Tottenham: Public services

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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'Tottenham: Public services', 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) pp. 345-348. British History Online [accessed 11 April 2024]


A new fire engine was ordered by the vestry in 1838, after it had been found impossible to hire one by the year, the old system of rewards was abandoned in 1844, and expenses were paid out of the waste-land fund. (fn. 1) Tottenham volunteer fire brigade was set up by public subscription in 1870 and moved from the old engine-house to Coombes Croft in 1876. There was one manual engine, with a fire-escape and curricle, in 1892, when the entire staff was dismissed for insubordination. (fn. 2) The brigade became the first in England to adopt petrol motor traction in 1903, when Harringay fire station was opened in Conway Road and equipped with a combined chemical fire engine, hose tender, fire-escape, and motor. (fn. 3) The central fire station, next to the town hall, was opened in 1905. (fn. 4) Wood Green had its own fire service, with an engine-house in High Road, by 1901 and a station in Bounds Green Road from 1914. (fn. 5) Both brigades became part of the national fire service in the Second World War and later part of the Middlesex fire brigade, (fn. 6) itself absorbed in 1965 into the enlarged London fire brigade. In 1973 the old central fire station was used for ambulances and Tottenham was served by the G.L.C.'s station in St. Loys Road. (fn. 7)

Despite Tottenham's vaunted springs (fn. 8) the general quality of its water was poor until soft water could be found by sinking wells over 100 ft. deep, through the clay, towards the end of the 18th century. In 1840 supplies still came from a well and pump on the Green, given by Thomas Smith when lord of the manor, from wells sunk at Page Green by the Row family, from a well and fountain erected opposite the Bell and Hare by the vestry, and from a well by the Plough at Tottenham Hale. (fn. 9) A government inspector, favouring the petition for the formation of a local board, assumed that Tottenham would be able to tap an inexhaustible amount of water between the clay and the chalk. (fn. 10)

Tottenham local board claimed to have ensured a full water supply to all built-up areas in 1853 (fn. 11) but was forced to extend its works at the Hale in 1856 and thereafter drew on the sewage-enriched marshlands, to the detriment of public health until its blunder was exposed in 1873. The underground supply faltered in 1864 and was always intermittent from 1867, whereupon the wealthy made their own arrangements with the great water companies, while others resorted to carriers, cisterns, and private wells. The board undertook to make adequate provision in 1872, (fn. 12) ignored an inspector's advice to turn to the companies, and in 1876 installed a pump at the works, giving Tottenham purer water than any of its neighbours and permitting the closure of the pump on the Green in 1883. (fn. 13) In that year work began on a tower next to a reservoir in the charity estates' Hill Pond field at Downhills. (fn. 14) In 1892 the board, while still relying much on wells and on its works at the Hale and at Downhills, (fn. 15) opened Longwater pumping station on the edge of Wild marsh. Since 1880, however, the district had become partly dependent on the New River Co., which itself was responsible for Wood Green, and on the East London Waterworks Co., since the two companies virtually monopolized the flow from the Lea. (fn. 16) The New River Co. had constructed a reservoir and filter beds south of Wood Green station by the 1860s (fn. 17) and the East London Co. had covered part of Tottenham marshes with Banbury and Lockwood reservoirs, authorized in 1897, by 1904. In that year the companies, together with the over-burdened municipal undertaking, were absorbed by the new Metropolitan Water Board, which thereafter supplied the entire area. (fn. 18)

