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.

 

 

Child murder, suicide, neglect, and petty theft: just an average day in London

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This is the last in this series of posts from one week in 1884 and I’m going to finish it with a summary of the reports that appeared in the Morning Post under the heading ‘Police Intelligence’ which again show the diversity of business the police magistrate courts of the Victorian capital dealt with.

The most serious case was at Clerkenwell where Mr Hosack fully committed Sidney Clay to trial at the Central Criminal Court (at Old Bailey). Clay, a 30 year-old tobacconist from Holloway Road, was accused of ‘having encouraged and endeavoured to persuade Eustace de Gruther, doctor of medicine, to kill and murder’ a baby boy who was just two months old.

Clay’s lawyer argued that the doctor, as the only witness, was trying to implicate his client but the magistrate decided that the case needed to be heard by a jury and bailed Clay for £200.  In late February Clay was tried and convicted at the Bailey but it was recognized that the whole thing might not have been as intentional as it seemed at first. The jury recommended Clay to mercy and the judge gave him just six months hard labour. Interestingly here his age was given as just 21, not 30, so perhaps the reporter got it wrong at the original hearing – a reminder that we should always treat historical sources carefully.

Another tragedy of life was played out in Southwark Police court where Elizabeth Brockett was prosecuted for trying to kill herself. The 31 year-old (if we are to believe the report at least) was seen on London Bridge by a  wharf labourer. John Flanaghan was alerted by a woman’s scream and looked up to see Elizabeth who had just discarded her bonnet and shawl and was about to launch herself into the Thames. He rushed to save her, and, with the help of a policeman, managed to drag her back from the brink.

In court the woman told Mr Slade that she was ‘in great distress of mind, owing to the loss of two children’. She’d been very ill but promised never to try to do anything like this again. She was released back into the care of her husband.

At Hampstead John Redworth didn’t appear when his case was called. He’d been summoned by an officer of School Board for neglecting to send his daughter, Justina (9) to school. This was a common enough sort of hearing but was very rarely reported so what made this one special? Well it was that perennial issue around travelling people. Redworth was a member of a community of ‘gipsies’ who had been camping on Hampstead Heath. Apparently Redworth’s was the only family that had children of school age and so his was the only summons made.

He turned up in the end but too late for the magistrate (Mr Andrews) who had already adjourned the case for a month. The encampment had moved on the magistrate was told, so perhaps the court would decide to leave the girl’s education for someone else to deal with.

At Marylebone William Bliss (a footman) was charged with theft and receiving a china vase. He appeared in the dock with his accomplice and fellow servant Catherine Churchyard. The pair worked for a family in Chelsea and claimed the case had just been broken and they’d hidden the evidence to save Catherine getting into trouble. Mr De Rutzen didn’t buy this version of events and remanded them for a week to see what the police could find out about the case. I fear that at best the couple would have been dismissed from service, at worst they might have to spend some time behind bars.

So in just four reports that day we have a child murder, an attempted suicide, servant theft, and a case of truancy involving travellers. If we added a fraud, a case of domestic violence, and some drunk and disorderly behaviour on the streets in the West End we would have a very normal day at the Police courts of Victorian London.

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, 31 January, 1884]

A drunken musician picks a ‘fight’ with the police

George Cutler, a 22 year-old ‘milk-carrier’ was charged at Clerkenwell Police Court in early January 1886 with being drunk and disorderly in Holloway Road at Christmas. One imagines that plenty of people were getting  bit worse for wear in the festivities surrounding Christmas so George must either have stood out as particularly inebriated or he gave some resistance to the arresting policeman he encountered. The latter seems more likely in this case.

Cutler had been on the Holloway Road on Christmas Day at about 1.30 in the morning when PC Berriman (152 Y Division) approached him. Cutler was ‘standing in the road and playing tunes on a instrument’.

‘What sort of instrument’ asked the magistrate?

‘A melodian’ replied the policeman.

