HIGHBURY—UPPER HOLLOWAY—KING'S CROSS.
Jack Straw's Castle—A Famous Hunt—A Celebrity of Highbury Place—Highbury Barn and the Highbury Society—Cream Hall—Highbury
Independent College—"The Mother Redcap"—The Blount Family—Hornsey Road and "The Devil's House" therein—Turpin, the
Highwayman—The Corporation of Stroud Green—Copenhagen Fields—The Corresponding Society—Horne Tooke—Maiden Lane—Battle
Bridge—The "King's Cross" Dustheaps and Cinder-sifters—Small-pox Hospital—The Great Northern Railway Station.
In 1271 the prior of the convent of Knights Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem, at Clerkenwell,
purchased an old manor house here, as a summer
residence, and it was afterwards rebuilt higher to
the eastward, changing its name from Tolentone
to Highbury In the reign of Richard II., when
Wat Tyler and his bold Kentish men poured down
on London, a detachment under Jack Straw, Wat's
lieutenant, who had previously plundered and burnt
the Clerkenwell convent, pulled down the house at
Highbury. The ruins afterwards became known
as "Jack Straw's Castle." It is thought by antiquaries that the prior's moated house had been
the prætorium of the summer camp of the Roman
garrison of London.
Many of the old conduit heads belonging to the
City were at Highbury and its vicinity, one of these
supplied the parish of St. Giles's, Cripplegate; and
Mr. Lewis mentions another remaining in 1842, in
a field opposite No. 14, Highbury Place. It might
have been from Highbury that the hunt took place,
noted by Strype as occurring in 1562, when the
Lord Mayor, aldermen, and many worshipful persons rode to the Conduit Heads, then hunted and
killed a hare, and, after dining at the Conduit
Head, hunted a fox and killed it, at the end of St.
Giles's, Cripplegate, with a great hallooing and
blowing of horns at his death; and thence the
Lord Mayor, with all his company, rode through
London to his place in Lombard Street.
One of the former celebrities of Highbury Place
was that well-known chief cashier of the Bank of
England, honest old Abraham Newland. For
twenty-five years this faithful servant had never
slept out of the Bank of England, and his Highbury
house was only a pleasant spot where he could rest
for a few hours. He resigned his situation in 1807,
on which occasion he declined an annuity offered
by the Company, but accepted a service of plate,
valued at a thousand guineas. He left £200,000,
besides £1,000 a year, arising from estates.
He made his money chiefly by shares of loans to
Government, in which he could safely speculate.
He was the son of a Southwark baker.
Another distinguished inhabitant of Highbury
was John Nichols, for nearly half a century editor of
the Gentleman's Magazine, and partner of William
Bowyer, the celebrated printer. His "Anecdotes
of Hogarth," and his "History of Leicestershire,"
were his chief works. He was a friend of Dr.
Johnson, and seems to have been an amiable,
industrious man, much beloved by his friends. He
died suddenly, while going up-stairs to bed, in 1826.
Highbury Barn (built on the site of the barn of
the prior's old mansion) was originally a small
ale and cake house. It was the old rendezvous of
the Highbury Society as far back as the year 1740.
This society was established to commemorate the
dropping of a Schism Act, cruelly severe on
Protestant Dissenters, and which was to have
received the Royal sanction the day Queen Anne
"The party," says a chronicler of the society,
"who walked together from London had a rendezvous in Moorfields at one o'clock, and at Dettingen
Bridge (where the house known by the name
of the 'Shepherd and Shepherdess' now stands),
they chalked the initials of their names on a post,
for the information of such as might follow. They
then proceeded to Highbury; and, to beguile their
way, it was their custom in turn to bowl a ball
of ivory at objects in their path. This ball has
lately been presented to the society by Mr. William
Field. After a slight refreshment, they proceeded
to the field for exercise; but in those days of
greater economy and simplicity, neither wine,
punch, nor tea was introduced, and eightpence was
generally the whole individual expense incurred.
A particular game, denominated hop-ball, has from
time immemorial formed the recreation of the
members of this society at their meetings. On a
board, which is dated 1734, which they use for
the purpose of marking the game, the following
motto is engraven:—'Play justly; play moderately; play cheerfully; so shall ye play to a
rational purpose.' It is a game not in use elsewhere in the neighbourhood of London, but one
something resembling it is practised in the West
of England. The ball used in this game, consisting of a ball of worsted stitched over with silk
or pack-thread, has from time immemorial been
gratuitously furnished by one or another of the
members of the society. The following toast has
been always given at their annual dinner in August,
viz.:— 'The glorious 1st of August, with the immortal memory of King William and his good
Queen Mary, not forgetting Corporal John; and
a fig for the Bishop of Cork, that bottle-stopper.'
