Colney Hatch, Barnet
A recently transformed residential locality situated on the south side of Friern Barnet, formerly famous for its enormous mental hospital
Colney (nowadays pronounced ‘coney’) Hatch was a hamlet in 1409 and the hatch may have been a gate providing access to Hollick Wood.
In 1831 Colney Hatch had 33 inhabited houses but the hamlet was soon to be overwhelmed when it was chosen as the site for the new Middlesex County lunatic asylum.
Built in 1851 in the style of an Italian monastery, Colney Hatch asylum had its own gasworks, shoemakers, brewery, bakery and farm and became the best-known institution of its kind in the London area – so much so that throughout Middlesex and beyond its name became synonymous with mental illness. It was the largest mental hospital in Europe and at one time accommodated nearly 3,000 patients.
The planned construction of the neighbouring Great Northern Railway line was one reason for the choice of the site and Colney Hatch station was opened specifically to serve the asylum.
The old village expanded as a provider of goods and services for the asylum’s staff but the larger settlement that grew up to the east was named New Southgate out of a desire to avoid the negative connotations of Colney Hatch. The station’s name was later changed for the same reason and the asylum itself was renamed Friern mental hospital in 1937, and then simply Friern hospital in 1959.
The hospital closed in 1993 and a flock of developers descended on the site. Shown in the photograph above, the main building has been renamed Princess Park Manor and converted into 250 luxury apartments set in 30 acres of parkland. The hospital’s farmland has been laid out as Friern Village, a development of over 700 ‘executive homes’ and townhouses.
‘Colney Hatch’ was cockney rhyming slang for a match.
Postal district: N11
Website: Princess Park Manor (property developer’s site with irritating looped music and a ‘history’ page that omits any mention of the building’s original purpose)
Further reading: Steve Emecz (editor), Princess Park Manor – A History, MX Publishing, 2016
and David Berguer, The Friern Hospital Story, Chaville Press, 2012
William Hogarth’s ‘little country box by the Thames’ in Chiswick is now a museum and gallery.
Camley Street Natural Park is a miniature ecological wilderness just north of St Pancras station.
Junction Road has a gastropub that was restored in 2010 with help from English Heritage.
You can’t go inside Debenham House but even from the street it’s a remarkable sight.