Origins of Lordship Recreation Ground
The earliest map of the Tottenham area was produced by the Earl of Dorset in 1619 when Tottenham was a village and open country. This is a most unusual map an as much the orientation is south to north rather than north to south that is used on maps today. This old map shows the areas of Downhills, Broad Waters and Lordsmeade as being the area covering the present day Lordship Recreation Ground. Broad Waters was virtually north of the stream then known as the SLYPE (Now the Moselle Brook). South of this stream was Downhills, which does not stretch as far south as the present day Downhills Park. While to the west of the SLYPE is Ducketts and Hawke Park, which is the area that now covers through to Wood Green High Road and Turnpike Lane.
If you are interested in the History of Tottenham it would be worthwhile going along to Bruce Castle Museum to get a copy of this map as it really is excellent value for money ( £3 at time of writing)
Back in 1619 it appears that Lordship Lane was then known as Berry Lane, while West Green Road was the Black Hope Lane (The name was changed again to Black Up Lane at a later date). The area was perhaps best described by a Mrs Riddell, a popular novelist of her day, who lived at Hangar Green. Hangar Green is now part of the Chestnuts Recreation Ground and was apparently where hangings once took place – a vast change in use! Mrs Riddell, who moved to Tottenham in 1859, said by that time most of the woodland had been cleared. She said "it was utterly country as though situated a hundred miles from London". The roads were bordered by wheat fields and meadow land, while the turnpike at Turnpike Lane had been operating from the year 1770 to 1870, when the Parish took over responsibility for the upkeep of the roads. At this time a pathway led in almost a straight line from the turnpike up to the site where the water tower stood (Now Pendennis Road) which was situated by the then Downhills House. Yet another pathway ran from this point down to West Green where a stile once stood (About where Downhills School stands today).
By coincidence, about the same time, another author was living in West Green in a house opposite the Bricklayers Arms public house. This was once sited where West Green Station formerly stood and where Park View Academy stands today. This author was none other than one Louis Lucien Bonaparte, the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte. So I think it is safe to say that Louis Lucien Bonaparte walked the paths through to the north of Tottenham, perhaps along with his children to the Moselle, which has been a favourite place to go to for many generations over the years.
Another pathway also ran from the water tower in a north-easterly direction to the foot of Wimborne Road and then on to Bruce Castle and through to All Hallows Church. It then proceeded through the cemetery to White Hart Lane by Rectory farm. Thus this was a very important path for the people of south-west Tottenham wishing to get to the Parish church and north Tottenham.
Review of Local maps
The next map of the area dates from the early 1800’s but it is a very fragile condition and difficult to copy. Nevertheless it can be seen at Bruce Castle Museum by appointment only. Yet another map we have is from 1864, when it can be seen that the former meadow land in the area south of Philip Lane, then known as Green Park, had really began to be developed for housing. However, the area to the north of Philip Lane was still open fields, apart from the West Green Chapel (now Downhills School) and West Green House, which is now the entrance to Downhills Park. There was also a lane leading up to Downhills House from Philip Lane (this is now Downhills Park Road). Downhills House was situated at the top of this lane as it bears left to go downhill to then west. The house appears to have extended along the lane to a point, which would be past where Higham Road meets Downhills Park Road today.
Also, when looking at then1864 Ordnance Survey map,(see extract at rear of this report) we can see a wide avenue of trees which ran from approximately the east side of the now Wilmott Road and the west side of the now Higham Road. They stretched northwards towards a large pond like structure with two islands in the middle on the banks of the Moselle brook. This structure also features on a map of ‘Antiquities of Middlesex’ drawn by Montague Sharpe in 1931. He is quoted as saying that in this area was a Moat of antiquity. Furthermore, at about the same time, William James Roe wrote a book titled ‘ Ancient Tottenham’ and on page 79 he refers to a ‘Homestead Moat’ and indicates that the site is marked on an Ordnance Survey map of 1920. However, we have looked at the 1920 map but cannot see it mentioned although, as previously mentioned, it does appear on the 1931 map. The book by William James Roe clearly suggests that this is on the site of the boating pool, which was made between the war years of 1939-45.
