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!
Some buildings are nothing special from the outside but nothing less than magnificent within. Hornsey Town Hall, for instance ... which isn't in Hornsey but Crouch End, and has only been a town hall for thirty of its 80+ years.
From Crouch End Broadway, it looks a touch drab - more like a power station than a hive of municipal activity. And that's in spite of the ample open space which it overlooks - a really fantastic amenity which is only occasionally made the most of.
Hornsey became a municipal borough in 1903. It was another thirty years before the borough took on the task of building a town hall. But when Hornsey did commission a municipal HQ, it did so in style.
Reginald Uren designed what is sometimes described as the first modernist public building in the country - the opening ceremony was on 4th November 1935. Today, as part of Open House, I had a chance to see inside - not the council chamber, which is not currently accessible, but the main hall, and the long gallery which looks out onto the Broadway.
The building is a little decayed, but the detail is all there - magnificently so . Take a look -
Hornsey became part of the London Borough of Haringey in 1965. The town hall was downgraded to municipal offices. The building has been seeking a purpose to match its size and ambition ever since. And broadly, without success. It was for a while on the 'at risk' register.
So Hornsey is - along with similar marvellous buildings in Hampstead, Finsbury, Holborn and elsewhere - a town hall without a Borough.
The hall was once widely used - and indeed Ray Davies has declared that the Kinks played their first gig here, though the Clissold Arms also lays claim to that honour.
Labour-controlled Haringey council has now done a deal with a Hong Kong-based property consortium to develop the town hall into an arts and performance hub, along with the building of a hotel and a hundred or more apartments immediately behind. The plan hasn't gone down all that well with local civic groups.
The town hall should be back in action, reborn, in 2020 (at least that's what they say)!
On Saturday, I strolled along the southern section of the Parkland Walk, which starts just south of Highgate tube station and takes you along the route of a disused railway line. It leads all the way to Finsbury Park. There's a bewitching section where you walk through an abandoned commuter station. So the path, as you can see, sticks to the tracks, but if you prefer you can walk along the old station platforms on either side.
This was Crouch End Station - the map below will help you work out where it was. It opened in the 1860s, closed in 1954, and the track was last used in 1970.
There must be people still around who travelled to and from work through this now deserted station. For them, I wonder what memories walking along these platforms must evoke.
To Crouch End, to discover that Prospero's Books has closed. For the first time I can recall, this most literate of North London localities is without a proper bookshop. How sad!
There is a Bargain Books selling cut price remainders. And, more usefully, an Oxfam Books which has a good selection, and almost makes the journey worthwhile.
Well, this morning it did better than that.
I'm not a great cricket enthusiast, but the accompanying souvenir of an Australian cricket tour eighty years ago strikes me as a complete gem. Well worth the £4.99 I shelled out. The England team of that time featured Hobbs ('a delightful batsman and master of every stroke'), Sutcliffe, Larwood ('on form he is undoubtedly our strongest attack') and Hammond.
And in the Australian line-up, a young, promising batsman - Don Bradman, see below:
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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