The River that Isn’t a River

If you live in North London, or know it reasonably well, then you’ll no doubt be familiar with ‘the New River’. Stretching from beyond London in Hertfordshire, through Chadwell, Cheshunt, Waltham Abbey, Enfield, Palmers Green, Wood Green, Harringay, Finsbury Park and ending in Stoke Newington; the New River winds through North London, following a similar path to the ‘London Loop’ rail line, occasionally disappearing underground, and resurfacing again, before vanishing again. What’s the story behind this mysterious ever-present waterway?

Well, quite simply, the New River is neither ‘new’ or a river. It’s over 400 years old and was constructed in the early 17th century to provide fresh drinking water for London. London has a long history of difficulties with access to drinking water, particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries as industry caused a population explosion in the capital. This increase meant more waste in rivers, and more chance of polluted wells and water pumps from the ever-growing cemeteries…but that’s another story for another time!

Throughout the Middle Ages, Londoners got their water from rivers, wells, springs and public fountains. However, by the Elizabethan period, London was growing and the need for a clean water supply was becoming apparent. Other alternatives had already been devised; in 1582, a water pump designed by Peter Morice was installed at London Bridge that pumped water to surrounding premises at high tide. However, being limited to a small area and only operational in high tide meant this wasn’t a large scale solution. Something much bigger was needed.

Proposed in 1602 by Edmund Colthurst, the New River was to be London’s first supply of fresh water from outside the city. A six feet wide canal was to be built from a section of the River Lea outside Hertford, stretching through North London (most of which was countryside at this point) into Islington. Colthurst was granted a royal charter in 1604 by James I but unfortunately encountered financial difficulties, and the project was taken over by Sir Hugh Myddelton in 1609, who completed it in 1613.

Being as old as it is, the New River has obviously undergone some changes in it’s 400+ years. Many sections required aqueducts, which were originally wooden structures lined with lead (!) supported by timber and brick. Thankfully, these sections were replaced in the 18th century with clay-banked canals. As London grew outwards, much of the New River was re-routed underground, including in Enfield, where the original route was thankfully saved from being filled in (although it is disconnected from the main supply), and remains as a picturesque waterway running through the Town Park known as the ‘New River Loop’. Not so lucky was a large loop that ran through the Bounds Green area, that was re-routed underground due to the construction of the Wood Green tunnel in 1852 on the London Loop railway line, and was filled in by 1901, and built upon during the 1930s. Other notable changes include the building of the New River Aqueduct in 1985 to carry the canal over the under-construction M25, and most significantly, the changing of its end-point from Islington to Stoke Newington in 1946.

The New River originally finished near Clerkenwell, at what was to be named ‘New River Head’. Here, the New River Company had their head offices, known as the Water House, and there is still a beautiful grade-II listed building dating from the early 20th century at this site, although predictably it is now flats. The New River now finishes at the East Reservoir of the Woodberry Wetlands, built in 1833. The West Reservoir has been converted into a water sports centre.

An etching of New River Head by Wenceslaus Hollar (1665)

Time to explore! As the New River is so large (20 miles end-to-end!), I have chosen to explore a tiny section close to my home. I’d love to explore more of this waterway, so this may turn into a series in the future!

My route along the New River Path

I began my journey at Wood Green Mall, turning off down Alexandra Road adjacent to Boots, before taking an immediate right through Martins Walk, and then onwards down Mayes Road until I reached the pedestrian crossing. I then crossed the road and continued onwards down Coburg Road. I was a little unsure at this point if Google was leading me the right way, as it appeared to be an industrial estate, but before long I found myself opposite the entrance to a tunnel, with signs for the New River Path. Phew!

These signs also informed me that this tunnel was called Penstock Tunnel, and there was proposed plans to improve lighting and make it a more child-friendly place, which made me very happy to see! I love seeing councils make great use of space, especially when it has historic significance. Looking forward to seeing how this progresses.

Penstock Tunnel runs under the London Loop railway, before joining the New River on the following side (although the other side of a fence), and running parallel to both – I even managed to get a snap of a passing train! This section of the New River also contains a water treatment plant – Thames Water Hornsey Water Treatment Works. A few minutes walk and the path comes to a gate, where the water treatment plant ends and the fence by the river is removed. This is also the point where turning right will take you across the river and into the northern end of Hornsey, with Alexandra Park immediately to your North – I believe this area is also known as Campsbourne? Feel free to correct me in the comments!

This next section is a pleasant walk alongside the New River, with some modern apartments on the opposite side. There were a few dog walkers along this route, and I also met some wildlife! It’s a very peaceful little walk, despite the regular rumble of passing trains – although maybe I’ve just lived in London long enough now that I don’t notice this anymore!

This grassy route continued right up until Turnpike Lane (the road, not the station) and included this little building, which I think might be a pump station of some kind? Let me know in the comments if you know what this is!

At this point the New River path ends, as it continues under Turnpike Lane and Hornsey Train Station. To rejoin it, I turned left out of the gate down to the big junction where Turnpike Lane meets Hornsey Park Road and Wightman Road. I then crossed to Wightman Road, and continued up to Hampden Road, as if going to Hornsey Station. Just before the station steps (the station is situated on a bridge, as many of the stations on this route are) there is a gate on the left hand side of Hampden Road, and the New River Path begins again. This is a section I am very familiar with, living on the Harringay Ladder, and it has been a frequent lockdown walk of mine! It also contains this instructing structure, which again, if anyone can tell me what this is, I’d love to know!

