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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

The doors of 66 and 68 have a row of bricks between the frames and adjacent walls which isn't the case on 74.

Thanks, Ian. However, I'm not sure that I understand what you're pointing out.

Sorry, still half asleep when I posted the above. The bricks indicated in red account for the difference in door width that you mentioned.

Ah, yes. I see what you mean now.

Also the part of wooden frame that is proud of the bricks on the new doors looks significantly wider than that on the old doors. With both those things on both sides of the door I guess you have a door that is, what, something like 10 inches narrower?

Car parks perhaps but there weren't so many cars in the 1950s.  I know because I used to roller skate down Seymour Road in the middle of the road.  I didn't remember these houses at all so I wrote to my friend who lived closer but across the road - there are a few of us left.  She didn't remember the bombing but clearly remembered the rebuilding.  We mused on the skill of the builders and how that has changed.  See the hideous modernisation of "Ecclesfield" on the Mysterious Seymour Road Circle post.

I am looking forward to reading more about builders and their history in Abyssinia.  It's a fascinating subject. 

Thanks, Hugh.

Am I wrong in thinking houses on Hampden Road, near the Passage, were also destroyed and rebuilt but not in the original style? I’m sure my mum told me a bomb had dropped there and the land was left flattened until after the war. 

Yes, absolutely. Numbers 72 - 82 were rebuilt in the shape of the originals but stylistically in a clearly mid-century interpretation of their forebears.

Rebuilt numbers 72 and 74 (left) compared with originals at 70, 68 and 66 (right). (Image Google Street View).

Bomb damage on Hampden Road shown on RAF photo from August 1947. (Image: Historic England).

Hampden Road is unique on the Ladder in being the only road comprised almost entirely of three-storey houses, save for a patch of ten two-storied houses on the north side at the western end. Burgoyne is slightly more than half three-storied, with a few four-storied houses, but the other half of it is comprised of the regular Ladder-style two-storied back-addition houses. The western end of Cavendish has a patch of four-storey houses, but the most of it is comprised of regular-style houses.

For a while after the War there were three or four prefab houses with occupants.  They may have been in Hampden Road.  I wonder if anyone remembers them.

I remember a small prefab ‘estate at the top of Falkland/Frobisher Roads. It was there in the 1950s and early 60s. Was supposed to be temporary housing. Friends I attended school with lived there. 

Yes, there were quite a few on Falklands / Fairfax. It looks like some sort of more sturdy temporary structure had been put up on the Hampden Road site.

Hi Lydia.  Yes, you're right.  The prefabs were at the top of Falkland/Frobisher.  They were there for some years, as you say, until the early 60s.  We used to climb into some bomb sites, though I can't remember which ones.  My mum said one day when my sister didn't go to school at N Harringay a bomb fell.  She said, on the school, but I think she meant near the school.  Though my sister went to North Harringay, I went to South Harringay.  Never asked why.

Thanks Hugh, yes of course. I knew this visually but hadn’t actually analysed it before. My grandparents lived at number 77 Hampden post war, my mum still living with them at that time. They came to north London to escape the bombing in the City, where my grandparents had twice been “bombed out” being left with nothing except the clothes they were wearing. I don’t believe they lived at 77 when the bomb fell in Hampden. I think it took out about six houses. Mum mum definitely used to recount running across the derelict land on her way to South Harringay School - why she didn’t attend North Harringay I have no idea!

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