Tottenham: 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, 'Tottenham: Introduction', A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 5, Hendon, Kingsbury, Great Stanmore, Little Stanmore, Edmonton Enfield, Monken Hadley, South Mimms, Tottenham, (London, 1976), pp. 307-309. British History Online [accessed 13 June 2024].

A P Baggs. Diane K Bolton. Eileen P Scarff. G C Tyack. "Tottenham: Introduction", in A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 5, Hendon, Kingsbury, Great Stanmore, Little Stanmore, Edmonton Enfield, Monken Hadley, South Mimms, Tottenham, (London, 1976) 307-309. British History Online, accessed June 13, 2024,

Baggs, A P. Bolton, Diane K. Scarff, Eileen P. Tyack, G C. "Tottenham: Introduction", A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 5, Hendon, Kingsbury, Great Stanmore, Little Stanmore, Edmonton Enfield, Monken Hadley, South Mimms, Tottenham, (London, 1976). 307-309. British History Online. Web. 13 June 2024,


Tottenham (fn. 1) parish contained 4,680 a. in 1831. (fn. 2) Its shape was roughly that of a trapezium, divided from north to south by the Roman and medieval way later called High Road, with a westerly projection from the north-west corner around Wood Green. High Road, along which most early settlement took place, entered the parish nearly 3½ miles from London and continued northward for more than 2 miles; the centre of Wood Green lay about 6 miles from London. (fn. 3) Tottenham, which occurs in Domesday Book, was often known as Tottenham High Cross, from the medieval wayside cross in High Road. (fn. 4) Wood Green, recorded in 1445, (fn. 5) existed as a separate local government unit from 1888 until 1965. (fn. 6) The two districts are widely known as the respective homes of Tottenham Hotspur football club and of the Alexandra Palace. (fn. 7) From the late 19th century the south-western corner of Tottenham contained part of the new suburb of Harringay. (fn. 8)

The parish abutted Essex along the river Lea on the east, Edmonton on the north, Friern Barnet on the west, Hornsey on the west and south, and Stoke Newington and Hackney on the south. From the north-east corner of the parish the boundary ran from the river across High Road and westward to the later junction of Bowes and North Circular roads. Thence it followed North Circular Road before turning southward along Alexandra Park Road and eastward, north-east of Muswell Avenue and Muswell Hill, to take in Alexandra Park. North-west of Ducketts Common it again turned south, keeping roughly parallel to Green Lanes until it passed the site of Harringay Arena, where it turned east and ran to the Lea along Eade Road and slightly to the south of Vartry and Craven Park roads.

In 1888 Tottenham was divided from Wood Green by a line running due south from Devonshire (formerly Clay) Hill to meet White Hart Lane near its later junction with Roundway and thence southwestward along Westbury Avenue to Ducketts Common. Boundaries thereafter changed very little: a parcel of farm-land was transferred from Wood Green to Southgate local board district in 1892, (fn. 9) a small exchange was made between Tottenham and Hackney under an order of 1907, and in 1934 Tottenham surrendered less than 1 a. to Hornsey and 3 a. to Wood Green and received 1 a. from each authority. (fn. 10) In 1951 Tottenham covered 3,012 a. and Wood Green 1,606 a. (fn. 11) Both boroughs were amalgamated with Hornsey in 1965 to form the London Borough of Haringey. (fn. 12)

The soil bordering the Lea is alluvium, which in the north reaches almost as far as the first railway line and farther west, beyond the line, in the south. Brickearth stretches south from Edmonton between the railway and High Road, although a strip of Flood Plain Gravel runs along the northern part of the road itself as far as Lordship Lane. Brickearth also lies north of White Hart Lane as far west as Devonshire Hill and occurs in patches, surrounded by Taplow Gravel, at Bruce Castle and part of Church Lane. The remainder of the parish is predominantly London Clay, with a little Boyn Hill Gravel west and south-west of Devonshire Hill and some glacial gravel on the site of Alexandra Palace. (fn. 13)

The eastern part of Tottenham is low-lying and flat. (fn. 14) Nowhere east of High Road does the ground reach 50 ft. above sea-level, except around the high cross (the Tottenham Hill of Izaak Walton's Compleat Angler) and at the descent from Stamford Hill in the south, where the road enters the parish at 75 ft. Tottenham west of High Road is mostly over 50 ft. in the north, save along the course of the Moselle, but is lower in the south save around Downhills Park, part of which lies at 100 ft. and along the boundary. Wood Green is more undulating, with the 100-ft. contour running southwestward from the Edmonton boundary at Devonshire Hill Lane. Near Bounds Green the land rises to 200 ft. above Wood Green tunnel, near Bounds Green, and farther south a ridge from Hampstead crosses the border of Muswell Hill (Hornsey) to reach 300 ft. at the site of the Alexandra Palace.

