N7 is Holloway. A bit of strange name and one that turns out to mean exactly what it implies. It was a road in a hollow (well that’s what Brewer’s “Dictionary of London Phrase and Fable” says on page 239)
We start our walk at the Post Office at 20 Brecknock Road. Turn left out of the Post Office and go to the corner where you should turn left into Camden Road.
Our first stop is in the turning which is the first on the left.
Stop 1: Site of 39 Hilldrop Crescent
Now I did not expect to find Number 39 still standing given its history. This was the house that Dr Crippen and his wife moved into in 1905.
Dr Crippen is one of those names you have heard of but probably do not know much of the story.
Hawley Harvey Crippen (1862 – 1910) was an American homeopath. He was convicted of murdering his wife Cora Henrietta Crippen here at Hilldrop Crescent and was the first criminal to be captured with the aid of wireless telegraphy. He was fleeing back across the Atlantic with his lover at the time.
Here an article from the Daily Mail in 2014 which gives an insight into his colourful life and includes a picture of the cellar of 39 Hilldrop Crescent where he is supposed to have buried his wife:
Most of the street has been redeveloped but some of the original houses still stand. However number 39 no longer exists. It would have been here, where a block of flats called Margaret Bondfield House now stands.
But I guess it would have looked like this (which is number 37)
And now, as they say, for something completely different…
Stop 2: The Kindness Offensive
Having walked along the Crescent turn left at the end back into Camden Road and our next stop is on the next corner.
This looks like an old pub but is in fact home to something called The Kindness Offensive (or TKO for short). According to their website, they are not a religion, company, charity or official group of any sort, but are a group of friends and like-minded people. In 2008 the three founding members of TKO headed out of their front door to see what they, as ordinary people, could do to make the world a better place. Their aims are to have fun, be kind and inspire as many people as possible to do the same. Performing both small and large-scale Random Acts of Kindness is what they do. And they have an old Routemaster bus to transport people and stuff about.
More about this strange and wonderful place and what it does at: http://thekindnessoffensive.com/
Now from kindness back to something rather less kind. As you continue along Camden Road you will see this on your left.
Stop 3: Holloway Prison
This looks like an industrial estate which has turned its back on you.
But it is in fact Holloway Prison. There has been a prison here since 1852. But it was completely rebuilt between 1971 and 1985 and not even the distinctive turreted gateway to the prison survived. Originally a mixed prison, it became a women’s prison in 1903 and was where many of the suffragettes were held.
Keep walking along Camden Road.
Stop 4: Two interesting manhole covers
Now along this road like so often in London, there are some old manhole covers. But if you stop just by Moriaty Close, you will see two which are almost certainly there in relation to street lighting and predate the nationalisation of electricity supply in 1948.
Here before 1948 the local borough council clearly provided the service, as the manhole cover says Islington Borough Council Electricity Department
But the other one is even older, as it says Vestry of St Mary Islington Electric Light. The Vestry of St Mary was one of the predecessor bodies to Islington Borough Council, which was created in 1900. So that suggests this particular manhole cover is at least 115 years old.
Here is a fascinating piece on the National Archives site about the records held by the London Metropolitan Archives on the electricity undertakings that went to form the new nationalised London Electricity Board in 1948.
This is what it says about this area:
“Islington Metropolitan Borough Council Electricity Undertaking was authorised by an Electric Lighting Order of 1893 and commenced supply in 1896. The Borough’s predecessor, the Vestry of Saint Mary, Islington, had appointed an Electric Lighting Committee and built a Central Electric Lighting Station at 50 Eden Grove, Holloway. In October 1936 the Electricity Department’s Showroom and Offices were opened at 341/343 Holloway Road. At this time the Borough’s aim was to develop the Undertaking ‘by making uses of electricity familiar to all classes of community and providing a comprehensive service of installation and maintenance which will place the many types of domestic electrical appliances within the reach of every ratepayer’. Major post-war activities included the supply and fitting up with electrical appliances of the new housing estate. In 1947 there were 70 staff.”
Now go the end of the street and turn left into Holloway Road. Our next stop is just ahead on the left.
Stop 5: Odeon cinema
This cinema was developed by a duo called Hyams & Gale who sold out to Gaumont British Theatres as the building was being completed. It was originally intended to be a sister theater to the Gaumont State Theatre, Kilburn although it only had around 3000 seats as opposed to Kilburn’s 4,004 seats.
