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10 Things You Never Knew About Muswell Hill


By Historical Society on 21 October 2012

The Hornsey Historical Society work tirelessly and selflessly to preserve Muswell Hill's rich history. Here, they tell us some little know facts about places we all think we know (with one Crouch-End fact thrown in just for our neighbours) ...

Murder at Muswell Lodge

On 14th February 1896 an elderly resident was murdered in one of Muswell Hill’s detached houses:  Muswell Lodge in Tetherdown, opposite Pages Lane.   78 year old Henry Smith , fearing intruders, had run a trip wire across his garden that would fire a gun as a warning. This did not deter the criminals, Albert Milsom and Henry Fowler, who forced their way through a window at night and murdered Mr. Smith when he disturbed them.  Just after the murder 15,000 to 20,000 people came to see the scene of the crime, according to the Hornsey Journal.  Just after the murder.  An abandoned oil lantern linked the robbery to Milsom and both men were tracked across the country until they were arrested in Bath on 10 April 1896. They were convicted at the Old Bailey and hanged, side by side, on 10th June that year.

James Edmondson: Muswell Hill Builder

An end to rural life in Muswell Hill came in 1896 when James Edmondson bought two large properties named ‘The Limes’ and ‘Fortis House’, followed by the purchase of ‘The Elms’ and the ‘Wellfield’ estates. Edmondson was a very experienced builder who had worked with his father Isaac in developing Highbury before they moved their interests to Crouch End and Hornsey. Apparently he decided that Muswell Hill would make a good London suburb when he visited the area on his bicycle. He was responsible for building many of the imposing Broadway parades of shops and for the ‘royal’ avenues – Kings, Queens, Princes and Dukes Avenues. He gave land for the building of both the Baptist (Dukes Avenue) and the Congregationalist (Tetherdown) churches and sold the land for the Presbyterian church in the Broadway (now O’Neill’s pub )for half its actual cost. He gave a site for a fire station which was used for the Muswell Hill Library. He left the area in 1923, aged 64, to live in Bournemouth  because of ill-health.

 The Green Man public house (Image 1)

The position of alehouses and pubs in earlier times was often chosen on main routes into and out of London, so that travellers could pause for refreshment.   In Muswell Hill The Green Man was at the top of Muswell Hill, at a road junction,  and a place for much needed refreshment after the long climb up the Hill.   The pub is assumed to have been there since Tudor times.  A survey of licensed victuallers made in 1552 showed that Highgate had five alehouses, Hornsey three and Muswell  Hill only one.  It is assumed that this was The Green Man which has since been renamed a number of times and now sits closed, with plans to turn it into residential flats.

The Name ‘Fortis Green’

The name Fortis Green is obscure in origin.   It is recorded in Hornsey Manorial Court Rolls in 1613 as Fortesse Greene.  In his 1754 map of Middlesex, John Roque labels it Forty Green but the 1816 Enclosure Award calls it Fortis Green.  Fortis House was the name of an important Muswell Hill property in Fortis Green Road.

Earliest Occupation of Muswell Hill

Although a Bronze Age flint dagger was found in Hornsey in the 19th century, the remains of a Roman seasonal kiln in Highgate Wood, and a Roman coin hoard in Cranley Gardens, the earliest written records are from mediaeval times.

The Mus-Well

The names derives from the springs or wells from which issued the Muswell Stream.   Muswell comes from the Old English meaning ‘mossy well’.   The Charter giving the land of Mosewelle to the ‘Prioress and Other Holy Ones of the Church of the Blessed Mary of Clerkenwell’ in 1152 is the first known written record of Muswell Hill.

Muswell Hill Railway Station (Images 2 - 5)

The station, opened in 1873, was part of the Great Northern Railway Company’s (GNR) branch line between Finsbury Park and Alexandra Palace, the ‘People’s Palace’. From Finsbury Park, the crowds who came to events at the Palace and in its park had easy access on the GNR main line into Kings Cross. Combined rail and Palace admission tickets were issued. It was only at the very end of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth century that the station was used to any extend as few people lived in Muswell Hill before the 1890s.  In 1923 the line became part of the London North Eastern Railway (LNER). Trains arriving at Muswell Hill Station carried commuters, visitors to the Palace and freight, plus coal to heat the Palace building. Passenger services ceased in July 1954. Muswell Hill Primary School stands where the station was located and the Parkland walk follows the route the track took down to Cranley Gardens and into Highgate Wood, re-emerging at Highgate station, where the old station can still be seen.

The Athenaeum (Image 6 & 7)

Have you ever wondered why Sainsburys is in a modern building  which feels out of place amoungst the Edwardian terraces which surround it? Well, what used to sit in it's palce was nothing short of spectacular: The Athenaeum was built as a dance hall as well as a community meeting place where Muswell Hill's Men would go to debate issues of national importance. It was later used for a multitude of things from a Cinema, to a Synagogue but eventually succumbed to a lack of money invested into it's upkeep and was demolished in the mid 60s. All that is left of it now is the section to the right of the main building, above the Sainsburys orange wall on the corner of 'Athenaeum Place'. Truly one of the tradgedies in Muswell Hill's architectral history. 

Alexandra Palace

Tottenham Wood Farm was purchased in 1863 to provide a commanding location for a ‘Palace of the People’, a North London contender to the ‘Crystal Palace’ in Sydenham, South London, which was the re-erected Great Exhibition building of 1851.  Built between 1864 and 1866, Alexandra Palace was finally opened in June 1873, only to be gutted by fire sixteen days afterwards. Like the phoenix, a new palace rose from the ashes of the old and the second building was opened in May 1875 - they built fast,  in those days. Many attractions such as balloon flights and a zoo, lured people to the Palace, but it always had great difficulty in paying its way. It was taken out of private hands into local authority care at the start of the twentieth century. Very recently the Palace celebrated the 75thanniversary of television which had its ‘birth’ in studios there, one of which can still be viewed. In 1980 Alexandra Palace burned for a second time and has never been fully restored.

Crouch End Clock Tower

Designed by Frederick George Knight, the clock tower was built in 1895, and not always appreciated, even at the time. As the plaque on the building proclaims, it was, “Erected by subscription In Appreciation and Recognition of the Public Services Rendered by Henry Reader Williams, Esq., J.P., to the district of Hornsey, during a period of twenty-one years. June 1895.” H.R. Williams (1822 – 1897, whose face is on the side, was a very influential local politician who served as Chairman of the Hornsey Local Board for ten years at the time when the district was undergoing considerable urban development. Williams started campaigns to save Hornsey’s open spaces, such as Alexandra Park, Highgate Wood and Queen’s Wood (called Churchyard Bottom at the time). In 1894 he succeeded in conveying the freehold of the farmland between Crouch End and the Woods to the Local Board, which was leased out as Crouch End Playing Fields.  A man to remember indeed!  


Written by

Historical Society

The Society has produced many publications documenting the history of Hornsey, has been active in campaigning for the recognition and conservation of our heritage of buildings and open spaces. and is represented on the local Conservation Area Advisory Committees.