I was born in Goffs Oak. Literally! Not at Chase Farm or Barnet General but in an upstairs bedroom in The Drive, in a semi-detached Airey house in a quiet cul-de-sac in Goffs Oak. It was 10.30pm at night on the 1st July 1963. About 15 hours earlier my great uncle Sid had been killed whilst on holiday in Paignton when the jib of a crane fell on him. They hadn’t even told my mum for fear that she would have produced me instantly, on the spot. Anyway, I’m distracted already. This blog is meant to be about Goffs Oak. The first of many posts about this wondrous place.
I’m not going to give you its history. Borrow one of Jack Edwards’ books from the library if it hasn’t been shut down yet. Of course when I was a kid stocking up on Thomas the Tank Engine and Dr Seuss, the library was in that little wooden building by the alley on Cuffley Hill opposite Jones Road. Originally the estate office when they built Robinson Avenue, The Chase and The Drive I believe. Looking on Google Earth that building has now gone but the alleyway is still there. Heavens, I must have walked that alley a thousand times.
So, no history but how about a quick secret. It came from my mum so it’s kosher. You’ll read that the original oak was planted way back in the wake of the Norman Invasion when the village was given to the Goff family. It survived for centuries but by the middle of the 20th century it was dead and decaying. So as part of the Coronation celebrations in 1953 they planted another oak. This tree, they said, survived until later in the century when it was damaged in the great storm of 1987 (or at some other time). I really should check the full facts but it doesn’t matter because the secret concerns the 1953 oak. Planted with great ceremony at a pageant which brought the whole village out, that little sapling went and died. The council, fearful that something might happen to the Queen if word got out the Goffs Oak had expired (Actually I have no idea what the council’s thought process was) sent men out in the dark of night to replace the dead tree with another sapling. So the Oak that dominated the little village green throughout my childhood was not the one planted in the 1953 pageant but a secret substitute. Ssssshhhhh!
So what was Goffs Oak to me? A land of houses; some made of brick, some made of glass. But even in my youth many of the glasshouses were broken and decaying. We played on them at our peril because – well broken glass obviously. We had plenty of playgrounds to choose from. From the grassy areas just outside our houses, now mostly surrendered to car parking spots, to the council playing fields tended by Alf in his CUDC Donkey Jacket. I remember when they were building the new Scout Hut me and my neighbour Russ went exploring. We weren’t doing any harm, just climbing on piles of bricks and peeping under sheets of tarpaulin. We got caught though. Some bloke from the council I think. He asked for our names and addresses. I cacked myself. Wait, I thought. I don’t have to give him my real name and address. I can give him a false one. So I told the man I was Russell Tredgett of 44 The Drive, Goffs Oak. Russ, my dear friend and neighbour gave me the most toxic stare you have ever seen and did what was really the only thing possible and told the man he was Steve Smith of 46 The Drive , Goffs Oak. We never did hear any more about thankfully.
In summer holidays we could go further afield. Down Crouch Lane to the corner then over the footpath onto Twenty Acres. Down to bottom of the next field where the stream ran through the trees. A delightful spot to play. If were feeling energetic we could keep going to Hammond Street and even up Bread and Cheese Lane eating the hawthorn flowers that gave it its name. We could do all this and still be home for lunch.
And when we didn’t feel like roaming all over the district where did we go. We didn’t have to go far. Our back garden; Russ’ back garden; Steph’s back garden; Jeremy’s back garden (later Dennis’ back garden); my nan’s; Russ nan’s – lots of choices in just a few houses. And The Square. Measuring it now on Google Earth I am devastated to find it is actually a rectangle, 50 feet by 30 feet. Simple paving stones around a grassy square that used to have a tree in the middle, right outside my house. It was our HQ, our base. From there we started every game of 1-2-3 Block Home or simple Hide and Seek; of King-He, Queenie, and It! We hid amongst the garages at the end of the street until they pulled them down and built some old people’s bungalows; or ran down one of the labyrinth of alleyways that joined The Drive to Goffs Oak Avenue or Newgate Street Road or Cuffley Hill. That was some playground but then it was some childhood.