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Harringay, Haringey - So Good they Spelt it Twice!

For a few decades now, I've known that the Harringay Park Estate, on which the Ladder was built, was sold off piecemeal to anyone who wanted in on the late Victorian building boom. Whereas today people buy-to-let, in those days people would buy-to-build, and then perhaps let or sell.

To the East of Green Lanes most of the land was built up by just a few developers. On the Ladder, plots were sold in twos, sixes, tens and twelves and occasionally as many as 20.1 Thanks to my own research and to that undertaken by Alan Aris in the 1990s, I've got a pretty good idea of how the Ladder was built up. But I've never really had the story of one of the developers. Who were they? Where did they come from? What happened to them?

Thanks to the present-day developer of a house near to my own on Hewitt Road, I noticed something which led serendipitously to my uncovering the outline of the tale of one Victorian Ladder developer.

Like many Ladder houses, this nearby double-fronted house had a name plaque added to each of the bays above the ground floor window. Since I've lived here, like the majority of similar plaques on the Ladder, they've always been just plain white. But, as you can see from the picture above, once the paint was stripped off, the builder could make out some text that had been filled with plaster. A little work revealed the words Stoke House. It meant nothing at first, but I felt fairly certain that its meaning only awaited discovery.

I thought I'd spend a few minutes on the internet to see if I could track it down. First I found the original occupant of the house, then I managed to link him to the house name. Then digging around in various archives, I was able to uncover the surprising tale of one of the builders of the Harringay Ladder.

As was the case with other Harringay builders whose stories I've uncovered, this is a tale of a young man who arrived in London with ne'er a penny and ended up doing very nicely thank you!

Our Ladder builder, Charles Peek was born in 1862 near Dartmouth in Devon. His father, William, was a builder. By 1881, aged 19, Charles had moved up to London with his older brother, Thomas. They boarded in a house in Warlock Road, Paddington. Both described themselves as plasterers, a trade they no doubt learned at their father's knee.

By 1884, Charles had married Mary/May (the records offer both alternatives) and she had given birth to their daughter Ethel. Five years later in 1891 they had moved to Harringay and were living at 10 Highfield Villas in Falkland Road. (The house was also known as Ethel Villa.  It subsequently became plain old 10 Falkland Road before being flattened by a doodlebug in WWII and being replaced by Fairland Park).

At this time Charles was still describing himself as a plasterer. His eyes were clearly on a more influential future however. In that same year, aged 29, he became a freemason.

By 1894 Charles was listed in the City Directory as a builder living  at 10 Falkland Road. Though strangely in the following year he was listed as a plasterer, then living at 95 Sydney Road. However, that was the same year that he started on the Hewitt Road house. So it looks like his building career was taking off at this point.  

He named the Hewitt house Stoke House, after his home village of Stoke Fleming, just outside Dartmouth. This seems like quite a personal name. So, it seems like he might have built it for himself. Records show him as resident there for the first few years after it was finished.

I assume that business was doing well at this time, well enough at least for Peek to start a civic career that was to last for the rest of his life. It started in 1895 when he successfully ran for election to the Hornsey School Board.

His association with the Ladder ended soon after this point. By 1898 he had moved out to Palmers Green and was listed in the City Directory at Palmerston House in Palmerston Road.

It is his trajectory after this point that surprises. Apparently, so rapid was his success as a builder, that three years later, in 1901, Peek aged 39 felt able to describe himself in the census as a Retired Builder.

At the start of the Twentieth Century, the Peeks moved to Park Villa on Green Lanes close to the Triangle in the centre of Palmers Green. They stayed there until 1910. Towards the end of that period, May grew increasingly ill and sadly died in 1909, aged just 50. She survived long enough, however, to see their daughter married in 1908 (and one assumes to benefit from the lifestyle that enabled Charles to describe his occupation in the marriage register as Gentleman).

Through this period Charles' civic career began to blossom. He swapped the Hornsey School Board for the New Southgate one, serving both on it and the Education Authority that replaced it. From 1901 to 1909 he was elected as the member for Southgate on the Edmonton Board of Guardians.2  From 1904 to 1909 he was Southgate's councillor on the Middlesex County Council.

Following his wife's death, Charles moved back home. He took up residence in a house called Deer Park in his home village of Stoke Fleming. 