John, Duke of Marlborough, was probably intended
as the person designated Corporal John." The
Highbury Society, says an authority on such subjects, was dissolved about the year 1833.
At a little distance northward of Highbury
Barn was another dairy-farm called Cream Hall,
where Londoners came, hot and dusty, on shiny
summer afternoons, to drink new milk and to eat
custards, smoking sillabubs, or cakes dipped in
frothing cream. Gradually Highbury farm grew
into a tavern and tea-gardens, and the barn was
added to the premises, and fitted up as the principal
room of the tavern, and there the court baron for
the manor was held. Mr. Willoughby, an enterprising proprietor who died in 1785, increased the
business, and his successors added a bowlinggreen, a trap ball-ground, and more gardens. A
hop-garden and a brewery were also started, and
charity and club dinners became frequent here.
The barn could accommodate nearly 2,000 persons
at once, and 800 people have been seen dining
together, with seventy geese roasting for them at
one fire. In 1808, the Ancient Freemasons sat
down, 500 in number, to dinner; and in 1841,
3,000 licensed victuallers. There is now a theatre
and a dancing-room, and all the features of a modern
Ranelagh. The Sluice House, Eel Pie House, and
Hornsey-wood House were old haunts of anglers
and holiday-makers in this neighbourhood.
Highbury Independent College was removed
from Hoxton in 1826. The institution began in
a house at Mile End, rented, in 1783, by Dr.
Addington, for a few students to be trained for
the ministry. The present site was purchased for
£2,100, by the treasurer, Mr. Wilson, and given
to the charity. The building cost upwards of
£15,000. "The Congregationalist College at
Highbury, an offshoot from the one at Homerton,"
says Mr. Howitt, "was built in 1825, and opened
in September, 1826, under the superintendence of
Drs. Harris, Burder, and Halley, for the education
of ministers of that persuasion. Amongst the distinguished men whom this college produced are
the popular minister of Rowland Hill's Chapel,
Blackfriars Road, the Rev. Newman Hall, and
Mr. George Macdonald, the distinguished poet,
lecturer, and novelist. Mr. Macdonald, however,
had previously graduated at the University of
Aberdeen, and had there taken his degree of M.A.
In 1850 the buildings and property of the College
of Highbury were disposed of to the Metropolitan
Church of England Training Institution, and the
business of the college transferred to New College,
St. John's Wood, into which the three Dissenting
colleges of Homerton, Coward, and Highbury,
A well-known public-house the "Mother Redcap," at Upper Holloway, is celebrated by Drunken
Barnaby in his noted doggerel. The "Half
Moon," a house especially celebrated, was once
famous for its cheesecakes, which were sold in
London by a man on horseback, who shouted
In an old comedy, called Jacke Drum's Entertainment (4to, 1601), on the introduction of a Whitsun
morris-dance, the following song is given:—
"Skip it and trip it nimbly,
Tickle it, tickle it lustily,
Strike up the tabor for the wenches favour,
Tickle it, tickle it, lustily.
"Let us be seene on Hygate Greene
To dance for the honour of Holloway.
Since we are come hither, let's spare for no leather,
To dance for the honour of Holloway."
Upper Holloway was the residence of the ancient
and honourable Blount family, during a considerable
part of the seventeenth century. Sir Henry Blount,
who went to the Levant in 1634, wrote a curious
book of travels, and helped to introduce coffee
into England. He is said to have guarded the
sons of Charles I. during the battle of Edgehill.
His two sons both became authors. Thomas
wrote "Remarks on Poetry," and Charles was a
Deist, who defended Dryden, attacked every one
else, and wrote the life of Apollonius Tyaneus.
He shot himself in 1693, in despair at being refused ecclesiastical permission to marry the sister
of his deceased wife. The old manor house of the
Blounts was standing a few years ago.
Hornsey Road, which in Camden's time was a
"sloughy lane" to Whetstone, by way of Crouch
End, seventy years ago had only three houses, and
no side paths, and was impassable for carriages.
It was formerly called Devil's, or Du Val's, Lane,
and further back still Tollington Lane. There
formerly stood on the east side of this road, near
the junction with the Seven Sisters' Road, an
old wooden moated house, called "The Devil's
House," but really the site of old Tollington
House. Tradition fixed this lonely place as the
retreat of Duval, the famous French highwayman
in the reign of Charles II. After he was hung
in 1669, he lay in state at a low tavern in St.
