A recent book by a Nottingham University professor has touched upon Barnet's role as a centre of Cold War espionage. But our readers have been busy telling the academics exactly what they missed out. LEIGH COLLINS reports

A road in Whetstone may have been a hotbed of spy activity during and after World War Two.

Last week's Barnet & Potters Bar Times carried news that the Soviet news agency, Tass, had a radio monitoring station in Whetstone from 1941. It was used to spy on the British until 1951, yet apparently no-one seemed to know exactly where it was.

Since then we have been inundated with calls saying that the base was in Oakleigh Park North. Three sites along that road have repeatedly been named, which suggests that there could have been more than one base where intelligence was gathered.

Local historian, John Heathfield, who writes for the Times Group, has unearthed a copy of the Barnet Press from October 13, 1951.

Under the headline, 'Britain Silences Russia's Listening Post in Friern Barnet', it reads: "The radio monitoring station of Tass, the official Soviet news agency housed in The Lodge, 13 Oakleigh Park North, closed down by Foreign Office request on Sunday, not two years after Friern Barnet Council had tried unsuccessfully to have it shut on planning grounds." The report continued: "The Lodge, a solidly-built double-fronted house standing in large grounds is surrounded by an extensive network of aerials and cables."

Many callers and residents in Oakleigh Park North believe that the Tass base was in Tower House, a four-storey mansion which stood at 17 Oakleigh Park North, until the mid-90s when it was demolished and replaced by a block of flats called Greenleaf Court.

But Emil Bryden, whose family lived across the road from Tower House from 1955, said that it was owned by the Admiralty and used by the British secret services as a safe house.

He added that Rudolf Hess, Hitler's deputy, was imprisoned there after he parachuted into Scotland in 1941.

He argued that people may have been confused because the British base at number 17 also had aerials and receiving equipment.

They also had antennae which he believed were being used to keep an eye on the Russians.

Residents told the Times Group that Barnet Council refused to grant planning permission to knock down Tower House, but was overruled by the Government despite strong local opposition.

Speculation abounded that the Government wanted the building demolished because it had things to hide below the cavernous basement.

Mr Bryden, who now lives in New Southgate, said the Soviet base was at number 13 and had been owned by the Russians since before the Communist revolution in 1917.

He said that it was still active until it was demolished in the 1960s.

"I used to see Russians walking about," he said. "The drivers would be standing around outside with their big Volga cars, looking very Russian. We didn't take any notice. They kept to themselves."

Allan Peacock, from Horsham Avenue, Friern Barnet, who was a postman in Whetstone in 1946, said he regularly delivered post to the Tass news agency, at a large house where Clydesdale Court now stands.

He said it was probably at number five Oakleigh Park North, a few doors from the junction with Oakleigh Road North. He said an English army major worked there.

Wilfred Mead, from The Linkway, Barnet, is a 79-year-old retired electrician who put in electric points and installed a generator at the Tass base during the war so that they could carry on work during the blackouts.

He said: "The rooms I worked in they had receivers, literally dozens of receivers.

"They were just picking up the broadcasts from various parts of the world. It was quite legitimate. They were quite open about it, it wasn't a secret.

"The man in charge of it was English, his name was Jim. Well, he appeared to be English. He had an English name and spoke very good English and looked like an Englishman."

Professor Richard Aldrich, from Nottingham University, a Cold War Intelligence expert, who has written about the Whetstone Tass base in his book, Hidden Hands, was very excited about this new information and made some fresh enquiries with his Government contacts.

"It's really tremendous. There's no way I could have found this out in the archives," he said. "There's obviously a lot more going on here than I first thought."

He has since found four previously top secret Foreign Office files at the Public Record Office in Kew, one of which says that after the radio monitoring station was closed, the Russians were allowed to stay at the base to produce Soviet Monitor, their daily news sheet thus corroborating Mr Bryden's evidence.

However, he said that Mr Bryden's story about Rudolf Hess 'does not check out' as Hess was kept at Mytchett Place near Aldershot before being sent to the Tower.

September 5, 2001 11:07