The argument of censorship versus freedom of expression will never end, but in Victorian times Mudie held the purse strings. Editors went through manuscripts line by line, excising any pieces likely to be frowned on by Mudie. If a Hardy heroine could not be carried in the hero's arms, but instead had to be wheeled in a wheelbarrow, it was because of the Mudie factor. If a writer complained that he could describe his characters right up to the bedroom door, but not beyond, it was Mudie who was holding the door shut. It is strange to think that the morality of Victorian England and indeed the British Empire, was controlled, not from Parliament, or Canterbury Cathedral, or Buckingham Palace, but from The Limes, Muswell Hill. 1

Mudie had expected that, on his death, he would be succeeded by his son, but unfortunately the son died a few months before the father. Thus on Mudie's death the Limes estate was sold for development. Fragments of the brick and terracotta from the building were built into the front garden walls of the Fortismere Estate, instead of the iron railings which had been promised in Collins' original plan. The present Public Library and Barclays Bank were both built on the grounds of The Limes. Money and good writing glaring at each other across Queen's Avenue.

A second large house, adjoining The Limes, was Fortis House, which stood on a site which is now the corner of Princes Avenue and Fortis Green. It had once been occupied by James Renton, a member of the Stock Exchange. Part of his old house is now an annexe to the hotel in Princes Avenue.

At the time of the 1861 census he was 40, married to Alice aged 24 and they had three children aged four, two and one year old. There were six servants - a cook, a housemaid, three nurses and a coachman, all but one drawn to London from distant counties.

By 1871 the Renton family had grown, There were seven children ranging from Alice, named after her mother, aged 14 to Henry born in 1870. All the servants had changed: there were two nurses, mature women of 37 and 48, a lady's maid, a butler, a cook, housemaid and kitchemnaid, but no coachman. Presumably they had dispensed with the carriage. Instead there was a governess, aged 26, so the children were being educated at home. We get a picture of a settled, well-heeled, Victorian family living in solid comfort.

Presumably the same family, or one very like it, continued to live in the house until Edmondson bought it.

The combined Limes and Fortis House sites gave Edmondson the crown of the hill and here he built the royal roads. He cut Queens Avenue to join Fortis Green to Muswell Hill Broadway, with the widest and most impressive road in the district and here he built his largest houses. With their forty-foot frontages they are now hotels, or are each divided into several flats. Unusually for the district, most of the houses in Queens Avenue were sold outright, whereas only two houses in Collin's Church Crescent were owner occupied and the rest were rented. More than three quarters of Collins's Fortismere Estate was rented, while the Imperial Property Investment Company rented out the whole of Onslow Gardens. Clearly the managing directors went to Queens Avenue while their clerks, with wages but no capital, rented the houses nearby.

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Mudie's Circulating Library and the Victorian Novel, by G. Griest

 

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