Edmonton must date back to at least Anglo-Saxon times, although its first known mention is in William the Conqueror’s 1086 Domesday Book.
The Domesday Book calls it Adelmetone, which evidently comes from the Anglo-Saxon for “Ēadhelm’s farm”, Ēadhelm presumably being the name of a local landowner. But in fact there may have been at least a truck-stop here before then, as Edmonton sits on Ermine Street, the old Roman road to York (now the A10), and would have been just the right distance out of Londinium to serve for a meal and a change of horses. Edmonton is also of course on the River Lea, but it isn’t clear why the northern part was called Lower Edmonton and the southern part Upper Edmonton, given that the Lea flows from north to south, so really it should be the other way round. The Lea formed the boundary between Middlesex (Edmonton, Tottenham) and Essex (Chingford, Walthamstow).
At the beginning of the seventeenth century, a play appeared called The Merry Devil of Edmonton. Attributed in its day to Shakespeare, it was about a local wicked wizard. Perhaps it was this that inspired malicious misogynists to accuse Winchmore Hill resident Elizabeth Sawyer of witchcraft, no doubt for the crime of being an eccentric old woman who was ugly, swore a lot and had a black dog (so she was obviously guilty). Sawyer was tried for her evil ways, tortured to confess, and executed at Tyburn, one of all too many innocent victims of the witch-hunts of the time, most of whom were older women living alone. A trio of Jacobean dramatists then cashed in on Sawyer’s misfortune by penning a play called The Witch of Edmonton, in witch she sells her soul to the Devil to hex her neighbours, something that really she’d have been within her rights to do (the play even kind of suggests as much).
For most of its life Edmonton was a quiet village, and like Islington, it at one time had an Angel. The early 19th century (1824–56) saw the construction of a posh Regency crescent, which you can still see at 84–124 Hertford Road, although its northern end was never actually completed. Edmonton’s church, All Saints, dates back to the twelfth century, but has been much rebuilt since then. The oldest part now is the tower, which dates from the fifteenth century. The railway arrived at Edmonton in 1840, but it was a one-track branch line, and it no longer runs. Edmonton Green Shopping Centre occupies the site of its original station, and the line’s former course survives as a footpath along the southwest side of the Jewish cemetery from Plevna Road to Conduit Lane.
In 1872, a direct rail line into London opened, now the London Overground from Edmonton Green and Silver Street to Liverpool Street. Like a few of the stations on the line, Edmonton Green still has its original Victorian wooden canopies with their cast-iron pillars. By the early twentieth century, Edmonton had become a largely working-class suburb of the metropolis. The 1930s saw the arrival of the North Circular Road. Silver Street, an old road that pre-existed its incorporation into the North Circular, became a notorious bottleneck until it was upgraded to a dual carriageway in the 1970s and renamed Sterling Way. But while great for cars, the new road is less than pedestrian-friendly, and has cut Edmonton in two.
Local heroes include Del Boy actor David Jason (come on, you didn’t think he was from Peckham, did you?), and less well known, the rather inappropriately named World War Two hero Charles Coward, the “Count of Auschwitz”, who was a PoW and Red Cross liaison officer in the infamous Nazi concentration camp, and used his position to help Jewish prisoners escape. He lived at 133 Chichester Road, where a blue plaque commemorates him. His exploits spawned a book and a film. Among Edmonton’s football heroes was 1920s Spurs left winger Jimmy Dimmock, who scored the winning goal for Tottenham in the 1921 FA Cup final (despite having been a gunner in the First World War).
And yes, you would be right in thinking that Edmonton in Alberta is named after the one in London. James Winter Lake, who was the director of the Hudson’s Bay Company from 1799 to 1807, lived in a stately home called Firs Hall, located where 335 Firs Lane now stands. It was Lake who named the company’s Alberta trading post “Fort Edmonton” after his home town, and the post gradually evolved into what’s now Canada’s fifth-biggest city and Alberta’s provincial capital.
In 1850, the parish of Edmonton (the one in London) got its first local government in the form of a board of health. Southgate became independent of it in 1881, and the rest became an urban district of the county of Middlesex in 1894, upgraded to a municipal borough in 1937. When Greater London was created in 1965, Edmonton joined Southgate and Enfield to form an enlarged London Borough of Enfield. The old town hall on Fore Street was demolished in 1989, but its clock was rescued, and now stands just across the street, at the corner of Edmonton Green.