Hornsey Road was once famed as the haunt and sometime hideout of a notorious 'gentleman highwayman', Claude Duval. His story and its connections provide a fascinating historical tale as well, perhaps, as the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster.
The other day, I was helping the descendant of the owner of a house on Hornsey Rise I'd researched. We'd both come up against a brick wall with trying to track down a certain mid-Victorian road. In looking at some old maps I came across a road name I've become familiar with. But beyond finding the name intriguing, I'd never given it much thought.
Look back at any map of the local area made in the early decades of the nineteenth century and, apart from the obvious absence of many of the roads we know so well today, you'll notice that some of our present-day roads had different names. One such road was Hornsey Road.
For something like 150 years prior to 1810, Hornsey Road was known as Duval's Lane, both colloquially and officially. Prior to the seventeenth century it was Tallingdon/Tallington Lane and even earlier Tolentone Lane (more on that later).
Fig. 1: Extract from Ordnance Survey Drawing of 1807. Hornsey Road runs through the centre of the map. Next to it is written 'Duval's Lane'. The narrow lane with the z-bend towards the bottom right-hand of the drawing is Hem (or Heame) Lane, which is now the western part of Seven Sisters Road
Between 1810 and 1820, Duval's Lane began being referred to as Hornsey Road.1 But it didn't appear in rate-books under its new name until after 1843.
Having allowed my curiosity to be piqued, I began to explore the origins of the name. It doesn't take much digging to find that it was named after French-born ‘gentleman highwayman’ Claude Duval (1643-1670).
Claude Duval (aka Du Val) was, so the story goes, something of a rarity. History has been kind to him. He's remembered for having been gallant and courteous and by some as the most dashing highwayman ever to haunt the roads of England.
He was born the son of a miller in Normandy in 1643. By the age of fourteen he was working as a stable-boy in Rouen, where he was hired by a group of English royalists to tend their horses. When Charles II was restored to the throne, Duval returned to England as a footman to a nobleman.
He had apparently learned gentlemen’s manners along the way and by 1666 he was mentioned by name as a highwayman. He went about fashionably dressed, was loved by ladies of all classes, and is reputed to never have used violence on his victims. His haunts included the northern approaches to London, especially Holloway, between Islington and Highgate.
Fig. 2: Claude Duval, by William Powell Frith, 1859, Manchester Art Gallery
Where Duval Lane and Hem Lane met was a building that took the name Duval’s House. (The house has a tale of its own to tell, but first let's finish with Claude).
Fig 3: Duval's House in 1825
Duval was alleged to have used the former weather-boarded style farmhouse as a temporary hide-out.
Sadly for Duval, hide as he may, he was captured in 1669 and sent to Newgate, where he was tried by Judge Sir William Morton. Despite efforts by the ladies of the Court, and, apparently even by Charles II himself, Sir William refused to reduce his sentence of death.
Duval was duly hanged at Tyburn on 21 January 1670, aged twenty-seven. His body was cut down and taken to the Tangier Tavern in St. Giles for a lying-in-state before a grand funeral at St. Paul’s. He is said to have been buried beneath the central aisle; the parish register notes the burial of a "Peter Duval" in January 1670.
A memorial at the church reads:
- Here lies DuVall: Reder, if male thou art,
- Look to thy purse; if female, to thy heart.
- Much havoc has he made of both; for all
- Men he made to stand, and women he made to fall
- The second Conqueror of the Norman race,
- Knights to his arm did yield, and ladies to his face.
- Old Tyburn’s glory; England’s illustrious Thief,
- Du Vall, the ladies' joy; Du Vall, the ladies' grief.
So much for Duval. The house he hid out in also has an interesting past.
First, it's location. The Islington Local History Education Trust have placed the house as having stood between Dillon Place (no longer in existence) and Kinloch Street, both off Hornsey Road.2
That information would match with the building in the lower right-hand corner of the 1807 Ordnance Survey Drawing in Figure 1.
Kinloch Place and Dillon Place are both on the 1893 Ordnance Survey map, shown below.
Fig.4: Extract from 1893 Ordnance Survey map
Today the location is just down the road from the Sobell Sports Centre, here.
Duval's house apparently dates from well before Duval's time, when Duval Lane was known as Tallington or Tallingdon Lane. By the late 16th century, it had been a freehold house with a garden, orchard and a moat, Lower Place, which by 1721 was an inn.
Going back even further, it apparently has a past as a manor house.
The manor in the north part of Islington was Tollington or Tolentone. By the middle ages, it was in the hands of the Knights Hospitaliers. According to the London Encyclopaedia, they abandoned the moated manor house of Tolentone, the Lower Place, for Highbury. The house, says the Encyclopaedia survived well past the middle of the nineteenth century off Hornsey Road at Kinloch Street. This is undeniably, the Duval House.
Fig 5: The house of Claude Duval, the highwayman, near Holloway; a house with wooden sides and a red tiled roof, surrounded by trees and a moat. August 1841 by John Wykeham Archer Painting & description by the British Museum
In July 2018, the London Borough of Islington and Historic England co-operated on a work called Archaeological Priority Areas Appraisal. That work included the following description of the house.
The manor house was located beside Hornsey Road and was purchased in 1271 by the priory of St John at Clerkenwell. The manor house ceased to be a manorial site after the 14th century when the owners of the estate relocated. Records report that the old manor house fell into disuse beside the largely abandoned road. The site may have become known as Lower Place, being renamed once the new manor house at Highbury was built or to distinguish it from Upper Place, sited to the north of the settlement. A survey of 1611 shows a building on the site within a moat, and also an orchard and identifies the building as Devils House. By 1721 the building is recorded as an Inn and at some point is known as De Vols House. The name 'Du Vols house' is supposed to have been named after the famous highwayman of that name.
