By Stewart Wild
Our neighbourhood of Finchley does not have a place in history on a par with Hampstead, for example, but nevertheless has featured more often than some of our residents may realize.
The famous painter William Hogarth (1697-1764) featured our village in the title of one of his brilliant works. The March of the Guards to Finchley (1750), a satirical depiction of troops mustered to defend London during the Jacobite rebellion, now hangs in the Foundling Museum, Britain’s original home for abandoned children and London’s first public art gallery, at 40 Brunswick Square, WC1.
The painting is a depiction of a fictional mustering of troops on Tottenham Court Road to march north to Finchley to defend the capital from the second Jacobite rebellion of 1745, which was part of a series of uprisings that had been occurring since the late seventeenth century and were aimed at returning the Stuart dynasty to the throne after the Glorious Revolution of 1688. It portrays the soldiers in a humorous light, placing exaggerated emphasis on their inadequate training and lack of respect for discipline. The March of the Guards to Finchley was originally intended to be a gift to the King of England, George II. However, the king was insulted by the apparent lampoon of his best troops, and rejected it when it was offered to him.
In 1842-43 Charles Dickens (1812-70), having just returned from his first trip to America, spent a year or so at Cobley’s Farm in Bow Lane – near where Finchley Memorial Hospital now stands – where he wrote The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit, a satirical commentary on selfishness set largely in America. A commemorative plaque records his stay; it was placed on the wall of an Edwardian house in Queens Avenue situated on the site of the farmhouse. After Finchley, Dickens went to live in Italy and Switzerland.
Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953), the prolific Anglo-French poet, politician, writer and yachtsman, did not, as far as we know, ever reside in Finchley, but nevertheless put our area into verse with a sad quatrain entitled Lord Finchley.
Lord Finchley tried to mend the Electric Light
Himself. It struck him dead: And serve him right!
It is the business of the wealthy man
To give employment to the artisan.
On a lighter note, Finchley also appeared in the title and lyrics of a popular song. Older residents will remember a hit by the New Vaudeville Band that was launched on the airwaves in 1967 entitled Finchley Central. This band, who formed in 1966 and knew north London well, specialised in 1920s-style arrangements, and the lyrics informed the world that “Finchley Central is two and sixpence from Golders Green on the Northern Line”. As this is an unlikely journey to make on the Underground, perhaps they didn’t know north London so well after all.