This weekend I made HoL's latest local history acquisition with the purchase of a set of photos showing the exterior and interior of Northumberland House.
For those who aren't familiar with Northumberland House, it was built as a private mental hospital in about 1830 on the bank of the New River by Green Lanes, opposite Finsbury Park.
It's most famous patient (that I've yet discovered) was T.S. Eliot's first wife, Vivienne Haigh-Wood. It's a sad story. Read more here.
The hospital closed after the Second World. War and the property was demolished in 1955 to make way for the Rowley Gardens estate. HoL Members Ken Hanson and Roy both recall it being a great playground for local children during the fifties.
The photos are in an album which I'm assuming was an Edwardian marketing brochure. Richard Ayres from whom I bought the album told me that he had two relatives working at the hospital in the late nineteenth / early twentieth century. Richard told me:
Emma Matilda Jordan (my grandmother) was matron there and her sister Lucy Annie Jordan was head nurse. They both appear on the 1901 census for Northumberland House and I assume they both resided there, although I don't know for sure. Whether they are on the staff photo is also unknown since there are no names ~ alas!
I apologise for the image versions reproduced below. But, unwatermarked high resolution versions are available if needed.
On this photo, looking through the gateway, you can just see the path leading up the hill from Green Lanes into Finsbury Park. This path is still there today and firmly locates the position of the gateway
This terrace of houses, numbers 342-354 Green Lanes stood to the north of the Finsbury pub. 344 to 352 were used as part of the hospital, probably for staff accommodation. The houses were demolished along with the hospital in the 1950s. The neighbouring houses at numbers 338-342 which were not connected with the hospital were demolished at the same time. See another photo showing the view up the hill towards this terrace here.
I've now been able to ascertain beyond reasonable doubt the Northumberland House was indeed built as a private House.
On 13th November 1826, The Morning Advertiser newspaper carried the following advertisement showing the sale of the contents of a private home and referring to its conversion to a 'private lunatic asylum'. I've yet to find out who the vendors were, however.
Given that the house had only been built in 1822, one wonders what caused the quick sale. Perhaps a change on the neighbourhood as evidenced by this ad in the same publication just four months earlier may give a clue - the start of urbanisation:
Superb information Hugh.
Any idea what a Dennet is? Other than an American Philosopher....
No, sorry, not a clue.
Thank you - it's always interesting where these lines of history lead!
Our house (demolished in 1955) in Woodberry Grove backed onto the extensive gardens of Northumberland House which contained beautiful heated Victorian greenhouses, a rotating summer house and two underground WW2 air raid shelters – all which became our playground. The house interior was magnificent, with much wood paneling and elaborate plasterwork ceilings
If I remember correctly all the patients were transferred to other locations about 1951 and the building stood empty until demolition in 1955.
The gate was very grand and was topped by the Percy Lion with a straight tail which has heraldic significance. The house had several padded ‘cells’ and a large walk-in safe. In a large private house it would have contained the silver tableware, the key being kept by the butler.
This is from a friend who lived on the Woodberry Down Estate.
Northumberland House was a bit creepy for me, I was always worried if one or two of the patients had stayed behind. Later when most of it had been demolished I used to cut through there to poach in the New River. The fishing was never as good that side, it was far better nearer the end, opposite the clinic in Green Lanes. I do remember catching a fair size pike and was chased by the bailiff and had great difficulty climbing the fence because on the Northumberland House side of the river there were numerous bends which blocked your view and put you into panic mode when he came round the bend, later a retired police dog was used to great effect.
Who stole the Lions Tail? That always amused me that someone could climb up there and break it off.
Northumberland House - notable patients
1) Charles Leach MP (1847 – 1919) is notable as the only Member of Parliament to be deprived of his seat after being declared of unsound mind.
Worsted to Westminster: The Extraordinary Life of the Rev Dr Charles Leach MP By J. B. Williams
“On … he had entered through the impressive lion gate to a place that was not, as reported a nursing home, but a privately run Lunatic Asylum. He had been committed.
2) Cornelia Sorabji (15 November 1866 – 6 July 1954) was the first female barrister from India, a social reformer, and a writer. She was the first female graduate from Bombay University, and in 1889 became the first woman to read law at Oxford University, and also the first Indian national to study at any British university. Later she became the first woman to practise law in India and Britain. In 2012, a bust was unveiled at Lincoln's Inn, London.
3) T.S. Eliot had one previous marriage - Vivienne Haigh-Wood: Vivienne was born on May 28, 1888. T.S. met the vivacious Vivienne at Oxford in the spring of 1915. After a short courtship, they married on June 26, 1915 at the Hampstead Register Office. From the very beginning, they were mismatched and had a difficult marriage. In 1938, Vivienne was committed to a private mental asylum, Northumberland House in Green Lanes, Finsbury Park, North London. She died there on January 22, 1947 at the age of 58.
