N5 is Highbury and also Arsenal – and whenever I hear the word Arsenal I am transported back many years to a Department Store where I heard two shop assistants discussing a previous customer who was by all accounts rather large. One said to the other: “Yes she was rather big – Arse ‘n all behind.” And ever since I think of that whenever I hear the word Arsenal is mentioned.
Now we start out walk at what used to be Highbury Corner Post Office but which seems to have been closed, whilst Transport for London rebuild the bridge over the railway lines here. Not sure if it will ever reopen but no matter I am going to start the walk here for convenience. And our first stop is the actual station itself.
Stop 1: Highbury and Islington station
The first station here opened in 1872 by the North London Railway (NLR), although the line had been built in the 1850s. This was on the site of the present station building and was apparently a rather grand Victorian gothic building. Unfortunately this was destroyed by a V1 flying bomb in 1944 and the present building was put up when the Victoria line got here in the 1960s.
Then there was a second station which was on the deep level tube line built by Great Northern & City Railway (GN & CR) between Finsbury Park and Moorgate and which opened in June 1904.
When the Victoria line was built the deep level station was reconstructed so that the southbound Victoria line took over the original northbound GN & CR platform and two new northbound platforms were built for the two underground lines. Escalators were added and these went into the NLR station, creating a single station.
It has since become even more important as an interchange station. Transport for London has improved and expanded the services on the North London line, in particular reinstating the curve at Dalston and linking to the East London line to allow trains to run from here right down to New Cross, West Croydon and Crystal Palace.
Notice the platform numbering. One of the quirks of this station is that the surface platforms are numbered 1, 2, 7 and 8 whilst the Underground ones are numbers 3, 4, 5 and 6. This is because platforms 7 and 8 were only reinstated in 2011 with the opening of the link to the East London line, and I guess it was too difficult and/or confusing to change the numbers.
But look across the road and you can quite clearly see the old 1904 Underground station with its gaudy orange paint. Apparently this was refurbished in 2006 and it houses signalling equipment for the Victoria Line.
Now cross the road to the left of the current station entrance at the crossing.
Stop 2: Number 18 Highbury Corner
Located to the left of the old 1904 station is a building which looks like it should have been a cinema. Actually it was built as the Temperance Billiard Hall. It did have a brief period from around 1909 to possibly 1912 when it showed films and was known as the Electric Cinema Theatre. It went back to being a billiard hall and later became a night club which is what it is today.
Now pass in front of the old station building you saw from across the road and take the first left and keep on the left, and you will soon reach the back of the old station building, which is almost a mirror image of the front,
Retrace your steps to the corner where you will see our next stop
Stop 3: Boer War memorial
Just across the way from the back entrance of the old station is a rather attractive war memorial in an unusual garden setting.
And if you look on the plaque it explains it is a memorial to the 98 Islingtonians who died in the South African War 1899 – 1903.
Our next stop is just across the road to the right of the monument if you have your back to the station.
Stop 4: Number 1, Highbury Place
Along the right hand side of this road (Highbury Place) is a very handsome terrace of houses with a couple of points of interest.
First is number 1, which was home to an art school set up by painter Walter Sickert (1860 – 1942) and was his studio from 1927 to 1934.
We came across Mr Sickert in NW1 where there is a blue plaque to him in Mornington Crescent. It seemed he moved about a bit but he was here a few years in the late 1920s and early 1930s.
Keep walking along Highbury Place
Stop 5: Number 25 Highbury Place
And then a little further up at Number 25 was the childhood home of Joseph Chamberlain (1836 – 1914).
He was an important politician, having been Mayor of Birmingham from 1873 and MP for Birmingham – later Birmingham West – from 1876 to 1914. He was a very influential figure who shaped the political agenda when the British Empire was at the height of its power.
He had two sons who also went into politics – Austen Chamberlain who became Chancellor of the Exchequer and Neville Chamberlain who is now best remembered as the Prime Minister who tried to appease Hitler and failed.
Joseph Chamberlain was Colonial Secretary from 1895 to 1903 and which was the time of the second Boer War, so it interesting that the Islington Boer War memorial should be so close to his childhood home.
