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The manor of BROWNSWOOD was the endowment of the prebend of Brownswood in St. Paul’s, which probably existed before its holders were first recorded in the early 12th century. The manor probably originated in a division of property between the bishop of London and the chapter of St. Paul’s, which may be reflected in entries in Domesday Book under Stepney. The name refers to the demesne wood called Brownswood in 1569 and may derive from one Brand, a king’s clerk, who was prebendary c. 1200. In 1577 the manor covered all of Hornsey south of Topsfield and Farnfields, including the detached portions in Stoke Newington.
The manor was held by prebendaries of Brownswood until 1840, when it passed to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners; during the Interregnum, it was bought by the London draper Richard Utber. It was valued at 5 marks in 1254 and 20 marks in 1535. In 1532 all the lands except possibly the woods were leased to Peter Turner, grocer of London, and in 1548 they were leased in reversion. Turner’s term had expired in 1569 when Robert Harrington, prebendary 1561-1610, leased manor and woods for 99 years to his brother John Harrington of Witham (Lincs.). John Harrington apparently assigned the lease between 1594 and his death in 1599, presumably to the Draper family who were said to have been lessees for 70 years in 1681. The lease was presumably held by Thomas Draper (d. 1631), whose widow had it in 1649, and was devised by his brother Roger in 1659 to their nephew Thomas Draper (d. 1703), later Sir Thomas Draper, Bt. Dr. Joseph Crowther, prebendary 1642-89, tried to resume the courts and royalties, since from total revenues of £355 in 1681 there was a reserved rent of only £19. During Chancery suits between Draper and Crowther or his representatives from 1664 to 1692 Crowther was imprisoned in the Fleet, where he died.
Draper retained the lease at the old rent and in 1717 his widow Mary devised it for life to her daughter Elizabeth, wife of Sir Henry Ashurst, Bt. (d. 1732), with remainder to the issue of her other daughter Mary Baber. Following Elizabeth’s death in 1738 it descended to John Draper Baber, who assigned it in 1750 to John Jennings, a Quaker from Crouch End. On his death in 1758 it was held by his executor Richard Saunders, who was dead by 1766, when it was held in trust for Saunders’s sons Thomas and Richard. Richard had died by 1775 and the lease was sold by Thomas in 1789 to John Willan of South Weald (Essex). He left it to his nephew William Willan (d. 1849) of Preston Candover (Hants), with remainder to the latter’s son John James Willan. In 1821 an Act authorized the prebendary to lease the demesne to the Willans for 99 years, in order that they could grant building leases, rendering him 44 per cent of the gross revenues. In 1826 a second Act confirmed a building lease of 295 a., made ineffective by the builder’s bankruptcy. In 1855 the Ecclesiastical Commissioners conveyed the freehold of the 189 a. north of Seven Sisters Road and the manorial rights to William Willan’s executors, in exchange for 156 a. to the south. Under the Finsbury Park Act, 1857, the Metropolitan Board of Works acquired most of the Willans’ share and some copyhold land, laid out 115 a. as Finsbury Park, and built up Endymion Road on the remainder. The park passed in 1889 to the L.C.C. and in 1965 to the G.L.C., which administered it in 1976.
The manor-house of Brownswood was called Copthall and stood north-west of the later Seven Sisters Road on part of the park. First mentioned in 1649, it contained a hall, parlour, kitchen, cellar, and two chambers, besides outbuildings; in 1664, when it was unoccupied, there were only four hearths. It may have survived in 1792 as the humble building of two floors with a single storeyed extension, which was soon afterwards rebuilt and came to be well known as Hornsey Wood House. A little brick house, already existing in 1649, was resumed by Dr. Crowther in 1665, presumably for his own use.
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Agrarian History. In 1241-2, 1273-4, and 1298 the demesne of Hornsey manor was leased but it was exploited directly in 1304 and 1318, when it was managed directly with that of Finchley. In 1318 there was a separate grange of Hornsey, probably the later Rowledge farm. The famuli consisted of a herdsman, a ploughman, and a ploughleader, and there were six oxen; there were eight oxen in 1304 and thirteen in 1339, when there was only one complete plough. In 1318 five other ploughs were provided by villeins rendering labour services. Apparently the demesne was still in hand in 1375 but c. 1390 Rowledge farm was leased as a whole and the herbage of the parks and High Reading were leased separately. Farnfields was already leased in 1369 but the demesne of Muswell was in hand between 1488 and 1535. The first known lease of Brownswood demesne dates from 1547.
There were nine copyhold tenants of Brownswood in 1577, when they owed rents of assize and hen-silver of 3s. 4d. on each house. On Hornsey manor in 1406 and on Brownswood manor c. 1580 holdings were subject to partible inheritance, as on the manor of Stepney itself. On Hornsey manor subdivision of holdings was frequently averted by surrenders in tail and to the use of tenants’ wills or reversed by the purchase of all purparties by a single individual.
