The northern suburbs: Stoke Newington and Stamford Hill

Old and New London: Volume 5. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.

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Edward Walford, 'The northern suburbs: Stoke Newington and Stamford Hill', in Old and New London: Volume 5, (London, 1878) pp. 530-548. British History Online [accessed 18 May 2024].

Edward Walford. "The northern suburbs: Stoke Newington and Stamford Hill", in Old and New London: Volume 5, (London, 1878) 530-548. British History Online, accessed May 18, 2024,

Walford, Edward. "The northern suburbs: Stoke Newington and Stamford Hill", Old and New London: Volume 5, (London, 1878). 530-548. British History Online. Web. 18 May 2024,

In this section



"I like the neighbourhood, too, the ancient places
That bring back the past ages to the eye,
Filling the gap of centuries—the traces
Mouldering beneath your head that lie!"
Adam and Eve, a Margate Story.

Stoke Newington in the Last Century—The Old Roman Road, called Ermine Street—Beaumont and Fletcher's Reference to May-day Doings at Newington In the Olden Times—Mildmay Park—The Village Green—Mildmay House—Remains of the King's House—King Henry's Walk—St. Jude's Church and the Conference Hall—Bishop's Place—The Residence of Samuel Rogers, the Poet—James Burgh's Academy—Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin—St. Matthias' Church—The New and Old Parish Churches—Sir John Hartopp and his Family—Queen Elizabeth's Walk—The Old Rectory House—The Green Lanes—Church Street—The House of Isaac D'Israeli—The School of Edgar Allan Poe—John Howard, the Prison Reformer—Sandford House—Defoe Street—Defoe's House—The Mansion of the Old Earls of Essex—The Manor House—Fleetwood Road—The Old "Rose and Crown"—The Residence of Dr. John Aikin and Mrs. Barbauld—The "Three Crowns"—The Reservoirs of the New River Company—Remarks on the Gradual Extension of London.

We are now about to traverse another of the northern suburbs of London, but one which it would not be possible to include among the "northern heights" of the great metropolis. We shall find ourselves in far less romantic scenery than that which we have so lately seen at Highgate and Hampstead, but still the neighbourhood now before us is not deficient in interest; at all events, to those who in their youth have strolled along the banks of the Lea, rod in hand, or mused in its meadows over the pleasant pages of Izaak Walton; or to those who remember the legend of Johnny Gilpin and his ride to Edmonton, as told by Cowper; or who rejoice in the "Essays of Elia" and the other desultory writings of Charles Lamb. To such persons, and doubtless they may be counted by millions, even the full straight level road which leads from Dalston and Kingsland, through Stoke Newington, and Stamford Hill, and Tottenham, to Edmonton, can scarcely be wholly devoid of interest, and of pleasant reminiscences. There is also another section of the community to whom this part of the northern suburbs of London will always be a welcome subject; we mean the Nonconformist portion of the religious world, in whose eyes the cemetery of Abney Park is scarcely less sacred than that of Bunhill Fields.

Stoke Newington is described in the "Ambulator" (1774) as "a pleasant village near Islington, where a great number of the citizens of London have built houses, and rendered it extremely populous, more like a large flourishing town than a village. The church," adds the writer, "is a small low Gothic building, belonging to the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's . … Behind the church is a pleasant grove of tall trees, where the inhabitants resort for the benefit of shade and a wholesome air."

"Our village," writes the Rev. Thomas Jackson, the rector, "was once called Neweton Canonicorum, in order to distinguish it from all other Stokes, Newtowns, and Newingtowns in the world, and especially from its rival on the south of the Thames, Newington Butts; and it was so called doubtless because the manor was given by Athelstan or by Edward the Confessor to the canons of St. Paul's."

The name of the village carries us back to the Saxon times, denoting the new village or town built on the borders of a wood. We may remind the reader that our land is full of Stokes, and that wherever there is a Stoke we may be sure that there was once a wood. Newington, indeed, appears formerly to have been situated in a wood, which was part of the great Middlesex forest already mentioned by us. At the time when King Charles was beheaded there were still seventy-seven acres of woodland in the parish. The timber of Stoke Newington probably helped to build again that London which had perished in the Great Fire of 1666, and possibly at an earlier date it furnished fagots for the fires lit at Smithfield alternately by the Protestants and the Catholics.

The old Roman road, known as the Ermine or Irmin Street, ran northwards through Stoke Newington to Enfield, though its exact route is a subject of debate. Mr. Jackson, in his "Lecture on Stoke Newington," says:—"One boundary of our Saxon manor is the Irmin Street, one of the central highways which our forefathers dedicated to the Hero-god, the illustrious War-man, or Man of Hosts, as his name literally means—that Herman or Arminius, the mighty Cheruscan, who fought the fight of Winfield on the Weser, who turned back the tide of Roman invasion, routing Varus and his legions, and delivering Germany from Italian despotism—a hero truly national, the benefactor and relative of us all. Coming a little down the stream of time, I find Newington Manor among the first of religious endowments in this country. … I find the rents and profits of our lands, the fruits of the fields that we daily tread, supporting the men who chanted at the funeral of Edward the Confessor, and assisted at the coronation of William the Norman."

We read of Stoke Newington in the plays of the seventeenth century as a place of pleasant conviviality. Thus Beaumont and Fletcher, in the Knight of the Burning Pestle, first published in 1613, introduce Ralph, dressed as a king of the May, who thus speaks:—
"London, to thee I do present this merry month of May;
Let each true subject be content to hear me what I say.
* * * * * * *
March out and show your willing minds by twenty and by twenty,
To Hogsdon (Hoxton) or to Newington, where ale and cakes are plenty."

Soon afterwards Stoke Newington appears, by the testimony of some historians, to have become conspicuous for its Puritanism, through the influence, probably, of the Pophams and the Fleetwoods, and afterwards through the worthy family of Abney, who had purchased the manor.

The parish is described in Lewis's "Topographical Dictionary" (1835), as consisting principally of one long street, extending from Kingsland Road to Stamford Hill, on the high road from London to Cambridge, and containing at that time a population of nearly 3,500 souls. The eastern side of this street is actually in the parish of Hackney, and from the western side, near the centre of it, branches off a street, called Church Street, leading to the parish church and the Green Lanes.

From the western end of Ball's Pond Road, a thoroughfare called Mildmay Park—a good roadway lined on either side by private residences—leads direct to Newington Green. This place, says the "Ambulator" just a century ago, "consists of a handsome square of considerable extent, surrounded by houses which are in general well built; before each side is a row of trees, and an extensive grass plat in the middle." The green is still surrounded with lofty elms, has an old world appearance, and forms really a handsome, though somewhat irregular square. It is situated partly in the parish of Newington, and partly in that of Islington, and is principally inhabited by merchants and private families.

In the "Beauties of England and Wales" (1816), we read of an old dwelling situated here, called Mildmay House, then a boarding-school for young ladies. It is said to have been, in the reign of Charles I., the property of Sir Henry Mildmay, who had acquired the estate by marriage with the daughter and heiress of William Halliday, an alderman of London. On one of the chimneypieces appeared the arms of Halliday; and the ceilings contained the arms of England, with the initials of King James, and medallions of Hector, Alexander, &c. Mildmay Park Road, mentioned above, was so named from this house.

On the southern side of the green is an old mansion, now divided into two, which is traditionally said to have been at one time a residence of Henry VIII., when his Majesty wished to divert himself with the pleasures of the chase, which about three centuries ago extended northerly hence to Haringay and Enfield. On the ceiling of the principal room in the house are to be seen the armorial bearings and royal monogram of James I. This room contains a very fine and lofty carved mantelpiece of the "Jacobean" style, not unlike that in the Governor's Room at the Charterhouse. Most of the rooms have also their walls handsomely panelled in oak. It is probable that this residence caused the adjoining fields to the south to be called the King's Land—now abridged into Kingsland.