Sewerage was the worst problem arising from Tottenham's mid-19th-century expansion. In 1843 the riverside lands were generally malarial and by 1848 some 800 houses discharged their waste into the Moselle alone. The local board built a works at Markfield Road, Page Green, contracted for treatment with a manure manufacturer, and in the mid 1850s was as proud of its sewerage as of its water system. After the contractor's death in 1858 sewage was dissipated into the land around Page Green, to the anger of residents, and discharged into the Lea; the River Lea Trustees obtained a suspended injunction in 1865 and Tottenham was accused of killing nearly 4,000 persons by polluting the East London Co.'s water supply in 1866. Meanwhile the Moselle and other streams were increasingly contaminated from higher neighbourhoods, proposals for a joint Lea Valley drainage scheme were stifled by parochialism, and in 1869 the court of Chancery refused further suspensions of its ban on dispersing untreated sewage. The board, deadlocked between supporters and opponents of plans to pipe waste to a costly irrigation works in Walthamstow, saw Tottenhams' death-rate rise to 21.4 per thousand in 1871, worse than in any save the poorest parts of eastern London. Improvements began with the provision of a pipe along Lordship Lane from Wood Green in 1872, cleansing of the Moselle after Hornsey had constructed its own sewer, and an agreement with the Chemical Manure Co. for treatment of sewage. After the separation of Wood Green the Markfield Road works became the responsibility of a joint committee (fn. 19) and under an Act of 1891 the sewage of both authorities was passed on from Tottenham to the Northern High Level sewer in Hackney, part of the L.C.C.'s main drainage system, for disposal. (fn. 20) A beam engine, installed at Markfield Road in 1886 and used occasionally until the final closure of the works in 1964, was to be restored in 1973. (fn. 21)

A refuse destructor was established by Tottenham U.D.C. on 4 a. immediately north of Down Lane recreation ground in 1903. (fn. 22) Its furnaces still served as Haringey L.B.'s cleansing headquarters in 1972. Wood Green possessed a modern destructor in Western Road in 1933. (fn. 23)

There was said to be gas-lighting by 1833 and some 60 gas-lamps lit the entire length of Tottenham High Road in 1840, when fuel was provided by the Imperial Gas Co. at Haggerston. After 1847 supplies came from the new Tottenham and Edmonton Gas Light & Coke Co., which acquired works in Edmonton. (fn. 24) After absorbing neighbouring undertakings, the firm became known as the Tottenham District Light, Heat, & Power Co. in 1914 and as the Tottenham & District Gas Co. in 1928. (fn. 25) It opened imposing showrooms at the corner of High Road and Lordship Lane in 1901 (fn. 26) and later moved its chief offices to the former Royal Masonic school at Wood Green, which was renamed Woodall House and occupied by the company's successor, the Eastern Gas Board, in 1972. An Act of 1898, empowered the Tottenham and Edmonton Gas Light & Coke Co. to provide electricity, which afterwards became the responsibility of the North Metropolitan Electric Power Supply Co. (fn. 27)

Tottenham and Edmonton general dispensary was opened by public subscription at no. 746 High Road in 1864. Services at first were provided free but a small weekly charge for membership was later introduced, (fn. 28) to supplement collections made at local churches. (fn. 29) There were 941 members, nearly half of them representing families, in 1907. In 1910 the trustees were authorized to rebuild the premises, which remained in use in 1938, when membership was 404. (fn. 30)

The Prince of Wales's general hospital originated in the Evangelical Protestant Deaconesses' institution and training hospital, (fn. 31) founded by Dr. Laseron with help from John Morley of Upper Clapton and his brother Samuel. Avenue House, on the south-east side of the Green, was converted and opened, with a new hospital block, in 1868; the old house was replaced in 1881 and further extensions included the John Morley wing, opened in 1887. The institution had 14 offshoots, including two hospitals in Ireland, at the time of Laseron's death in 1894, whereupon subscriptions declined. Under a Charity Commissioners' Scheme effective from 1899 the voluntary deaconesses surrendered control to a committee and were replaced by paid, certificated nurses; to mark the change from a training centre to a general hospital for the district, the institution was renamed Tottenham hospital. Further additions were made and, to emphasize that it served a wide area, the name was again changed to the Prince of Wales's general hospital in 1907. (fn. 32) After adjoining property had been bought in 1917, additions included a building for out-patients, opened in 1932, and a new home for 55 nurses. (fn. 33) In 1972 the hospital lay within the North-East Metropolitan region and was administered by Tottenham hospital management committee. It had 200 beds and dealt with acute cases. (fn. 34)

