A Straight Line Walk Across London

by Paul K Lyons

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Brighton Cross

Kip Fenn
A novel about
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72 - Middle Lane to neglected fountains, but not St Paul's Cross

My route takes me into Middle Lane, a road that historically used to mark the boundary between two estates, Rowledge to the west and Topsfield to the east. A part of the Rowledge estate escaped the Victorian building speculators and today serves as the Crouch End playing fields a little further west.

At the start of Middle Lane, right by the side of Hornsey Area Housing Office, is a narrow mews - Middle Lane Mews. This is only worth mentioning because there's a funny little brick building at the back, with an over-sized chimney. In front is a two-dimensional coloured palm tree stacked against the wall, and, above it, stuck to the bricks, are half a dozen clay representations of bodies and body parts. The place advertises itself as Mews Arts for the sale of jewellery, stained glass, drawing and painting. However, as I pass (on a Saturday morning), it's not open. In decades past, there was a brush manufacturer here, and a glass works.

There's a further row of shop fronts (including one for Hornsey and Wood Green Labour Party) along the east side of Middle Lane, before residential property takes over. Crouch End Health Centre is on the west side. A prominent notice outside warns that 'casualty treatment cannot be performed at this health centre'. It also advises that the nearest casualty department is at Whittington Hospital.

Middle Lane has all kinds of housing. At first glance, some of the larger Victorian properties look as though they're semi-detached. But, in fact, the buildings are joined together by brick constructions recessed a long way back from the house fronts. Bizarrely, doors and windows have been built into some of these adjoining sections. A door in number 52, for example, must be at least half as wide as any normal door.

On a bright red post box, I find a poster for 'Marxist Forum Crouch End and Muswell Hill'. It asks: 'Can real change come through Parliament?'

Two blocks of flats on the west side of Middle Lane have a turreted corner each, although one is grander than the other as if trying to do outdo the first. But I like the older and simpler one best, with its custom-built near circular external window boxes instead of window sills. There's also a terrace of basic houses - looking very 1930s - with small flat horizontal hemispheres above the front doors. Only one of these houses still has its original windows.

On the east side, I pass Greig Close. According to Ken Gay's excellent little book 'Hornsey Village - A Walk', the housing here was built after one of the last substantial Victorian properties - Elm House - was knocked down. In the late 19th century, Elm House belonged to a diamond merchant by the name of Leopold Keller. After he died, in 1914, the house was taken over by Crouch End High School for girls and run by a woman called Charlotte Cowdroy who advertised her education services by stressing that girls should not be educated like boys.

Middle Lane runs in a south-north direction but, like The Broadway, is slightly to the east of the 300 easting, so, when I arrive at Priory Park, I take advantage of the opportunity to move a little further west, and enter the park. The first thing I see is an old drinking fountain, slightly skew, completely useless without any taps, and being used as a receptacle for litter. Carved in the granite, and barely readable, are the words, 'The gift of C. T. P. Metcalfe 1879'. Metcalfe was a local resident who provided a fountain to replace the village pump in The Broadway. Around the time the Victorian shopping parades were built, the fountain was dug up and moved to the park. Beyond it, there's a flat concrete area, the top of a reservoir built in the 1980s, and beyond that a large lawned area busy with dog walkers.

Priory Park was opened in two stages. The first part, along Middle Lane, was purchased and developed by Hornsey Local Board, led by Henry Reader Williams, in the early 1890s. A few years earlier Williams had led a successful campaign to save Highgate Woods from development, and, clearly, he had become somewhat passionate about open spaces. The park then was called 'Pleasure Grounds' and was, by all accounts, a popular and busy place. It doubled in size during the 1920s with some land that had formerly been used for allotments, a bowling green and a scout hut. The post-1920s section is where the dogs are being walked this morning. My route, though, takes me through the quieter old Pleasure Grounds, with its laid out paths and flower beds. It does not, however, look very well upkept: the lawns are in poor condition and the planting is in desperate need of some professional attention.

This opinion is confirmed when I reach the celebrated water fountain, dating from 1880. It was originally carved for, and stood in, the churchyard of St Paul's Cathedral, on the site of St Paul's Cross. And it should have been topped with a sculpture of St Paul, but money ran out and a vase was used instead. (St Paul's Cross is first referred to in the 13th century. In the 15th century, it was described as a pulpit of timber on a stone foundation; but, in 1643, it was pulled down.) In 1909, the Corporation of London gifted the fountain to the Borough of Hornsey, which placed it here (incurring considerable transports costs) in the park, providing a focal point for the gardens. Today, the fountain is no more than a raised flower bed, full of weeds. Moreover, it is ringed by a ground bed in which a few old pansies only seem to heighten the sense of neglect. It's a shame some Crouch End dog-walking power couldn't be used to keep this park in better condition, if only to keep dear Henry Reader Williams' spirit restful.

 A Straight Line Walk Across London - along the 300 easting

by Paul K Lyons
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