At the north-west corner of the green there formerly stood a large building, called Bishop's Place; it is said to have been the residence of Percy, Earl of Northumberland, when he wrote the memorable letter disclaiming any matrimonial contract between himself and Queen Anne Boleyn, referred to in our account of Hackney Church, and which was dated from Newington Green the 13th of May, in the 28th year of Henry VIII. "This house," writes the author of the "Beauties of England and Wales," "was popularly reported to have been occupied by Henry VIII. for the convenience of his irregular amours. The tradition is supported chiefly by the circumstance of a pleasant winding path, which leads to the turnpike road by Ball's Pond, bearing the name of 'King Henry's Walk.'" Mr. Jackson, in his "Lecture on Stoke Newington," thus muses on this old mansion in connection with Bluff King Hal:—"Let us imagine that we see him, blunt, big, and sturdy, with his feet wide apart, and his chin already doubling, sallying forth with a crowd of obsequious attendants from the house afterwards called Mildmay House, or from that just mentioned, to disport himself in the woodlands of Newington. Is Catharine of Arragon his queen, or the hapless Anne, of the swan-like neck, or Jane Seymour, who died so young? Is he plotting the death of a wife, or of his chancellor? Look at him as represented in the portraits of Holbein. His eye good-natured; his mouth indicative of an iron and unscrupulous will; his brow strong in intellectual vigour; his whole physiognomy sensual and selfish. Can you not suppose that you meet him in some of our by-lanes wondering at the changes which have passed upon the London of the sixteenth century, or musing on the suspicions which he entertained respecting a contract of marriage presumed to have been made between the Earl of Northumberland and Anne Boleyn previous to her marriage with the king. Poor earl! he writes to Lord Cromwell from his house on Newington Green a letter of such abject earnestness, that one would imagine his neck already felt the halter, or his eye caught the cold gleam of the executioner's axe, while he denies with the greatest solemnity the fact of any such contract."

In King Henry's Walk, at the corner of Queen Margaret's Grove, and near the North London Railway, stands St. Jude's Church, a large edifice of the "late Decorated" style of architecture, built in 1855 from the designs of Mr. A. D. Gough. It was enlarged, and indeed almost reconstructed, in 1871. In connection with this church, but situated in Mildmay Park, near Newington Green, is a large building known as the Conference Hall.

Dr. Robinson, in his "History of Stoke Newington," describes Bishop's Place as having been a quadrangular building of wood and plaster, and as having had a square court in the centre, with communications to the various apartments all round by means of small doors opening from one room into another. The house, prior to its demolition, had been for many years divided into a number of small tenements, occupied by poor people. When the house was taken down, some parts of the old wainscot were found to be richly gilt, and ornamented with paintings, but well-nigh obliterated from the effects of time.

Newington Green, in its time, seems to have had among its residents many members of the nobility and of the world of letters. An old house on the western side, not far from that above described, was for many years the residence of Samuel Rogers, the poet. The building, though substantially the same as when inhabited by himself and his family, has been considerably altered in appearance by its subsequent owners. The hall, mentioned by him in his "Pleasures of Memory," and the little room on the first floor in which he used to sit and write, still remain, and the three rooms on the ground floor, facing the south and the sunny garden, remain unchanged. But the hall is lined with modern canvas, spread over the old panelling, and has lost its venerable appearance. The plane-tree, under which the poet would sit and entertain his friends in summer evenings, is still there; but the greater part of the little paddock in the rear is gone, and a new street has been carried across the poet's garden, destroying a part—but a part only—of the mushroom-beds which he cultivated with such care and pride. Though nearly a quarter of a century has passed since Samuel Rogers was its master, the house still bears tokens of his former presence; and it requires no great stretch of imagination to picture the venerable face and figure of the author of "The Pleasures of Memory" seated in his arm-chair here among his books and his friends.

Although the poem is stated by the author to refer to "an obscure village," there can be little doubt in the minds of those who read the "Pleasures of Memory" with attention, that many of the opening lines reflect the old house at Stoke Newington:—

"Mark yon old mansion frowning through the trees.
* * * * * * *
As jars the hinge what sullen echoes call!
Oh! haste, unfold the hospitable hall!
That hall where once in antiquated state
The chair of justice held the grave debate;
Now stained with dews, with cobwebs darkly hung,
Oft has its roof with peals of rapture rung,
When round yon ample board in one degree
We sweetened every meal with social glee.
* * * * * * *
Ye household deities, whose guardian eye
Marked each pure thought, ere registered on high,
Still, still ye walk the consecrated ground,
And breathe the soul of Inspiration round.
* * * * * * *
As o'er the dusky furniture I bend,
Each chair awakes the feelings of a friend.
The storied arras, source of fond deilght,
With old achievement charms the wildered sight.
* * * * * * *
That massive beam, with curious carvings wrought,
Whence the caged linnet soothed my pensive thought;
Those muskets, cased with venerable rust,
Those once-loved forms, still breathing through their dust;
Still from the frame, in mould gigantic cast,
Starting to life—all whisper of the past.
As through the garden's desert paths I rove,
What fond illusions swarm in every grove.
* * * * * * *
Childhood's lov'd group revisits every scene,
The tangled wood-walk and the tufted green;
Indulgent memory wakes, and lo! they live,
Clothed with far softer hues than light can give."

A writer in the Mirror (1824), in giving his "Recollections of Newington Green," says that it is memorable for having been the residence of persons of distinguished talents. An academy, which was some years since pulled down, formerly (1747) belonged to the celebrated James Burgh, which he supported with great reputation to himself and benefit to his scholars for nineteen years. He was the author of "The Dignity of Human Nature," "Thoughts on Education," "A Warning to Dram-drinkers," &c. Its last master was Dr. James Lindsay, who suddenly expired at Dr. Williams's Library, Red Cross Street, whilst advocating the cause of public education. He was long pastor of the Dissenting meeting-house upon the green, whose pulpit had been occupied by Dr. Price, Dr. Towers, &c. On this spot, too, at one time, resided Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, of whom we have already spoken in our account of St. Pancras. (fn. 1)

The handsome church of St. Matthias, so noted for its "ritualistic" services, is situated at the end of Howard Road, between the green and the main road. It was consecrated about the year 1854. It is a large Gothic edifice, and was built from the designs of Mr. W. Butterfield.

From Newington Green a short walk by way of Albion Road brings us near to the western end of Church Street, mentioned above, where stands the new parish church, dedicated to St. Mary. It is a very spacious and handsome structure, consisting of nave, side aisles, chancel, choir, and transepts, in the Early Decorated style, and was built from the designs of Sir G. Gilbert Scott. The interior is enriched with an elaborate reredos, representing the "Last Supper;" and the capitals of the pillars of the nave are sculptured with varieties of English foliage in bold relief. Some of the windows are filled with painted glass, and the organ and the pulpit are both much admired. The church was consecrated in 1858, and is complete except the tower and spire.

It stands on the south of the road directly facing the former parish church, which is still allowed to remain as hitherto, though practically reduced to the second rank of a chapel of ease to the daughter edifice. The old parish church is a low-roofed structure. It was erected, in the place of a still older edifice, by William Patten, the lessee of the manor in 1563, which date appears over the south doorway. The building has since been repeatedly enlarged, and a spire added. It is small and unattractive, especially in its interior, where are to be seen a variety of specimens of the square family pews, now almost obsolete. It was enlarged and "beautified" about the year 1829 by Sir Charles Barry, and was one of his first and poorest attempts in the Gothic style. The only part of the structure that can boast of antiquity is the south aisle, which contains the manorial pew, where it is said that the Princess Elizabeth was an occasional worshipper during the reign of her sister Mary, during the stolen visits which she paid to Newington from Hatfield House.