It opened on 5 September 1938 but it did not have a long life in its orginal form as the auditorium was destroyed by a V1 Rocket bomb in November 1944. The main walls and foyer survived but it took a while for the rebuild eventually reopening in July 1958.
It was renamed Odeon in November 1962. It was first divided into three screens in 1973 and later there were more subdivisions so now there are eight screens. But it is still going strong today.
As only the facade and the foyer remain in anything like their original 1938 condition, these are the only bits of the building that are Listed (Grade II).
Now return along Holloway Road and our next stop is just beyond Camden Road on the same side as the Odeon.
Stop 6: The Marlborough Building, Number 383 Holloway Road
You may be wondering why we have stopped at this rather undistinguished block which now houses City & Islington College.
The clue is in the name because this was the site of a theatre called the Marlborough which was designed by the prolific theatre architect Frank Matcham.
It opened in October 1903. Initially it presented plays and musical comedies but from May 1918 it became a full time cinema, known as the Marlborough Picture Theatre. It became part of the Provincial Cinematograph Theatres circuit in 1925 which in turn was taken over by Gaumont British Theatres in February 1929.
Gaumont closed the Marlborough Picture Theatre in September 1940, due to wartime conditions. It was taken over by Odeon Theatres Ltd. in February 1942 and they reopened it on 9th March 1942.
The Marlborough Theatre did not really stand a chance what with the huge Gaumont Holloway just along the way, plus the Odeon/Gaumont group also had two other big cinemas not too far away in Finsbury Park (Astoria and Gaumont). So the Marlborough Picture Theatre closed on 31 August 1957 and was demolished in 1962.
Continue walking along Holloway Road and our next stop is on the other side
Stop 7: Selby’s, Numbers 383 – 400 Holloway road
James Selby opened in 1896 as a Milliners and General Draper and amazingly it is still going.
It is one of a group of independent stores which include Morleys in Brixton and Tooting and Elys in Wimbledon. And it is reminder that this street was once a major shopping street.
Our next stop is at the corner of Holloway Road and Tollington Road
Stop 8: Site of Beales
Today at the corner of Tollington Road, you see a modern block housing an Argos store. But for over 70 years this was the location of a Holloway institution, called Beale’s.
Beales started off as a bakers in 1769 and the firm was incorporated as Beale’s Ltd in 1895. In 1889 Beale’s opened a five storey building here containing a restaurant, grill room, banqueting suites and departments selling a complete range of groceries and provisions.
By the second world ward the grocery, meat and provisions departments had been closed as being uneconomical, but the bakery business developed under a sixth generation Beale called John, becoming the largest independent bakers in North London with 12 shops. The restaurant and banqueting side of the business continued until 1969, when the Holloway premises were sold and the bakery closed down after exactly 200 years.
The company concentrated on their hotels in Hertfordshire and are still going, with the eighth generation now at the helm. Here is a fascinating piece about the Beale’s store on Holloway Road
Our next stop is at the other corner of Tollington Road. (Now might be a good time to cross over Holloway road if you have not done so already)
Stop 9: former Jones Brothers Department store, (nos. 348 –366)
Today we can see a Waitrose store and a little further along a rather grand building. But prior to 1990, this was the location of the Jones Brothers Department store.
Jones Brothers’ was founded in 1869 by William and John Jones. William had come to London in 1867 and worked as a draper’s apprentice until he and his brother opened a small shop in Holloway.
In 1899 they were able to build larger premises with an entrance to the south under a tower.
In 1927 the store became one of the Selfridge Provincial Stores, and in 1940, like a number of others including Bon Marche in Brixton, it was bought by the John Lewis Partnership.
Following closure of the store in 1990 part of the building became a conference centre. But over the door there is a little reminder of the origins of the building.
Clearly Holloway Road was an important shopping street from the late 19th century, rather like Brixton. But does not seemed to have fared so well today.
Our next stop is right next door.
Stop 10: Coronet Cinema 338 Holloway Road.
Today this building proudly proclaims itself as “The Coronet”.
It is now a Wetherspoons pub but was obviously once a cinema. The name is a bit misleading because it was only called the Coronet cinema for 4 years out of its 43 years life as a cinema.
