On the face of it, there’s hardly a more nondescript part of London than Finchley. Since the area saw the back of its former MP, the largely unknown, quietly-spoken mother-of-two Margaret Thatcher, in 1992, there has been very little reason for this segment of north London to hit the headlines. But perhaps it’s now time to revisit the London Borough of Barnet for a few things you don’t know about the ‘finches’ lea’.
Finchley Road is somewhere else! As anyone who lives in Finchley will tell you, the area suffers from not being a few miles to the south-west. “Where are you from?” “Finchley.” “Oh, up the Jubilee line, right?” It does make you wonder if people who live on ‘London Road’ in places like Cambridge, Derby, Blackpool and Southampton spend their days explaining that they don’t actually live in the capital.
Isthmian League football may not be quite up to professional standards, but its flag is held proudly aloft every Saturday by the men of Wingate & Finchley FC. After a hard-fought 2-1 defeat to the tax man in 1991, Finchley’s own team was merged with nearby Wingate FC and these combined strengths have seen steady progress made at the Harry Abrahams Stadium. Two glorious triumphs in the London Senior Cup, won previously by the likes of Arsenal and Brentford, suggest an illustrious future ahead for the Blues.
Northern line travellers love a bit of Finchley. In addition to Finchley Central, both East and West Finchley get their own stations, and though Woodside Park has resisted the urge to take the name, everyone knows it’s really North Finchley. The latter does have a huge hub of a bus station but can never shake off the feeling it’s a slightly inferior product on the Finchley production line. The campaign to rename Woodside Park starts here!
Church End is the proper name for the area now more popularly known by the Central of its tube station. St Mary’s Church has been at the centre of the settlement for around 800 years, and although in the 1940s it joined the long list of buildings which had somehow displeased the Fuhrer, it does still retain sections dating back as far as the 15th century.
Hampstead Garden Suburb is a name you don’t hear that often. This is the recalcitrant cousin of Finchley, which was known by the solid, dependable moniker of South Finchley until the early 1900s when do-gooder Henrietta Barnett dreamt up a new social housing plan in the area just north of Hampstead Heath. Laudable as her aims of protecting parts of the heath from development may have been, did she not realise how her meddling would leave Finchley with a heart-wrenching emptiness at its southernmost compass point?
Libation suffers a torrid time in Finchley, at least in Church End. There are four pubs: the Catcher In The Rye and the Dignity are standard gastropubs (the latter having ‘upgraded’ not long ago from the type of comfy, lived-in pub that the area now desperately lacks). The Joiners Arms is a typical busy pub, fine for an afternoon gasper but probably best avoided of a weekend. Gertie Brownes, meanwhile, is a small, local saloon bar, and if it’s football and a pint you’re after, head there.
East Finchley is the dandy of the group. With its antique shops and posh cinema you do get the feeling it looks down on its Finchley stablemates, but when your history includes the birth of no less a figure than George Michael in the area, you have every right to feel a bit special.
Y is apparently the only letter in the Polish alphabet that you’ll never find at the start of a word. All right, so we struggled with Y, but Finchley doesn’t struggle with Polish as many of its shops will attest. The area is also home to Russians and Romanians, many Chinese and a large Jewish contingent, and the occasional Yank, which we could have started this paragraph with now we think about it.
So come to Finchley! You’ll never leave! Though, if you want to, the Northern Line’s pretty decent these days.
By Chris Lockie