Harringay online

Harringay, Haringey - So Good they Spelt it Twice!

I was recently googling Wood Green, the place I grew up in starting in 1940. I am a really old fart, 79 years old this month.

I first found all kinds of reminiscences of the Wood Green Jazz Club at the Fishmongers Arms by the junction of High Road and Bounds Green Rd., gloriously nostalgic of my misspent early teens. This included a story by one of my classmates from Glendale Grammar School (now defunct). Then I found photos of the streets of my youth, with things like horse troughs which in some cases are still there. I grew up in a rented house on Clarence Rd. and my father grew up on Nightingale Rd. We shopped for daily needs on Finsbury Rd and Middleton Rd.

As a youth, which in those days meant anyone from about 7 years and up, I wandered freely and safely to places like Broomfield Park, Alexandra Palace and of course Wood Green High Road and any of its shops. We went to Saturday Morning Flics at the Gaumont (across from Wood Green underground station) and then walked to Turnpike Lane to buy superhero comics or to the library directly across from the underground station.

By the age of 10 we would use the underground to go to places like South Kensington for the Natural History and Science Museums or to Cockfosters to play in Hadley Woods. Nobody thought we needed an adult for such simple activities, and the underground was so close anyway, with stations at Bounds Green, Wood Green and Turnpike Lane.

The nostalgia I indulged in online was so enjoyable. Then I found this website and it had 28 pages of mostly negative comments on Wood Green High Road.

Is Wood Green really so horrific now? It sounds awful. A kid peeing in a store and the mother does nothing? Forget the possible medical problems, it's not about the child it's about the response of the parent in a decent society. This is supposed to be civilization, where we have regard for the sensibilities and experiences of others. Yet some have responded as though the complainants are remiss! I can't imagine such a disgraceful response when Wood Green was my idyllic and joyful environment.

I left the UK in 1993 and since then have lived in the USA in New Hampshire, Maryland and now Pennsylvania. President Trump notwithstanding, I find that society here is decent, respectful and friendly. I love going into town, people on the sidewalks smile at me (I don't think it's just because I'm such an old codger), motorists stop to wave me across the road (not just to make it easier to run me down) (I'm sure) (Really!).

I want to take my wife to England to show her where I grew up. Please tell me Wood Green isn't the grungy, unfriendly, aggressive and generally unpleasant place some of these posts suggest.

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Hi Peter, thanks for sharing your memories, nice to hear them.  Wow, this question will open up a real can of worms.  The country isn't the same, let alone Wood Green, but you were here in 1993 and I was wary of Wood Green in the 80s.  Let's just say it's changed a lot, and personally I would say the council hasn't done it any favours with lax planning laws. That's just one aspect though.  Also I would say that there are lots of nice places to visit, Alexander Palace, Green Lanes, Wetlands, Hornsey High Street,   I'm sure others will chip in, enjoy your visit

best Glen

I’m afraid that the High Street in Wood Green is rather run down.  Lots of the big name stores have moved out and temporary leases have been granted to discount places.  As far as human behaviour is concerned, I don’t think that Wood Green is too different from many other high streets in the country.  As Mavic says there are plenty of places in the borough worth visiting but personally I wouldn't place Wood Green at the top of my list.

You'll certainly see a change since 1993. That change has been led by the disappearance of the big name stores. However, whilst many other high streets outside London (and elsewhere in the world), have rapidly declined as places to use and visit, on its own terms Wood Green High Road is still a busy and thriving high street. 

The market stalls are still there, people still crowd the pavements, but it's all just rather more low rent. 

It's also probably peopled by a more diverse community than you'll remember which many see as a real positive.

I'm not sure how many surprises there'd be in comparing any outer London high street to a non-metropolitan one in the USA, or indeed in the UK and elsewhere in the West. I wonder if a New York neighbourhood might not be a better benchmark.

If you're prepared for the change, there's no reason you shouldn't visit, but what once fitted you like a comfortable pair of old slippers may now pinch your toes and and rub the back of your heel a little raw.

based on years of experience, I now never revisit places of my youth. They're always disappointing 

Agreed. Memories are best kept as memories. Nothing looks better years after. 

Saturday afternoons is the best time to see the High Road when it is in full insanity, bring plenty of change for the plethora of beggars, but don't leave without a visit to 'Mr Scuzmee', a man-sized marionette that begs outside the Cheapside buildings on the east side.

I echo the gratitude of others for sharing your memories.

Wood Green and Turnpike Lane aren’t quite as bad as posts here describe them. I am sorry to say that They are much worse, as many of the posts are out of date and the area is continually deteriorating. Spare yourself the shock and visit somewhere less depraved and depressing. 

