A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 6, Friern Barnet, Finchley, Hornsey With Highgate. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1980.
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SOCIAL AND CULTURAL ACTIVITIES.
In 1552 there were five licensed victuallers at Highgate, only three at Hornsey, and one at Muswell Hill. (fn. 1) Evidence for Highgate's growth as a separate place of resort lies in a rhyme about morris dancing on the green in 1601, (fn. 2) in an indictment for evil rule on the Sabbath in 1616, (fn. 3) and in the inclusion of the Mermaid among the taverns of London by the 'water poet' John Taylor in 1636. (fn. 4) Festivities, perhaps indicating a fair, took place in 1676 (fn. 5) and in the Grove in 1744. (fn. 6) The Cave at Highgate, 'a nursery of profaneness', was suppressed after its owners had been indicted in 1714. (fn. 7)
There was a bowling alley near Hornsey church in 1622. A bowling green was being laid out at Muswell Hill in 1668 (fn. 8) and existed in 1717, when a nearby skittle alley on the waste was ordered to be levelled. (fn. 9) At Highgate there was a bowling green south of the Red Lion by 1757 (fn. 10) and the opening of another was announced by the landlord of the Castle in 1769, when it was to be used by a local society. Highgate gentlemen were also seeking members for a cricket club at about that time. (fn. 11) Foot races were held from Barnet to the Gatehouse in 1697 and down Highgate Hill, with one contestant on stilts, in 1740. Three days of horse-racing, on a new course at Highgate, were advertised in 1735. (fn. 12) Brief revivals of archery led to meetings near Highgate Hill in the 1730s (fn. 13) and to the formation in 1790 of the society of Woodmen of Hornsey, which competed at Blackheath in 1793. (fn. 14) In 1817 game around Hornsey offered a 'tolerable' day's shooting early in the season and harriers were kept by a gentleman of Muswell Hill. (fn. 15)
In 1761 the Rowes' old 'manor-house' of Muswell Hill had been converted some time ago into a place of entertainment. (fn. 16) Away from Highgate, however, the most popular Sunday resort by 1758 was Hornsey Wood House, (fn. 17) probably the Little Hornsey where citizens' ladies drank tea in 1755. It remained a genteel tea-house on the edge of Hornsey wood until 1796, when the building was extended as Hornsey Wood tavern, (fn. 18) some of the trees were felled, the gardens were enlarged, and a lake was formed. Thereafter it attracted a wide clientele: families, dinner parties, anglers, who found the lake better stocked than the New River, (fn. 19) and aristocratic pigeon-shooters, who held a match there in 1863. (fn. 20) The buildings were demolished in 1866 and their grounds absorbed in Finsbury park. (fn. 21)
Hornsey wood was a favourite haunt of the poet George Crabbe (1754-1832) (fn. 22) and could be reached by walkers from Islington who came first to a sluicehouse over the New River, east of what was later the end of Blackstock Road. (fn. 23) The sluice-house, depicted from the late 18th century (fn. 24) and partly surviving in 1874, was often confused with a resort popular among working-class Londoners (fn. 25) and known as Highbury Sluice tea-house, formerly Eel-Pie house, in 1804. The old eel-pie house was called Highbury Sluice-House tavern by 1847, when its pleasure grounds stretched along the west bank of the river to the sluice-house. (fn. 26) A large two-storeyed building with dormers, (fn. 27) the tavern survived into the 1870s. The New Sluice-House inn had been built in Blackstock Road by 1890. (fn. 28)
