So apparently I’m hot for Victorian suburbia.

Photo from Memories

Having lived in the multicultural, um, paradise of Wood Green for four years it’s a bit of a shock to the system to find myself setting up home in the altogether more genteel ‘burbs of Enfield. Only a few miles from my former home, this is Outer London with a vengeance: it may be a temporary stop for us, but it’s an experience if nothing else.

One of the things I enjoy about living in a new area is exploring all the back roads and routes and recalibrating the map in my head. First thing I got to know was the free parking spots, which taught me the joy of the maze-like footpaths around the back of the Town, by the New River. Just recently though, I’ve been getting my head around Bush Hill Park. This place was always a diaphanous concept for me, being one of those locales that you don’t really go through to get anywhere. It’s become a source of shortcuts of late though, and I think I’ve finally got it. I like this business of figuring out the Victorian mindset – I’d better, it’s going to dominate my head for the next four weeks while I finish my dissertation on Noel Park. Bush Hill Park is far more typical of late nineteenth century expansionism than the philanthropically-minded spacious avenues of Noel Park: the spacious avenues of Bush Hill Park were intended for a much more salubrious set of suburban pioneers, evidenced by the huge, sprawling (and beautiful) piles on Wellington Road.

The sweeping streets around the station, the gated cul-de-sac of the curiously-named Private Road, were aimed towards the city workers who’d take this train down to Liverpool Street and to some extent that looks true today: the early morning foot traffic as I patrolled this morning were split between the expensive-looking suits of city types and the cheap, shiny suits of estate agents. The smaller houses near St Mark’s Road and Main Avenue seem to have been built with one eye on the Royal Small Arms Factory at what is now Enfield Island Village, and the development continued after the first war with massive infill up to the new A10, built alongside the other major arterial routes between the wars. Now, it’s all uniformly block-paved driveways (good job this isn’t a flood zone) and wide roads to accommodate these new-fangled motor cars.

I love mooching round places hunting for new charity shops, and it’s a pity when I can’t write anything about them because there’s no shops there. So here, I’m a Victorian suburbia geek.

Get real

Clegg: word to yo mama

Clegg: word to yo mama

I always get caught up in the fun of an election, and the TV debates are only making it better (or worse, depending on which way you look at it). Last night’s was a further unveiling of the charm offensive in British politics – ever more important now that the leaders are becoming more like presidential candidates than representatives of their respective parties. It’s Cleggmania here.

As on most levels, Nick Clegg (possibly related to Clegg from Last of the Summer Wine) came out tops. Cameron still has the slightly aloof air of a man who knows, deep down, he’s evil, whereas Clegg manages to schmooze at the camera while still waving a presidential thumb at the blonde in the crowd. He’s the most convincing and comfortable of the three – Gord manages to creep everyone out just by smiling and waggling his massive ears whereas Clegg’s this clean-cut young man who seems morally driven by his policies, not just that they’re been written into the manifesto by some back-room policy chappy.

Of the three, his are by far the most appealing policies – I don’t hold with his jumping in on the spending cuts = wonderful consensus, and he could go a lot further on Trident, climate change and upping the welfare state. But generally speaking, he’s far and away the most palatable of the major contenders. I’m left with a tricky decision in Hornsey and Wood Green: do I stick to my guns and vote Green, with whom I agree on 99% of their policies, but who have no chance of being elected, thereby not countering any Tory surge, however unlikely? Or do I go safe, vote for a good local Lib Dem MP? I understand one vote rarely makes a difference, but having voted in an election where the LDs won by literally two votes, it’s imbued me with a sense of responsibility over my X.

“Eccentric and counterintuitive”

Toddling up Tottenham High Road I can’t help but be saddened by the massive plans for redevelopment they have for here. Now, I’m no idiot, I’m aware that these things happen for the best or worst of reasons, and that Joe Public has very little say, and I’m aware that these projects are rarely so straightforward as to be just a redevelopment project, or just a new football ground, and I’m aware that I can’t foresee the future, and I can’t know how things will pan out.

But. All this considered, I mostly see a massive waste of some of the most beautiful buildings in North London, for very little gain. North Tottenham was one of Haringey’s first conservation areas. It’s full of beautiful early Victorian architecture, and much even earlier than that. This was a well-to-do suburb, home to Edmund Gosse, Luke Howard, William Forster, Rowland Hill and, um, Leslie Phillips, and the area reflects that. For all this heritage, the limbo of the Spurs stadium redevelopment process has left it desolate – boarded windows and empty shops abound while the plans are up in the air.

