N19: What’s new pussycat?

N19 is Archway. Archway, I hear you say. How is that possible if the postcodes are usually in alphabetic order and the last one (N18) was Upper Edmonton. The answer is that N19 is actually Upper Holloway. The use of the name Archway came after the postcodes districts were allocated.

I was fortunate in having fellow guide and local resident Jen to show me the delights of N19. So thank you, Jen.

We start our walk at the Post Office in Junction Road. Head towards the station, which is our first stop.

Stop 1: Archway station

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This is another example of how a station changes the name of an area. The station we now call Archway, was actually called Highgate when it opened in 1907, as it was just down the hill from the village of Highgate – and there was a tramway between station and village.

This station was the northern terminus of one of the branches of the Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway, better known as the Hampstead tube and later to become part of the Northern line.

When the line was extended as part of the Northern Heights project (which we have heard about a number of times already) the next station was below the station called Highgate on the line from Finsbury Park to Finchley and beyond. We saw that when we were in N6. So the station we now know as Archway was renamed Highgate (Archway) in 1939, then Archway (Highgate) in 1941, before becoming just Archway in 1947.

It is a bit of a misnomer because the actual Archway is up the road, as we saw in N6. But you could say it gets its name as the location of the Archway tollgate and the Archway Tavern, rather than the Archway itself (We shall hear about both the tollgate and the tavern later).

The original station building here was one of those distinctive Leslie Green red tile affairs, but this was replaced by a Charles Holden design in 1931 when escalators were installed. Sadly neither of these survive as the whole area above the station was redeveloped in the 1960s.

Today there is 17 story tower called Archway House accompanied by two twelve storey blocks described by architectural historian Pevsner as being “poised above a podium of shops with an upper level pedestrianised deck.”

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This is all being redeveloped and the buildings are being reclad, and one of them is to be a Premier Inn hotel.

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The buildings were set around a pedestrian precinct and as was so often the case in developments of this period, there was once a subway under the main road. Such subways are an endangered species as the fashion now is for crossings on the surface. Jen pointed out that for now there remains a ghost of a sign to remind us that there was once a subway here.

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But interestingly just about here was the site of an old cinema – whose address was 17 Highgate Hill.

The Electric Theatre opened in 1909 and in common with most cinemas of this period, seating was provided on one floor, with no balcony. The facade was dominated by a large arch which contained a half domed entrance.

It was taken over by Union Cinemas in 1935 and they in turn were taken over by Associated British Cinemas in October 1937. Renamed the Palace Cinema in 1954, it closed in April 1958. It was demolished and the site redeveloped leaving no trace of its former use.

Continue walking along the main road and cross over the side street which is Macdonald Road. Jen could not resist pointing out the lovely co-incidence of McDonalds being sited at this corner, even if the spellings are not exactly the same.

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Continue a little way and our next stop is just ahead on the pavement.

Stop 2: The Whittington cat

Well we cannot come to this area and not hear about Dick Whittington and his cat.

Richard Whittington (1354?–1423) was a merchant who was Lord Mayor of London four times, a member of parliament and a sheriff of London. But the tale of Dick Whittington and his cat is probably just that. As the son of gentry, it would seem that Whittington was never very poor and there is no evidence that he kept a cat.

It was said that it was at Archway that Dick Whittington heard the bells of St Mary-le-Bow ringing and returned to London (not too sure why he was heading up this way – he came from Gloucestershire so this would be the wrong road if he was heading home!). There is this little statue of a cat on Highgate Hill to commemorate this. Poor cat is trapped in this metal cage and has lost a bit of its ear.

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But it is a nice story. And it enables me to say “5 miles to London and still no sign of Dick”. But at least we have seen his cat!

Continue along the main road and at Magdala Avenue, take a left turn into the grounds of Whittington Hospital.

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Stop 3: The Whittington Hospital

The Whittington Hospital is of course named after Richard Whittington and in keeping with the story, it has to have a cat symbol somewhere. And lo and behold here it is over the main entrance.

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Retrace your steps to the main road, go a little further along and turn left. Here we have some of the old buildings on the hospital site.

The current hospital has its origins in the Small Pox and Vaccination Hospital, built in 1848

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According to Pevsner, the Smallpox Hospital moved to South Mimms when a replacement was built there in 1896. So this became the St Mary’s (Islington) Workhouse Infirmary with the old Smallpox Hospital becoming an administration block and to the south there were new hospital buildings dating from 1900 and consisting of wings joined by cast iron galleries.

