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.
Yes the poem was written by a near local Stevie Smith who lived in Palmers Green from 1906 to her passing in 1971, she lived at 1 Avondale Road N13 ..still there today together with her blue plaque.
That would be the Percy family, the Earls of Northumberland ( not great friends of the Douglas's ).
The information you discovered in your extra research is fascinating!
I would like to echo Michele's comments about the wonderful photos and the poem.
The Stevie Smith poem made me imagine her travelling on the bus, probably to or from Palmers Green where she lived, observing the other passengers. Perhaps she wrote the poem while the asylum/hospital was open, or maybe she used a memory of such an incident to write it after the place closed in 1954. I must read a biography of her which may give a clue.
All very interesting. Thanks. The poem is wonderful. I have always loved the well known poem "Not Waving But Drowning." by Stevie Smith but did not know anything else by her.
I have a fuzzy memory of Northumberland House. It was one of those places - asylums, prisons, VD clinics - that were spoken of in hushed tones so that I never really knew what it was. The photos are marvelous and Stevie Smith's poem evocative of the time, the place and the people of my childhood. Thanks so much for these memories, Hugh.
There are several intriguing references - or maybe they are just coincidence. Stevie Smith was from Palmers Green and would have passed the house on the bus.
Stuck in the hatch – may refer to Colney Hatch, another asylum.
Picture more like Faith in the Arena – Billy Graham in 1954 held an Evangelical Crusade meeting at Harringay Arena.
Wonderful photos of Northumberland House.
Re: The Percy Lion.
Northumberland House in central London (also known as Suffolk House) was the residence of the Percy family - who were the Earls and later Dukes of Northumberland - the house was demolished in 1866 after a fire. The Canaletto painting of the house shows the distinctive Percy lion on the pediment.
Syon House – currently the London residence of the Duke of Northumberland has the straight tailed Percy lion atop the Syon Park gate.
There is no known connection between the house that stood on Green Lanes and the Percy family so possibly was called Northumberland House as a compliment to the Duke of Northumberland who was connected with the Lunacy Commissioners.
I love this post! I think it's tragic that old Northumberalnd House was demolished – a national treasure! As you mentioned, its destruction was for the Rowley Gardens Estate, not Woodberry Down Estate, but typically of brutal minimalist 20th century building there is lots of open land around the blocks and houses of Rowley Gardens Estate which is unused (except for dog poo? ).
There was actually no reason for the house to be destroyed at all, as it was the land that was used for building social housing and there was plenty of it.
During the 50s and 60s, even the 70s, I witnessed a horrific amount of destruction of historically irreplaceable exquisite London buildings. Some of these were condemned by a designated department in the GLC in the 1960s, the department originally set up to have a limited life span, sufficient for its purpose, but I was told in the 60s by someone working in the GLC that the staff in the requisitioning department had selfishly kept their jobs going for a further 18 months by condemning thousands more buildings unnecessarily, including Wellclose Square in Spitalfields, a 17th and 18th century gem, plus hundreds of buildings in south London, including the street my grandfather (a master builder) built in Peckham. Half that street is just grass verge wilderness now. Ludicrous waste! GRRrrrr!!
This from studymore:
Northumberland House, Green Lanes, Stoke Newington (East London)
Built 1822. Licensed House by 1829. Demolished 1955 Nursing Home moved to Finchley (Closed after 1977)
Elaine Murphy says that the Metropolitan Commissioners, in 1829, "noted that the House admitted its first patient in 1813". As Northumberland House was not built then, she speculates that this relates to patients first being admitted to the and that the Foxs moved their business to Northumberland House in 1822, selling it on to Mr and Mrs Richard Birkett in 1829. (Although I cannot find where Elaine gets the link of the Foxs to Northumberland House from), p.80, says that in April 1829 the Metropolitan Commissioners refused renewal of Samuel Fox's licence for London House, "Edmonton". The reference is to correspondence in HO119/5 dated 20.4.1829 and 22.4.1829.
1829/1830 Reports: Proprietor shown as Richard Birkett.
