Curious Crouch End: Could plaster monkey be satire of Charles Darwin?

A Victorian home in Park Road with monkey plasterwork

A Victorian home in Park Road with monkey plasterwork - Credit: Andrew Whitehead

A historian is delving into the mystery of whether a 19th-century plaster monkey outside a Crouch End home could be a satirical representation of Charles Darwin.  

Plasterwork dating back to the early 1880s in front of a house in Park Road shows a monkey eating grapes with what appears to be a human face, a beard and a bald head.  

Charles Darwin (1809-1882), the naturalist who developed the theory of evolution, was originally mocked for his work linking ape and man. As a result, he was depicted as an ape himself by critics of the time. 

Nearly 140 years after Darwin’s death, with the Crouch End monkey brought to his attention by Hornsey Historical Society, former journalist Andrew Whitehead set about exploring the possibility of whether it could, likewise, be a depiction of the proponent of natural selection.  

“There’s something very curious about it,” said Andrew, a historian from Dartmouth Park Hill. “You don't have monkeys on these capitals, never mind monkeys which look as if they have a human face, so there is an interesting story there.” 

Satire of Charles Darwin from 1872

Satire of Charles Darwin from 1872 - Credit: Wellcome Collection


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Andrew, who is writing a book on the history of Crouch End as part of his Curious series, said the monkey plasterwork was the only kind of its type that he was aware of.  

He said that while it was unclear whether the depiction was indeed Darwin, or merely an unrelated site of intrigue, the architectural anomaly reflected an important setting of peculiarity, curiosity and education.  

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“I don't think it’s going to become a tourist attraction with outings to see it or anything like that, but what I do hope is that it will make people look at their urban landscape in a different way, be more curious about it, ask questions and do a little bit of digging,” he said.

A close-up shot of the mysterious plasterwork

A close-up shot of the mysterious plasterwork - Credit: Andrew Whitehead

“I think it might promote people to look afresh at the built environment that’s all around us.” 

Andrew added: “There’s a lot about the past that you can't absolutely retrieve, but even just looking at the monkey and the issues there, it unpeels aspects of the past which are slightly overlooked today.” 

For more information on Andrew Whitehead, visit: https://www.andrewwhitehead.net/  

For more information on Hornsey Historial Society, visit: https://hornseyhistorical.org.uk/  

READ MORE: 19th-century memorial to pair of Hornsey servants discovered in Muswell Hill garden

READ MORE: The forgotten grave of a Highgate mistress and her former slave

Could it have been religious or social commentary? 

Could it have been religious or social commentary? - Credit: Andrew Whitehead

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