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.
(N.B. In my comment of 7th June 2022, below, I have provided the outcome of further research I undertook into the matter of whether the road was originally called Duval's Lane of Devil's Lane.)
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.
The Hornsey Historical Society asked me to give then a version of the article for publicaion in their annual Nulletin magazine. In preparing that I did further resrarch in thger =Duval. Debil's Lane issue and got to the bootm of it. Below are the relevant parts of my HHS version of the article:
So, the matter of whether Devil’s Lane is a corruption of Duval’s Lane or vice-versa hangs on the verifiability of the 1611 survey. One might think that I would just go with the version proposed by the published nineteenth century historians. I would, but I've found previously that Victorian historians weren't always the careful guardians of verifiable historical facts; and what one respectable historian erroneously stated as fact could get copied many times and gain an authority it didn'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. But, call me an old sceptic, I wanted to see a copy of the 1611 survey for myself before being certain of the accuracy of what these historians wrote.
The Victoria County History seemed to think that the survey is now lost.[i] So that set me a challenge! Nonetheless, with a bit of persistence, and after poring over ancient texts in the British Library and other archives, I was able to track down the original hand-written 1611 survey. Apparently, there used to be a plan along with the text description[ii]. But that does appear to have gone missing……unless you know differently!
Extract from Survey of Highbury / Newington Barrowe Manor by Richard Langley Esquire, Steward, and Rocke Church Esquire, Commissioners of Henry, Prince of Wales, 1611. It was written in secretary hand, now almost indecipherable to the untrained eye. Document ref ACC/2844/023 photographed at London Metropolitan Archives (LMA). Image by permission of LMA.
In its original secretary-hand, the survey is impenetrable to most of us. But, once deciphered by an expert[iii], we can see that the survey does confirm that the name Devil’s Lane was in use at least as early as 1611. This means that it did indeed precede Duval’s Lane.
He holdeth one messuage or Cottage with an orchard, garden yarde butted west upon Tollington greene lying north upon same ([ie Tollington] lane, south upon a Tenant of Henry Ironmonger, Freehold called the Devills house, conteyninge ;1 rod 30 perches [value] £2.
..thes 2 filds are butted on the East side of Tollington lane & on a house & land to the same cauled the Devills house on the north. The house knowe called the Devils house but in auncient wrytings called & knowen by the name of the lower place in Tollington being an olde house is inclosed with a moat & a little orchard place within the same having an olde barne neer unto the same adioning, is also freehold lande of this manor held in Free forrage without paying any rent for the same, & is knowe in the occupation of Henry Ironmonger or his assignees & the same is butted upon Tollington Lane aforesaid upon the East & the 2 London Fields on the South….[iv]
We can confirm then that Duval’s Lane was a purposeful or accidental corruption of Devil’s Lane. That puts that controversy to bed for me. But, of course, it still leaves the question as to why the road came to be referred to as Devil’s Lane instead of Tallington Lane in the first place.
Devill’s (double ‘l’), I did wonder, if the name was a corruption of the Norman conquest heritage name, Deville. There’s no reason what it might not be. However, when I started looking around, I found at least half a dozen roads still today officially known as Devil’s Lane. They include Devil’s Lanes in,
There are also mentions in the records of more roads that were previously called Devil’s Lane as recently as the late nineteenth and even mid-twentieth century, that seem to have been renamed. They include:
These may be just the tip of the iceberg, but were enough to suggest that my initial thoughts about a Deville connection look most unlikely. No, there’s something else going on here.
Searching for a common origin, I found a number of references, albeit not authoritative ones, to the Devil’s Lane name as having indicated a boundary of various sorts. These suggest that Devil’s Strip or Devil’s Lane might refer either to ‘a no man's land between private and public property’ or the ‘narrow area between two parallel fences’[v]
There also seem to be quite a number of references to the name being used by early settlers in North America.
