Northern Tube line walk 14: Tooting Bec walk to Morden

Walk 14


2 1/2 hours

This section of the Northern line opened in 1926. Originally, plans included a connection with an existing railway line in order to continue the line all the way to Sutton, but an other railway company blocked the proposal because it feared it would lose clients to the more convenient Underground line. Heavy investment in infrastructure was possible in the late 1920s because Parliament guaranteed some loans in order to encourage construction activity.

Routing note: This walk connects in Tooting Bec with Northern line walk 13. The walking time does not include time spent at Abbey Mills, where several craft shops and occasional fairs on weekends might tempt you.

This walk does not visit Morden Hall Park but I will mention in the text the place where you can switch to my Tramlink walk 1 that passes through the park and continues across a series of pleasant green spaces along the river Wandle.


Tooting Bec Underground station

The station opened in 1926 on the new line extension.

The station building is a design by Charles Holden and seems to be identical with the design in Balham. This young architect had been chosen by the Underground company because they felt their existing design had fallen out of fashion.

There are actually two buildings, one on a corner with two sides and one on the other corner with three sides. The same arrangement with two full-size buildings exists in Balham although the second building is not fully identical.

Side entrance of Tooting Bec station

Exit the station on Upper Tooting Road and start southwards

R Beechcroft Road

Telephone exchange in Tooting Bec

Opposite Beechcroft Road, you might notice the very large brick building that fills a full block. As is helpfully written over the door, it is a telephone exchange and it is typical for exchanges built in the 1920s in London. Telephone were still a rather upmarket novelty and conspicuous buildings were supposed to encourage more citizens to order a connection. As you will be aware, the main content of such an exchange is a maze of electrical wires that certainly don’t need to be displayed on high street behind tall windows. The explanation is that many telephone girls were needed at the time as all connections had to be ordered individually. In many films of the time, characters ask to be connected to “the 72 in Park Lane, if you please”. The many windows made the monotonous work more palatable and also assuaged the fears that the young women who worked inside might fall victim to inappropriate seduction , an all too justified fear when young women worked in shops.

Church in Beechcroft Road

There is a large church at 7 Beechcroft Road. As you can see on my picture, it was painted in typically Edwardian colours until a few years ago. I don’t think that the building is so old because it has not much ornamentation. In addition, neo-romanesque arches combined with small neo-gothic turrets don’t look very Edwardian. The church is now home to an evangelical congregation catering primarily to immigrants from Western and Central Africa.

L Fishponds Road

School in Broadwater Road

You will find a very different style of historical building at the corner with Broadwater Road. The tall building with the two copper domes is a school. The interesting point about it is that we would not normally build such a school nowadays. Most modern buildings have one or at most two upper floors; I think the reason is that it is the acceptable limit if you need to evacuate quickly such a building in case of fire. An other reason might be that it would not be considered acceptable to have such tall buildings without a lift nowadays, and you don’t want to have children doing stupid pranks in lifts.

L Gatton Road

Tooting mosque

You pass a very nice mosque in this street. Mosques come in many different shapes, just as churches do, and this one belongs clearly to a well established congregation. The onion-shaped domes remind me of mosques in India and Pakistan.

R Tooting High Street

There are several large markets in this road but you cannot guess how large they actually are (several hundred stalls together) because they are hidden behind high street shops. One good example is the juxtaposition of the nearly invisible Broadway Market behind a sizeable Art Déco building that was probably a department store branch originally. The unadorned concrete front was very popular in the 1930s, as was the decorative design at the top of the columns. This stepped pyramid called a ziggurat was the fad of the day due to archeological diggings in Iraq. The fad replaced to some extent a previous fad for Egyptian details brought about in the 1920s by the discovery of Pharaoh Tutankhamun’s grave.

Art Déco in Tooting


Tooting Broadway Underground station

The station opened in 1926 on the new line extension.

The station building is again by Charles Holden and is a listed monument. The overall design is very similar but the sweeping curve of the station is a rather grand gesture. Holden’s later designs for the Piccadilly line were to be ever grander and ever more impressive. You might notice the statue of King Edward VII in front of the station – it looks quite small and lost in front of the concrete curve behind it.

In front of the station, you might also note the delightfully ornate cast iron chandelier on the central island. The particularly noteworthy item is the set of direction signs. They are very high up and very small, so that they would be useless to a car driver. I guess they were more useful for people on horse that could afford to manœuvre closer and read the small signs.

