Tottenham, Haringey

A densely built-up, multiracial district situated six miles north of the Tower of London

Hidden London: north Tottenham, late evening, aerial CGI

Toteham’ (the farmstead of a man called Totta) was first recorded in Domesday Book, as was a weir at present-day Tottenham Hale.

From the twelfth century Tottenham’s access­ib­ility to London attracted wealthy merchants and religious insti­tu­tions to its wooded slopes, although the main village consisted only of a cluster of dwellings at Tottenham Green. Six inns were recorded on the High Road in the mid-15th century and Tottenham manor house (now Bruce Castle) lay almost a mile to the north of the green.

Henry VIII made a payment to the hermit of Tottenham when he visited the house in 1517. Over the course of the next two centuries mansions, private schools, groups of almshouses and other charitable insti­tu­tions were built near the High Road, while extensive woodland survived to the west and the marshy meadows lay undis­turbed to the east.

Only in the late 18th century did devel­opment begin to branch away from the High Road along old tracks like White Hart Lane and new roads like Bruce Grove.

Tottenham remained suburban rather than urban until the coming of the railways to the east side of the parish in the 1840s and the west side in the 1850s. Wood Green, formerly an outlying hamlet, grew especially rapidly and had estab­lished itself as a separate middle-class district by the early 1870s. At this time a railway at last cut through central Tottenham, west of the High Road. Speculative developers had already built numerous houses in anticip­ation of this event and they stepped up their efforts over the following two decades, until Tottenham had spread to meet its neigh­bours in all direc­tions.

In the early 20th century places of enter­tainment were built on the High Road, Tottenham Hotspur football club won early trophies and industry came to the marshes. Shown in the photo below, an engine house survives on Tottenham Marshes, with a recently opened café. The last pockets of farmland disap­peared in the 1920s, when municipal house­building began in earnest.

Hidden London: Tottenham Marshes engine house by Robert Lamb

After the Second World War council flats dominated the construction programme, with massive projects in the 1960s – notably at Northumberland Park and Broadwater Farm – and smaller, low-rise estates in the 1970s, for example at Seven Sisters. This was a period of signi­ficant change in Tottenham’s resid­ential profile, with the arrival of immig­rants first from the Caribbean, especially in South Tottenham, and later from Turkey and Africa.

On 4 August 2011 police shot and killed Mark Duggan, a Broadwater Farm resident who was subsequently alleged – but not proven – to have been involved in drug dealing and gang-related criminal activity. Two days after Duggan’s death, a protest march from Broadwater Farm to Tottenham police station escalated into a night of rioting and arson across much of the area, which was then followed by similar events in other parts of London and beyond. Several buildings in Tottenham were damaged beyond repair and had to be demol­ished.

A section of the northern part of Tottenham High Road and its vicinity has recently been trans­formed by the Northumberland Development Project: the construction of a new stadium for Tottenham Hotspur FC. Regeneration of the surrounding area will continue for some while yet, and may ultimately result in the cityscape shown in the aerial CGI at the top of this article.

Postal district: N17
Population: 71,987 (Bruce Grove, Northumberland Park, Tottenham Green, Tottenham Hale and White Hart Lane wards, 2011 census)
Stations: London Overground (Bruce Grove and White Hart Lane, both zone 3)
Further reading: Chris Protz and Deborah Hedgecock, Tottenham and Wood Green: Then & Now, History Press, 2011

Selected Tottenham extracts from Brewer’s Dictionary of London Phrase & Fable

Tottenham cake   A tray-baked sponge cake with pink icing that is ideally coloured and flavoured with the juice of mulberries picked from a tree in Bruce Castle Park. Blackcurrant or cherry juice may be used if mulberry juice is not available. Tottenham cake was created in the late 19th century by local baker Henry Chalkley and sold at one penny a square. Bulk quant­ities were baked and given to children to celebrate Spurs’ victory in the 1901 FA Cup final replay, when they beat Sheffield United 3-1 to become the only non-league club in history to win the tournament. Tottenham cake is still served at the White Hart Lane ground on special occasions.

Tottenham Hotspur FC   An eminent profes­sional football club, formed (originally as Hotspur FC) from an older cricket club in 1882. Its home ground is White Hart Lane. Most of the club’s founders were old boys of St John’s Presbyterian School and Tottenham Grammar School. The ‘Hotspur’ name was inspired by the area’s connection with the dukes of Northumberland: in the 18th century a Tottenham man, Hugh Smithson, married into the Percy family, eventually becoming 1st Duke; and Henry Percy (1364–1403), son of the 1st Earl of Northumberland (who features in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I, acquired through his impuls­iveness the nickname ‘Hotspur’. The club is noted for its loyal fan base among north London’s Jewish community.

Tottenham Outrage   On 23 January 1909 two Latvian anarchists stole wages from a factory on Tottenham High Road. They were chased by police and local tradesmen, and responded by firing pistols wildly in their pursuers’ direction, killing PC William Frederick Tyler and a 10-year-old delivery boy. The robbers hijacked a tram, a horse-drawn milk cart and a greengrocer’s van in their attempt to escape but they were cornered in Hale End, where they shot themselves dead rather than surrender. A commem­or­ative plaque was unveiled at Tottenham police station in 2009, to mark the centenary of the outrage.

Tottenham pudding   A feed for pigs or poultry, consisting of sterilised kitchen waste. It was developed in Tottenham during the Second World War.

Tottenham shall turn French   Most lexico­graphers assert that this was an ironic old saying of the ‘pigs might fly’ variety, referring to something that would never happen. However, Francis Grose, in his Provincial Glossary (1787), renders the proverb as ‘Tottenham is turned French’, and explains it thus: “After the beginning of the reign of Henry VIII a vast number of French mechanics came over to England, filling not only the outskirts of the town, but also the neigh­bouring villages … This proverb is used in ridicule of persons affecting foreign fashions and manners, in preference to those of their own country.”

Tottenham sound   Supposedly, London’s answer to Liverpool’s Merseybeat in the early to mid-1960s. In reality, the ‘Tottenham sound’ emanated from only one signi­ficant act, the Dave Clark Five, who played their first gig at a Seven Sisters youth club in January 1962 and took their name from their Tottenham-born drummer. Nevertheless, the term achieved media exposure on both sides of the Atlantic.

Tottenham Three   The collective name given to Winston Silcott, Engin Raghip and Mark Braithwaite, who were sentenced to life impris­onment in 1987 for ‘having common cause’ with the mob who murdered PC Keith Blakelock during the October 1985 Broadwater Farm riot. Their convic­tions were quashed in 1991 after tests revealed that Silcott’s confession had been tampered with. Braithwaite and Raghip were released, though Silcott remained in jail until 2003 as he was serving a sentence for another murder as well.

The Tournament of Tottenham   A mock-heroic metrical romance written around 1425. It was probably intended as a satire on the dangers and costs of the jousting events that were popular at the time. A number of clowns are intro­duced, practising warlike games and making vows like knights of high degree. They tilt on carthorses, fight with plough­shares and flails, and wear wooden bowls and saucepan lids for armour. The poem was repub­lished in Percy’s Reliques (1765)
[The Tottenham cake article is not in Brewer’s.]

* The picture of the engine house in Tottenham Marshes is adapted from an original photograph, copyright Robert Lamb, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse is freely permitted under the terms of that licence.