It's curious what you can sometimes find on a North London street. This is a plaster capital in Crouch End - from the 1880s, it seems. And the design. A monkey eating grapes? Or is this a lampoon of the biologist behind the theory of evolution?
It was Crouch Ender David Winskill who introduced me to this 'monkey' - but is it something more than simply a simian?
Charles Darwin was widely mocked and derided after the publication in 1871 of The Descent of Man - and quite often he was depicted as an ape by creationists and others reluctant to accept any affinity between ape and man.
Take a look at these examples (with many thanks to James Moore):
So that does at least make you wonder whether the decorative capital in question was some form of social or religious commentary.
Monkeys were not uncommon as gargoyles or grotesques in the design of churches and public buildings. They don't seem to have featured regularly in domestic architectural embellishments. These exterior decoratives were often bought by builders off-the-shelf - they weren't generally crafted individually. The usual features were flowers, leaves, fruit, perhaps birds or a stylised head or two - not monkeys.
The houses in question are one of five adjoining pairs of Victorian terrace-style semi-detached homes - none of the others has a design featuring a monkey or anything similar.
Thanks to the kindness and interest of one of the current owners, we know quite a lot about the initial construction of these houses.
They were built in about 1882. The builder was local, George Clark - according to the 1881 census, he was 34, lived very close by at 1 New Road and employed eight men (not the sort of detail you normally find in census records, which suggests that Clark was keen to have this point noted or it impressed itself on the enumerator).
Having built the properties, Clark leased them from what I take it was the land owner, Henry Thomas Marshall, a local butcher; and then Clark presumably sub-let the homes to tenants.
Here's who was living there at the time of the 1891 census:
In one house, George Bowyer, a lawyers' clerk lived with his wife and seven children; next door was a solicitor, William Calley, along with his wife and ten - yes, ten - children.
It confirms the picture of Crouch End as a white-collar suburb. It doesn't really help us to decide whether the likeness on these house fronts is of Darwin.
There are three options:
I'll be exploring this in my coming book Curious Crouch End, but do please let me know your thoughts - as emails, or comments on this blog or (and yes, it's just a bit of fun) by taking part in this online poll. We'll post the results here so do come back!
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