Stephens House and Gardens
Avenue House and gardens have been leased to the charity Avenue House Estate Trust (AHET) since 2002. AHET are responsible for the running and maintenance of the estate through a board of trustees. Since January 2014 the estate and its commercial activities have been promoted as Stephens House and Gardens.
H.C. Stephens (1841-1918) was an English businessman and Member of Parliament for the Hornsey constituency, which included Finchley, from 1887 to 1900. He was to become popular in Finchley as a businessman, lecturer and philanthropist and was known as "Inky" Stephens, the "uncrowned king of Finchley"
Stephens was the son of Dr Henry Stephens, the inventor in 1832 of an indelible "blue-black writing fluid" which was to become famous as Stephens' Ink and a successful international company for over 150 years. Henry Charles grew up among his father's work and learnt the business from a young age, taking over management of the company in 1864 after his father’s death. The company was innovative and profitable and Henry Stephens became a very wealthy man. In 1874 he purchased Avenue House in East End Road and ten acres of adjacent land.
Stephens enlarged and improved the house and in the 1870s sought advice about having the grounds developed, and employed landscape gardener Robert Marnock (1800–1889). Marnock's plans included a walled kitchen garden and park-keeper's dwelling known as The Bothy.
Aside from the family business and politics, Stephens had an interest in agriculture and water management. He owned an estate in Cholderton, Wiltshire, where he set up the Cholderton and District Water Company in 1904.
When Stephens died in 1918, he bequeathed Avenue House and its ten acres of grounds to be held in trust by Finchley Urban District Council, subject to the condition that they be 'open for the use and enjoyment always of the people, subject to reasonable regulation'.
Avenue House contains The Stephens Collection, a small museum featuring the history of the Stephens family and the estate, the development of the Stephens Ink Company into a worldwide brand and the history of writing materials generally.
The collection was established by the Finchley Society with the assistance of the Writing Equipment Society and the London Borough of Barnet. The museum is currently closed as it prepares to move to the estate’s new visitor centre in Easter 2017.
Avenue House provides modern, comfortable facilities for conferences, business functions and exhibitions. It is also an ideal venue for family celebrations including birthdays and anniversaries. Avenue House is an approved venue for civil ceremonies and they can host your wedding, child naming ceremony or renewal of vows. The house is also an ideal venue for businesses to hold conferences, work parties and events plus meetings for 2-80 people,
Stephens House and Gardens have expert staff to offer their clients the very best experience at Avenue House, creating great memories of your wedding or facilitating the success of your business meeting. They can even help you find and choose presents for any occasion - it doesn't matter if you need an amazing wedding present or the best Valentine's gift – check out here some of their ideas. The Salon is ideal for ceremonies and is often hired together with the Drawing Room for civil weddings and receptions. The Dining Room is the perfect setting for a traditional dining experience for up to 24 guests, while the Drawing Room is the ideal choice for family gatherings and large seminars. First-floor rooms include Stephens Room, a light and airy room ideal for training and meetings and the Study Room, a popular venue for smaller meetings and private functions.
Stephens House and Gardens provide a wonderful location for any celebration, with the gardens acting as a perfect backdrop particularly for wedding photographs. The children’s play area is great for family celebrations that include young children and with wooded areas and lawns, there is plenty of scope for walks and play areas for all ages.
The Gardens are a green oasis in suburban London. They provide a mixed landscape and include a unique arboretum, a rockery, a bog garden, large park areas to play in and wooded areas to walk. A variety of wildlife exists within the gardens and buildings. Some areas are set aside as protected habitats to protect specific species.
Successful grant applications to the Heritage Lottery Fund and others has enabled the restoration of the gardens, improvement of the catering and play area, providing a new visitor centre and accommodation for volunteers and gardens staff. Additional funding has come the AHET itself, both in a financial contribution and by means of voluntary labour.
Over ten years the Finchley Society raised money for the Spike Milligan Statue Fund, to commission a statue of former local resident Spike Milligan cast in bronze by local sculptor John Somerville and erected by the stables block in the grounds of Avenue House. The statue of Spike sitting on a bench was unveiled on 4 September 2014.
The plans of AHET are to return the rockery to its former glory with specialised planting and return the area known as the Dell into a Bog garden by the reintroduction and refurbishment of the Water Harvesting and Irrigations system as intended by ‘Inky’ Stephens. The bog Garden feeds the cascade which feeds the pond.
The Bothy was built as a large walled garden in the late 1870s, but looks quite different today. Where once the glass houses stood, there is now a large lawned area. The aquatic tank has been filled with plants, and there is a wild garden filled with unusual plants and a formal garden with box edging and a pergola draped in Roses.
A project to restore the Bothy structure and turn it into an arts centre and garden began in 1997, but subsequently abandoned. AHET has now negotiated a new lease which should see the building converted as a training centre for psychotherapy charity Terapia.
The Bothy's walled garden is maintained by volunteers and has remained open to visitors every Friday and on the first Sunday of the month. In summer there are occasional arts events and play readings.