Sheep rustling in Holloway; a reminder of our rural past

The new Metropolitan Cattle Market, Copenhagen Fields

Today I am starting a new blog series which will look at the smaller events (and some larger ones) associated with London’s streets and the people that lived in them in the past.

I am going to start with Tufnell Park Road in north London because it very close to where I was born and my family lived. Today it is a very urban, built up area, with some fairly well heeled residents living alongside rougher areas of relative deprivation. In that respect then Tufnell Park and Holloway is quite like a lot of the capital in the 21st century.

In May 1867 Richard Allcock was walking along Kentish Town Road at about 10 or 11 at night when he saw a man approaching, driving a ‘drove’ of lambs towards him. He knew the man, John (or ‘Jack’) Read as a fellow drover from the Highgate area. He counted 30 lambs and recognized as a breed native to the Isle of Wight.

He hailed his colleague who replied with a cheery,  ‘holloa Dick, is that you? Will you have a glass of ale?’ Allcock happily agreed and the pair enjoyed a few beers at a nearby public house.

On the following Thursday Allcock ran into Read again, this time at the Metropolitan Cattle Market at Copenhagen Fields by Caledonian Road. The market had moved there just a dozen years earlier from Smithfield as the City authorities attempted to ‘improve’ the built up centre of London. This, and the fact that Allcock later stated that flocks of lambs were regularly graved in Tufnell Park reminds us that, in the mid Victorian period, the area was very far from being as urban as it is today.

At market Allcock was speaking to another drover about his conversation with Jack when he came over and took his mate to one side. ‘Don’t say anything to anyone that you saw me on Monday night’, he said. If Allcock was puzzled it all soon became clear. On the night in question the lambs, part of a larger flock of 71 belonging to John Fuller, had vanished. Police sergeant David Older (16Y) had arrested Read following a tip off.

Read denied stealing them and said he was in bed by 5 o’clock that night, and didn’t get up again that day. Allcock’s evidence undermined that because he’d been drinking with him between 10 and 11. The police were sure they had their man but he wasn’t acting alone. Read himself came close to admitting his crime but muttered that he was ‘not going to take this all alone’.

His solicitor asked for bail when he appeared before the magistrate at Clerkenwell but Mr Cooke refused. Apparently Read had previous for stealing livestock and the police were reluctant to see him at liberty. Off to prison he went while the investigation continued.

Looking at George W. Bacon’s map of London for 1888 Tufnell Park Road is much less built up that it is today. There is a cricket ground and considerable open space on the north side, in Upper Holloway, although there are buildings along most of the street. By the early 1900s the cricket ground is surrounded by housing and other property; all the green space has gone and a railway (the Tottenham and Hampstead Junction) runs across its northern edge.

In Charles Booth’s 1889/90 map of the northern suburbs Tufnell Park Road is solidly red in colour, marking it out as a comfortable middle class area with, as one might expect for a major thoroughfare, plenty of commercial property. Tufnell Park Road looks then, like a respectable street in a mixed working-class area but the situation does vary across Holloway, something I’ll pick in more detail by looking at Booth’s notebooks in the next blog.

[from Daily News, Thursday, June 6, 1867]

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