In the chancel is a fine mural monument to Mrs. Sutton, who was married first to a Mr. Dudley, and whose second husband was Thomas Sutton, the founder of Charterhouse School and Hospital. (fn. 2) It was restored some years ago by a subscription among the gentlemen who had been educated at the Charterhouse. The Rev. Dr. Gaskin, a former rector, lies in a vault on the north side of the church. Fearing that his body might be removed from its grave after his death, he was buried, by his own desire, not here, but in St. Gabriel's, Fenchurch Street. When that church was taken down in order to carry out improve ments in the City, his coffin was removed hither by the care of his successor in the rectory, the Rev. Thomas Jackson, and consigned to what it may be hoped will prove his last resting-place.

The churchyard, which is planted with evergreens, is full of family tombs; few of them, however, possess any antiquarian interest. Near the southern entrance, where once probably stood a "lych-gate," a square tomb covers the remains of Mrs. Barbauld and of her brother, Dr. Aikin, whom we have already mentioned in our account of Hampstead. At the extreme south-west corner is the grave of some of the Wilberforces, members of the family of the eminent philanthropist (fn. 3) who lies in Westminster Abbey. Had not a public funeral been voted to him, in all probability, he would himself have been laid to rest in this quiet and peaceful spot. On the south of the chancel is the family grave of Wilberforce's friend and fellow-worker in the cause of the slave, Mr. James Stephen, a Master in Chancery, the father of the late Right Honourable Sir James Stephen.


In the churchyard lies buried Alderman Pickett, whom we have already mentioned (fn. 4) as having endeavoured to improve the Strand on the west side of Temple Bar. His son and his daughter also are recorded on his monument. The former was killed in India, and the latter was burnt to death whilst performing some filial attention by her father's sick bed. Bridget, the daughter of Oliver Cromwell, and wife of General Fleetwood, lies buried beneath the church.

The parish church has many monuments and memorials of the family of Sir John Hartopp, who were at one time residents at Stoke Newington. Among the rest is this curious entry in the register, relative to the wife of Sir John:—" 1711, Dame Elizabeth Hartopp was buried in woollen the 26th day of November, according to an Act of Parliament made on that behalf: attested before Mr. Gostling, minor canon of St. Paul's, London." And again, relative to another member of the family:—"My lady Hartopp was buried in a velvet coffin, September 22, 1730, in the church." The dame Elizabeth, who was buried in woollen, was the daughter of General Fleetwood, who married Bridget, one of Oliver Cromwell's children; and the education of her son was entrusted to the learned and pious Dr. Watts, of whom we shall have more to say presently. The Rev. John Stoughton, in his "Shades and Echoes of Old London," says:—"Dame Hartopp has been sometimes regarded as the offspring of Bridget, and consequently as the Protector's granddaughter; and if that view of her lineage were correct, then the youth to whom Watts became tutor would be no other than a great-grandson of the strong-willed man who, without a crown, swayed a sceptre over three old kingdoms." But Noble, in his "Memoirs of the Protectoral House," shows, as we think satisfactorily, that Elizabeth, who was married to Sir John Hartopp, was a daughter of Fleetwood by his first wife, Frances Smith. Still, as the Hartopps would be intimately connected with the Cromwells, the family traditions of the latter would be familiar to the former, and stories of Oliver and his son-in-law would often be told in the dininghall and the gardens of Sir John at Newington.

1. Rogers' House, 1877.
2. Fleetwood House, 1750.
3. St. Mary's Rectory.
4. St. Mary's New Church.
5. New River at Stoke Newington.
6. Queen Elizabeth's Walk, 1800.
7. Old Gateway.

Near the old church, on the northern side of it, is a walk between trees, still called Queen Elizabeth's Walk; and as some justification of the name, it may be added that Newington was the abode of her Majesty's favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and his cotemporary, Edward Vere, Earl of Oxford.

On the south side of the road, between the two churches, stood formerly a picturesque old rectoryhouse, mostly built of wood, with a curious gable projecting into the street, over the pavement. The south and west sides of the house and its garden were bounded by a moat, which is now filled up, the present rectory being built upon its site. The ribs and back-bone of the old rectory-house were evidently part and parcel of large forest trees; and where oak was not used in its construction, its place was supplied by other hard and vigorous timber, equally heavy and durable.

On the western side of the parish there is a large but rather winding road, running northwards, popularly known as the "Green Lanes," and leading, by way of Wood Green and Winchmore Hill, to Enfield. This is rather a sporting neighbourhood, and the road is largely used for trotting matches by farmers, butchers, and other tradesfolk, a fact which does not contribute to the quiet or comfort of the residents. The Green Lanes dispute with Stoke Newington Road the claim to be considered the old Saxon Ermine Street mentioned above. At this point commences a narrow and slightly-winding thoroughfare, called Church Street, which, passing eastward, leads us into the straight and wide road from Dalston to Stamford Hill. It was evidently once a rural lane, and was probably used more by farmers' wagons than by gentlemen's carriages. It is fringed, however, on both sides with a long series of private dwelling-houses, most of them redbricked mansions of the date of Queen Anne and George I., with projecting summits to the doorways, and screened from the street by iron railings of varied and handsome designs, not unlike those still to be seen in the older parts of Kensington, Chelsea, Hampstead, and Highgate. One of the first houses on the northern side of the way, now a ladies' school, was the home of Mr. Isaac D'Israeli, the author of the "Curiosities of Literature," before he settled down in Bloomsbury Square. A large white house near it was the scene of the school-days of the eccentric and gifted poet, Edgar Allan Poe, who in his writings ascribes much of the romantic element in his character to the fact of having been sent as a boy to a place so abounding in old associations. Edgar Poe (born at Baltimore in January, 1811) was adopted as a child by a Mr. Allan, a rich gentleman who had no children of his own. Mr. Allan brought him to England, and placed the spoiled child, then a witty, and beautiful, and precocious boy, at school in Church Street. He remained here five years, but returned to the United States in 1822.

A tall red house on the same side of the way, now embodied in Church Row, was the house where John Howard lodged when he married the widow lady who kept it, as we have mentioned in our account of Lower Clapton. (fn. 5) Here he studied his first essays in philanthropy. "The delicate state of his health required better and more attentive nursing than he found where he first lodged, so he removed into apartments under the roof of one Mrs. Sarah Lowne, a widow possessed of a little property, residing in Church Street, who devoted her time to the care and comfort of the young invalid, who was only twenty-five, while she was fifty-two. From being his nurse, she became his wife. She died in 1755, and lies buried in St. Mary's, Whitechapel." It is on record that Mr. Howard was a constant worshipper in the old Independent chapel here. After the death of the nurse whom he thus strangely endeavoured to reward, Mr. Howard married into a respectable family of Cambridgeshire. His second wife, however, died soon after she had given birth to a son. In the course of a voyage to Lisbon Mr. Howard had the misfortune to be captured, and was lodged in France as a prisoner of war. The sufferings which he was now compelled to witness are supposed to have operated with such force on his mind as to lead to those indefatigable exertions for the redress of abuses in prisons which speedily produced such important effects throughout the greater part of Europe. Mr. Howard died, in the year 1790, at one of the Russian settlements on the Black Sea, the victim of a malignant fever, which he had caught in visiting some prisoners. A monument to his memory was erected in 1876 at Kherson.