He was actually born in Camberwell, south London. He moved to Islington in 1845 but in 1854, aged 18, he went to Birmingham, where he made his fortune in the screwmaking business. But it seems he never forgot this part of the world as when he built his mansion in Birmingham he called it “Highbury”.
Our next stop is the green across the road.
Stop 6 Highbury Fields
As we heard in N4, there was a grand plan to create a huge park in the mid Victorian period. We saw the northern end which is today’s Finsbury park. And here in Highbury we have what would have been the southern part.
This is a lot smaller than Finsbury Park but it is as well it did get saved as an open space as there are precious few in this part of town.
Continue along Highbury Place and just before the road runs out take a right turn into Baalbec Road.
(interesting name by the way. Baalbec (or Baalbeck) is in modern day Lebanon. And there are some other odd named streets nearby: Corsica, Calabria, Liberia and Gallia. Not sure whether there is any connection and if so what it might be)
Our next stop is at the end on the right hand corner.
Stop 7: Ashhurst Lodge, 145 Highbury Grove
Today there is a modern block of flats called Ashhurst Lodge but this was once the site of a house of the same name.
And its claim to fame is that this was the home of a certain Charles Cruft (1852 – 1938).
According to the official Crufts website, the young Charles left college in 1876 with no desire to join the family jewellery business. Instead he took employment with James Spratt who had set up a new venture in Holborn, London selling ‘dog cakes’.
He was ambitious and a relatively short apprenticeship as an office boy led to promotion to travelling salesman. This brought him into contact with large estates and sporting kennels. His next career move with Spratts saw him travelling to Europe and in 1878, French dog breeders, perhaps seeing entrepreneurial talents in Cruft, invited him to organise the promotion of the canine section of the Paris Exhibition.
Back in England in 1886 he took up the management of the Allied Terrier Club Show at the Royal Aquarium, Westminster. It was in 1891 that the first Cruft’s show was booked into the Royal Agricultural Hall in Islington (as we saw in our N1 walk) and it has evolved from there.
After his death in 1938, his widow, Emma Cruft ran the show for four years. It was not held from 1942 to 1947 due to the Second World War. And in 1948 the Kennel Club took over running it from Emma Cruft. Since then Crufts has grown and grown and it now claims to be the largest dog show in the world.
Useless fact: Cruft’s changed to Crufts in 1974. It was decided that the apostrophe was no longer needed.
Continue along Highbury Grove and take the second turning on the right. This is a private estate called Aberdeen Park. Note the signs saying you are not protected by insurance!
Take the first left and then the next left and soon you reach a gate across the street.
It looks like you cannot get through but there is in fact a way for pedestrians. And once you pass through you leave Aberdeen Park and enter Aberdeen Road, which is a public road.
Just beyond the gate on the left hand side of the road is number 11 – our next stop.
Stop 8: Number 11 Aberdeen Road
This was the home of fashion designer Alexander McQueen (1969 – 2010) from 2001 until 2005.
McQueen, known to his friends by his first name Lee, was the bad boy of fashion. He was chief designer at Givenchy from 1996 to 2001 and went on to found his own Alexander McQueen label. He was awarded four British Designer of the Year awards (1996, 1997, 2001 and 2003). But he had a troubled life and killed himself following the death of his mother.
If you want to learn more of his life and death, there is a full account written in true Daily Mail style. It is based on a recent biography: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2933678/Dark-fashion-fawned-fashion-world-awarded-CBE-new-biography-brilliant-designer-Alexander-McQueen-reveals-glamour-lay-man-prone-shocking-depravity-cruelty.html
Continue along Aberdeen Road and turn left at the end into Highbury Grange. At the main road (Highbury Park) turn left and you will see our next stop ahead on the left
Stop 9: Highbury Barn Tavern
Now go into the paved area by the side of the pub and if you look up to the left end of the building you will see this Islington Green Plaque.
The story goes that Highbury Manor was given to the Knights Templars in the late 13th Century. In 1381, during the Peasants’ Revolt, Jack Straw led a mob of 20,000 rioters who were “so offended by the wealth and haughtiness” of the Knights Hospitallers that they destroyed the manor house. Jack Straw and some of his followers used the site as a temporary headquarters, so the derelict manor became known for the next 500 years as Jack Straw’s Castle. This is not of course to be confused with the better known Jack Straw’s Castle on Hampstead Heath which we saw in our travels through NW3.
