Tower Gardens

Tower Gardens, Haringey

A ‘cottage estate’ in north Tottenham, built by the London County Council between 1903 and the 1930s

Waltheof Avenue - Tower Gardens estate

In the early 17th century all the fields here were part of the demesne lands of Awlfield Farm. Most of the area within what is now the arc of the Roundway was iden­ti­fied on the Earl of Dorset’s map as the Awle Fields. Awlfield Avenue now runs along what was once the eastern edge of Little Awle Field. Awlfield farmhouse stood imme­di­ately south of All Hallows church. The farmhouse was replaced in 1620 by the house that became known as the Priory, and is now All Hallows vicarage.

The locality now known as Tower Gardens remained open farmland until 1901, when the London County Council, using powers made available to it under the Housing of the Working Classes Act (1890), bought a 225-acre tract of land south of White Hart Lane at the edge of Totten­ham’s border with Wood Green.†

Starting from Lordship Lane and working north­wards, the council began to lay out a cottage estate of two-storey houses in red or yellow London stock brick. The LCC used the term ‘cottage estate’ quite loosely at that time, in reference to any devel­op­ment consisting mainly of small houses rather than blocks of flats – but here many of the dwellings were built in genuinely cottagey styles. The council’s chief architect William Edward Riley led the design team in the project’s early phases.

The homes were constructed to high standards, with varied details and materials, heavily influ­enced by the Arts and Crafts movement. The fulfil­ment of the archi­tec­tural ideals took different forms through the project’s many phases – according to the funding available; whether the Progres­sives or Moderates were in charge of the LCC; the changed circum­stances after the First World War and the examples newly set by other projects (from Becontree to Belgium).

The first 141 homes were completed in 1904 but tenants were initially thin on the ground. Those that did move here tended to come from elsewhere in the Tottenham and Wood Green area, rather than from inner London as had been intended.

The LCC chose to model the next phase of devel­op­ment on the ‘garden suburb’ (orig­i­nally ‘garden city’) prin­ci­ples espoused by Ebenezer Howard, which were just beginning to take physical shape in Letch­worth, Hert­ford­shire. Later, the LCC’s thinking was also influ­enced by the work of Raymond Unwin at Hampstead Garden Suburb, under Henrietta Barnett’s patronage.

However, some of the garden suburb ideals – espe­cially those related to housing density – required greater expen­di­ture than the LCC could afford. At this point the banker Sir Samuel Montagu rode to the rescue, bearing a gift of £10,000 – more than a million in today’s money. His one condition was that the council should give pref­er­ence to rehousing Whitechapel residents here. Though the proviso was osten­sibly secular, Montagu’s prime motive was to help Jewish East Enders move out of their over­crowded slums and make a new start in healthier surroundings.

Hidden London: At the corner of Cumberton Road and Tower Gardens Road, by Julian Osley
Corner of Cumberton Road and Tower Gardens Road

With the assis­tance of Montagu’s money, houses were endowed with more amenities and bigger backyards – and the estate gained its own park, Tower Gardens, which had a fountain, tennis courts and a bowling green, surrounded by raised terraces and flower beds. The gardens were named after Whitechapel’s parent district, Tower Hamlets.

Presum­ably in a nod to the only pre-existing thor­ough­fare, Lordship Lane, most of the estate’s streets were named after histor­ical lords of the manor and sub-manors of Tottenham. Sir John Risley, for example, became lord of Tottenham manor in 1507.

These were the main phases and events in the evolution of Tower Gardens and the neigh­bouring locality:

  • gridded streets of two-storey terraced cottages between Tower Gardens Road and Risley Avenue (1903–14)
  • the separate Peabody estate of 154 two-storey terraced cottages, east of Bennington Road (completed 1907)
  • extension north­wards, including De Quincey Road and Morteyne Road (1914–15)
  • construc­tion work halted in spring 1915 and resumed in 1919
  • Waltheof Gardens, a formal neo-Georgian layout (1921–3)
  • seven blocks of three-storey flats around Topham Square built to rehouse those displaced by slum clearance in Shored­itch (1924)
  • terraces of cottage flats on Lordship Lane (1925–6)
  • infor­mally laid out cottages on Flexmere Road, to the north-east of the Roundway (1926–7)
  • Gospatrick and Henningham Roads completed in the 1930s, including a Methodist church on Gospatrick Road (now the Trinity AME Zion church
  • Lordship recre­ation ground opened opposite the estate (1936)
  • streets north of the Moselle brook (at the top of the map below, and not consid­ered part of Tower Gardens by any defi­n­i­tion) developed in the mid to late 1930s
  • purpose-built health clinic opened (1959, now the Morris House group practice)
  • southern part of the estate (plus Topham Square) desig­nated a conser­va­tion area in 1978
  • Peabody cottage estate desig­nated a conser­va­tion area in 1991
  • both conser­va­tion areas have since had Article 4 direc­tions imposed, giving the council more powers to preserve their heritage features

Nowadays, many Tower Gardens homes are owner-occupied, although renting from the council is still the most common form of tenure.

The local­i­ty’s popu­la­tion is socio-econom­i­cally and ethni­cally diverse. Roughly as many residents possess a higher educa­tional qual­i­fi­ca­tion as have no qual­i­fi­ca­tions at all – by contrast, for example, with Crouch End, where that ratio is ten to one. Around 60 per cent of Tower Gardens’ residents were born in the United Kingdom, with the remainder having come from a wide variety of countries, including Turkey, Ghana, Jamaica, Poland and India.

Postal district: N17
Website: Tower Gardens Residents Group (also on Facebook)
Web pages: Municipal Dreams: The White Hart Lane Estate, Haringey council: Tower Gardens – Tottenham’s Garden Suburb, Lordship Rec: History of the Tower Gardens Estate
Further reading: Robert Thorne, The White Hart Lane Estate: An LCC Venture in Suburban Development, article in the London Journal, 1986 (12:1)
* The pictures of the housing terrace, Waltheof Avenue, Tower Gardens Road, and the corner house, Tower Gardens estate on this page are adapted from original photographs, copyright Julian Osley, at Geograph Britain and Ireland, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse is hereby freely permitted under the terms of that licence.

† The acquired land was known as the White Hart Lane estate and this name was also applied to the housing built on that land. Tower Gardens was (and still is) the identity of the estate’s little park, and its name was soon applied to the neighbouring section of the White Hart Lane estate, built from 1904 to 1914. No one seems to have used the term ‘Tower Gardens estate’ until the 1970s. The locality name ‘Tower Gardens’ appeared on Ordnance Survey maps even more recently (placed just above Risley Avenue). It is not an ideal term because the reader cannot be sure how much of what was previously called the White Hart Lane estate it is supposed to represent. For the sake of the above article, Hidden London has broadly taken Tower Gardens to be the area bounded by Lordship Lane and the Roundway.