Tilleys' Highgate connection spans the centuries

BY Tan Parsons ONE family that has lived in Highgate since the mid 1800s is following a proud tradition of working in the area. Bob Tilley runs a wrought-iron business with his wife Gloria in Archway Road, and hanging on the wall in their office is a phot

BY Tan Parsons

ONE family that has lived in Highgate since the mid 1800s is following a proud tradition of working in the area.

Bob Tilley runs a wrought-iron business with his wife Gloria in Archway Road, and hanging on the wall in their office is a photograph of his family from 1873.

It shows Mr Tilley's great great great grandfather, William James Tilley, who was the last gatekeeper of the Highgate tollgate.


You may also want to watch:


It shows Mr Tilley senior with his wife, his brother and sons standing in Archway Road, which was just a dirt track at the time. It also shows the viaduct with its great arches - where the name Archway itself comes from.

He said: "There are a few horse-drawn carriages in the background and then there's the tollgate itself.

Most Read

"If you look very closely you can even see the old brick yard in Highgate Hill. I remember talking to my grandfather about it - his great grandfather was the last gatekeeper of Highgate.

"He was quite a big guy - tall but very thick set - ideal for the job. The Tilleys were a bit rough back in those days - they worked for circuses and hunted rabbits. It was a well-known family name in Highgate.

"They were all named after their fathers in those days and William James' son was called James William. And then his son was called William James. They say I look a bit like my father's grandfather."

Bob's wife Gloria Tilley was ill recently after suffering brain aneurisms, but last year they decided to open up the wrought-iron business together.

She said: "I was feeling very down with the illness but I decided to do something positive instead and carry on the tradition of the Tilleys working in the area. It's been fantastic.

"You can see the picture was taken down by the place where the Whittington Hospital is today. You can see Bob's great great grandfather - William's son, standing behind him looking a little bit cocky with his hand on his hip. His wife is there too, although we don't know her name."

William Tilley's brother also features in the picture, although no-one knows his full name - only that he was called 'Randall'.

Ms Tilley said: "They called him Randall because of his job as a cattle and mule herder. He got the name because when they used to ask where he was, people would say: 'He's gone to round all the cattle up'.

"I heard from my father-in-law that historically, whenever there were outbreaks of disease like the Black Death, Highgate did pretty well keeping it at arm's length because of the tollgate.

"I'm not sure how much the toll would have been, but they had to pay it to get past him. It was mainly paid by people making deliveries and that sort of thing but it was very good at keeping the riffraff out - the kind of people I suppose who might have Asbos these days."

Gatehouse facts and figures

The gatehouse was built in Highgate Hill in the 14th century to control passage of traffic to and from Islington Village, Kentish Town and London.

Historically Highgate adjoined the Bishop of London's hunting estate, and the bishop kept the tollhouse where one of the main northward roads out of London entered his land.

A number of pubs have sprung up along the route, one of which - the Gatehouse - commemorates the toll-house today.

Rumour has it that it was at the foot of the tollgate that Dick Whittington, on his retreat from London, heard Bow Bells peeling across what were then open fields and decided to return, later becoming Lord Mayor four times.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter
Comments powered by Disqus