‘One of those instruments they grind?’

‘No, like a concertina’.

‘Well then, he wasn’t too drunk to play’ commented the magistrate, drawing laughter from the courtroom.

A second copper appeared to corroborate his fellow officer’s story, he was quite drunk he insisted. But Cutler challenged this arguing instead that it had been the policemen who were drunk, not himself. After all, as the justice noted, he was (by the police evidence) playing his instrument so can’t have been as intoxicated as they suggested.

They had ‘interfered with him for no cause’ and had taken him to the station, where no account was taken of their drunken state. At this the magistrate took the side of the police (as he was likely to do), insisting that had the brother officers been drinking it would have been noted at the police station.

Nevertheless he took pity on the man because it was in a season where merriment was expected. He fined him just 6s and sent him on his way.

 

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, January 3, 1886]

Clerkenwell on the eve of an ‘outrage’, 1867

 

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The 13 December 1867 saw a massive terrorist attack in London. Irish republicans (‘Fenians’ as they were called) exploded a bomb at Clerkenwell Prison in an attempt to free members of their organization imprisoned inside. The attack failed in its intention as no prisoners escaped, but the bomb caused damage and killed 12 people and wounded more than a hundred more. I cover the attack and the related terrorist ‘war’ that followed in the 1880s in London’s Shadows, so I won’t revisit it here except to say that the bombing led to the arrest and trial of six men in April 1868. Michael Barrett was the only person convicted despite claiming to have been in Scotland at the time the bomb was exploded. He became the last man to be publically hanged in England when he was executed outside Newgate on the 26 May that year.

On the morning of the 13 December 1867 the Clerkenwell Police Court met as normal. The newspaper reported the proceedings on all London courts that day, choosing cases they thought might interest their readers.

In this case it was the story of three young thieves and their uncle, and an older ‘fence’. Henry Mason (18) and their younger sister Emma (just 14) were accused of stealing china and glass. William Mason (40) and William Bridge (aged 43) were charged with receiving the stolen items.

Emma Mason worked for a china and glass dealer named Ward who kept two shops on the Holloway Road. On the 2 December Emma was seen (by a passing policeman on his beat) coming out of one of the shops with a box of china, which she handed over to a young lad (later identified as her brother, Henry).

As the PC approached Henry scarpered with the constable in pursuit. He got away but the policeman returned to the shop and arrested Emma and William Mason. He soon extracted the address where their brother could be found and proceeded to Hope Cottage in Holloway with a fellow officer.

When they entered the house they found it stuffed with china and glass. There were ‘cut glass decanters, chimney ornaments, glasses, china plates, a set of tea trays, some tinware, and numerous other articles’, all belonging to Mr. Ward.

The ‘elder Mason’ (the uncle of the younger ones) was now arrested and when his room was searched the police found 43 pawnbroker’s duplicates, which presumably led them to William Bridge and a charge of receiving. The magistrate committed them all to trial.

They appeared at the Middlesex Sessions of the Peace in January 1868 and William Mason pleased guilty as charged. The court heard that he a criminal record already, including two separate terms of penal servitude. He was the chief instigator of the crime and ‘had signaled to the girl in Mr. Ward’s shop, so ‘she might know when to hand out articles to her little brother’. This girl was not Emma but her older sister Mary Ann (who did not appear in the summary hearing).

On conviction the judge postponed sentence on Mary so we might hope she escaped further punishment, perhaps because the court realized she would need to look after her younger sister (the children seem to have been orphans). Henry Mason was sent to Feltham (somewhere I remember well from the days when my father used to play football for a Probation Service team). Feltham opened as an Industrial School in 1854 but became the country’s second Borstal in 1910. It still holds young offenders aged 15-18.

But stiffest penalty was reserved for their uncle: the judge sent him away for ten years penal servitude as he was deemed ‘incorrigible’.

[from The Morning Post, Saturday, December 14, 1867, and Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper , Sunday, January 12, 1868]