The Ecclesiastical Commissioners wanted to raise money for its church work here and abroad. They considered that they had been given the land to be used for the propogation of religion and if this meant selling off land or woods, it was a lesser evil than restricting the work of the church. They had given Gravel Pit Wood (Highgate Wood )to the public: in its place they would develop Churchyard Bottom Wood (Queen's Wood).

The Trustees of the Hornsey Charities wanted to produce an income to help their poor people, so they made an offer to the Commissioners. Their triangular piece of land was too awkwardly shaped to be developed economically, but if the Commissioners would grant them some more land to make it into a square site, they would build twenty-five neat villas. These would bring in ground rents of £225 per annum, which could be used to relieve the housing poverty of Hornsey people. In return they would permit the Commissioners to cut two roads through their land so that the Commissioners could develop the woods.

When this offer became known people immediately reacted with alarm. On the 16th December 1893 Mr Carvell Williams, MP. asked in the House of Commons, if the Ecclesiastical Commissioners had consented to sell a strip of land to the Hornsey Charities Trustees on condition that an existing road be widened to 40 feet, whether this was a preliminary to a building scheme and if the House of Parliament would have an opportunity to express an opinion.

Mr Leveson Gower, a Church Estates Commissioner replied', "Yes" to the first part.

Mr Carvell Williams, "Do I understand it is the intention to destroy that portion of Highgate Woods by building on it?"

Mr Leveson Gower, "No Sir. My Hon. Friend must not understand anything of the kind."

Two days later The Star published an article worthy of any modern tabloid.

'Parliament must keep a keen watch on those old vandals and confederates of the jerry-builder, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. They are always alienating some piece of land, or are favouring the builders as opposed to the general public. The Commissioners would not sell the Churchyard Bottom Wood to the ratepayers but now propose 'to open it up' by cutting two wide roads through it in connection with one of their numerous building schemes. Will not someone ask a question in Parliament and check the brick and mortar policy of the Commissioners'':

By the time this was printed, the question had been asked and the answer was either untrue, or devious. Other papers took up the story. The Times, in a long report, said that the Commissioners were not prepared to give an undertaking that Parliament, or any other public body, should have an opportunity of considering any scheme for building on the site of the wood.

The situation simmered for eighteen months until the Ecclesiastical Conunissioners were forced to open an enquiry, which began at Highgate on 31 May 1895, chaired by an Assistant Ecclesiastical Conunissioner. The Inquiry produced a flurry of newspaper letters of which this was the most important.

 

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