Thursday, 19 July 2012

Bucolic vs. Chaotic. Tottenham is not what you expect.

For years Tottenham in North London has suffered with an image problem. Urban decay, Broadwater Farm, deprivation, social isolation, poor transport, decaying buildings. Since last summer's riots have undone twenty years of slow and often non-existent progress to improve the area's reputation.

Few people visit Tottenham, other than to go to Ikea (where there was a riot when it opened) or to White Hart Lane, home to Spurs.

Tottenham has a rich history dating back to Roman times, located on the famous Ermine Street heading north out of London. Like neighbouring Hackney and Enfield, Tottenham became a popular area for hunting and rural retreats from the 16th to the early 19th Centuries. The most venerable secular building of this era is "Bruce Castle", once home to the Kings of Scotland and the Earls of Northumberland. Today it is open as a museum. It is approached from Bruce Grove which contains some of Tottenham's grandest Georgian houses. The High Road, too, is blessed with once grand mansions that housed those wealthy enough to afford a home in the Middlesex countryside away from the dirty crowded city. Today many of these houses are neglected, hidden behind later shops, or restored but under appreciated.

Behind Bruce Castle, and well away from the traffic of the A10, stands the most idyllic corner of Tottenham. The ancient All Hallows Church. It was begun in the 12th Century, and the original tower still stands (with later haphazard alterations). The 15th century brick porch is particularly fine.

All Hallows was even painted by Constable, and the original is at the Met in New York.

Next to the church, behind a high brick wall is the Georgian Rectory. The iron gates are beautiful, and the garden behind, on a sunny day, could be mistaken for a small town in the Chilterns.

The church is surrounded by a graveyard with a selection of interesting and not so interesting graves dating back to the 17th century. But as the railway arrived and Tottenham became part of the growing sprawl of 19th century London, the graveyard quickly became full. An adjacent cemetery was opened. As one moves further from the church, we shift through a hundred and fifty years of cemetery and grave design. There is perceptible shift from rural to urban to suburban not only in Tottenham's houses, but also in its graves.

The earliest part is lined by limes and filled with gothic slabs in closely packed rows.  Continue along and the WWI memorial and portland graves have their own enclosure. They are, as with all CWGC graves, immaculate. Their pristine whiteness only highlight the decay in the rest of the cemetary. Scarcely a single grave is either upright or clean.

Furthest from the church, and closest to the 1920s LCC estate are mid-20th century graves, with green glass chips and plastic flowers. At the centre of this is a picturesque lake with weeping willows, rose garden and crazy paving. The final corner has the most recent graves, invariably timber crosses or black marble with gold lettering.  The space has almost run out. How will Tottenham commemorate its dead now? Or has Tottenham already been killed by the media? Must 2000 years of history be erased and the Estate Agent's rebranding begin?

"Welcome to North Hackney/ East Wood Green/South Enfield"

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