Visit 31.7.1829: signed , Thomas Turner, H.H. Southey:
"Divine service is performed every Sunday. The house is in good order with the exception of the Crib Room which is very offensive, nor does the keeper sleep sufficiently near to it."
Visit 12.10.1829: signed Charles Ross, J. Bright, J.R. Hume: "Found the house in good order. The defect complained of in the last Report with respect to the Crib Room seems remedied.Divine service every Sunday.
Visit 20.2.1830: signed G.C.H. Somerset, F. Baring, Thomas Turner, J. Bright: "Found the house in good order and the Crib Rooms much improved, but attention should be given to the repairing of the windows whenever they may be broken... "
Visit 19.4.1830: signed Charles Ross, Thomas Turner, J.R. Hume: "This house is in good order considering that extensive alterations are carrying on. Prayers read every Sunday.
An 1835 prospectus showed charges from 1.5 to 5 guineas a week
1840: Likely identification as house iv Sykes' list
1841 Census: [Stoke Newington] Northumberland House Private Lunatic Asylum. Richard Birkett and Susannah Birkett, both aged "50" were "proprietor" and "proprietress". Mary Ann Birkett, aged "25" was their daughter. All three were born in Middlesex. About 47 patients (male and female). Total people in house: 34 male 30 female 64 altogether. Certified 7.6.1841 by Richard Birkett, Northumberland House, Green Lanes, Stoke Newington.
1.1.1844: 46 lunatics.
Proprietor-superintendent Richard Birkett.
1850 Richard Birkett acquired the lease of a further 3.5 acres
1859 Report: (p.110) Licence transferred to Dr George Birkett and Mr Robert Birkett in the place of Mr Richard Birkett deceased
1867 Comments: "The management continues to be satisfactory. During the summer parties of patients are taken to the sea- side. About 18 of the residents go to church, and prayers are read daily in the establishment, at which 30 gentlemen and 20 ladies are usually present. The house is large and the grounds extensive, but recently a row of semi- detached villas has been erected in close proximity to the principal field and cricket ground. With a view of preventing any inconvenience from this circumstance, the proprietor has purchased the two nearest villas, and these, having been fitted up in accordance with our directions, have now been included in the license, with permission to receive therein, 5 additional patients of each sex, upon the express understanding that they shall be of a quiet and harmless class"
1867/1868 now licensed to J T Sabben and Mrs Sabben, formerly Mrs Birkett.
"The asylum was run by members of the Birkett family until 1877, when it was taken over as a going concern by Dr Alonzo Stocker. Stocker acquired a new lease in 1906 but died in 1912. In 1878 the medical superintendent was Dr Francis James Wright MD. After Dr Stocker's death the asylum was retained by the family until the site was acquired by the LCC in 1954. The asylum business moved to Ballard's Lane, Finchley under the direction of Dr Robert Riggall. The following year Northumberland House was demolished." (Murphy, E. 2000)
1873 John Langley Plumbridge admitted. He was moved to Sussex House
1877 Dr Alonzo Stocker, the owner of Peckham House in south London, acquired Northumberland House.
1881 Census: Francis Wright (aged 33, married) Resident Medical Proprietor.
Listed in 1901 census
1913: Picture published
Before the 2nd World War, Edgar or Hubert Stocker managed/ran Northumberland House, sometimes with the assistance of Rupert Stocker.
1919 Post Office Directory: Northumberland House Private Asylum. Harold Stoker, proprietor; Bernard Hart, MD, MRCS and LRCP London, medical superintendent. 344 to 354 Green Lanes, Finsbury Park, N7
about 1952 photograph exhibited by Stoke Newington Photographic Society in 1955 Hackney Archives D/S/38/117
1955 Building demolished for the building of Rowley Gardens on the Woodberry Down Estate. (Watson, I. 1998 p. 56)
I can remember Northumberland House in the 1950's prior to closure. My Mother always told us it was a home for children of the wealthy who were deformed in some way. Having read the above I cannot understand where my Mother obtained her knowledge of this place. However, it is possible that the local people did not really know what the house was used for and therefore made there own assumptions.
Original plans for the house now published here.
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