Giles's, and was buried in the middle aisle of
St. Paul's, Covent Garden, by torchlight. The
tradition is evidently erroneous, as the Devil's
House in Devil's Lane is mentioned in a survey
of Highbury taken in 1611 (James I.) Duval
may, however, have affected the neighbourhood, as
near a great northern road. The moat used to be
crossed by a bridge, and the house in 1767 was a
public-house, where Londoners went to fish, and
enjoy hot loaves, and milk fresh from the cow.
In 1737, after Turpin had shot one of his pursuers
near a cave which he haunted in Epping Forest,
he seems to have taken to stopping coaches and
chaises at Holloway, and in the back lanes round
Islington. A gentleman telling him audaciously he
had reigned long, Dick replied gaily, "'Tis, no
matter for that, I'm not afraid of being taken by
you; so don't stand hesitating, but stump up the
cole." Nevertheless, the gallows came at last to
Stroud Green (formerly a common in Highbury
Manor) boasts an old house which once belonged
to the Stapleton family, with the date 1609. It
was afterwards converted into a public-house, and
a hundred and thirty years ago had in front the
"Ye are welcome all
To Stapleton Hall.
About a century ago a society from the
"Queen's Arms" Tavern, Newgate Street, used to
meet annually in the summer time at Stroud Green,
to regale themselves in the open air. They styled
themselves "The Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and
Corporation of Stroud Green," and the crowd that
joined them made the place resemble a fair.
Copenhagen Fields were, it is said, the site
of a public-house opened by a Dane, about the
time when the King of Denmark paid his visit to
his brother-in-law, James I. In Camden's map,
1695, it is called "Coopen Hagen," for the Danes
who were then frequenting it had kept up the
Danish pronunciation. Eventually, after the Restoration, it became a great tea-house, and a resort
for players at skittles and Dutch pins.
The house was much frequented for its teagardens, its fine view of the Hampstead and Highgate heights, and the opportunities it afforded for
recreation. Hone was told by a young woman who
had been the landlady's assistant that in 1780 a
body of the Lord George Gordon rioters passed
Copenhagen House with blue banners flying, on
their way to attack Caen Wood, the seat of Lord
Mansfield, and that the proprietor was so alarmed
at this, that at her request Justice Hyde sent a
party of soldiers to protect the establishment. Soon
after this a robbery at the house was so much talked
of, that the visitors began to increase, and additional rooms had to be built. The place then became famous for fives-playing, and here Cavanagh,
the famous Irish player, immortalised in a vigorous
essay by Hazlitt, won his laurels. In 1819 Hazlitt,
who was an enthusiast about this lively game,
writes, "Cavanagh used frequently to play matches
at Copenhagen House for wagers and dinners.
The wall against which they play is the same that
supports the kitchen chimney; and when the ball
resounded louder than usual, the cooks exclaimed,
'Those are the Irishman's balls,' and the joints
trembled on the spit." The next landlord encouraged dog-fighting and bull-baiting, especially
on Sunday mornings, and his licence was in consequence refused in 1816.
In the early days of the French Revolution, when
the Tories trembled with fear and rage, the fields
near Copenhagen House were the scene of those
meetings of the London Corresponding Society,
which so alarmed the Government. The most threatening of these was held on October 26, 1795,
when Thelwall, and other sympathisers with France
and liberty, addressed 40,000, and threw out hints
that the mob should surround Westminster on the
29th, when the king would go to the House. The
hint was attended to, and on that day the king was
shot at, but escaped unhurt. In 1794 many members of the Corresponding Society, including Hardy,
Thelwall, Holcroft, and Horne Tooke, had been
tried for treason in connection with the doings of
the society, but were all acquitted.
After Horne Tooke's acquittal, he is reported to
have remarked to a friend, that if a certain song,
exhibited at the trial of Hardy, had been produced
against him, he should have sung it to the jury;
that, as there was no treason in the words, they
might judge if there was any in the music.
COPENHAGEN HOUSE. (From a View taken about 1800.)
As he was returning from the Old Bailey to
Newgate, one cold night, a lady placed a silk
handkerchief round his neck, upon which he gaily
said, "Take care, madam, what you are about,
for I am rather ticklish in that place just now."
During his trial for high treason, Tooke is said to
have expressed a wish to speak in his own defence,
and to have sent a message to Erskine to that
effect, saying, "I'll be hanged if I don't!" to which
Erskine wrote back, "You'll be hanged if you do."
