The Bishops Avenue and The Bishops Wood are the last reminders of the Bishops of London, East Finchley’s remote landlords for almost one thousand years.
It was King Ethelbert of Kent, having married a French Christian in around 600, who set about reconverting Britain. After installing Augustine in Canterbury he set up an enormous diocese of St Paul in London, based on his reluctant nephew’s Essex kingdom. To fund its activities he endowed it with the estate of Stepney. A hundred years later, after initial setbacks, Fulham was added.
The impenetrable northern heights belonged to these estates, Finchley to Fulham and Hornsey to Stepney. As such they do not get specific mention in the Domesday Book. Their boundaries were determined by the boundaries of more important neighbouring estates – Hendon, Hampstead, Tottenhall and so on. They were based on landmarks such as the Dollis and Mutton Brooks, and the ancient track just south of the present Hampstead Lane. Because the Bishops owned both Finchley and Hornsey, the shared boundary wasn’t formalised until 1738.
By the 1200’s the Bishops had established a hunting park of 1070 acres across the south of this combined property, stretching from the present day Spaniards in the west, to Highgate Gatehouse in the east and East Finchley to the north, with gates at these extremities. Turners Wood, Bishops Wood and Highgate Wood are vestiges of this park, which was bordered by a ditch and hedge to keep the deer in (park of this hedge is thought to remain in the corner of Lyttleton Playing Fields) and there was a hunting lodge, visited by kings, in the centre. The Hunting Park ceased to be used as such in the 1500’s, though the moat remaining from the lodge is marked on the 1895 ordnance survey map “Kenwood and Golders Green”. The significance of the park to East Finchley is explored in the next article