The Inquiry

An Inquiry was opened but adjourned because the Ratepayers' Association wished to obtain a full expression of public opinion. In the meantime a letter appeared from H.R.Williams, a Charity Trustee of Hornsey. His Trust was responsible for providing charity to the Poor of Hornsey and he argued the case for building the 25 villas. He had been active in the campaign about the wood for years and had nothing to gain.personally: all he wanted was Charity income to support his poor people. He demanded his acre of land - not a great deal surely - he believed the Commissioners' assurance that the wood was not in danger. ' Muswell Hill Road was one of the best in Hornsey and would remain equally beautiful, houses or no houses', and then came the great rhetorical flourish.

'Are the poor to suffer because of the sentimental objections and the hysterical cry of 'wolf' just raised by your correspondents? Something must be done and that soon. An acre of back-land added to the charity estate would make no appreciable difference to the land remaining, while the profit derived from it would succour many poor old and deserving persons in their declining years and enable us to hand over to our successors air estate which in the distant future would be of great value in the rendering of charitable aid to the deserving poor of the parish of Hornsey.'

Reading his letter one senses hysteria very near the surface. Why did he think the Commissioners wanted to build a road? Why should they spend all that money if not to build houses'? He never seemed to realise that for an acre of land the the whole wood would be lost. But he had been with the problem for a long time. He was the person to whom the Commissioners had made the offer of sale for £25,000 years before and it is his name which is honoured in a plaque on Crouch End Clock Tower for saving the wood, but his trust in the Ecclesiastical Commissioners seems naive. It is sad that at the Inquiry he was to be cast as the devil.

  The Inquiry Resumes

The adjourned Inquiry opened in Highgate on 15 June 1895. Expecting a large gathering, the Council Chamber had been changed completely. The usual tables had been removed and the room filled with chairs. By half past seven the room was crowded, with people jostling for seats.

Mr Murray, the Conunissioner, said the Inquiry was really a simple one. Hornsey Parochial Charities wished to purchase a piece of land adjoining their charity property at the back. The question was whether the Charity Commission, which controlled all charities, had enough power to stop them. The Church Commissioners were prepared to sell the land at very favourable terms and the income of the Charity would be very considerable increased.

Against this there were three classes of objection. The original Trust was for the purpose of providing cottages for the Poor, but the trustees were proposing to build villas which would be too expensive for the Poor. However, it was within the power of the Trustees to vary the terms of the Trust, so they could build villas if they thought that the Poor would benefit in the end. The poor people themselves might object, but liberal provisions had already been promised for them. The third objection related to the aesthetic and public side of the question. He took it from what he had read that the Charity Commission ought to interfere to prevent the Ecclesiastical Commissioners from exercising their own discretion in dealing with their own property.

he Inquiry discussed fine points, but the speakers kept coming back to the major problem of preventing any destruction of the wood. The Vestry Clerk of Islington, representing 300,000 people, made a formal protest about any part of the wood, so valuable for the people of Islington and Hornsey being used for private purposes.

Mr Wilfred White said that if the Commissioners would give them time they would be able to raise the money to compensate the Trustees. Mr Beaumont said they did not want villas, they wanted cottages for poor people who were being driven out of the district. Others said that there was no money to build cottages to replace the present delapidated ones, but villas would be an economic proposition. Others retorted that there were score of villas to let in Highgate. The Wood was sacred. Stick to the question of the Wood!


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