Winchmore Hill: Memories of a lost Village

henrietta cresswell as a child

From Chapter I

Winchmore Hill in the 1860s

Winchmore Hill half a century ago (i.e. circa 1860) was a small village ten miles from London, away from the high road, on the outskirts of the district known as Enfield Chase.

If you mentioned its name a few miles away your hearer was often ignorant of its very existence. It was in the depths of the country, and is nearly unrecognisable in the flourishing suburb of to-day. To get to it from London you took the omnibus from the “Flower Pot” in Bishopsgate Street. The omnibus has vanished; the Flower Pot has vanished, gone with the London of Dickens, and surely Winchmore Hill has vanished – gone into the “Land of Long Ago.” No, the old village has not quite disappeared; even now there are unchanged corners, and houses that have stood a hundred and fifty or two hundred years.

The Journey from central London to Winchmore Hill circa 1860
At the Flower Pot (a public house) you would have found the “Little Wonder” with the old coachman on the box, and the conductor on the step waiting for its passengers.

A few years earlier when the Doctor first came to the Village there was a stage-coach, which carried Her Majesty’s Mails once a day to the “Green Dragon,” where the villagers called for their letters. The return fare was five shillings, but the “Little Wonder” justified its name by performing the journey twice daily, at the cost of only half-a-crown.

There was not over-much hurry in starting, the yellow paint shone in the misty London sunshine, the brown horse and the old blue roan were at the pole, there was a crack of
the whip and a straining at the traces and the omnibus rattled away in the pride of novelty and progress, over the bumpy granite pavement of Bishopsgate…

Arriving in Winchmore Hill after a two-hour journey by horse-drawn omnibus
… The horses strained at their collars to start afresh. A row of tall Lombardy poplars were passed, and then the Doctor’s house, where the scent of the sweet-briar hedge mingled with the fragrance of the climbing roses. Next door stood a white brick chapel. On the opposite side was the carrier’s yard and some cottages, and then the horses breasted the short hill into the village- a little old-fashioned country place, a green where boys played cricket, and a round pond encircled with willows, on which a flock of ducks were swimming. Some geese were preening their feathers on the grass by the pump, where some of the village folk were waiting their turn with buckets, most of them gaycoloured American pails made of wood with iron handles. On the stretch of turf below the pond a boy was washing a cart. From a deep entry leading to the blacksmith’s forge, the ring of the hammer on the anvil sounded through the still air.

(THE OLD BAKERY!) The gabled weather-boarded cottage and bakehouse which stood at the corner of the Hoppers Road had a garden full of flowers. In spring the great cherry tree that overhung the footpath was a mass of white blossom, and in late summer beds of clove carnations filled the air with perfume.

The ‘bus rumbled through the village and halted at the “King’s Head,” where the passengers who lived on the Hill alighted, and then took its way a half-mile further to its stables at the “Green Dragon,” in the Green Lanes. It took nearly two hours to reach Winchmore Hill from the City, as it was an out-of-the-way corner of the world.

From Chapter II

The old gabled house between the village pond and Hoppers Road was the baker’s. It was very picturesque, built of weather-boarding and roofed with mossy tiles, and had an extensive yard and huge barns and granaries. There was a bakehouse of the old sort with an oven heated by burning faggots within, and there were long kneading troughs under the window.

White and purple lilac lined the fence of the yard. At one end near the gates stood the tall sign of the “Salisbury Arms,” and at the top of Compton Lane was a triangle of grass, a fenced-in shrubbery of straggling hawthorn bushes, and a fine horse chestnut tree in full bloom. At one time Mr and Mrs Burns had the bakehouse, but they moved to the Farm near the Doctor’s to keep dairy cows, and turned all their attention to milk instead of bread.

…Before Mrs Burns had the baker’s shop the two Miss Catchpoles owned the business. They, like the Burns’, belonged to the Society of Friends1. Friend Lydia and her sister kept bees, and kept them most successfully. They had so much honey they hardly knew how to use it, so it occurred to their minds to make some mead. They appear to have imagined that it was, what we should now call a temperance drink, a sort of eau sucre of the most harmless nature. One cold winter’s evening as they sat over the fire (this is the fireplace in the dining room of Chalkley’s apartment!) they thought they would try their new brew. It was certainly very good. The sister retired early, but Friend Lydia felt so cosy by the fire2 that she had another glass. She had never felt better in her life, but when she awoke in the grey wintry morning in her armchair with the fire out and the cold grey ashes looking dismal and forlorn, amazement entered her soul. When she met the Doctor the next day she told him about it, and how good the mead had tasted, but added she “I fear, Friend John, I must have been powerfully refreshed.”

From Chapter XII

In 1871, change comes to Winchmore Hill

It was the night of the 31st of March, 1871, the permanent way was completed, the station was finished and smelt strongly of fresh paint, everything was ready. It was late in the evening, all was very quiet, the familiar sound of the working engine and attendant trucks attracted no attention, but suddenly the village was startled by a loud explosion, a perfect volley of explosions!

Many people ran down to the bridge expecting to find some unlooked-for accident had occurred. It was the navvies celebrating their departure with their last train of trucks by a fusillade of fog-signals under the bridge and railway station!

And on All-Fools’ Day, 1871, the first passenger train came through Winchmore Hill, and the little village developed into a Suburb of London Town3.

1 Also known as “The Quakers”, a Christian sect who strictly avoided alcohol.
2 This fireplace is in the dining room of Chalkley’s apartment – see the photographs of that apartment.
3 The arrival of the train in 1871 reduced the journey time to central London from an uncomfortable two hours to just twenty minutes