Winchmore Hill : Memories of a Lost Village
by Henrietta Cresswell
CHAPTER VIII: ROUND BY THE WORLD'S END
“The World’s End.” The very name suggests the “Back of Beyond.” To reach it the village was left by Church Hill. It was an April day, but as warm as summer, the young leaves on the lime trees at Uplands were still small, and bright apple-green. The lilac bushes were in bud, and the horse chestnut spikes little pagodas of unfulfilled promise.
At this end of the village the cottages were more picturesque than commodious. There was one with its gable end to the road built half of brick and half of weather boarding, the wooden part being the upper storey. The floor of the bedroom was so uneven that a chair would not stand upon it, but was obliged to be laid upon the ground till needed. The Doctor spent all one night there on business connected with his kitchen garden, or to speak more definitely with his “parsley bed,” and he had to sit upon the chair to keep it on its legs; to lay it down when he got up, and to pick it up again when he wanted to sit down! His patient’s bed had half a brick under one leg to make it usably level. Further on, there was a most picturesque row of cottages standing at right angles to the street; they had all gay gardens: violets and wallflowers scented the air. There were coloured primroses, purple auriculas, and a few hyacinths. The house furthest from the road was a Dame’s School, an infants’ school, kept by old Miss Wiltshire and her niece, where small people were instructed in the three R’s, and the little girls learned plain needlework and how to “mark” in cross-stitch on perforated cardboard.
Next came the Friend’s Meeting House, which was very holy ground, as George Fox had once preached there. On the left was Miss Barnes’ house, which claimed to be the oldest in the village, and to have been standing long before Enfield Chase was enclosed. It had a large old-fashioned garden and small fields marching with the Wood. The Meeting House was once struck by lightning, though it was quite a low building. The Doctor was sheltering at the Post Office opposite the King’s Head, and watching the storm, with Mr James Riley, the grocer, when suddenly they saw the lightning strike the Meeting House chimney, which fell with a crash. They hurried to the spot, and found the old caretaker and his wife seated one each side of their fireplace amidst the pile of bricks, mortar, dust and soot, they were unhurt, but nearly unconscious. The Doctor was once fetched to Hill House, the next on the right, because some mysterious illness had attacked the old sow, her farrow of piglings, and all the poultry. There was no veterinary surgeon, except the cow doctor, nearer than Edmonton, and he was sometimes asked in a friendly way to visit a horse or dog that had met with an accident. When he arrived at Mrs Wadeson’s he found the little pigs and poultry staggering about the yard, everyone of them hopelessly tipsy, and the old sow as drunk as a lord! There had been a great brewing of currant wine and the lees, well-fermented and decidedly alcoholic had been thrown upon the dunghill on which the inhabitants of the stye and of the hen roost had feasted riotously. He diagnosed their complaint, counselled patience, and in a few days all had completely recovered.
Further down the hill Winchmore Hill Church was passed, a brick edifice built about 1827 as a Chapel of Ease to the Parish Church of Edmonton. It is chiefly remarkable for its vast whitewashed ceiling, which appears to rest on crossway beams of oak. In reality these are all plaster work, painted and grained to resemble timbers; their great weight is dependent from the ceiling, instead of giving it any support whatever.
Opposite the church was a low-roofed cottage of gentility, with gardens and fields reaching to the brook in the valley. Stone Hall was built later in these fields, the building material being the stones of Old Blackfriars’ Bridge. At the time the present bridge was built a lady was induced to buy the old material as a speculative investment, but it must have been a most unlucky venture, as the stones lay for many years in a field on Wade’s Hill in the form of dead and petrified capital, before a purchaser was found to give even a low price for them. Below the church were the New Schools and a pretty house with a jessamine-covered verandah, in which lived a Quaker lady, Mirah N——, who took life very seriously. She once told the Doctor she had been “born an adult.” He did not quite see how it could be the case, but, knowing Friend Mirah, he had to admit the possibility, as she was somewhat unlike any other of his acquaintances, and never could have been young. The low cottage standing high above the road, next door, was till 1859 the Village School, and later was used as a night school. It appears as if it might have accommodated some fifty children, if they sat close together, and it is not surprising it was deemed insufficient for the needs of the neighbourhood. At the bottom of the Church Hill there were more small houses with gardens of wallflowers, irises, and white and purple stocks. The first house by the brook had a wealth of double yellow daffadowndillys. The stream had its source in the lake in the Park adjoining the Wood, and once when a dam burst in a flood, the stream rushed through the valley, bringing down such numbers of carp and roach they were dipped out of the water with common buckets, and the field ditches were alive with them, so that they could be caught by hand. There was a curious form of speech in this part of North Middlesex, which confused the Valley with the Hill. For instance when one had come down Church Hill to the brook, they always spoke of the opposite slope as “going up the other side of Church Hill,” and the same thing with the next Valley—“down Cock Hill and up the other side of Cock Hill.” To the inhabitants it seemed a natural form of expression, but was most perplexing to strangers.
