At that time Muswell Hill Road was a country road, with Southwood Hall at one end and Upton Farm at the other. By 1894, Onslow Gardens was built, Connaught Gardens was marked out, and builders were poised to develop the Woodlands estate. Cut out of Churchyard Bottom Wood was a group of tumble-down cottages, on a triangular site. An undated map, held by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, shows six Wasteland Cottages with an opening between them -- not a road, not metalled, but a way through to the strawberry beds behind. Further along was another gap which led to footpaths through the wood. These two openings were to be the basis of the plan. The same two gaps and the cleared ground, which was the strawberry field, can be seen in the 1894 map below. They are shown as 'Muswell Hill Cottages' and, quite in passing, Peter Sellers was to live on the same site much later on. To develop the wood as a housing estate, the Commissioners needed to drive two roads through from Muswell Hill Road and build houses along them. The Muswell Hill Road frontage alone would not have provided room for enough houses to make the venture worthwhile.

Much earlier the land and cottages had been given as almshouses to house old people and were held on their behalf by the Trustees of the Hornsey Charity Commissioners. By the 1890s the cottages were tumble-down and in need of major repair. Public-spirited, wishing to do the best for their old tenants, the Trustees could not improve them since they had no money. Some years before the Ecclesiastical Commissioners had planned to develop Gravel Pit Wood (now Highgate Wood) as a housing estate, but this had met such opposition that they backed down. Instead, in 1886, they gave all 69 acres of woodland to the public. At the same time they offered to sell Churchyard Bottom Wood to Hornsey Urban District Council for £25,000, but this was too much for Hornsey to raise on its own. The Council said that people living outside Hornsey also enjoyed the wood and other authories should help, but no help was given. In the end the offer fell into abeyance.


Map showing the Muswell Hill Cottages which were the centre of the controversy.

 

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Church of England Record Office

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