This small building stands aloof adjoining the Sainsbury's car park just off Hornsey High Street. I suppose we should be grateful it has survived at all. But what was it? I'm not at all sure. A watch room? The lobby to a larger building?
You can see the coat of arms. These were the arms of the Borough of Hornsey granted in 1904 - two oak trees representing the woods which once extended across the area, and crossed swords borrowed from the arms of the Diocese of London. The Latin motto translates as; 'the better prepared, the stronger'.
The borough disappeared in 1965, amalgamated into the new London Borough of Haringey - one of the more unfortunate names bestowed on the new outer London boroughs. If you want to get a sense of the area the borough covered - though beware, the boundaries did change from time-to-time - this map will help:
This was taken from an early municipal publication, Healthy Hornsey. The area prided itself on being part of the northern heights of London and so healthier than the lower-lying (and poorer and more crowded) area to its south. As you can see, the coat of arms features in this publication -
The coat of arms also appears on the plaque on the side of Hornsey Library - the last building to be commissioned by Hornsey Borough before it disappeared beneath the waves of municipal progress. The plaque is in the shape of the old borough, which is a nice design touch.
But that brings me back to where I started. What was that building in Sainsbury's car park?
This splendid Tudor baptismal font adorns a suburban parish church barely sixty years old - the rather attractive St Mary's with St George's on Cranley Gardens in Hornsey at the foot of Muswell Hill.
The font was originally at St Mary's on Hornsey High Street and is of much the same antiquity as the tower, the only part of the old church still standing. It later moved to St George's in Hornsey - which suffered a direct bombing hit during the war - and was rescued from the rubble to find, eventually, a new home on Cranley Gardens.
Its current home is an elegant modern church, which was built next door to the older parish hall of St George's. The whalebone shape, modern stained glass and lighting are rather fetching. Have a look -
So the church is, to use a riff on the title of that revered hymn book, a mix of ancient and modern.
Thanks to the Open House weekend - and the even more admirable volunteers of the Friends of Hornsey Church Tower - I have achieved a longstanding ambition. I've been to the top of St Mary's church tower in Hornsey.
The tower - fifteenth century in part - has outlived a whole succession of adjoining churches, and now stands alone and aloof with its trademark turret and crenellations.
The vestry has been restored and is in wonderful condition. Religious services are held here a few times a year (this is no longer Hornsey's parish church but it's still owned by the church) - otherwise it's available for hire, an 'intimate space' for performance or kids' parties, with room for about twenty-five.
But this isn't the way up the tower. That's through a recessed side door, and a perilous spiral staircase with 120 narrow steps. That leads first to the bell ringers' chamber (though the bells have long gone) and then beyond, past the deserted bell chamber, to the larger-than-you might-expect roof.
From the top you have a commanding view of Muswell Hill, Alexandra Palace, White Hart Lane, Crouch End's "hog's back" and beyond t0 the skyscrapers of the City and Canary Wharf.
I took this short video - starting off facing, very roughly, south and then moving clockwise:
And here's a selection of views from the top of St Mary's tower:
Next time Open House weekend comes around, head straight to Hornsey!
A Communist who made his mark in London's Conservative-voting suburbs ... George J. Jones, universally known as 'Jonah' Jones, made electoral history in the 1945 general election. He was the only Communist candidate in England to get more than 10,000 votes in that election, which proved to be the high water mark of the CP's electoral fortunes.
Did Jones win and take his seat as Hornsey's Communist MP? No, he came third - even though he got almost double the tally of Phil Piratin, the victorious CP candidate in Mile End and Stepney. (Of other Communist candidates, Willie Gallacher won, indeed was re-elected, in West Fife; the party leader Harry Pollitt was a close second in Rhondda East).
10,000+ votes for a Communist in Tory Hornsey was quite an achievement - yet Jones's name is little known among even the most socialist-minded of the area's current residents, and he doesn't feature at all in the British Communist Hall (alright, Ante-room) of Fame. So let's try to make amends -
The Borough of Hornsey (I'm not absolutely sure whether the Parliamentary constituency covered the same area) was established in 1903, bringing together the leafy suburbs of Muswell Hill and the eastern part of Highgate, the more proletarian areas of Harringay, Hornsey Vale and Stroud Green and, in between (both socially and geographically), Crouch End and Hornsey. The CP established a presence across the borough - bookish and intellectual in the north and west of the borough, more industrial (and militant) as you come down from the commanding heights.
In 1945, even though the CP was much bigger and more influential than it had been at any previous general election, Communists only contested 21 seats - and just five of those were in London. It decided well ahead of time that Hornsey would be a target seat - even though Hornsey Borough had no CP councillors (Jones, apparently, once came within 200 votes of winning in South Harringay).
In George Jones, the CP believed it had a candidate who could do well. The Jones for Hornsey pamphlet, put out a few months before the 1945 election and written by a fellow Hornsey CP'er, is both a potted biography, and an attempt to assemble a local left alliance to support his candidacy.
Jones was a teacher in a school in Hoxton; he lived with his wife and young daughter on Weston Park, close to the centre of Crouch End. He had been a member of the ILP in Wood Green until that branch defected en masse to the CP. Jonah was clearly a good looking guy, and gained a local standing for his oratory at a protest meeting at Crouch End clocktower as Mosley addressed his followers inside nearby Hornsey Town Hall.
The local CP published a newsletter, Hornsey Forward - there's a single copy in the British Library - and this too was used to promote 'Jonah' Jones and his candidacy.
The local party had its own premises, at 4a Broadway Parade just a few yards from the clocktower, above what is now a newsagents. Michael Prior's parents were members of the Hornsey CP and he recalls this fairly spacious flat-cum-office. Access was from a service road at the rear up outside steps. On the first-floor there were three or four small rooms, used as offices and for small meetings; above was a flat used by a party full-timer and his family.
Jones himself emphasised the need for unity against the Conservatives. He declared: 'Here in Hornsey we need a platform of the whole of the Left - Labour, Liberal, Co-operative, Commonwealth, Trades Council and Trade Unions - to ensure the defeat of Tory domination.' It was Popular Front-style politics ... but it didn't quite come off.
According to the communists, the local Labour party was minded to support Jones, but was over-ruled by party HQ. The Labour candidate, Bill Fiske - later a leader of the Greater London Council - beat Jones to second place, but the sitting Tory MP, Captain Gammans, won very comfortably, taking more than half the total vote.
Jones's tally of 10,058 was by far the biggest ever poll by a Communist candidate in England in a seat also contested by Labour. The only Communist to do better was Shapurji Saklatvala, who contested North Battersea in five consecutive general elections from 1922 to 1931. On two occasions, 1922 and 1924, he won - and in the latter contest he polled more than 15,000 votes. But when in 1929 and 1931 he faced Labour opposition, his vote crumbled.
'Jonah' Jones contested Hornsey as a Communist on three further occasions - in 1950, 1951 and 1959 - but never came close to repeating his 1945 performance. In these later candidacies, he took about 2% of the vote. Hornsey (recast as Hornsey and Wood Green from 1983) remained a Conservative seat until as late as 1992. Labour's hold since then has been insecure - the constituency was captured by the Lib Dems in 2005 and 2010. It's currently one of the safest Labour seats in the country - Catherine West has a majority of more than 30,000.
As for Jones, I believe he may have died not long after his last candidacy - if anyone knows more about his life and political activity, do drop me a line.
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)!
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