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What’s the Story? Anthony Salvin

Our grateful thanks to the Hornsey Historical Society for this wonderful piece on Anthony Salvin, one of the most successful of all Victorian architects. When he wanted a bit of peace and quiet from his hectic lifestyle where ...

Our grateful thanks to the Hornsey Historical Society for this wonderful piece on Anthony Salvin, one of the most successful of all Victorian architects. When he wanted a bit of peace and quiet from his hectic lifestyle where did he go? To a lovely country house in East End Road, East Finchley – sensible chap.



Anthony Salvin (1799-1881) was one of the most successful British architects in the first half of Queen Victoria’s reign. Although he has been heralded as an early pioneer of the Gothic Revival he was at home designing in a number of different styles and interpreting historic styles with ingenuity to meet his clients’ needs. That he did not campaign for a particular style or take part in the battle of the styles which occupied the attention of many more well- known architects in the later years of the 19th century probably meant that he was not widely known to the general public.

He was however well known to the rich landowners who wanted to build country houses or modernise their castles. In his day he had an enormous practice all over the country and in one year his business income reached £24,000. (Over £1million in today’s prices.) Of country houses the remarkable Harlaxton Manor in Lincolnshire built in a pre-Renaissance Tudor style and the similar Thoresby Hall in Nottinghamshire designed some 30 years apart are two outstanding examples. Castles from Alnwick to Windsor and the Tower of London were extended and modernised. In 1844 Salvin also built, from scratch, a brand new castle at Peckforton in Cheshire for George Tollemache the local MP, who feared civil unrest and intended his castle to be capable of withstanding siege by the rowdy elements of the population.

In addition his practice included a number of churches, university buildings, public buildings and schools and all through his career he was entering architectural competitions such as that for the new Houses of Parliament. He also restored a number of churches which seems to have been done in a rather drastic manner. “The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings [1] was founded four years before Salvin died, and its views on conservation were to awaken no sympathy in him….. With his contemporaries, like Gilbert Scott, Salvin must bear part of the responsibility for the rape of the English parish church in the nineteenth century”[2]

The house although badly built and in need of repair, had a large garden, stables and coach houses and ten acres of paddocks. It had views over the local beauty spot, Bishops Wood, and was convenient for the London omnibus by which Salvin could reach his London office. Salvin soon began to buy other pieces of land in the neighbourhood and with his brother-in-law William Nesfield bought adjoining plots in Fortis Green within the western corner of Hornsey, on which they built two houses designed by Salvin in the Italian villa style.

Nesfield laid out the grounds, landscaping the formal gardens near the houses as a single unit organising a small sheep-rearing enterprise in the meadow beyond. An unusual feature of the houses was that ancillary offices and out buildings were sited on the road side of the houses in order to maintain a clear view of the gently sloping meadow to the south with its views of Highgate.


J C Loudon the publisher of The Gardener’s Magazine saw the houses in 1838 and was so impressed that in his 1840 issue he published an article on them. Nesfield said that sheep were kept at Fortis Green, in preference to a cow, the family being small and because the neighbourhood abounds in farms, the supply of milk and butter was cheaper than they could produce on their three acres.  Salvin, however, did keep a cow for his family’s milk and butter and was engaged in farming activities on a larger scale than Nesfield. Salvin’s young daughter recorded in her diary “We went to see Papa’s bull in Fortis Green.” He seems to have dealt in land and sold land for building and is recorded as owning fifty-eight acres in 1878. Salvin let his villa in Fortis Green but Nesfield lived in his until he became the Drawing Master at Eton College.


Nesfield’s house on Fortis Green


In addition to large houses and castles Salvin designed a number of small school buildings including the St James School in Fortis Green which was erected in 1850 and subsequently extended but demolished in 1970. He also built St Michael School in North Hill Highgate in 1852 and Holy Trinity School, East End Road, Finchley in 1846-47 (now the Bopath Centre). The last two schools were Industrial Schools originally and the buildings still exist.

For further information see Jill Allibone’s book below and The Growth of Muswell Hill by Jack Whitehead, now available on line at www.locallocalhistory.co.uk

This information is provided by the Hornsey Historical Society which can be contacted at www.hornseyhistorical.org.uk  or at 136 Tottenham Lane, N8 7EL. Tel: 020 8348 8429

David Frith

[1] The Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings was founded by William Morris with others who were concerned that church restorations were destroying all trace of the mediaeval origins of parish churches.

[2]Anthony Salvin – Pioneer of Gothic Architecture  by Jill Allibone. Lutterworth Press 1987

On the extract of the 1894 Ordnance Survey below, although these were not the original names, the house belonging to Nesfield is named Uplands and that of Salvin Springcroft. The Hornsey boundary is shown by a dotted line which cuts across the plot of Springcroft. The site of the houses is now occupied by Springcroft Avenue.



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