Harringay online

Harringay, Haringey - So Good they Spelt it Twice!

I get a slow but steady stream of email enquiries about a variety of local history matters. A couple of years back a gentleman named Norman from Leeds wrote to me explaining that he and a college friend had recently visited London to walk around some familiar old haunts in and around Hornsey. One of those places was Seymour Road in Harringay where one of the grandmothers of Norman's friend had lived. 

As they looked at the houses, the friend suggested that numbers 66, 68 and 70 had been destroyed in the war and rebuilt. For his evidence, he cited the missing plaster mouldings at the tops of the window pillars.

I'm not by any stretch of the imagination an architectural historian, but I know my way round Victorian and Edwardian domestic architecture quite well. I looked on Google Street View and compared the houses the friend had pointed out with the immediately neighbouring ones. The only visible difference between the supposedly rebuilt houses and their neighbours is the missing plaster mouldings. Everything else looks exactly the same, including all other architectural mouldings and the bricks. I also looked at Google maps satellite view and the 1955 Ordnance Survey map. Both show that the footprints of 66-70 match exactly those of the neighbouring houses.

My experience so far has been that all bombed out houses on the Ladder were rebuilt in a postwar style. So, I thought it highly unlikley that these houses had been rebuilt.

1. 66 and 64 Seymour Road (Image: Google Street View)

So, I confidently wrote and told Norman that in my opinion the houses could not have been destroyed and rebuilt and explained how I'd reached that conclusion. Bu-ut, you live and learn.

Re-filing some old emails the other day, I came across the correspondence with Norman and on re-reading it, paused to wonder if his friend might be interested in my Perrier Circle article about another house in Seymour Road. Looking that out to send Norman the link, my eyes grazed over the 1947 aerial photo I'd used there. I wondered why it hadn't previously occurred to me to find confirmation from that source for my opinion about the supposedly bombed out numbers 66, 68 and 70. So I looked out the source and this is what I found. 

2. The New River with Seymour Road right at the top of the picture in an extract from an RAF aerial photo taken on 10 May 1946 (courtesy of Historic England).

3. The New River with Seymour Road (the upper road) in an extract from an RAF aerial photo taken on 24 July 1947 (courtesy of Historic England).

Slam-dunk. Norman's friend was bang-on. The camera never lies (AI etc excluded!). In the 1946 photo (Fig. 2), it even looks like someone is using the bomb site as a car park! A crude ruler measurement of the photos shows that the bombsite is almost certainly equal to three houses. Those houses were destroyed and rebuilt.

I began wondering if there were more instances of undetectably rebuilt war-damaged houses on the Ladder. A pore over the three mid/late 1940s aerial photos that comprise the set suggests not. Apart from this Seymour Road example, I can only see evidence of destroyed houses on Sydney, Falkland/Fairfax and Wightman Roads, all of which are well-known locally and none of which were rebuilt in the original style. So, it appears that this example of  houses that were destroyed in the War and subsequently undetectably rebuilt in the original style may be unique.

I also looked again at Google Street View and couldn't quite believe how the 1950s builders had exactly rebuilt the three Seymour Road houses so exactly in the original style, complete with all but one element of the Victorian detailing. I had to see it for myself. So I popped over with my camera.

The first picture shows the best evidence, revealing a join in the old and new window sills.

4. Old (top) and new-meets-old (bottom) and the telling window sill join shown in exploded view. The bottom picture also shows the missing plaster mouldings on the window  pillars.

5. New front doors (left) and old front doors (right). My guess is that the blue door is original to the rebuild and that the 1950s builders skimped on the detail of matching the original Victorian doors as well as the pillar-top mouldings.

Something looks different about the proportion of those new doors and doorways too. The transom windows are definitely taller and seem to reach all the way to the first floor level, but the doors also look narrower. Is that an optical illusion?

Hats off to the craftsmanship of the 1950s builders. You never stop learning!

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Replies to This Discussion

Did your mum ever mention the plot at the top of the road at the corer of Wightman. All maps show it as being empty up till at least 1955, but looking at the aerial photo of 1947 earlier, it shows it with a couple of buildings - see my earlier photo. Any ideas?

Sadly Hugh, can’t help. I don’t remember her talking about that area of Hampden. In the late 50s early 60s there was a petrol garage on that corner…. I remember yellow fascias. Don’t suppose that’s any help at all!! I do remember on the opposite side of the road on Hampden there were 6/8 shops with first and second floor accommodation.  And I think they lay back further than where the housing was as I  seem to think the pavement was wider than further down. There was definitely a newsagents - don’t remember the others. 

If you take a look at the houses in Seymour Road going up hill from number 39 on that side of the road, the style changes. The missing plaster mouldings at the tops of the window pillars are also missing on the rest of the houses. Also the windowsills on the houses from 39 Seymour Road going down hill are continuous around the bay windows, but not on the houses going up hill. Perhaps the houses were built at different times or by different builders?

Thanks Paul. Well spotted. Yes, you're right. There were almost invariably several builders working on each Ladder road. I'm not sure if you're familiar with how the Ladder was built up?

The British Land Company bought the whole Harringay Park Estate and divided it up into many hundreds of parcels - one plot per house. These were auctioned off over many sales across a few years at auctions held in the Queen's Head pub (next to Duckett's Common). Some builders bought just a few plots and some bought a few dozen. Whilst the plot size means that the basic back-addition shape is almost universal across the Ladder, there was variation in terms of decorative style and, to some extent size. 

On Seymour Road, I'm fairly confident that I've previously established that the two Davis Brothers built numbers 1 to 15 and 2-20 Seymour Road. It looks to me that another builder was responsible for numbers 22-36 and 17-37. A third builder probably completed 38-82 and 39-81.From time to time, I go fishing at the Land Registry to see if the surviving records show the original purchaser of the land (which they often don't). At £3 a pop, I try to limit my fishing expeditions as even finding one record in a short row of houses with the purchaser information can take e few tries. However, if anyone reading who lives on the Ladder has their original house deeds which show the original purchaser, I'd be very interested. We might even be able to begin to establish the identity of what I expect are the other two builders on Seymour Road for the houses to the west of the Passage.

If you're interested in how building proceeded on the Ladder, I have a whole chapter on it in my new book, Abyssinia: Hornsey's Lost Village (Available directly from the Hornsey Historical Society and on Amazon). Abyssinia was one of the first British Land Company developments and the pattern of development was almost exactly like that for the Ladder. 

There's also a story on Hol I dug up about the builder of a house near mine who, unbeknown to me eded up also gring the builder of my house. With other contributions, it was this story that led to the uncovering of the Davis bothers' activity on Seymour.

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