At this point he became a full-time worthy and the notches on his civic belt moved up a pace. On 20th October 1910, his new life was launched when he was given the Freedom of the City of London. The following year, he became Mayor of Dartmouth until 1914. He was Mayor again from 1919 - 1921, in which year he retired. He then sat on Devon County Council from 1921 - 1925 and also became a Justice of the Peace.

Painting and photo of Peek as Mayor

Peek remarried in October 1913. He and his new wife, Lily Maude moved in to York House on the Dartmouth river front.  By the early Twenties, Charles' health had begun to fail. On December 11 1926, aged 66, he died whilst on a visit to Cheyne Walk, Chelsea. His estate was worth an amount equivalent today to millions of pounds.3  Lilly lived on until January 1967.

Such is the tale of one of the builders of the Harringay Ladder. Not bad for a country boy who arrived on London with not two pennies to rub together. I wonder how many of the Ladder builders did so well?

All the above is sourced from original research, mainly using primary documentation. 


  1. The biggest single development on the Ladder seems to have been 32 dwellings on Mattison Road for which planning permission was granted in 1895. However, this seems to have been exceptional since most applications were for a dozen houses or less; in some cases for only one or two houses.
  2. The function of Boards was to administer workhouses within a defined poor law union consisting of a group of parishes.
  3. His total estate was £22.000. The  Measuring Worth website  offers a range for today's value of perhaps between £1,225,000.00 and £10,950,000.00.

Tags for Forum Posts: victorian & edwardian builders made good

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Replies to This Discussion

Hi Rob, I just wondered if your group of documents contains any plans of the street?

It seems like William John Keene was probably the builder of your house. Here's an outline potted history of him:

1861 - Aged 11 living with parents and family at 3 Canonbury St, Islington. Father a postal sub-sorter for the Inspector of Letter Carriers (Attached at the following link is a statement by his father relating to his work at the Post Office and published in the Parliamentary Papers, Volume 45. Perhaps its chief interest lies in its giving us a sense of the man's standard of literacy and of his income at roughly the time our builder was born.) (Screenshot%202019-10-24%20at%2003.08.25.png)

1871 - Bricklayer lodging at 10 Hawthorn St Islington.

1873 - May 11 married Eliza Jane King.

1874 - Bricklayer, 74 High Street Stoke Newington.

1881 - Bricklayer at 16 Millington St, Islington + wife, son + 2 dau.

1891 - Bricklayer - 23 Ashmount, Tott - wife + 3 sons & 4 dau. (William, 16, Eliza 14, Rose, 11, Emil 8, Herbert 6, Lilly 3 and Leonard 1)

1901 - Bricklayer 23 Ashmount, Tott - 3 dau 2 son.

1911 - still at 23 Ashmount with wife, 2 Dau and 2 sons. Father and two sons all bricklayers.

1914 - Marriage register for son Ernest. He and father still at 23 Ashmount. Both described as builders.

1922 -1943 - Lived at Mount Doré, Hazelwood Lane, Palmers Green (now a doctor's surgery on the corner of The Grove. Died in 1943, leaving  £23K to two of his sons described as retired builders.

His son and grandson also went on to be builders. His grandson married a girl from 53 Allison Road.

William John Keene Junior was born in 1874. 1n 1890, he was at 6 Upper Pk Rd, New Southgate.  In 1893 he married Katherine Ann Thompson. In 1894, he was at 42 Ennis Road, Finsbury Park. In 1901 was a bricklayer at 19 Pembroke Road, Tottenham. (At census, Herbert Keen (17), his younger brother by 10 yrs and a bricklayer was staying with him)  In 1911 he was a builder living at 109 Derwent Road Palmers Green with his wife Katherine and their Children William John Junior-Junior (WJ J-J) and daughters Daisy & Violet. WJ J died in 1945 leaving £33.5k to his widow.

WJ J-J was born 28th April 1894. On 22 Dec 1917 he married Jennie Cummins of 53 Allison Road! (She's lived there with her father Arthur (then deceased) who had been an engineer). 

1921-24, WJ J-J at 101 Ollerton Rd, N11.

From 1925 to 1932 WJ J-J and Jennie lived at Lydbrook House, Regents Pk Rd, Finchley.

