It took decades for a farm in the middle of suburban Finchley to be saved for posterity. BEENA NADEEM charts the history of the cherished College Farm

Early 14th Century: The farm is first mentioned in a legal document during Edward II's reign when Henry de Bedyk, Lord of the Manor of Bibsworth, Finchley, sold Sheep House Farm' with its mill and 146 acres of land.

1868: George Barham, an entrepreneur who owned Express Dairies, buys the farm. He believes that the common practices of watering down milk with water from the Thames and making cream with snail slime could be bettered.

1880s: Barham's son Titus renames the site College Farm because the copper top of Christ's College, Finchley, could be seen from there.

1882: Barham orders the demolition of the farm buildings and commissions church architect Frederick Chancellor to draw up plans for a new, model dairy farm. The buildings, which are now Grade II-listed, cost £4,942. Once completed, cows were put into the spacious, clean stalls for milking, where they had their names on the wall behind them. Cows were fed on diets of oatmeal, bran and biscuit as well as roots, hay and cabbages.

1884: The first bottled milk produced in the country is produced at College Farm.

1890: Business is booming. Around 40 cows were being milked at any one time, producing around 5,600 pints each per year. Horses are brought in to fetch grain and manure and 40 acres are left to produce hay. Barham needed 130 horses for milk delivery.

1894: It becomes the first diary farm to be used for conventions and exhibitions.

1902: Around the time of Edward VII's coronation, College Farm is no longer used for cream and making butter - all milk is sold in liquid form. The dairy functions as a showcase for the newest and best dairy livestock. Victorian families visit in their droves for its famous cream teas and see the pedigree cows. It also becomes the first place in the country where bottled milk with a foil cap is produced.

1908: George Barham receives a knighthood from Edward VII.

1909: The farm becomes a visitors centre and is popular with day-trippers who enjoy a cream tea and its exhibits about the dairy industry.

1913: George Barham dies, leaving the farm to Titus.

1921: College Farm becomes the first farm to test dairy for diseases, setting a national precedent.

1929: The farm pioneers the installation of milk in cartons - 30 years before they hit supermarket shelves.

1946: A pure Ayrshire herd is installed at the farm and each is known by her name. The calves then take her mother's name and a number, for example, Hannah 2. When the farm came to be sold in the late Sixties, Hannah 45 was providing milk.

1950s: Express Dairies starts selling off most of its London farms, keeping College Farm open as a model dairy, but largely as a public relations exercise. It is also used as a filming location and later has a small museum of milk production.

End of 1960s: Express Dairies is taken over by Grand Metropolitan Hotels.

1971: An application to build 101 houses on the site fails.

1973: College Farm is bought by the Department for Transport under plans to widen the North Circular Road at Henlys Corner. The land is due to be offered to Barnet Council to replace public open space that would be lost if a proposed road improvement scheme at Henleys Corner goes ahead.

1974: The last Express cows are taken away. The buildings are closed, the farm lays desolate and is frequently vandalised.

1976: A young farmer, Chris Ower, and his wife Jane are granted a short agricultural lease, primarily to keep vandals at bay. It comes as a welcome relief to the community. They restock the farm with cows as well as hay crops, sheep and horses.

1980: The Owers open the farm to the public. They live in one bedroom while doing up the farmhouse. Schools begin to request more and more visits.

1985: Part of the main roof collapses and the Owers are told they have to pay for repairs running into tens of thousands of pounds, even though they only had a year-to-year tenancy and could not therefore raise any funding.

1986: The farm's plight was highlighted on Esther Rantzen's That's Life television programme, with Finchley comedian Spike Milligan lending his support. Sufficient money was raised to keep the farm going and it became a centre for the public - becoming almost self-sufficient by charging visitors a small fee.

Original Milton tiles from the 1880s are discovered and restoration work begins.

The farm becomes a Grade II listed building.

1987: Prince Harry visits, accompanied by his nanny.

1989: The farm is designated a conservation area.

1995: The government abandons its Henlys Corner plans, meaning it no longer has a purpose for owning College Farm.

1996: Plans are put forward to develop part of the farmland for housing, but are stopped after public outcry.

1998: The College Farm Trust is set up to save the farm for future generations, after the Highways Agency issues a statement saying that it intends to sell the farm, with a market value of £1.4 million, to the highest bidder. The trust is given just six months to buy the farm.

The trust sets out its aims: Buy, manage, conserve and use for benefit of public, architectural and historical merit. Patron Spike backs the trust.

1999: Organisations, including English Heritage, the Finchley Society and MP for Finchley and Golders Green Rudi Vis, appeal to Minister for London, Keith Hill, to prevent the farm from going to tender.

2000: The Highways Agency's land is transferred to the newly formed Greater London Authority and a deal sanctioned by Parliament allows the farm to be sold for £500,000 to the College Farm Trust - £900,000 less than its market value.

However, a clawback clause in the agreement - that the land would return to the agency if the trust became bankrupt - means that the Heritage Lottery Fund would not provide funding. Both the agency and the lottery fund said they had to protect the public purse. The trust cannot therefore raise enough money.

2001: The farm is forced to close to the public because of the national Foot and Mouth outbreak. The Owers lose most of their income and are forced to lay off staff and sell animals.

2002: MP Rudi Vis extracts a promise from Keith Hill, who agrees that the site could be sold to the trust at the agreed reduced price without the clawback restrictions - but only if it is bought by 2005.

2005: The trust has already missed several deadlines for sale and the Highways Agency withdraws its offer and invites other parties to buy the farm.

January 2006: A change of trustees and a new chairman, Phil Green, prompt negotiations to continue.

November 2006: The farm is sold to the trust. The deal was financed by selling two flats on the site. Plans to restore the site as a working farm and create an educational centre and museum are underway.