Walking over the hill and round the corner from my home in to Crouch End, one of the architectural delights of Crouch End appears in the distance – the Clock Tower. Stood at the foot of the Clock Tower you can enjoy not just the surviving architecture of many buildings in the area, you can see the site of the path-breaking test zerba crossing (outside what is was, then wasn’t and is now again a bookshop) and, er…, the weird density of supermarkets with three nearly back-to-back running up the Broadway and a fourth just round the corner.
What often brings a smile to me though is the irony of the Clock Tower itself – because, gasp, it was erected to honour a politician and, double gasp, many members of the public happily made donations to pay for it. The Clock Tower honours Henry Reader Williams (1822-97) who, as Chairman of the Hornsey Local Board for ten years, was the equivalent of council leader of his day. Hard to imagine residents of a council area now happily paying up to erect a small plinth, let alone a tall clock tower, to honour a council leader or other politician.
Born in 1822, Henry Reader Williams served with distinction on several local bodies, arguing for extra expenditure in order to secure good quality architecture, numerous trees along streets, high quality amenities and a pleasant layout of streets and buildings as the area quickly developed in the late nineteenth century. He also fought hard to protect open spaces, including starting the campaign to save Highgate Woods from development, securing Crouch End Playing Fields and and paving the way for the protection of Queen’s Wood and for the purchase of Alexandra Park and Palace by a group of London councils. In an act of foresight, he even warned that whilst the Park was a valuable prize to secure for the public, the Palace was a white elephant – words that turned out to be all too true.
His took a very firm line with builders, even insisting on having properties pulled down if they had not received proper consent. That sort of stringent enforcement of planning rules is one which many Haringey residents would probably like to see these days!
His legacy is all around the area even today, a fitting tribute to his commitment to the area – and a reminder of what good can be done by those who use local bureaucracy with skill, confidence and the right vision.