Old Muswell Hill

The Muswell Hill Record, 14 August 1908

Interesting Interview with a Local Octogenarian

Mr Richard Loader was sunning himself in front of his picturesque little residence “Hope Cottage”, St James’s Lane, when a “Record” representative saw him the other day.  He is in his 81st year and is one of the oldest residents of Muswell Hill.He may not be the oldest, but we are not aware that there is anyone who has lived longer in the district.  He has been here for as long a period as 71 years, coming from Surrey, where he was born, at the age of ten.

It was to obtain some particulars about old Muswell Hill that “The Record” man paid him a visit, and Mr Loader, who, by the way, has never voted at any election in his life (although he has resided in the same cottage for over 50 years), readily consented to give him them.

“Were there many houses in Muswell Hill when you settled down?” was the first question.

“Muswell Hill was like a little country hamlet at that time” was the reply.  “I don’t suppose there were a dozen altogether at the top of the hill, and there were no more, if as many, down here at St James’s Lane.  All the houses at the top were big houses owned by gentlemen of means, and a right good sort the latter were too.  Where The Broadway is now there was a pond about a hundred feet long.  It was off the roadway and was used as a horse-pond, though I remember one occasion when a coachman of rather eccentric habits used it for another purpose.  He was driving a carriage in which were a lady and gentleman, and the coachman deliberately drove it though the water – half downing the occupants.  Did he do it again? No, I think he got the sack!”

“There was nothing suggestive then of the Muswell Hill of the present day?”

Oh! no.  It was a pretty bit of country – as pretty a bit as you could see for a hundred miles around.  There were fields and trees everywhere.  The ground on which the Alexandra Palace stands was farm ground then, and the shortest cut to Finsbury Park was through fields which in the autumn would be covered with golden grain.”

“What church did the people go to?”

“St James’s Church was not built then.  I was here when the site was a turnip field and what is now Cranley Gardens was a farm field. The place of worship the people attended was Hornsey Old Church but they thought nothing of walking that distance on a Sunday in those days. ‘Buses belonging to Bolton and to Baker and Bass plied morning the evening between Muswell Hill and Hornsey but they were patronised only by the people with money.  All the burials took place at Hornsey Churchyard.  It was too expensive for the poorer folks to get a hearse from London, and the coffins were carried on men’s shoulders to the churchyard.”

“The wells would give you a good water supply?”

“Yes, but they were a good way off.  We had to go to the well at the bottom of the Hill (at the Priory), and carry the water back in buckets.  That being so we took good care of it, I can tell you.  Some people made business of getting the water and selling it at a ha’penny a pailful and one man, a Mr Bell, went the length of improvising a water-cart with which he went round the houses.  This consisted of a barrel mounted on wheels and drawn by a horse.  Mr Bell continued to do so up till about thirty years ago.”

Mr Loader then went on to talk of the Alexandra Palace.

“I saw the first built.  It wasn’t such a grand building as the present one, the feature of it being the dome.  It was burnt down a fortnight after it had been opened,  The fire broke out about 12 O’Clock in the day,  I was at work with others completing the building but had gone outside for a few minutes, when a fellow-workman shouted out to me that the Palace was on fire,  “Get out,” I replied, “I’ve just left it and there was nothing wrong.”  I soon saw there was an outbreak, however.  It was a terrible blaze, and by 1 O’Clock the dome had fallen in and the place was a wreck.  It was said that the fire was caused by the carelessness of some of the workmen.”

“We hear a lot now about the seasons having altered.  Is there anything in it?”

“Well, we don’t get the snowstorms now-a-days that we got a time ago, I have seen the snow so thick that we had to dig our way through the lane to Highgate.  It was as high as the hedges.”

“How did the people spend their leisure time?”

“They did not get so much of that when I was a young man as the people do now.  We had a great deal more work to do, and a great deal less pay.  The average wage was 15s a week, and one had to be a head man to get 18s or a guinea.  What leisure the people had was spent properly, though now and again, especially during hay-making and the harvest, a labourer would have a ‘singsong’ at the nearest pub.  The nearest theatre at the time was Sadler’s Wells, where Phelps, the tragedian, used to act.”

“We got on very nicely together,”added Mr Loader, “there being no quarrelling or anything, and the police in those days were not required.”

We are sure readers will join us in wishing the genial old man of St James’ Lane a long continuance of good health.

Muswell Hill Roundabout
Muswell Hill Roundabout, 1878
Alexandra Palace
Alexandra Palace, 1873
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