John Dawes, a wealthy stockbroker, acquired the site of Jack Straw’s Castle together with some surrounding land. In 1781 he built Highbury House where Highbury Manor had stood. But the estate did not last long. The grounds around Highbury House started to be sold off in 1794. By 1894 Highbury House and its remaining grounds became a school and in 1938 Highbury House was demolished. It is now the site of Eton House flats (on Leigh Road)
Now retrace your steps along Highbury Park and turn left into Aubert Park. (named after Alexander Aubert (1730 – 1805) who by the way bought Highbury House in 1788. He was an eminent amateur astronomer)
Stop at the junction with Avenell Road which is the second turning on the right.
Stop 10: Two stadium views
We are heading for the old Arsenal stadium which closed in 2006 but there is one spot where you can see both the old and the new ones, here on the corner of Aubert Park and Avenell Road
Here is the view straight ahead along Aubert Park where you see the new stadium looming up.
And turn down Avenell Road and you can see the East Stand of the old stadium.
Now go down Avenell Road to the East Stand of the old stadium.
Stop 11: Former Arsenal stadium
As you probably know Arsenal Football Club started life in Woolwich. In 1913 Woolwich Arsenal Football Club moved to Highbury and dropped Woolwich from its name. Their chairman Sir Henry Norris took a 20-year lease on part of the grounds of St John’s Hall (which had started life as a College of Divinity) for £20,000 for their new home.
By 1925 the club was able to purchase the freehold. The entire stadium was given a massive overhaul in the 1930s with Art Deco style West and East stands dating from 1932 and 1936 respectively. We are walking the length of the rather impressive East Stand.
In 2006 the club moved to Ashburton Grove on the west side of Drayton Park and over the border in N7.
The old stadium was converted into a luxury housing complex known as Highbury Square, with the two listed East and West stands being converted into apartments, allowing their original exteriors to be almost entirely preserved. The unlisted North Bank and Clock End stands were demolished to make way for entirely new apartment blocks. The pitch has been converted into a garden and apparently there is a gym and swimming pool underneath it.
If you are lucky the gates may be open and you can get in to see the centre.
They have done a good job in utilising the old stand buildings and creating apartments.
But you have to wonder at the practicality of having a major football stadium in a completely residential area away from any main road. It is surprising it took them so long to move, but I guess finding the right alternative site was the issue.
Continue along Avenell Road and turn left when you get to Gillespie Road our final stop is just ahead on the right.
Stop 12 Arsenal Station
This is a curious station stuck as it is in a side street.
Opened in December 1906 by the Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway (GNP&BR), it was called Gillespie Road. The original station building and ticket hall were designed by Leslie Green and clad in those distinctive dark red tiles.
When it was built the station served a residential area and a local divinity college. Following the arrival in 1913 of Arsenal Football Club at their new home on the site of the college’s playing fields, there was a campaign for a change of name. Eventually in November 1932 the station was renamed Arsenal (Highbury Hill).
The station was expanded in the 1930s, with the original station building demolished and being replaced with a wider building of a more modern design, which is what we see today.
The (Highbury Hill) suffix was dropped from the station’s name some time around 1960, giving the current name of Arsenal.
The tiled walls of the platforms bear the Gillespie Road name but these are actually replicas dating from a 2007 renovation.
Although it is on a deep level tube line and is underground, the line is near the surface and so like nearby Finsbury park there are no lifts or escalators – just a few steps and a slope, then some more steps.
To allow people to enter the station when the main flow of people is outwards and vice versa, the station has a “tidal” system which is unique on the Underground. The main passageway is divided by a full height fence. the wider section is used normally and for the main flow when there are matches (ie out of the station before a game and into the station after a game). The narrow section is used on match days for people catching trains before matches, or leaving the station after matches.
We are now at the end of our N5 walk and at Arsenal station for onward travel. Oddly (and I think uniquely) there are actually no bus routes passing this Underground station, so you will need to head down Gillespie Road to Blackstock Road if you want a bus.