All I want for Christmas is a history of St Mary Hornsey
- Credit: Nigel Sutton
This history of St Mary Hornsey is perhaps the most ambitious and important volume yet published by the Hornsey Historical Society.
In Bridget Cherry, they have an author who is one of the most respected architectural historians in the UK.
In her foreword, Bridget tells us: “The book is not a history of the parish; the focus is on the church and churchyard”. She seriously understates the wealth of background and social detail that form the backdrop to the 500 year story of one of the most ancient buildings in Haringey.
The 133 pages and more than 200 colour pictures are the result of exhaustive research that chronicle the life of the medieval church that stood to 1832 before the building of a relatively short-lived Victorian replacement. It also looks forward to the future of the tower and the site and the work of the Friends of Hornsey Church Tower.
The book gives a rare insight into the lives of medieval and Tudor Hornsey and the preoccupations of its people and their apparent attempts to buy salvation through bequests to the building of St Mary.
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For centuries Hornsey was known as a beauty spot, attracting day trippers from the midden that was London. Many guides were published with engravings and water colours of the building nestling in the hilly landscape. Just after Waterloo, John Hassell wrote “The footpath to the village of Hornsey is one of the sweetest walks out of the metropolis”. Many of these pictures (some newly discovered) are included in the book.
Rather touchingly, Bridget mentions that in 1665 The Plague had claimed 43 residents of Hornsey and, in 1666 there was a special collection for “the solace of those persons” affected by the “late sad fire in the Sitty of London.”
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The rebuilding in 1832 was a response to the gradual population growth of the early 19th century that was to become a torrent: in the thirty years to 1881 the population of Hornsey went from just under 4,000 to over 37,000.
Bridget has produced a book that will be well received by academics but is also accessible and entertaining. It will be greatly valued by anyone with an interest in the history of Hornsey. Are those Christmas bells I can hear?
Ivy Mantled Tower: A History of the Church and Churchyard of St Mary Hornsey, Middlesex by Bridget Cherry (£19.50 hornseyhistorical.org.uk)