St. Ann's general hospital was opened, as the North Eastern fever hospital, by the Metropolitan Asylums Board in 1892. (fn. 35) The hospital, which had been established against strong local opposition, (fn. 36) originated in temporary buildings erected during a scarlet fever epidemic and occupying 19 a. on the south side of St. Ann's Road. Permanent blocks were completed in 1900 and 548 beds were planned in 1901, by which time the site had been enlarged to 33 a. (fn. 37) The L.C.C. took over responsibility in 1930 and replaced the remaining huts before the Second World War. In 1948 St. Ann's assumed its modern name, on becoming a general hospital. In 1973, when it was under the Tottenham management committee, it occupied 28 a. and had 586 beds. (fn. 38)

Wood Green and Southgate hospital was opened in 1895 as the Passmore Edwards cottage hospital, (fn. 39) paid for largely by Passmore Edwards himself. It stood in Bounds Green Road, on ground bought from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and was designed as a small brick, tile-hung building, (fn. 40) with 8 beds for patients from Wood Green, Hornsey, and Southgate. There were 25 beds from 1904 and 52 from 1922, but plans for a complete rebuilding were ended by the Second World War. The hospital, renamed in the late 1930s, (fn. 41) became part of the Northern group in 1948 and part of the Barnet group in 1963. After further modernization it had 45 beds in 1973.

In 1972 the Bearsted Memorial hospital, Lordship Lane, had 38 beds for maternity cases. Tottenham hospital management committee also administered medical centres in Park Lane, opened in 1941, and Lordship Lane, the Woodberry Down health centre in Green Lanes, a centre for spastics at the Vale school, and a cardiology unit at the Blanche Nevile school for the deaf. (fn. 42)

The Alexandra maternity home was founded during the Second World War by Dr. R. R. P. Garrow, medical officer of health for Hornsey, in a private nursing home in Alexandra Park Road. The home was afterwards acquired by the county council and later extended to contain 25 beds. It was administered by the North London group hospital management committee in 1972, when there were 25 beds, and closed during that year, when negotiations started for its transfer to Haringey L.B. (fn. 43)

The Jewish Home and Hospital at Tottenham was not founded for local residents. It opened in 1889 as the Home and Hospital for Jewish Incurables and occupied houses in Hackney and afterwards in Walthamstow, offering care and religious facilities to poor immigrant Jews. In 1899 a committee was formed under Stuart Samuel, M.P. (later Sir Stuart Samuel, Bt.), which bought land in Tottenham High Road where part of a three-storeyed, red-brick building was opened in 1903. The new home included a concert hall and was designed for 80 patients, with men on the ground floor and women overhead. An extension for 34 beds and a synagogue were completed in 1914, the synagogue being consecrated after the First World War. A nurses' home was opened in 1938 and a new block in 1964. (fn. 44) The institution had 114 patients in 1972. (fn. 45)

In 1908 the Metropolitan Police had stations at no. 398 Tottenham High Road and in St. Ann's Road and built a new one at no. 347 Wood Green High Road. (fn. 46) All three were still in use in 1972, although the main Tottenham station was rebuilt in 1913. (fn. 47) Tottenham court house, a neo-Georgian building by W. T. Curtiss, was opened in 1937 on the site of Elmslea. (fn. 48)

A burial board, formed in 1854, (fn. 49) continued to serve the whole parish from offices at no. 586 High Road after Wood Green became a separate local board district. Five acres north of the church, bounded by the Moselle, were opened as a burial ground in 1858, 3 a. having been consecrated in 1857. Two chapels were built, of Kentish rag with Bath stone dressings, for Anglican and nonconformist services. (fn. 50) The ground was later enlarged southward almost as far as the churchyard and northwestward over Tottenham Park to White Hart Lane. (fn. 51) Burials there included that of the architect William Butterfield (d. 1900), who restored the parish church and whose sister lived at Tottenham. (fn. 52) In 1933 the board bought land for a crematorium at Enfield and after the Second World War it converted the unused north-western corner of the cemetery, including the lake which had belonged to Tottenham Park, into a garden of rest. Tottenham cemetery, owned by Haringey L.B., covered 57 a. in 1972. (fn. 53) A mortuary had been opened in Park Lane by 1890. (fn. 54)