On the south side of the street, a similar house, with lofty windows and a handsome entrance doorway, was the home of the eccentric Thomas Day, the author of "Sandford and Merton." It is now styled Sandford House.

A few yards further to the east, on the same side of the way, we come to Defoe Street. This was formed in 1875, by the demolition of the house in which Defoe resided, and in which he is reputed to have written "Robinson Crusoe." It is said to have been remarkable for the number of its doors, and for the massive locks and bolts with which they were secured. The house itself was a gloomy and irregular pile of red brick, apparently of the reign of Queen Anne. It had thick walls and deep window seats, with curious panelling and cupboards in the recesses. Here, besides writing that matchless story with which his name is associated, Defoe plotted as a politician; and here he set in order the materials on which were founded the union between England and Scotland. Hence he was carried a prisoner to Newgate in 1713. A native of Cripplegate, he had been educated at an academy on Newington Green, kept by Charles Morton. "Robinson Crusoe" was published in April, 1719, in which year the rolls of the manor of Stoke Newington mention Defoe as a resident in Church Street.

Close by, and on the same side of the street, stands a portion, though only a fragment, of the mansion of the old Earls of Essex, dating perhaps from the reign of Elizabeth. On the same side of the street, but considerably more to the east, stood a house which at the beginning of the last century was a large hotel or tavern, with gardens and pleasure-grounds, which formed a favourite resort for newly-married couples to spend their honeymoon, in the days when there were no railways to whirl them off on the wings of steam to Brighton, Hastings, or the Isle of Wight. It was afterwards converted into two private houses, one of which contained a spacious apartment that had formerly been the assembly-room of the tavern.

On the opposite, or northern, side of Church Street, is a dwelling called, though incorrectly, the Manor House, in the grounds of which is a curious archway of brick, which must formerly have been the entrance to a large and important residence. It is probably of the fifteenth or sixteenth century. It is now filled up with modern bricks; but the hinges on which its huge doors once swung are still to be seen in situ. Little or nothing appears to be known about its history. Mr. Lewis, in his "Dictionary" quoted above, says that "the ancient manor-house is particularly worthy of notice; but," curiously enough, he adds, "a brick gateway, with a pointed arch on the northern side of Church Street, is the only part now standing of the buildings belonging to the old manor-house."

The same ancient tradition which connects Henry VIII. with the southern portion of Stoke Newington, tells us that Queen Elizabeth visited the manor-house in Church Street; and a pleasant grove of elms, close by the old church, as mentioned above, once the "mall" of the parish, still retains the name of "Queen Elizabeth's Walk." But when did the "maiden" queen make Stoke Newington her abode? Was it in her childhood, her girlhood, or her early womanhood? We know that a branch of the Dudleys, Earls of Essex, lived here after Elizabeth had come to the throne, but there is no proof of their having been here at an earlier date. Mr. Jackson tells us that the story current in the village in the last century was that, some time in Mary's reign, "probably when the house of the French Ambassador Noailles was the rendezvous of the discontented of every description, and when the princess herself was the hope of the Protestants, exasperated by persecution, she was brought by her friends to the secluded manorhouse, embosomed in trees, as to a secure asylum, where she might communicate with her friends, and be ready for any political emergency. They tell us that an ancient brick tower stood in the early part of the last century near the mansion, and that a staircase was remembered leading to the identical spot where the princess was concealed." But even Mr. Jackson, with all his poetic antiquarianism, is unable to confirm the tradition. Church Row, we may add, stands on the site of the old manor-house and grounds.

Fleetwood Road, a little to the east of this, still commemorates the residence of Fleetwood, the Parliamentarian general.

About a hundred yards further to the east we come to some handsome and lofty iron gates, behind which are some fine cedars of Lebanon and other tall evergreens. These were the front entrance of Sir Thomas Abney's mansion, of which we shall have more to say presently, as well as of its owners.

The old "Rose and Crown" tavern stood at the corner of a road leading out of Church Street in a southward direction. The old tavern retained its ancient appearance until early in the present century, when it was pulled down, and a new house erected on its site, which was enlarged and brought forward in a line with the adjoining houses; previous to which the old house stood back some feet from the footpath. Robinson, in his history of the parish, gives an illustration of the tavern as it appeared in 1806. Upon the sign-post is shown a pair of horns, similar to those which we have described in our account of Highgate. (fn. 6)

Near the middle of Church Street are two houses, nearly opposite to one another, which have had some distinguished residents; that on the north side was Dr. John Aikin's; his sister, Mrs. Barbauld, lived on the south, in a small private residence, now converted into a jeweller's shop. In Dr. Aikin's house the "Winter Evening Conversations" were written. Dr. Aikin died in December, 1822. Crabb Robinson writes of him that "he had for some years sunk into imbecility after a youth and middle age of great activity. He was in his better days a man of talent of the highest personal worth—in fact, one of the 'salt of the earth.'" Mrs. Barbauld was a resident here both before and after her living at Hampstead. She is frequently mentioned in H. Crabb Robinson's "Diary," from which we cull the following characteristic entries:—

"1816—11th Feb.—I walked to Newington, and dined with Mrs. Barbauld. As usual, we were very comfortable. Mrs. Barbauld can keep up a lively argumentative conversation as well as any one I know; and at her advanced age (she is turned of seventy), she is certainly the best specimen of female Presbyterian society in the country. N.B.—Anthony Robinson requested me to inquire whether she thought the doctrine of Universal Restoration scriptural. She said she thought we must bring to the interpretation of the Scriptures a very liberal notion of the beneficence of the Deity to find the doctrine there."

Here is a picture of her five years afterwards:—"1821—21st Jan.—Went to Mrs. Barbauld's. She was in good spirits, but she is now the confirmed old lady. Independently of her fine understanding and literary reputation, she would be interesting. Her white locks, fair and unwrinkled skin, brilliant starched linen, and rich silk gown, make her a fit object for a painter. Her conversation is lively, her remarks judicious and always pertinent."

About four years subsequently Robinson writes:—"1824—4th Nov.—Walked to Newington. Mrs. Barbauld was going out, but she stayed a short time with me. The old lady is much shrunk in appearance, and is declining in strength. She is but the shade of her former self, but a venerable shade. She is eighty-one years of age, but she retains her cheerfulness, and seems not afraid of death. She has a serene hope and quiet faith—delightful qualities at all times, and in old age peculiarly enviable."

Four months afterwards, on the 9th of March, 1825, she died, after a few days' serious illness. At the end of the same year we find Robinson making this entry:—"27th Dec.—At Royston. This morning I read to the young folks Mrs. Barbauld's 'Legacy.' This delightful book has in it some of the sweetest things I ever read. 'The King in his Castle' and 'True Magicians' are perfect allegories, in her best style. Some didactic pieces are also delightful."

Among other distinguished residents and personages connected with Stoke Newington, whose names we have not already mentioned, were Adam Anderson, author of the "History of Commerce," and Archbishop Tillotson.

The "Three Crowns," at the junction of Church Street and the main road, commemorates the spot where James I.—in whom the three crowns were first united—stayed to bait his horses, after meeting the Lord Mayor and aldermen at the top of Stamford Hill.

The western side of the High Road, as far as Stamford Hill, formed, till recently, part of the original parish of Hackney; but the latter has been sub-divided, and West Hackney and Stamford Hill have been made independent ecclesiastical districts. The latter was formerly a private and proprietary chapel of ease, but it was purchased by a subscription among the residents, enlarged, and consecrated.