Despite these facts, it does not tie in with other Ordnance Survey maps that we have seen. The one dating from 1920 shows an oblong pool with two islands but the avenue of trees has now gone. The next map we referred to dates from 1930/34 and Downhills Lane has now been changed to Downhills Park Road. The surrounding area has also been developed and Walpole Road, Downhills Way, Higham Road and Willmott Road have now been built as well as houses in Downhills Park Road itself. But this map now shows that the shape of the lake had changed with only one island alongside just a couple of trees. At this time the Model Traffic Area and the Shell Bandstand had not been built. This tells us that this would be about the time Lordship Recreation Ground had been purchased by Tottenham Council from the trustees of the Townsend Estate, although it had been reported that steps had been taken back in 1914 to purchase this land. As we now know the First World War intervened so it was not until 1921 that this project was taken up again. It appears that the land was used for allotments during the First World War to help solve the food shortages during the hostilities.
The Official Opening
It was not until the 13th June 1936 that the Lordship Recreation Ground was officially opened to the residents of Tottenham. They were now able to enjoy the Shell Theatre and Boating Pond and some Tennis Courts (The tennis courts are not shown on the map but were reported in the Tottenham Herald at the time). There were also Cricket and Football pitches provided.
The Broadwater Farm
Broadwater Farm also features very prominently in the history of Lordship Recreation Ground. It had functioned as a working farm until it’s closure in 1916, which was a strange time to close given that the country still needed food for the war effort. By 1936 the farm had been pulled down and the site then used to construct the Tottenham Lido.
Broadwater Farm had originally been built in 1798 but had been further extended in the 1800’s by William Hobson of Markfield House. William Hobson was a builder who had built Markfield House in 1799. This land was also marshy due to flooding by the Stonebridge Brook, so it would appear that William Hobson had plenty of experience of building on marshy land. This is further confirmed by the fact that William Hobson was also responsible for the construction of the Martello Towers along the southern coastline of England, which were used for sea defences during the Napoleonic Wars. It is strange to think that Napoleon Bonaparte’s nephew, the author Louis Lucien Bonaparte, was living in West Green at this time and he could well have jumped over the stile at West Green and walked the footpath to Downhills Water Works, and then proceeded on the footpath across to Broadwater Farm on his route to All Hallows Church. During his journey he would be passing a building built by the man who had helped thwart his Uncle – They say that history crosses many paths!
An Historic Amenity
When reading many of the books on the history of Lordship Rec it gets very confusing with many dates being quoted, but from this confusion it is safe to say that the land was finally purchased by Tottenham Council in 1926 from the Townsend Trustees for the princely sum of £21,109. Shortly after its purchase, the site of antiquity known as the ‘Homestead Moat’ was seemingly altered without any thought to its historic origins and made into a boating pond.
It would also appear that the area had been used for recreation for many years prior to it’s formal purchase in 1926. It is reported that in 1902 a large bonfire some 36 feet high was made and that a children’s tea party for 10,000 was held on the 26th June1902, to celebrate the coronation of King Edward VII. Apparently the Coronation itself had been postponed but the event went ahead anyway.
There are also several books, which have been written by local people about their childhood in Tottenham, that mention the happy times and sunny days spent in the area bordering the Moselle Brook which would have been prior to the time when formally taken over by the council.
The records tell us that the official opening of Lordship Recreation Ground took place in 1936, but in the official programme of Tottenham’s Charter day on Thursday 27th September 1934, it announces that the Lordship Recreation Ground would form part of the 3 day festival to celebrate Charter day and that 49 trade vehicles (Floats) would be entering by the Rusper Road gate and parked for viewing.
There was to be community singing taking place between 6pm to 8pm in the section by Broadwater Farm. In addition there was a Fun Fair for 3 days in the Recreation Ground and finally, on Saturday 29th Sept 1934, a Grand Fireworks display was being held in the evening. So despite the official opening in 1936 the area we know as Lordship Rec was being used for Public events well before this date.
From a review of other records we have discovered that the Boating Pond took £3,200 to construct, while the Shell Theatre had cost £1,410. Unfortunately the cost for the Tennis-Courts and other facilities were not mentioned.
