Enfield: Introduction

A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 5, Hendon, Kingsbury, Great Stanmore, Little Stanmore, Edmonton Enfield, Monken Hadley, South Mimms, Tottenham. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1976.

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A P Baggs, Diane K Bolton, Eileen P Scarff, G C Tyack, 'Enfield: Introduction', in A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 5, Hendon, Kingsbury, Great Stanmore, Little Stanmore, Edmonton Enfield, Monken Hadley, South Mimms, Tottenham, ed. T F T Baker, R B Pugh( London, 1976), British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol5/pp207-208 [accessed 20 July 2024].

A P Baggs, Diane K Bolton, Eileen P Scarff, G C Tyack, 'Enfield: Introduction', in A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 5, Hendon, Kingsbury, Great Stanmore, Little Stanmore, Edmonton Enfield, Monken Hadley, South Mimms, Tottenham. Edited by T F T Baker, R B Pugh( London, 1976), British History Online, accessed July 20, 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol5/pp207-208.

A P Baggs, Diane K Bolton, Eileen P Scarff, G C Tyack. "Enfield: Introduction". A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 5, Hendon, Kingsbury, Great Stanmore, Little Stanmore, Edmonton Enfield, Monken Hadley, South Mimms, Tottenham. Ed. T F T Baker, R B Pugh(London, 1976), , British History Online. Web. 20 July 2024. https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol5/pp207-208.


ENFIELD (fn. 1) contained 12,460 a. in 1831, when it was the largest parish in Middlesex after Harrow with Pinner. (fn. 2) Enfield 'Town', as it came to be called, (fn. 3) grew up on the edge of Enfield Chase over a mile west of the main road from London to Ware, which entered the parish about 8 miles from London at Ponders End. (fn. 4) The eastern part of the parish was for long the most thickly populated, with road- and river-side settlements at Ponders End, Enfield Highway, Enfield Wash, and Enfield Lock, and the 19th-century Royal Small Arms factory which produced the Lee-Enfield rifle. Before the inclosure of the Chase under the Act of 1777 (fn. 5) the parish covered 14,779 a. (fn. 6) but for the purposes of this article the boundaries are those established in 1779, when the Act came into effect. (fn. 7)

From 1779 the parish formed a rectangle measuring 8 miles from east to west and 3 from north to south. It was bounded on the north by Cheshunt and Northaw (Herts.), on the west by South Mimms and Monken Hadley in Middlesex and East Barnet (Herts.), and on the south by Edmonton. The eastern boundary was formed by the river Lea and the Mar dyke, which bordered Essex, and was alone in following natural features. (fn. 8) A tract between World's End Lane and the South Lodge estate was transferred to Enfield from Edmonton between 1858 and 1871. (fn. 9) Two detached pieces of land in Monken Hadley, totalling 54 a., remained part of Enfield after the division of the Chase; they are treated under Monken Hadley to which they were transferred in 1882 and 1894. (fn. 10) Further boundary revisions reduced the total acreage to 12,601 a. in 1901. In 1924 26 a. near Potters Bar (South Mimms) were transferred to South Mimms R.D. and in 1926 a narrow strip of land along World's End Lane was transferred to Southgate U.D. Between 1931 and 1951 the area of Enfield U.D., roughly conterminous with the old parish, dropped from 12,574 a. to 12,339 a. after changes which included the transfer to Southgate U.D. of a tongue of land projecting south from Cockfosters on either side of Cockfosters Road. (fn. 11) Enfield joined Edmonton to form the London Borough of Enfield in 1965. (fn. 12)

The western part of the parish, reaching 363 ft. above sea level near New Cottage farm, is formed of London Clay, with a strip of pebble gravel running along the northern part of the Ridgeway; there are patches of pebble gravel at Clay Hill and near Potters Bar and Monken Hadley, while the southern end of the Ridgeway runs through glacial gravel to boulder clay. Glacial deposits also occur at Cockfosters and near Trent Park and South Lodge. From the centre of the parish, where there are some steep hills, the ground slopes eastward towards the Lea through clay and an extensive area of terrace gravel and then through brickearth. The brickearth gives way to flood plain gravel between ½ mile and 1 mile west of the Lea and to alluvium in the riverside marshes. (fn. 13)

