Swain's Lane

Pages 39-40

Survey of London: Volume 17, the Parish of St Pancras Part 1: the Village of Highgate. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1936.

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Historical Notes.

This thoroughfare is mentioned as far back as the year 1492 as "Swayneslane," though the less euphonious form usually employed until last century was "Swines Lane." It was one of four parallel routes up the hill to the village, viz. West Hill, Bromwich Walk, Swain's Lane and Dartmouth Hill. Bromwich Walk never developed beyond a footpath and has disappeared. The use of Swain's Lane was mainly to provide access to the adjacent farm lands on either side and there were no dwellings in it except at a few yards from the upper end. In the year 1887 the London Cemetery Company acquired a group of cottages numbered 1 to 8, Swain's Lane, standing on a rectangular plot of ground on the western side, facing Waterlow Park opposite the moat. Here once stood the only house of note in the lane, belonging to Dr. Elisha Coysh. The owner in Queen Elizabeth's time was John Gilpin (see p. 42). (fn. 57) In 1609 William Gwercie (who had married Gilpin's widow), and Everard Gilpin, his son, conveyed to John Wetherley of Highgate, yeoman, and Margaret, his wife, a newly built cottage, a garden and half an acre in "Swayns Lane," late in the tenure of John Purton and Richard Blake. John Wetherley, by his will dated 21st November, 1631, and proved on 12th December, 1631, left to his wife "four cottages standing in Swines Lane," his son, William, was to have them after her death. (fn. 58)

Then a gap occurs in the record until we find Dr. Elisha Coish in 1657 in possession of a cottage and garden and a close adjoining containing half an acre in "Swines Lane" and a messuage adjoining the cottage, being formerly part thereof. In 1659 Dr. Coish had licence to lay pipes from "Swines Well in Swines Lane" to his house and to his other tenements there, for conveying water, about three yards from the well to the wall of the messuage. Lloyd in his History of Highgate, published in 1888, says: "The buildings were very ancient, of wood and plaster. The house was pulled down in 1760; the garden wall still remains." Lloyd quotes certain notes concerning Dr. Coysh: "This High Dutch physician—newly come over from Holland, where he resided all the time of the Great Plague in Amsterdam, and cured multitudes of people that actually had the plague upon them … was indeed a most charitable man to the diseased poor. . . . There is a case told of his goodness to thirteen poor people who were flying for their lives from London and Clerkenwell, and who intended to have gone north, away by Highgate, but were stopped at Holloway, as there the people would not let them pass, or not even suffer them to be in a barn for the night; so they crossed the fields towards Hampstead, when Dr. Coysh having heard of their distress, he had them brought to his barns, and there attended to and fed them for two days; he then saw them got safe to Finchley Common, where they intended to wait until they were in hopes the cold weather would check the infection." While receiving the narrative with reserve we may believe that it reflected the popular impression of the man. There seems no ground, however, for thinking that he was a Dutchman. One Roger Coise, citizen and grocer of London, living in Aldermanbury, mentions in his will, proved 24th March, 1579, his son-in-law, Richard Blake, and his brother, William Cois. (fn. 59) As we have seen, a Richard Blake was a tenant of these premises before 1609. Thomasine Coyce alias Coys, widow of the said Roger Coise, made her will on 9th January, 1593–4, five days before it was proved. She left £70 to her daughter "Susan Blage" (probably Susan Blake, wife or widow of the before-mentioned Richard Blake). This Mrs. Coyce was of Hackney and wished to be buried in Hackney Church. (fn. 60) Dr. Coish married Sara, daughter of John James, apothecary, of Hackney.

Dr. Elisha Coish (fn. 61) was born on 30th January, 1632, and baptised at St. Mary Aldermary. He was the son of Richard Coish, skinner. He was granted the degree of M.D. by Oxford University in 1657, and was admitted a Fellow of the College of Physicians in 1673, and died on 11th January, 1686, and was buried in St. Mary Aldermary. In his will, made 18th August, 1683, and proved 22nd January, 1686, he mentions that he had by deed in 1673 settled his estate on his wife, Sara, for life. (fn. 61) He married Sarah James on 5th October, 1656, at St. Mary Aldermary, and left four sons, James, Elisha, Richard and John, as well as a daughter Bridget. Of these John, the youngest, was to have his two copyhold messuages at Highgate, held of the Manor of Cantlowes. He also possessed leaseholds from the Corporation of London, on tenterground near the Dog House bequeathed to him by Hester Harrison, widow. She lived at Highgate in a house leased from Sir John Wollaston, on the site of Channing House School, and in her will (fn. 62) refers to him as her "friend Elisha Coysh, of St. Albones, Woodstreete, London, Doctor in Phisick."

John and James Coish died before their mother, and their brothers, Elisha and Richard, took the Highgate property after her death in March, 1703. Elisha Coish was dead in 1725, leaving a widow, Hannah, when his brother became sole owner. In 1740 Richard Coish was dead, leaving two sons, Elisha and Thomas, their Aunt Hannah being still alive. In 1761 Thomas Coish died, leaving the property to his wife, Rebecca, with remainder to his son Richard. She died in 1765. On 7th July, 1770, Richard Coish, then of Muswell Hill, with Loretta his wife, conveyed the property to John Rolls of Bermondsey, cowkeeper, who had married Richard's sister, Sarah. In 1801 it passed to one Finney Sirdefield. It is interesting to note that the John Rolls mentioned was the great-grandfather of John Allan Rolls of the Hendre and Llangattock, first Baron Llangattock.

In 1811 Finney Sirdefield had licence to lease two houses in Swain's Lane to Thomas Vincent, for 21 years. In 1834 Alfred Sirdefield succeeded under the will of Finney Sirdefield, the two houses having then become six. In 1858 Anna Sirdefield succeeded. She died on 4th November, 1882, and her executors sold the houses to the London Cemetery Company. Among the cottages standing in 1831 was one occupied as a police station.



  • 57. The will of John Gilpin was proved 10th May, 1591. P.C.C. 31 Sainberbe.
  • 58. Will of John Wetherley. P.C.C. 132 St. John.
  • 59. Will of Roger Coise. P.C.C. 12 Bacon. He died 30th January, 1579 (P.R.O., C 142/186/31).
  • 60. Will of Thomasine Coyce. P.C.C. 7 Dixy.
  • 61. Will of Dr. Elisha Coish. P.C.C. 2 Lloyd. Merchant Taylor's School Register. E. P. Hart, 1936.
  • 62. Will of Hester Harrison. P.C.C. 117 Mico.