Preface by Jack Whitehead in 1993
to the reprint of
The Glacial Drifts of Muswell Hill and Finchley, 1874
By Henry Walker, F.G.S.
As a nine year old boy in St James's School, in Fortis Green, Muswell Hill, I was amazed to hear that the ground below me had once been covered with glacier.ice. During a period of snow in 1925, a young teacher came bounding into the classroom waving a book, anxious to tell us what he had just read.
In 1850, one corner of Coldfall Wood had been felled to become the site for our school. (Today Charles Clore House stands oil the same site). In 1835, only fifteen years before the Scahool was built, an amazing discovery had been made, a few hundred yards further into the Wood. A Mr Wetherell had found a deposit of fossils and rocks jumbled together only a few feet below the surface, and unlike anything to be expected in the area. There were fossils and pieces of granite, slate and chalk from Scotland , Northumberland and the North Downs , all embedded in a matrix of Oxfordshire Clays. They had been carried from far afield by glaciers as these pushed southwards from Scotland and also across the North Sea from Scandinavia , collecting stones as they moved. When the glaciers finally melted, the whole mass of debris had been deposited on the ground below ou school as a terminal moraine. This huge ridge from Alexandra Palace , along Fortis Green and East End Road , Finchley and out far beyond were the lasttraces of the Ice Age. St James's School was perched on the very edge of the old ice sheet which had once stretched from Muswell Hill to the North Pole.
The teacher explained how snow and ice could engulf a large rock so that, instead of being a weighty stone, it became an ice-covered block which could slide. This, combined with the enormous force exerted by a glacier a thousand feet high moving slowly but relentlessly across the landscape, could sweep everything before it. Sitting there I imagined the school being gradually buried in mounting snow and ice, with the pupils frozen inside. Perhaps we were not English children, but the subjects of some far-off land ruled by an Ice King, who lived in a palace glistening with green light sparkling through the ice walls. Slowly our school had become engulfed in snow and ice and had been carried from Scotland or even Scandinavia , not to be released until we reached Muswell Hill thousands of years later. A new and much earlier invasion of the Norsemen.
Bad history, but a good :fairy tale. Fortis Green runs east-west, so for years I never walked along that road in either direction without feeling that my northern leg, exposed to all that ice, was colder than my southern leg. It was a n impression which has lasted all my life.
Now here is a reproduction of the pamphlet by Henry Walker which first popularised the glacial drifts of Muswell Hill and Finchley.
The oamphlet is particularly interesting as it shows scientits .faced with new, completely unexpected evidence, trying to explain it. They were floundering and found an explanation which seemed to cover the facts, but it was wrong. Their evidence was and is, correct but it took some years for the correct explanation of how it happened to become clear.
I am extremely grateful to Eric Robinson, President of the Geologists' Association, for putting this 1874 pamphlet into a modern perspective, telling us about the personalities involved, and for letting me print his comments here as a postscript.
Eric Robinson's final words must be stressed. There never was a sea carrying icebergs across Finchley and up Coppetts Road to depsit their stones in Fortis Green. This is wrong, but the discovery of 'foreign' stones in which were carried into the district by glaciers is one of the great facts of the area. People have been digging up ‘foreign' stones in their back gardens round here for centuries and will continue to do so.
Jack Whitehead, 1993.