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