Viewers imbued with a sense of responsibility to safeguard Highgate’s Victorian heritage.
Picture your neighbourhood as it was 150 years ago. Many of the buildings might remain unchanged, but transposed onto your regular hangouts would be scenes of Victorian London. Residents of Highgate can now enjoy seeing their well-loved streets playing out an alternative reality in Michael Hammerson’s book Highgate: From Old Photographs.
One photograph shows a flock of sheep being herded down the otherwise familiar North Road. “It was one of the main droving roads to bring cattle from the north down to the London meat markets,” says Hammerson. There are some rather curious discrepancies.
“That letterbox is still there, but it’s on the other side of the road,” he remarks of a photo of North Hill.
Hamerson, former chairman of the Highgate Society, has lived there for 40 years and, for him, the book helps the case for the preservation of Highgate, which until relatively recently was an isolated village, as is shown in the book by photographs of surrounding countryside at the turn of the last century.
“It really emphasises the enormous pressure it’s under at the moment from what, in many cases, is very bad development and planning laws to protect it being weakened by ill-considered new legislation almost every week.”
Lost gems include what is supposed to be Andrew Marvell’s home, seen in an extremely rare colour photograph dates 1867. Only one other image of it exists, in the Highgate Literary and Scientific Institution.
A photograph of the famous Swearing on the Horns ritual is included, “the main privilege being,” says Hammerson, “that once you’re sworn in as a Freeman of Highgate and you see a pig resting in a ditch, you have the right to move it and sit down in its place. Though if you are three, you can only move the middle one and sleep between the other two.”
“Unfortunately,” he quips “there are few opportunities to exercise these rights in Highgate today.”
Curious rituals aside, Hammerson hopes the book will imbue the viewer with a sense of responsibility: “It gives people a very powerful link with the past and a better understanding of how it all worked, and how the past is serving the present and the present is looking after the past.”
Alexandra Palace Theatre
Alexandra Palace theatre is also noted as worthy of preservation in Hornsey Historical Society’s publication Alexandra Palace Theatre by Marlene McAndrew, which reveals the theatre’s fascinating story up until today.
Included is its remarkable founding philosophy: “to afford the means of intellectual improvement and physical recreation to the masses”, information about the elaborate timber machinery’s trap doors and some amusing details of what it was like to be there: “Heating was provided by radiators through a central coal-fired boiler. Although this was probably not adequate, people were used to being cold in the 19th century.”
A development of the Garden City Movement is covered in The Rookfield Estate by David Frith, which offers the chance to see how this Muswell Hill Garden Suburb came to be through a detailing of its early history, beginning with its enclosure from Muswell Hill Common, its acquisition by W J Collins in 1899, and the history of his family, who were so instructive of the estate’s development.
There is also an exploration of Rookfield’s architectural influences, illustrated with old maps, old views and photographs of the many houses.
Hampstead Garden Suburb
Founded relatively recently, in 1907 by Henrietta Barnett, Hampstead Garden Suburb has nevertheless been home to a huge number of colourful and highly influential residents, now listed in Dr Eva Jacobs’ Notable Residents And Where They Lived. Included are such names as Anthony Gormley, Dame Elizabeth Taylor, Jerry Springer and Will Self
Originally published by The Ham & High.