From the hills in the west flow several tributaries of the Lea. Maiden's brook, called the Wash brook in 1826, (fn. 14) rises at Potters Bar, meets Cuffley brook from Hertfordshire near Clay Hill, and joins the Lea about a mile south of the northern parish boundary. The lower part of Maiden's brook was still navigable in 1824, when the vestry appointed a committee to investigate the state of wharfing in Turkey Street. (fn. 15) Salmon's brook rises near Roundhedge Hill in the north-west of the parish and runs south-eastward through a valley, entering Edmonton south of Enfield Town at Bush Hill; it has two tributaries, the Leeging Beech gutter, which rises in the grounds of Trent Park, and Merryhills brook farther south, which rises near Cockfosters. A third stream, Pymme's brook, rises near the suburb of Hadley Wood and runs south into Monken Hadley, after passing through two large artificial ponds, the southernmost of which was recorded in 1656 as New Pond. (fn. 16) The ponds had assumed their modern shape by 1686. (fn. 17)

The New River was cut through the parish from north to south and opened in 1613. (fn. 18) The original course closely followed the 100 ft. contour line but was straightened in 1859 and again c. 1890, when it was channelled in three mains to Bush Hill park. In 1974 portions of the old course remained in Whitewebbs park and around Enfield Town and the river was carried over Maiden's brook by an aqueduct east of Maiden's bridge. Another aqueduct of cast iron in Flash Road, carrying the old stream over Cuffley brook, was built in 1820-1 when a diversion was made necessary after the portion of the river west of Flash Road had been bought by Edward Harman of Claysmore (fn. 19) and converted into an artificial lake, which survives in the grounds of Wildwood. Before 1820 the river passed under Cuffley brook in a trough or 'flash', rebuilt by Robert Mylne in 1775, parts of which survive. The ornamental aspect of the river was praised in 1823 (fn. 20) and proposals to drain the superfluous old course c. 1890 were defeated by public agitation. (fn. 21)

The southern part of the eastern parish boundary was formed by the Mar dyke, a cut running west of the Lea through the marshes into Edmonton. Another cut, the mill river, left the Lea in the northeastern corner of the parish and ran south, to join the Mar dyke at the south-eastern boundary. It was built to supply medieval mills (fn. 22) and was mentioned in the later 16th century, when a lock had been constructed between Wild and Mill marshes. (fn. 23) In 1572 the mill river was said to be of greater size than the main river (fn. 24) but an Act was passed to make the Lea itself navigable as far as Ware (Herts.) in 1571 and the work was completed by 1576. (fn. 25)

The old river was effectively superseded after improvements to the mill river under an Act of 1767. (fn. 26) Work began on the Enfield Cut of the Lea Navigation in 1769 and on the southern extension, called the Edmonton Cut, in 1770. Enfield Lock was constructed on the site of the old mill river lock and a surveyor's house was built in 1792, on the site of the later British Waterways' depot. An increase in traffic led to the construction of a second lock, at Ponders End, in 1793. Near by an early-19thcentury dock was being used in 1832 for barges travelling between London and Hertfordshire; (fn. 27) a new double lock was built in 1959. (fn. 28) A third lock, at Rammey marsh in the extreme north of the parish, was built by 1867. (fn. 29) The old course of the Lea was submerged by King George's reservoir (446 a.), opened in 1913. (fn. 30)

Enfield won intermittent notoriety in the 18th century. Dick Turpin, whose grandfather reputedly had lived at Clay Hill, was said to lurk in new Camlet Moat on the Chase. (fn. 31) From 1753 until 1755 36 pamphlets and 14 prints were published on Elizabeth Canning, a servant girl convicted of perjury after claiming to have been abducted and robbed at Enfield Wash. (fn. 32) In 1779 sightseers were attracted by Thomas Hill Everett, the outsize baby son of the manager of the mills by the Lea, who lived at Scotland Green; the child was then exhibited in London, where it died in 1780. (fn. 33)

Natives (fn. 34) included the author Henry Baker (1734- 66), Isaac D'Israeli (1766-1848), born in a house on the site of Enfield Town railway station which later became a private school attended by John Keats, (fn. 35) the civil engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette (1819-91), and the poet and bibliographer of angling Thomas Westwood (1814-88), whose father, a former haberdasher, was described by his friend Charles Lamb as 'a star among the minor gentry'. Gerard Legh (d. 1563), writer on heraldry, owed his education to Robert Wroth of Durants and the romance writer Robert Paltock (1697-1767) spent his early years in Enfield. Richard Brownlow (1553- 1638), chief prothonotary of the Common Pleas, (fn. 36) and Sir George Wharton, Bt. (1617-81) died in their houses at Enfield and Edward Stephens (d. 1706), pamphleteer, was buried in the parish. Among other residents were John Hadley (1682-1744), mathematician and scientific mechanist, John Cartwright (1740-1824), political reformer and friend of Thomas Holt White of Chase Lodge, (fn. 37) William Saunders (1743-1817), physician, buried in the parish church, Sir Nathaniel Dance (1748-1827), commander under the East India Company, Mary Linwood (1755-1845), composer and needlework artist, (fn. 38) Thomas Smart (1776-1867), (fn. 39) musician, and Leitch Ritchie (?1800-65), novelist. (fn. 40) The critic Walter Pater (1839-94) spent his early years at a house in Baker Street, called Yarra House in 1911 and afterwards demolished. (fn. 41) William Booth (1829- 1912), founder of the Salvation Army, moved to no. 33 Lancaster Avenue, Hadley Wood, in 1889 (fn. 42) and Sir Herbert Gresley (1894-1941), locomotive engineer, lived at Camlet House, Hadley Wood, in the 1920s. (fn. 43) Other notable residents are mentioned elsewhere in the article.