At the end of this section the path crosses to the opposite side of the river and onto Wightman Road, and the New River continues underground before reappearing through the Harringay Ladder itself. However, at this point, I follow Allison Road as far as the Harringay Passage and continue home.

And so concludes my post on the New River! Have you ever walked a section? Have you ever walked the entire length? What’s your favourite section? What are the structures I found on my exploration? Let me know in the comments!

Sources:

https://www.londongardenstrust.org/features/NewRiver.htm
https://www.thehistoryoflondon.co.uk/the-new-river-bringing-fresh-water-to-london/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woodberry_Wetlands
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_River_Head
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_River_(London)

Harringay Passage and the Century Old Graffiti

Snaking through the streets of the Harringay Ladder, a housing estate tucked alongside Green Lanes between Turnpike Lane and Manor House, is an unassuming little alleyway. It is used daily by the residents who probably don’t give it much thought, but the fact that this alleyway runs right through these houses and is named, got me curious. Most alleyways don’t have their own identity. What makes the Harringay Passage different?

To start with, Haringey or Harringay? The etymology of the words are all different variations of the same Old English: Hæringeshege. Hæring was a Saxon chief who lived probably in the area around Hornsey. Hæringeshege meant Hæring’s enclosure and evolved into Haringey, Harringay and Hornsey.

In modern use, the two spellings have distinct uses. Haringey, is a London borough, just north of Camden, and south of Enfield. It encompasses 11 square miles, including Alexandra Palace, Tottenham, Wood Green, Finsbury Park, Muswell Hill, Highgate, Seven Sisters, and Harringay the district itself, among others. Harringay the district runs from Duckett’s Common, a small park just south of Turnpike Lane station, to the top of Finsbury Park. It’s centre is Green Lanes, which the Harringay Ladder and Harringay Passage run alongside.

Up until 1880, what is now the Ladder, was Harringay House, and it’s extensive grounds, Harringay Park. Harringay House was the largest house in the area at the time, built in 1792 on the site of an old Tudor House pulled down in 1750. As London’s population grew from around 700,000 in the mid 18th century, to 5.5 million at the close of the 19th century, there was an obvious need for expansion outwards. Harringay, among many other areas outside London, was enveloped into a suburb.

Interestingly, what became the Harringay Passage pre-dated the Ladder. Up until the mid 19th century, the borough of Hornsey paid the borough of Tottenham to dispose of it’s sewage in the river Lea. Then in 1869, Hornsey commisioned Baldwin Latham, a consulting engineer, to improve the area’s sewage. The result was Hornsey Outfall Sewer, which can be seen above as a faint blue line running through Harringay Park.

The Harringay Ladder (named so because on a map the streets look like the rungs of a ladder) was built between 1880 and 1900 as two seperate housing estates, Hornsey Station estate at the north end, and Harringay Park estate at the south. As the streets developed, nothing could be built above the sewer, and so it became a footpath. Thus the Harringay Passage was born!

Time to explore! I began my route from the south end of the passageway, on Umfreville Road. The pathway may once have led to Harringay Railway Fields but is now blocked off.

© Lotte Bagshaw, 2020

This southern stretch of the Passage still has original victorian York guttering, pictured below.

© Lotte Bagshaw, 2020
© Lotte Bagshaw, 2020

Dotted along the passage are these ornate Victorian cast iron sewer vents, there to allow gases to escape and stop the sewer exploding!

© Lotte Bagshaw, 2020
© Lotte Bagshaw, 2020
© Lotte Bagshaw, 2020
© Lotte Bagshaw, 2020
© Lotte Bagshaw, 2020

There’s many other examples of the Harringay’s Victorian origins, including this drainage pipe, and a postbox.

© Lotte Bagshaw, 2020
© Lotte Bagshaw, 2020
© Lotte Bagshaw, 2020

VR stands for ‘Victoria Regina’ – Regina meaning reigning Queen. So this postbox was built during Queen Victoria’s reign!

© Lotte Bagshaw, 2020

A friend I met on my way!

The Harringay Passage is particularly valuable as a safe walking route between the schools at either end; North Harringay Primary, South Harringay Infants and South Harringay Juniors. These schools were all built along with the ladder, and are classic Victorian red brick schools.

© Lotte Bagshaw, 2020
© Lotte Bagshaw, 2020
© Lotte Bagshaw
© Lotte Bagshaw, 2020

Of particular interest is a section of wall in the Passage running adjacent to North Harringay Primary, connecting Falkland Road and Frobisher Road. I walked past this wall countless times before one day noticing it’s graffiti, which spans a period of over 120 years!

This section of wall is possibly my favourite part of the Harringay Passage, as it’s exactly the kind of history I set this blog up to document. Little examples of history left by ordinary people, in this case, mostly school children – although my boyfriend did leave his own contribution as ‘Bungo 2019’!

© Lotte Bagshaw, 2020

The passageway ends at the north end of the ladder by coming out onto Turnpike Lane between Grill 51 and Shania Supermarket.

And that concludes Little History’s first blog post! I hope you enjoyed reading, and please keep an eye out for more content! Thanks!

Sources:
https://www.haringey.gov.uk/libraries-sport-and-leisure/culture-and-entertainment/visiting-haringey/archive-and-local-history/history-harringay-passage
https://www.haringey.gov.uk/sites/haringeygovuk/files/history_of_haringey_passage.pdf
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Harringay