Saturday, 29 August 2015

Bruce Castle Museum

Lordship Lane
Tottenham  N17 8NU

Wednesday August 25th 2015

Linda had decided that the boxes would have to look after themselves for the time being and headed from one Lordship Lane to the other in search of some local history.  The Bruce Castle Museum, essentially Haringey Borough’s archive showcased in an old manor house, was something of a last minute decision  which could only happen once the Tube strike had been suspended.

A 243 bus  took us from Wood Green station and dropped us very close to the landscaped park which surrounds Bruce Castle – of course it was raining so we started by diving into the Tower –originally erected by Sir William Compton,  the owner  in 1514-6, it is thought, as a Falconry centre or Mews. Whether Compton lived here is not very clear and the house/site is named indeed for the Bruces of Scotland.  It’s a sturdy but not showy round tower now used as an art gallery where local artists can exhibit.  Jo, who had found her recent trip to the Royal Academy underwhelming, approved of many of the works which included some bits of garden fork and hessian framed and arranged to form a ‘conversation piece’. With too many pictures for too few walls at home we were not in the market today and went into the main building. This is the solid Tudor brick edifice.

The exhibition is free but photography was not allowed and we did not wish to embarrass the custodian by defying this. As in a lot of local history/ borough museums many of the displays are arranged thematically showing both the history and diversity of the borough. Like all the London Boroughs they celebrate 50 years but without a map, and not being locals, it was sometimes difficult for us to locate specific bits of the borough (this is the borough where Harringay is part of Haringey) – we were finally driven to borrow  a map off the custodian and established that is bordered by Enfield in the East, Barnet to the West, and Camden, Islington  & Hackney to the south.  Highgate woods and the River Lea form natural boundaries. 

So the early archive photos show such events as hay-making in Highgate, fishing on the River Lea (Haringey’s eastern border) and sheep on Tottenham Marshes, where  believe it or not, there is still wildlife. The New River is also an important man-made feature of the borough.  Apart from its clusters of villages, it developed fairly late as a residential area, but when it did, offering homes at cheaper rents than the slums of Inner London, it became a residential area for ‘persons of the first respectability’.  The population went from 46,441 in 1881 to 71,343 ten years later so building became one of the main forms of employment.  This included the impressive rebuilding of the Archway Bridge, such a memorable landmark in the borough, even if liable to road clogging issues.
Like most local museums  Bruce Castle illustrates the local industries – Lebus furniture gets another mention  (see our earlier visit to the Walthamstow local archive), Barratts , a huge confectionary factory later taken over by Northern firm  Bassetts  as in  liquorice allsorts (confusing but bear with me)  and the Samuel  South Potteries Samuel South Potteries.   Jo and I both remembered Spong mincers and bean slicers, having only just, and very reluctantly passed this family heirloom onto a charity shop…Pride of place is given to Gestetner - a firm which invested heavily in their own technology and who did not see photocopying coming …

The local employees needed their leisure time and amongst photos of children playing and works outings there  is a brief history of Tottenham Hotspur  Football Club which has had a presence in the borough since 1882 when local school boys and cricketers were moved to play football and set up the club. 
Impressively the residents of Haringey raised £700.000 during the Second World War to fund HMS Hotspur – of course. 
The other memorable site in the borough is of course Seven Sisters – legends vary about the origins of this and it seems related to both seven actual sisters who then planted seven trees at Tottenham Green – most recently in 1996. Nowadays it must be harder to find seven sisters than locating healthy tree specimens.

Naturally there are sections on the growth of first primary then secondary education within the borough and broadly speaking health and welfare – there are no major hospitals within the borough  though there are local health facilities.  Bathsua Makin was an early advocate of education for girls and located her school within the borough.

Both World Wars are covered with local testimony and photographic examples . Most interesting is the story of  Walter Tull, who was a black trail-blazer both as a Tottenham footballer and First World War officer. Also unique to the borough is the fact that during the first war Alexandra Palace was used to house first Belgian war refugees and then prisoners of war/internees.

After viewing the archives and artefacts you are invited into the ‘Invention Centre’ which houses a series of interactive (some more than other) exhibits featuring local inventors. These included
Rowland Hill – the inventor of the Penny Post – who was a local as wase Luke Howard the cloud man – he categorised rather than invented clouds of course. We had fun failing to press the correct button to put a suitable cc engine into a variety of machines  (as engineered by the Prestwich factory),    but did correctly answer enough questions to get us the length of the New River.  In the adjoining room you can play at designing your own post box or stamp.

Upstairs there were two special exhibitions – one looking at the history of conscientious objectors within the borough and the processes they went through , another showcasing 700 years of art from Haringey’s churches -  including some artefacts rescued from French churches during the revolution and a splendid window from the factory of William Morris (almost a local lad) at St Philips, meanwhile Constable painted All Hallows.

This Museum offers a surprisingly full visit  for a rainy London day – even nicer if sunny as it lies in a well kept park. Apart from the lack of a map – clearly they don’t expect many ‘out of borough’ visitors, my only other criticism would be that there is no mention of any  19th 20th or 21st century incomers to the borough, and the contribution they have surely made. Haringey, like all the London boroughs, celebrated 50 years this year....with some invited graffitti...

1 comment:

  1. This is an excellent museum on many levels in London. That's one of must see places while travel and visit England.