London Days 6 & 7

April 1 & 2, 2010 London
Weather: Sun, Stormy, Sun, Rain, etc. B&B: Kathy’s (Pimlico)

Cask Ale Week Quiz from Day 5
The answer is b) 3 days

I’m writing this entry early Saturday morning as I make my way down to Penzance on the 9:06 from Paddington. My urban rambles are complete as is my collection of 19th century terraced houses once occupied by various Clifford’s, Dobson’s, Ackland’s and Lewis’s. I’m looking forward to fresh air and wide open spaces.

I’ve been maintaining a very busy pace since I arrived and so I decided Thursday would be a half-day, and I definitely chose the best half. It started bright and cool and my first stop was the Hornsey Historical Society shop. Though they are not a Family History Society I contacted them several months ago and they were able to provide me with some excellent background information. Family history isn’t just a collection of facts and figures, for me at least it has more to do with trying to understand what my ancestors lives were like.

My family lived in this part of northern London as early as the 1850’s. At that time Hornsey and Muswell Hill were small villages surrounded by pastures and ancient woods, but the coming of the railways was to change all that. Speculators soon began building large villas to accommodate wealthy Londoners looking to escape the crowded and filthy city. The service industries followed and this included my ancestors who were gardeners and domestic servants. By the end of the century the villas had given way to acres of terraced housing, indeed Hornsey had succumbed to London’s endless march.

I walked out of the Historical Society shop with a collection of booklets, 19th century Ordnance Survey maps and even a DVD documenting the history of this area. At this point I wasn’t sure I would be able to leave this little pile of papers at my London B&B and was a bit concerned that I’d just added several hundred grams to my pack. Fortunately Kathy encouraged me to leave whatever I wanted with her until I returned in July.

After several hours of wandering around I caught the tube back to central London to visit an old friend – The Olde Mitre pub, tucked away near Holburn Circus. It’s a tiny little hostelry situated off a very narrow alley running between Hatton Gardens Road and Ely Place – difficult to find but well worth the effort. My favourite pub in London – hands down.

I was back in the b&b by 4pm just as the skies lit up with an impressive lightening storm. The fact that I was home and dry beforehand was down to an extremely accurate weather report. The report had predicted sleet by 4pm and by 4:20pm all hell had broken loose – no sleet but plenty of rain, thunder and lightening. For the past week the 24-hour forecast has been almost spot on.

On Friday I continued where I left off on the previous day and continued my walk south towards central London. My family was continually on the move and at this point I’m not sure if they were chasing work or being chased by rent collectors. What amazed me however was that their 100-year migration was contained within a narrow strip running from Barnet in the north to Hoxton in the south. As I weaved my way through Highbury I passed by the impressive new Emirates stadium, home to the Arsenal football club. I have no idea if my ancestors were Gunners fans but in the early 19th century they lived within a goal kick of the old ground on Gillespie Road. This same residence is now immediately next to the new stadium. I’ve included a photo in my gallery looking up Whistler Street and another looking 180 degrees from the exact same spot.

One of my London ancestors stands out from the rest as she lived a very different life. Sophia Layne spent the majority of her life, at least 60 years, living in a substantial semi-detached home in very posh Canonbury. She never married and never worked – the censuses indicated she was “living byher own means”. Sophia was a witness at Emma’s wedding (my 3x-great grandmother) and the certificate reveals that Emma was also residing on Canonbury Place at the time. I suspect Sophia Clifford (Herbert’s mum) was named after Sophia Layne. The Layne’s apparent wealth was likely due to Sophia’s father, Joseph, who was a “Chaser and Engraver”. This only goes to prove that there’s more money in chasing silver than chasing women (the latter being the norm with many of the other males in the family).

My final destination for the day was Liverpool Station where I met Janet, my second cousin twice removed (our common ancestor is Emma). I connected with Janet after her son Stephen placed their family tree on We had an excellent visit, chatting and looking over family photographs, at a pub just off Bishopsgate. A perfect way to end my week long exploration of my London family history.


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