The controversial plans (as hated on by CABE) would see a swathe of listed buildings done away with, replaced with a wavy glass and steel stadium and ‘integrated’ public space, very much along the lines of the Emirates in Highbury. This would see the footprint of the stadium shifted north to make space for a new hotel (in Tottenham?), supermarket (according to Spurs, most residents go outside the area for shopping… who did they ask exactly? Presumably not those coming out of Sainsburys over the road, or any of the other multitude of independent stores) and housing (in apartment blocks, natch). Best of all there will be an extensive public space. Complete with light poles, this is designed to be part active space (for civic functions and the like) and part passive space (according to the plans, this seems to imply somewhere for coffee drinkers to be). What a waste of an environment that has something really going for it as it is, if only the monolithic Spurs machine would stop hanging like the sword of Damocles over local residents and business.

I’ve looked at plenty of urban regeneration examples recently. It seems to me that one of the least necessary things in Tottenham is an enclave of middle-class exclusivity to serve transient visiting populations, and a heap of dead, left-over space which will go largely unused the majority of the time – as happens in Highbury. I find this sort of mass imposition insidious and unsettling, with the usual feints at public consultation and assumptions of consensus of opinion. What Tottenham needs is support for the businesses and residents that actually use the area on a daily basis. Clean the environment up, as has started to happen in Bruce Grove; renovate those beautiful buildings that are so threatened; the public transport infrastructure is fine, but perhaps tidy up the snarl of traffic around the Northumberland Park junction. Best of all, in my humble opinion, would be to shift the stadium wholesale, perhaps to Picketts Lock as was formerly mooted – that would give some actual stability to an area which has been neglected because of uncertainty for years, and badly needs some solid, enduring support – not a heap of cash thrown at something few want.

I didn’t even have my shots

loughborough estate 2 by secretlondon123. Click pic for link.

There’s something to be said in the notion of the academic ivory tower, and that’s why I particularly like geography: you can’t go back in time to look at history, you can’t jump inside an equation, but you can definitely go out and pound the streets of the city and see geography as it actually is. There’s a lot of value in just walking around, even more so than driving places to look at them (which I admittedly do enjoy), even more so when it’s somewhere new. Studying social changes is all very well, but if I’m locked up in the (almost literal) ivory towers of the Maughan library, I’m not really seeing much gentrification, or what have you. I’m almost too familiar with North London, as well, so taking a trip into an unknown bit of London is always a treat.

Neil Smith‘s idea of a ‘revanchist‘ frontier in which the middle classes are aggressively taking back the city has never sat that comfortably with me. Yet there’s times when you can almost see the frontier in the middle of a part-renovated, part-dilapidated Victorian villa, and the struggles between all sorts of different types of people, motivation and interest makes itself apparent.

I visited the Lambeth Archives today, in an incident which I can only take as a lesson in calling ahead. It meant taking the train to Loughborough Junction, a part of the city I’d never been near, let alone been to. It’s all quite different from my weekend exploits in suburbia, and had that South London taste to the air: high– and low-rise blocks surround cold, angular roads until, it seems, gentrified terraces cut a swathe across the deprivation. Of course, that’s just the perception: the high-rises replaced much of the terracing, which wasn’t always so salubrious, and was an improvement on the old stock when it was built. The renovation of the old houses therefore succeeded the housing provision, an imposition of free market logic onto the mass social provision of Lambeth (see Butler and Robson on this). I’m coming to the conclusion that I’m a Bevanite in terms of social provision, and although these blocks are MacMillan-era, mass housing on the cheap, it’s still somewhat grating to see the juxtaposition on Minet Rd between these stark estates and the immediate gentrification of the next block.

Thankfully, there’s life to this part of London yet, and whatever the lack of social mix on the gentrification frontier, Brixton still hums cheerfully nearby, and I found maybe the best lamb pattie I’ve ever had, which is really all I can ask for on a day out.

Local history

Doing anything this weekend? You should. If you’re local to the Tottenham, Wood Green, Edmonton etc. area, Brook Street Chapel on Tottenham High Road is having an open afternoon to look around the historic building. It’s a fairly rare opportunity, and should be very interesting, linking as it does Dr Barnado with Hudson Taylor, Luke Howard and other local celebrity types.

Full details here.

A local road, for local people

crown court london wood green, by SEvER3D

crown court london wood green, by SEvER3D

I’m now strong enough in the legs to take myself all the way from home to the station in Wood Green by shanks’ pony – the first time this morning not taking the fun-packed (‘fun’ optional here) 243 or 144 bus. My hobbling is a sight slower than my usual trekking pace, and because it’s easier to get a seat at Wood Green than Turnpike Lane, I’m going there rather than the usual Turnpike Lane.

All of which preamble means that I’m getting a daily sightseeing tour of Lordship Lane. The A109 (described in its satisfyingly geeky glory at Sabre) runs from Tottenham High Road, through Wood Green and New Southgate, and ends at Whetstone. My route is just the stretch from Gladstone Avenue to the tube, but it’s one of the most familiar roads to me of any in London – a major part of my mental map.