The Model Farm, since called “Camelot,” passed through many hands, and was an unlucky house, where much money was lost and none ever made. The Londoner when retiring from business has an obsession that he could make a good thing of a little farm, feeling himself so much cleverer than his country neighbours. Sad to say, he invariably loses all his savings, and it would be difficult to count how many had come hopelessly to grief at the pretty house on the hillside. At one time Brahminy cows were to be seen there, which were of great interest to the children of the Village.
A stretch of woodland blossoming with wild cherry trees formed the corner where the road on the Chase side turned towards Southgate. On the other side were hilly meadows with straggling hedges of blackthorn, with long white flower spikes; a footpath that led to the Allotment Gardens, and in the blue distance the Essex hills, the hills with the sea behind them, in the mind of Winifred, who also vaguely mixed them up with pictures she had seen of the Welsh Mountains, quite regardless of such minor matters as the points of the compass. Her ideas of the sea were that it was like a much larger edition of the pond on the green, circular, and surrounded by pollard willows. She had also heard of bathing machines, and imagined them to be large boats with a square trap-door in the bottom, through which the bather bobbed up and down in the water. It never occurred to her that the sea would rise through the hole, and her machine and herself find a watery grave.
Cock Hill is said to be a punning translation of gallus or gallow’s hill, because one of the gibbets of Enfield Chase stood at this spot. Quite a large colony of houses were clustered round the “Chase Side Tavern” at the corner, some of them both ancient and picturesque.
The hills between the Tavern, and the fields on which Chaseville Park was afterwards built, were so steep that the valley resembled a half-opened book with the swiftly running streamlet in the fold of the binding. There were old houses, or rather cottages, all down one side of the road, and two or three more important dwellings on the opposite hillside. There was a mineral well here, so strongly impregnated with Epsom salts that in the early part of the last century it nearly led to Winchmore Hill becoming a fashionable Spa.
Winifred and the Boy with the fair curls were on their way to the World’s End to gather cowslips. They grew in such quantities that the Grandmother sometimes made cowslip wine. It was always a delightful walk, and never more so than on such a day as this. As the ground rose, all houses were left behind, and at the summit a ragged barn and a field gate marked the entrance to a cart road leading to Oak Lodge, half a mile away, and a fine view was obtained towards Slades Hill and South Lodge. A lake might be seen far below, white at the margins with water crowfoot, that curious plant which has broad leaves to float on the surface, and another pattern finely cut as seaweed in the depths below. In summer it was a place for water lilies, yellow iris, and the rare and beautiful flowering rush, one of the most graceful wild flowers that exist. Before the houses of Chaseville Park or the great mansion of Eversley were thought of, much less built, the lane was a complete avenue of beeches and oaks meeting overhead, wide stretches of grass were on either side, deep ditches overgrown with brambles and dog rose bushes, rushes three feet long might be gathered for basket plaiting, and now and again squirrels might be seen running in a spiral course up some smooth beech trunk, or a weasel gliding snakelike across the road. In the field where Eversley stands was a large gravel pit and a considerable rabbit warren. At the further end of the lane, where the gates of the Fever Hospital are now, there was scarcely a habitation in sight, a gabled farm was on the opposite hillside, and above it, a landmark from all around, stood Enfield Windmill. It was marked on the Ordnance Map as “Lonesome Cot.” The road turned to the left, and became wilder at every step. Blossoming furze made a golden mass above the crozier