diamond geezer

 Sunday, March 08, 2015

For the last post of my forties, I've been to the only Forty-something station in Britain. In Enfield, to be precise, and within three months it'll be on the tube map.

OK, so the station's not called Forty Hill any more, it's called Turkey Street, but don't expect a small detail like that to get in the way of what follows.

The railway bit
In 1891 a new railway was opened to link the Enfield Town branch line to the Lea Valley mainline. It was called the Churchbury Loop, veering off just to the north of Edmonton to join the mainline at Cheshunt five miles later. Three stations were built - at Churchbury (now Southbury), Forty Hill (now Turkey Street) and Theobald's Grove. Construction was entirely speculative, the area being almost entirely rural at the time, with the hope that homes would be built and generate traffic. This didn't happen, and what passengers there were soon switched to the tram down Hertford Road, hence the Churchbury Loop was made freight only in 1909 and its three stations closed. In March 1915 (100 years ago this week) the line was reopened to help ferry munitions workers up the Lea Valley, then closed again in 1919. Only in 1960 did those stations reopen, two with different names, served by through trains from Liverpool Street to Cheshunt and beyond. This May all Southbury Loop services transfer to the Overground, which'll be the cue for the rest of London to suddenly realise they exist. Expect Turkey Street to turn up in a pub quiz near you any day soon.

The station bit
Turkey Street's not much of a station, more a set of steps to a pair of platforms with an arched subway underneath. Pretty much all of the previous station building was wiped away in a rebuild in the 1980s, although the ticket hall (now on the 'wrong' side of the bridge) survives as a tiny grocery store and off licence. The steel treads on Turkey Street's stairs are tired and shabby, the dark arch beneath the viaduct is in no way enticing, and if you were hoping for next train information before entering the station, think again. In fact if you were hoping for any kind of next train information on the northbound, bad luck, the display on the platform's blank, but hardly anybody heads that way anyway. Up at track level the platforms stretch far off into the distance, and could best be described either as 'refreshingly open' or 'really quite exposed'. At the near end are a pair of small waiting 'rooms' that presumably fill up fast, or would if only the place was busy. Instead Turkey Street sees fewer than half a million passengers a year, which is less than every Underground station bar one, so don't expect a rush when it flashes up on the tube map in May.

The country lane bit
Turkey Street turns out to be one of the oldest settlements in Enfield. Ten cottages existed here in Tudor times, towards the western end of the existing lane, and by 1752 a pub called the Plough. The street name has nothing to do with gobbling animals, alas, probably originating as Tuckey Street after a medieval landowner, or perhaps Tuttle Street, nobody's entirely sure. A river ran alongside the lane in those days, named not unsurprisingly as the Turkey Brook. It's quite a long river, running from Potters Bar to the Lea, and you'll have walked a lot of it if you've ever done London Loop section 17. Right here is its most picturesque urban stretch, flowing in channel immediately beside the road, including a conservation area near the station where an old mill used to stand.

The walk along Turkey Street bit
Turkey Street starts on Hertford Road in Enfield Wash (very close to the house where my Mum was born, eighty years ago tomorrow). I got no whiff of nostalgia passing through, the shops have more of an Eastern European and West Indian feel these days, with even a pair of Jehovah's Witnesses parked up with their display cases at the end of the road. The pavement alongside the brook is a pleasant place to stroll, the waterside trees and bushes attempting to bud and blossom for spring, plus a couple of ducks enjoying the unseasonably seasonal weather. On the edge of the conservation area a bridge crosses the channel to a wiggly run of cottages, while what used to be The Turkey pub has been divided up into less endearing flats. The river flows through a patch of landscaped parkland outside Turkey Street station, then dips beneath the railway and road, the latter bridge with a plaque from the Middlesex Clerk of The Peace warning that Locomotive Traction Engines and Heavily Laden Carriages may not cross. A rather ungainly block of flats disrupts any historic feel, which the A10 then destroys, scything through this old lane and cutting it disjointly in two. The western end is a cul-de-sac, rising gently to meet the New River at the very point where a mighty loop was bypassed by some Victorian tunnelling. And only then, down the last few hundred metres, does Turkey Street still resemble the quiet meandering country lane it must once have been.

The horticultural bit
At the end of Turkey Street, across Bulls Cross, lies Myddelton House. This is the HQ of the Lea Valley Regional Park Authority, and also the site of a beautiful garden that's free to visit. It was created by Edward Bowles, a self-taught horticulturist who transformed the grounds of the house around the turn of the last century. It's a lovely site, both compact and varied, packing in formal and waterside planting, greenhouses and a curving lawn that used to be the New River. Bowles was known as the Crocus King, so March is a good time to visit, although it's the snowdrops that are particularly resplendent at the moment and the daffodils still mostly on their way. If you like flowers and plants you should visit one day and maybe stop for a bite in the cafe - here's my full report from a couple of years ago. Although I must say the majority of visitors yesterday were distinctly on the older side, something I obviously have no understanding of until tomorrow.

The Forty bit
I mentioned that Turkey Street station used to be called Forty Hill, and that's because was another more important settlement further up the Turkey Brook with royal connections. Elsynge Palace was built in riverside meadows in late medieval times, passing into the ownership of Henry VII who stashed most of his children here at some point. Alas the grand building was entirely demolished around 1660, but not before a square Jacobean mansion had been built further up the slope. This was Forty Hall, on Forty Hill, reputedly named after Richard atte Forteye who held estates in the Enfield area in the 14th century. The building was recently restored by the council, with aplomb, and reopened in 2012 as a museum and banqueting suite. It's fascinating to walk round, plus there's another nice cafe, and a walled garden round the back that's more a late spring and summer place hence is lacking in blooms somewhat at the moment. Again here's my report from a couple of years back - an ideal place to combine with Myddelton House just up the road. And Forty Hill itself is rather a refined location too, with several proper old houses around Forty Green, and winding upwards towards the church. It's just a bloody long walk to the station, so thank goodness they renamed it. Forties don't last forever.

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