A Brief History of Hornsey Village

The village of Hornsey has been submerged for well over a century in the suburbs of North London. Its name is of Saxon derivation and its history probably goes back still further.

Early origins

Hornsey was part of the Diocese of London from the seventh century and it is likely that the parish church  of St Mary existed long before it was recorded in 1291.

The Lord of the Manor of Hornsey was the Bishop of London who has always appointed the Rector of Hornsey. The medieval church of St. Mary became the dominant feature of Hornsey village. It lay at northern end of the Rector’s glebe land which encompassed most of the hill that effectively divides Hornsey village from Crouch End to the south.

Clearing the land

Hornsey parish had always been heavily wooded, but from Tudor times it was gradually cleared and the land used mainly as permanent pasture or meadowland. The rural nature of Hornsey village, described in the 19th century as ‘long, irregular and scattered’ was at one time enhanced by the New River which crossed the High Street in three places ‘meandering in devious fashion through the valley’. In this valley the River Moselle ran eastwards towards the River Lea, north of the village settlement.

The New River was constructed 1609-13 (2013 being its 400th anniversary) by Sir Hugh Myddelton, an early successful attempt to augment London’s water supplies. The artificial channel carried water 38 miles from the Chadwell and Amwell springs near Ware in Hertfordshire to Islington. In 1860 its course was straightened and it now runs under Hornsey High Street only at its eastern end, by a modern housing development called New River Village. Its course is now 24 miles, terminating at Stoke Newington.

The railway arrives

During the 19th century Hornsey village lost its centuries’ old rural character. In 1850 Hornsey railway station was opened on the Great Northern Railway (GNR) line cut through to the east of the village. The station was the first stop out of King’s Cross and attracted artisans (skilled workers) and clerks who worked in the City and wanted to live away from London pollution in ‘Healthy Hornsey’ which was still a country retreat with lanes and footpaths leading to the slopes of the Hog’s Back to the south (Mount View Road follows the ridge) and to the still rural Muswell Hill to the west.

The village grows

In Hornsey village, land was often not released for building until an estate owner died or wished to move away from the new urban environment. The first changes to the status quo came in the mid-1860s. In 1865 the Birkbeck Freehold Land Company acquired the Grove House Estate, on the corner of Middle Lane and Hornsey High Street and built houses on Middle Lane and in Grove House and Birkbeck Roads.

The same year, John Holland’s land next to the Three Compasses was purchased by the National Freehold Land Society and St Mary’s estate of Haringey, Lightfoot, St. Mary’s, Westfield, Rectory, and Holland Roads was constructed.

The Campsbourne estate

Also in 1865 William Eady died. He owned Campsbourne Lodge, a house with beautiful grounds, below Alexandra Park. Two years later his family sold the estate to the British Land Company which built streets of small houses on it which became known as the Campsbourne estate.

The long-standing Rector of Hornsey, Canon Richard Harvey, resisted disposal of the glebe land to the south of the parish church. Hornsey Vale was built over in the 1870s and Ferme Park Road laid out in 1877. When Canon Harvey retired in 1880 this glebe land was finally sold for housing (Hillfield Avenue and the surrounding streets) and The Pavement shops in the High Street.

Increasing urbanisation

A series of events exacerbated Hornsey’s urbanisation. In 1890 Thomas Marsh Lister died and his Ladywell estate, next to Hornsey railway station, was sold. Ribblesdale and Gisburn Roads were cut across Lister’s land. The developers called the estate Lister Park. In 1896 Sir Joseph Warner died, the head of the Warner family which owned the large Priory Estate both sides of Priory Road, and this estate also became streets of houses.

Canon Richard Harvey, appointed Rector in 1829 to the small village church of Hornsey, retired in 1879 from what was then an urban parish. Vestry government evolved into a Local Board of Health (1867), afterwards an Urban District Council (1894), until in 1903 Hornsey parish was transformed into a Borough, to be absorbed in 1965 along with Wood Green and Tottenham into the London Borough of Haringey.

Hornsey village was no longer a Middlesex country retreat but one of London’s own northern suburbs.

Further reading:

Lesley Ramm & Eleri Rowlands, Hornsey Village A Walk, Hornsey Historical Society, 2014

John Hinshelwood, The Campsbourne Estate: A History of its Development and Re-development, Hornsey Historical Society, 2011

Janet Owen & John Hinshelwood, A Vision of Middlesex The North Middlesex Photographic Society’s Survey & Record of Middlesex, Hornsey Historical Society, 2011, 76 – 85

Janet Owen, John Farrer The Man who Changed Hornsey, Hornsey Historical Society, 2009

Steven Denford, Hornsey Past, Historical Publications, 2008

Edwin Monk, Memories of Hornsey, Hornsey Historical Society, 3rd edition 2005

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