The first drawing shows the view looking south from Fortismere towards Highgate, with fields down in the valley and the trees of Highgate Woods rising up the opposite hillside. Muswell Hill Road drops down and then rises up as it still does today, but the view was wider then because there were no houses to obscure the slopes of the hill. The second drawing shows the same view with the lake dug and a tall screen of trees planted beyond.

Landscaped, it would have created a wide, peaceful vista. Below the lake was an open field reaching to the southern edge of the estate, along what are now the back garden fences of Grand Avenue. Beyond that were more fields. With the tree screen in place, all this pasture land would have been hidden by the mature trees, while their crowns reached up to the bottom edge of Highgate Woods on the opposite hill. From the windows of Fortismere House one would have looked south over a long narrow lake stretching from the back of Firs Avenue to a boathouse in Leaside Avenue. The estate beyond would have appeared endless, stretching beyond the lake and the screen of trees, over the tops of the fields along 'Woodside Avenue', into Highgate Woods on the opposite hill and so on for ever. The lake and the line of trees would have converted the thirty acres into thirty thousand.

All this was speculation until I found the 1815 Enclosure Map for Hornsey 4. This is enormous, and beautifully drawn, made of perhaps a dozen pieces of vellum pasted together, with wooden rollers top and bottom and dated 14 June 1816. The vellum is dry, hard as a drum head aid very cockled, so that when the map is unrolled it explodes like a jumping cracker. It is certainly the noisiest map I have ever handled, causing everyone in the Map Room to look up each time I moved it.


Imaginary drawing showing Fortismere before the lake was cut.

 


The lake and hedge line as they may have been planned.

 

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