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History of Harringay (1750–1880)

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History of Harringay (1750–1880)

This significant period in Harringay's history witnessed the transition from a purely pastoral society and set the stage for the upheavals of the late 19th century.


A period of change

Over the 130 years covered by this article London’s phenomenal growth was to have a decisive and permanent effect on Harringay. In 1750 London’s population stood at 700,000. By 1801 it was close to a million and became Europe’s largest city; thirty years later this figure had climbed to nearly 1.7 million and it had become the world’s biggest city. In 1851, London's population had grown to nearly 2.5 million and in 1891 it stood at over 5.5 million.

Harringay – 18th & 19th century leisure destination

This break-neck growth created an ever-increasing pressure for release from a crowded city. The earliest effects on Harringay were to be felt as the Southernmost part of the area became an immensely popular leisure destination for Londoners.

Hornsey Wood House

Shortly after 1750 Old Copt Hall evolved from a residence to a popular tea house and tavern. From the 1750s on it became a popular place for Londoners to escape from the smoke and grime of the city and relax in green and pleasant surroundings. In 1758 it was reported to be the most popular resort in the area An early nineteenth century writer described a peaceful retreat:

The two sisters died in the 1790s and in 1796 the old house was pulled down and the oaks felled to make way for a new private leisure park. This included a much larger incarnation of the Hornsey Wood Tavern, together with a lake for fishing and boating at the top of the hill, and pleasure grounds laid out in the space created by the felling of much of the woodland. The new facility became even more successful than its predecessor. An article in the Sportsman magazine of 1846 gave a good account of the entertainments offered:

In 1866 the demand for public recreation spaces overtook the Hornsey Wood Tavern. The house and its amenities were swept away to make way for the new Finsbury Park.

Finsbury Park

In 1841 the people of Finsbury in the City of London petitioned for a park to alleviate conditions of the poor of London. The present-day site of Finsbury Park was one of four suggestions for the location of a park. Originally to be named Albert Park, the first plans were drawn up in 1850. Renamed Finsbury Park, plans for the park's creation were finally ratified by an Act of Parliament in 1857. Despite some considerable local opposition, the park was formally opened on Saturday 7 August 1869. The old lake was extended, a tree-lined avenue planted around the park and both an American and ornamental garden laid out. Although the park's name was taken from the area where the 19th century benefactors who created it lived, years before Harringay, the Park included, had been part the Finsbury division of the Ossultone Hundred.

Alexandra Palace

Close at hand, about a half-mile to the northwest of Harringay, Alexandra Palace and its park were laid out as a popular entertainment venue for the working people of north London. Designed to rival the Crystal Palace in South London, it opened to the public on 24 May 1873. The building was constructed almost entirely out of the materials of the 1862 International Exhibition (also known as the Great London Exposition). Fifteen days after it first opened, the building was gutted by fire – probably caused by some workmen who had been working on the roof of the great dome dropping lighted tobacco.

It was decided to rebuild the palace without delay and the second Alexandra Palace was opened on 1 May 1875. It contained a grand hall capable of seating 12,000 visitors; an Italian garden; a spacious court with a fine fountain; a concert-room, seating 3,500 visitors; a conservatory covered by a glass dome; two huge halls for the exhibition of works of art; a reading-room; a Moorish house and an Egyptian villa and a theatre with seating for over 3,000 people. There were also extensive facilities to feed and water the visitors including grill and coffee rooms, two banqueting rooms, drawing, billiard, and smoke rooms and a grand dining saloon, which accommodated as many as 1,000 people. The park featured a whole range of entertainment facilities including a number of Swiss chalets and other follies, an extensive ranges of greenhouses; a racecourse; a trotting ring with stabling for several hundred horses; a cricket-ground and a Japanese village, comprising a temple, a residence, and a bazaar.

Queen's Head

In 1794 Harringay's first pub, the 'Queen's Head', was established as a road tavern. Well situated for visitors to Alexandra Palace in later years, it also had a tea garden. When it was modernised in 1898, the builders found a solid gold ring with an inset emerald from the 14th century. The ring was given to the British Museum where it still is today.


The desire to escape from London coupled with increasing wealth brought more than just day-trippers. As the eighteenth century drew to a close the wealthier classes increasingly chose to settle in areas close to but outside London. By the mid-nineteenth century, the area just outside Harringay to the south and southeast of Finsbury Park was becoming a London suburb. To the west, in Crouch End and Hornsey, there were a number of comfortable villas built. Yet in Harringay, right up to 1880, only a handful of larger houses and a few comfortable suburban style houses were built.

To the west of Green Lanes, just one house, Harringay House, was built prior to 1880.

Harringay House

An old Tudor House had reputedly stood at the top of the hill between present-day Allison and Hewitt Roads and was apparently demolished in 1750. The last owner of the land, Ida Cozens, sold it in 1789 to Edward Gray, a linen draper of Cornhill. When he acquired the land it was known as Downhill Fields. It included Collier's Field, Hill Field, Pond Field, South Field and, Wood Field. In 1792 Gray built a large house on the site of the old house, within a loop of the New River. He named it 'Harringay House'.

