Local Notes: Stories of our neighbourhoods | Hugh Pearman
Monday 22 March 2021
During the first lockdown, when (unlike the second) nobody drove anywhere much, the streets were delightfully quiet.
In my bit of north London (Crouch End/Hornsey/Stroud Green) people routinely strolled in the carriageways rather than sticking to the pavements, so rare were the vehicle movements. This made photography easier. It’s a hilly, late Victorian/Edwardian part of town but on my late afternoon walks round the locality, just to give some structure to the exercise, I took to photographing postwar bombsite infill blocks, cross-checking with WW2 bomb maps. You can trace where the sticks of bombs fell across the terraced streets by the pattern of uncharacteristic infills. The area was hit quite hard, being close to Finsbury Park station which was a centre for troop and goods movements.
Some of the replacement buildings are reasonably good, even ambitious, including large deck-access council blocks. Some of these are in the pre-war steep-roof neo-geo style, some are more modernist. Of the smaller infills, some try to maintain the terraces and street line, others shrink away from their neighbours and the roads. As well as housing there are ‘new’ shopping parades, a ‘new’ pub, even a ‘new’ community wood where a badly bombed area was cleared and allowed to go wild. Occasionally – especially where the later larger V1 and V2 rockets struck – you can make out the blast zones by a splodge of newer buildings covering several streets.
Most of these buildings, then, are late 1940s/1950s and look it. The smaller ones were cheaply built at a time of materials shortages. Occasionally a large bomb site was left for a long time: one patch of new housing, in the same V1 blast zone as the community wood, originally had prefab homes on it which were only replaced in the early 1980s. A little public garden nearby is the cleared site of a bombed church.
By and large the turn-of-the-20th-century character of the area survived. The scar tissue may still be apparent, especially if you go looking for it as I did, and few streets are entirely intact and original, but everything has jostled down together pretty well over the years. It’s probably time for some of these bombsite infills to be replaced or radically refurbished in their turn.