While it was a public house the site was still accessed via a bridge across the water filled moat, it was said to have been a place “where Londoners went to fish, and enjoy hot loaves, and milk fresh from the cow.” The moat was infilled sometime before 1835 and there was no trace of a house by 1848.
Sadly, the house had been demolished by 1871.
All the above worked for me as a story. But like present-day narratives about anything going on in the world, history is rarely so neatly cut and dried. Two major parts of the house and road story seem to be somewhat contested.
First, there is clearly present-day as well as historical disagreement about the former name of Hornsey Road. There's no dispute about its Tallingdon/Tolentone roots, but its 17th and 18th century name has two versions. The first is the Duval one outlined above. The second version has it as Devil's Lane. Proponents of this version contend that Duval's is a corruption of Devil's. The Notes & Queries Magazine in 1898 had the following:
Hornsey Lane (sic)3 was, it is true, formerly called Duval's Lane, and is so described to this day in legal documents; but it would appear that Duval was a corruption of Devil: for in a survey and plan of the manor of Highbury, made by order of the Prince of Wales, son of James I, the lord of the manor, in the year 1611 (that is to say, fifty -eight years before Duval expiated his misdeeds on the scaffold),the house is called the Devil's House in Devil's Lane, and is described as having been shown in ancient writings by the name of "Lower place being an old house enclosed with a mote and a little orchard within."
Cary's map of 1786 shows the name as Devil's Lane and the house I described earlier as Devil's House.
Fig. 6: Cary's map of 15 miles around London, 1786.
Yet we (think that we) know the road used to be called Tallingdon/Tallington Lane before it became Duval's or Devil's. This 1735 map chose that option.
Here's the Globe newspaper's take on the matter 1827:
Fig, 8: Extract from Globe, 3rd November 1827
In 1811 historian John Nelson wrote in support of the Devil's Lane version, citing a 1611 survey of Highbury as his source:
Fig 9: Extract from The History, Topography, and Antiquities of the Parish of St. Mary Islington, in the County of Middlesex,John Nelson (of Islington., 1811
Strangely, in the same year Daniel Lysons wrote a very similar account in his book, also citing the 1611 survey:
Fig. 10: Extract from The Environs of London, Volume 2, Part 2. Daniel Lysons 1811
I've found previously that Victorian historians weren't always the careful guardians of verifiable historical facts and what one respectable historian stated as fact got copied many times and gained an authority it doesn't deserve. Now, I've no reason to think that John Nelson, or the rather better known Lysons, weren't, either of them, fine historians. Call me an old sceptic, but I'd like to see a copy of the 1611 survey myself before being certain of what they wrote. Sadly, that seems unlikely to happen since, according to the Victoria County History, the survey is now lost.4 I've checked and, bar the one from Islington that I've reproduced above5, I can't find any present-day reference to it, including in the National Archives catalogue, the London Metropolitan Archives or Islington Archives.
Having shared my scepticism, it's worth saying that I do think it was likely that there was, at the very least, confusion between Devil's and Duval's (to say nothing of Du Vol's). Without access to the 1611 Highbury Survey, I'm happy to leave the matter as an open question. (Either version seems to accept the role of Claude Duval in the naming of the road or in the corruption of an existing name and that, after all, was where this story started).
The other less contested fact is the precise location of the old manor house. Most histories seems to be happy with the Kinloch/Dillon location, to the south of Hem Lane. But some contest that the old manor was, in fact, further north, at the site where the Hornsey Road Baths now stand. The 1735 map (Fig. 7) may add grist to that particular mill. In addition to Du Vol's House to the south of Heame Lane, it shows Tollington House roughly where the baths were later built. Could that name be a hangover from its manor house days? Or could it be that the name has just been put into use by a Georgian gent? Either is a possibility' However, there seems to be general acceptance that the former/alternative name of the manor house was Lower Place, which seems to have been clearly located south of Heame Lane. So, on balance, I'd side with the consensus that Duval's House was the old manor house, Lower Place.
1. The earliest mention I can find of Duval's Lane as Hornsey Road was in the Morning Advertiser in 1806. It was not until 1818 that the same publication referred to it as "the Hornsey Road, formerly Duval's Lane".
2. Streets with a Story by Eric A Willats, FLA 1986, The Islington Local History Education Trust. It should be pointed out that other sources have claimed that the old Tolentone manor house was in fact on the site of the Hornsey Baths.
3. I assume this is a mistake and the author means Hornsey Road.
4.A P Baggs, Diane K Bolton and Patricia E C Croot, 'Islington: Economic history', in A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 8, Islington and Stoke Newington Parishes, ed. T F T Baker and C R Elrington (London, 1985), pp. 69-76. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol8/pp69-76 [accessed 8 July 2021].
5. I have emailed leas author, Alison Bennett, to enquire whether, contrary to what was written in the Victoria County History, a copy of the survey has now been found.
Wonderful, interesting narrative, thank you!
Very interesting and well researched, thank you.
Fascinating. I had to immediately research why there was a Jack Straw's Castle at Highbury marked on the 1735 Islington map and found this:
"The fine manor house built by Prior Robert Hales, Grand Prior of St John’s, Clerkenwell, Knight Hospitaller and Lord Treasurer of England, called Highbury Barn Manor House was destroyed during the Peasants Revolt in 1381 by a mob led by Jack Straw and Wat Tyler; the derelict site became known as Jack Straw’s Castle."
Well spotted! Thanks for revealing who Jack Straw was. The name is very familiar from the Hampstead pub of the same name. As with Duval's Lane, I'd never given it sufficient thought before.
That threw me as well Christina. I associated Jack Straw's Castle with Hampstead. Well researched to you.