tops of the young brake fern, and blackthorn, bramble, and briars covered the roadsides, soon the land descend sharply to a farm gate and cottage on the right, and on the other side was a one-storey wooden house, a sort of settler’s hut, glitteringly white with a very red roof and bright green window shutters. The dweller seemed to have a taste in plaster statues, and the goddess Minerva, painted a brilliant blue, presided over the garden. When these were past, the grass began to grow in the middle of the road thicker and greener at every step, till at last it was a mere turfy track winding steeply down the hill, to come to an abrupt termination at two five-barred gates. This was the World’s End itself, and a very out-of-the-world place it was. Looking across the fields to the windmill and the water meadows in the valley, it could be seen that they were yellow with cowslips, such cowslips as one seldom sees, tall and thick-stemmed, with a head of bloom that was almost a cowslip ball in itself. Those were the “Cowslip Meadows,” never to be forgotten. The larks, rising higher and higher, filled the air with song, the note of the cuckoo sounded from the apple orchard of the farm above, and the children wandered up and down the steep hillside filling their baskets with flowers. Then they went down to the water meadows by the deep bed of the stream; it was a picturesque rivulet and one of many moods; now it was flowing rapidly over its pebbly bottom; the deeper pools reflecting the blue sky and fleecy clouds of Spring. Shoals of minnows swarmed gaily under its banks, and where it broadened to a ford, so that the cattle could change their pasture, there were shallow pools full of frog’s spawn and tadpoles. It follows a winding course for many miles, passing under the New River Aqueduct at Bush Hill [that wonderful piece of engineering that has stood the wear and tear of centuries], under a county bridge at the fatal gipsy hole, where more than one lad has lost his life bathing. It passes Bury Street, and flows ever on, widening out into the Wash of Edmonton, and eventually mingling the waters with the River Lea in the green marshes below the Essex Hills.
It was crossed in the fields by high wooden bridges on tall piles, and in winter the floods often rose so fiercely it overflowed its deep channel, making a lake of the meadowland and sometimes carrying away bridges, fences, and gates before its onward rush.
Then in dry, hot summers it would shrink to a mere trickle, a chain of shallow pools where the fish lay gasping, and a dozen stone loaches could be caught by the hand in as many minutes. Surely the Doctor was the only epicure who ever had a dish of fried loaches or “stoney roaches” as they were called locally, served as an appetising relish for his breakfast!
There were willows with their yellow and silvery palms and blackthorn as thickly clustered as on a Japanese fan picture, grey-leaved alders, and later hawthorn and wild apple made a glory of its banks, and in the World’s end meadows the cowslips were finer than anywhere else.
There was a steep path to the Windmill and the many gabled Farm, but the children followed the stream to a moated mound they called the “Castle Mount.” On its steep banks were wild primroses, and the moat held forget-me-nots, yellow irises and tall bulrushes in their season. There were coots and water hens, and the greenish-brown eggs of the wild duck might be found among the dead reeds at the water’s edge.
No doubt there was a house at some time on the Mount, but no trace of brick-work remained. At Cheshunt where a large double moat marks the site of the ancient Nunnery of La Motte, there are picturesque blocks of red masonry, chequered with yellow and grey lichen and moss, and the place has a name and a history, but the Castle Mount is only marked upon maps as “moat,” and no more is known. All is mystery. Who lived there, and when did they live? It must be long since any house stood there as the mound is covered with large trees. It could only be reached by a plank which was sometimes placed there by the farmer when he wished to shoot wild fowl or to cut wood.
