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 (also known as Ethel Villa) in Falkland Road. (The house 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 until1914. 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.
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.
Yes, I'm sure you're right. I wonder why Davis didn't also own 15 & 17 Hewitt, which are all part of the same terrace.
Quite likely he did own them at first, but later sold the freehold.
I think in many (most?) cases he bought a plot, built houses on it, then sold the leasehold to the property, but no reason why he wouldn't sell the freehold if the price was right.
Having checked he does seem to have owned 15 & 17, Like Peek who I fond out yesterday also built my house, it looks like he held on to that terrace till the mid-late fifties. I haven't checked every house, but takimg 15 as an example, tt was either leased or rented up till 1957.
I think Davis sold 15 and 17 before 1908 when he died - if he sold the "freehold with the benefit of a lease" then they may well have continued to change hands as leased properties until the '50s.
I can find very little at all on Davis.
Records for 1 Hewitt list a Mrs G Davis in 1896 and a Mrs M G Davis in 1902. I wondered if that was his mother. But, again I can't find any definite link.
Where's your information coming from? Is it sound? If so, you may have better souces than me on this.
With regards to 15 Hewitt, where did you get the info that he sold 15 Hewitt in 1908? Records show that Accountant Harold Arthur Wesson lived there with his family from 1904 until his death in 1959. A conveyance in 1957 showed didn't show his name as either party. So I assume that he was leasing. (However come to that neither did it show Davis's name. So either he had sold prior to '57 or one of the parties was a descendant).
Mary Grace Davis nee Hellier was his wife. I also have them living at 1 Hampden Rd in 1891 - that's from ancestry.co.uk research I did a while ago but I don't have a current subscription. By 1901 they had moved to Prittlewell in Essex and his occupation listed as Retired Builder.
My source for him living at 1 Hewitt in 1898 is one of the deeds for my house - he'd paid off his own private mortgage for my house in that year, and sold a leasehold to someone.
My info for him selling 15 Hewitt prior to 1908 (when he died) is one of my deeds which lists the properties he owned at that time - as listed previously it includes several other properties on Hewitt but not 15 or 17. I'll see if I can find it.
OK I found the deed, it's a conveyance from 1920 which details Davis's will of 1908, specifically listing "all his freehold messuages tenements and premises" in his will. It includes 13, 19 and 21 Hewitt (all as "freehold but subject to and with the benefit of a lease") but not 15 or 17. It also lists 1 and 23 Hewitt as outright freehold.
Looking at the handwriting it is possible that "1 Hewitt" is actually "7", in which case he must have sold 1 Hewitt prior to 1908 too. And also raises the possibility that he owned/built 9 and 11 Hewitt. He definitely lived at 1 Hewitt in 1898 though, which raises the further possibility that he built 3 and 5. So he may have built the whole row from 1 to 23 Hewitt. Do you happen to know if that was sold as a single lot?
I have no details on what was sold when, but I agree that it's most likely that he built the whole terrace. The land he acquired covered half of the footprint of Harringay House. I'd love to know what he dug up as he built!
We're going to have the top part of Hewitt pinned down soon!
Sounds like you have some great info in the deeds. It's helped me nail him down, Thank you. We now have a decent outline of our third Ladder builder. Here's what I now have.
William Henry David was born in Tavistock in 1844. By 1851 the family was living on Ford Street. His father William was a copper miner. His mother Elizabeth wasn't working, He had sisters Anna, Emelia, Elizabeth and brothers James E & Richard.
By 1861, the family were in Well Street. William had started working as a copper miner.
William Henry's wife to be, Mary Grace Hellier, was also born in Tavistock in 1845. In 1851, her family were living in Barley Market Street. Her father Richard was a painter and glazier. Her mother Mary Ann wasn't working.
By 1861 Richard had died and Mary Grace was helping her mother run a newsagent in Exeter Street.
By 1871 the pleasures of newsagenting and mining had clearly worn thin. William Henry and Mary Grace had both moved to London and were married with their first child, Elizabeth, aged 3. They were living at 3 Millfield Place, Green Lanes Stoke Newington. William Henry is described as a Joiner / Carpenter. Mary Grace as a Joiner and, I assume as something of a joke, their 3 year old daughter was described as a Young Joiner.
By 1881, they were at 2 Monsell Villas, Monsell Road, Highbury.William Henry is described as a Master Carpenter employing 1 man and 1 boy.
Snippet below from 1886 electoral register - probably showing our two Davis's
By 1891 the couple had arrived in Harringay. They were living at 1 Hampden Road. William was described a Builder & Grocer. His oldest daughter Elizabeth Grace, now 23 was a Grocer's Assistant. Her brothers and sisters were William, 19, Blanche 12 and John 10.
