On Wednesday this week I began a slightly different blog series, which, while it will still focus on London in the nineteenth century will not always use the metropolitan police courts for its primary sources material. Today I’m using Charles Booth’s poverty maps and notebooks from the late 1880s and early 1890 to explore the roads around Tufnell Park (where I was born in the 1960s) to see what sort of a district it was at the time.
The previous blog was a reminder that while modern Upper Holloway is a densely populated urban sprawl, in the 1880s open green space still existed and drovers still brought flocks of sheep through the streets to the Metropolitan Meat Market at Caledonian Road. A friend also pointed out that sheep herding continued in Finchley (where I later grew up) right up to the middle of the last century, the 1950s although the last recorded incident of sheep ‘rustling’ was in 1839.
My family lived in St George’s Avenue in the early 1960s, moving there just before or during the Second World War from a property not that far away. I can’t find Booth’s notebook entries for St George’s Avenue but we do have them for nearby street like Lady Margaret Road. Booth coloured Lady Margaret Road pink, meaning it was ‘fairly comfortable’ with ‘good ordinary earnings’. It was a better off street to some of those around it, notably Fulbrook Road (which was ‘not quite so good, used to be rough’ and Brecknock Road which had elements that were purple (meaning some residents were poor).
The people living in Warrender Road in 3 storey sub-letted houses were paying £34 to £40 rent per annum and were mostly milkmen, police and postmen. The two storied houses in Brecknock Road had seven rooms, so clearly houses of multiple occupation are not a ‘modern’ thing at all. It cost more to live in Southcote Road and Lady Margaret Road (£40-45 in the former, £52 in the latter) and so we’d expect the residents there to be clerks and better paid artisans and shop workers. For comparison £52 in 1889 would equate to about £4,250 today.
This area of North London was the setting for George and Weedon Grossmith’s Diary of Nobody (serialized in Punch in 1888-9, later published as a book in 1892). The fictionalized diary is kept by Charles Pooter, a London clerk, and records his misadventures in social climbing and reflects a contemporary view of the sort of people that were buying and renting property in the expanding Northern suburbs of London. Pooter and his wife end son lived at ‘The Laurels’ (pictured, right below). It is very funny and well worth your time if you haven’t read it.
Going east from Lady Margaret Road, Booth’s enumerators noted that while the people living in Celia Road, Corinne Road and Hugo Road were all ‘mostly comfortable’ the property they were living in was ‘all badly built’. Despite the houses being ‘not 10 years old’ they were ‘cracking above the windows’, had ‘very small backs’ and would ‘probably go down in character’. This might reflect rapid expansion in the area with builders and developers keen to cash in on the growth of London’s population and the desire to move out of the East End and centre.
He went on to comment that while the north west end of Upper Holloway was pink and the south red, suggesting comfortable living and some relative affluence, the north east was light and dark blue, revealing poverty. Moreover he reflected that ‘the best people are leaving’. Adding that if good new small houses for rent were built then the area could maintain its ‘pink’ status (like Stamford Hill) but if not there was a risk that it would only attract the poorer elements and ‘go rapidly down’.
Today the street layouts around Lady Margaret Road remain almost identical to the 1880s so in my final blog of the first trio I will head off to the area on foot to see what it looks like today. Hopefully you’ll see the results on Sunday or Monday of next week.