Meanwhile, apparently at least from the early 17th century, the inns of Highgate were noted for a burlesque oath which was required of strangers and known as 'Swearing on the horns'. The custom may have originated among graziers, who halted on their way to Smithfield, or simply as the invention of an inn-keeper. (fn. 29) It was known to the poet Richard Brathwaite in 1638, (fn. 30) derided in 1681, (fn. 31) deplored as a popular distraction in 1754, (fn. 32) described in a pantomime song in 1782, (fn. 33) mentioned by Byron, (fn. 34) and depicted by several artists, (fn. 35) including George Cruikshank. (fn. 36) An early-19th-century licensee recalled as many as 120 applicants in one day, when gentry and London tradesmen had come to be sworn freemen of Highgate and guards officers had celebrated at the Gatehouse. (fn. 37) In 1795 every inn kept a pair of horns on which the oath was administered, although swearing had already become less common (fn. 38) and by 1830 was of antiquarian interest. (fn. 39) The ceremony was confined to one inn by 1857 (fn. 40) and soon afterwards died out, until revived outside the Gatehouse in 1898 (fn. 41) and again in 1906. (fn. 42) It was later practised by the Highgate Thirty club (fn. 43) and, from 1959, at the Wrestlers and other inns. (fn. 44)
At Highgate, which had a theatre in the early 19th century, (fn. 45) exclusive groups were formed by the better-off. Assemblies, presumably at the Gatehouse, were instituted or renewed in 1779, with as many as nine meetings in a season attended by subscribers' families and up to 24 non-members. The cost of tickets was raised from 1800 and assemblies came to be held monthly during the winter. Meetings were less frequent from 1819 and may have ceased after 1822. (fn. 46) Highgate book society, limited to eighteen members who each paid one guinea a year and an entrance fee, was formed in 1822. It met at subscribers' houses, included Dr. Gillman (fn. 47) who reputedly borrowed books which were annotated by Coleridge, (fn. 48) and later was served as treasurer by J. B. Dyne, headmaster of Highgate School. Dinners were held ten times a year in 1901. The society was wound up in 1922, when its remaining funds were given to Highgate School to found a prize. (fn. 49)
Highgate Literary and Scientific Institution was established in 1839, with 76 subscribers and Harry Chester as its president. (fn. 50) During its first year, at no. 1 Southwood Terrace, 400 books were acquired and lectures inaugurated. The institution began as another genteel society, observing social distinctions among its members, but it admitted working men at reduced rates from 1848. Supported by well-to-do residents and many distinguished officers and speakers, the institution soon became the axis of the social and cultural life of Highgate, as was still claimed in 1956. Through its publications it helped to preserve the village, (fn. 51) whose situation on a hill-top, at a distance from municipal libraries and meetingplaces, itself enabled the institution to survive. Presidents included Charles Tomlinson and Robert Whipple, the second of whom was a generous benefactor. Premises in South Grove, originally outbuildings of Church House and then a Jewish school, (fn. 52) were leased in 1840 and bought in 1932. The former schoolroom served as a library, with a new lecture theatre behind, until in 1880 the library moved to the rear and a bigger lecture hall was built by roofing the courtyard; the enlargement, with an entrance lobby, was apparently the work of Rawlinson Parkinson. (fn. 53) The institution housed c. 40,000 books and had a resident librarian in 1976. (fn. 54)
