N6 is Highgate but how to pronounce it? Do you pronounce it as it looks – ie Hi-gayt? Or do you clip it and say Hi-git. London Underground thinks the latter according to the trains on the Northern line. But the local buses say the name more like “Hi-gayt”, which I think sounds more “normal”.
So you say Hi-git and I say Hi-gayt. Tomayto, Tomarto, Potayto, Potarto. Ah well, let’s call the whole thing off. But no, wait we can’t, we haven’t done N6 yet!
We start at the Post Office at 361 Archway Road. Turn left out of the Post Office. Cross over and go up the hill. Soon you will come to our first stop which is on the right.
Stop 1: Highgate Wood
Here there is a nice little gate which leads you into Highgate Wood.
This wood is owned and managed by the City of London Corporation.
According to their website, this was originally part of the Bishop of London’s Hunting Park. It is 28 hectares of ancient woodland predominantly made up of hornbeam coppice and oak standard trees. This has been a working woodland for many hundreds of years, with the hornbeams being cut on a rotational basis and used predominantly for firewood, charcoal making and tool handles. The oak standards were grown as single stem trees and used for house building, ship building and other purposes.
The City took over the land in 1886 from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners at no charge on condition that it was “maintained in perpetuity for the benefit of Londoners”
Don’t worry I am not taking you for a walk in the woods. Just go a little way into the woods and look to your left through the trees.
Down below you is a railway line.
This is the line that went from Finsbury Park to East Finchley and beyond and was going to be converted to become an Underground line under the Northern Heights project which we have heard about in Mill Hill and Finchley. The lines here peter out just below you and I understand are used by London Underground for storage. The track bed though goes under your feet in a tunnel and continues via Highgate station to Finsbury Park – much of which is now a walking and cycle route.
Now retrace your steps back along Archway road and turn left at the traffic lights and then take the right hand road. You will see a path signed for Highgate Station, go down this.
Stop 2: Highgate Station
I guess many people who use Highgate station do not know that the first station here was built on the surface and now lies abandoned. As you go down this path you can see the old station.
There has been a station here since 1867 when the Great Northern Railway opened a line between Finsbury Park and Edgware. This is the line we saw the remains of just now.
The London Underground Northern Line was extended to here and started serving the station in 1941, using new platforms in tunnels below the original station.
The platforms on the original railway line were to have been used as part of the aborted Northern Heights project. One of the original 1867 station buildings still exists, and is in use as a private house. And we approach the modern day station entrance, we can see this.
Today’s station contains two tube tunnel platforms which are accessed from a concourse situated immediately below the disused surface platforms. Go in the entrance ahead of you and walk though to come out the Archway Road exit.
Do not use the escalator exit as this will take you back where you started. And there is only an up escalator so you would have to walk back down Archway Road.
Fascinating fact: The platforms are longer than elsewhere on the Northern line. They were built to accommodate nine-car trains, in anticipation of longer trains on the line (which never happened)
The unfulfilled plans would have given us a much substantial station than what was eventually built. The way Highgate station ended up is all rather unsatisfactory.
More info on this station (including some pictures of the abandoned platforms) at:
Now go up the access road from the station and at the junction cross over Archway Road and go down Highgate Avenue. Turn right into Southwood Avenue and our next stop is a little way on the left
Stop 3: Number 25 Southwood Avenue
This was the home of William Heath Robinson (1872-1944). He was an artist, illustrator and cartoonist.
The plaque says he was known as ‘the Gadget King’. His illustrations showed mad but logical contraptions and often have that make do and mend philosophy which is so beloved of many people.
Even today he has a following. There is even a Heath Robinson Trust which is aiming to open a museum next year in Pinner – see their site: http://heathrobinson.org/index.htm
Continue along Southwood Avenue. It becomes Southwood Lawn Road. At the end cross over and go down a little path called Park Walk (take the left path). At the end of this you will find “The Wrestlers” pub. Turn left along the main road and our next stop is a couple of doors along on the same side of the road as the pub.
Stop 4: Number 92 North Road
This is one of numerous plaques to Charles Dickens (The wonderful Open Plaques site says there are 52 dedicated to Dickens or mentioning his name! Not all in London of course)
Dickens stayed here in 1832 when he was just 20, so this was before he was famous. It was not until 1833 that he submitted his first story “A Dinner at Poplar Walk”, to the London periodical Monthly Magazine and his literary success only really began in 1836 with the serial publication of The Pickwick Papers.
Now cross the road.
