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Harringay, Haringey - So Good they Spelt it Twice!

The State of Harringay's Hermitage Brook & the Desire for its Culverting

I noticed an interesting short light-humoured article with a serious message in a 1903 copy of the London North Mercury & Crouch End Observer. It consisted chiefly of a (pretty poor) rhyme which used the fate of the Hermitage Brook as a way of highlighting some contemporary local concerns.

Its overarching theme was the state of the brook itself. As urbanisation overtook the countryside around London, its many waterways were badly mistreated. The Hermitage Brook, which used to run from Crouch End  Hill to the River Lea, was no exception. 

The bucolic world depicted by water-colourist Harold Lawes in the painting below in 1883 was soon to be swept away. The picture shows the view looking west along Hermitage Road towards Green Lanes. On the right in the distance is one of the kilns of the Williamson Potteries. Although most of the Hermitage Brook to the west of Harringay had already be covered over, its eastern stretch still flowed. Its course is marked in the painting by the line of trees on the extreme right of the picture.

By the time that the 1903 article was published, the scene looked more like that depicted in the photo below from 1897. It is shot in roughly the same direction (you can make out the tile kiln behind the central tree) but the view is rotated to look in a more north-westerly direction. Behind the tree on the left of the picture are the new buildings on Green Lanes. Just to their right, you can make out Harringay Bridge. In the distance to the right of the central tree is, I think, the station building. 

Somewhere in the scene, the brook still runs, but according the the rhyme it is now stagnant and strewn with rubbish. Elsewhere on the site was a pond, the site of several tragic deaths of local children.

Much to the chagrin of local residents and managers of St Ann's Hospital, the area to the right of the picture was used as a rubbish dumping ground by the dustcarts of Stoke Newington Council. It took many years for Tottenham Council to stir itself into action and prevail on its neighbour to stop dumping. In the meantime, the state of the site continued to deteriorate.

The mention of "Hill's town" in line 7, is referring to the Gardens and Grand Parade which had recently been built up by John C Hill.

It's interesting to note how over a century ago respectable opinion sough the culverting of rivers, whilst today the move is is clean and open them (props here to the Haringey Rivers Forum for its work on improving the Moselle).

Tags for Forum Posts: stonebridge brook

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Replies to This Discussion

Thank you for that. Did you write that in fond memory of your childhood?

Thanks. No I didn't grow up here but I have lived in my house (in Beechfield Road) for some 30 years and never knew about the Hermitage Brook until I read about it on this wonderful web site. It must run just beyond my back fence in the garden of my neighbours. The pumpkins are in their garden and when they dig down they come across concrete, which is presumably the culvert. The poem was inspired by thinking what it might have been like to have a brook running along the back of my house.

Imagined fond memories are clearly just as powerful!

I’d love to have a little brook at the end of my garden. Since it’s a natural watercourse, I suppose it’s not owned by Thanes Water. If I was your neighbour, I’d have a hard time stopping myself from opening it up. 

Yes indeed. Wouldn't it be great to live on the banks of a brook. My neighbours have a letter dated 1957 from the Borough engineer saying that if the culvert is damaged they won't be liable, unless it is their fault, so breaking it open might cost them a pretty penny!

I wonder if anyone ever inspects it. I guess now it might be done by drone. But up till recently, someone would have had to visit. 

That's an interesting point. I just googled and it seems the land owner might own the culvert:

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/owning-a-watercourse

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