History of Devonshire Hill

The history of Devonshire Hill, once known as Clay Hill, is neither long nor storied, it has to be said. There were no ancient Roman forts or dramatic ties to kings, queens, Jack the Ripper, peasant revolts... or anything really. Even the legend that it was the site of a mighty battle in 1016, between Æthelred the Unready’s son Edmund Ironside and Danish King Cnut (ie: Canute of waves fame), turns out to be wrong, based on a confusion with a similar placename further south. In fact, until the 1930s Devonshire Hill was completely rural – just fields and farms to the north of London.

The sprawling Victorian workers’ estate of Noel Park, off to the southwest, and terraces in Bruce Castle, off to the southeast, were the nearest housing developments of most of the late Victorian/Edwardian period, and faced open farmland for some years after their completion. The western end of White Hart Lane passed through these fields as far back as 1619, though oddly enough it was called Apeland Street then.

Here’s a description of the area by a writer named Fred Fisk, from a book published in 1923, and cited by local historian Ken Barker:

“Bending round to the left [Devonshire Hill Lane] we are quite in the country; here is River House, and a part of the New River... The river used to run across the road, under a wooden bridge into the grounds of River House; the latter part, and the termination, of this river can be seen from the narrow pathway [Ash Path], a little further on, leading to White Hart Lane.”

A painting of this bucolic scene can be seen on Ken Barker’s site.

  A view of the area from the Ordnance Survey First Series, 1856. “Clay Hill” is the previous name of Devonshire Hill.

The most notable landmarks in the area were a long meandering loop of the New River, a handful of farms, some potteries and tileworks using locally sourced London clay (hence the name Clay Hill), and an Edwardian isolation hospital. All of these are now, of course, long gone. Compare these two maps: one from 1911 (below left) and the other from 1956 (below right). The differences reflect the massive housing developments of the late 20s and early 30s. Click for larger versions.

Amazingly one constant in both maps is the scruffy little footpath (described as “Ash Path” in the text above) that links Devonshire Hill Lane and White Hart Lane and is still in continuous use today. The map also explains the somewhat odd road layout at Devonshire Court – it’s because that’s where the lane originally ended, terminating at Devonshire Hill Farm.


(For more awesome maps, check out this site operated by the National Library of Scotland! You can choose different map series from different years on the left, and move a slider to make the map translucent, showing the current view underneath.)

The interwar years, 1919-1938, saw a massive suburban housing boom in Britain. Huge numbers of relatively modern-style houses were constructed, and previously agricultural land vanished to brickwork at a tremendous rate. The Devonshire Hill area is a typical example, with early 1930s developments built by the LCC (London County Council) and the Tottenham UD (Urban District) toward the southeastern end (“tunnel houses” and terraces built into quadrangles) and privately-owned semi-detached and bay window terraces along the northern edges. Many of the private homes in the area were built in large speculative developments by companies such as Enfield builders George Reed and Sons, and share a characteristic style – the bay windows and fake half-timbering being popular architectural status signifiers. The Great Cambridge Road/A10, built in 1923-24, was also an impetus for construction, particularly given the historically poor rail transport for the area. For an interesting film on house construction, have a look at this footage. It’s from 20 years later, but the basics are very similar to 1930s houses.

In keeping with the garden city movement so popular at the time (think Letchworth and Welwyn Garden Cities), the houses had quite spacious gardens. In fact, a well-groomed front garden was an important status symbol of the time (and low back fences meant you could closely examine your neighbours’ garden to ensure correct application of social pressure to keep things tidy). Now, of course, many of these tidy hedged patches of greenery are lost to oil-stained paving for front parking. Council houses were also built with plentiful greenspace – see the map above for the U-shaped Raymond Unwin style council terraces, built around grass courtyards.

The presence of the New River is another striking feature on the first map, since there are obviously no gurgling watercourses, spanned by footbridges, in the area anymore. But amazingly the New River, an artificial canal built in the 1600s to bring fresh water from Hertfordshire to London (filling reservoirs in Stoke Newington and Islington along the way), once meandered right around our neighbourhood! This loop of the canal was cut off when the Wood Green canal tunnel was constructed in the mid 1800s. You can see the tunnel entrance today in Bowes Park, just east of the railway station.

Severed from the rest of the New River, this branch became eventually entirely filled in and lost. The oddly curved alley which branches north off Devonshire Hill Lane is actually a remnant of this section of the New River; now paved. The maps also clearly show the two potteries that were once on White Hart Lane, where the Screwfix and Selco warehouses are today. A lot of the hillside was cut away to extract this clay over the years.

 It's hard to believe that this unremarkable alleyway was once the bed of a canal delivering clean water to London.

And speaking of clay, here's a fascinating first-hand history of how the neighbourhood used to be. Another interesting document is here.

Former local landmarks:

The New River canal from Hertfordshire to London once looped around Devonshire Hill. This segment was cut off from the New River in 1852 when a new tunnel was built in Bowes Park, and the abandoned loop regrettably became filled in. The writer above talks about the pastoral pleasures of the extant water-filled sections of canal before it vanished. Interestingly enough, the former New River loop covers much of the area we want to include in our Devonshire Hill Residents’ Association.

River House. One of the oldest houses in the neighbourhood was once located at the present site of 139 Devonshire Hill Lane. This building was demolished in 1936 and a small replacement house (New River House) built on its site. Sadly this 1936 house will be replaced with flats.

 Doomed. Despite 9 letters from local residents opposing and 0 supporting, a private developer was given permission in 2015 to demolish New River House and replace it with a small block of flats.

Devonshire Hill Lodge. A building to the east of River House, where a terrible incident occurred in 1847 – a hapless servant named Lewis Monkford or Mountford was murdered by his unhinged master, Thomas Mackintosh Davidson. This building was later demolished some 50-odd years later. Whitbread brewery built a pub on this site in 1927 – the White Hart Public House, – and this building still stands today. No longer a local, 33 Devonshire Road was renamed Andy Ludlow House, after a director of housing and social services at Haringey Council, and turned into flats.

Devonshire Hill Farm. There was once a small farm on what is now Devonshire Hill Lane, between houses 158 and 180.

Tottenham (Cole) PotteriesThis factory and clay pit was located at the spot where the Selco and Screwfix warehouses are now on White Hart Lane. Its speciality was hand-thrown flowerpots made from clay – material laboriously dug by hand from behind the buildings. This patch of land north of the road was apparently known as Apeland field, despite the almost certain absence of apes.

White Hart Lane (South) PotteriesThis factory and pit was where the Safehouse self storage warehouse is located now on White Hart Lane. Photos of the enterprise, another flowerpot maker which claimed apparently erroneously to be the "largest maker of horticultural pottery in England," are available here.

The Wonder Bakery. A 1937 industrial bakery, makers of the Wonderloaf product, was located where St Georges Industrial Estate stands today, at White Hart Lane near Perth Road.

 – The Southgate Isolation Hospital, later Greentrees – was once located in Enfield to the west of Tottenhall Sports Ground. The hospital opened in 1902, closed in 1988, and was subsequently demolished and replaced with houses. St Paul’s Rise is located there today. 

Eley’s Farm. A very small farm was located at the north end of Tottenhall Sports Ground, where the parking lot is now.

Comments? Corrections? Email info@devonshirehill.org.uk.