Two years earlier, the family had made the papers:
Hampstead & Highgate Express - Saturday 11 May 1889
A family Affair - William Henry Davis, builder, of Hampden-road, Hornsey, was summoned for having used abusive and insulting language towards Eliza T. Stanbury and Ellen Stanbury in a public thoroughfare, viz., at Hampden-road, Hornsey, whereby a breach of the peace might have been occasioned.
Mr. Roberts, solicitor, appeared for the defendant, and Mr. Hickman, solicitor, for the complainants. Mr. Hickman said the defendant was, a builder. and the complainants, his nieces,. who. resided at Wandsworth, occasionally went to visit another uncle, the defendant's brother and partner. On Oct. 27th they were at Hornsey on a visit, and defendant called them "filthy beasts," and used towards them other language of a more vile and disgusting nature. The offence was repeated in April; and application was then made for a summons, but, owing to a technicality, the former offence had to be made the ground of complaint. Although defendant's language had been so disgusting and uncalled for, and although he had expressed his intention to insult his nieces whenever and wherever he pleased, it was a family affair, and he (Mr. Hickman) had advised his clients, to withdraw the summonses on condition that the defendant would express his regret for what he had done, and engage not to molest them on any future occasion.
Mr. Roberts said the offence was not admitted, bat his client would consent to make the suggested apology and promise for the sake of peace.
The defendant then apologised and made a promise not to molest his nieces in the future, and the Bench consented to the withdrawal of the summonses, the chairman remarking that the solicitors had displayed great judgment in agreeing to such an arrangement.
By 1896, the family had moved in to 1 Hewitt Road, newly built by William Henry, where they lived until 1907. Joe has a record of other properties William Henry built. There is no readily available public record of William Henry's death, but Joe's papers show him dying in 1908.
The 1901 census records William Henry, Mary Grace, and daughters Edith and Blanche at 5 Cliff Town Parade Prittlewell, Southend. It looks like they had the top half of the house. Since they were still recorded at 1 Hewitt, I suspect that this seafront house was a rented or owned holiday home. The building is now the Gleneagles Guests House. Pictures on the guest house website show what great views they would have had. By this time, William Henry is described as a retired builder.
Joe, anything you can add to this would be great.
Excellent newspaper story!
From my deeds, WH Davis died 15th Feb 1908.
His wife Mary Grace died 16th Sept 1910
Your newspaper article refers to another brother living locally, who was a partner - so another builder. From my (lapsed) ancestry.co.uk info, I can see one brother John Davis living at 201 Wightman in 1901 and at 10 Abbotsford Terrace, Wightman Road in 1891. Maybe that was him?
(Not sure exactly where 10 Abbotsford Terrace is - possibly it is just 10 Wightman now - but I think when builders bought these lots of land in the 1890s, they built their handful of houses and gave them a name like "X Terrace" or "Y Villas". I think a lot of those names had been dropped by the 1901 census).
(PS there is a typo in your 2nd para, should be Davis not David.)
Looks like you're right about John. By the 1861 census, the youngest member of the Tavistock copper mining Davises had appeared and it was John. He'd be the right age for the John at 201 Wightman, who also came from Tavistock. At the time of the 1901 census he had a six year old niece staying with him going by the surname of Stanbury - the same name as the women in the Ham & High article. In 1891 John's occupation is Builder. By 1901, he's Living on own means formerly a builder. He's 47 years old.
Comparing Kelly's and the census shows that Abbotsford Terrace ran from 183 to 201 Wightman. But I can find no Davis link to the Abbotsford name as yet.
201 is Dick Harris's house by the New River Path. (I remember the first time I visited his house, I was struck by the more ornate fittings than you'd expect to see in a Ladder house. I suggested to him at the time that it might have been built by the builder for himself. The next time I saw Dick, he said he'd done some digging and found that to be the case. (I'm not sure exactly what he found though).
With 1-23 Hewitt on the Davis books along with 183 to 201 Wightman, I began to wonder if Davis didn't buy a whole block of land. I first checked the east side of Wightman between Hewitt and Allison. Land Registry records show 174 being sold in 1889 by John Davis and William Henry Davis. Next I checked one of the terrace of houses between 2 and 26 Allison. That was bought from British Land by John Davis.
Essentially between them, the bought the land on which Harringay House stood and the part to its west. What I would give!
This parcel of plots could extend further. I haven't checked.
By 1911, John Davis had moved up to a large semi on Alderman's Hill near Palmers Green. He also named that property Abbbosford. So the name must have some particular resonance for him. I then lose track of him again.
There was an abbey in Tavistock, and there is still a locality there known as Abbotsfield. The Davis family lived on Ford Street, Tavistock in 1851, so possibly that locality was known as Abbotsford at the time? (Seems less likely but another possibility is that John Davis misremembered the name of Abbotsfield).
It does look like 201 Wightman Road is the property formerly known as 10 Abbotsford Terrace though. Must've been very confusing for those late Victorian postmen!