In the 15th century some copyhold and freehold land in a small area east of Crouch End consisted of strips in larger fields; one such strip contained five ridges in 1478. There is no evidence of open fields elsewhere in the parish: estates already in closes at the earliest dates for which concrete evidence survives were Muswell demesne in 1488, Brownswood demesne in 1547, the copyhold of Brownswood manor in 1577, and the copyhold of Hornsey manor in the early 17th century.
In 1547 the demesne of Brownswood manor was under grass.
From c. 1550 to 1850 there was continual expansion of the cultivated area at the expense of woodland and waste. Probably little more than a quarter of Hornsey demesne was farmed in 1540, little less than a half in 1647, and over two-thirds in 1820. Similarly the area of the manor of Brownswood excluding waste amounted to 536 a. in 1577, when waste was not surveyed, but in 1796 there were 597 a., including only 1 rod of waste. The demesne grew from 313 a. in 1577 to 320 a. in 1649 and 329 a. in 1796, and the copyhold from 223 a. in 1577 to 268 a. in 1796. Moreover, much of Brownswood and various copyhold groves were cleared during the same period. Finally, in 1816, the commons were added to the cultivable area.
About 1600 the copyholders of Brownswood manor tried unsuccessfully to fix entry fines. Arbitrary fines persisted on Topsfield manor but were fixed on Hornsey manor in 1667.
Little of the parish was said to be under the plough in 1795 and in 1796 only 36 a. or 6 per cent of Brownswood manor was arable.
From the late 16th century rents for grassland rose rapidly, apparently stimulated by demand from London. After 1569 rents on the manor of Brownswood rose 13 times by 1649, 20 times by 1681, and 75 times by 1821. High prices encouraged investment, especially manuring: in 1664 a lessee sought allowance for improvements and in 1822 a tenant’s rent was reduced because he had manured his land highly.
In 1610 a London innkeeper pastured 120 horses on 21 a. at Brownswood of which he had bought the herbage.
There was waste on the manor of Topsfield and at Brownswood there may have been 60 a. of waste in 1577, probably at Stroud Green.
By 1816 only 232 a. remained and Brownswood had no waste. Although there were many trespassers from other parishes, only the poor of Tottenham were allotted land under the inclosure award published in that year, when allotments were made to four tenants of Topsfield and eighteen of Brownswood. The bishop received 30 a., the prebendary of Brownswood 24 a., the rector 46½ a., and the copyholders the rest. Some common at Hornsey, still used for grazing, was not inclosed, in order to preserve the beauty of the village. Waste at Topsfield in 1820 may have survived for the same reason. To make such allotments productive was expensive: one of 23 a. on Hornsey common, consisting mainly of disused gravel pits, had been levelled and fenced by 1821. Many others were very small. Several allotments on Muswell Hill common, copyhold of Brownswood, had not been thought worth improving in 1831. The commons were used for dumping rubbish in 1863 and most of them later were built upon.
There were haystacks at Clissold Park and Brownswood Park in 1873 and at North Hill, Highgate, in 1869 but in 1887 the fields adjoining Hampstead Lane were said to be the hayfields nearest London.
Brownswood, the manor’s largest demesne wood, was known as Hornsey wood by 1745 and covered 122 a. both in 1548 and 1577. The wood was leased out from 1569 and had diminished to 119 a. by 1594, to 92 a. by 1649, and to 52 a. by 1709. To make room for pleasure grounds it was reduced to 27 a. by 1796. The flora attracted botanists from the 16th century and the wood, although divided, still seemed wild in 1866. As part of the grounds of Hornsey Wood House it was incorporated in Finsbury Park, where the forest trees had been felled by 1869.
A cottage of brick existed at Brownswood by 1647.
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Richard Heard, a London butcher (lanius), also acquired two houses, a cottage, and 10 a. at Newington Green from William Patten in the same year. In 1577 Heard had a house and 28 a. of copyhold of Brownswood manor in Hornsey detached, the abutments of which show that he had land fronting the whole of the north side of Newington Green. Heard (d. 1579) left his estate to his grandson Richard Heard, although his widow Alice, admitted to one third, was apparently still in control in 1588-9 when she was assessed on £8 of goods. Richard Heard had land in Brownswood manor in 1611 and by will proved 1628 left all his estates in Stoke Newington, Hornsey, and Brownswood to his wife Elizabeth towards payment of his debts.
Jonathan Hoare, who as noted above bought part of the Conways’ estate, also bought William Horton’s share of that estate in 1790, an interest in houses and land north of Church Street from John King in 1789, and in the same year an interest in four houses which Henry Sanford had bought from Duncan Davidson in 1787. In addition Hoare had by 1796 acquired of the demesne of Brownswood manor in Hornsey 28 a. which in 1577 had been held as Millfield by Richard Bowland of Newington and 3 a. of copyhold of Brownswood, formerly the Conways’.