The Public Libraries Act, rejected by the ratepayers of Tottenham in 1889, was adopted for both Tottenham and Wood Green in 1891. In Tottenham temporary reading rooms were opened at Eaton House where the town hall was later built, in 1892. A new central library, on the site of Stanstead House on the west side of High Road, opposite the High Cross, was opened in 1896 and later extended. Reading rooms at the Chestnuts, St. Ann's Road, were opened in 1900 and soon converted into a lending library, which moved to the education offices in Philip Lane in 1917 and, as West Green library, was permanently accommodated in Vincent Road from 1931. A second branch library was opened in Coombes Croft House in 1925 and a third, St. Ann's, was established in 1931 in Cissbury Road. (fn. 55) Devonshire Hill branch library, Compton Crescent, was built in 1935. (fn. 56) There was also a reading room at Bruce Castle from 1907 until 1916. (fn. 57) At Wood Green a public library was opened at the town hall in 1892 and a reading room at no. 86 High Road in 1895. A central library, built at the junction of Station and High roads with a donation from Andrew Carnegie, opened in 1907. (fn. 58)

Between 1892 and 1931 Tottenham U.D.C. acquired 356 a. for public recreation. (fn. 59) The first park, 20 a. of grounds adjoining Bruce Castle, was opened in 1892 and the second, the 13-acre Chestnuts recreation ground, was bought in 1898. An Act of 1900 vested the Lammas Lands in the council, (fn. 60) which had acquired 122 a. in the Marshes between the Great Eastern railway and the river Lea by 1905, when a further 25 a. east of the river were conveyed by the Metropolitan Water Board. Immediately west of the railway the 19½-acre Down field, most of it formerly Lammas Land, was acquired in 1902 and later became Down Lane recreation ground. Downhills Park was purchased in 1902 and, with a further 4 a., totalled some 30 a. in 1905. Additions after the First World War included an ornamental garden in Seven Sisters Road, given by T. A. Mason in 1925, the 10-acre Belmont recreation ground, bought in the same year, and the 18-acre Markfield recreation ground in the south-east, bordering the Lea. The largest addition comprised 54 a. between Lordship Lane and Higham Road, bought from the Townsend trustees in 1926, opened as Lordship recreation ground in 1932, and augmented by the gift of a further 43½ a. Tottenham, Page, and West greens, Ducketts Common, and other remnants of common land made up a further 15 a.

The spread of housing estates over the centre of Tottenham in the 1930s left little room for new open spaces. In 1972 the Markfield sewage pumping station was being converted into Haringey's first adventure playground for children. (fn. 61) Tottenham marshes were sold to the Lee Valley regional park authority, which took control in 1973, leaving Lordship recreation ground as the largest public space in the old parish.

Wood Green U.D. had less need to buy open spaces, since the district contained 154 a. of the 173 a. which made up Alexandra Park in 1908. In that year the council bought 26 a. next to Wood Green town hall, part of which formed Town Hall, later Woodside, park. A further 42½ a. consisted of small pieces of waste land, most of which, including the 6 a. of Wood Green Common, had been laid out for recreation. (fn. 62) In 1933 the borough contained 342 a. of open space and directly controlled 186 a.; the New River playing fields accounted for 30 a., the White Hart Lane and Albert Road recreation grounds for 18 a. and 17 a. respectively and the new Perth Road field for 11 a. (fn. 63)


