Hornsey, including Highgate: Introduction

A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 6, Friern Barnet, Finchley, Hornsey With Highgate. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1980.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.


A P Baggs. Diane K Bolton. M A Hicks. R B Pugh, 'Hornsey, including Highgate: Introduction', in A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 6, Friern Barnet, Finchley, Hornsey With Highgate, (London, 1980) pp. 101-103. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol6/pp101-103 [accessed 22 May 2024].

A P Baggs. Diane K Bolton. M A Hicks. R B Pugh. "Hornsey, including Highgate: Introduction", in A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 6, Friern Barnet, Finchley, Hornsey With Highgate, (London, 1980) 101-103. British History Online, accessed May 22, 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol6/pp101-103.

Baggs, A P. Bolton, Diane K. Hicks, M A. Pugh, R B. "Hornsey, including Highgate: Introduction", A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 6, Friern Barnet, Finchley, Hornsey With Highgate, (London, 1980). 101-103. British History Online. Web. 22 May 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol6/pp101-103.


Hornsey, (fn. 1) once remarkable for its low death-rate, lies between 3 and 6½ miles north-west of London. Longer from east to west than from north to south, the main part projects northward from the northwest corner between Finchley and Friern Barnet. A south-easterly projection covers the open space known from 1857 as Finsbury Park. (fn. 2) The present account excludes two southern detached parts of Hornsey ancient parish embedded in Stoke Newington parish, but includes a northern detached part, a triangular area stretching from the North Circular Road to Woodhouse Road, Colney Hatch. It also includes land at Muswell Hill which belonged to the priory of St. Mary, Clerkenwell, from c. 1160 until 1539 and thereafter formed a detached part of Clerkenwell parish until its transfer to Hornsey in 1901. Part of Highgate village which lay in St. Pancras is also treated in this article. (fn. 3)

Hornsey parish contained 2,978 a. in 1881. The northern detached part, c. 10 a., (fn. 4) was transferred to Friern Barnet parish in 1891. The area called South Hornsey, which had its own local board of health from 1865, comprised a peninsula of 172 a. known as Brownswood Park lying immediately south-east of the open space of Finsbury Park and the two southern detached parts amounting to 60 a. In 1899 South Hornsey was transferred to Stoke Newington M.B. and the county of London. With those changes and the addition of the 61 a. of Clerkenwell detached, Hornsey in 1901 measured 2,875 a. (fn. 5) It had had a local board of health from 1867 and became a U.D. in 1894 and M.B. in 1903. In 1965 it joined Tottenham and Wood Green in Harringey L.B., while South Hornsey formed part of Hackney L.B.

The only natural boundary was Tottenham wood, east of Clerkenwell detached and north of Hornsey village. The east boundary with Tottenham and Stoke Newington lay along Green Lanes, running west of the road in the north and taking in 29 a. in Clissold Park east of the road at the south-east corner. From there to Highgate much of the boundary with Islington to the south-west and south followed roads and was disputed until the mid 19th century; for the stretch along Hornsey Lane it lay near the watershed. West of Highgate the southern boundary with St. Pancras and Hampstead ran parallel with but south of Hampstead Lane. Hornsey manor, like Finchley manor to the west, was held by the bishop of London, whose lodge apparently straddled the western boundary. (fn. 6) As woods in the south and commons in the north also stretched across it, the boundary was probably established relatively late. East of where the parish ends in a point it enfolds the Freehold, a promontory of Friern Barnet.

Until the 19th century the only important internal boundary was the 'northern hog's back', (fn. 7) the ridge between Crouch Hill and Harringay (West) station, which separated Brownswood manor to the south from Hornsey manor and its dependencies to the north. New roads created divisions in the 19th century. The first was Archway Road, which is treated in the present article as the boundary between Hornsey and Highgate. Seven Sisters Road was a local government boundary from 1965.

The parish is hilly. Most of the lower ground lies on London Clay of great thickness. The Boulder Clay with its edging of glacial gravel at Finchley skirts the north-western boundary and south of Creighton Avenue and north of Woodside Avenue protrudes in a broad tongue, roughly corresponding with the summit of Muswell Hill, to the Wood Green boundary. The northern heights from Hampstead to Crouch Hill lie on Claygate Beds, except the Upper Chalk summit of Highgate Hill. Clissold Park is on the edge of the brickearth to the south-east. (fn. 8)