William Henry van Nassau van Zuylesteyn, who married a daughter of Sir Henry Wroth of Durants, in 1695 was created Lord Enfield, Viscount Tunbridge, and earl of Rochford, which titles were held by his descendants until the honours became extinct in 1830. (fn. 44) After John Byng, Lord Strafford of Harmondsworth, was created Viscount Enfield and earl of Strafford in 1847, (fn. 45) Viscount Enfield became the courtesy title of the earl of Strafford's eldest son. (fn. 46)


  • 1. The article was written in 1972. Any references to later years are dated. The help of Mr. A. H. Hall in commenting on the article is gratefully acknowledged.
  • 2. Census, 1831.
  • 3. See below, p. 214.
  • 4. O.S. Map 6", Mdx. VII. NE. (1868 edn.).
  • 5. Enfield Chase Act, 17 Geo. III, c.17.
  • 6. W. Robinson, Hist. and Antiquities of Enfield (1823 edn.), i. 2.
  • 7. Parts of the Chase were transferred to Edmonton, Monken Hadley, and South Mimms; see pp. 130, 260, 271.
  • 8. O.S. Maps 6", Mdx. I. SE.; II. SE., SW.; V. NE.; VII. NE., NW. (1868 and later edns.).
  • 9. J. Tuff, Hist. Notices of Enfield (1858), map facing frontispiece; Census, 1871.
  • 10. See p. 260.
  • 11. Census, 1891-1951.
  • 12. See p. 243.
  • 13. Geol. Surv. Map 1", drift, sheet 256 (1951 edn.).
  • 14. Rep. on Bridges in Mdx.
  • 15. Vestry min. bk. (1823-39) penes Enfield L.B.
  • 16. M.P.C. 50A (D.L. 31/50A).
  • 17. D.L. 42/126.
  • 18. The para. is based on Enfield Arch. Soc., Industrial Arch. in Enfield (1971), pp. 27-31. See also above, p. 131.
  • 19. See p. 216.
  • 20. Robinson, Enfield, i. 25.
  • 21. M. Briggs, Mdx. Old and New, 60.
  • 22. See p. 236.
  • 23. Hatfield C.P.M. II/53.
  • 24. B.M. Harl. MS. 1579, f. 155; Robinson, Enfield, i. 36.
  • 25. D. O. Pam, Tudor Enfield, The Maltmen and the Lea Navigation (Edmonton Hund. Hist. Soc. n.d.), 7-8; see above, p. 130.
  • 26. The para. is based on Enfield Arch. Soc., Ind. Arch. in Enfield, 36-8.
  • 27. Pigot's Com. Dir. (1832-4).
  • 28. New Enfield Hist. (TS. chapters of unpub. hist. at Enfield libr.).
  • 29. O.S. Map 6", Mdx. III. SW. (1868 edn.).
  • 30. V. N. Allemandy, Enfield Past and Present, 61, 63.
  • 31. D.N.B.; C. W. Whitaker, Enfield, 149.
  • 32. Robinson, Enfield, ii. 132-51.
  • 33. Ibid. 152-4; Gent. Mag. i. 126.
  • 34. Except where otherwise stated, the para. is based on D.N.B.
  • 35. Robbins, Mdx. 250; see p. 257.
  • 36. C 142/492/107.
  • 37. Tuff, Enfield, 60.
  • 38. Ibid. 62.
  • 39. Whitaker, Enfield, 300.
  • 40. Tuff, Enfield, 62.
  • 41. Whitaker, Enfield, 122-3; D.N.B.
  • 42. Nancy Clark, Hadley Wood, 109.
  • 43. Who Was Who, 1941-50; Clark, Hadley Wood, 61.
  • 44. Complete Peerage, xi. 53-5.
  • 45. Ibid. xii(1), 334.
  • 46. Debrett, Peerage (1973-4), 1065.