But now the sun was sinking and it was time to be making for home. The baskets were heavy with flowers. The children crossed the stream on the trunk of a fallen willow, and again on a farm bridge of logs, and climbed the hill by the side of the young wheat to the lodge and gate opposite to Minerva Cottage. They kept to the upper road, past the gravel pit and past “the Chase” with its farmyard and footpath. It was then a long, low white house made of a row of cottages and containing seven staircases. Just below was Fillcap’s Farm, a small square house with a natural Lych- gate formed by a pollarded larch tree. There was a stackyard full of sweet smelling ricks of last year’s hay and straw, and a cart was being loaded with trusses for market, to start at daybreak next morning. It was all the finest upland hay, far better than the rich looking growth of the marshes; the latter is full of rank weeds, while the former is rich in clover and the finer fodder grasses. The hill below Fillcap’s Farm was so steep that when the Great Northern Railway was made a forty-foot embankment was needed, the roadway was raised and the high viaduct built to carry the line across the valley. At the bottom of the hill was a most lovely ford and a foot bridge; two streams met, and there was a pretty waterfall over a weir some three feet in height. When Winifred was a child she was sure it was exactly like the Falls of Niagara; she had a coloured picture from the “Illustrated London News” nailed up over her bed, with the American Falls in the foreground and the Horseshoe in the distance, garnished with a rainbow. They did not appear to her to be as high as her beloved cascade at the ford. The lane was winding and narrow with deep ditches full or rushes and overhanging hedges of May and Blackthorn. It was always known as Dogkennel Lane, although it was marked as Old Green Dragon Lane in maps; perhaps at some far past time there may have been hounds kennelled in its vicinity, but if so the record was lost. The old “Green Dragon” is said to have stood in the Green Lanes, where Dogkennel Lane joins Bush Hill. There is a lodge built over the ancient cellarage. A short distance from the ford stood a picturesque inn, “The Retreat.” It was hardly more than a beershop, where the market garden labourers went for their “eleven o’clock and four o’clock.” There were some tarred wooden cottages with high pitched roofs standing back in long gardens, where spring flowers and cabbages grew in indiscriminate luxuriance. Near the gate was a large bush of Lancashire yellow top, as the small double yellow wallflower was called; and a mass of grey-green southernwood, which in Middlesex is called “old man,” but in the West of England is known as “boy’s love.” “The Retreat” occupied a central position; on the north side of the road was a footpath through the fields to Enfield, while the entrance to the inn was in a gravelled alley called the Hagfields, which joined Dogkennel Lane with Vicarsmoor and the village. The Doctor heard a queer tale about this place when first he came to Winchmore Hill, which tells of primitive times. A labouring man told the story of himself. He was seated one night alone with the publican, drinking and smoking, when his wife came to fetch him home. His cottage was not far off, and she came more than once. As last, in sheer exasperation, the innkeeper threw an empty pewter pot at her as she leant scolding over the half-door which divided the bar parlour from the vine covered rustic porch. The mug struck the woman on the temple and she was killed upon the spot.
“It was terrible accident,” said her husband, when he told the tale, “but the Master behaved very handsome about it, he gave me five shillings and buried her in his own garden, so I was put to no expense over the funeral!”
The footpath was said to be haunted by the apparition of an old hag, and many people were afraid to make use of it after dark. There used to be five stiles to cross on the way. The children would not have been afraid to walk through it at midnight, and could not understand the London terror of a lonely road. Their Great-Aunt, who lived in Doctor’s Commons under the shadow of the Dome of St.Paul’s, when she was told there was no danger, “as she would not meet a soul all the way,” answered, “that is just what would terrify me!” They raced along in spite of fatigue, scrambling over one stile, and through the next, and via a dry ditch round the side of the third. The sudden “moo” of an old cow who had lost her calf startled them for a moment, but at last they were in Vicarsmoor Lane and nearly home. The dusk was falling and the white mespilus and double blossomed apple showed a gleaming white against Tom Hood’s house, a dear old place, grey fronted and bow windowed, and roofed with shingle tiles red, brown, and mossy. The house still stands but the east front, which was its oldest part, has been altered. In those days it had long dark passages, unexpected stairs, and mysterious cupboards disguised with wall paper. There were two enormous pollard elms by the carriage gate, and a large cherry tree in full blossom made a white mass against the after-glow in the south-eastern sky. Vicarsmoor was a quiet lane with a few large houses standing back in their gardens and grounds. There was some new yellow brick stabling with a clock tower. The clock had lately been brought from the Town Hall in the Borough. Presumably it was sold because it was past work, it kept most erratic time, and was only quoted as an authority by those who required a good excuse for unpunctuality.
A pair of mournful cypresses stood on guard at the gate of a house with a slated roof and a long verandah painted in alternate stripes of dark and light green. The old Miss Catchpoles, who made the mead, used to live there, and later a Mr Burbank, an artist. He painted Pussy so well that he became famous as “the cat painter.” This he felt so humiliating, he left grimalkin severely alone and turned his attention entirely to lions. A great picture of Daniel in the Lions’ Den was his chief work, but attracted no attention.
The cowslip gatherers toiled up the hill, past a group of ruinous weather-boarding buildings dropping to decay, and came in sight of a row of beautiful old houses with tiled roofs and dormer windows. The largest of them had a verandah covered with creepers, and at the garden gate stood a tall handsome old lady. There was a shout and a call of welcome, and the Grandmother received the cowslips and the children with a happy smile of greeting.
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