Highgate

HIGHGATE, a town and chapelry, partly in the parishes of St. Pancras and Islington, but chiefly in that of Hornsey, union of Edmonton, partly in the Holborn, but chiefly in the Finsbury, division of the hundred of Ossulstone, county of Middlesex, 4 miles (N.) from London; containing 4302 inhabitants. There is every reason to believe, that at a very remote period, a large portion of the present county of Middlesex formed the bed of an estuary of the sea, and that Highgate and the neighbouring eminences were the first spots quitted by the ocean, and the earliest inhabited by the aborigines of this part. The hypothesis is strengthened by the appearance of the superior strata, which consist of clay with super-imposed deposits of sand, nearly identical with that on the sea-shore. It is certain, however, that the ocean had abandoned the district long before the time of the Romans, as, when that people arrived in Britain, the neighbourhood presented a vast uncultivated forest, called the Forest of Middlesex, which was not disafforested till 1218. According to Camden and other authorities, the hamlet of Highgate derived its name from the high-gate, or gate upon the hill, erected by the Bishop of London, on or very near the site of the present Gatehouse inn, about 500 years ago, when the high road over the hill was formed. But in a recent work drawn up on the invitation of the Highgate Literary Institution, it is supposed, with some probability, that the name (which in an ancient record is written Hygate), is deducible from Hy, a syllable in the British language, perhaps corrupted from Hu, a cap, and implying also Episcopal, and Gate, an entrance or way. In proof of this is alleged the fact that Highgate stands on what has been from a very early period episcopal ground, and was long the site of a residence of the bishops of London. The old gate-house, which was one of the first buildings erected on the spot, was removed in 1769. The dwelling that existed earliest appears to have been a hermitage, of the great antiquity of which, it is known, that it was certainly in being before the year 1386, when, as is recorded in the Bishop's muniment book, now in St. Paul's Cathedral, a hermit was presented to it by the Bishop of London (Braybrook), in whose gift it was. The last hermit appointed was probably William Forte, who received a grant of the hermitage or chapel, 20th April, 1531, from Bishop Stokesley. In 1387, Hornsey Park, which occupied the site of the present Highgate, was the place where the nobles met together, says Norden, "in a hostile manner, to rid the king (Richard II.) of those traitors he had about him." In the year 1483, the odious Duke of Gloucester, and the youthful King Edward V., were met at the same place by the chief citizens of London, and conducted by them to the metropolis with great pomp; and after the battle of Bosworth-Field, the victorious Richmond (Henry VII.) was welcomed here, on his way to the capital, by the corporation and others. In 1589, the hamlet was visited by Queen Elizabeth, and in 1624 James I. slept here on the night before hunting a stag in St. John's Wood, in the vicinity.

The village or town stands on the great north road, and is remarkable for the purity of its air, the diversified scenery of its neighbourhood, and the extensive and beautiful prospects which its lofty situation commands; the streets are lighted with gas, and the inhabitants are amply supplied with water, chiefly from wells. The height of the hill, which is 400 feet above the summit of St. Paul's Cathedral, formerly rendered the ascent to the village exceedingly hazardous, and liable to accident; schemes to remedy this were at various times devised, but none were productive of any benefit, until the formation, in 1813, of the Archway, which, avoiding the village, runs by the eastern side of the hill. On the road to Hampstead, is Caen Wood, the magnificent domain of the Earl of Mansfield, containing a handsome mansion, of which the central part was erected by the eminent Lord Chief Justice Mansfield. The village was once celebrated for the administration of a burlesque oath, by which the juror pledged himself, amongst other things, never to eat brown, when he could get white, bread, nor drink small, when he could get strong, beer, with many similar engagements; but with the proviso, "except he liked the other better." The oath was sworn at the inns of the place; and so much was the now obsolete custom in vogue, that, 60 years since, three out of every five passengers in upwards of 80 stage-coaches that stopped daily at the Red Lion, took the oath.

A small chapel, which had been connected with the above-mentioned hermitage from a very early period, was rebuilt, in connexion with a free school, in 1578, and from that time to its demolition, in 1833, was the only place of worship, according to the rites of the Church of England, which existed in Highgate. It was repaired and enlarged several times, and in the reign of Elizabeth almost wholly rebuilt, and was a brick edifice, consisting of a nave, chancel, and south aisle, with a small square tower: it contained monuments to the memory of Dr. Lewis Atterbury, a celebrated divine, who was preacher in the chapel for 36 years; Francis Pemberton, chief justice of both benches, temp. Charles II.; and Sir John Wollaston, Knt., lord mayor of London. The foundation wall of the chancel still remains; and a portion of the side wall and window, also standing, forms a picturesque ruin, connected with the adjoining residence of the master of the grammar school. A new church was erected, on another site, in 1833, towards the expense of which the Church Commissioners granted £4800, the governors of the free school, in consideration of having sittings allotted for the use of the scholars, £2000, and the Incorporated Society £500, the remainder being raised by subscription among the inhabitants. It is dedicated to St. Michael, and is a very elegant specimen of the later English style, with an enriched tower and crocketed spire. The east window is embellished with painted glass brought from Rome, and the church contains many handsome monuments removed from the old chapel, together with a tablet inscribed to the memory of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the eminent poet and philosopher, who spent the greater part of his life at Highgate. The Bishop of London presents to the incumbency. The free grammar school was founded in 1562, by Sir Roger Cholmeley, Knt., chief justice of the king's bench, who procured in aid of its complete establishment two charters from Queen Elizabeth, in 1565; and by a deed-poll, based on the letters-patent, and dated the same year, Edmund Grindall, Bishop of London. and "lord and proprietor of the chapel at Highgate," granted to Sir Roger, for the purposes of the new school, the chapel and premises, with two acres of land adjoining. The school-house was finished in Sept. 1578, at the same time as the rebuilding of the chapel; the income is now about £900 per annum. There are places of worship for Baptists and Independents.

The Highgate Cemetery, belonging to the London Cemetery Company, and situated on that side of the hill facing London, was consecrated by the Bishop of London on the 20th May, 1839. It comprises within lofty walls an area of 21 acres, presenting a tasteful combination of art with nature. The grounds are disposed in the most varied manner, enlivened with picturesque trees of different kinds, and intersected by gravel-walks; the entire scene being majestically crowned on the northern side, by the church of St. Michael. The entrance lodge, in Swain's-lane, is in the early English style, and contains a chapel for the performance of the burial service. Almshouses for six poor widows were founded pursuant to a bequest by Sir J. Wollaston, in 1658; these having become much decayed, 12 others were erected, in 1722, by Edward Pauncefort, Esq., who left property for the support of the charity, which has been augmented by subsequent benefactions. An hospital for lepers was founded on the lower part of Highgate Hill, by William Poole, yeoman of the crown in the reign of Edward IV., which continued till the time of Henry VIII., and is supposed to have occupied a site now called Lazarets, or Lazarcot Field, near Whittington Stone. [Whittington College, near the Archway, is noticed in article Holloway, which see.] The village has been the residence of various characters of note: Lauderdale House is said to have been an abode of Nell Gwynne's; in an adjoining mansion lived Andrew Marvell; and Cromwell House was the property of General Ireton. Sir Thomas Cornwallis, comptroller of the household to Queen Mary; Sir Richard Baker, Knt., author of the Chronicle of the Kings of England, 1641; and Dr. Sacheverell, who died here June 5th, 1724, were residents; and in the mansion of the Earl of Arundel, a nobleman of refined taste and classical mind, died the illustrious philosopher, Lord Bacon, April 9th, 1626, after a few days' illness.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.

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