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HIGHGATE
Description and History from 1868 Gazetteer

HIGHGATE, a chapelry and suburban village in the parishes of St. Pancras and Hornsey, Holborn and Finsbury divisions of the hundred of Ossulstone, county Middlesex, 5 miles N.W. of the General Post-Office, and 4 N. of Charing Cross.

It is situated on the summit and slopes of one of the highest hills in the county of Middlesex, rising to the height of the top of St. Paul's Cathedral. Its immediate neighbourhood is particularly charming, abounding in walks and drives, and commanding views of the metropolis and Surrey hills on the S., of the undulating grounds of Essex and the course of the Thames as far as Gravesend on the E., and of the well-wooded country of Hendon, Finchley, and Barnet, as far as the hills of Hertfordshire, on the N. The village of Highgate lies to the N. and E., and contains many good shops, a literary institution, and savings-bank. It is partially paved, lighted with gas, and well, supplied with water by the New River Company, which has a spacious reservoir on the very summit of the hill. There are omnibuses to the City and West End, both from the Holloway and Kentish Town sides of the hill; and two railway stations-one the Kentish Town station, at the S. foot of the hill, on the Blackwall, Kew, and Kingston line, and another in the Archway-road, on the N.E. side of the hill, on the new line from Edgeware to King's Cross. "In ancient times," says Tanner, "upon the top of this hill was a hermitage, one of the hermits whereof caused to be made the causeway between Highgate and Islington," which afterwards was extended with great public advantage as far as Clerkenwell, and at the beginning of the present century was continued northwards under the name of the New North Road, along which upwards of eighty four-horsed stage-coaches carrying the mail-bags passed daily before the introduction of railways. In order to avoid the steep acclivity of the hill, which rises 1 in 7 at some parts, in 1809 a plan was devised by Vazie of cutting a tunnel through it; but in 1812, when the work had reached to a considerable state of advancement, the earth fell in, and the original plan was abandoned, and an open road formed on the line of the tunnel, with a lofty arch thrown over it to connect Highgate with Hornsey and the country E. of it. This cutting discloses the character of the geological formation of Hampstead and Highgate hills, which consist of blue clay, containing fossil copal, &c., with superimposed deposits of sand, nearly identical with that on the sea-shore, pointing directly to the very remote period at which they must have been formed, when a large portion of the present county of Middlesex formed the bed of an estuary of the sea. At the time of the Roman invasion, these hills appear to have been covered with a vast uncultivated forest, called the Forest of Middlesex, which was not disafforested till 1218, and portions of which still are preserved in the natural woods of Caen Wood and South Wood. In 1387 Hornsey Park, which occupied the site of the present Highgate, was the place, as related by Norden, where "the nobles met in hostile manner to rid the king (Richard II.) of those traitors he had about him. In 1483 the Duke of Gloucester and the youthful king, Edward V., were here met by the citizens of London, who conducted them with great pomp to the metropolis. In like manner the victorious Henry VII., after the battle of Bosworth Field, was here received by the corporation and citizens of London, on his way to the capital. In 1531 the hermitage and chapel were granted by Bishop Stokesley, of London, to William Forte, who was probably the last hermit. In 1589 the hamlet was visited by Queen Elizabeth, and in the same reign Mary Queen of Scots was detained for a short time at the house of the Earl of Arundel, on the Holloway Hill. In 1624 James I. slept here on the night before hunting a stag in St. John's Wood, in the neighbourhood; besides whom most of the sovereigns and illustrious personages have either stayed in or passed through the village, it being the first stage on the main road to Scotland and the North. In 1769 was removed the old gatehouse from which the village is supposed to derive its name, and which was one of the first buildings on the spot, having been erected about 600 years ago by the bishops of London, who had a seat here, and to whom the toll-bar on the crown of the height still belongs. From some ancient custom of hospitality attaching to the manor is supposed to have originated the burlesque oath in vogue till the commencement of the present century, by which the traveller pledged himself over a pair of stag's horns, when alighting at the inn, "never to eat brown when he could get white bread, nor drink small when he could obtain strong beer, with many similar engagements, but with the proviso, except he liked the other better.'" In 1833 the old chapel was removed, and a new church, dedicated to St. Michael, erected on the site of the old manor house. It has a finely-proportioned tower and spire, visible from a great distance to vessels coming up the river Thames. The interior of the church contains monuments removed from the old chapel; among them a tablet inscribed to the memory of the poet Coleridge, who for many years resided in the Grove, at Highgate, and died there in 1834. The living is a perpetual curacy in the diocese of London, value 1550, in the patronage of the bishop. There are two other churches recently built-St. Anne's, at the foot of West Hill, built and endowed by the late Miss Barnett; and a small church recently built on the N. hill. There are also a Congregational chapel at South Grove, erected in 1859, a Baptist chapel in Southwood-lane, two Roman Catholic establishments, and a Jew's school and synagogue. The Highgate Cemetery was consecrated in May, 1839, and originally enclosed a space of 21 acres on the S. side of the hill, facing London; but the grounds have recently been much enlarged by the addition of another portion of land on the opposite side of Swain's-lane, where is the entrance lodge. The free grammar school was founded in 1562 by Sir Roger Cholmeley, Knight, who procured for its better establishment two charters from Queen Elizabeth, and a grant from Bishop Grindall, of London, "the lord and proprietor of the chapel at Highgate," of the chapel and premises, with two acres of land adjoining. The schoolhouse has recently been much enlarged, and a residence built for the head master. The revenue is now about 800, besides which there is an annual exhibition to either of the universities of 50, tenable for four years. There are also spacious National, industrial, and infant schools, besides numerous private and denominational schools. A Magdalene institution has been recently founded. The charities produce about 1,058, including the endowments of Wollaston's and Pauncefort's almshouses for twelve poor women. A hospital for lepers was founded on the lower part of Highgate Hill by William Poole in the reign of Edward IV., and occupied a site now called Lazarets or Lazarcot Field, near Whittington Stone. The original stone has been removed, where the thrice lord-mayor of London heard the sound of Bow bells. Near is the Whittington College, or almshouses, and also the smallpox hospital, removed from King's Cross in 1850. [See Holloway. From an early period this village has been the residence of various characters of note, including Sir Richard Baker, author of the "Chronicle of the Kings of England;" the illustrious philosopher Lord Bacon, who died at the Earl of Arundel's house on the 9th of April, 1626, after a few days' illness caused by a cold caught in trying the experiment of preserving a dead fowl with snow; Dr. Sacheverell, who died here in June, 1724; Nell Gwynne, who is said to have resided at Lauderdale House, late the residence of Sir Richard Bethel, the present lord chancellor; Andrew Marvell, the poet, and secretary to the Commonwealth; Sir Thomas Cornwallis, Comptroller of the Household to Queen Mary; Chief Justice Pemberton; and the Protector Cromwell, who has left his name to Cromwell House (now a school), but then the residence of his son-in-law General Ireton. The principal residences in the vicinity are too numerous to particularise, but mention ought to be made of Caen Wood, the domain of the Earl of Mansfield, attached to which is a mansion, of which the central part was built by the celebrated Lord Chief Justice Mansfield. On the West Hill is Holly Lodge, the residence of Miss Burdett Coutts.

[Description(s) from "The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland" (1868)
Transcribed by Colin Hinson 2003]
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[Last updated on 9 Oct 2003 by David Hawgood. 2003]