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Discovering the Cracknells of Enfield

Dispatch editor James Cracknell finds out more about the history of his namesakes in Enfield

The Cracknell family picking fruit from their orchard (credit Enfield Local Studies Library and Archive)
The Cracknell family picking fruit from their orchard (credit Enfield Local Studies Library and Archive)

Since I’ve been editing this paper, I’ve occasionally been asked by readers whether I’m related to someone else they know in Enfield with the surname Cracknell – one lady even thought I’d gone to school with her son.

With my curiosity stoked, I’ve since discovered that there is in fact a long line of Cracknells in the Enfield area going all the way back to the 16th Century. A farm that until the 1950s occupied what is now Chace Community School was run by the Cracknells for two centuries. A residential street in Bullsmoor was even named Cracknell Close in honour of this family of “market gardeners” who clearly made an impression on the local parish in years gone by.

The first thing to say is that, sadly, I am not a descendant of the Cracknells who ran the farm and had a street named after them. I grew up in Bristol and my father’s side of the family hail from Suffolk (where I understand the Cracknell name originated in the Middle Ages). Nonetheless, on a rainy day last month I decided to spend an afternoon digging deeper into the history of the Cracknells in Enfield.

The results of my research – conducted with the kind help of John Clark from Enfield Local Studies Library and Archive – proved far more fascinating than I could have dared imagine. The Cracknells are mentioned in a volume of the history book series written by David Pam of what was then called Enfield Preservation Society (now The Enfield Society), while several newspaper articles have been written about various members of the Cracknell family, including an entire history piece dedicated to them in the now defunct Enfield Gazette which describes them as “one of the oldest families in Enfield”.

My discoveries include the story of Ernest Cracknell, a local club singer from the 1970s who claimed that “the fresh country air” of Hilly Fields where he grew up “helped him to acquire his fine tenor singing voice”. Then there’s Eileen Cracknell, a talented athlete who competed in amateur sprint races in the 1930s and often featured in the sports pages of the local papers.

The Cracknell farmhouse, demolished in 1952 and now occupied by school playing fields (credit Enfield Local Studies Library and Archive)
The Cracknell farmhouse, demolished in 1952 and now occupied by school playing fields (credit Enfield Local Studies Library and Archive)

Among the quirky stories, however, I also found tragedy. Elizabeth Cracknell, a mother to a boy called Thomas, “drowned herself in the New River in 1872” according to a researcher who studied the family in the 1990s.


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As for the farm, it existed for centuries and was one of the last bits of Enfield Town to remain truly rural before inevitably succumbing to urbanisation. The history article in Enfield Gazette (a paper which, ironically, I wrote for as a freelance reporter prior to its closure in 2017) describes the Cracknell farm as “a venerable relic of the borough’s rural past until modernity swept it away in a cloud of dust in the 1950s”.

According to the article – which does not carry a date but was likely published in the 1970s – the farm in its heyday contained “an extensive orchard” as well as meadows which “were cropped by the Cracknells”. As their business expanded, buildings on the farm included “barns, a granary, cartshed and a cowshed” plus “a very old and very large bakery oven”.

The Cracknells sold their produce from a stall at Covent Garden Market “occupying a prominent position in front of St Paul’s Church”. The article also says that “the upper part of Tenniswood Road was then a lovely drive approached by way of a stile from Churchbury Lane” which “led between trees, roses, peonies and daffodils”.

But by 1952, according to Enfield Gazette: “The Cracknells had left the old home to the demolition men, the orchard was uprooted, every trace of a busy past removed and nothing was left of the family’s long association but a solitary tree.”

James visits a Bullsmoor street named after the Cracknells of Enfield
James visits a Bullsmoor street named after the Cracknells of Enfield

After reading about the Cracknells of Enfield in these old history books and newspaper articles I feel satisfied that, while I cannot claim to be directly connected to them, I do at least now have a colourful answer to give to the next Dispatch reader who asks me whether I went to school with their kid.


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