From The Finchley Press Muswell Hill Mercury & Highgate Post May 20, 1927
Dickens' Arcadian Retreat in the Heart of Finchley.
Great Novelist's Financial Worries.
The Pickwick Centenary, just celebrated, has aroused fresh interest in the personality of Charles Dickens, and all Finchlieians must be doubly interested in the commemoration on account of the close association of Dickens with the district. Major Caogan's query as to the whereabouts of Cobley's Farm, where according to the Dickensian, Dickens wrote a portion of Martin Chuzzlewit, is therefore most timely.
We are pleased to be able to present our readers, thanks to the permission of the Finchley District Council, with what must be regarded as a most charming sketch of Cobley's Farm or to give it the name by which it was better known, Fallow Farm. It presents a most delightful impression of a serenely beautiful rural Arcadia, in which the great writer was able to refuge from the many worries which were assailing him at the time. Local tradition persists that it was Bleak House, and not Martin Chuzzlewit, that Dickens wrote when at Cobley's Farm. We commend the problem to those enthusiastic students of Dickensiana to whom every action of the Master is of absorbing interest.
Situation and Extent.
Cobley's Farm was situated in the very heart of Finchley, exactly where the boundaries of its three constituent hamlets, Church End, North End and East End, met one another. It was of considerable extent, occupying the full stretch of land from the great North Road to Ballards-lane and to Short-lane. The name of Short-lane has now vanished. It used to be applied to the eastern portion of Squires-lane, between Long-lane and the Great North-road. The extent of the farm in its later days may be estimated by the fact that on the east it contained the site now occupied by the County School, and on the west the open space now known as the Victoria Recreation Ground.
Fallow farm was in the possession of the Cobley family in the year 1680, when Charles II was King. An earlier lease of the farm is in existence, dated 1648. Originally a small farm at the northern corner (Fallow Corner) of Finchley Common, it was gradually expanded by the enclosure of common land. It attained its greatest dimensions as a result of the Enclosure Acts of 1814. It continued in the possession of the Cobley family till the closing years of the Nineteenth Century. The then owner, Mr. Richard Cobley, removed to Cheshunt on the death of his mother. He continued to visit the farm and supervise the work thereon till the buildings were pulled down and the farm broken up for development.
The nature of the actual farm buildings can best be gathered from our illustration taken from a pencil sketch in the possession of the Finchley Council. The farmhouse was most substantially built, and it is reported that when it was demolished twenty-five years ago, its walls were found to be several feet thick. It was served by unusually large and substantial out-buildings.
The situation of the farmhouse was a little to the west of what is now the elbow in Bow-lane at its junction with Clifton-road. Bow-lane was originally part of a lengthy track leading across from Muswell Hill through Coldfall Wood to the northern portion of Church End. Opposite Cobley's Farm it diverged, the northern portion ultimately doubling back to the North-road from Fallow Corner in the form of a "bow," and the western portion proceeding across the fields of the farm to Church End, reaching Ballards-lane by the side of Willow Lodge. The northern of these two branches was known as Fallow-lane.
Although the farm has disappeared, its name of Fallow Farm has been preserved in Fallow Court-avenue, and also in Fallow-corner, the name of Alderman Goodyear's house. The locality at the eastern end of Granville-road is generally known as Fallow-corner. But. although the farm was also known as Cobley's Farm, and although it was in the possesion of the Cobley family for two and a quarter centuries, the name of Cobley has not been preserved in any of the many new roads to the west and east of Etchingham Park-road, now traversing what was the site of the farm. Possibly, some method of associating the names of both Dickens and Cobley will be found in the new recreation ground to be formed out of the Rough Lots, an area lying just to the east of Cobley's Farm, over which Dickens must have wandered in the country tramps which he loved so much.
A reference has been made to the worries assailing Dickens about the time he was at Finchley. The following extract from a letter written in February, 1844, while Martin Chuzzlewit was being published, explains their nature :-
"My years bills, unpaid, are so terrific, that all the energy and determination I can exert will be required to clear me before I go abroad; which if next June come, and find me alive, I shall do. Good Heaven, if I had only taken heart a year ago! I was so utterly knocked down last night, that I came up to the contemplation of all these things quite bold this morning. I am not afraid, if I reduce my expenses; but if i do not, I shall be ruined past all mortal hope of redemption."
back to the top