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At an unknown date the Hornsey parish was included in a grant of Stepney to the cathedral church of St. Paul and before 1066 it was divided between the bishop of London and the chapter, represented then or later by a canon whose successors were prebendaries of Brownswood.
South of the northern hog’s back Brownswood manor was on the low-lying area around Stroud Green, whose name was still apt in 1548, when bushes were to be cleared. The high rent demanded for buildings may have contributed to their absence in 1577, when there were only three houses for the nine copyholders who together held 223 a.
In spite of the Brownswood Estate Acts of 1821 and 1826, which provided for building leases of the demesne, Stroud Green remained empty. Only c. 1850 did speculative builders begin operations at Crouch End.
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Hornsey parish contained 2,978 a. in 1881. The northern detached part, c. 10 a., was transferred to Friern Barnet parish in 1891. The area called South Hornsey, which had its own local board of health from 1865, comprised a peninsula of 172 a. known as Brownswood Park lying immediately south-east of the open space of Finsbury Park and the two southern detached parts amounting to 60 a. In 1899 South Hornsey was transferred to Stoke Newington M.B. and the county of London. With those changes and the addition of the 61 a. of Clerkenwell detached, Hornsey in 1901 measured 2,875 a. It had had a local board of health from 1867 and became a U.D. in 1894 and M.B. in 1903. In 1965 it joined Tottenham and Wood Green in Harringey L.B., while South Hornsey formed part of Hackney L.B.
Until the 19th century the only important internal boundary was the ‘northern hog’s back’, the ridge between Crouch Hill and Harringay (West) station, which separated Brownswood manor to the south from Hornsey manor and its dependencies to the north. New roads created divisions in the 19th century. The first was Archway Road, which is treated in the present article as the boundary between Hornsey and Highgate. Seven Sisters Road was a local government boundary from 1965.
From Friern Barnet and the North Circular Road the land rises from 200 ft. to Muswell Hill, reaching 340 ft. at the corner of Queen’s Avenue and Fortis Green Road. The 300-ft. contour encompasses land between the Alexandra Palace in Wood Green, Fortis Green near the Finchley boundary, and the corner of Muswell Hill Road and Woodside Avenue. A ridge roughly along the line of Muswell Hill Road and Southwood Lane rises towards Highgate, which stands at 426 ft. at the corner of North Road and Hampstead Lane. From the ridge the land falls only slightly to the west; to the east it descends more sharply, most steeply at Muswell Hill in the north, while to the south two spurs protrude eastward. Shepherd’s Hill, the more northerly, extends nearly to Crouch End, with sharp descents to north and east. The other, the ‘northern hog’s back’, is an extension of the northern heights from Highgate. It follows Hornsey Lane, forms the summits of Crouch End and Crouch (Mount Pleasant) hills, and extends at 200 ft. almost to Harringay (West) station, where it falls abruptly to the east and north. The highest point to the north is Hornsey Hill (150 ft.), which overlooks Hornsey High Street; the area immediately to the north, called the Campsbourne after a stream, lies at less than 100 ft. Eastern Harringay is the lowest part of the parish at 75 ft. South of the hog’s back, the highest point is the 150-ft. knoll in Finsbury Park; much of Brownswood Park is below 100 ft.
The New River, completed in 1613 to carry water from Chadwell and Great Amwell (Herts.) to Islington, entered the parish north of Hornsey village and flowed south and then east, crossing the Moselle once and Hornsey High Street three times. Thence it meandered southward through Harringay, entering Tottenham north of Seven Sisters Road. On returning to Hornsey south of Manor House it followed an S-like course, crossing Brownswood to the east, flowing southward along the parish boundary into Islington and eastward across Mountgrove Road into Hornsey again. Along that stretch it crossed Stroud Green brook by a wooden aqueduct, which gave it the name of the Boarded River and was replaced in 1776 by a raised bed of clay. Still in Hornsey, it crossed Green Lanes into Clissold Park and flowed westward along the south-western edge of the parish before recrossing Green Lanes into Islington. As the boundary of estates and a source of fresh water, particularly for cattle, the river became a local asset and in 1861 the parish opposed the New River Co.’s diversion of it. Thenceforth it flowed from Wood Green at a point slightly west of the G.N.R. main line into filter beds in Brownswood Park, which were connected with a pumping station east of Green Lanes. As Hornsey came to be built up, most of the New River was enclosed in pipes.
