Much of my background and many pictures will have come from the amazing and brilliant Harringay Online site - so good I could move back tomorrow!
You can find it HERE
There is more good stuff HERE too
And there are loads of images HERE
Ducketts Common gets a lot of mentions - HERE is more
A 50s boyhood in Harringay, north London
Not sarf of the river, lad?
I wasn't born on The Ladder. My entry point was 1943 and south of the river, technically in Brixton although we lived in Streatham. For a while. Happily I have no memory of it but I was reportedly sleeping in a carry cot under a dining room table when the French doors and the conservatory came in. Covering the table with me under it. We blame my asthma on the shock and sudden chill. I blame Hitler.
It was 1944 and the V1 'doodlebug' had fallen on the next road behind ours and took out several houses. The back of our rented house was wrecked along with others. Detective Constable Dad and sometime Ambulance Driver Mum decamped with me and my two much older half brothers to another house in nearby Thornton Heath. Indeed as the V2 rockets attack joined the V1s mum and us boys temporarily lived in Cardiff. From discussion later evacuation had not seemed necessary while air raid warning could provide some protection. But when the unannounced warble of the V1s was joined by the totally silent plunge onto London of the V2s ,wiser counsel prevailed.
So it was only after that in 1946 and with me now three years old did we arrive on The Ladder. Or as some of us at the northern end knew it, the Admiral's estate.
The Ladder estate is in Harringay (correct; more anon) – indeed it constitutes most of that small former country estate that straddled the boundary to come between the London boroughs of Hornsey, Tottenham and Wood Green. It shows clearly on any map as a ladder of streets bearing typical late Victorian/Edwardian terraced villas to be found all over the fine city as a result of a building boom that has never been equalled.
They are parallel and run east-west between the Kings Cross to Scotland railway lines (to the west) and Green Lanes, or formerly The Green Lane to the east). The land was Norman possessed, became Harringay House estate and part of Hornsey House estate. It was sold off or developed by the owners during the later 19th century. The scale of the task is impressive – the Ladder estate constituted some 2,400 plus houses. Across Green Lanes the residue of the entire estate adds half as many again.
By the 20th century this area lay on the boundary between the Metropolitan borough of Hornsey to the west, Tottenham to the east and Wood Green to the north in which a further stretch of similar housing lay. When the GLC was formed in the 70s Hornsey, Tottenham and Wood Green were amalgamated into a 300,000 population borough and re-christened Haringey – reckoned to be an older form of Harringay, though some would disagree.
The estate is worth a digression, if only because it will figure largely in my story.
Our end was also called the Admirals estate by many of us because some roads bore the names of famous admirals – from Sidney, Raleigh, Frobisher (mine) and Hewitt to Umfreville (yes he was) in the far south. In total 19 streets each of about 120 houses – mine, Frobisher, was sixth from the north. To the west between these roads and the railway was Wightman Road – one long terrace of houses backing the railway and a string of short blocks and churches and the like topping the head of each road.
The results of all this housing is worth a thought. Families were bigger and the trend to make flats in these large-ish houses had already started. If there were an average like those near me than this estate had a population of around 12,000 people. Plus those in the St Anne's area, east of Green Lanes.
If that sounds like a small town then that is what it was. There were two schools, North and South Harringay each with primary and secondary modern provision. North Secondary was boys and top of my road. South Secondary was girls. There were two C of E churches, St Paul's south and St Peter's north and at the end of my road. Two Methodist Churches, again effectively north and south. And a Congregational assembly hall. The Catholics had to use West Green area across Green Lanes – another St Paul's I think.
One odd feature was the New River, built in the 17th century to bring fresh water to the growing capital from the River Lea in Hertfordshire and springs at Amwell. It was rather bizarrely exposed to littering along much of its length. Here it ran between much of northern Wightman road and the railway, offsetting perhaps for the rear of those houses the impact of the busy railway and marshalling yards. Halfway along Wightman Road and following the contour it had to be tunnelled under the hill and swung east to re-emerge after the Beresford Road hill now running halfway down the ladder roads providing a surprising neighbour for some urban gardens. It then ran across Finsbury Park to the south of our estate before starting its final eastward course to the reservoirs in Stoke Newington. The river has an interesting history (http://www.londonslostrivers.com/the-new-river.html )
Amongst the houses were a few atelier's – artisan homes with attached workshops. Carpentry, metalwork, dressmaking and repair services mostly – cars, electrical, plumbing. Many worked for the railway, more for the hospital across Green Lanes at St Anne's, and the tube – more anon.
Shops were plentiful since of course everyone shopped every day back then. On the Green Lanes to the east of all these houses was High Street , Harringay a series of parades of shops of all sizes up to department store. There was a cinema - the Coliseum which was soon to be better know as the Flea Pit. There were pubs – the two largest were grand late Victorian/early Edwardian structure of engraved glass, leaded windows, dark mahogany and for many years much mystery. The Salisbury served the middle of the estate and at the end of my road the equally ornate Victorian extravaganza, the Queens Head, provider of deep naps for Det Sgt Woods most evenings he was not on call.