L Mitcham Road

Former film theatre in Mitcham Road

You will certainly notice in this road the blocky shapes of a building trying to imitate a Greek temple. This is what I call the Imperial style, involving massive geometric shapes and neo-classical columns. It was very fashionable in the 1920s and I call it Imperial because the best known proponent of the style was Sir Lutyens who designed the government buildings of Delhi in what was then the Empire of India. This particular building was obviously a film theatre and being converted to a bingo hall is quite a common decadence for such buildings. Other film theatres end up being bought by ambitious evangelical preachers, but there are sometimes problems later on because of listed monument status.


Tooting library

Nearly opposite the former film theatre, you will find the very comely borough library. The building has just the right proportions for a suburban highway and is unusually fitted with a clock. Borough authorities often preferred setting up a larger clock on a pedestal on a main crossroads as more people would be likely to pass it. Public clocks were very useful at a time when it had become customary to take a train running on a schedule while only affluent people carried watches. The library building looks late Victorian with its subdued bicolour decoration and the moulded decoration above the ground floor window.


R Mellison Road


Unusual terrace in Mellison Road

At the end of the road on the left hand side, you pass a terrace built in a highly unusual material. The rest of the road was definitely a good example for run-of-the-mill terrace construction in the 1930s, as is most of Tooting, and is built in bricks. The few houses here have flint walls with rows of white stones around the windows and main corners. Flint was more expensive as it was quarried instead of just baked and there is much more manpower involved in building the houses in this manner. I guess the developer designed a more exclusive set on this small piece of ground, taking advantage of the vicinity of Tooting station with its convenient connections into central London.

at the end R Trevelyan Road

L Tooting High Street

Georgian manor house in Tooting

Just before the bridge over the tracks, you pass on the left-hand side one of the very few Georgian houses in this outer suburb. You realise how rural this area was in the early 19th century if you consider that the railway line through Tooting was not built before 1894.

Ahead across the railway tracks, the road is now called High Street Colliers Wood

L Robinson Road

R Park Road

At the end R Cavendish Road

L Merton High Street passing


Colliers Wood Underground station

The station opened in 1926 on the new line extension.

The station building is again by Charles Holden and is also a listed monument. The effect is less grand than in Tooting Broadway because the building has no neighbours of appropriate size and therefore looks a bit more like a concrete box. This shows that the same design will not work in the same way depending on the environment.

Colliers Wood Tower before refurbishment

Just after the station, you walk past what has long been considered one of the most egregious eyesores in any London suburb, the Colliers Wood Tower. It was originally meant to attract office tenants and the main user was a real estate speculation company. The tower was not very successful because there was not much to attract serious companies in an ugly building in an isolated suburb. It ended up being boarded up for many years. In the end, it was rebuilt in the 2010s with a less dreary glass cladding and is now your average luxury flat estate.

R into Wandle Park, cross the park along the river Wandle and exit near the car park

Colliers Wood Tower seen from Wandle Park

Wandle Park was landscaped on the grounds of a mansion bought by the Borough in 1907 when the surrounding area began to be developed in earnest. The mansion itself was demolished in 1962 as derelict. Most of the park is just open grassland but there are a few reminders of the original formal garden in the shape of neo-classical urns.

Reminder of Wandle Park as park of a country house

The triangular fountain near the park entrance is less old, it is just a late 19th century memorial to the benefactor of a nearby parish church.

Fountain in Wandle Park


Nature area in Wandle Park

Apart from the stone implements, Wandle Park is interesting for efforts to recreate attractive natural environments for wildlife. This includes shallow river banks where thick reed grows, providing shelter to water birds. Actually, the brook you cross twice on picturesque wooden bridges is just a derivation from the main river created for nature conservation purposes.

L Byegrove Road crossing the river

Ahead South Road

L East Road

R All Saints Road

Just after the car barrier, walk R into the green space towards the blue steel sculpture

Open space in All Saints Road

This kind of sculpture was quite popular in suburban developments for a time, I saw similar ideas in Cubitt Town for example. I do not know whether they are to be considered as open air works of art (as you would do for wall mosaics that became popular in the 2000s) or rather as a sort of identity marker for a neighbourhood.

When the path forks, take the left-hand path between two low estate buildings

At the end of the path, cross Haydons Road into Haccombe Road, the short access road for Haydons Road Recreation Ground

Haydons Road Recreation Ground

Walk along the perimeter path towards the SW corner (it is a bit shorter if you turn L first, a bit quieter if you turn R first)

This recreation ground is just what the name says, a plain green space covered in grass with just a modest line of trees along one of the sides.

Exit the open space

R Quicks Road

Soon L Hardy Road

At the end R Merton High Street


South Wimbledon Underground station

The station opened in 1926 on the new line extension. It was first called Merton Grove but this changed after only two years to “South Wimbledon (Merton)”. The present, shorter name has been in use since the 1950s.