Highgate supported a two-company loyal association from 1798 until 1802. The Loyal Highgate Volunteers, of four companies, were formed in 1803 and probably disbanded in 1813. (fn. 55) In 1804 several officers were fined and others dismissed for nonattendance. (fn. 56) The 14th Middlesex (Highgate) Volunteer Rifle Corps (fn. 57) first met in 1859 and was soon followed by the 13th (Hornsey) corps. In 1880 the two corps amalgamated in the 3rd Middlesex Rifle Volunteers, later the 1st Volunteer Battalion of the Duke of Cambridge's Own (Middlesex Regiment) and, on the formation of the Territorial Army in 1908, the 7th Battalion. (fn. 58) At Highgate the volunteers moved in 1878 from the old infants' school in Castle Yard (fn. 59) to the new Northfield hall, (fn. 60) whither a commemorative stone was taken after the demolition of the older building in 1955. (fn. 61) At Hornsey they used a small drill-hall at Crouch End (fn. 62) and from 1888 the National hall in High Street (fn. 63) until the Elms was bought as headquarters for the 3rd Middlesex Rifle Volunteers in 1896; after the county council had paid the remaining debt in 1900 the old house was replaced by a drill-hall. (fn. 64)
The Good Intention benefit society met at the Mitre inn, Highgate, from 1794 and later at the Gatehouse, and another friendly society met at the Three Compasses, Hornsey, from 1795 until 1797. The Well Wishers' friendly society met at the Angel, Highgate, from 1806 until 1814, the True Britons' friendly society at the King's Head, Crouch End, from 1811 until 1820, and the United Friends' society at the Compasses, Hornsey, from 1813. Later associations included the True Britons' benefit society (later amalgamated with Finchley Provident society) from 1837, a court of the Ancient Order of Foresters from 1842, and Crouch End philanthropic institution from 1869, all at Crouch End inns, and the Loyal Rose and Crown Lodge of Old Friends and the Friendly Whittingtonians' benefit society, at Highgate from 1851 and in 1853 respectively. (fn. 65) The Highgate, Hornsey and Stoke Newington benefit building society was formed in 1860, with offices at no. 4 Highgate High Street. It moved to Bisham Gardens in 1895, to no. 16 Weston Park in 1903, to no. 4 Crouch End Broadway in 1934, and finally to High Road, Whetstone, in 1965. The society, renamed the Highgate building society in 1933, became part of the Abbey National building society in 1974. (fn. 66)
Other organizations for the poor, as for the gentry, at first were particularly numerous in Highgate. A savings bank at the infants' school was established in 1840 (fn. 67) and a penny bank, under the same management, at Highgate Literary and Scientific Institution in 1861. (fn. 68) The Philanthropic Society for Highgate and Hornsey was formed in 1833 and survived in 1842, (fn. 69) although many such groups proved shortlived. (fn. 70) A working men's association, with its own library, was founded in 1861 in the old British school in Southwood Lane by Congregationalists. (fn. 71) St. Michael's working men's institute, meeting first at the National school, was founded in 1862. It used a club-house in Southwood Lane from 1864 (fn. 72) before joining the Congregational association as Highgate Working Men's club in 1871 (fn. 73) and moving to part of the old Castle inn in 1872. (fn. 74) By 1882 the club no longer existed, although winter meetings were held in North Hill and a Highgate Youths' Institute had been established in 1881 by the vicar of All Saints. (fn. 75) At Crouch End subscriptions were raised for a working men's club and coffee tavern, which was opened in Park Road, as the China Cup, in 1880. (fn. 76)
Highgate cottage gardens were established in 1847 (fn. 77) by Harry Chester and others, who leased two blocks of land totalling c. 5½ a. and abutting Hampstead Lane west of the Vicarage. In 1865, after Cholmley's school and W. Piper had bought the freehold and required part of the land for building, the allotments near the road were exchanged for ground to the north-west. (fn. 78) The area was divided into 84 plots in 1888, (fn. 79) ten years before the school assumed possession. (fn. 80) Tenants could exhibit at Highgate horticultural society, established in 1859 (fn. 81) and catering for all classes, whose summer show in 1863 was 'the great annual fê;te of Highgate'. (fn. 82) The society, which used large private gardens and was widely known through the patronage of Miss Burdett-Coutts, (fn. 83) still existed in 1976.
