Monday, 31 October 2011

Number 348

Last week Strettons sold a 990 year lease of 348 Hornsey Road for £61,000, £1000 above the top end of the guide price.

The shop's lain empty a long time and almost anything that opens will be an improvement, so I'm grateful to whoever bought it and look forward to becoming a customer.

In the meantime, I've been struck by how the auctioneer's advert has none of the softness of residential estate agent patter, none of that buy a lifestyle feel.

This isn't 'a rare opportunity to purchase an exceptional property in a sort after area', or 'a superb family home'. 

It's 'an inter terraced ground floor lock-up commercial unit forming part of local shopping parade on the east side of the A103 Hornsey Road about 50m south of its junction with Tollington Park'.

The rest of the advert tells you about the square footage and has a dry warning that the auctioneers have been 'unable to inspect the property internally' or check that no-one's squatting there.

This is sensible stuff, it says, for down-to earth business people. It's a practical buy. None of that silly frippery here. 

Except, of course, that buying a shop is a brave thing to do, far braver than buying a house. You have to live somewhere, the only choices are where and whether to rent or buy. You don't have to open a shop on a scruffy street and in a flat-lining economy.

That's the romance hidden in high streets:  each newsagent and cafe, each haberdashery and upholsterer  holds the story of someone's hopes. 

Where: 348 Hornsey Road
When: Not yet. 

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Devil's Lane and Dick Turpin

I just found this story, in Walter Thornbury's Old and New London, about highwaymen haunting the Hornsey Road.  

"Hornsey Road, which in Camden's time was a "sloughy lane" to Whetstone, by way of Crouch End, seventy years ago [in 1802] had only three houses, and no side paths, and was impassable for carriages. 

It was formerly called Devil's, or Du Val's, Lane, and further back still Tollington Lane. There formerly stood on the east side of this road, near the junction with the Seven Sisters' Road, an old wooden moated house, called "The Devil's House," but really the site of old Tollington House. 

Tradition fixed this lonely place as the retreat of Duval, the famous French highwayman in the reign of Charles II. After he was hung in 1669, he lay in state at a low tavern in St. Giles's, and was buried in the middle aisle of St. Paul's, Covent Garden, by torchlight. 

The tradition is evidently erroneous, as the Devil's House in Devil's Lane is mentioned in a survey of Highbury taken in 1611 (James I.) Duval may, however, have affected the neighbourhood, as near a great northern road. 

The moat used to be crossed by a bridge, and the house in 1767 was a public-house, where Londoners went to fish, and enjoy hot loaves, and milk fresh from the cow. In 1737, after Turpin had shot one of his pursuers near a cave which he haunted in Epping Forest, he seems to have taken to stopping coaches and chaises at Holloway, and in the back lanes round Islington. 

A gentleman telling him audaciously he had reigned long, Dick replied gaily, "'Tis, no matter for that, I'm not afraid of being taken by you; so don't stand hesitating, but stump up the cole." Nevertheless, the gallows came at last to Dick."

Walter Thornbury wrote so much that he died of overwork and this popular history was his last  book. The Devil's House name is real enough, but much of the rest may be ornate conjecture.

This picture of Dick Turpin jumping the Horsney tollgate is pure bunkum for sure - it's from an 1849 novel.

(reading victoriana is very bad for my prose style - it gets all adjective-heavy)

Friday, 28 October 2011

Platform Cafe'

Platform is a GOOD thing. A new youth centre in the old Hornsey Road Baths building (more on that in later posts) it has  a theatre, a performance space, media suites, a recording studio, dance studio and a cafe all for and by young people. It even has a fabulous neon sign by Morag Myerscough that says  'I am the creation of your imagination'. But good things can be worthy. I worried that it would be well meaning,  a little dowdy and melancholy. I also worried that it would be full of intimidatingly cool young people and I'd feel old and dowdy. 

Anyway, I was wrong on all counts. It's a beautiful space.There are more neon signs inside:

There's enough mid century modern furniture to make an Apartment Therapy post


 and even the stools. lights and banisters have been turned into art:


It was busy enough to feel lively, but not too crowded, the people were likeably cool and my coffee was good.   

Where: 260 Hornsey Road - immediately on the left as you go into the courtyard. 

