Exploring Tufnell Park – fifty years on

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The first place I grew up in London was Tufnell Park although, since I left there when I was nearly 8, my memories of it are hazy. My family lived on Lady Margaret Road and then took a house on St George’s Avenue, my first home.

Yesterday I decided to revisit the area to see what remains of the district from my day (the second half of the 1960s) and, more importantly for this blog, the Victorian era.

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In the last blog I used Charles Booth’s notebooks, which revealed that in the 1880s/1890s the streets close to Tufnell Park were mixed but generally fairly comfortable and home to working men and women, mostly skilled or semi-skilled. These weren’t, for the most part at least, homes for the rising middle classes, and the vast majority of people rented.

Arriving at Tufnell Park for my walk (in the rain!) the first thing you notice is the Boston Arms on Junction Road and the underground station (below).  There was no underground railway to Tufnell Park in 1889/90 when Booth’s enumerators trudged the area, but Junction Road railway station served the Tottenham & Hampstead line.  The Boston Arms is listed on Booth’s map but the building there today was constructed in 1899, a few years later.

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Tufnell Park developed from the late 1840s and gathered pace in the mid 1860s and the area gained a good reputation until the end of the nineteenth century. As I noted yesterday, Booth flagged up concerns that poorer building in Celia Road, Hugo Road and Corinne Road all threatened to attract a poorer quality of resident and prompt the ‘better sort’ to leave. It was a process Booth observed across London where the ‘rich would soon be going’ to the greener suburbs away from the overcrowded centre.

I walked from Tufnell Park down Tufnell Park Road to Lady Margaret Road to explore the trio of streets Booth was concerned about. The houses in Southcote Road and Lady Margaret are notably bigger and finer but to the modern eye the Victorian properties in Hugo, Celia and Corinne are still fine buildings (see above images). This area now is quite desirable with properties being advertised in excess of £1-2,000,000. For example a 3 bedroom flat in Lady Margaret sold for £925k in August this year, a similar sized property in Hugo Road for £1m. My parents bought their house in St George’s Avenue for £1,800 in 1961. In 2016 the very same house (pictured below right, which had 6 bedrooms) sold for £1,575,000.

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In the 1880s there was a school on Carleton Road just down from St George’s church (built in 1868 by George Truefitt and which marked the junction with Tufnell Park Road). The school has gone now and a modern St George’s church stands there. The old church remains but as the Rock Tower community centre (having previously become the St George’s Theatre in 1971). There had been another school, at the other end of Carleton where it joined Brecknock Road, but that closed in 1878 after several of his fee paying female students were tragically killed in the Princess Alice disaster on the Thames.

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St George’s Church (now the Rock Tower centre) 

I walked all the way down Tufnell Park Road to the Holloway Road where I have dim memories of visiting Jones Brothers’ department store. That has gone now and the Holloway Road is a very mixed retail experience today, not one that would easily support a smart aspirational store like Jones used to be. At the end of Tufnell Park Road I was curious to find a row of older Victorian properties (below) which may well have dated back to the beginnings of the area’s development or even earlier. In Bacon’s late nineteenth-century map these appear as small blocks of houses, not the neatly delineated spaces of the majority of properties on the long road. There are grade II listed and smaller and I’d hazard a guess they are from the 1840s.

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Tufnell Park Road is probably not Roman in origin (despite some sources suggesting it is) and is named for the Tufnell family that owned large estates around the area in the eighteenth century. It is a fine straight road with mixed properties and a large pub (the Tufnell Park Tavern) at 162. The pub opened in 1871 as the Tufnell Arms, one of only a handful in the area by comparison to some of the ‘rougher’ parts of the capital at the time.  With its mixed population of artisans, clerks, music hall artistes, postmen and police, Tufnell Park in the 1890s was an area that had risen and developed over the past 30-40 years but in decline. By the end of the Second World War it was solidly working class and large social housing estates were built post 1945 towards the Holloway Road end of Tufnell Park Road, near to Carleton Road (which had been the most desirable street in the district).

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Today most of the people I saw around St George’s Avenue, Lady Margaret’s, Hugo, Corinne and Carleton were fairly well heeled ‘Islington types’. There were lots of ‘Vote Labour’ posters in the windows and on Fortess Road (where my grandmother used to work in a grocery shop) there are some quite smart independent bakers, fishmongers, and butchers; not quite Hampstead or Crouch End but reflective of a district that has rediscovered its position as a desirable location for ‘fairly comfortable’ North Londoners.

Next stop, Stoke Newington and Clissold Park.

 

 

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