Interesting notable patients. Northumberland House must have provided a degree of comfort, even luxury, compared with other such homes. Eliot's wife's tale is well known, that of the MP Charles Leach less so and it's noted he may have been suffering from vascular dementia. The Wiki report gives no details about Cornelia Sorabji's illness, merely saying she 'died at her London home, Northumberland House, Green Lanes." Thanks for these, Roy. A fascinating read.
A further note on the origins of the house.
The Metropolitan Commissioners, in 1829, noted that Northumberland House admitted its first patient in 1813*. Since Northumberland House was not built then, it may well be that this early reference relates to patients first being admitted to Samuel Foxs' London House on London Lane near London Fields in Hackney. We know from a contemporary newspaper advert that the Foxs converted Northumberland House for use as an asylum in 1826, selling it on to Mr and Mrs Richard Birkett in 1829.
*via a Middlesex University resources at http://studymore.org.uk/3_06.htm
Apparently Samuel Fox went bankrupt in 1829 at which point he set up as a druggist in a shop in the Blackfriars Road. Article below from Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, 3rd Dec 1829.
Sadly things apparently went no better in his new trade. Records held at the National Archives show that Fox agin went bankrupt in 1839.
More on the origins of the building and on Fox and Birkett.
I've now had the chance to take a look at Fox's assignment of his lease to Richard Birkett in a document dated 13 April 1829. From this I've been able to establish the following.
Stephen Cundee leased North Berry Meadow from Lord of the Manor Joseph Eade in a lease made on 29 September 1822.
The 1829 Fox-Birkett lease refers to "all that messauge or tenament and outbuildings heretofore erected by the said Stephen Cundee". So I think it's safe to assume that Cundee was responsible for building the original house during the period between the time he took out the lease and the point when he assigned it to Fox (i.e. 1822-1826).
Fox's lease with Cundee was dated 29th September 1826. The advertisement that appeared for the sale of the contents of the house in November 1826 leads one to believe that the house may have been lived in for some time, or at least that it was set up for such purposes, prior to Fox's arrival on the scene. From the same advert we can also safely conclude that Fox acquired the property with the intention of converting it for use as a private lunatic asylum.
Fox apparently undertook some quite significant works. The 1829 lease has the following, "...the said Samuel Fox hath erected sundry additions to the said house and greatly enhanced and improved the same chiefly with money borrowed by him from the said Richard Birkett...". This may give us a clue as to what lay behind Fox's early disposal of the property.
The lease tells us that Fox's rights in the property are being assigned to Birkett in part settlement of the debt. We also know that from a further primary source that Fox went bankrupt in 1829. So something went terribly wrong for poor Samuel.
It's not clear under what conditions Birkett loaned Fox the money to carry out the improvements. It could be that they had intended to go into business together perhaps and Fox got in over his head?
With regards to the development of the house itself, I suggested last year what part of the house I think was the original part. What's not clear is which parts Fox added and which were Birkett improvements. The plans drawn up by Clapton firm P. & J. Edwards are, we are told, from 1829. Even assuming that's correct, it's not clear which parts show existing buildings and which are proposed additions. What we do know is that it seems that building work was going on after Birkett took on the lease. The Metropolitan Commission of Lunacy commneetd in their notes on their visit in 1830 "This house is in good order considering that extensive alterations are carrying on."
As far as the building's name is concerned and any possible connection with the Percys, the first mention I've found of the name was in a newspaper report in 1841. Given that I've been able to trace without any break the probable ownership of the land and who was responsible for any building, it seems safe to conclude that there's no ducal connection whatsoever. More likely is that Cundee, Fox or Birkett sought to add some grandeur to the place by appropriating a name and statue belonging to a far grander place.
That's far more clarity than I'm sure most you you want or need, but probably enough even for me!
I was thrilled to find these superb photos on this website as I am a Masters student currently writing a sequence of poems about Vivienne Eliot, entitled, 'En Route to Northumberland'. For my Project submission, I am going to submit the sequence along with a few photos, and I wonder if it may be possible to include one of the exterior of Northumberland House, and perhaps two or three of the interior.
I will not be publishing the sequence; it is solely for my Degree, so is there any possibility of my gaining access to a few of the photos without 'Copyright Harringay online' on them?
I would be so grateful, and, of course, if you would like a copy of the sequence in exchange I am happy to send it to you after it is submitted at the end of September.
Hi Audrey, my apologies I missed this when you posted it. How did your project submission go?
I am putting together a multi-media event about the life of Vivienne Eliot (more info at www.https://viviennesometimes.com). Would you be interested in talking further about your own creative work about her? If so, I'd love to hear from you.