It would also appear that about this time Rowland Hill School was built on a plot west of the Broadwater Farm building. Also, as previously mentioned, the Tottenham Lido had been built and opened on the 5th June 1937. This was a wonderful open-air pool built to replace the existing open-air pool, which was situated on Tottenham marshes. The pool at Tottenham marshes had been opened in 1905 but was finally demolished in July 1939 just two years after the Tottenham Lido had opened. The new Tottenham Lido was a very popular amenity that gave many residents of Tottenham some very happy times. From the diving boards it allowed some excellent views across the whole of Lordship Rec. Construction on the pool was apparently started in the early 1930’s but due to financial problems was halted (things do not change!). In total it had eight sides and took some 490,000 gallons of water to fill. It was only the sixth pre-war Lido in London to be heated and to maintain a temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit. It also had 96 changing cubicles for each sex and 500 lockers. The focal point was a large clock tower that could easily be seen from Lordship rec. It being an open-air pool it would be closed for the winter months.
Unfortunately, during the winter closure in 1984, some Travellers broke in to the facility and used it as a Travellers site and promptly pulled it to pieces. Many Tottenham residents were up in arms at this being allowed to happen. Following this level of wilful damage and destruction, the Lido never recovered and was eventually demolished for the new housing development that occupies the site today. It is sad that such a wonderful facility should be lost in this way. Although it had been closed for the duration of WWII between 1939-45, it had served the residents of Tottenham very well in the 42 years it had been open to the public.
Model Traffic Area
Yet another wonderful facility in Lordship Rec was the’ Model Traffic Area’, which was officially opened in July 1938 at a cost of £6,000. This was the first of its kind in England and was a major event both locally and nationally since when it opened it attracted wide press coverage. Chief Inspector Ernest Newark from Tottenham Police Station, who was very prominent in the development of this unique facility, was called upon to make radio broadcasts on the Model Traffic Area and to explain how it would help children develop their knowledge of road safety. This was very important at a time when the age of the motor car had now taken over from horse and carts. It is still possible today to see some brief footage of the opening ceremony on the British Pathe News website. This really was a pioneering event.
At about this time the embryo of BBC Television service was getting started and they also filmed the event and have filmed the M.T.A on many occasions since. The M.T.A was obviously closed during the Second World War but was re-opened on the 17th July 1947. This facility was considered so prestigious that on both of its formal opening ceremonies it was officially opened by the Transport Minister of the day. It was a very popular facility for the children of Tottenham up to the late 1960’s. Unfortunately, during the 1970’s and 1980’s both lack of investment and neglect resulted in a serious decline in its usage.
In 1992 the then council undertook a lot of work to try and restore the area to it former glory but it was never to the standard enjoyed by the children of Tottenham pre 1970. Needless to say new rules and regulations were largely responsible for this. I am not aware previously of any children getting drowned while using the boats, or sustaining serious injuries from riding the bikes, but the fear of it in today’s society stopped children from having this level of fun. This is a shame for many people like myself who spent many happy hours in the Lordship Rec. We must not blame this on Political Correctness or the Nanny state, since vandalism has played a big part in the decline in areas such as the M.T.A and other amenities. Both the bike shed and the refreshment area together with the boat shed were great buildings, but as memory serves me these were burnt down by vandals in the late 1960’s. It’s a sad fact that in today’s society you could not leave Bicycles and Boats around even though under lock and key. This is a real shame when you have experienced all the happy hours we had as children without anything approaching this level of fear.
Thankfully such groups as the mother and toddler group and the ‘Friends of Lordship Rec’ are trying to bring some fun and excitement back into the park in order for today’s’ children to remember their childhood. Memories are great for us all and fond memories that much sweeter.
World War Two
During the World War Two years the Lordship Rec played another important part in the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign when a lot of ground was used for allotments where people could grow lots of food and, despite the food rationing and shortages during the war years and those that followed, it was left alone and respected as belonging to others. I suspect that kids may have had the odd raspberry and strawberry or other soft fruits as sweets were on ration, but that was hardly surprising. But wholesale scrumping or stealing of produce was largely unheard of.
Unfortunately the war years also brought some very sad times to the Lordship Recreation ground, which had large anti-aircraft gun emplacements and searchlights installed. There was also a post wardens hut sited on the higher ground by Higham Road and Gloucester Road. The guns were intended to defend the area around the park from enemy air attacks and many enemy bombs were reported as falling in or near the park during this period. Lordship Recreation Ground also had two public air raid shelters constructed within the park. One was at the main gate in Lordship lane and the other at the Downhills Park Road entrance. These were large reinforced concrete shelters built underground which could accommodate large numbers of people.
The London Blitz had started a year and one day after the declaration of war on the 3rd September 1939. The first bombs fell on London on the 7th September 1940 and then continued unabated through to the 10th May 1941. For the first eight-week period commencing on the 7th September 1940 the citizens of London experienced day and night raids. In the second week of this period bombs Tottenham took a severe pounding and the area around the recreation ground suffered many hits.
