Time Travel: 1890 to 2011

London's a willfully confusing place and just as you think you've understood a neighborhood it changes again.

Notting Hill had a hippodrome and then was rich and then was poor and now is rich again, Soho and Covent Garden were squalid and then were arty and now get richer and duller every year, Islington was lower middle class and then was poor and then was lefty and now is becoming supergentrified. Writers could afford Chelsea once, and Streatham was grand.

So how has the Hornsey Road changed in the last 111 years?

Around 1890 the social investigator Charles Booth had London mapped and its streets coloured according to their inhabitants' poverty or wealth. Black was 'lowest class, vicious, semi-criminal'; dark blue was 'very poor, casual, chronic want'; light blue was 'poor, 18s. to 21s. a week for a moderate family'; purple was 'mixed, some comfortable others poor'; pink was 'fairly comfortable, good ordinary earnings'; red was 'middle class, well-to-do'; yellow was 'upper-middle and upper classes, wealthy'.

Here's his map of the corner of Seven Sisters and Hornsey Road:

The Seven Sisters Road, back then, was 'well to do' on the roads off were people who were 'some comfortable, other poor ', and there was a corner of 'chronic want' to the south-east.

Compare that to the 2011 ACORN classifications on upmystreet, which go from 1 'wealthy mature professionals, large houses' to 56 'multi-ethnic, crowded flats'.

ACORN has the Seven Sisters/Hornsey Road corner (N7 6RA) as type 55

'These are some of the most densely populated urban areas in the country, and are characterised by a young, multi-ethnic population living in purpose built blocks of flats, some of which are high-rise. Over 20% of the population are Afro-Caribbean. They rent their small, one and two bedroom flats from the council and housing associations, and there is a high degree of overcrowding. Almost 60% of households are single people, including some single pensioners. There are average levels of children, but more than half of them live in single parent households.

Unemployment levels are high and a significant proportion have been looking for work for some time. Employment tends to be in low skilled occupations and incomes are low. Students form 10% of the population in these areas.

Like most young people they are interested in music, fashion and arts such as community theatre. Like all urban types, newspapers are popular. Readership is diverse and includes the Daily Mirror, Daily Sport, The Guardian and Independent.

Here's the Booth map for the neighborhood immediately around Ajani and the Plough:

This is even more mixed. The bit that's now the Andover estate is 'chronic want' , but Moray Road is 'fairly comfortable' and Tollington Park is 'middle class'. Plus, the Plough was already the Plough, but that's for another post.

Acorn says the Tollington Park/Hornsey Road corner (N19 4HT) is type 21:

'Metropolitan white-collar populations with high concentrations of ethnic minorities.

People are generally younger, typically under 40. There are some single parents, but most households comprise single people renting and sharing flats or terraced houses. The accommodation is small, often only one or two bedrooms.

Around 35% of the population is black or Asian. Both minorities occur in broadly equal proportion. The level of education is above average, and jobs tend to be managerial or clerical. Levels of students, people working in the Public Sector and unemployment are all somewhat above the national average.

These people do not need cars given their urban lifestyles. Instead, they will get about by walking and using public transport. They tend to go to coffee shops, and lunch in pubs or restaurants on a regular basis. They may also spend time in an art gallery or going to the theatre. Relatively high numbers have cable TV and DVD players. Reading, and sometimes religious activity also play a part in their leisure activities.

They have some interest in current affairs and might be readers of The Guardian, Observer or Independent. Increasingly they will use new technology such as telephone, PC and mobile phone for banking purposes. Many would like to upgrade to gold and platinum credit cards. More realistically, others are planning to pay off their debt.

On the whole I think Booth's investigators would have recognized the area. Some things have changed, but the general sense of the poor living next to the comfortably off is still there, as is the way that nearby streets can be very different for no obvious reason.

Off-topic and self indulgent post script:

In a previous life I looked at medieval maps for a living and learnt that maps have always been attempts to make sense of the world disguised as practical tools, unassuming bits of paper that we treat as though there were nothing strange about looking at a splash of colour on a sheet of paper and calling it China or tracing the line between Islington and Camden.

The simplest medieval maps were called Itineriaries . These were minimal things, usually no more than a few lines and names. They look amateurish and their direct descendants are the sketches people draw now to tell their friends how to get to their house. The medieval version might tell you to head for Milan, turn right for Turin and right again for Genoa. The modern version looks almost the same but might have you turning right at the Horse and Hounds, second left at the school and third right at the dentist's.

Portolan charts became popular around the 14th century, are the ancestors of what we think of as proper maps and were invented to help ships from port to port. In other words they were made to do something similar to a modern map; their logic is ours and their mistakes understandable. If they make Spain too fat, or miss out America we can sympathise with why they made those mistakes because we know (or at least think we know) that their makers wanted to make maps like ours.

The most elaborate and now most alien kind of medieval maps: the world maps or mappae mundi. Like modern maps these set the world on a flat plane but there the resemblance ends.

Some, called T in O maps because that's what they look like from a distance, split the world between Europe, Africa, Asia (twice the size of the the other two) and the Ocean. Others mark time through space, with the beginning of the world in the East and the Garden of Eden and the Jerusalem as the city of God on Earth on the other. Many have monsters and marvels filling up the edges of the world, but no medieval map-maker actually wrote 'hic sunt dracones' (here be dragons) and the marvels tended to get shunted out as soon as the map-makers found something more plausible to take their place.

Sometimes the shape of their world bears some resemblance to the actual shape of the continents, but that almost does not matter. The point of these maps was to tie all the world and all of time within one scene – to explain it, not to describe it. They had nothing to do with plans for travel and everything to do with the idea that the shape of the world reflected God's plan for it.

I think sometimes that Booth and ACORN and all the creative things people are doing with maps now are like cowardly versions of mappae mundi, made by people with immense talent and imagination but who still can't quite conceive of a map that is utterly, shamelessly useless.
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