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A Street in London

Updated: Jul 31, 2018


George Moore, a gentleman’s outfitters, stands at no.99 Myddleton Road. It’s been a few months since I passed on the same side of the street. The arrangement in the windows, screened from the interior of the store, is a frivolous confection. An elaborate display in which ties caper in waves across pedestals, jumpers, ties and braces strung like tinsel decorate the walls. To the right stands of various heights support three folded dress shirts, each with a different coloured bow tie. In the centre of the window, proud and silver and without torso and half his legs a mannequin displays a pair of white cotton briefs blooming mould from the groin while on the floor swirls an arrangement of scuttling gloves, wallets and socks, each labelled with white card hand written in fat black marker pen.

George Moore is empty.

Long empty judging by the turquoise intarsia of one jumper, the lemon yellow cable of another, the lobster pink and mint green pair of ski gloves that stand like coral on the sea floor at the foot of the display, fingers aloft and out stretched. All those colours, irreverently bright, seem veiled in sepia, choked by dust, stained by damp and laced with mould. Near the gloves a tape is offered for sale (‘cassette tape £6.50’) the ink on its cover has faded to greenish and blue and nicotine yellow on paper the colour of a tea stain but you can make out the image of a man, tuxedo and bow tie, shirt all collar and the frills of a ruff, crooning into a pillar mic below the puff of his own blown out hairstyle.

It’s been a while since I last stood here and its changed. Violent cracks I hadn’t noticed run darkly across the glass. The windows seem glazed twice, the second time in moisture that hangs in a fog of condensation near the top and everywhere else seems thick, clear and glossy like ice. Around the edges the panes are wreathed in deeply green slime. Fiercely alive next to the shrine of useless objects it is lushly, obscenely, organic.

The shop front is pure 19th century, almost unadulterated but with the flourish of a sapling sprouting from the guttering. Its frontage has been painted the delicate silver green of lichen and is peeling in commitment to the illusion. The paint hiding the original sign, high above the door, peels more enthusiastically than the rest. You can still make out the modern, a faint ‘George Moore’ painted across it but, magically, beautifully, the golden curl of a ‘D’ unfurls beneath it shrugging off the flaking paint. Protected by glass the original lettering gleams while the rubble of the last 100 years falls from its face.

A dirty net curtain flaps in an upstairs window, the sash has been left open.

I step onto the doorstep and think I hear a tinny whisper of electronic music deep inside the house. I don’t think it’s the first time I have noticed this.

Number 99 isn’t the only building that seems deserted on this street.

Many of the shops are vacant and many that aren’t look as though they could be until you visit at dusk when the pools of light from inside highlight those that are still trading. Many feel like perfect ruins. At number 139 the shop front wears full Lyons’ Tearoom regalia, its windows tantalisingly papered up and its gold and cobalt paintwork only slightly the worse for its 30 years of retirement or more. Just the other side of the railway line over the hump of the bridge and surrounded by a chain link fence a strangely homespun looking building is constructed from corrugated iron. It has the pretty arched windows of a church and bargeboards around the eves that mirror those on the Station Buildings opposite. It has a vague air of the Wild West about it: Myddleton Avenue, like a boomtown, flung from a sudden flurry of industry beside the railway tracks.

When there was no railway here the surrounding area made up the Bowes Farm estate and was bordered by woods and high roads into London. The capital crept closer in 1859 when the railway pushed out to Wood Green but Bowes Park, a mile further north, was developed to suit Londoners rich enough to own their own transport. About twenty detached villas with gardens and outbuildings grew up sedately defining the layout of Truro, Clarence and Nightingale roads. In 1871 a branch line was extended from Wood Green to Enfield through Bowes Park and nine years later Bowes Park station opened.