This forced many local residents to use the public air raid shelters for the first time. The bombings on the 16th, 17th and 18th September had been really heavy and on the 19th September it was a really wet and rainy day. Consequently, due to the bad experiences over the previous day and the weather conditions, many people decided to take shelter that night in the Lordship Rec shelter at the Downhills Park Road entrance.
Regrettably at 10.50pm that evening the shelter took a direct hit from a high explosive German bomb. The official report records that at least 41 people were killed and at least another 100 injured. We must realise that this incident occurred just 18 days after the London Blitz had started, and people were just learning how to deal with these events. It would seem that nobody in authority had any idea of the scale of casualties or indeed how to report on such things. They were also trying to keep peoples morale up so very few details were reported on what really happened on that fateful night. This makes it really hard 64 years later to get to the truth of what happened. We must also realise that five years later the war had ended and the joy of this was a great relief to most people. Consequently, some of the most tragic events were placed in the back of people’s minds and forgotten, except for the survivors and families of those who were involved.
Campaign for Permanent Memorial.
Despite the severity of this incident and the degree of human suffering it contained, I am sad to say that no memorial of this tragic event has ever been erected in the park. Yet many of the people who died that night lived within half a mile of the Park. The Rec had also been their playground where they to had enjoyed many happy days. For they had witnessed many of the new facilities that had been installed in the park prior to the war. Many of them also had allotments and in their day they were very much friends of the Park that now sadly time had chosen to forget.
I am pleased to say that today’s ‘Friends of Lordship Recreation Ground’ are committed to putting the record straight and are trying to get a permanent memorial installed, which will be dedicated to the poor souls who lost their lives on that dark September night in 1940.
After the war many of the attractions in the Rec were re-opened. The allotments too were still being used until the 1970’s when the Broadwater Farm estate was built. It is interesting to note that most of the housing blocks on the Broadwater Farm Estate are named after the ‘Battle of Britain’ airfields from which many brave airmen gave their lives to protect this noble country of ours. It is through their suffering that we are able to enjoy the open spaces of parks like the Lordship Rec today.
We should also not forget that the park has had many friends who have cared for its well being for over 100 years. We know that even in the late 1800’s the people of Tottenham were expressing their concerns about the prospect of their open spaces being taken over by the rapid growth of housing in the area.
The Tottenham area at this time was full of market gardens, which historically had fed the people of the city of London. The people who protested had known the country lanes and footpaths as well as the wheatfields, meadowland and farms. Therefore the people knew the value of open spaces and thankfully their protests concerning the area of Lordship Rec were upheld leaving these spaces for us all to enjoy from childhood to old age.
Your ‘Rec’ needs YOU !
It will be appreciated how important it was for us to have ‘Friends’ in the past that cared and could foresee our needs. Equally it is just as important today to have the ‘Friends of Lordship Recreation Ground’ to defend the general public’s interests. So if you want this area to pass on to future generations please come along and join us and give us your help and ideas on how best to secure the future of the Lordship Recreation Ground. This really is an important issue and we need your support! If you cannot manage this then please use the park as often as you can and enjoy yourselves so that it can be seen our efforts have been worthwhile.
If you can spare a moment of your time can we ask that you stand at the Higham Road gate and look across the Lordship Recreation Ground and we are sure you will agree that it is a most important site and that we are lucky to have it today thanks to the foresight of those ‘Friends’ of 100 years ago. So please use it! Love it! and keep it for future generations to enjoy. Let it be a part of your ‘Memory Lane’! People of Tottenham have done so for many years and are still able to remember those happy days even though many are now in far away places.
‘The Friends of Lordship Recreation Ground’
Prepared by Ray Swain
We trust that you will enjoy this history of the park, which we hope is correct. This has been achieved by reading many local books, most of which can be seen at Bruce Castle Museum where there is also a great selection of old photographs and maps. The facilities at the museum have been invaluable to us in researching this history, as indeed are the staff, without whose help it would have been almost impossible. The museum at Bruce Castle is yet another important place that must be preserved as part of Tottenham’s heritage. They also need the support of ‘Friends’ to help them carry on their sterling work for future generations who surely should never get bored while we have our parks and museums at their disposal. We must consider ourselves very lucky and should strive to support these wonderful things.