I commence in the heart of Turkish Wood Green – TFC and Sirwan are strongholds here, and make up a significant proportion of the population. All throughout Noel Park and the surrounding parts of Wood Green, Tottenham and Edmonton the Turks and Kurds are the largest ethnic minority group (according to UCL’s London Profiler) and their presence is felt in the community through shops, presence in schools (large families…) etc. A walk through the area is enough evidence of this that you’d really need.

I skirt around the edge of Noel Park, the Lordship-Lane-facing houses not being a part of the estate technically. You can see the difference as you glance down Farrant, Morley or Moselle Avenues – these are wide, attractive, tree-lined residential avenues, even though the buildings were designed to be smaller and cheaper at this end of the estate. A big difference in housing schemes from those days, but its success is echoed wherever money is not the prime motivation/hindrance and effort is made to create communities with good, attractive houses that don’t look like social schemes or pity. Bring back Nye Bevan and the Garden City to Tudor Walters standard, perhaps.

Round the bend past empty shops and flats, and the very pleasant Chapman’s Green (try walking around this, there’s plenty of cute little houses round the back, sort of like Prospect Place in Tottenham), and you have Perth Road leading to the Scotch Estate. This has something of the estate agent’s creative hand on it, and although parts of it are nice, it doesn’t have the self-contained, cosy feel of Noel Park, surrounded as it is by main roads. One step in the wrong direction and you’re in the tower blocks which contain Murderers.

The shops on the other side of the road are not much of anything really, a source of lentils in times of wants. I’d recommend Brothers bakery though – filthy cream doughnuts and actual friendly people, which is unusual in these parts (although go see John’s fish bar, you might be greeted with a grin as well). On the South side there’s new housing developments and more poky houses and units – a Texaco, a RAC repair centre, the Wood Green Animal Shelter. The new houses, or rather flats have much of the ‘crammed in’ about them, and although they look pretty horrible to me, the WJ Meades’ signs suggest they’re mostly already sold. The vacant slot closer to the station looks to be a potentially valuable site, with much more space, but that’s sat empty for several years now. Credit crunch, I suppose. There’s a new block close to the tube as well, which has been heavily marketed of late – it looks suspiciously like a more windowed version of the monolithic Mecca bingo next door. Not a good look.

That final stretch, from Peter’s barber shop to Spouters’ Corner, is a real mixture. Salisbury Road is technically the shopping heart of Noel Park, but you wouldn’t know it: there’s a bleakness in the air which belies the estate as a whole. Nevertheless, I heartily recommend the excellent Akbar, and the lovely chap who runs Seashell. Also look out for the man with funny fingers in the food&wine shop.

Opposite Salisbury Road, Winkfield Road cuts through the estate to White Hart Lane. Eyes left, and you’d see the back of the monstrosity that approaches as you continue on Lordship Lane – the Crown Court. I say monstrosity because it clearly is, but I love it: orginally a Masonic school for boys, it’s been extended to the point of ridiculousness with space age turrets and roofs that stretch the edifice to Gormenghast-ish proportions. Each day you’ll see suited young types, out of place here, overtaking black-clad elderly women bearing wheely suitcases, heading for some trial or other.

After that, the only notable is the tube station itself, a Charles Holden Piccadilly line extension from the 1930’s, but not nearly as ¬†dramatic as Turnpike Lane before, or Bounds Green and Arnos Grove after. Spouters’ Corner, opposite, now dominated by the cinema used to be the local equivalent of Speakers’ Corner; and what’s now a blank bit of High Road heading towards Palmers Green was then Jolly Butchers’ Hill. Things get less interesting, don’t they?

She drives me crazy

I’m back on two feet again, rather than the three or four of recent months. A particularly unhelpful doctor gave me the all clear to fling the crutches away (at least, into the plaster room) then off I was and true to form, the first thing we did upon my escape from the Whittington was to trawl the local charity shops. So from today I’m free to roam the earth as I wish, sit upstairs on a bus, and drive.

I can drive again, when I feel up to it. Yet here I am, pretty much decided to sound the death knell on my relationship with my little Peugeot. Back to university with a bit of luck in a couple of months, and sacrifices have to be made: this is the big one. I never wanted to be one of those characters like Dylan Moran in Shaun of the Dead who don’t have a car because it’s London, you don’t need one. Of course you don’t, it’s a nice luxury, he missed the point. Also what good is he in a zombie holocaust hmm? A car is a lovely thing to own, even in London where the drivers are impatient, the taxis violent, and the oik who crashes into you is uninsured. I love my car.

Yet total it up and what does it cost me? With tax, insurance, fuel, maintenance and the like, when we totalled up it came to an unbelievable three thousand plus pounds – and I can’t afford that where I’m going. So, it looks like the little one is on her way out, and public transport here I come! Wish me luck, and patience, and headphones and a good book.