In April, 1834, an immense number of persons of
the trades' unions assembled in the Fields, to
form part of a procession of 40,000 men to Whitehall, to present an address to his Majesty (which,
however, Lord Melbourne rejected), signed by
260,000 unionists, on behalf of some of their colleagues who had been convicted at Dorchester for
administering illegal oaths. Among the leaders
appeared prominently Robert Owen, the socialist,
and a Radical clergyman in full canonicals, black
silk gown and crimson Oxford hood.
Maiden Lane (perhaps Midden or Dunghill
Lane), an ancient way leading from Battle Bridge
to Highgate, and avoiding the hill, was once the
chief road for northern travellers. At present,
bone-stores, chemical works, and potteries render
it peculiarly unsavoury.
Battle Bridge is so called for two reasons. In
the first place, there was formerly a small brick
bridge over the Fleet at this spot; and, secondly,
because, as London tradition has steadily affirmed,
here was fought the great battle between Suetonius
Paulinus, the Roman general, and Boadicea, the
Queen of the Iceni. It is still doubtful whether
the scene of the great battle was so near London,
but there is still much to be said in its favour.
The arguments pro and con are worth a brief discussion. Tacitus describes the spot, with his usual
sharp, clear brevity. "Suetonius," he says, "chose
a place with narrow jaws, backed by a forest."
Now the valley of the Fleet, between Pentonville
and Gray's Inn Lane, backed by the great northern
forest of Middlesex, undoubtedly corresponds with
this description, but then Tacitus, always clear and
vivid, makes no mention of the river Fleet, which
would have been most important as a defence for
the front and flank of the Roman army, and this
raises up serious doubts. The Roman summer
camp near Barnsbury Park, opposite Minerva
Terrace, in the Thornhill Road, we have already
mentioned. There was a praetorium there, a raised
breastwork, long visible from the Caledonian Road,
a well, and a trench. In 1825 arrow-heads and
red-tiled pavements were discovered in this spot.
KING'S CROSS. (From a View taken during its demolition in 1845.)
In 1680 John Conyers, an antiquarian apothecary of Fleet Street, discovered in a gravel-pit near
the "Sir John Oldcastle," in Coldbath Fields, the
skeleton of an elephant, and the shaft and flint
head of a British spear. Now it is certain that the
Romans in Britain employed elephants, as Polybius expressly tells us, when Julius Caesar forced
the passage of the Thames, near Chertsey, an
elephant, with archers in a houdah on its back, led
the way, and drove the astonished Britons to flight.
Another important proof also exists. In 1842 a
fragment of a Roman monumental inscription was
found built into a cottage on the east side of Maiden
Lane. It was part of the tomb of an officer of the
twentieth legion, which had been dug up in a field
on the west side of the road leading to the Caledonian Asylum. This legion formed part of the
army of Claudius which Paulinus led against Boadicea. Mr. Tomlins, however, is inclined to think
that a fight took place at Battle Bridge during the
early Danish invasions.
The great battle with the Romans, wherever it
took place, was an eventful one, and was one of
the last great efforts of the Britons. Suetonius, with
nearly 10,000 soldiers, waited for the rush of the
wild 200,000 half-savage men, who had already
sacked and destroyed Colchester, St. Albans, and
London. His two legions were in the centre, his
light-armed troops at hand, while his cavalry formed
his right and left wings. Boadicea and her two
daughters, in a war-chariot, was haranguing her
troops, while the wives of her soldiers were placed
in wagons at the rear end of the army, to view the
battle. The Britons rushed to the attack with
savage shouts, and songs of victory; the Romans
received their charge with showers of javelins, and
then advanced in the form of a wedge, the Britons
eagerly opening their ranks, to surround and devour them up. The British chariots, armed with
scythes, made great havoc among the Romans,
till Suetonius ordered his legionaries to aim only at
the charioteers. The Britons, however, after a stubborn fight, gave way before the close ranks of
disciplined warriors, leaving some 80,000 men upon
the field, while the Romans, shoulder to shoulder,
are reported to have lost only 400 men. The line
of wagons with the women proved a fatal obstruction to the flight of the Britons. The last fact to
be recorded about the Romans at Battle Bridge is
the discovery, in 1845, under the foundation of a
house in Maiden Lane, of an iron urn, full of gold
and silver coins of the reign of Constantine.
