The Mossy Well, Muswell Hill

When the building served milk not alcohol

Substantial building development has changed the appearance of the top of Muswell Hill. The Green Man, probably a public house from the mid-16th century, has become Pinnacle, luxury town houses and apartments.

Opposite, 77 Muswell is another residential development, once the offices of brewers Taylor Walker (1980), originally the site of the Ritz Cinema (1936), then the ABC Cinema (1962–1978). Further up is The Mossy Well pub with a large bottle hanging outside. What past has this building had?

In these days of plastic milk bottles placed in the supermarket trolley along with the groceries, we tend to forget that milk used to come to Londoners in bottles and, more than a hundred years ago, straight from the cow!  Haringey had a thriving dairy industry with herds of cows kept behind the shops and dairymen, often boys, pulling hand carts, delivered milk to the door several times a day. In the 1890s, Hornsey had 35 dairies and milk shops and 17 cowsheds while Tottenham and Wood Green had 116 milk shops, 52 dairies and 23 cowsheds.

At that time Muswell Hill was a rural retreat. Wealthy lawyers, businessmen, bankers and physicians occupied large houses in their own spacious grounds. At the top of Muswell Hill, on the roundabout where the village pond was situated, stood such a house, Belle Vue Lodge. From the 1830s onwards it was lived in by the Harrison family whose son Frederic became well known in the 19th century as an historian, philosopher and lawyer. But this rural idyll was about to change dramatically.

Muswell Hill developed into the flourishing suburb we know today from the late 1890s. By this time the cowsheds had disappeared in the area and milk was transported by train from farms in the country to railway stations in central London such as Paddington. Muswell Hill had acquired its own railway station in 1873.

Belle Vue Lodge was knocked down and acquired by the Express Dairy in 1900. A chalet-style building was erected with the 1900 date marked clearly in the gable plasterwork. The founder of the company, George Barham, had chosen the company’s name to symbolise his pioneering transport of milk by express train in special churns he designed. The dairy in Muswell Hill had a large milk depot for the horses and carts, plus a tea room in which the genteel could seek refreshment.

The Express Dairy, Muswell Hill, 1951
The Express Dairy, Muswell Hill, 1951

The Express Dairy closed its doors in the 1980s when supermarkets took over much of the milk round business. The building was transformed into The Village bar and restaurant, with a wine bar taking the place of the tea room. Now J D Wetherspoon has opened a pub called The Mossy Well, reflecting the name of this hilly area from medieval times; ‘the hill of the mossy spring’, from the Old English words meos (moss) and wielle (a well or spring).

The Mossy Well, 2016
The Mossy Well, 2016

We’re pleased to see customers stopping to read the plaque on the iron gatepost at the entrance which sets out the story of the old building concisely and accurately. Well done Wetherspoons!

Image credits

The Mossy Well courtesy Lesley Ramm

Notify me
Notify me of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x