The Fortismere Census

Everyone knows that Muswell Hill, from having been a rural area, was suddenly developed at the end of the nineteenth century. Large estates were developed, mainly by two builders, W.J.Collins and J.Edmonds. This chapter tries to describe some of the people who lived in the big estates before the expansion started. The main source is the census returns.

The first Census returns, at the start of the nineteenth century, were mere totals of the numbers of people in the district divided into four occupational groups, Manufacturing, Commerce, Handicrafts and Agriculture. Figures were collected by parish officials and gave nothing more than a few statistical details. No names were collected. The census has always been a counting operation (enumeration), but gradually more questions were asked, names of people and later of houses were added, so that the schedules now released after a hundred years, when all the people are dead, can tell us a certain amount about the population of Muswell Hill in the period. Many houses had no name and, as they were not numbered either, we can seldom tell where the houses stood. No doubt someone will make, or indeed may already have made, a statistical analysis of the demographic changes of the neighbourhood from census to census. Here we are concerned only with trying to trace the story of a few houses which stood in grounds large enough to interest later housing developers.

The first census returns which give names of individuals were collected in 1841, so the first pupils of St James's School which had opened the year before would have been on this census gird probably formed the first school register. The first census to give house names was in 1881, so one has to start there, but by tracing names backwards we can follow the story of some houses with large grounds back to the 1871 and 1861 schedules. Even so, much is guesswork.

The 1894 map shows that Fortismere Estate had two large houses adjoining and sharing the same elliptical carriage drive. The 1881 Census calls them both Fortismere.

Fortismere in 1894

This map shows the familiar sharp bend in the road at what is now the top of Tethedown, the sites of Fortismere St James's School and Fortis House, The large houses opposite St James's Chu rch had been built an the lake was called a fishpond. It must have been a valuable source of food for centuries.


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