It opened as the Savoy Cinema by Associated British Cinemas (ABC) on 5th February 1940. It had been virtually completed as war broke out in September 1939 and so was allowed to open as planned. It was re-named the ABC in 1962 and in 1979 the independent Coronet Cinemas chain leased it and renamed it the Coronet Cinema.
It finally closed as a cinema in June 1983 and was never subdivided. After a couple of years as a snooker hall, by 1987, the building was vacant and unused. J.D. Wetherspoon purchased the building and it was converted into a pub, reopening as The Coronet in March 1996, with many of the features of the cinema restored.
The refurbishment and restoration of this former cinema won awards for the Wetherpoons. There are lots of informative panels around the building about the golden age of cinema and the local area, including one related to our next stop.
Continue walking along this side of Holloway Road and in the next block stop at Number 304
Stop 11: Number 304 Holloway Road
Joe Meek, record producer, lived, worked and died in his flat in 304 Holloway Road.
He was one of the important record producers of the early 1960s and he did much of his work here at this flat, where he created a studio. His best remembered hit is the Tornados’ “Telstar” in 1962, which was apparently the first record by a British group to reach number one in the US pop charts. But his commercial success as a producer was short lived, and he gradually sank into debt and depression, and believed his flat was haunted or was being bugged. On 3 February 1967, after a dispute with his landlady Violet Shenton, he shot her and then turned the gun on himself.
He was quite a character as can be seen from this piece on Islington Council’s site.
Fascinating stuff and we even get another old picture of Beale’s. And who would have thought we would have two murderers in one walk!
Now keep walking along Holloway Road and just after going under the railway bridge, look down the side street and you can see the new Arsenal Emirates Stadium
Sadly we do not have time to visit!
Nor do we have time to pop into Holloway Road tube station just by the railway bridge – another of the Leslie Green designed tube station.
By the way it has a strange claim to fame as the place where the first escalator was installed on the Underground. The station was was built with two lift shafts, but only one was ever used for lifts. The second shaft was the site of an experimental spiral escalator which was built in 1906 by the American inventor of escalators, Jesse W. Reno. The experiment was not successful and it was never used by the public. The remains of this escalator are apparently now in the London Transport Museum’s depot in Acton.
Our next stop is just along the road but you will get a better view if you cross over.
Stop 12 London Metropolitan University, 166-220 Holloway Road
London Metropolitan University was formed on 1 August 2002 by the merger of London Guildhall University and the University of North London, but can trace it roots back to 1848 when one of its predecessor bodies, the City of London Polytechnic, was formed.
But we are at the University of North London’s site, previously the Polytechnic of North London.
But amongst the rather dull buildings, a rather special creation was added in 2004 – the 10,000 sq ft Graduate Student Centre by renowned architect Daniel Libeskind.
It comprises three intersecting volumes, clad with embossed stainless steel panels. The Graduate Center houses a lecture theatre, seminar rooms, staff offices and a café for the university’s graduate students.
Jonathan Glancey wrote in the Guardian in February 2004: “At £3m all in, this is not an expensive building. What it has that distinguishes it from what a client might ordinarily expect for that money is great presence… When you visit the area, you immediately realise that Libeskind’s explosive building acts not only as a junction box for the university but as a landmark for the entire street.”
But this site also once housed a cinema at numbers 194-196 Holloway Road.
This had opened as the Holloway Grand Pictures on 8th January 1913. It was taken over by the Ben Jay circuit and became the Regent Cinema in 1935. In 1950 it was renamed Century Cinema and in 1955 it was purchased by the Essoldo Circuit and renamed Essoldo Cinema.
However a Compulsory Purchase Order was served on it (presumably to allow for the building of an extension to the Polytechnic of North London). The cinema closed on 29 April 1961 and was demolished leaving no trace.
Now if you have a moment, do take a detour down Eden Grove, the street opposite the Libeskind building. At the end as the road does a sharp left, you will see this.
A closer inspection reveals that this is the “Electric Lighting station” of the Vestry of St Mary Islington we heard about in stop 4.
So this is what an Victorian power station looked like!
We are now at the end of our N7 walk. we have heard about some interesting characters (including two very different murderers) and we have seen how Holloway was once quite a centre for shopping and for entertainment, though sadly it has not got much in either department these days.
If you retrace your steps back to Holloway Road and turn left you will soon be at Holloway Road tube station.. And of course there are numerous buses along the Holloway Road.