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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. 


  NOTES

  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

Thanks Joe.

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!

Like your ideas on Abbotsford. Either sounds plausible.

If you look a Kelly’s, a good part of Wightman was given named terrace addresses when it was first built: Abbotsford was far from unique. 

There is also an Abbotsford Avenue off West Green Road. Possibly a coincidence, or maybe the Davis's property empire extended beyond the Ladder?

Yes, that’s a thought, Joe. 

I was just looking up copper mining in Devon and came across the following in a discussion of the mine companies. 

Soon after the great discovery of ore in 1845 the London proprietors of shares sent down a resident superintendent, and built a residence for him, “Abbotsfield”, near Tavistock. He continued to act for thirty-five years.

So something in line with your second thought sounds more possible. No doubt something like an uppity dude swooping in from London and building a great house would lodge itself in the mind of an aspiring son of a mining family.

It appears that William Henry Davis also built 2-8 and maybe 10 Hewitt. So he and his brother were pretty prolific.

Hiya Joe, I think that 10 Abbotsford Terrace was probably what Davis called my house before the street was fully numbered.  The fact, that number 201 was called Abbotsford in later years might be thought to support this theory.  The earliest deed document I have is dated 8th June 1892 signed by John Davis and records the transfer to him of the plot of land (numbered 494 on the plan numbered 2349 - presumably this was the plan made by the British Land Company in preparing the Harringay Park estate for development) for £175 but the transaction includes "the dwelling house known as 201 Wightman Road erected thereon by the purchaser".  I conclude from this that there must have been an earlier agreement, perhaps with the seller's agent, by which Davis was permitted to build (for a sum not less than £400) on plot 494 in advance of completion of the sale of the land.  The 1891 census was taken on Sunday 5th April so it sounds as though Davis had built his house and moved into it for just over a year before the paperwork caught up completely.  Presumably, it would have been necessary for the agent to certify that all the necessary covenants had been complied with before the deal could be concluded.  Moreover, perhaps Mr Davis didn't have to pay until they were, so he might not have been in such a hurry.  Or perhaps he waited until the street had been numbered.  I seem to remember noting that the 1891 census shows numbers for Wightman Road but only for the first few house.  Even by the following year, there will still have been many empty plots between mine and number 1.

I have never seen plan 2349 but my copy of the indenture refers also to "mutual covenants" in relation to plots numbered 438 to 447, 485 to 492 and the pieces of land marked A, B and C.  My document shows only plot 494 and shows that plot 493 is next door (ie 199 Wightman Road).

Hi Dick, if you look at my comment on the previous page, you'll see that I've verified via Kelly's where Abbotford Terrace was in 1896.

Re the British Land maps, I don't have 2439, but I do have 2429. This was produced for a sale of 385 lots in Sept 1893. Plots 438 to 447 are the houses on the east side of Wightman between Seymour and Hewitt. 485 to 492 is, together with 493, the terrace directly to the south of you, the one shown in Kellys as Abbotsford Terrace. All those plots are marked in pink, meaning that they had been sold prior to the sale for which the map had been produced (which matches with your info).

I'm assuming then that we can add the houses between Hewitt and Seymour to the Davis empire. 

Do your deeds give any more clues about the location of the pieces of land marked A, B & C?

Re the three plots A, B and C, I wonder if these are the same as on the 1883 map when Harringay House itself was sold?

Looks like a good possibility, Joe. 

BTW, I found a newspaper article about John which describes him as of Abbotsford House, Wightman Road. 

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