The coming of the railways changed the face of our area for ever, write PERCY REBOUL and JOHN HEATHFIELD.

The introduction of the railways in the latter half of the 19th Century meant that people for the first time could search for work in other areas of London and, for many, that brought jobs and more money for leisure.

These were the days before mass entertainment. Television, radio, cinemas, bingo halls and bowling alleys were decades away. The local pub provided men with entertainment and much more besides. No respectable woman, however, would be seen passing through a pub door. Family entertainment was based in the home.

It was against this background that the local authorities of the late 19th and early 20th Century began to acquire land to turn into public parks and open spaces.

Much local housing was poor and, in some cases, squalid, with light and air at a premium. The idea of a pleasant open space available to all for a Sunday afternoon stroll was appealing and socially worthwhile.

From there it was but a step over years to come to extend the idea by providing playgrounds and boating ponds, bandstands, bowling greens and tennis courts, and eventually sports fields for the more active. An important refinement was the cafe or tea room that could be used by all.

Today, the London borough of Barnet administers 16 of what it calls premier parks', each of which has its own history.

Very large sums of money are spent on maintaining them and one can sympathise with authorities in trying, not always successfully, to keep them free from litter and vandalism.

What, one wonders, would the Edwardian middle class mother, with her brood of children on their Sunday visit, think of the CCTV cameras that have had to be installed in Friary Park and Watling Park to improve safety?

A memory from former years is the uniformed park keeper. Up to the Second World War, he was the focal point for enquiries and help of every description and, if memory serves, was not averse to handing out a well-placed slap to any child stepping out of line. One notable park keeper in the Friary Park of the 1920s lived in the house in the park. He had two jobs: his other was as a mechanic for Friern Barnet's precious motorised fire engine.

Many people regretted the passing of the park keeper when, in 1989/90, the apparent need for competitive tendering rendered them obsolete. It is understood that park keepers in uniforms are now making a comeback as part of the need for visitors to feel safe.