Leathersellers’ Close contains the Leathersellers’ Almshouses and related grounds. The two wings of almshouses and the central Chapel block were built between 1838 and 1866 in the Gothic style and then rebuilt and remodelled in 1964-1966. The small Victorian lodge dates from 1859.To the south of the central path are large ornamental iron gates and, just inside the gates, a pair of decorative Victorian lampposts. The extensive grounds are mostly laid to grass and contain many fine mature trees, including several beech and holly, a tulip tree and a Monterey cypress, together with mixed shrub borders and eight standard bay trees at the sides of the central path.
The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/09/2013
Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news.
The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.
Leathersellers' Almshouses from the south-east, April 2009. Photo: Clare Fullerton
Click photo to enlarge.
The Leathersellers’ Almshouses in Barnet have been known since 1962 as Leathersellers’ Close. At the time of the Domesday Survey Barnet was part of a much larger estate belonging to the Abbey of St Alban, remaining in the possession of the Abbey until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536-41, when the manor passed to the Crown. The Leathersellers’ Company is of ancient origin, first mentioned in 1372 in the reign of Edward III. Its first charter was granted in 1444 by Henry VI, which was confirmed by Elizabeth I and James I, and the Company is still governed by the charter of the latter. From 1603 the Company owned land in Barnet called Butfield or Baker’s Field, which was purchased with money left by Robert Rogers and Elizabeth Grasvenor. This area of Barnet is largely made up of London clay, which, because of its poor draining quality, did not lend itself to more intensive agriculture and Butfield remained pasture grazed by cows for over 200 years. The last leaseholder was a John Knightley, a cow keeper of Barnet. The Rocque topographical map of Middlesex of 1754 shows the division of fields in this area; the area later occupied by the almshouses is shown as open ground in the first map of Hertfordshire dated 1766 showing the village of Chipping Barnet.
In 1836, having considered the high ground of Barnet preferable to another possible site in Sydenham, the Leathersellers decided that this land at Butfield was a suitable location for the Company’s almshouses. Barnet at this time was still a rural village and was thought to be 'a much healthier location than the overcrowded city with its poor sanitation and frequent epidemics' (J Farrell 'A tale of two benefactors: the story of our almshouses' 2010-11). The Master, Richard Thornton (1776-1865) laid the foundation stone of the new almshouses on 25 July 1837. Six almshouses were built on the west of the site by Ward and Sons (the Company’s Surveyor), financed with money given by Thornton when he became Master. Known as Thornton’s Almshouses, they were built in the Gothic style, which was then 'considered the most appropriate architectural style for buildings of a morally uplifting nature' (Farrell). A lithograph by the artist C.H. Hill, dated 1837 shows a front view of this first block of almshouses: the site is largely laid to grass with a central path leading to the front door with a substantial porch, and separated from the path outside by a low picket fence and simple gate. Mature trees are shown at each end of the block, lower shrubs surrounding these and the surrounding area appears to be lightly wooded. However, there is still no sign of these buildings on the map of the London Watford Spring Water Company printed in 1850.
In 1849 Thornton offered the Company £500 towards an extension of the almshouses and in 1850-51 a second wing was built to the east of the site facing the original row, in a similar style but with a less ornate central porch. The Company purchased additional land to the east of the site in 1857 where a small brick lodge was built in 1859. The group of almshouses, forming three sides of an open square, was completed in 1866 at the instigation of Thornton, although he was to die before its realisation. This northern wing of a further six almshouses with a Chapel in the centre was built by Dove Brothers of Islington, again in the Gothic style. This extension was necessary to accommodate some old people who were transferred from Hasilwood’s Almshouses at St Helen’s Place because the premises there had been declared a fire risk and this new wing was called Hasilwood’s Almshouses.
There are several illustrations of the site at this stage of its development. A coloured lithograph by an anonymous artist shows the three completed wings with a distant view of open country to the north east. There are some inaccuracies with this, however , it is wrongly dated as 'c.1850', well before the completion of the building, and the lodge is considered by the Company to be wrongly positioned immediately adjacent to the southern end of the east wing. An almost identical version, owned by the Leathersellers’ Company, to which some figures have been added is dated 1871, which is more likely to be an accurate date. A pen and ink drawing, also of 1871 shows the three completed wings set in the grounds and fenced with iron railings separating the site from the path outside.
All these illustrations show two decorative lampposts and the same layout of the grounds, with a broad central path leading up to the Chapel, smaller side paths in front of the almshouses and areas of grass planted with trees. The size of the plants in the pen and ink drawing is considerably smaller than in the two coloured lithographs. A rather indistinct photograph, thought to date from about 1870, shows the completed almshouses separated from the path outside by railings and overlooking a large pond, which is known by the Barnet Archivists to have been filled in in 1873. The planting here also seems to be fairly low in height.
