A brief history of Enfield

Edmonton Town Hall circa 1945

The long and distinguished history of Enfield has something to offer everyone.

Enfield can trace its roots back to Roman times with a Roman settlement established near Ermine Street in Bush Hill Park, which would have been close to the main Roman road from London to York. Roman remains from the third century have also been found at Churchfields, Edmonton.

In the 8th century, Edmonton was given to St Alban’s Abbey by King Offa and the Lee Valley was established as a front line between the Kingdoms of Alfred and Guthrum.

By the 11th Century, Enfield Town and the largest settlement in the parish was an administrative and religious centre. At the time of the Domesday (1086), Enfield had a priest. This almost certainly would have meant a church, probably on the current site of St Andrews Church.

Enfield Town became an important business centre from an early date. In the 14th Century, Edward I granted the first market charter giving the right to hold a weekly market at Enfield and two fairs annually to Humphrey de Bohun, the Lord of the Manor of Enfield. However, later this century, the Black Death struck the parish and killed one tenth of its population.

By the 15th Century small hamlets were developing across what is now the borough of Enfield. Certainly Southgate and Edmonton can trace their roots back many hundreds of years. It was during the 15th Century that All Saints Church, in Church Street, Edmonton was built.

However, at this stage much of the borough was covered in woodland and oak forests. In the 16th Century the borough became a favourite for royal hunting, and Elsyng Palace became one of Henry VIII’s Royal Palaces. Twenty years later and Enfield Grammar School was founded. Elsyng Palace remained a favourite of the Tudors with Elizabeth I staying there between 1564 and 1572.

In the early 17th Century Enfield became the focus for delivering clean water to London’s swelling population. In a major feat of engineering, a 40-mile canal was built between Ware in Hertfordshire through Enfield and into north London. This was called the New River and visitors can walk the length of the new river today.

It was during the 18th and 19th centuries that many of Enfield’s magnificent buildings were constructed. With the railways came Enfield’s significant contribution to industry and science. The Royal Small Arms Factory was built in 1814 and manufactured the Lee Enfield Rifle and the Sten Gun. Elsewhere, gasworks opened in Edmonton in 1847, various waterworks were founded, and brickmaking became a major industry.

By the end of the 19th Century, Ediswan took over the former jute mill at Duck Lees Lane, Ponders End and began manufacturing light bulbs and later radio valves.

Industry and population expansion continued into the 20th Century when Belling created the first infra red fire bar (electric fire). In addition, the halogen cooker, digital telephone communication enabling the first transatlantic calls, television distribution systems, man made fibres and the diode valve were all invented in Enfield. The underground was extended to Enfield and many of our schools and libraries were built.

To this day Enfield remains a creative and innovative borough as it looks to protect its heritage and plan for the future.

For more information on local history, visit the heritage section on the main Enfield Council website.

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