In the 20 years that followed the original loose street plan was elaborated on and over. The plots that became Myddleton road and the streets around it where advertised as suitable for ‘persons seeking rural and salubrious residences’. Myddleton Avenue, a street of modest, neat, new homes emerged in the middle of a network of similar neat new homes and occupied by the neat new middle classes, shopkeepers and clerks off to London each day by train. The street is framed at one end by the station and at the other by Green Lanes. It links these thoroughfares into London and skips over the New River, which ducks underground beneath it, as it does so. The entrepreneurial occupants of this new suburb quickly realised the trading potential that came with the footfall along the road and so the first businesses, milliners and dressmakers, set up advertising their services through signs in the front windows. Within nine years of being built the West end of the street, closest to the train station, was purely commercial. The tidy front gardens replaced with proud new shop fronts advertising businesses from grocers to glass merchants while services like tailoring and dressmaking operated in the upstairs rooms. Commercial Road, originally designed to be the business and service hub, dwindled. Myddleton Road was the high street of choice at the heart of an affluent community.

Today almost thirty percent of the shop fronts on the stretch of road between the station and the New River are vacant or locked up. This is despite a huge amount of local interest in the Road. Myddleton Road sits in a designated conservation area and the council have commissioned Butler Hegarty, a specialist in the conservation of Victorian shop fronts, to implement improvement works. Their proposal ‘Managing Change - Conservation and Regeneration of Myddleton Road’ has identified ten buildings that ‘could be most effectively improved to maximum effect’ at a predicted cost of £735,000.

I meet the owner of Andy’s dry cleaner at number 124, (‘priority six’ in the architects report), propping up the doorframe of his shop. I ask him if he has seen the street change over the years.

“Sure,” he says “it was busy 18 years ago.”

We talk about the councils’ plans to encourage passing trade.

“They can’t” he shrugs good naturedly, his resignation apparently peaceful.

“Listen, where do you shop?”

I tell him I buy food at the shop on the corner and go to Wood Green for everything else.

“Sure,” he says “listen, me too”.

We’re joined by the owner of the shop next door. He’s been trading here for fifty years. He tells me there was a chemist and a post office and two banks in the seventies. There were bank heists all the time, he laughs, the thieves would escape along the railway tracks where the police couldn’t follow. On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays the street was pedestrianised for a street market which ended in 1978 when the shopping centre at Wood Green arrived. The post office closed, the chemist folded and the banks gave up. Perhaps this is when George Moore locked the doors for the last time?

Yet for a ghost town Myddlton Road is fairly populated. Two or three builders merchants dot the street. They remind me of the area I grew up in and the smell of sawdust laces the air with nostalgia. In the general hush that lays over the road the rhythm of trucks arriving and departing gently punctuate the street with life. There are still several independent supermarkets, their presence marked by stalls of vegetables and occasionally, in summer, pots of frail tomato plants for sale. A tailor, always with his a light on, an alterations shop and a couple of dry cleaners cling on like the ghosts of the first businesses on this stretch. Groups of men chat in the doorways of shops.

On the North side of the road a mural decorates gates leading to the New River walk. To the South the river disappears under the street and doesn’t raise its head for more than half a mile but a slither of green shadows it above ground in the form of a well kept community garden, staffed by volunteers and concealing a checkerboard of allotments tracing the rivers path. There is life and industry puttering away behind the surface. Many of the shop fronts, their windows papered up or hung with sheets conceal ventures that rely less on footfall; workshops and a recording studio. In the front window of one house, harking back to origins of commerce along this road, I notice a sign, handwritten, it says only ‘Fresh Cyprus Bread’ and a phone number.

The councils’ plans focus on the street as a conservation project. They attribute much of its decline to planning permission violations, mainly cases of satellite dishes clumsily placed and rolling security shutters on shop fronts, which have ‘blighted the potentially advantageous character of the area and caused the street to feel disassociated and neglected.’ This is a stark contrast to the attitude of the council in the 1970s who conceived the plans for a modern shopping centre flattening the heart of Wood Green. Today they wish to reconstruct a perfect history. The Lyons tearoom façade doesn’t measure up. They propose removing it all together to be replace with something more authentically aping the Victorian while George Moore, one of just three complete Victorian facades on the street, will have its frontage ripped away to be converted back to the residential use it was first designed for. These plans seem at odds with the spirit that formed this street. The hands that built a church from tin, the entrepreneurs who colonised domestic buildings, shoehorning on boastful commercial frontages. It is perhaps the lesser evil. There are treasures here to preserve but I have no doubt that it’s the energy of those early pioneers, those enterprising early settlers, that will pull Myddleton Avenue out of its despondency with or without the councils help.

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