It is not until the first OS map of 1881 that the site is shown with all the buildings completed. Here the full extent of the site is clearly defined with the lodge in its correct position in the south-east corner, with the entrance to the site beside it. There is no central path leading to the Chapel, instead there is a shield-shaped patch of grass at the southern edge of the site and an oval path, surrounded by and enclosing trees and bushes, in front of the Chapel. The OS map of 1884 shows the same picture and it is not until 1898 that the 2nd edition OS map shows the layout with the central path that exists to this day. The surrounding area to the north has been extensively built up with rows of terraced houses. This 1898 map also shows that a north eastern section of the site has been disconnected and this had been built on in 1920.
In 1926 the Master of the Company, Frederick Dove, built and paid for a new Chapel and in the same year the ornate iron gates, which had been taken from St Helen’s Place, Bishopsgate, were installed. A photograph of the site dated 1928, taken across the grounds towards the west wing, shows the new Chapel with its single large central window. Several benches are shown placed along each side of the central path and there appears to be a large flagpole surrounded by bedding plants in the south east corner of the grass. Planting is dominated by a large, spreading cedar tree to the left of the path.
From 1962 all the almshouses were called Leathersellers’ Almshouses and the site was known as Leathersellers’ Close. The final major development of the site took place between 1964 and 1966 when the almshouses were rebuilt at a cost of nearly £100,000 using hand made bricks and Welsh slate to a design by the architect Kenneth Peacock. The rebuilding was necessary because conditions inside the almshouses had become so poor that the Company had been having difficulty finding tenants. The 1960s rebuilding left the exterior of the Chapel block as it was and the 1859 lodge by the side gate was also untouched. The elaborate Victorian chimneys on the Chapel block were also kept even though they are now purely decorative. The east and west wings, however, were entirely rebuilt as two-storey buildings with eight flats in each and the Chapel block was remodelled internally to provide three ground floor flats on one side with a common room, kitchen and sick bay on the other. Finally, in 1966 the common room was extended and the Victorian lodge was converted into a guest house.
The 2011 OS map shows the layout of the main buildings unchanged except for the addition of the Wardens’ bungalow in 1968 , with a garage and some small sheds. The almshouses received Grade II listed status in 1950 and the site became part of the Wood Street Conservation Area, designated in 1969 and extended in 1979. The lodge was previously the Matron’s house and a guest house, but now functions as an additional almshouse. Two semi-detached houses in the north-east corner of the site, Woodnorton and Holmcliffe, which were shown on the 1920 OS map, were sold off in 1971. A flagpole remains in the original position and the decorative Victorian lampposts have been retained but were moved to the inner corners of the central path in front of the main gates in 2010.
The layout of the grounds today remains the same with extensive areas of grass on either side of the central path and behind each of the wings. Most of the trees listed in the 1976 TPO remain, together with a large tulip tree behind the west wing. An aerial map of the site (2010) shows how mature some of the trees on site now are. Unfortunately the large cedar tree to the west of the central path died and had to be removed in 2004. An avenue of flowering cherries, which were admired by W H Gelder writing in 1979, unfortunately became diseased and had to be removed and were replaced in November 2011 by eight standard bay trees that had been growing in pots at St. Helen’s Place. It is thought by the current Warden that, apart from these and the large trees, most of the rest of the planting had been cleared when the rebuilding of the almshouses took place in 1964-1966 to be replaced by a selection of shrubs, many of them evergreen, mainly used around the edges of the site and as borders in front of the east and west wings. A hedge, mainly of bay, in front of the lodge was removed in 2009 to open up a vista to the east. There are rose beds on the terrace in front of the Chapel on either side of the steps.
The inscription on the lower commemorative plaque on the Chapel wall reads: 'Erected AD 1866 / By the Worshipful Company of Leathersellers / of the City of London / For the seven inmates of almshouses / in the said city / Founded AD 1544 / by John Hasilwood Esq. / George Robert Bengough Esq. Master/ John Ponler Esq. / John George Esq. / William Mortimore Esq.' (the last three all being Wardens). The inscription on the upper commemorative plaque on the Chapel wall reads: 'To commemorate /the foundation in 1544 by John Hasilwood Esq. / of seven houses removed from St. Helen’s/ Bishopsgate in 1866 and the gift of the Chapel / by Frederick Lionel Dove, D.L. Pastmaster of / the Leathersellers’ Company in 1931. Also the / rebuilding of the East and West wings by / the Leathersellers’ Company in 1966.'
Wood Street Conservation Area: Character Appraisal Statement, LB Barnet Planning Services (July 2007), p8; ‘The livery companies of the city of London: their origin, character, development and social and political importance’ (http:/www.archive.org/stream/citycompaniesof100ditcuoft/citycompaniesof100ditcuoft_djvu.txt pp.280-281. Accessed October 2011); Penelope Hunting, 'The Leathersellers’ Company: a history', (London: Leathersellers’ Company, 1994); Jerome Farrell, ‘A tale of two benefactors: the story of our almshouses’, Leathersellers’ Review (2010-2011), pp.23-25; ‘Bringing an almshouse sanctuary up to date’, (Barnet Press, 1964), p.x; W H Gelder, 'Barnet and Hadley Almshouses', (Barnet Press Group, 1979), pp.46-48. Conversations with the Warden and the Archivist of Leathersellers' Company, 2011.
LPGT Volunteer Research by Clare Fullerton, 2011.