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And there some old signs over the doors, such as this one.

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These buildings are still in use today as part of the hospital but as we saw there are some other more modern additions.

Continue walking through the site. The roadway goes to the left and there is a separate pathway which goes to the right and leads you out onto the street called Dartmouth Park. Continue along this for a while and turn left when you get to Bickerton Road. A little way on the right you will then see an entrance to an open space called Dartmouth Park. Go in there.

Stop 4: Dartmouth Park

Follow the path round and you will see a path going up a slope. Follow that and at the top you will see a rather fine view of the skyline of London. It was quite hazy the day I was there by Jen but I am not sure I would have got a much better picture. The skyline is so spread out you cannot get all the key buildings in one shot. Jen says she keeps meaning to do a series of photos from here from a tripod as that is the only way to do it justice. But even then there are some annoying buildings just below that get in the way.

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Nevertheless it is worth a little detour, to see a little known vista point. By the way in case you were wondering what was on the other side of the fence behind you. The park is built over an underground water reservoir. Dartmouth Park was a street and the name of the neighbourhood until this open space was laid out as a public park in 1972. Then the district Dartmouth Park finally had an open space called Dartmouth Park.

Retrace your steps back to Bickerton Road and turn right.

Stop 5: Site of Odeon cinema

Our next stop is just at the corner of Bickerton Road and Junction Road. Today there is a block of flats but for a few years this was the site of a rather short lived Odeon cinema.

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According to the ever knowledgable Cinema Treasures site, construction of this Odeon began in May 1939 but at the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, only half of the exterior walls were completed. Work was halted but permission was given in March 1940 to complete the walls and add the roof. The building was then used for storage for the duration of the war. After the war the cinema was fitted out to revised plans and it finally opened in December 1955.

It was marketed as the Odeon Highgate, although it was not of course in Highgate. But not surprisingly given the general decline in cinema audiences as the 1960s progressed,  it did not have a long life only managing to carry on to January 1973, in other words less than 20 years..

The building was demolished in 1974 and this block of flats was built on the site.

Turn left onto the main road and then turn right along St John’s Grove. Our next stop is at the end.

Stop 6: St John’s Church

This church dates from the late 1820s and was designed by Sir Charles Barry, who is of course most famous for the Houses of Parliament. It is one of three churches he designed in the late 1820s in Islington. We came across a blue plaque for Barry when we were at Clapham Common Northside, SW4.

St John’s was one of the so-called Commissioners’ Churches – these were built with money voted by Parliament as a result of the Church Building Acts of 1818 and 1824. This was largely to create churches in areas of growing population

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Pevsner describes St John’s as “uninspired Perpendicular; in no other way – except perhaps correctness of detail – superior to the common run of Commissioner churches”. Not exactly a compliment.

Turn left into Holloway Road. Walk along this towards Archway station. Ahead you will see a large building which looks like it could be a cinema.

Stop 7: Archway Methodist Church

This is a massive building in the style of a super cinema but it is not.

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It is (was?) part of a Methodist church – Central Hall as they seem to call them. It was according to Pevsner the last Methodist Central Hall to be built in London and dates from 1933 -34. The building has a huge cinema style auditorium.

The businessman J Arthur Rank was a major contributor to the cost. He was a devout Methodist who made his fortune from flour. He got into film making as way of promoting wholesome family values which seemed to be lacking in many of the Hollywood imports. But then he found that he had difficulty getting his films distributed. So from being a partner in Pinewood Studios (1935) then a film distributor (General Film Distributors in 1936), finally he moved on to own Odeon and Gaumont cinema chains (1938 and 1941 respectively). All this did not stop the making and then showing of some less than wholesome films!

As you get nearer (and cross over the main road) you will see a large chunk of it appears to be unused (and available for development) but to the left there is an entrance which still seems to be used by the church.

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Stop 8: Archway Tavern and the island

We are now on an island in the middle of the Archway gyratory system which was created in the 1960s. There is a row of shops just along from the Methodist Central hall which somehow got stranded on this island, plus there is the Archway Tavern. This building dates from 1886 and has seen better days. The interior of this pub was photographed for the cover of The Kinks’ 1971 album Muswell Hillbillies was taken, which is odd as it is some way from Muswell Hill.

