Saturday, June 11th 2016
For today’s walk, we took the Overground train to a station called Bruce Grove, and wandered more or less south from there. (If you want to look it up on a map you will find one here.)
We were walking in the London Borough of Haringey but more specifically, in that part of it called Tottenham. Most people from outside Tottenham know it only because it has a high-profile football team called Tottenham Hotspur but for those of us who understand that there is life outside football, Tottenham has some interesting features for the curious explorer.
Whenever I visit a place, I am always interested in knowing how it acquired its name. In the British Isles, what with the Celts, the Romans, the Vikings, the Anglo-Saxons and the Normans, tracing a name often leads to a merry chase through a tangle of languages and historical events. I know that not everyone is interested is such matters and if that includes you, dear reader, please skip the following disquisition which I have put in italics to make it easy to do so.
The name of Tottenham, you will be unsurprised to hear, is disputed. The most common explanation is that there was an Anglo-Saxon chap called Tote or Tota who set up a farm (ham in Anglo-Saxon) hereabouts, an idea seemingly confirmed by the fact that the settlement appears in Domesday Book as Toteham.
Now, I have to say that this easy explanation could in fact be true. We cannot disprove it but the theory has been disputed on the grounds that Tota (or Tote) isn’t a usual Anglo-Saxon name. So, while some people are satisfied with this answer (for example, Wikipedia), others are more cautious, leaving it open (for example, a source quoted by British History Online) and still others suggest an ancient British origin involving the Celtic god Teutatis, also known as Taute and Tote. The name means ‘god of the people’ and many British place names include a version of it. The Romans ‘civilized’ Teutatis by equating him with their god Mercury, meaning that the name survived in use up to the Anglo-Saxon period. According to this explanation, Tottenham acquired its name when the Anglo-Saxon suffix –ham (equivalent to ‘-town’ or ‘-ton’) was added to some version the name of the god, perhaps Taute or Tote. The main champion of this theory is William Lisle Bowles (see his Hermes Britannicus).
So that’s the evidence and you may choose as you will (or leave it open). For my part, I like the Teutatis version but I accept it could be wrong.
Near the station, I spotted this wall mail box bearing Queen Victoria’s ‘VR’ cipher. Victorian pillar boxes and wall boxes are not rare (Victorian manufacturers built their products to last) but they went through a series of designs and it can be fun working out exactly which one you are looking at. This may be a box from the 1880s though I haven’t seen one of that generation with a separate slot for the tab showing the day. More usually, it is inside the frame of the collection timetable.
The above pictures are views of a building that opened in 1908 as the Palace Theatre of Varieties. The sharp-eyed passer-by may see a clue to what happened next: on one of the ground-floor windows is engraved the words ‘A Gaumont Theatre’. Films began to be shown here in 1922 and the establishment was renamed the Canadian Cinema in 1924. In 1926, it reverted to its old name, Palace Theatre, and became the proud owner of only the second Wurlitzer theatre organ to be installed in a British cinema. It was brought into the Gaumont fold in 1929 and continued in business until 1969 (then part of the Rank Organization) when it closed. Like many surplus cinemas, it suffered the sad fate of becoming a bingo hall but this era of its life ended in 1996. Since then it has been used as a church. Despite this sad come-down, it has merited a Grade II listing.
This is Tottenham’s main police station, though it has others. There has been a police station on this site since 1908 though this one was built in 1913. The end section on the right is much later. This police station became a focus of protests following the fatal shooting by police of Mark Duggan in 2011. The event provoked riots in London and in other cities.
This handsome building is now residential but it does not need the name Old School Court to tell us its original purpose. It is still every inch a school and a very fine one at that. It was built in 1848 and went through a number of name changes including The Drapers College for Boys (under the auspices of the Worshipful Company of Drapers) and Tottenham High School for Girls. It remained in the role for a hundred years until 1985.
We discovered this piece of public sculpture. It was bought in 1983 and was sculpted by Vanessa Pomeroy. The title is Embracing Forms and I think that if you look at it carefully you can make out what appears to be a couple embracing.
In response to the Public Libraries Act, Tottenham set up a temporary reading room in 1892 and pending the building of a new central library in 1896. It is this fine Victorian building that is shown above. This was Tottenham’s main library until 1990 when it was converted into flats under the name of Library Court. The Borough of Haringey has nine libraries still extant, the nearest to the old central library being the Philip Garvey Library in Philip Lane. Let’s hope that these libraries can survive and thrive despite the present economic climate.
On seeing this structure, I at first thought it was a market cross or at least a replacement for such, but that is not so. (Nor is it one of Edward I’s Eleanor Crosses.) There has been a cross, or similar marker, here probably since Roman times. It became a wooden cross which was replaced by one in brick in about 1600. This presumably fell into disrepair because in 1809 local inhabitants raised funds to have it renovated in its present form. Once standing beside the road, it now occupies a small island and is protected by railings. It is Grade II listed because of its historical interest.
Nearby is another memento of times past, this one in the form of a well with a steep tiled roof. While Tottenham was still a relatively small village, water could be obtained only from wells. This one was dug in 1791 and was paid for by the Lord of Tottenham Manor, Thomas Smith. Once made, the well was in the charge on the local council. Renovations and improvements were made in 1859 and that is when the roof was added. Sadly, in 1883, the water was found to be polluted and the well was taken out of service permanently but was left in place were we can admire it for the interesting historical artefact that it is. Together with Well House (not shown), it was awarded a Grade II listing.
Planning a new town hall was opened to competition in the early 1900s and the winning submission was by A.S.Taylor and R. Jemmett. The building was completed in 1905. It is in ‘Edwardian Baroque style’ (English Heritage) and was a very fine addition to to municipal properties of a rapidly growing Tottenham. In the 1965 reorganization of London’s boroughs, Tottenham was absorbed into the new London Borough of Haringey and the Town Hall no longer had a function. It is now Grade II listed which means that it can be preserved to given over (sensitively, I hope) to other purposes.
I noticed that the front door of the town hall has four separate letter boxes to act as a preliminary sorting of the mail. Four departments, Treasurer, Clerk, Engineer and Medical Officer, have their individual boxes. In which one, I wonder, does the postie put the post today?
Right next to the Old Town Hall is another oldie, the Old Fire Station. It is in the same style as its neighbour and there are no prizes for guessing that it is by the same pair of architects. It too was built in 1905. The borough has other fire stations and this one served as an ambulance station for a while in the 1970s. I don’t know when it was finally decommissioned but today it serves as a cafe. You no doubt guessed that this lovely building is also Grade II listed.
The old town hall and fire station are near Tottenham Green and at the southern tip of this stands the war memorial. Funded by the then Tottenham District Council at a cost of £2,000, it was erected in 1923. The monument is of course for the First World War but the inscription was later amended to include the Second World War. The Grade II listing entry records that it was ‘unveiled by HRH Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyle (assisted by an orphan boy)’ and that the occasion was attended by 40,000 people.
The memorial is topped, as was common, by a winged angel holding a wreath as a symbol of peace. (Unfortunately, that peace was not to endure.) It is by Louis Frederick Roslyn (1878-1934) who is noted for his war memorials.
On that sombre note, we ended our brief exploration of Tottenham where we had found numerous things to interest us. There are no doubt more to be discovered on future visits.