About half a mile to the north, between Stoke Newington and the Seven Sisters' Road, at the entrance of the Green Lanes, are the large reservoirs in which the New River Company filter their water before it is brought into London. We have already sketched the history of this river in our account of Islington, (fn. 7) but for the following particulars, which ought to have a place here, we are indebted to the "Life of Sir Hugh Middleton," in Mr. Charles Knight's Penny Cyclopædia:—"The fall of the New River is three feet per mile, which gives a velocity of about two miles an hour. The average width is about twenty-one feet, and the average depth about four feet in the centre; so that, taking it at about half that depth, there is a section of forty-two square feet of water flowing into London at the rate of two miles an hour. At the sluice, near Highbury, the river is dammed back to the height of twenty inches, and at Enfield to two feet four inches; and there are three or four more such interruptions for the purpose of checking the current. …The New River is occasionally rendered dirty, especially in winter, by drainage from the land and villages along its course; and the company has been at a great expense in order to purify the water before it is delivered to the inhabitants of London. For this purpose two large settling reservoirs were formed in 1832 at Stoke Newington, under the direction of Mr. Mylne, the company's engineer. The water here covers an area of thirty-eight acres, more than twenty feet deep in some parts, and twelve feet on an average throughout. The water of the New River can be turned into the upper reservoir, where it settles, and it is then drawn off by a steamengine, and poured into the lower reservoir, where another settlement takes place, and the water is then turned again once more into the channel of the river. Bathing in the New River is entirely prohibited; and men called 'walksmen' mow the bed of the river every week in order to keep down the growth of weeds, which are stopped by gratings placed at intervals, where the weeds are regularly removed."

We may conclude this chapter with an apt quotation from the Rev. T. Jackson's "Lecture on Stoke Newington:"—"It is said that in North America the line of civilisation stretches further and further into the west at the rate of about fifteen miles a year. The modest backwoodsman who now stands on the frontier of civilised life, finds himself a twelvemonth hence within its boundary. The progress of London—the Babylon and Nineveh of modern times—is scarcely less remarkable, if less rapid. There are persons yet living (1855) who remember the erection of Finsbury Square, upon what was then the northern limit of the great town. Others have heard their fathers speak of the wall in front of Old Bedlam, and of the cherry-trees that grew in Broad Street and London Wall. Now the south of Stoke Newington may be regarded as within the capital. The meadows and cornfields of Kingsland are no more; they are covered with lines of busy and well-inhabited streets. The tide of population is scarcely arrested by the uplands of Highbury Hill, once the seat of a Roman summer camp, and threatens to invade the quiet hill-top of Crouch End. When will our green fields be finally absorbed? when will Lordship Road be covered with villas, to be, as time rolls on, gradually deteriorated, till they are joined by intervening houses and broken into shops?"



"Si monumenta quæris, circumspice."

Abney House—Sir Thomas and Lady Abney—The Visit of Dr. Isaac Watts to Abney House—His Library and Study—The Death of Dr. Watts—Sale of Abney Park, and the Formation of the Cemetery—Abney House converted into a School—Monument of Isaac Watts—The Mound and Grotto in the Cemetery—Distinguished Personages buried here—Stamford Hill—Meeting of King James and the Lord Mayor at Stamford Hill—The River Lea—Izaak Walton and the "Complete Angler."

In the foregoing chapter we have briefly referred to the mansion of Sir Thomas Abney, the entrance to which was on the north side of Church Street. It was a large square substantial red-brick building with stone quoins, and dated its erection from the close of the seventeenth century. The roof was flat, with a balustrade around it; and it had a central turret, which commanded an extensive prospect of the surrounding country. The iron entrance-gates, which still remain, are richly ornamented with carved work of fruit and flowers. The principal rooms of the house were all large and stately, and the walls were lined with oak wainscoting. On the first floor an apartment termed the "painted chamber" was finished in a costly manner, and might be considered an interesting specimen of the taste of the age in which it was arranged. The mouldings were gilt, and the whole of the panels on the sides were painted with subjects taken from the works of Ovid. On the window-shutters were some pictorial decorations—strangely contrasting with the above heathenish embellishments—in the form of emblems of grief and death, and mingled with the arms of Gunston and Abney, and intended, doubtless, to honour their memory; these were supposed to have been added by the pencil of Dr. Isaac Watts himself, who was an artist as well as poet and divine, and who, as we shall presently see, found in this mansion an asylum for upwards of six-and-thirty years.


The building, with its "old brick front, its old brick wall, and its old iron gate, all redolent of the times of William III. and Queen Anne," was commenced about the year 1690, by a Mr. Gunston, who at that time had purchased considerable property at Stoke Newington. He died, however, before the house was completely finished; an event which drew forth a funeral poem from the pen of Dr. Watts, in which, not content with the calling on "the buildings to weep," he writes—
"Mourn, ye young gardens, ye unfinished gates!"

The mansion now became the property and residence of Sir Thomas and Lady Abney, who, with their family, of which Dr. Watts may be considered a member, took up their abode here.

Sir Thomas Abney was a member of the Fishmongers' Company, and a distinguished Nonconformist. He was knighted by William III., and served the office of Lord Mayor in 1700. He is celebrated for the costliness of his procession on the occasion of entering on the mayoralty, as may be seen in detail in Mr. J. G. Nichols' "London Pageants." We are told how that "a person rode before the cavalcade in armour, with a dagger in his hand, representing Sir William Walworth, the head of the rebel Wat Tyler being carried on a pole before him." "Sir Thomas," as John Timbs informs us, "was not more distinguished by his hospitality than by his personal piety. Neither business nor pleasure ever interrupted his observance of public and private domestic worship. Upon the evening of the day that he entered on the office of Lord Mayor, without any notice he withdrew from the public assembly at Guildhall after supper, went back to his house, there performed his devotions, and then returned back to his company."

Isaac Watts began to preach at the age of twentythree, while living under the roof of Sir John and Lady Hartopp at Stoke Newington, where, as we have seen in the preceding chapter, he was engaged as tutor. He was soon afterwards invited to assist Dr. Chauncey, of whose congregation in Mark Lane Sir John Hartopp was a member; subsequently, on the retirement of the old pastor, Watts was induced—though somewhat reluctantly, owing to ill health—to undertake the charge, in March, 1702. Ten years later, a nervous disease had so grown upon him that he was compelled to suspend his public labours, and abandon the exercise of his ministry. In the meantime the congregation had removed from Mark Lane to a chapel in Bury Street, where Sir Thomas Abney and his amiable lady were members. They had become devoted friends to the poet and divine. "Watts, being lonely—a bachelor in the midst of his sad affliction—the Abneys invited him to come and stay with them for a few weeks' change. He did so. One day, long afterwards, the Countess of Huntingdon called upon the invalid. 'Madam,' said he, 'your ladyship is come to see me on a very remarkable day.' 'Why so remarkable?' she asked. 'This day thirty years I came hither to the house of my good friend Sir Thomas Abney, intending to spend but one single week under his friendly roof, and I have extended my visit to the length of exactly thirty years.' 'Sir,' added Lady Abney, in words which contained infinitely more than mere compliment, 'what you have termed a long thirty years' visit, I consider as the shortest visit my family ever received.'"


Stoke Newington thus became Dr. Watts's home; and here, and at Theobalds, where Sir Thomas Abney had a favourite summer retreat, he wrote most of those "Divine and Moral Songs" with which his name is so closely associated. Old Sir Thomas Abney died in 1722, upwards of fourscore years old; but Watts continued to reside at Abney Park with Lady Abney and her daughter until his own death. "Here," writes Dr. Stoughton, "he enjoyed the uninterrupted demonstrations of the truest friendship. Here, without any care of his own, he had everything which could contribute to the enjoyment of life, and favour the unwearied pursuit of his studies. Here he dwelt in a family which, for piety, order, harmony, and every virtue, was a house of God. Here he had the privilege of a country recess—the fragrant bower, the spreading lawn, the flowery garden, and other advantages—to soothe his mind and aid his restoration to health, to yield him, whenever he chose them, the most grateful intervals from his laborious studies, and enable him to return to them with redoubled vigour and delight."