When: Mondays 9.30am - 4pm; Tuesday s9.30am - 4pm; Wednesdays 9.30am - 8pm; Thursdays 9.30am - 8pm; Fridays 9.30am - 8pm; Saturdays 10am - 8pm; Sundays Closed

Monday, 24 October 2011

How a Methodist Chapel became Holloway Police Station.

This was the Methodists' Hornsey Road Chapel, built in 1858. It replaced their smaller Chapel built in 1821, which in turn replaced the meeting house on the Hornsey Road the Methodists had been using 1811.

According to their Islington and Camden mission 'while middle-class Wesleyans were moving into the new suburbs, conditions in the area around the original Hornsey Road Chapel were declining. In an attempt to address growing poverty in the neighbourhood, missions were established in Andover Road and Hampden Road. Hornsey Road Chapel was finally closed in 1940, and demolished in 1960 to make way for a police station.'

That means, I think, that it's now Holloway Police Station and looks like this: 

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Hornsey Pool & Amusements

This place used to have a sign on the door saying 'members only', but I've never seen anyone go in or anyone inside to let them in.

There are pictures of two things that look like jukeboxes on the sign. Or perhaps they're games machines? Either way, that boxy aesthetic looks early eighties to me.

I guess they're the amusements. The upper two stories have been abandoned for a long time, long enough for the plywood the windows were boarded up with to rot and for pigeons to make their way in.

I don't understand how this happens. It's a handsome building, in an area with a housing shortage. Someone must own it. Is it tangled up in a contested will? Or is the owner so wealthy that they've forgotten about it? Or, more likely, in such a fragile state that they can't do anything about it?

All I've managed to find is the Hornsey Road myspace page, which shows it with the curtains open.

Where: 382 Hornsey Road

When: Never

p.s. See Alex Pink's photostream here for another view.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Deja Vu: Retail Fashion and Culture

Deja vu has a wall painted a fashionable deep dark blue and an African art display but it's a long way from a 'curated' vintage store.

For a start, it's cheap. I've bought pretty teacups here for ridiculously little money and their second-hand books go from the very highbrow (annotated 1950s translations of the Oresteia) to the very not (Agatha Christie hardbacks) without ever going much over a quid.

For another thing, the stock is interesting and worth delving through.

One of the teacups came with a free spider, there's fine 70s/80s tourist tat to delve through, and the staircase to the basement is risky for anyone above 4 foot.

In other words, it's the kind of place that makes me happy when it's raining and where the owners listen to the cricket on sunny days.

Where: 481 Hornsey Road

When: Mon - Fri: 10:30 am - 6:30 pm, Sat:10:30 am - 5:00 pm, Sun: 10:30 am - 4:00 pm

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Time Travel: Highway Robbery and the Old Bailey

On the 29th of October 1817 Justice Park and the First Middlesex Jury tried a James Whitby, accused of stealing a shawl worth ten shillings from a Mary Ann Wort on the Hornsey Road.

The Honble. Mr. Justice Park. 
Painted by W.J. Newton, Miniature Painter in Ordinary to their Majesties.

The Old Bailey record of the trial is short. I wonder if it really took that little to condemn a man.

First the victim/main witness gave evidence

MRS. MARY ANN WORT: 'I am the wife of John Wort. we live in Duval's-lane, Islington. On the 3d of October, about six o'clock in the evening, I was in the Hornsey-road , near Duval's-lane, with my little boy, it was getting dusk. I met the prisoner - He said nothing, but caught hold of my shawl as he passed; it was pinned twice-it was a large shawl; he appeared to be intoxicated. I turned round and looked at him - I am sure he is the man. He took hold of it more forcibly, uttered an oath, and immediately pushed me into a ditch; he still had hold of my shawl, he had not got it off my person-it was not a deep ditch. I kept a firm hold of my shawl, by which means he pulled me on my feet again, and he then got the shawl from me. While I was in the ditch I told my little boy to scream out, and run home to inform them-it was about four hundred yards from home - I followed my boy home. The prisoner ran the other way. I saw no person come.'

Then her son (who according to his mother is 'a little boy') spoke like no little boy has ever spoken.

JAMES WORT: 'I was in the Hornsey-road with my mother. The prisoner came up and laid hold of her shawl; he appeared intoxicated. He went on a little way-my mother turned round, and looked him full in the face. He caught hold of the shawl with more force, and finding that would not do, he threw her into a ditch, and uttered an oath. My mother told me to scream out, which I did - I did not see any person come. She remained in the ditch two or three minutes - He pulled the shawl with such force that it dragged her out of the ditch - He got it from her, and ran over the hedge into a field. My mother told me to run home and give the alarm. I am certain he is the man.'