Gossiping Aubrey mentions that in the spring after
the Great Fire of London the ruins were all overgrown with the Neapolitan cress, "which plant,"
says he, "Thomas Willis (the famous physician)
told me he knew before but in one place about
town, and that was at Battle Bridge, by the 'Pinder
of Wakefield,' and that in no great quantity." In
the reign of Edward VI., says Stow, a miller of
Battle Bridge was set in the pillory in Chepe, and
had his ears cut off, for uttering seditious words
against the Duke of Somerset. In 1731, John
Everett, a highwayman, was hung at Tyburn, for
stopping a coach and robbing some ladies at Battle
Bridge. The man had served in Flanders as a
sergeant, and had since kept an ale-house in the
In 1830 Battle Bridge assumed the name of
King's Cross, from a ridiculous octagonal structure crowned by an absurd statue of George IV.,
which was erected at the centre of six roads
which there united. The building, ornamented by
eight Doric columns, was sixty feet high, and was
crowned by a statue of the king eleven feet high.
Pugin, in that bantering book, "The Contrasts,"
ridiculed this effort of art, and contrasted it with
the beautiful Gothic market cross at Chichester.
The Gothic revival was only just then beginning, and
the dark age was still dark enough. The basement
was first a police-station, then a public-house with a
camera-obscura in the upper storey. The hideous
monstrosity was removed in 1845. Battle Bridge,
which had been a haunt of thieves and murderers,
was first built upon by Mr. Bray and others, on the
accession of George IV., when sixty-three houses
were erected in Liverpool Street, Derby Street,
&c. The locality being notorious, it was proposed
to call it St. George's Cross, or Boadicea's Cross,
but Mr. Bray at last decreed that King's Cross was
to be the name.
Early in the century the great dust-heaps of
London (where now stand Argyle, Liverpool, and
Manchester Streets) were some of the disgraces of
London; and when the present Caledonian Road
was fields, near Battle Bridge were heaped hillocks
of horse-bones. The Battle Bridge dustmen and
cinder-sifters were the pariahs of the metropolis.
The mountains of cinders and filth were the débris
of years, and were the haunts of innumerable pigs.
The Russians, says the late Mr. Pinks, in his excellent "History of Clerkenwell," bought all these
ash-heaps, to help to rebuild Moscow after the
French invasion. The cinder-ground was eventually
sold, in 1826, to the Pandemonium Company for
£15,000, who walled in the whole and built the
Royal Clarence Theatre at the corner of Liverpool
Street. Somewhere near this Golgotha was a piece
of waste ground, where half the brewers of the
metropolis shot their grains and hop-husks. It
became a great resort for young acrobats and clowns,
(especially on Sunday mornings), who could here
tumble and throw "flip-flaps" to their hearts'
content, without fear of fracture or sprain.
In 1864 Mr. Grove, an advertising tailor of Battle
Bridge, bought Garrick's villa, at Hampton, for
£10,800. In 1826, opposite the great cinder-mountain of Battle Bridge, was St. Chad's Well, a chalybeate spring supposed to be useful in cases of liver
attacks, dropsy, and scrofula. About the middle of
the last century 800 or 900 persons a morning used
to come and drink these waters, and the gardens
were laid out for invalids to promenade.
The Great Northern Railway Terminus at
King's Cross occupies more than forty-five acres
of land. For the site of the passenger station,
the Small-pox and Fever Hospital was cleared
away. The front towards Pancras Road has two
main arches, each 71 feet span, separated by
a clock tower 120 feet high. The clock has
dials 9 feet in diameter, and the principal bell
weighs 29 cwt. Each shed is 800 feet long, 105
feet wide, and 71 feet high to the crown of the
semicircular roof, without a tie. The roof is formed
of laminated ribs 20 feet apart, and of inch-and-ahalf planks screwed to each other. The granary
has six storeys, and will hold 60,000 sacks of corn.
On the last storey are water-tanks, holding 150,000
gallons; and the grain is hoisted by hydraulic
apparatus. The goods shed is 600 feet in length,
and 80 feet wide; and the roof is glazed with cast
glass in sheets, 8 feet by 2 feet 6 inches. Under
the goods platform is stabling for 300 horses. The
shed adjoins the Regent's Canal, which, from
thence, enters the Thames at Limehouse. The
coal stores will contain 15,200 tons. The buildings
are by Lewis and Joseph Cubitt. The railway
passes under the Regent's Canal and Maiden Lane,
beneath Copenhagen Fields, over the Holloway
Road, through tunnels at Hornsey and elsewhere,
and over a viaduct at Welwyn, with forty-two arches,
30 feet wide, and 97 feet high (Timbs).