From Friern Barnet and the North Circular Road the land rises from 200 ft. to Muswell Hill, reaching 340 ft. at the corner of Queen's Avenue and Fortis Green Road. The 300-ft. contour encompasses land between the Alexandra Palace in Wood Green, Fortis Green near the Finchley boundary, and the corner of Muswell Hill Road and Woodside Avenue. A ridge roughly along the line of Muswell Hill Road and Southwood Lane rises towards Highgate, which stands at 426 ft. at the corner of North Road and Hampstead Lane. From the ridge the land falls only slightly to the west; to the east it descends more sharply, most steeply at Muswell Hill in the north, while to the south two spurs protrude eastward. Shepherd's Hill, the more northerly, extends nearly to Crouch End, with sharp descents to north and east. The other, the 'northern hog's back', is an extension of the northern heights from Highgate. It follows Hornsey Lane, forms the summits of Crouch End and Crouch (Mount Pleasant) hills, and extends at 200 ft. almost to Harringay (West) station, where it falls abruptly to the east and north. The highest point to the north is Hornsey Hill (150 ft.), which overlooks Hornsey High Street; the area immediately to the north, called the Campsbourne after a stream, lies at less than 100 ft. Eastern Harringay is the lowest part of the parish at 75 ft. South of the hog's back, the highest point is the 150-ft. knoll in Finsbury Park; much of Brownswood Park is below 100 ft.

There were four principal streams. Bounds Green or Strawberry Vale (1956) (fn. 9) brook, a tributary of Pymme's brook, flowed eastward from Finchley into Friern Barnet, touching Hornsey at Irish Corner and the southern edge of north Hornsey detached. Stroud Green brook flowed from Islington across the southern tip of Hornsey. In 1826 Mutton brook rose west of Muswell Hill, skirted Gravel Pit wood, and crossed Archway Road. The Moselle stream, which rose east of Muswell Hill, in 1826 crossed Park Road, where it sometimes flooded to a depth of 4½ ft., and three times crossed Priory Road, draining into a lake behind Campsbourne Lodge north of High Street. (fn. 10) From there it flowed northward into Tottenham. It was more usually known as the Campsbourne, a name used for adjoining fields in the 17th century, (fn. 11) and in 1958 was said to flood the basements of houses every year. (fn. 12)

The New River, completed in 1613 to carry water from Chadwell and Great Amwell (Herts.) to Islington, (fn. 13) entered the parish north of Hornsey village and flowed south and then east, crossing the Moselle once and Hornsey High Street three times. Thence it meandered southward through Harringay, entering Tottenham north of Seven Sisters Road. On returning to Hornsey south of Manor House it followed an S-like course, crossing Brownswood to the east, flowing southward along the parish boundary into Islington and eastward across Mountgrove Road into Hornsey again. Along that stretch it crossed Stroud Green brook by a wooden aqueduct, which gave it the name of the Boarded River and was replaced in 1776 by a raised bed of clay. (fn. 14) Still in Hornsey, it crossed Green Lanes into Clissold Park and flowed westward along the south-western edge of the parish before recrossing Green Lanes into Islington. As the boundary of estates and a source of fresh water, particularly for cattle, (fn. 15) the river became a local asset and in 1861 the parish opposed the New River Co.'s diversion of it. (fn. 16) Thenceforth it flowed from Wood Green at a point slightly west of the G.N.R. main line into filter beds in Brownswood Park, which were connected with a pumping station east of Green Lanes. As Hornsey came to be built up, most of the New River was enclosed in pipes.

Most of the parish was apparently wooded in the pre-Conquest era, when Haring or Hær's people made an enclosure, later called Harringay and ultimately corrupted into Hornsey. (fn. 17) Another early hamlet was Crouch End; it was so named by 1375, after a cross which was the customary place for certain manorial business (fn. 18) and which had existed before that date. (fn. 19) Muswell Hill was so named after its mossy spring or well by 1159, when there was also a chapel there. (fn. 20) The empty south-eastern corner of the parish was called Stroud, denoting marshy ground covered with brushwood, in 1407 and later Stroud Green. (fn. 21)

The main feature of Hornsey's history before 1850 was the clearance of woods and commons, which covered half of the total area c. 1390 and a third c. 1648, and the expansion of farm-land. The predominant role of grassland rather than arable from 1550 kept the parish thinly populated, with settlement mainly confined to Hornsey village, Crouch End, and, from the mid 14th century, Highgate. From c. 1600 Highgate, with aristocratic residents, became increasingly urban, while the rest of the parish remained rural. Farm-land contracted from the mid 19th century in the face of building, which between 1870 and 1914 transformed Hornsey into a residential suburb for commuters to London. Social decline, already noticeable in 1911, became marked after 1945, until in 1978 only Highgate remained select.