During his lifetime Gray added significant lands to the original estate. In 1791 he acquired 4 acres (16,000 m2) of land called Drayner's Grove from Elizabeth Lady Colerane. He subsequently acquired freehold or copyhold much of the land that now makes up the western part of Harringay. The size of his land acquisitions can be gauged by his holdings over time. He was rated for 55 acres (220,000 m2) in 1796. By 1801 he had added at least another 85 acres (340,000 m2), including Tile Kiln Field and in 1829 he was assessed on 192 acres (0.78 km2).

Gray also built up huge collections of fine art, antique books and rare plants. Both his art and plant collections became famous. His art collection was described by William Buchanan as "one of the finest small collections of pictures in the country". The collection included several paintings by Reubens, Rembrandt, Titian and others.

His renowned collection of plants included a number of rare species including a celebrated magnolia grandiflora which was one of the best specimens in the country along with those at Syon House and Hatfield House. Under Gray, Harringay also developed a notoriety for its steam-heated greenhouses - pioneering at the time. "Ten large hothouses have been heated in a masterly manner, the largest of them 550 feet (170 m) from the boiler. The houses thus heated comprised two graperies, two pineries, a peach house, a strawberry pit, a mushroom-house, in all 50,000 cubic feet (1,400 m3) of air, and in addition, it supplied a steam apparatus in the farm-yard".

Gray died in 1838 and for the rest of its life the house became the seat for a series of grandees of some of London's key financial institutions. Immediately after Gray's death, much, if not all, of the estate was purchased by Edward Chapman, a director of the Bank of England, JP for Middlesex and a one time partner in the failed banking firm of Overend & Gurney. At the time he acquired Harringay House he was described as a magistrate and ship owner.

Standing in extensive gardens and a park laid out between 1800 and 1809, Harringay House was probably the largest house in the Borough of Hornsey. The only picture that survives is a very indistinct image of the house in the distance (see below). However, it is still possible to have an idea of what it was like. It is known from maps that Gray built a pair of gate lodges on Drayner’s Grove and that a grand drive swept up the hill, crossing the New River on an iron bridge, to a forecourt in front of the house. For the rest, there are a number of contemporary descriptions of the house and its surrounding parkland and gardens.

Mid-nineteenth century writers left the following description:

Through the grove, that protects the mansion from the west and surly north winds, are pleasant walks that traverse the grounds and communicate with the kitchen garden. Large evergreen trees and shrubs fringe this plantation, and produce shelter and other effects not to be disregarded in scenes of extent and of grandeur. The kitchen garden, about 1-acre (4,000 m2) and half-walled in, is seated on a sloping bank and furnished with a peach house and vinery pit 40 feet (12 m) long, and vinery pit 40 feet (12 m) long, and another pit of the same length for strawberries.

The interior of the house was described in great detail in the brochure produced for the sale of the house in 1883

It is also known that the occupants lived comfortable lifestyles. Records for both Chapman and Alexander showed that they employed 14 servants including gardeners, grooms and coachmen.

Edward Chapman died at Harringay House on March 22nd 1869 and the house was let to William Cleverly Alexander wealthy banker of the City bankers Alexanders, Cunliffes & Co. Harringay's links to the Arts forged by Edward Gray were revived under the brief tenancy of collector and art connoisseur Alexander and his wife who was friend to the famous painter James McNeill Whistler. For a short period Whistler became a regular visitor to the house. Alexander moved out shortly after buying one of the largest private houses in Kensington, Aubrey House in Campden Hill, in 1873. The last tenant and final occupant of the house was Frederick William Price, at the time Chief Acting Partner in the private bank, Child & Co., one of the oldest financial institutions in the UK. By 1880, the estate had been sold to a Mr Hodgson who planned to develop the estate for housing.

Other settlements

To the east of Green Lanes, although building activity was still very limited during this period, a number of houses were built.

The 1798 Wyburd Map shows just three buildings in (or very close to) the borders of today’s Harringay. All three were close to the east of Hanger’s Green on present day St Ann’s Road. One house, referred to as 'Hanger Green House' on the later 1864 Ordnance Survey (OS) map, stood on the site of the earlier 'Hanger Barn', just to the East of where Warwick Gardens is today. It is not known whether or at what date the earlier building was replaced.

A little further west on the opposite side of the road, near today’s Brampton Road, stood another building. The 1864 OS map refers to it as 'Rose Cottage'. It is likely this was a farm building originally, taking on the more romantic name only in the Victorian period. Mrs Couchman, an early twentieth century writer recalling the past, described it as a cottage, having a verandah covered with white clematis which blossomed freely every year.