Stop 5: Highpoint One and Two
At first glance these two blocks of flats do not look very special but they are. The one we come to first is Highpoint One. It was built in 1935 to a design by Russian-born architect Berthold Lubetkin with the structural design by the Danish engineer Ove Arup. This is what is known as early International style architecture and was very innovative in its day.
Highpoint One was built for Sigmund Gestetner who father David invented a duplicating machine which revolutionised office life. David Gestetner was born in Hungary but came to England where he made his name. He filed his first copying patent in 1879. The company was hugely successful and opened on works in Tottenham in 1906. And this block of flats was originally intended as housing for Gestetner company staff. But this never happened.
The second Lubetkin building in the same style, Highpoint Two, was completed on an adjoining site in 1938. Both are Grade I Listed Buildings
Highpoint Two has a strange quirk at the front, which comes as a bit of a shock in a building of clean lines and smooth finishes.
Architectural reference book Pevsner says: “The idea of using reproductions of two … caryatids is significant. It is a case of surrealism in architecture, that is of the familiar made fantastic by surprise setting.”
The trouble is that the currency of this kind of surprise is now overvalued. Today it just looks like a bit of Las Vegas dropped into Highgate, but when it was first done it must have been at once shocking and intriguing.
Continue along this road which mutates from North Hill to North Road. Our next stop is on the right.
Stop 5: Number 17 North Road
Set back off the road with a nice little garden is the house where classics scholar A.E. Housman (1859-1936) lived and where he wrote his most famous work “A Shropshire Lad”
A Shropshire Lad is a cycle of 63 poems. After several publishers had turned it down, he published it at his own expense in 1896 and apparently it has never been out of print since. The poems have themes such as the loss of youth, violent death, the parting of friends and are set in a half-imaginary Shropshire, a nostalgic ‘land of lost content’.
Housman wrote most of them while living here before ever visiting that part of Shropshire (even though it was only about thirty miles from his boyhood home). During the First World War, Housman’s poems became popular given their themes and the fact that some were addressed to, or spoken by, a soldier. More at: http://www.poetryarchive.org/poet/e-housman#sthash.kEgzcvZQ.dpuf
Continue along North Road and ahead on the other side of the roundabout is our next stop.
Stop 6: Gatehouse pub
According to Wikipedia, Highgate adjoined the Bishop of London’s hunting estate. The bishop kept a toll-house where one of the main northward roads out of London entered his land. A number of pubs sprang up along the route, one of which, the Gatehouse, commemorates the toll-house.
Now it is a Wetherspoon’s pub with a theatre attached. There is a great little history of this site at this link:
It makes the great claim of being London’s Top Theatre. That is because it is 446 feet above Sea Level.
Now go round the front of the pub and follow the road (which is Highgate West Hill). There is a green area to your right. At the end of this a road comes in at an angle go back along this and almost immediately you will see our next stop.
Stop 7: Number 3 The Grove
This house has a double literary connection.
First in 1817, the writer Samuel Taylor Coleridge (who we came across in W14) came to live here. This was the Highgate home of Dr James Gillman who sought to address Coleridge’s opium addiction. Dr Gillman built a special wing for the poet and Coleridge lived there for the rest of his life, becoming known as the sage of Highgate. Some of his most famous poems, though written years earlier, were first published when he was living here. He died here on 25 July 1834 and is buried in the crypt of the local parish church of St Michael’s.
The writer J. B. Priestley (1894 – 1984) subsequently lived in the same house. Both are commemorated by plaques on the front of the house.
Keep going down Highgate West Hill. It is quite steep and the houses are spread quite far apart. We are headed for number 31 and it seems to take forever to come up. Just keep going. It is just after the vast estate now occupied by the Russian Trade Delegation, with its wide drive and security gates. I was going to take a photograph of this but thought maybe that was not a great idea.
Stop 8: Number 31 Highgate West Hill
This was the childhood home of John Betjeman (1906 – 1984). He lived here from 1908 to 1917.
As his family moved out when he was 11, I am not sure what more there is to say. Except perhaps that he said High-git!
Now retrace your steps slightly and across the road you will see a gated road, called Oakeshott Avenue. It may be gated but it is possible to walk through the pedestrian gates on either side
Stop 9: Holly Lodge Estate
This is a fascinating estate, built on the grounds of a house called Holly Lodge which from 1849 was the country retreat of Angela Burdett-Coutts (1814 – 1906) one of the most remarkable women of the 19th century. She was well known for her philanthropy. Indeed we came across her in Lime Grove W12 where she set up a home for fallen women with Charles Dickens.
The estate was put up for sale after her death, but it was not until the 1920s that it was all sold off and developed.
There is a fascinating site all about the estate and how it developed:
So as we walk along Oakeshott Avenue, we are at first surrounded by detached mock Tudor houses, dating from the 1920s.
