cotton comes from sheep, such resources are of huge importance.
Perhaps if the museum had provided only static displays of rooms (though even that, in itself, is already an important contribution), the Council might be pardoned for trying to save money in these difficult times. But, year in, year out, the museum has hosted a remarkable and wonderful series of exhibitions on a broad range of topics, persuading experts and collectors to lend their treasures for the pleasure and edification of the public. The visitors’ book provides eloquent testimony to the success of this work.
The future of this beautiful, historic and iconic building must now be in serious doubt, despite its listing. I can only hope that in some way or other it will be saved, even if mothballed for a while, so that at some not-too-distant future date, we may again visit it, enjoy it and learn from it; that today’s sad farewell may be forgotten in a joyful reunion.