The Urbanisation of Hornsey

An extract from John Farrer The Man who Changed Hornsey by Janet Owen

London was sucking in people from the countryside as its industrial strength grew throughout the nineteenth century and its dramatic increase in population shaped the growth of Hornsey parish. People of all social classes arrived in the capital and the population exploded from 959,310 in 1801, to 2,808,494 in 1861, to become 4,521,685 by 1911.

Class divisions

The poor had no choice but to put up with the slums and rookeries near their work. The middle classes had the money to afford horse drawn transportation, and later the tram, to take them to and from their offices to the suburbs. In the last quarter of the century inexpensive passenger rail fares accelerated the rate at which the lower middle classes and the working classes sought refuge beyond city pollution.

As the wealth of Victorian London was created, a combination of factors – the emphasis on thrift, the setting up of building societies and freehold land societies, the aspiration to rent or buy your own home, improved and cheap transportation and relatively inexpensive prices for building land – all played their part in creating the right conditions for suburban development.

These factors played their part in the development of Hornsey in the second half of the nineteenth century, though the District had attracted the wealthy merchants of London for centuries and the population of the parish increased in the first half of the nineteenth century as well as in the second half.

Pastures and meadows

In the late 1860s Hornsey was still mainly grazing pastures and hay meadows and Highgate and Hornsey villages, Crouch End and Muswell Hill were small settlements.  A certain type of suburban development had taken place already, particularly in the west of the District.  As well as small estates and land owned by the ecclesiastical authorities, there were increasing numbers of villas and detached houses in their own substantial grounds.

These were occupied by the middle classes, mostly in trades, who could afford to live beyond their places of work in the growing and polluted metropolis. Hornsey was promoted as an attractive and healthy place in which to live and its middle class occupants intended keeping it that way, as did the Local Board.

The selling of land

The building of houses depended on the availability of land on which to erect them.  In Hornsey, land was often not released for building until an estate owner died. 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.

In the same year 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.  Building of the St. Mary’s Estate, west of the church, off the High Street, began in the 1870s. The long-standing Rector of Hornsey, Canon Richard Harvey, resisted disposal of the glebe land to the south of the church.  Hornsey Vale was built over in the 1870s and Ferme Park Road laid out in 1877.

Accelerated urbanisation

A series of events exacerbated Hornsey’s urbanisation. Canon Harvey retired in 1880 and the glebe land south of the church was finally sold for housing and shops. Henry Weston Elder of Topsfield Hall died in 1882 and his widow Sarah and son Henry Hugh accelerated their selling of land to builders. Old Crouch Hall and Lindslade House were demolished and replaced with Bank Buildings and other shops.

In the same year, William Bird J.P. sold his Crouch Hall Estate to the Imperial Property Development Company Ltd. In 1884 Crouch Hall was pulled down and houses constructed in Crouch Hall Road and other new roads around. Two significant deaths were to come. Sarah Elder died in 1892 and the rest of the Topsfield Hall Estate was sold two years later. In 1896 Joseph Warner died, the head of the family which owned the large Priory Estate both sides of Priory Road.

The transformation of Muswell Hill

An end to rural life in Muswell Hill came in 1895-96. James Hall Renton, a wealthy stockbroker, owned two large mansions, The Limes (rented until 1887 to Charles Edward Mudie who ran a very successful lending library business) and Fortis House which Renton occupied. On Renton’s death in 1895 the properties were sold to Frederick Manson who sold them on in April 1896 to James Edmondson the builder.

In 1895 Samuel Soames sold his Fortismere Estate to William Jeffries Collins who bought ‘The Firs’, to the south west, the following year.  Muswell Hill was soon transformed by bricks and mortar. Although I have not come across a record of Farrer working with either Edmondson or Collins, he was closely associated with Richard Metherell an important developer in Muswell Hill Road and of the Woodlands Estate.

As a result of all this activity the population of Hornsey grew, from 7,000 in 1851 to 37,000 in 1881 (in round figures). It had increased to 61,000 by 1891 and to 75,500 by the time Hornsey became a municipal borough in 1903.

Taken from:

John Farrer The Man who Changed Hornsey by Janet Owen, HHS, 2009.

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