How past redevelopment shaped Edmonton’s present

Edmonton Town Hall stood for more than a century before being knocked down and replaced by an Asda supermarket
Edmonton Town Hall stood for more than a century before being knocked down – the site is now occupied by Asda supermarket and Edmonton Police Station

Neil Littman takes a look at how past development schemes have influenced the Edmonton of today

Much has already been written about the sharpening divide between the east and west of Enfield borough, but I want to focus specifically on Edmonton and the events that shaped it.

Enfield Council today is facing the same challenges that have been around for well over a century. These challenges were clearly spelled out by the Enfield Poverty and Inequality Commission, which published its findings one year ago and was covered by the Dispatch at the time.

Annual surveys of London boroughs show that Enfield compared favourably with neighbouring Barnet in 2015, but that the gap has since widened in three areas; employment, average weekly earnings, and home building. These are also the same issues that affected the way the borough developed and grew in its early days.

In 1850, the borough as we know it today was two separate districts; Enfield and Edmonton, with a third, Southgate, later splitting from Edmonton in 1881. Despite the growth of the railways during the early Victorian period, Edmonton did not benefit from a direct route into central London until 1872, when the lines from Liverpool Street were extended into this part of North London.

Fore Street at that time still consisted of a mix of 18th and 19th Century terraced houses, interspersed with grand merchants’ residences and their walled gardens. Things largely stayed this way until the 1950s, when the former Municipal Borough of Edmonton carried out a series of ambitious comprehensive development schemes and, within ten years, left little of the original dwellings.

In the 1960s the council built a number tower blocks, centred mainly around Edmonton Green. But this investment also resulted in the obliteration of Edmonton’s historic town centre, demolishing cottages with back gardens to make space for high-rise developments. These tower blocks brought with them a series of social issues and, combined with the new shopping parades, created a confusing, disharmonious urban jungle landscape that remains today. One of the few historic features that survived was The Crescent, in Hertford Road, and it now acts as a reminder of what Edmonton once was.

The Crescent in Edmonton Green survived the area's redevelopment of the late-20th Century
The Crescent in Edmonton Green survived the area’s redevelopment of the late-20th Century

The Angel Road and Silver Street areas, meanwhile, also endured change at this time – the development of the North Circular led to slum clearances. One of the results was that the gentry that had lived in the area since it was a rural Middlesex village fled Edmonton and never came back.

In 1974, Edmonton Green was relaunched with optimistic fanfare, boasting “North London’s newest and most exciting shopping centre”. But it was only two decades later, in 1995, when further mass demolition took place and the area was revamped yet again, this time drawing comments comparing the development to Erich Honecker’s East Berlin.

The solutions of the past, however well intentioned, quickly became the problems of the present. Redevelopment has stopped and started several times and the worry is that simply replacing tower blocks with new ones, even if they are more contemporary in design, does not resolve the issues of the 1960s and 70s.

Another major issue, still evident now, is the loss of identity for the borough of Edmonton. This has been an issue since 1965 when it became absorbed, together with Southgate, into the modern Enfield borough we know today. Although similar mergers were going on all over London, the later demolition of the historic Edmonton Town Hall building in 1989 – later to be replaced by Asda supermarket and Edmonton Police Station – confirmed fears that the area would eventually lose its individuality.

Looking ahead, Enfield Council recently published a development plan for the next two years entitled A Lifetime of Opportunities. Leader Nesil Caliskan said it will launch “the most ambitious council-led house-building programme in the history of the borough”. Future plans commit the council to “directly deliver or acquire 3,500 new council-owned homes over the next ten years” as well as making new employment opportunities for young people.

The key to all these potential achievements is having the financial resources to implement them. While it is impossible to ignore the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, and how its longer-lasting effects on the community could set back social change, hopefully the next budget from the council will reassure the residents of Edmonton that their future is a positive one.