An Athenaeum, for assemblies and all the activities carried on at Highgate Literary and Scientific Institution, was proposed in 1859 (fn. 84) but ambitious plans were only partly realized with the opening of Northfield hall, North Hill, in 1878. (fn. 85) The premises, leased by a company which had been promoted largely by members of the institution, included a dwelling-house and two committee rooms. They provided a headquarters for the volunteers and a public meeting-place and in 1879 provoked suggestions that they might replace the institution itself. (fn. 86) At Hornsey, hitherto served only by the drill-hall at Crouch End, a company opened the National hall in High Street in 1888. The building, on three floors and including a hall for 500, was to accommodate a new Conservative association and the volunteers, as well as public meetings. (fn. 87) Hornsey constitutional club, founded in 1889, (fn. 88) also met there. (fn. 89)
A debating society used Highgate Literary and Scientific Institution from 1863 until 1873. (fn. 90) Highgate also had a choral society by 1868 and a new one from 1873. (fn. 91) Many musical, dramatic, literary, debating, and temperance groups were encouraged by the churches: Crouch End choral society, founded c. 1874, met in the early 1880s at Christ Church schoolroom (fn. 92) and Hornsey young men's society, founded c. 1875, had a committee chaired by the minister of Park chapel. (fn. 93) New areas produced their own societies: a Conservative club at Hornsey was formed after the success of one at Stroud Green, started in 1886, (fn. 94) and by 1888 a Stroud Green institute met in an iron room in Granville Road. (fn. 95) From 1886 Finsbury Park had a working lads' institute, which acquired premises in Poole's Park (Islington). (fn. 96)
By 1903 Muswell Hill had five literary societies, a social club, and orchestral and musical societies, most of them connected with the churches and all of recent date. (fn. 97) The parish's most imposing centre of entertainment was the Athenaeum, a florid, balustraded building (fn. 98) erected in 1900 by Edmondson (fn. 99) in St. James's Parade, Fortis Green Road. The Muswell Hill Club, a conservatoire of music, and the Muswell Hill Parliament all met there from 1909 until after the First World War and a girls' school was there from 1910. The Athenaeum, with halls seating 466 and 200, was also used as a cinema from 1922. (fn. 100)
The Highgate Preservation Society was founded in 1934 and joined with members of the successful 'Save Highgate' campaign in 1966 to form the Highgate Society, which met in a room leased from the Highgate Literary and Scientific Institution. (fn. 101) The new group, although largely concerned with traffic through the village, had the broad aim of improving the quality of local life. (fn. 102) Plans to widen Archway Road gave rise to the Archway Road Campaign in 1968, the Shepherd's Hill Association in 1969, and the North Highgate Group in 1970. (fn. 103) The Hornsey Historical Society, whose interest in Highgate was shared by the Camden History Society, was founded in 1971. (fn. 104)
Cricketers from Highgate played at Westminster in 1790 (fn. 105) and travelled to Woodford (Essex) in 1795. (fn. 106) A match between teams from Hornsey and Highgate took place in 1843. (fn. 107) A Hornsey club of the 1840s, which used a field opposite the Priory, was succeeded by the Harringay club, playing at the north-east end of Shepherd's Hill, and c. 1856 by another Hornsey club, which played near Wood Green and later opposite the Priory until 1861. The existing Hornsey cricket club prospered because of the shortage of land nearer London. It was so named from 1870, after the Phoenix club from Tufnell Park had taken over a small local club, the Hanover, and merged with another former Tufnell Park club, the Carlton, in 1875. The old Harringay club's ground was leased from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1874 and vacated for an adjoining field, later part of Crouch End playing fields, in 1883. (fn. 108) Matches between Cholmley's school and Highgate village took place regularly in the 1860s. (fn. 109) By 1888 there were cricket clubs named Harringay, Hornsey Rise, Hornsey Vale, Hornsey Priory, and the Highgate Bohemians. (fn. 110)
Highgate lawn tennis club was established in 1881 (fn. 111) and had six courts west of North Hill by 1888, when there were also football, skating, and gymnastic clubs. (fn. 112) The Highgate club, formed in 1883 for indoor and outdoor amusements, played football and cricket at Manor Farm and encouraged bicycling. (fn. 113) There were tennis clubs for Hornsey Rise in 1884 (fn. 114) and Ferme Park in 1888. (fn. 115) Crouch End Vampires football club was established in 1885 and used a ground in Coppetts Road, in 1976. (fn. 116) Hornsey ladies' football club won national attention in the 1890s. (fn. 117) Highgate golf club, founded in 1904, moved to links west of Bishop's wood in 1905, when its former course between Highgate wood and Fortis Green was required for building by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. (fn. 118) After a fire in 1926 the club-house was rebuilt on its old foundations. (fn. 119) The course and club-house, approached from Denewood Road, covered c. 84 a. in 1976. (fn. 120) The course of Muswell Hill golf club, serving the north-eastern part of the parish, lay in Wood Green. (fn. 121)
Highgate ponds, in St. Pancras parish, were used for swimming and skating and, from c. 1852, by Highgate model yacht club, which held races there until 1914. (fn. 122) A municipal swimming pool was opened in 1929 in Park Road, next to Crouch End playing fields. Public baths and wash-houses were built in 1932. (fn. 123) A new indoor pool had been built in Park Road by 1975.