The Moselle stream, so called from colloquial forms of Muswell Hill, (fn. 15) flows across the boundary into Wood Green north of Hornsey station. (fn. 16) The course runs north-eastward to Lordship Lane, which it follows before meandering in one curve to the south and another to the north, reaching High Road by the junction with White Hart Lane. Thence it flows along High Road to a point near Scotland Green, where it turns eastward to the marshes and the Lea. It there forms a straight stretch known by 1408 (fn. 17) and in 1619 as Garbell ditch (fn. 18) and 200 years later as Carbuncle ditch. (fn. 19) In 1619 a watercourse later called Stonebridge stream crossed the parish in the south, between the later West Green and St. Ann's roads. A ditch ran from Garbell ditch near the High Road as far as the Hale in 1619 and survived in a shortened form in 1818. (fn. 20)

The New River, opened in 1613, was cut across high ground in the north-west of the parish. (fn. 21) It followed a very crooked course, dictated by the contours, entering from Edmonton west of Wood Green High Road, turning back to recross the boundary a little to the east, and re-entering the parish at Clay Hill, near the later Great Cambridge Road; thence it ran south-westward, with a south-easterly bulge at Wood Green, before turning south by Wood Green Common and making for Hornsey. (fn. 22) A shorter course was later adopted, whereby the New River went underground at Myddleton Road and re-emerged west of Wood Green Common; from the mid 19th century it has run through a reservoir abutting the border with Hornsey. (fn. 23)

While the river Lea itself formed the eastern boundary, the Garbell ditch drained into an artificial cut to the west, (fn. 24) an extension of Pymme's brook which ran southward through the marshes from Edmonton and, as the mill stream, joined the main river below Tottenham mills. Watercourses connecting the two formed several islands in the marshes in 1619. In 1767 the vestry unsuccessfully opposed legislation which led to the construction of a straight cut from Edmonton, the River Lea Navigation, (fn. 25) which met Pymme's brook at Stonebridge lock. The Act of 1767 (fn. 26) provided that the mill stream, below the lock, should serve as an extension to the Lea Navigation although rights of passage were not formally secured until 1779; (fn. 27) the new cut was later continued west of the stream to Ferry Lane, where Tottenham lock was constructed, to rejoin the old river south of the mills. To the east, the original course of the Lea has been obscured by further cuts and the opening under an Act of 1897 of Banbury reservoir, in the extreme north-east, and Lockwood reservoir, across the centre of the eastern parish boundary. (fn. 28)

Three springs are mentioned by William Bedwell, vicar of Tottenham from 1607 to 1632 and author of the first local history, (fn. 29) although one of them, Muswell ('mossy spring' or 'well'), was in Hornsey. (fn. 30) St. Loy's well lay near High Road, north-west of the cross, presumably close to the obscure chapel of St. Loy also mentioned by Bedwell, and Bishop's well issued from a hillock south of the Moselle opposite the vicarage house. Both were known for their curative properties before Bedwell's time and were still so noted in the early 19th century, (fn. 31) when they were cleansed. By 1876 St. Loy's well, close to the railway line, was in a neglected state and Bishop's well had been drained on the incorporation of Well field into Tottenham cemetery. Dunstan's well, in Tottenham wood, was recognizable from 1619 until the 1860s. (fn. 32)

Most of Tottenham's distinguished residents, including pupils at its private schools, are mentioned elsewhere in the article. (fn. 33) The author Dr. Edward Simpson (1578-1651) was born in the parish, where his father was vicar, the rabbinical scholar Hugh Broughton (1549-1612) died there, at the house of a draper named Benet, and William Strode (?1599- 1645), one of the 'five members', also died at Tottenham. John Hoadly (1678-1746), archbishop of Armagh, was native, as were the physician Dr. Thomas Hodgkin (1766-1845), the missionary John Williams (1796-1839), the botanist John Joseph Bennett (1801-76), and the lithographer Douglas Morison (1814-47). Sir Michael Foster (1689-1763), a justice of the King's Bench, lived at Grove House, (fn. 34) John Hindle (1761-96), the composer, had property in the parish after 1789, and Charles Erdman Petersdorff (1800-86), the legal writer, was the son of a London furrier who lived also at Ivy House. The Quaker poet Bernard Barton (1784-1849), spent part of his childhood at Tottenham, where he described his grandfather's large residence. (fn. 35) The Legend of St. Loy and Tottenham were the first poems published by John Abraham Heraud (1799-1887), who often visited his father at Tottenham. (fn. 36) The author and bookseller William Hone (1780-1842) retired from London to Church Road and died in High Road two years later. (fn. 37)

