Curious Crouch End: From Mrs Hitler to the 'The Hornsey Revolution'

Curiously Crouch End

How much do you really know about Crouch End? - Credit: Kat Pirnak

If you were to ask a north Londoner what they know about Crouch End, many would probably shrug and say something about the area having upwards of 30 coffee shops. 

Perhaps those better versed in the history of north London would be able to add that the area also inspired Stephen King to write a short story.

At a push, they might even say Bob Dylan once mistakenly had tea at a complete stranger’s home as he waited in the wrong house to meet his friend (or so the urban legend goes). 

However, for the most part, Crouch End remains a mystery. Without a tube station of its own, it lies discreetly tucked away in the Western half of Haringey.

It is partially this anonymity that inspired former editor of the BBC World Service Andrew Whitehead, 65, to write Curious Crouch End. At 106 pages, the book is not a detailed history of Crouch End, rather a light-hearted exploration of what makes the area so peculiar. 

“It’s both a celebration of the area and an invitation to walk the streets more attentively, more curiously,” Andrew writes in his introduction. 

Fourth in the Curious series, the Crouch End edition explores 32 seemingly ordinary places and their connection to extraordinary people, moments, and events.

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One of these chapters takes readers back to the wave of student rebellions in 1968. Dubbed 'The Hornsey Revolution', Andrew explores the six-week student takeover of the Hornsey College of Art through testimonials from those who were there. 

“I wanted to find the story behind the picture. The memories of the students were really quite powerful," he told the Ham&High.

Hornsey College of Art sit-in

'The Hornsey Revolution' in 1968 saw Hornsey College of Art students organise a sit-in - Credit: Sally Fraser

Another section of the book grants readers access to The Mount Zion Cathedral in the heart of Crouch End – a beautifully renovated space owned by a Nigerian congregation who hold services in Yoruba, Benin, and English.

Andrew said: “It took me quite a while to win people's confidence and be allowed inside to photograph the cathedral.

"I’m pleased that the community were generous enough to trust me and let me into the church. They realise that I was genuinely interested in the story.”

Mount Zion Cathedral 

The interior of the Mount Zion Cathedral - Credit: Andrew Whitehead

Other chapters describe the first women’s football match in England as well as the bizarre connection between Crouch End and Mrs Bridget Hitler whose brother-in-law was Adolf Hitler. 

“I sometimes think if you grow up in an area, you take it for granted,” Andrew said. “If you're a little bit of an outsider, you are more curious.”

Andrew, who describes himself as a north Londoner “by adoption”, relocated to the capital in his youth. Originally from Yorkshire, he has always been able to maintain an outsider’s curiosity towards the towns of north London. 

He explains that several places explored in the book were localities he discovered by chance, on from walks in the area and through conversations with residents.

Through storytelling, Andrew artfully makes Curious Crouch End relatable to many and accessible to all.

The author said: “It’s informal. It's things which I hope will capture people's attention and imagination and make them look differently and more fondly on the streets, buildings, signs and remnants of the past all around them. 

“Even profound experts in the history of the area have said they found out things they didn't know from this book. Wherever possible though, I've tried to tell stories which have contemporary resonance”.

crouch end map

This map, designed by Nancy Edwards, shows the 32 locations explored in Curious Crouch End - Credit: Andrew Whitehead/ Nancy Edwards

Ultimately, Andrew’s vibrant and playful retelling of local history artfully challenges those who prematurely dismiss Crouch End as a sleepy corner of north London.

“Crouch End is a little bit off the beaten track but it’s lively, comfortable, slightly bohemian, and very accommodating", he said.

“The area has many treasures and part of that is because of benign neglect. Benign neglect is rather wonderful in many ways, because it means there isn't that great impetus to clear away and demolish things. 

“So, in many ways, Crouch End has survived a lot better than a lot of other areas in north London.”

Andrew Whitehead

Former editor of the BBC World Service Andrew Whitehead has published Curious Crouch End - Credit: Jackie Slater

Curious Crouch End is now available to buy from the Five Leaves bookshop: https://fiveleavesbookshop.co.uk/product/curious-crouch-end/

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