How a history of conflict split Henrietta Barnett’s Suburb legacy

With Henrietta Barnett School at the top of the league tables and looking to the future after its multi-million pound development, it is almost inconceivable that it was facing eviction from Central Square as recently as the 1990s.

The school was founded in 1911 and housed in the Institute – Henrietta Barnett’s dream for an adult education centre in the heart of the Hampstead Garden Suburb.

In the earlier part of the 20th century the school was very much a bit-part player to its larger sibling.

Mr Harold Lacey, the first secretary to the Institute, said: “The Institute should not only provide education for all, irrespective of race of religion, and from four to four-score – but foster the growth of a host of self-governing societies catering for the catholic tastes of a well-balanced community.”

After the Second World War the then Secretary of State for Education suggested the school be given free rein of the building and the adult education centre should move elsewhere.

But the Institute put its foot down and the conflict did not rear its head until decades later.

In the early 1990s, space was at a premium and the school and Institute were jostling for room.

Most Read

But by 1993 the Institute complained to Barnet Council that the school had 95 per cent use of its premises during the day, forcing it to rent outside premises for �60,000 a year.

In addition, funding had also taken a tumble, going from paying for half of the centre’s outgoings to just 10 per cent.

The Institute was facing a �150,000 deficit and was looking for the school to bail them out by paying rent.

Worse was to come. The Institute threatened the school with eviction if they refused to cough up the rent.

Tensions were compounded when it emerged that part of the building was in danger of collapse and it would take �380,000 to repair.

Author of Henrietta’s Dream, Kathleen Slack, wrote: “The Institute faced the greatest crisis of its life which rose to epic proportions when it suffered from the decrease in grant from the borough of Barnet.”

After open confrontation in the local press and Suburb News, the issue went to the High Court where a judge said the Institute would have to give the school two years notice to evict it.

Suburb News publisher Richard Wakefield, whose sister went to the school, printed an edition in protest after feeling he was being censored.

He said: “I printed it with white gaps.

“I thought the Institute was wrong in the way it handled the situation and others disagreed. It was a very fraught time.”

The dispute was resolved only when the school eventually bought the grounds for �9million, making it possible for the Institute to move to East Finchley where it is today.