1933 - 1938 - WJ J-J they were at Greenacre, The Green, Southgate, N.14.in the first two years they seem to have shared with Henry & Violet Wakelin and Isobel Hutson. (I assume that Violet was WJ J-J's sister, by then married). In 1936, they had Florrie Louisa White living with them.

by 1939, WJ J-J and Jennie were at 21 Ellington Court, High St Southgate. From 1945 to 48 Jennie was living alone at 3A Station Parade, Cockfosters Road, Cockfosters.

Jennie died in 1968. WJ J-J died in late 1974.

So we have another outline of another Ladder builder. Thank you! 71 Allison looks like it's part of a terrace of 10 houses - number 57 to 75. I wonder if he was the only builder, or did he perhaps pool resources with other brickies/builders?

For good measure, here's something on Richardson.Rather an itinerant family. Probably not atypical. 

1886 - Married Clara Shaw 12 June (Both fathers deceased)

1888 - 9 Tynemouth Road, Page Green Tottenham,

1891 - Clara & Henry at 7 Stanley Terrace, Islington

1895 - 45 Yerbury Road, Holloway

1897 - 71 Allison

Henry E, 39 Compositor (Printer) worker - born Islington
Clara Jane wife, 39. born Tottenham
Ernest, 12
Elsie 8
John 6
Mary 4
Susannah Landon (Clara's aunt) 68

1906 - 20 ??, Westbury Avenue

1911 - Moved to 28 Keston Road. Two more sisters Kate and Dora

Amazing! Thank you! 

Just added to the same comment a little more about the passing on of building through the generations and a new link with 53 Allison Road and the grandson.

Hugh.........did you notice that address listed in 1888 as "Page Green" ?  Did that become St Anns Road ??

Thanks, John. Page Green is in Seven Sisters. It's where the seven trees used to be.

St Ann's Road had previously been called Chisley Lane and then later Hanger Lane.

Thank you Hugh, that’s a good and interesting piece of research.

Picking up on your point “in those days people would buy-to-build, and then perhaps let or sell” - my own family experience suggests that letting started fairly early on. The family that my father grew up in was at the near-poverty end of the spectrum - they certainly weren’t property owners and they seem to have lived in several addresses on the ladder and near parts of Harringay early in the 1900s. The census records show in 1901 the Marr family was at 46 Burgoyne Road, in 1906 at 53 Conway Road and in 1911 at 63 Warwick Gardens, where they stayed until the 1920s. Other branches of the family were at 14 Alison Road and in later years above the shops at 541 and 549 Green Lanes.

Yes, I think letting the houses was a feature from the get-go. I think many were built with the aim of letting them. As I understand it, the letting of upstairs and downstairs as separate units (without physically dividing them) didn't become common for a couple of decades though.

I'd forgotten, but the history of Stoke House (aka 12 Hewitt Road) came up before when an Aussie was tracing her family history.

In that discussion, Eugene helpfully pointed out that the title of 12 Hewitt (along with that of my house) was sold to a Mary Maria Peer in 1894. So we have another player in the mix. Did Mary employ Peek to build her some houses? Was Peek perhaps builder but not developer at this point? I can find neither hide nor hair of Mary, save for the unsuitably young candidate Eugene turned up in Romford. 

One of the pleasures and frustrations of local history is that each new bit of knowledge turns up more questions, some of which must remain unanswered. 

I've just had another thought. Transcription errors were not uncommon. It occurred to me that the names Peer and Peek were pretty close and the one could easily be mistranscribed as the other. Charles' wife was variously recorded as Mary M and May M. I've found a Mary Maria Jackson born in 1858 in Paddington who would be the right age for Charles's wife, also born in Paddington. There's also a record of the death of a Mary Maria Peek in Kingsbridge, Devon in 1909, the same year that Charles' wife died.

So I think that mystery is solved. Mary Maria Peer, was beyond a reasonable doubt in fact Mary Maria Peek (nee Jackson). Charles bought the houses in his wife's name.

All three houses were leased until the early fifties at which point they were all sold to different owners. I suspect that date could be tied to the death of or tidying of afairs by his only daughter, who would have been in her late sixties at that time.

As it turns out, unbeknown to me, all this work was uncovering the story of the builder of my own house!!

Two more to add to the Peek list. He also built Nos 18 & 20 Hewitt, though they're are a different style to 14 &16,

Well that is some very well earned reward for your countless hours of research Hugh.   And the countless hours of pleasure it brings to many reading them !  



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