A theatre was advertised by the Highgate press of an actor named H. Jackman in 1812 and 1816. The building contained boxes, a pit, and a gallery, (fn. 124) was apparently known as Larne's theatre, (fn. 125) and was recalled as having been a converted barn or wheelwright's workshop on the free school's land in Southwood Lane. (fn. 126) It may have closed by 1825, when actors were said to have been patronized by Mrs. Coutts (formerly Harriot Mellon) and to have played at the White Lion. (fn. 127)
A hall at no. 31 Topsfield Parade, Crouch End, was adapted to seat 1,200 and opened in 1897 as the Queen's opera house. (fn. 128) The theatre, which had no gallery, belonged to Messrs. Morell and Mouillot until c. 1903. It then became a music hall, with an upstairs room occupied by a social club before and after a fire necessitated reconstruction in 1905. Soon renamed the Hippodrome, it included a cinematograph room from 1910 (fn. 129) and was described as a cinema in 1926, (fn. 130) although live performances were still staged. The building closed as a result of bomb damage in 1942, housed a school of dancing in 1948, and was used for storage before its demolition by Grattan Ltd. in the early 1950s. (fn. 131) Finsbury Park had an open-air theatre in the park itself, where a variety of light entertainments was provided by the L.C.C. between 1945 and 1953. (fn. 132) A company which had been formed in 1945 opened the private Mountview theatre at no. 104 Crouch Hill in 1947. The freehold was bought by the principal, Peter Coxhead, in 1949, when a theatre school was founded, and vested in the Mountview arts centre in 1966. The North London film theatre and the Phoenix theatre club rented parts of the centre in 1976, when the Mountview theatre school had 125 full-time students and 225 part-time students and younger members. (fn. 133)
The Picture House in Broadway Parade, Crouch End, was open by 1911. (fn. 134) It closed c. 1915 but was succeeded in 1922 by the Perfect picture house, which was apparently on the same site and which in 1930-1 was renamed the Plaza. (fn. 135) Hornsey National hall served as a cinema (fn. 136) in 1920-1 and the Hippodrome, after its conversion, continued as one until the Second World War. (fn. 137) A cinema at Finsbury Park in 1918, owned by North Metropolitan Theatres, (fn. 138) was probably the Rink, at the corner of Stroud Green and Seven Sisters roads, (fn. 139) where the first talking film was shown in England to representatives of the film industry. (fn. 140) The cinema was renamed the Gaumont in 1950 (fn. 141) and, as the Top Rank club, was used for bingo in 1977. At Muswell Hill the Summerland cinema in the Broadway was open from 1921 to 1938, (fn. 142) the Odeon in Fortis Green Road by 1937, (fn. 143) and the Ritz (later the ABC) by 1940. (fn. 144) Both the Odeon and the ABC remained open in 1976.
