Disappearing ink

Before the advent of the digital age words were written on paper – imagine that dear reader – putting pen to paper to write a letter, a novel or sign an official document and Finchley was the epicentre of the inky business.

Prior to the invention of ink in about 1832 by Dr. Henry Stephens much of office life was spent mixing ink and cleaning nibs.

[S]tephens’ famous Blue-Black Writing Fluid revolutionised the process of writing and made his family’s fortune. When he commenced manufacturing what was described as:

. . . carbonaceous black writing fluid, which will accomplish the so long-desired and apparently hopeless task of rendering the manuscript as durable and as indelible as the printed record

Henry Stephens died suddenly in Farringdon Station and his son Henry Charles Stephens turned his father’s invention into a very successful business. Known as ‘Inky’ Stephens, he built a factory in Aldersgate which later moved to Holloway Road and then to Gillespie Road near to Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium.

Because the Blue-Black Writing Fluid was indelible he managed to get the British Government to make it mandatory that any ink used for legal documents and ship’s log books must be indelible, a requirement still in force today.


Inky Stephens bought Avenue House in North Finchley, with its 10 acres of ground in 1874 as his family home adding to the 1859 built property a coach house and stable block. It was said that ‘Inky’ Stephens was in the smoking room at the highest part of Avenue House when he looked out at the view and decided to fit the estate to the people of Finchley.

Stephens’ House and Gardens with an arboretum containing some of the most unique trees to be found in London, walled garden and a small museum containing antique ink bottles, drawing pencils with the history of the Grade II listed property, with memorabilia of Henry ‘Inky’ Stephens is open Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday 14.00-16.30.

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