A Straight Line Walk Across London

by Paul K Lyons

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Kip Fenn
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71 - Hornsey's etymology, plus a town hall, wedding cakes, science books and sausages

The Broadway is the main artery of Crouch End, and Crouch End is the heart of Hornsey, albeit one slightly displaced. Hornsey first appears in written records during the 13th century, as part of the land belonging to the Bishop of London. At that time, it was on the main route north out of London, but, during the 15th century, northbound travellers began to use a road through Highgate which, although tolled, offered better conditions under foot. During the middle ages Crouch End and Hornsey were separate hamlets, the latter centred around St Mary's church half a mile to the north.

The derivation of the name Hornsey is a puzzle much analysed by etymologists. There appears to be a general consensus, though, that the most probable meaning is 'woodland enclosure of Hering'. And, while Haringey (Borough of) is a name re-invented in the 20th century from other derivatives of the same root, the name Harringay, which is still in use, was a deliberate 18th century reinvention! By contrast, there's no confusion over Crouch End, since Crouch derives from Crux or Cross, and thus signals a place where a cross stood.

Like so much of London, Hornsey saw a rapid urbanisation with the coming of the railways. One station opened at Hornsey in 1850 and another at Crouch End in 1867. The area's population increased at least three fold during the 1870s and 1880s with the rapid middle class urbanisation of various estates. The Broadway shopping centre, to serve the growing middle class population, was in place by the end of the century. One of the area's oldest shops, still serving as it was in the beginning (like the King's Head), is on the corner of the Broadway and Crouch Hill: Dunn's Bakery. Not only does it sell custard doughnuts (60p), wholemeal scones (45p) and nine mini hotcross buns for £2, but it does a good business in wedding cakes. One of its shop windows has colourful examples of cakes called The Victoria, The Rambler, The Matilda, The Orchid and The Juliette.

A few yards on from Dunn's I reach the old town hall and municipal buildings. These date from the 1930s, when Hornsey was a prosperous borough of Middlesex County, and Crouch End had already become Hornsey's centre. Set back from the road, behind a garden square, the Grade II listed Hornsey Town Hall, with its tall square tower, is supposedly a fine example of north European modernism. Reginald Harold Uren, a New Zealand born architect, won the project in an open competition. His building was much influenced by the famous Dutch architect Willem Dudok.

But it is not only the town hall that attracts interest. The square is flanked on the north side by the old gas showrooms, and on the south side by the old electricity showrooms, both built a few years later and in sympathy with the style of the town hall. Thus, as Bridget Cherry and Nikolaus Pevsner put it so succinctly in their Buildings of England series: 'The modern town hall as symbol of enlightened local government was flanked by the agents of modern comfort.' The gas building is the more decorative of the two thanks to a series of bas-relief panels showing scenes connected with the supply and use of gas. Today, the gas showroom houses Barclays Bank, and the electricity showroom serves as a retail outlet for Powerhouse. The town hall's function expired when Hornsey was absorbed into the London Borough of Haringey in 1965. It served for a while as a theatre until the early 1990s. Today, Haringey occupies some offices, but part of the building is disused. In recent years, there were rumours that Haringey might turn the building into an arts centre, but, it seems, the costs of such a venture were considered unacceptable. Other rumours, of it being disposed of to private developers, caused a political outcry. Discussions on the building's future are ongoing at the time of writing.

Otherwise, The Broadway is a thriving shopping centre with relatively few chain stores and a generous helping of eating places. Bright yellow three sided posters have been attached to many lamp-posts. The three sides read: 'Police warning: Motor vehicles - please do not leave personal belongings in your car'; 'Police warning: Burglary - locks prevent burglary, fit them, use them'; 'Police warning: Personal safety - mobile phones, out of sight is safe'.

I pass a small independent bookshop called Prospero's. One of its two windows is taken up with science books. I have to applaud the owner, not only for surviving in this age of cut-throat bookshop chains, but also for not employing his/her shop windows just for promoting celebrity and bestseller titles. Some of the books in the window as I pass are: Lauren Slater's 'Opening Skinner's Box'; Geoffrey Masson's 'The Pig who Sang to the Moon'; Richard Fortey's 'The Earth'; Stephen Jay Gould's 'The Hedgehog, the Fox and the Magister's Pox'; 'Jacob's Ladder' by Henry Gee; and Andrew Parker's 'In the Blink of an Eye - The cause of the most dramatic event in the history of life'.

Not only does The Broadway (which is less than 300 yards long) boast the architecturally-important town hall, but it also has a striking clock tower at the junction of Tottenham Lane and Park Lane (where the Crouch End cross once stood). A tablet on the tower's south face says: 'Erected by subscription in appreciation and recognition of the public service rendered by Henry Reader Williams Esq. JP to the District of Hornsey during a period of 26 years.' Reader was a lively and popular chairman of the Local Board, who did much to preserve a number of open spaces during the second half of the 19th century. The clock tower is built of granite and brick with terracotta decoration in a slightly fussy style with a relief head portrait of Reader himself. On the back, there's a flyposter which says 'Stop the War coalition - no more LIES Mr Blair - national demo. Assemble 12 noon Hyde Park'.

The Broadway is slightly to the east of the 300 easting, but I could have taken a route slightly to the west of the line (down back streets: Edison Road, Crouch Hall Road, Branstone Road and across Park Road). If so, I would have walked passed the spot where a cottage stood, at least since the 16th century, and where a more substantial house (with 11 hearths) was in place by the 17th century. The history of this property has been carefully documented by Peter Barker and published by the Hornsey Historical Society (the publisher of many fine books about the area). In the 1720s, the house was bought by one of the richest men of the time, Anthony da Costa, a Jewish merchant and, later, a fellow of the Royal Society. The first firm evidence of the building's use as a school - later known as Crouch End Academy - comes during the time of da Costa's ownership. In the 1840s, the school was advertising in 'Illustrated London News'. It had around 40-50 boys boarding at the time, and was 'easy of access by omnibus'. By 1870, though, only day boys were being taught. In the 1880s, the land and buildings were sold to the Property Investment Company, the major developer of the surrounding Rowledge estate. The legendary highwayman Dick Turpin is said to have hidden in the Academy's grounds.

Tottenham Lane curls away to the east, a long row of tall richly decorated terraced houses (triangular gables on the right with cannonball finials, Dutch gables on the left). But the scene is spoilt (in an urban landscape sense) by bits jutting out perpendicular from the elevations: for sale signs, to let signs, advertisements, satellite dishes. Near the clock tower, I stop briefly for a cappuccino and apricot pastry in Sable d'Or, a newish coffee house with stunningly colourful Mediterranean tiles on the floor. North of the tower, I walk along Topsfield Parade, another elaborately decorated Victorian terrace, this one with little balconies in the fourth-storey gables. At street level, there's a butcher that sells sausages called 'The Italian', 'Thai' and 'Free Range Cumberland', and a hairdresser called Pazazz.

 A Straight Line Walk Across London - along the 300 easting

by Paul K Lyons
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