  • 1. Bruce Castle Mus., D/PT/2A/7 ff. 149, 155, 335, 406.
  • 2. Bruce Castle Mus., 932 [TS. notes].
  • 3. Bruce Castle Mus., 933 [correspondence, 1954].
  • 4. Tottenham, Official Guide [1934].
  • 5. Kelly's Dir. Wood Grn. (1901-2); ibid. (1934).
  • 6. Char. Com. files.
  • 7. Haringey A-Z [1972].
  • 8. See p. 309.
  • 9. Robinson, Tottenham, i. 5, 8, 11.
  • 10. 'Pub. Health in Tottenham, 1850-72', 8.
  • 11. Except where otherwise stated, the foll. two paras. are based on 'Pub. Health in Tottenham, 1850-72' and 'Urban Growth in Tottenham, 1870-94' penes Bruce Castle Mus.
  • 12. Lond. Gaz. 23 Feb. 1872, p. 722.
  • 13. Tottenham, Official Guide [1934].
  • 14. Fisk, Tottenham, ii. 201.
  • 15. Kelly's Dir. Essex, Herts. & Mdx. (1890).
  • 16. L. J. Flowerdew and G. C. Berry, London's Water Supply 1903-53, 85, 156.
  • 17. O.S. Map 6", Mdx. XII. NW. (1863-9 edn.).
  • 18. London's Water Supply, 15, 86.
  • 19. M.R.O., Reps. of Local Inqs. 1889-94, 579.
  • 20. Tottenham and Wood Green Sewerage Act, 54 & 55 Vic. c. 205 (Local Act).
  • 21. Enfield Archaeol. Soc. Society News, no. 39.
  • 22. Tottenham, Official Guide [1934].
  • 23. Wood Green, Incorporation Brochure [1933].
  • 24. Fisk, Tottenham, ii. 211.
  • 25. M.R.O., Acc. 1153/I.
  • 26. Fisk, Tottenham, ii. 212.
  • 27. 61 & 62 Vic. c. 161 (Local Act); Tottenham, Official Guide [1934].
  • 28. Fisk, Tottenham, ii. 223.
  • 29. Kelly's Dir. Essex, Herts. & Mdx. (1890).
  • 30. Tottenham and Edmonton Gen. Disp. annual reps. [Char. Com. files].
  • 31. Except where otherwise stated, the para. is based on Fisk, Tottenham, ii. 188-93.
  • 32. Tottenham, Official Guide [1934].
  • 33. Ibid.
  • 34. Hosp. Yr. Bk. (1972).
  • 35. Except where otherwise stated, the para. is based on inf. supplied by the hosp. sec.
  • 36. Fisk, Tottenham, ii. 36-7.
  • 37. Builder, lxxx. 519.
  • 38. Hosp. Yr. Bk. (1972).
  • 39. Except where otherwise stated, the section is based on inf. supplied by the hosp. sec.
  • 40. Building News, lxvii. 285.
  • 41. Kelly's Dirs. Wood Grn. (1934, 1938).
  • 42. Hosp. Yr. Bk. (1972).
  • 43. Ibid; ex inf. the sec. and Dr. J. Helen Garrow.
  • 44. Ex inf. the admin. director.
  • 45. Ibid.; Jewish Yr. Bk. (1972).
  • 46. Kelly's Dir. Essex, Herts. & Mdx. (1908); date on building.
  • 47. Building News, civ. 305.
  • 48. Bruce Castle Mus., 935 [pamphlet].
  • 49. Bruce Castle Mus., 983 [newspaper cutting].
  • 50. Kelly's Dir. Essex, Herts. & Mdx. (1890).
  • 51. Fisk, Tottenham, ii. 145-6.
  • 52. P. Thompson, Wm. Butterfield, 433.
  • 53. Ex inf. Haringey L.B., cemeteries and crematorium supt.
  • 54. Kelly's Dir. Essex, Herts. & Mdx. (1890).
  • 55. Tottenham, Official Guide [1934].
  • 56. Date on building.
  • 57. Coombes Croft branch libr. [pamphlet, 1925].
  • 58. Wood Green, Incorp. Brochure [1933].
  • 59. Except where otherwise stated, the para. is based on Tottenham, Official Guide [1934] and on inf. supplied by the chief supt. of parks, Haringey L.B.
  • 60. Tottenham U.D.C. Act, 63 & 64 Vic. c. 284 (Local Act).
  • 61. Haringey Guide [1972].
  • 62. Kelly's Dir. Essex, Herts. & Mdx. (1908), 427.
  • 63. Wood Green, Incorp. Brochure [1933].