Ever Heard of the Local Architect and Surveyor John Farrer?

An article by Janet Owen

John Farrer (1843-1930), a self-made Victorian entrepreneur who lived in Crouch End for forty years of his life, was responsible for designing over eighteen hundred houses and shops for seventy three roads in our area and he laid out fifteen estates for local landowners and builders.

John Farrer
John Farrer, 1919

These are located in Highgate (eg. Southwood Avenue & North Hill Avenue), Muswell Hill (eg. Woodland Gardens & Muswell Hill Road), Fortis Green (eg. Southern Road & the Great North Road), Crouch End (eg. Cecile Park & Ferme Park Road), Hornsey (eg. Hillfield Avenue & Warner Road) and Harringay (Wightman Road).

Agent to the builders

Often he acted as agent to the builders, submitting his building plans on their behalf and ironing out problems with local authorities and land developers about positions of sewers, amount of air space between properties and the like.

In Hornsey, John Farrer worked for two landowners in particular – Henry Weston Elder who lived in Topsfield Hall (now Topsfield Parade) in Crouch End and the Warner family whose estate was ‘The Priory’, both sides of Priory Road in Hornsey.

Farrer managed their properties and prior to the sale of their land he surveyed it, laid out the roads, measured the building plots and often designing most of the houses himself. He usually supervised the building as well so that houses were built exactly to his plans and to his exacting standards.

Middle class respectability

His house designs were solidly Victorian and Edwardian and reflected the social ideas and standing of the prospective middle class buyers flocking into this desirable area. Houses were large, often with Dutch gables and colourfully tiled porches as can be seen in Weston Park N8. Gable windows were a particular feature he liked with a room on that level to accommodate the live-in servant – a sure sign of middle class respectability!

On the Priory (now Warner) Estate ornamental pargetting designs on some of the gables in different roads were used to maintain the estate’s identity. Although terraced, many of Farrer’s houses were linked with a set back lower section which provided a service access separate from the front door so that from the road they gave the appearance of being in groups of twos, threes and fours.

Cecile Park, Crouch End, .
1884 Cecile Park, Crouch End,

Cecile Park in Crouch End is a good example of this feature. Most of these large properties have been divided into maisonettes and now doors placed in the rear link provide access to the separate flats or maisonettes.

Farrer’s 1920s houses, for example in Cranley Gardens, Priory Road and Rokesly Avenue, reflect more modest aspirations in a world cut down to size by the disasters of the First World War. In these roads John Farrer & Sons designed houses for builders Messrs. B&A White.

John Farrer had an office in the City of London for over 50 years and he designed buildings all over London. In 1898 he designed the Elephant and Castle Hotel in the area of that name in South London. It was an imposing public house with banqueting halls, meeting rooms and the longest bar in the country. Farrer shoe-horned this large building into a small site in the middle of roads. Sadly it was knocked down in an London County Council redevelopment scheme in 1959.

Grade II listing

In 2015 Lander’s Stonemasons Showroom in Harrow Road, Kensal Green, W10, designed by John Farrer & Sons in 1927, was given Grade II listing by English Heritage as a direct result of local pressure, using information in the book listed below. So through his work over 50 years John Farrer connects our suburb with others across North and South London!

Find out more

Do you live in a John Farrer house? You too can find out more about John Farrer and the roads in our area in which he was involved in house design by consulting the Hornsey Historical Society publication John Farrer The Man who changed Hornsey by Janet Owen.