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Brownswood Park was built up in the 1860s and 1870s. Attempts were made to establish select suburbs at Brownswood Park, Shepherd’s Hill, and Muswell Hill, so that in 1904 Hornsey could be extravagantly compared with Kensington as North London’s west end. Hornsey attracted men from the metropolitan parishes who worked in the City and in 1901 11 per cent of the population were clerks, who needed to live near railway stations.
The establishment of Finsbury Park as an open space ensured that Brownswood evolved independently from the rest of Hornsey. The high proportion of parkland partly explains why ‘Healthy Hornsey’ had the lowest death-rate on record in 1905 and the lowest of all large towns in 1906. In 1906-7 the density of population was only 30.2 people per acre.
In 1855 the Ecclesiastical Commissioners obtained possession of 156 a. of the Brownswood demesne. Bounded by Seven Sisters and Blackstock roads and by Green Lanes and wholly undeveloped, the land’s accessibility from London made it ideal for building. The road system had been decided by 1861 and plots were let to individual builders. John Brookes Porter, later chairman of South Hornsey local board and a bankrupt, built the earliest houses from 1862. Most of the frontages of Seven Sisters Road and Green Lanes were built up in the 1860s, the bulk of Queen’s Road (later Drive) and King’s Road (later Crescent) were completed by 1871, and the remainder of the estate, except for Prince’s (later Princess) Road, was built up in the 1870s. Green Lanes and Brownswood and King’s Road were to contain detached or semidetached houses and Queen’s Road was to have terraces or semi-detached houses, but the builders were more lavish. Stressing the good communications and rural setting, Porter advertised fourstoreyed terraced houses in both Queen’s and King’s roads; houses in Green Lanes and Seven Sisters Road were even larger. Brownswood Park, as the district was called, was regarded as a particularly good part of a select suburb. The copyhold land on the east became the Sluice-House estate, with similar houses built, for the most part, by the same men. The first houses were completed in 1869 and at least 84 were ready in 1873. In 1894, when the area had been built up for five years, there were 1,077 houses with 7,359 inhabitants in the 164 a. of Brownswood Park.
At Brownswood Park many of the original families had moved out by 1895 and others were being replaced by poorer people in 1913. Social decline continued until in 1954 the district was inhabited mainly by students, foreigners, and the working class, with most houses containing four or five families and all in decay. Until the Second World War only a few houses had been replaced and by 1959 the area was apparently seen as a potential slum. In 1949, as part of Stoke Newington’s Green Lanes development scheme, Lakeside Court was built in Gloucester Drive, and by 1958 St. John’s Court, three blocks with 121 flats, had been built in Princess Crescent. Between Portland Rise, Green Lanes, and Seven Sisters Road 123 flats had been erected by 1958, when others were going up; the completed Portland Rise estate consists of 193 flats in eight blocks. Between Green Lanes, King’s Crescent, and Queen’s Drive, Hackney L.B. built the King’s Crescent estate. Apart from Sawbridge and Barkway courts, each a nineteen-storeyed tower of 114 flats, there are houses, eight smaller blocks, and a total of 634 dwellings. In 1974 Brownswood Park was essentially a dormitory area and in 1976 its main frontages in Green Lanes and Seven Sisters Road still consisted of large houses, some derelict and others converted into offices or private hotels. Houses on the corner of Seven Sisters and Adolphus roads were pulled down in 1975 by Ferme Park Properties. In the angle of Seven Sisters and Wilberforce roads was Park House, an eleven-storeyed block of flats, and on the corner with Queen’s Drive the ten-storeyed Alexandra National hotel.
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The church of ST. JOHN THE EVANGELIST, Brownswood Park, stands on the corner of Queen’s Drive and Gloucester Road. The district chapelry created in 1875, (fn. 71) after changes in 1880 and 1915, has lain almost entirely in the peninsular part of Hornsey south of Seven Sisters Road. Work on the building, to a grandiose design by F. Wallen in a Venetian Gothic style, began in 1869 but was delayed by the builder’s bankruptcy. Two-thirds of the church was consecrated in 1874 and the west end in 1878, when Wallen’s services were dispensed with, (fn. 72) and the adjoining Vicarage was erected in 1876. The church has an apsidal chancel with side chapels, transepts, a central tower, of which the upper stages were not built, an aisled and clerestoreyed nave with north and south porches, and an apsidal western baptistery. Extensive repair was needed in 1920 and under-pinning from 1928, and severe war damage was not remedied until 1951. Although founded at popular request in a growing area, St. John’s suffered from dwindling congregations by 1885. In 1903 only 199 attended a service in the morning and 172 another in the evening, (fn. 73) in a church that sat 900, and expenses could hardly be met in 1895 and 1913. George Birkett Latreille, first vicar, held the benefice for 47 years. His successor A. C. Turberville was noted for his advanced churchmanship. In 1928 the patronage was transferred from the bishop to the Corporation of London.