And then two passers-by confirm the story, both of them recorded in the same stilted style.

JOHN EDWARDS: 'I am a letter-carrier. On the 3d of October I was going down Hornsey-road; I saw a bustle at a distance, and immediately saw the woman go down into the ditch. I heard the little boy cry out, and immediately ran up. When I got near the place, I saw the prisoner go over the hedge into the field, with the shawl over his arm - I ran after him - He looked back, and saw me getting near to him and dropped the shawl. I still pursued - He jumped over a ditch, and fell into it-there is another ditch at the other end of the field - I got into it and secured him. Boards came to my assistance-he was in sight at the time, and saw the prisoner drop the shawl. I am certain the prisoner is the man that I saw struggling with the lady - He was never out of my sight from the time until I took him. I told Boards to pick up the shawl, which he did, and gave it to me. I am sure it is the same shawl.'

THOMAS BOARDS: 'I was going down the Hornsey-road on the 3d of October, in the evening, and saw the lady in the ditch, and the prisoner trying to pull her shawl from her. I saw the colour of the shawl, and saw the prisoner drop it, and picked it up - He was never out of my sight from the time that I saw him with the lady till he was taken in the ditch. I helped the last witness to pull him out.'

(If I were in a solemn mood and had the inclination I'd write something serious about how this official discourse flattens out their voices and makes what happened fit within a set narrative of crime and punishment. I'm not and I don't so I won't.)

Prisoner's Defence: 'I am a poor man with a wife and five children. My character has hitherto been unimpeached, and I humble implore mercy. I had no intention of using violence to the lady. I did not know what I was about, until I was told the next morning.'

LEWIS PAGE: 'I was constable of the night. When the prisoner was brought to the watch-house he was very much intoxicated.'

GUILTY . - DEATH . Aged 25.

The court recommended mercy, perhaps because Whitby had five children and had had good character. He was one of the less frightening highwaymen.

And he may have survived. A James Whitby who had been tried in Middlesex was transported
 to New South Wales for seven years in 1824.

Time Travel: 1890 to 2011

London's a willfully confusing place and just as you think you've understood a neighborhood it changes again.

Notting Hill had a hippodrome and then was rich and then was poor and now is rich again, Soho and Covent Garden were squalid and then were arty and now get richer and duller every year, Islington was lower middle class and then was poor and then was lefty and now is becoming supergentrified. Writers could afford Chelsea once, and Streatham was grand.

So how has the Hornsey Road changed in the last 111 years?

Around 1890 the social investigator Charles Booth had London mapped and its streets coloured according to their inhabitants' poverty or wealth. Black was 'lowest class, vicious, semi-criminal'; dark blue was 'very poor, casual, chronic want'; light blue was 'poor, 18s. to 21s. a week for a moderate family'; purple was 'mixed, some comfortable others poor'; pink was 'fairly comfortable, good ordinary earnings'; red was 'middle class, well-to-do'; yellow was 'upper-middle and upper classes, wealthy'.

Here's his map of the corner of Seven Sisters and Hornsey Road:

The Seven Sisters Road, back then, was 'well to do' on the roads off were people who were 'some comfortable, other poor ', and there was a corner of 'chronic want' to the south-east.

Compare that to the 2011 ACORN classifications on upmystreet, which go from 1 'wealthy mature professionals, large houses' to 56 'multi-ethnic, crowded flats'.

ACORN has the Seven Sisters/Hornsey Road corner (N7 6RA) as type 55

'These are some of the most densely populated urban areas in the country, and are characterised by a young, multi-ethnic population living in purpose built blocks of flats, some of which are high-rise. Over 20% of the population are Afro-Caribbean. They rent their small, one and two bedroom flats from the council and housing associations, and there is a high degree of overcrowding. Almost 60% of households are single people, including some single pensioners. There are average levels of children, but more than half of them live in single parent households.

Unemployment levels are high and a significant proportion have been looking for work for some time. Employment tends to be in low skilled occupations and incomes are low. Students form 10% of the population in these areas.

Like most young people they are interested in music, fashion and arts such as community theatre. Like all urban types, newspapers are popular. Readership is diverse and includes the Daily Mirror, Daily Sport, The Guardian and Independent.