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Jen tells me there are plans to redesign the junction which should mean this little group of older buildings might not be quite so marooned.

But even this could well have not survived. This was one of the key battlegrounds for the Home Before Roads movement of the 1970s which opposed the building of urban motorways. After their unsuccessful attempt to halt the construction of the London Westway, protesters became more radical during the first public enquiry into the widening of the Archway Road into what would have been a motorway.

Not only was the scheme questioned on technical grounds, but the inquiry was physically disrupted at times. There were no less than four public inquiries held between the 1970s and 1990s before the Archway Road scheme was finally dropped. But how the world has moved on. The traffic has not gone away but today like in other parts of London, the gyratory is being adjusted to give a better balance between vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians.

Now we are heading off the other side of the island towards the Archway Road. Head a little way along and just on the right you will see a side street – Pauntley Street.

Stop 9: Pauntley Street

The Archway Road was a toll road from 1813 to 1864 and Archway was the site of a toll gate, where travellers had to pay for the next stage of their journey along the Great North Road. And if you go along Pauntley Street for a short distance you will see a plaque on the block of flats called Pauntley House which commemorates the gate.

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Pauntley Street by the way takes its name from the village of Pauntley in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, traditionally regarded as Dick Whittington’s birthplace.

Note also the “Mercer Maiden” above the door to the flats. The Mercer’s Company traditionally included an image of a maiden in building they owned. Dick Whittington was a member of the Mercer’s Company and before Archway Road was widened in the 1960s there was the Whittington Almhouses on this side of the road dating from 1822. These moved to Felbridge, just near East Grinstead.

There is a great post on a site called londonremembers.com which explains about this and also the cat monument on the other side of the road, which we saw earlier.

http://www.londonremembers.com/memorials/dick-whittington-and-his-cat

Now just a little further along you will see there is a subway. Jen tells me this is likely to be removed. But do go along it if it is still there because it has this rather nice painted ceiling to brighten things up.

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Having crossed the road you are now by our last stop

Stop 10: The Charlotte Despard pub

Jen has done a bit of research on this for her N19 blog, so I can do no better than shamelessly quote from her:

“Charlotte Despard was a Suffragette, Sinn Fein activist, novelist, vegetarian and anti-vivisectionist. She remained politically active into her 90s and died in 1939, aged 95. She devoted much time to helping the poor in Battersea (where there is a Charlotte Despard Avenue). I’d always assumed that Despard Road was also named after her although, beyond the fact she was twice imprisoned in Holloway (as were many of the Suffragettes), I had never been able to find any connection with this area. In fact, the street is not named after her at all but after a military commander, General John Despard (175-1849) who fought in the Seven Years War and the American War of Independence. Not surprising really as Despard Road dates from 1887, before Charlotte Despard became politically active. The next question, to which I have no answer, is what connection did John Despard have with Archway?”

So it seems the Charlotte Despard pub is called that because it is at the corner of Despard Road rather than having any connection with the woman herself!

So that brings us to the end of our N19 walk. Thanks to Jen for walking me round and showing me the sites. We saw and heard a lot about Dick Whittington and his cat, but we also saw the sites of two cinemas and a building which could almost have been a cinema. We did not have time for all of the interesting building hereabouts – or indeed the little fragment of tramway which exists in an alleyway off the Holloway Road as you head towards Archway station. I could not get a proper picture of it because of the parked vehicles and I am not sure which tramway this belonged to.

Now for onward travel we are right by Archway station, and there are also numerous buses.

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2 thoughts on “N19: What’s new pussycat?

  1. I have always understood (by which , I mean that I have known this so long that I cannot remember where I heard it!) that Dick Whittington’s “cat” was really his fleet of catamarans, which he used to transport his goods (Chinese fabrics etc ? ) from the docks at Tilbury up the river to London. These catamarans being flat bottomed made for much swifter navigation on the silty old river than deeper hulled craft, allowing Whittington’s merchandise to reach the market quicker! This chimes with the “Pantomime Dick” who makes his money by ridding the Emporor of China of rats by use of his cat, thus becoming rich. Is any of this true? No idea!!

  2. If you’re after good panoramic views out across London, try going up to the top floor of the Whittington Hospital above the main entrance … the only problem is that they don’t clean the windows very often

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