Several times in the late Middle Ages Hornsey was the scene of national events. It was there that in 1388 the future lords appellant assembled forces to overawe Richard II (fn. 22) and that in 1441 Roger Bolingbroke and Thomas Southwell, priests, allegedly practised treasonable sorcery in collusion with Eleanor Cobham, duchess of Gloucester (d. 1454). (fn. 23) Henry VII was met there by the citizens of London after the battle of Stoke in 1487. (fn. 24) Distinguished residents not mentioned elsewhere in this article included John Lightfoot (d. 1675), biblical critic and Hebraist. (fn. 25) The émigré Magdalene, duchess of Uzès (d. 1799), was buried in Hornsey churchyard but was removed to Uzès c. 1838. (fn. 26) W. B. Tegetmeier (d. 1912), natural historian, lived from 1858 at several addresses in Fortis Green and Muswell Hill, where he had a model apiary. (fn. 27) John Whitehead (1860-99), ornithologist, was born at Muswell Hill. (fn. 28) Patrick McDowell R.A. (d. 1870), sculptor, lived at no. 34 Wood Lane, (fn. 29) W. E. Henley (d. 1903), poet and critic, lived at Stanley Lodge, Tetherdown, Muswell Hill, between 1896 and 1899, (fn. 30) Frederic Harrison (1831-1923), jurist, historian, and positivist, spent his boyhood at Belle Vue, Muswell Hill, (fn. 31) Henry Vivian, inspirer of the co-partnership housing movement, died at his home in Crouch End in 1930, (fn. 32) and Arnold Bennett (d. 1931), novelist, lived at no. 46 Alexandra Road, Hornsey, in 1890. (fn. 33) Bridget, the Irish wife of Alois, half-brother of Adolf Hitler, was summoned for non-payment of rates at Highgate in 1939. (fn. 34) Dr. S. J. Madge (d. 1961), historian and local antiquary, from 1896 taught for many years at schools in Stroud Green and South Harringay. (fn. 35)


  • 1. Except where otherwise stated, the following paras. are based on the sections below and on O.S. Maps 6", Mdx. XI. SE., XII (1873, 1894-6, and 1920 edns.). The article was written in 1976-7; any references to later yrs. are dated. The authors gratefully acknowledge the help of Mrs. Gwynydd Gosling, Dr. Joan Schwitzer, Sir James Brown, and the headmaster of Highgate School, who have commented on parts of the article.
  • 2. P.N. Mdx. (E.P.N.S.), 123. For the district called Finsbury Pk., see below, p. 114.
  • 3. For the boundaries of Highgate as treated below, see p. 122.
  • 4. Early Rec. of Harringay alias Hornsey, ed. S. J. Madge (1938), 56.
  • 5. Census, 1881, 1901.
  • 6. Early Rec. of Harringay, 46.
  • 7. Ibid. 43, 50, 52.
  • 8. Geol. Surv. Map 1", drift, sheet 256 (1951 edn.).
  • 9. Hornsey Boro. Ann. Rep. of M.O.H. (1956). The para. is based on Rep. on Bridges in Mdx.
  • 10. Potter Colln. 20/99. Springs in Clerkenwell detached, which drained into Tottenham, apparently were unconnected with the Moselle: B.L. Add. MS. 31323 BBB.
  • 11. Court Rolls of the Manor of Hornsey, 1603-1701, ed. W. McB. and F. Marcham (1939), 22, 52.
  • 12. Hornsey Jnl. 22 Aug. 1958.
  • 13. V.C.H. Mdx. v. 131. For the para. see also Rep. on Bridges in Mdx.; M.R.O., MR/DE Hornsey.
  • 14. Lysons, Environs, iii. 52.
  • 15. Bruce Castle Mus., D/PH/2A/1 (1850).
  • 16. Ibid. 2A/2, pp. 23, 25-8, 29-33.
  • 17. S. J. Madge, Origin of Name of Hornsey (1936); P.N. Mdx. (E.P.N.S.), 121.
  • 18. St. Paul's MSS., box A 62.
  • 19. Ibid.; C 146/3364.
  • 20. Madge, Early Rec. of Harringay, 61-3, 73.
  • 21. P.N. Mdx. (E.P.N.S.), 124.
  • 22. Rot. Parl. (Rec. Com.), iii. 357.
  • 23. Eng. Chron. 1377-1461 (Camd. Soc. [1st ser.], lxiv), 57-60.
  • 24. Leland, Collectanea, ed. T. Hearne (1770), iv. 207.
  • 25. D.N.B.
  • 26. M.R.O., D.R.O. 20/B2/4.
  • 27. F. W. M. Draper, Muswell Hill Past and Present (1936), 17-18; idem. Literary Associations of Hornsey (1948), 12; Country Life, clvi. 47.
  • 28. D.N.B.
  • 29. Plaque on ho.
  • 30. D.N.B.; Draper, Muswell Hill, 19-20.
  • 31. Draper, Muswell Hill, 15-16; idem. Literary Assocs. of Hornsey, 12.
  • 32. M. Tims, Ealing Tenants Ltd. (Ealing Loc. Hist. Soc. viii), 37.
  • 33. D.N.B.; Hornsey Jnl. 17 Apr. 1953.
  • 34. Evening Standard, 20 Jan. 1939.
  • 35. Hornsey Jnl. 10 Feb., 17 Feb. 1961.