When Europeans settled within the early South, they quarrelled over many things – but few imbroglios were so fierce as battles over land. Landowners might wrangle bitterly over boundaries with neighbors and disputed areas became known as “the devil's lane. Violence or even bloodshed might befall those who ventured on to contested terrain.[vi]
We might reasonably assume that the English language carried across the Atlantic Ocean was at this time almost identical to the language used in the motherland. So, we might reasonably conclude that the name had the same meaning both in seventeenth century England and North America.
The idea that the name Devil’s Lane might have referred to some sort of boundary fits quite nicely with the early history of Tallingdon Lane.
Tolentone in the Domesday Survey, at which time it was held of the king by one Rannulf, and the manorial rights were valued at 40s.per annum. Tolentone , or Tallington-lane, afterwards called Duval's-lane, and now Hornsey-road, partly divides this manor from that of St. John of Jerusalem.[vii]
Lysons also referred to this boundary (Fig.10 in original article).
With regards to the transition from Devil to Duval, I have wondered if the change may have been brought about by status-conscious Georgian Hornsey-roaders who didn’t relish living near to a road with a rather sinister Devilish connection. The number of Devil’s Lanes I found which had lost their original name, suggests that there may have been a rather widespread desire to shed the satanic link.
[i] 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 Onlinehttp://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol8/pp69-76 [accessed 8 July 2021].
[ii] The plan is mentioned in numerous texts, including, The History and Topography of the Parish of Saint Mary, Islington, in the County of Middlesex, Samuel Lewis, 1842 and The History, Topography, and Antiquities of the Parish of St. Mary Islington, in the County of Middlesex John Nelson (of Islington), 1811. Nelson wrote, “The survey and plan of this manor before mentioned, with the report of the surveyors, & c.is now in the possession of Joseph Eade, Esq. the present lord. It is inscribed "The Plot of the Manor of Newington Barrowe, parcel of the possessions of the High and Mighty Prince Henry, Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornewall, and Earle of Chester, &c taken in July, 1611, ‘by Rocke Churche’."
[iii] I am very grateful to the Hornsey Historical Society’s Peter Barber for coming to my aid and masterfully deciphering the text, of which I could read only a very few words.
[iv] Survey of Highbury / Newington Barrowe Manor by Richard Langley Esquire, Steward, and Rocke Church Esquire, Commissioners of Henry, Prince of Wales, 1611, London Metropolitan Archives, CC/2844/0238.
[vi] The Devil's Lane: Sex and Race in the Early South, Catherine Clinton and Michele Gillespie, Oxford University Press, 1997
[vii] The History and Topography in the Parish of Saint Mary Islington, The County of Middlesex, Samuel Lewis Jun, London 1842, J H Jackson.
My, you are tenacious, Hugh!
My ancient book* mentions use of Devil as being common for ancient sites or roads, inc Devil's Causeway for a stretch of Roman road. Other senses include boundary markings, such as Devil's Dyke or Ditch.
* "English Place Names" Kenneth Cameron 1961
This website shows usage of Devil in relation to boundary:
And now The Stevens Theory, devised unencumbered by any knowledge or learning and unsupported by any facts or evidence:
The Lower Place was a euphemism for Hell and so jokingly became known as the Devil's House/Lane.
Later on, Claude Duvall became notorious when living there and "Devil's" evolved to "Duvall's" in common parlance.
Fascinating story Hugh. The morph of the name into devil doesn't seem so odd. Especially as the Flemish word duvel means devil.
Once again, full of admiration for your tenacious digging and for your clear writing.
My head is spinning but can we be absolutely sure that Claude Duval (= Frenchification of Devil) wasn't the highwayman's, 'stage name' in the same way that Bob Dylan is the stage name for Robert Allen Zimmerman?
It would be a wonderfully romantic name for someone who is living outside the law to adopt. Could even have been given to him in France by the Royalists he mingled with. Just a thought.
Little is known for sure but here's a Normandy website's version