But these shops, plentiful as they were, did not end the retail story. Adjacent to my end of Green Lanes and opposite in the West Green area were yet more. There were yet more five streets away in Turnpike Lane to the north. Locally we had all we then needed with about 250 yards.
The pub at the bottom of my road, Frobisher was not the only thing which marked out my childhood address as being something of a bonus for a boy. As I have said the primary school was at the top, a mere 50 houses away. Directly opposite was something called Duckett's common. ( http://www.duckettscommon.org.uk/ ) We always thought it was named after the farmer who once ruled these acres and presumably retired on the profits of their sale. Not so. It seems Duckett was a Norman knight who once 'owned' the land in the Norman way; as in usurped. Anyway this was then and is now what London boasts in plenty – an open space. It was about 50 yards wide and about 750 long. Divided into thee pieces it was surrounded by a fine array of London plain trees. They seemed huge when I was a boy but in reality were genuinely big when I returned a few years back and they were by then well over 100 years old. So back in my day they must have been mature but somewhat smaller.
The common was real common at my (our) end. The trees were augmented by an iron railed fence with fierce-some spikes at the top. These took the leg of one friend and the spleen of another. I got but nicked once – lucky. Returning in about 2000 I noted the spikes were now blunt. Health and Safety have their uses.
Our bit of common was about 200 yards long by 50 wide and just grass. It made all sizes of soccer pitch, a fine cricket pitch, a flying field for our many model aeroplanes and kites and a terrific place for a brawl between street gangs. Sadly it was also the place for exercising dogs and this was before the pooh bag. Mother did not appreciate the all too frequent result.
The middle section of Ducketts was of similar size and contained the park rangers office (tremble) but much more excitingly two excellent red top clay tennis courts, four good tarmac courts, a public bowling green and a putting green (these last are long gone). My father played excellent tennis and taught both myself and my younger brother. We ere both good and my brother still plays well at 65.
The last section of this excellent facility was bit different. It had been until the second world war a pleasaunce – tended and ornamental parkland for local people top wander in. As such it formed a one with a large triangle of land which stretched eastwards along West Green Road.
But adjacent was Hornsey railway, the huge marshalling yards, and Turnpike Lane underground station. By 1940 this pleasaunce was, I was told, the site of anti-aircraft emplacements – searchlights and ack ack guns. So much for the tended lawns and gardens. So by my day this last third of the common was just a mixture of mud and grass criss-crossed by the short cuts of the local residents. It had even lost the iron railings which may well have ended up in a more prosaic purpose – despite what you may have heard they never made aircraft out of iron! So no Spitfires were born here, although we fondly hoped that some Messerchmitts might have done their dying in the skies above. But by my day all the hardware had gone, leaving just Solly's burger bar in its bright orange railway wagon, beached by the tube entrance.
Across the wide and in my very young days terrifying crossroads of Turnpike Lane was Wood Green High Road; the Oxford Street of north London. It was wide, with huge pavements on which dodgy street traders ran an endless battle with the local coppers. One of them handed my mum some stockings once. It was years before she admitted to an older me that it was her reward for having saved his neck with a timely “Rozzers!” the week before.
The High Road contained a huge (we though) department store called Bartons, where I could stand amazed at the aerial wireway that carried cartridges of cash and receipts around the ceilings to serve accounts upstairs. Or even more extraordinary the pneumatic-tubes that used vacuum pressure to transport larger containers through the floors to undreamed of treasure houses. Cash was heavy back then and nobody used anything else. Well the nobs might have an account but there were fewer nobs in our part of Lunnun.
Wood Green also sported the Wood Green Empire and back then it was still a music hall. Saw some top stars there as a lad including Petula Clarke and, though how I am not sure the extremely lewd Max Miller. Every year there was a big panto. And magicians – I watched Bongo make a pink Cadillac, complete with jeans clad driver and two sharp blondes disappear on stage. Much smoke and, as I now know, many mirrors. Years later I earned my living with smoke and mirrors when the internet came to town.
There were other things that mark out my memories of this time and fit into this description. Down along Green Lanes was the Oaklands Laundry. With no washing machine in the home yet clothes were either home washed or went away in the laundry bag to come back clean. So this major employer was going strong in the 1940s and 50s. With most women still working after the war home washing was not the best option. And with so much filth in the air men's shirts were filthy in hours. So loose collars went daily so that the rest of the shirt could get washed every week,dirty or not...
Then there were the clubs and constitutional halls. Often over shops – like the licensed snooker halls over Burtons tailors they were also stand alone buildings. Harringay West Constitutional Club was around the corner from my home and my parents were members. It was some years before I discovered that Constitutional is a euphemism for Tory. And soon after I did I was old to bring the Guardian home; dad did a stratospheric turn!
So then just the house to consider, and it is no different from thousands of London villas but its nature and form determine some of the events of our lives there.