Finally, the 1798 map shows a building on the triangle of land today created by the meeting of St Ann’s and Salisbury Roads. The 1864 map suggests that by that time there were six buildings which appear to be small paired cottages.

By the mid-nineteenth century the Eastern part of Harringay had experienced further development. In addition to the Hanger Green cluster, two more groups of houses had appeared; the first on Green Lanes between present day Colina and West Green Roads; the second was along Hermitage Road. On Green Lanes, the 1864 OS map shows eight semi-detached houses and one larger villa. Four of the houses stood opposite where Beresford Road is today. None remain. The other group, including the villa, shown as 'Elm House', were built on land now occupied by the 1920s block of flats called 'Mountview Court'. Hermitage Road was developed as a private road and in 1869 included just four large houses. The smallest of them, 'Swiss Cottage', stood on the corner with Green Lanes. A little further on, set back from the southern side of the road, was 'Vale House'. Further along still, where the road bends north today, was 'The Hermitage'. And beyond Harringay’s borders, opposite where Oakdale Road today joins Hermitage Road, stood 'The Retreat'. Mrs Couchman describes the road:

Northumberland House

Just to the south of Harringay's present-day borders, a large mansion, Northumberland House, was built by 1824 just to the south of the New River on the east side of Green Lanes. The building, which was converted for use as a lunatic asylum as early as 1830, remained until the late 1950s when it was demolished and a council housing estate built on the site.

Economic history

Economic activity within Harringay was almost all agricultural. In the mid-nineteenth century a Barratt’s sweet factory was established between the Great Northern Railway and Wood Green. But the only economic activity unrelated to agriculture or leisure within Harringay was that at the tile kilns and potteries.

Tile kilns

In the last years of the 18th century a tile kiln was established on the site on Green Lanes now occupied by Sainsbury’s and the Arena shopping mall. From the earliest days, the site was quite extensive; the Wyburd map of 1798 together with the 1864 and 1894 Ordnance Survey maps show two groups of buildings; one in the north of the site, close to where the railway now is, the other on the south of the site, reaching almost to Hermitage Road.

In 1826, although owned by Nathaniel Lee, the name of the occupier is William Scales and the site was trading as 'Scales Wm, brick and tile manufacturer'. By 1843 the site was shown in rating records as 'Land & Potteries' as well as 'Tile Kilns and Land' together with '13 cottages compound'. This suggests that the two groups of buildings, although related, were producing slightly different goods. The cottages were those supplied for the workers.

The January 1870 rating record suggests further expansion with a new entry for 'Brickgrounds' and the change of 'William Scales' to 'Scales & Company'. By January 1880, Scales owned some of the site alongside Lee and the whole site was occupied by W. T. Williamson, a name which became synonymous with the site in the locality where the works were known as 'Williamson's Potteries' or just 'Williamson's'. By this time, it is clear from photographs that the combined output of the sites included tiles, bricks, drain pipes and chimney pots as well as horticultural pots.

Williamson's Potteries closed in 1905 and in the same year the cottages were condemned as unfit for human habitation by the Medical Officer of Health. The site then served as a rubbish tip for a number of years before being developed for Harringay Stadium and Arena.


In 1852 the Great Northern Railway main line from King's Cross to Doncaster was opened. Originally, the first stop beyond London was Hornsey. In 1861 the first station at Finsbury Park opened and was originally named Seven Sisters Road (Holloway). The station at Harringay was not to open till 1885.

Tottenham & Hampstead Junction Railway opened on 21 July 1868 between Tottenham North Junction and Highgate Road. Its Harringay station, 'Green Lanes Station', was opened in 1880. The first of several name changes for the station came just three years later when it was renamed 'Harringay Park, Green Lanes'.


The Stamford Hill and Green Lanes Turnpike Trust erected a toll gate on Green Lanes by Duckett's Common, near Turnpike Lane in 1765. For the next 27 years this was the only tollgate on Green Lanes, at which time the Manor House toll gate was set up, along with others outside of the Harringay area. The turnpike system on Green Lanes was abandoned in 1872. Photographs of both the "Manor House" and "Duckett's Common" turnpikes still exist today.

Seven Sisters Road was laid out in 1833 and provided a major thoroughfare along the southern edge of Harringay connecting it to Holloway, Camden and the West End of London.

Highway robbery was a problem and attacks became common in the mid 18th century. In 1830, there were complaints from the residents of Stoke Newington Parish that the part of Green Lanes between Harringay and Stoke Newington was insufficiently protected.


In 1750 the area that was to become Harringay was almost all agricultural land. Only two or three buildings stood within its boundaries. Over the 130 years to 1880, significant parts of it were brought into a more modern use, either as comfortable houses or as parkland. But still by 1880, less than two dozen buildings existed. However, the continuing growth of London and the consequential development of Finsbury Park, nearby Alexandra Park and most especially the building of railways were about to change things in a far more radical manner.


History of Harringay (1750–1880) Wikipedia