Lords of the Manor were not always lords, or even living on the manor, but life in Barnet would not have been the same without them, write PERCY REBOUL and JOHN HEATHFIELD

As we prepare to hand over our hard-earned money to Barnet Council for the services they provide, we can perhaps reflect upon how such matters were conducted in earlier centuries when, rather than money, service to the overlord was the order of the day.

The country in the time of William the Conqueror, for example, was divided (as today) into counties which were themselves divided into hundreds and these further broken down into manors, which under a Lord of the Manor, was the basic unit of organisation and critical to the life of the tenants who lived and worked in them.

Although there were numerous changes to the system throughout the centuries, many of these manors can still be identified and there are even organisations (Totteridge is an example) which preserve their boundaries and some of their old customs.

The Lord of the Manor was not necessarily a Lord, nor indeed any single person. Queen Elizabeth I, for example, was Lord of the Manor of Totteridge, and the Dean and Chapter of St Paul's held the post for Whetstone.

The Lord had duties for which he charged a fee. He kept records of land transactions and acted as a kind of local magistrate through a manorial court where the records were kept on rolls of parchment known as court rolls. He was usually the biggest landowner in the manor which was run mostly by his steward, who had under him the bailiff (a kind of foreman) and the reeve, who was elected by the peasantry and, if they were lucky, looked after their interests. Portions of the land were set aside for the tenants who, in return, spent a specified amount of time working the lord's land as well as supplying him with various kinds of goods and rent. They were not slaves although, in earlier times, their freedom was severely restricted.

A manor was also a civil administrative unit. Its religious equivalent was the parish and the boundaries of the two did not necessarily coincide. The boundaries of the Manor of Totteridge, for example, were always the same as the parish. The parish of Friern Barnet, however, had two manors within its boundaries: Halliwell and Whetstone, which ran roughly from what was the Town Hall to the High Road in Whetstone and along the county boundary.

Not every manor had a manor house but some still exist within the borough. It's a fascinating study for anyone interested in local history. We have space for just one: the manor house which stood in what is today's Friary Park. Manorial business could be conducted from afar and many lords saved expense by doing so. The Lord of the Manor of Friern Barnet, however, was ordered to build a manor house in 1551 and it stood on the site of the present house in Friary Park, now the subject of much debate. It was to contain a hall, a parlour and sufficient chambers' and was eventually built by William Clark who died in 1586. It was known as Friary or Friern House and the Hearth Tax returns of 1655 show that it was then occupied by Sir William Gronvill and, having 17 hearths, was by far the largest house in the district.

The present house in Friary Park was a replacement built in 1871 by Edmund Richardson. It was bought in 1905 for £7,500 with money from the Middlesex County Council, Friern Barnet Council and a large personal donation from Councillor Sydney Simmons and presented to the people of the district.

Incidentally, much confusion was caused by wealthy local John Miles, who, in 1851, bought the nearby Manor Farm which he renamed Manor House. It is currently the club house of North Middlesex Golf Club.