Watts was chaplain to the household of the good old knight; and morning and evening he led the devotions, and on Sunday night preached to the family. The doctor's study in Lady Abney's house at Stoke Newington was the local centre of his existence. From it he at times diverged only to return to it again with a deeper feeling of home attachment. Mrs. S. Carter Hall, in her "Pilgrimages to English Shrines," describing her visit to this mansion, after speaking of the library, says, "We followed our conductor to the top of the house, where, in a turret upon the roof, many of Dr. Watts's literary and religious works were composed. We sat upon the seamed bench, rough and worn, the very bench upon which he sat by daylight and moonlight—poet, logician, and Christian teacher. The chamber upon whose walls hung the parting breath of this benevolent man might well be an object of the deepest interest to all who follow, however humbly, the faith of Jesus. We were told of a little child who, knowing every hymn he had written, was taken into his room, having some vague but happy idea that she should meet him there. Learning, as she eagerly looked round, that the author of 'Watts's Hymns' was dead, she burst into bitter tears, which did not cease while she remained in the house. Many of his works are said to have been produced in this room, which, though small, was lofty and pleasant."

Here is a picture of the doctor's study and its learned occupant, as drawn by Dr. Stoughton, in his "Shades and Echoes of Old London:"—"Here are some lines from Horace, hung up in a frame outside the door, denouncing the faithless friend. Within, the shelves are loaded with a goodly array of books—poetical, philosophical, historical, theological, and critical. Where there are no shelves, there are prints of noted persons, chiefly divines. A lofty panel covers the fireplace, with inscriptions from Horace on either side: the one, where the portraits are numerous, indicating that the space is filled up by shades of the departed; the other, where they are fewer, soliciting additions to the illustrious group. The classical fancifulness of all this indicates the scholar and the poet; but the avocations of the worthy occupant of this literary retreat indicate those noble purposes, those high Christian aims, of which all else in his character and habits were ornamental adjuncts. There he sits at his writing table, enveloped in a scholarly robe, small in figure, and sickly in complexion; the forehead not so broad and high as we might expect, limited somewhat by the wig that crowns and borders it; the features large and marked, the eyes clear and burning."

"Isaac Watts," observes the Rev. T. Jackson, in his lecture on Stoke Newington, "adopted substantially the fatal errors of Arius." This accusation may or may not be true; but as Dr. Stoughton remarks, "without trimming, without temporising, he was quiet and without bustle; without boasting or parade, he did his own business—the work that God had given him. And now no church repudiates him; Nonconformity cannot monopolise him. His eulogium is pronounced by Samuel Johnson and Robert Southey, as well as by Josiah Conder; and whilst his monument looks down on Dissenting graves in Abney Park, his effigy reposes beneath the consecrated roof of Westminster Abbey." Dr. Watts died at Abney Park, surrounded by his friends, on the 24th of November, 1748; and his remains were interred in Bunhill Fields.

Miss Abney, the daughter of Sir Thomas Abney, ordered by her will that on her death the estate of Abney Park should be sold and the proceeds given to the poor, and distributed among charities. It was accordingly sold, and the purchase money of the new owner, whose name was Eade, was devoted to the execution of her intentions.

The mansion, after having been for many years used as a college for the instruction of youths of the Wesleyan Society, was pulled down in 1845, the park and garden-grounds having, four or five years previously, been converted into a cemetery. Many of the fine old cedars and yews that adorn the cemetery flourished here during the lifetime of Dr. Watts, who, it is said, wrote much of his poetry beneath their shade, and upon the mound consecrated by his name, and which, a vague tradition tells us, covers the ashes of no less a personage than Oliver Cromwell. We have already had occasion, more than once, to record some of the traditions concerning Cromwell's supposed restingplace. (fn. 8) That his body received but a mock funeral at Westminster, and was really peaceably reposing elsewhere, is said to have been a favourite belief with his partisans; and General Fleetwood's residence at Stoke Newington, the circumstance of his marriage with Bridget, the eldest daughter of the "Lord High Protector," and widow of General Ireton, and the fact that he was a very distinguished character during the Protectorate of his father-inlaw—may easily have led to the tradition above mentioned, however unfounded. A large portion of Abney Park, ranging from the magnificent cedar of Lebanon, in the part of the grounds once called the Wilderness, and stretching away to the north extremity, where the mound is placed, and all the land eastward of that line, extending as far as the principal entrance to the cemetery, was, during the Commonwealth, and after the Restoration, the property of General Fleetwood, of whose house we have spoken in the previous chapter.

Abney Park Cemetery covers in all about thirty acres of ground, and was opened in 1840. It is full of monuments of men whom time will not let die. A cenotaph monument and statue to the memory of Dr. Isaac Watts rises conspicuously above other mementoes of the departed, connecting the place with his name, and exciting the visitor to some recollections of his works and virtues. Mrs. S. C. Hall, writing in 1850, says:—"The trees and the avenues, preserved with a most delicate respect to the memory of the poet, are so well kept, there is such an air of solemnity and peace and positive 'beauty' in the arrangement of the whole, that if spirits were permitted to visit the earth, we might hope to meet his shade amid his once favourite haunts. There is nothing to offend us in such receptacles for the perishing dust of humanity, but everything to soothe and harmonise the feelings of the past and present. A statue in pure and simple character of this high-priest of charity stands (we are told) upon the 'exact spot' where the house stood; but we think it has been placed rather farther back than was the dwelling." The inscription upon the pedestal of the statue, which was executed by Mr. E. H. Baily, R.A., and "erected by public subscription, September, 1845," is as follows:—

"In memory of Isaac Watts, D.D., and in testimony of the high and lasting esteem in which his character and writings are held in the great Christian community by whom the English language is spoken. Of his Psalms and Hymns, it may be predicted in his own words:—
'Ages unborn will make his songs
The joy and labour of their tongues.'
He was born at Southampton, July 17th, 1674, and died November 24th, 1748, after a residence of thirty-six years in the mansion of Sir Thomas Abney, Bart., then standing in these grounds."

Dr. Johnson wrote of him:—"Few men have left behind such purity of character, or such monuments of laborious piety; he has provided instruction for all ages, from those who are lisping their first lessons to the enlightened readers of Malbranche and Locke. He has left neither corporeal nor spiritual nature unexamined; he has taught the Art of Reasoning and the Science of the Stars; such he was, as every Christian Church would rejoice to have adopted."

The "mound," too, which we have mentioned above, whence the poet loved to overlook the green and fertile country—for London at that time had not escaped from Shoreditch—is walled in, fenced round, and guarded as a sanctuary. It is in the north-east corner of the grounds.