A large hostel for the Y.M.C.A. was opened in 1929 at the corner of Tottenham Lane and Elmfield Avenue, aided by a bequest from Mrs. Palmer Thomas, (fn. 145) and was extended in 1958. (fn. 146) Harringay boys' club, established in 1958, moved from North Harringay school into a new building in Tottenham Lane in 1961. (fn. 147) A social centre for Muswell Hill Methodist church was provided by Guy Chester on land at Pages Lane, which he had bought in 1924. Later he contributed towards a hostel and headquarters of the Methodist Youth Department, which was built to the design of Charles Pike, opened in 1960, and named Chester House. (fn. 148)
A free library was opened in 1860 by Highgate Congregational chapel and moved in 1861 to the new premises of the working men's association in Southwood Lane. (fn. 149) The vicar of Highgate had a parochial library at the infants' school by 1863 and used (fn. 150) a legacy to establish a library for St. Michael's working men's institute, also in Southwood Lane, in 1864. (fn. 151) Christ Church, Crouch End, opened a library c. 1877 (fn. 152) and by 1895 there were libraries managed by Park chapel, St. James's, Muswell Hill, and St. Paul's, Harringay. Highgate Literary and Scientific Institution retained its cheap subscriptions and in 1895 there were circulating libraries, mostly connected with Mudie's, at Hornsey, Crouch End, Harringay, Stroud Green, and Muswell Hill. (fn. 153) In South Hornsey, after unsuccessfully seeking a poll on the Public Libraries Act, subscribers opened a reading room and lending library for householders within ½ mile of Finsbury Park station in 1894. The library was at no. 1 Blackstock Road and so was transferred, after the adoption of the Act, to Stoke Newington borough, which moved it to Milton Road. (fn. 154)
Highgate museum of sanitary appliances, displaying old and modern drainage, was opened in 1892 by Hornsey local board, after public inspection of its work during a cholera scare. (fn. 155) The building stood in the council's coal depot at the foot of North Hill. (fn. 156) It was open once a week in 1908 (fn. 157) and closed in 1928. (fn. 158)
The weekly Hampstead and Highgate Express, (fn. 159) established at Hampstead in 1860, circulated in Hornsey and survived in 1976, as did the Hampstead and Highgate Record and Chronicle, founded in 1889 as the Hampstead Record and renamed in 1918. The Hornsey Hornet, first published monthly from Tottenham Lane in 1866, enjoyed initial success but soon moved to London and, as the Hornet, (fn. 160) ceased to be a local newspaper. (fn. 161) The Seven Sisters' and Finsbury Park Journal, founded in 1879 with offices in Crouch Hill, became the Hornsey and Finsbury Park Journal in 1881 and, through several changes of name, was generally known as the Hornsey Journal, with offices in Tottenham Lane and Fleet Street in 1975. The Muswell Hill Record appeared from 1908 to 1919, continued as the Muswell Hill Record, Alexandra Park and Friern Barnet Journal until 1954, then as the Record until 1957, and finally was amalgamated in the short-lived London Chronicle. The parish was also covered by the North Middlesex Chronicle, published at Islington from 1868 until 1940.
The Finsbury Park, Crouch Hill and Hornsey House and Property Register and Local Advertiser appeared in 1880 and was soon renamed the North London Advertiser, which survived until 1884. Other short-lived newspapers included the Weathercock of Finsbury Park, covering much of south-eastern Hornsey as well as Islington, in 1876-7; the Hornsey and Middlesex Messenger in 1888, continued as the Middlesex Messenger in 1889; the Crouch End and Hornsey Weekly News and Highgate Advertiser, in 1888; the Hornsey Hawk Eye in 1897; the Crouch End and District Review in 1898; the North London Mercury and Crouch End Observer from 1899 to 1905; and the Crouch End and District Advertiser in 1922. The Finchley Free Press, founded in 1893, was also issued in 1896 as the Highgate and Muswell Hill Post. In 1908 the Hornsey and Tottenham Press, with offices in Seven Sisters Road and in Grand Parade, Muswell Hill, owned the Highgate Times, the Muswell Hill Times, and the Hornsey and Harringay Mercury.