As you approach the junction with Hillway, look out for a glimpse of Canary Wharf. Now I did not expect that!
At the cross roads with Hillway, look down that street and you get another unexpected view. This time of the London Eye.
And then along Oakeshot Avenue, you can now see what architectural historian Pevsner calls “Tudor cliffs”
These mansion blocks were designed from the outset as bed-sitting rooms, sometimes with bedroom or kitchen alcoves, and were considered an acceptable way for single women to live near to London on their own!
Go out the gates at the end of the street and turn left into Swain’s Lane. You can see Highgate Cemetery. As we walk down the street look out for this monument.
A closer looks reveals this is the grave, amongst others, of William Freise Greene, a pioneer of cinema, who we came across in W9. Or rather as the monument puts it “The inventor of kinematography”
Stop 10: Highgate Cemetery
You cannot really come to Highgate without mentioning the cemetery.
The cemetery is in two halves. The original part is on the west (left side as you are walking) of Swain’s Lane and opened in 1839. It was as part of a plan to provide cemeteries to replace the graveyards attached to individual churches which had long been unable to cope with the number of burials and had become a hazard to health. There were seven of these and so they became known as the Magnificent Seven and we have already seen another one – Brompton Cemetery in SW10.
Here is the entrance to the West Cemetery
You have to go on a tour of this part of the cemetery, but you can go in the East Cemetery every day, via this gate, which is to your right and opposite the entrance to the West Cemetery.
There is much to see in the cemetery and we could linger here much longer to hear about some of the famous people who are buried here. But sadly we do not have time just now, as we must complete our walk through N6.
Continue along Swain’s Lane and go into Waterlow Park (which is on your right)
Stop 11 Waterlow Park
Sir Sidney Waterlow was a 19th century politician and philanthropist. He was Lord Mayor of London in 1872/73 and was made a baronet in 1873.
In 1889 gave this land to the London County Council as “a garden for the gardenless”.
Once in the park take the path on the left and go up the hill and as you get near the top take the right hand path.
Today Waterlow is commemorated by a statue, which you will see on your left along with lots of benches.
I am told by fellow guide Jen this is the only statue in London with an umbrella!
The positioning is great. Waterlow gets what may well be one of the best views of London a statue could have. Not sure exactly what he can see. But here is what I saw from the grass just below the statue.
Frustratingly you cannot see the whole skyline from one point. Maybe you have to come back when there are no leaves on the trees.
Follow the path round and you will come to the gardens of a house with tables and chairs outside.
Go in but don’t miss the little sundial (or what left of it) on your left.
And it says this sundial plate is on a level with the top of the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, which is an unexpected comparison.
Now exit the park into Highgate High Street and turn right. This road becomes Highgate Hill.
Stop 11a: Highgate Hill
I thought I would stop and mention something here, although there is nothing actually to see to remind us of it.
Highgate Hill was in fact the location of the first passenger cable car service in Europe which opened in 1884 (San Francisco and Duendin, New Zealand (!) had earlier systems). The route ran between Archway and Highgate and used a continuous cable and grip system on the 1 in 11 climb of Highgate Hill.
The method of haulage was not reliable and was replaced by electric trams in 1909
Now turn down Hornsey Lane and a little way along just after St Aloysius College is a famous bridge, our final stop.
Stop 12: Archway Bridge
Although the place known as Archway is in N19, the bridge which gives its name to the locality is actually just in N6, so I am including it here.
The original main road north went up the very steep Highgate Hill and through the village of Highgate, passing by the Gatehouse we saw earlier. By the early 19th century, this was proving unsuitable for increasingly heavy traffic and so a bypass with a shallower gradient was proposed cutting through the hill in a tunnel.
This was also a toll road. Work started in 1810 but the tunnel collapsed during construction in April 1812. So a bridge, designed by John Nash, was built to carry Hornsey Lane over what was now a cutting. The new Archway Road opened in 1813 and it remained a toll road until 1876.
In the late 1890s, Nash’s bridge was replaced with the present cast-iron bridge slightly further north, designed by Sir Alexander Binnie. So the modern day bridge is not quite the archway it used to be.
It is impressive. Way below the bridge is the Archway Road – the modern day A1 – and you have a good view north.
And a great view south towards the City.
That brings us to the end of the N6 walk in which we saw some fascinating buildings and heard about some interesting literary connections. Though I still am not sure just how to pronounce the name!
For onward travel either take the W5 bus from Hornsey lane to Archway. Or you can go down the steep flight of steps to Archway Road and walk along the main road to Archway.