The aeronaut Henry Tracey Coxwell (1819- 1900) practised as a dentist at no. 689 High Road and made several ballooning ascents from Tottenham Green. (fn. 38) The radical politician Charles Bradlaugh (1833-91) attended vestry meetings while a resident of Northumberland Park in the 1860s. (fn. 39) Sir Charles Reed, M.P. chairman of the London school board, died at Earlsmead, in High Road, in 1881. (fn. 40) Mrs. Charlotte Eliza Lawson (1832-1906), who, as Mrs. J. H. Riddell, depicted the neighbourhood of West Green in some of her novels, lived for a time in Hanger Lane. (fn. 41) The author Ted Willis, created a life peer in 1963, (fn. 42) was born and educated in Tottenham which he described in his autobiography. (fn. 43) Robert Craigmyle Morrison (1881-1953), a local councillor and M.P., was created Lord Morrison of Tottenham in 1945. (fn. 44)


  • 1. The article was written in 1973. Any references to later years are dated. The help of Mr. Ian Murray in making material available and commenting on the article is gratefully acknowledged.
  • 2. Census, 1831.
  • 3. Except where otherwise stated, the rest of the para. and the foll. two paras. are based on O.S. Maps 6", Mdx. XII. (1863-9 and later edns.).
  • 4. P.N. Mdx. (E.P.N.S.), 78.
  • 5. Tottenham Man. Rolls (1318-1503), transl. W. McB. Marcham, 76.
  • 6. See pp. 344-5.
  • 7. See pp. 340-1.
  • 8. P.N. Mdx. (E.P.N.S.), 123.
  • 9. M.R.O., Reps. of Local Inqs. 1889-97, 570.
  • 10. Census, 1911, 1931 (pt. ii).
  • 11. Ibid. 1951.
  • 12. See p. 345.
  • 13. Geol. Surv. Map 1", drift, sheet 256 (1951 edn.).
  • 14. The para. is based on O.S. Maps 6", TQ 29 SE., 39 SW., 39 SE., 38 NW., and 38 NE. (1962-8 edn.).
  • 15. P.N. Mdx. (E.P.N.S.), 4.
  • 16. Except where otherwise stated, the para. is based on O.S. Maps 6", Mdx. XII. (1863-9 edn.).
  • 17. P.N. Mdx. (E.P.N.S.), 80.
  • 18. W. Robinson, Hist. and Antiquities of . . . Tottenham High Cross (1840 edn.), map of 1619. The original map, which cannot be traced, was made for a survey of the manorial lands of Richard Sackville, earl of Dorset, in 1619. The field bk. which accompanied the Dorset survey is in M.R.O., Acc. 695/9.
  • 19. Robinson, Tottenham, map of 1818.
  • 20. Ibid. maps of 1619 and 1818.
  • 21. Ibid. i. 32.
  • 22. Ibid. maps of 1619 and 1818.
  • 23. O.S. Maps 6", Mdx. XII. NW. (1863-9 edn.).
  • 24. Except where otherwise stated, the para. is based on Robinson, Tottenham, i. 19-31, and maps of 1619 and 1818.
  • 25. Bruce Castle Mus., D/PT/2A/3, f. 52.
  • 26. River Lea Navigation Act, 7 Geo. III, c. 51.
  • 27. Ibid. 19 Geo. III, c. 58.
  • 28. See p. 346.
  • 29. Bedwell's 'Brief Description' is printed in W. J. Roe, Ancient Tottenham, 95-119.
  • 30. P.N. Mdx. (E.P.N.S.), 124. Except where otherwise stated, the rest of the para. is based on Robinson, Tottenham, i. 16-19; F. Fisk, Hist. Tottenham, ser. i. 123-4.
  • 31. T. Cox, Magna Britannia (1724 edn.), iii. 35; Pigot's Com. Dir. (1832-4).
  • 32. O.S. Map 6", Mdx. XII. NW. (1863-9 edn.).
  • 33. Except where otherwise stated, the foll. two paras. are based on D.N.B. and supplts.
  • 34. Robinson, Tottenham, i. 117.
  • 35. Thorne, Environs, ii. 623-4.
  • 36. Fisk, Tottenham, ii. 278.
  • 37. Ibid. 287.
  • 38. Fisk, Tottenham, ii. 271.
  • 39. Ibid. 261.
  • 40. Ibid. 298.
  • 41. Ibid. 299.
  • 42. Who's Who, 1971, 3415.
  • 43. Whatever Happened to Tom Mix (1970).
  • 44. Who Was Who, 1951-60, 791.