Here's the Booth map for the neighborhood immediately around Ajani and the Plough:

This is even more mixed. The bit that's now the Andover estate is 'chronic want' , but Moray Road is 'fairly comfortable' and Tollington Park is 'middle class'. Plus, the Plough was already the Plough, but that's for another post.

Acorn says the Tollington Park/Hornsey Road corner (N19 4HT) is type 21:

'Metropolitan white-collar populations with high concentrations of ethnic minorities.

People are generally younger, typically under 40. There are some single parents, but most households comprise single people renting and sharing flats or terraced houses. The accommodation is small, often only one or two bedrooms.

Around 35% of the population is black or Asian. Both minorities occur in broadly equal proportion. The level of education is above average, and jobs tend to be managerial or clerical. Levels of students, people working in the Public Sector and unemployment are all somewhat above the national average.

These people do not need cars given their urban lifestyles. Instead, they will get about by walking and using public transport. They tend to go to coffee shops, and lunch in pubs or restaurants on a regular basis. They may also spend time in an art gallery or going to the theatre. Relatively high numbers have cable TV and DVD players. Reading, and sometimes religious activity also play a part in their leisure activities.

They have some interest in current affairs and might be readers of The Guardian, Observer or Independent. Increasingly they will use new technology such as telephone, PC and mobile phone for banking purposes. Many would like to upgrade to gold and platinum credit cards. More realistically, others are planning to pay off their debt.

On the whole I think Booth's investigators would have recognized the area. Some things have changed, but the general sense of the poor living next to the comfortably off is still there, as is the way that nearby streets can be very different for no obvious reason.

Off-topic and self indulgent post script:

In a previous life I looked at medieval maps for a living and learnt that maps have always been attempts to make sense of the world disguised as practical tools, unassuming bits of paper that we treat as though there were nothing strange about looking at a splash of colour on a sheet of paper and calling it China or tracing the line between Islington and Camden.

The simplest medieval maps were called Itineriaries . These were minimal things, usually no more than a few lines and names. They look amateurish and their direct descendants are the sketches people draw now to tell their friends how to get to their house. The medieval version might tell you to head for Milan, turn right for Turin and right again for Genoa. The modern version looks almost the same but might have you turning right at the Horse and Hounds, second left at the school and third right at the dentist's.

Portolan charts became popular around the 14th century, are the ancestors of what we think of as proper maps and were invented to help ships from port to port. In other words they were made to do something similar to a modern map; their logic is ours and their mistakes understandable. If they make Spain too fat, or miss out America we can sympathise with why they made those mistakes because we know (or at least think we know) that their makers wanted to make maps like ours.

The most elaborate and now most alien kind of medieval maps: the world maps or mappae mundi. Like modern maps these set the world on a flat plane but there the resemblance ends.

Some, called T in O maps because that's what they look like from a distance, split the world between Europe, Africa, Asia (twice the size of the the other two) and the Ocean. Others mark time through space, with the beginning of the world in the East and the Garden of Eden and the Jerusalem as the city of God on Earth on the other. Many have monsters and marvels filling up the edges of the world, but no medieval map-maker actually wrote 'hic sunt dracones' (here be dragons) and the marvels tended to get shunted out as soon as the map-makers found something more plausible to take their place.

Sometimes the shape of their world bears some resemblance to the actual shape of the continents, but that almost does not matter. The point of these maps was to tie all the world and all of time within one scene – to explain it, not to describe it. They had nothing to do with plans for travel and everything to do with the idea that the shape of the world reflected God's plan for it.

I think sometimes that Booth and ACORN and all the creative things people are doing with maps now are like cowardly versions of mappae mundi, made by people with immense talent and imagination but who still can't quite conceive of a map that is utterly, shamelessly useless.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Jane Hobson's photographs

Looking around for pictures of the Hornsey Road, I came across Jane Hobson's work. I love her photographs of the people behind the small businesses on the Hornsey Road and I love her description of the project:

'a personal project of editorial portraiture of people who run and work in the small businesses along the Hornsey Road, N19. A fascinating, friendly and diverse bunch of people who are making the project absolutely delightful by allowing me into their worlds. I am learning more about my neighbours this year than in the previous ten! Why didn’t I start sooner?!'

Her photographs are really worth looking at, partly because they are beautiful, and partly because they show what a lot of initiative and originality and hard work there is on this scruffy road.

(Edited to correct errors)