As a cemetery, Abney Park has some natural features of great beauty and interest. It is remarkable for its fine old trees, amongst which there is a splendid cedar of Lebanon of two centuries' growth. It contains also a beautiful arboretum, formed with great taste. The buildings are bold and effective, though of limited extent; and what is wanting in costliness has been more than compensated by the skill of the architect, Mr. W. Hosking, who has here shown how much may be effected by "that true simplicity which results from a few carefully-studied and well-finished features." Near the centre of the grounds stands a neat brick-built chapel, of Gothic architecture, the tower of which is surmounted by a tapering spire. The ground is (using the words of the proprietors) "a General Cemetery for the City of London, and its eastern and north-eastern suburbs, which shall be open to all classes of the community, and to all denominations of Christians, without restraint in forms." There is, therefore, no separating line in this cemetery between the parts appropriated to members of the Church of England and to Dissenters. The greater part of the ground is thickly studded with tombs and monuments, most of which are remarkable for simplicity, and many of the graves are enriched with flowers or other touching emblems of the grief of sorrowing friends of the departed. Unlike Kensal Green and other cemeteries which we have visited in the course of our perambulation round London, Abney Park cannot boast of containing the ashes of many who have distinguished themselves "by flood and field;" but a large number of those who achieved distinction in more peaceable walks of life have here found a resting-place. Among them we may mention the Rev. Dr. Fletcher, of Finsbury, "the Children's Friend;" the Rev. Andrew Reed, D.D., the philanthropic founder of many orphan asylums and other public charities, who died in 1862; the Rev. Dr. Fletcher, of Stepney; Dr. John Campbell; the Rev. Thomas Binney, one of the most prominent leaders of the Independent connexion, and for many years minister at the Weigh-house Chapel, Fish Street Hill; the Rev. Dr. Pye Smith; Dr. Archer; and last, not least, Mr. Braidwood, who was many years chief of the London Fire Brigade, and who lost his life during the great fire in Tooley Street, in June, 1861.

Passing northward, after leaving the cemetery gates, we soon arrive at Stamford Hill, a gentle eminence on the main road. The old Cambridge Road, which we have mentioned as passing through Hackney by way of Mare Street, after continuing its course through Lower and Upper Clapton, joins the new road, by which we are now proceeding, at the summit of the hill. Both sides of the road, as we pass up the hill, are occupied by rows of houses and detached villas, many of them of an elegant character, that almost force upon the recollection the lines of Cowper—

"Suburban villas, highway side retreats,
That dread th' encroachment of our growing streets.
Tight boxes, neatly sashed, and in a blaze
With all a July's sun's collected rays,
Delight the citizen, who, gasping there,
Breathes clouds of dust and calls it country air."

So much may the neighbourhood now be considered part of London, that the road itself is traversed by tram-cars, which run between the City and the top of Stamford Hill. On our right we pass a new Congregational Chapel, a large Gothic structure, the tall spire of which forms a prominent object for some distance round.

On reaching the summit of the hill, where the two roads meet as above mentioned, an entirely different scene presents itself, and we begin to feel that we have reached almost the limits of our journey in this direction. Green fields, trees, and hedge-rows now burst upon the view; and winding away to the north-east the road leads on towards the village of Tottenham, whither we will presently direct our steps. Before proceeding thither, however, we will give a glance back over the ground we have wandered; and conjure up to our imagination the sweeping change which must have taken place within the last three or four centuries, when London was walled in on every side, and all away to the north was fields—"Moor Felde," "Smeeth Felde," and the like—and forest land, through which passed the lonely road, called "Hermen [or Ermine] Strete," of which we have spoken in the previous chapter, after emerging from "Creple Gate," on its way by Stoke Newington, to St. Albans and the north. The swampy nature of the ground, too, in some parts is still indicated by the name of Finsbury (Fensbury); but all this, as we have seen, has long been built upon, and "Moorfields are fields no more."

As Mr. Matthew Browne writes in "Chaucer's England," we must "either be at a great distance from London or must possess a very lively imagination to conceive of the English capital as a place of gardens, such as it was in the time of the Plantagenets. Within my own memory, the area within which roses will not grow in the metropolis has been widening and widening in the most odious manner, and in every direction. The great brickgiant marches out towards the fields, and the roses fly before him; and you have to go nearly out of the sound of 'Big Ben' to see gardens no sweeter and gayer than lay under the shadow of St. Paul's and the Savoy Palace in the days of John of Gaunt."

In the reign of King James, Stamford Hill was crowned with a grove of trees, and its eastern declivity was overgrown with brushwood. The whole country on the Essex side was marshy as far as Epping Forest, some three miles distant. Through a swampy vale on the right the river Lea, so dear to the angler, took its slow and silent course, while through a green valley on the left flowed the New River.

In Mr. Harrison Ainsworth's romance of the "Star Chamber" is a graphic and spirited, though somewhat sensational, sketch of the view looking towards London from this elevated spot at the above period:—"Arrived at the summit of the hill commanding such extensively charming views, Jocelyn halted and looked back with wonder at the vast and populous city he had just quitted, now spread out before him in all its splendour and beauty. In his eyes it seemed already overgrown, though it had not attained a tithe of its present proportions; but he could only judge according to his opportunity, and was unable to foresee its future magnitude. But if London has waxed in size, wealth, and population during the last two centuries and a half, it has lost nearly all the peculiar features of beauty which distinguished it up to that time, and made it so attractive to Jocelyn's eyes. The diversified and picturesque architecture of its ancient habitations, as yet undisturbed by the innovations of the Italian and Dutch schools, and brought to full perfection in the latter part of the reign of Elizabeth, gave the whole city a characteristic and fanciful appearance. Old towers, old belfries, old crosses, slender spires innumerable, rose up amid a world of quaint gables and angular roofs. Storey above storey sprang those curious dwellings, irregular, yet homogeneous; dear to the painter's and the poet's eye; elaborate in ornament, grotesque in design, well suited to the climate, and admirably adapted to the wants and comforts of the inhabitants; picturesque like the age itself, like its costume, its manners, its literature. … Another advantage in those days must not be forgotten. The canopy of smoke overhanging the vast modern Babel, and oftentimes obscuring even the light of the sun itself, did not dim the beauties of the ancient city—sea-coal being but little used in comparison with wood, of which there was then abundance, as at this time in the capital of France. Thus the atmosphere was clearer and lighter, and served as a finer medium to reveal objects which would now be lost at a quarter the distance.

"Fair, sparkling, and clearly defined, then rose up Old London before Jocelyn's gaze. Girded round with grey walls, defended by battlements, and approached by lofty gates, four of which—to wit, Cripplegate, Moorgate, Bishopsgate, and Aldgate—were visible from where he stood; it riveted attention from its immense congregation of roofs, spires, pinnacles, and vanes, all glittering in the sunshine; while in the midst of all, and preeminent above all, towered one gigantic pile—the glorious Gothic cathedral. Far on the east, and beyond the city walls, though surrounded by its own mural defences, was seen the frowning Tower of London—part fortress and part prison—a structure never viewed in those days without terror, being the scene of so many passing tragedies. Looking westward, and rapidly surveying the gardens and pleasant suburban villages lying on the north of the Strand, the young man's gaze settled for a moment on Charing Cross—the elaborately-carved memorial to his queen Eleanor, erected by Edward I., and then ranging over the palace of Whitehall and its two gates, Westminster Abbey—more beautiful without its towers than with them—it became fixed upon Westminster Hall; for there, in one of its chambers, the ceiling of which was adorned with gilded stars, were held the councils of that terrible tribunal which had robbed him of his inheritance, and now threatened him with deprivation of liberty and mutilation of person. A shudder crossed him as he thought of the Star-Chamber, and he turned his gaze elsewhere, trying to bring the whole glorious city within his ken.

"A splendid view, indeed! Well might King James himself exclaim, when standing, not many years previously, on the very spot where Jocelyn now stood, and looking upon London for the first time since his accession to the throne of England—well might he exclaim in rapturous accents, as he gazed on the magnificence of his capital, 'At last the richest jewel in a monarch's crown is mine!'"