Even though I normally see the glass half empty, I don't think that is true. When I moved to Wood Green just over 3 years ago there wasn't any place to eat, drink or have a decent coffee in the area. Now, there is Charlies, Red Bus on Blue yard to have nice beer or coffee, Ezra, Pret, Green Rooms for great Japanese food or drinks, new Italian opening in the High Street, the Prince is a great pub, etc.... It's not Crouch End, but it is not deteriorating. Shops wise yes, the loss of the big department Stores was terrible, and the new furniture tat replacements is an eyesore... but this is happening in many other town centres. That's the problem of having huge units which are difficult to let...

My thanks to all who replied.

I'm sure my posting was not a true picture of Wood Green when I was a kid. On reading it I see how it is a view through rose coloured glasses, when there were no responsibilities, adults to deal with problems, welcoming and nurturing families who would be there to feed me when I got home. And now I come to think of it, the house we rented was no great shakes.

The images of High Street that I have are not of pristine buildings and magical clean streets, but the impressions my memories invoke are of safety, decency and absolute security. I doubt if one person in Wood Green would have had any idea of how to obtain a gun. Other impressions are that everyone in town was in much the same economic situation, even though we were lagging in being able to afford a car or own a house. We moved to Edmonton in 1956 so my Wood Green predates this.

My impression from the many new housing projects mentioned on this site is that there has been a large increase in population. Looking back, since I became an adult I have always tended to move away from centers of population, running maybe. It seems we are doomed to keep multiplying, and the results are horrible from my perspective.

Does anyone think increasing population density is a good thing? I do not envy today's young people. God help tomorrow's. Maybe when I visit Wood Green I will just make a quick drive down High Street and then head out to the countryside.

Hi Peter, it's interesting reading the posts here and others from people who have been around the area a long time. I don't live in Wood Green, I live in Hornsey so I may see it differently to those that do - but I don't find it grungy at all. And it has retained some history, unlike some areas of the country. There does seem to be a perception by some that the area has gone down hill, but in my view many areas are much nicer than they were in the 90s (the parks are all far nicer). Yes, some of the shops are a bit cheap and cheerful - but that doesn't make the area unpleasant. A lot of the gang warfare that was going on when I moved to Haringey in the mid 90s (and yes, people had guns then) is either undercover or has gone. Haringey is still an amazing community compared to some boroughs. We have some incredible champions of opportunity, particularly for young people in areas such as sport and art. There is still an issue with housing, but private rented accommodation in the 1990s in London was pretty dire depending on budget. I have teenagers who travel independently - as most teenagers do in the borough - and many primary kids make their own way to school too. It's a nice place. I would really encourage you to come back with your wife and explore your past, while enjoying the present (there's lots to do - nice places to sit/eat/stroll) - just don't expect it to be exactly as it was - but I am fairly certain it is no worse - if you look at it objectively. 

Hi Carolyn,

Your comments about parks are encouraging and I would like to visit them. It sounds like the area feels safe, welcoming and generally pleasant to walk around. I suspect I would find that it feels overcrowded and too built-up these days, with many houses replaced by high-rises. This tends to be true of so many places.

There was gang warfare in the '90s? It's not unusual over here, but in my Wood Green? All we had when I was a teenager was Teddy Boys, mostly unarmed or maybe carrying knives for bravado. I never felt threatened (maybe because I knew some of them, or because I was also a teenager and therefore immortal).

The past may be a foreign country, but it's still there in your memories, Peter Anderson. 

Yes it can be be rose tinted.  When I grew up near Edgware very few cars interrupted our games in the street. There were a lot of bombsites where kids could explore. Our parents shielded us - mostly successfully - from some of the dangers then. I don't remember family members who'd returned from the war talking about it.

Grungy? Wasn't that Green Lanes in those days? And Finsbury Park?  If you don't know his work, take a look at a video of the photographer Don McCullin, originally a Finsbury Park boy.

As you walk round the residential streets of Wood Green you and your wife may see people your age. Old people are often invisible, so introduce yourselves.

As he got older the writer John Berger thought and wrote more about people who'd died and places he once knew. Including in London. He also conjured them up with imagination. So he once knocked on the door of an Islington House where many decades before and a girlfriend had rented a room. Inside, everything was utterly changed. Except the window frame. He asked the owner's permission to open the curtains and suddenly memories came back.

Berger imagined a chat with his dead mother when he saw - on TV - the 2011 riots in Croydon. As a boy he'd often gone with her and carried her shopping when she visited a department store which was attacked in the riot.  Bit more Berger here.

You might know of another Londoner who lived in New England. The historian Tony Judt died in 2010 age 62. He wrote some reminiscence pieces including about greenline buses and Sainsburys as it used to be. (Collected in "The Memory Chalet".)

Don't just whizz though Wood Green High Road. Explain to your wife that the foreign country you're remembering and she is visiting is still there in the bricks and roofs. No ruby slippers needed. It can be imagined and summoned for a few seconds and shared together if you try. You may both smile. Or cry.



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