However much the above description of the view from Stamford Hill may be overdrawn, and whether Jocelyn could descry the cross at Charing from this spot or not, there is at least some foundation for the exclamation which Mr. Harrison Ainsworth has put into the mouth of King James; for it is on record how that on the 7th of May, 1603, his Majesty was here met by the Lord Mayor and aldermen on his first public entry into London after his accession.

The river Lea, which flows at the distance of from one to two miles on our right, all the way from Kingsland, and which here makes its nearest approach to the road that we are travelling, divides the county of Middlesex from that of Essex, as far to the north as Waltham Abbey. Its course on the whole is due south, though somewhat winding, and here and there it divides its water into two or three separate channels, and then re-unites them. Nearly all along its course there is a broad belt of meadow and marsh land on one side of the river, or on both, which is used as pasturage for cattle. The Lea itself, after sweeping past Chingford, Stratford, and Bow, falls into the Thames close by the Victoria Dock. This river in former times was deemed one of considerable importance, as the means of supply in conveying corn, meal, and malt to the metropolis; so much so, in fact, that in the reign of Edward IV. an Act of Parliament was passed for improving the navigation. It has, too, an historical interest, for Drayton, in his "Polyolbion," tells us how that—
"The old Lea brags of the Danish blood."

It is said in Lambarde's "Dictionarium Topographicum" that "it hath of longe tyme borne vessels from London twenty miles towards its head: for in the tyme of King Ælfrede, the Danes entered Leymouthe and fortified at a place adjoyning this river twenty miles from London, where by fortune Kinge Alfred passinge by espied that the channel of the river might be in such sorte weakened, that they should want water to return with their shippes; he caused therefore the water to be abated by two great trenches, and settinge the Londoners upon them he made them batteil, wherein they lost four of their captaines, and a great number of their common souldiers, the rest flyinge into the castell which they had built. Not long after they were so pressed that they forsoke all and left their shippes as a prey to the Londoners; which, breakinge some and burninge other, conveyed the rest to London." He adds that this castle, though it might seem to be Hertford, was on another part of the river's bank; but where it stood is not clearly defined, and must always remain a moot point. Other authors, however, confirm in the main the leading statement of Lambarde, namely, Sir William Dugdale in his "History of the Embanking and Draining the Fens," and Sir John Spelman in his "Life of Alfred the Great." A perusal of the latter work will leave the honest reader in very little doubt but that these trenches are the very same that now branch off from the river between the Temple Mills and Old Ford, and crossing the Essex Road near Stratford, enter the Thames together with the main stream of the Lea.

On those channels of the Lea which are not used for the purposes of navigation there are corn and paper mills, near which are the favourite resorts for the disciples of Izaak Walton's "gentle craft." At many places the fishing is strictly preserved, and admission to these pleasant spots is ob tained only by the "silver key" of a yearly subscription. There is a tranquillising influence in such spots, which harmonise best with minds formed as those of John Scott, the Quaker poet of Amwell, and of the author of the "Complete Angler." In fact, Scott has paid his tribute to Izaak Walton, who
"Oft our fair haunts explored; upon Lea's shore
Beneath some green tree oft his angle laid,
His sport suspending to admire their charms."
"Honest Izaak" has been immortalised by his literary labours, which were mainly of a biographical character; but his best known production is the "Complete Angler, or Contemplative Man's Recreation." (fn. 9) This appeared in 1653, and has gone through numerous editions. The motto to the first edition was, "Simon Peter said, I go a fishing; and they said, We also go with thee;" but it was cancelled in subsequent editions. This "pleasant curiosity of fish and fishing," writes his amiable biographer, "is a series of dialogues—no long 'and watery discourse,' but truly a rich entertainment—quaint, humorous, and cheerful, abounding in happy touches of wit and raillery, practical wisdom, sagacious reflections, and snatches of poetry and song. While his lectures on his art are so clear and so curious, his digressions are ever most amusing."


While he continued in London, his favourite recreation was angling, in which he was the greatest proficient in his time; and indeed so great were his skill and experience in the art that there is scarce any writer on the subject since his time who has not made the rules and practice of Walton his very foundation. It is therefore with the greatest propriety that Langbaine, in his "Lives of the English Dramatic Poets," calls him "the common father of all anglers." The river that he seems mostly to have frequented for this purpose was the Lea, which has its source above Ware, in Hertfordshire, and falls into the Thames, as we have seen, a little below Blackwall; unless we suppose that the vicinity of the New River to the place of his habitation might sometimes tempt him out with his friends—honest Nat and R. Roe, whose loss he so pathetically deplores in his preface of the "Complete Angler"—to "spend an afternoon there." In the above work, the kindness of old Izaak's nature often peeps out, as when he tells his friend and disciple or scholar who had caught his first chub, "it is a good beginning of your art to offer your first fruits to the poor, who will thank both you and God for it." "He was no ascetic, for he liked 'the barley-wine, the good liquor that our honest forefathers did use to drink of,' and he loved such mirth 'as did not make friends ashamed to look on one another the next morning.' His humour is sometimes quite comic, as when, after instructing his listener and companion in the art of impaling a frog upon a hook, and securing the upper part of its leg by one loop to the arming wire he naively adds, 'In so doing, use him as you loved him.'"

1. Ferry House.
2. Tottenham Church, from Lea River.
3. Tumbling Weir.
4. Fishing Cottage
5. Tottenham Lock.

According to Izaak Walton, the river Lea afforded fine sport to the angler, not only in perch, chub, pike, barbel, dace, roach, gudgeon, and other common fish, but also in trout. He speaks of the Lea meadows as flowery above the average, and even of the milkmaids of the neighbourhood as prettier and more charming than their sisters in other parts; but in this last respect he probably mixed up too much of the poet with the philosopher. His serene heart, in fact, is ever going out in admiration of the clear stream in its shallows, pools, and flowery banks; the shady trees, the odorous honeysuckle, the green pastures, the disporting of the lambs, the hum of the bee, the clouds and sky, and the song of the linnet and the lark, the blackbird and thrush. "The book," writes its reviewer, "will ever be a favourite with all 'that love virtue and angling,' as did its author, who was at peace with himself and all creation excepting otters." Yet, in spite of this, Byron could write of Walton reproachfully in the following couplet—
"That quaint old cruel coxcomb in his gullet
Should have a hook and a small trout to pull it."

Rennie, in one of his notes on the "Complete Angler," tells a good story anent this river. An old river Lea angler being daily seen in one particular spot hereabouts, a brother angler conceived that the place must be the resort of abundance of fish, and therefore commenced his operations there one summer morning before daybreak. The usual attendant of the place arrived some hours after, and threw in his line. After a long silence, the first-comer remarked that he was out of luck, not having caught a single fish in this hole, which he had noticed to be such a favourite with his brother of the rod. "Sir," replied the old stager, "I confess that long custom has made me very partial to the spot; but as for fish, I assure you that here I have angled regularly for forty years, and have never had a bite as yet!"

The "Jolly Anglers" inn, at Lea Bridge, a little to the east of Upper Clapton, is of itself sufficient to indicate that the stream hereabouts is largely frequented by the lovers of Walton's "gentle art." It is also, during the summer months, much frequented for the purposes of bathing and boating, and the number of fatal accidents arising from the unskilful management of small craft by youths who can neither row nor swim is lamentably great.


  • 1. See ante, p. 335.
  • 2. See Vol. II., p. 383.
  • 3. See p. 93, ante.
  • 4. See Vol. III. p. 10.
  • 5. See ante, p. 521.
  • 6. See ante, p. 418.
  • 7. See Vol. II., pp. 266, 267.
  • 8. See Vol. III., pp. 437, 539; Vol. IV., p. 546.
  • 9. See Vol. II., p. 332.