The station building is very similar to that at Tooting Broadway. The curve is less strong because of the layout of the crossroads but it is still well integrated into the neighbouring buildings.

L (south) Morden Road

L High Path (a cycling route)

Nelson Garden

On the corner along High Path, there is a small green space called Nelson Garden. The planting is not exceptional but the garden does have an unusual feature, two short bronze cannons. As an inscription on the stone between the cannons tells you, the ground was given to the borough by a local landowner who descended from the admiral.

You will be pleased to learn that Lord Nelson “rendered splendid services to his country”, to use the wording from the 1900s. Actually, the garden was part of the grounds of a mansion he lived in when he was not at sea. He lived here with his mistress but also with the actual husband of the mistress. This was causing quite a lot of gossip but Sir Hamilton, the husband, was seriously ill and was more interested by then in having company rather than romantic involvement. Merton was actually the country house of the two gentlemen as both had a town house in Westminster as well.

St John the Divine’s Church in Merton

The parish church for Merton, St John’s the Divine, overlooks directly the garden. Although it looks rather sturdy and ancient, it was not the original parish church (this was the priory of St Mary) and must have been built in late Victorian times. It is a rather good imitation of an actual medieval church.

Ahead Station Road

Just before the bridge over the river, turn R following the blue signs of the cycling route towards Abbey Mills. Cross the road at the traffic lights and continue ahead upstream along the river.


Wandle River along Abbey Mills

Very soon, you will reach a footbridge giving access to the low brick buildings of Merton Abbey Mills, one of the main attractions in the borough. It was originally the location of the production workshops of the nearby priory and was converted into a textile factory in 1667, the river being essential for cleaning, dyeing and providing mechanical power. The factory became famous when it was bought in 1881 by star designer William Morris. Morris opened different workshops in the many buildings and did not rebuild them, finding them well built.

Courtyard of former William Morris factory


One of the industrial buildings

As a result, the Abbey Mills are one of the very few locations in London where you can get a feeling for the size and aspect of a major early 19th century factory. It actually feels quaint and picturesque nowadays. If you can save the time, there are several shops selling fancy trinkets and there is also a popular pub. The courtyard of the factory is used regularly on weekends for events and fairs catering to families (with reservations where the yearly wrestling show is concerned !). There is also a children theatre in one of the sheds.

Advertising for Abbey Mills

If you see that the pottery craft shop is open, it is definitely worth having a look as the artists are well known, produce beautiful and unusual goods and are also very welcoming. At the back of the shop, you will find the access to the big wooden wheel that powers the machinery. The wheel is so popular that the Borough decided to use it in its official logo.


Merton Abbey Mills wheel

Mansion lodge from 1824

Continue on the marked Wandle Trail along the river. On the other side of the river, you walk past the grounds of the Georgian villa where the owner of the textile works lived. You cannot see the villa from the riverside but you get a view of a lovely cottage with pointed windows and crenellations. The building is painted cream, as was typical when it was built in the 1820s. Interestingly, it was just the gatehouse for the mansion. Mock medieval was the height of fashion at the time in music, literature but also architecture.

Medieval folly

The next house along the river is a strange cottage built so as to remind you of a half ruined Welsh castle. It was built by the owner of the textile works for a rather practical reason, the new ruin-tower-cottage would help stabilise the houses of his workers further down the street as they were threatened by subsidence. If you do need to prop up the cottages, why not do it in a fancy manner ?


The actual reason for the medieval folly


Houses along the Wandle Trail

The houses along the dead end road overlook the river and are clearly desirable properties in a quiet location with a nice view and reasonable access to the Underground. But they are much cheaper than you might expect because of the vicinity of one of the most notorious estates in London, Phipps Bridge. It is one of the few council estates that have proven really difficult to improve with crime issues still propping up occasionally in the press nowadays.

Entering Morden Hall Park

Continue along the Wandle trail passing through the Deer City Farm (a pedagogical institution for school groups) until you reach tram tracks

Cross the tracks, then R along the tracks until you can climb up to the main road (Morden Road)

The landscape changes here and you get really the feeling that you are entering the countryside. This is because the river has been allowed to run quite free through the grounds of Morden Hall, a sizeable National Trust property.

Wetlands in Morden Hall Park

Routing note: If you are not interested in the last section of the walk to Morden station, you can switch after crossing the tracks to my Croydon Tramlink walk 1 in order to visit Morden Hall Park and additional sections of the Wandle River valley.

Cross Morden Road (Caution ! No traffic lights available nearby)

Soon R Dorset Road parallel to the tram tracks

L into Kendor Gardens, a narrow strip of greenery

Kendor Gardens

If you look at a map, you will wonder why it was deemed appropriate to keep this narrow strip of land as an open space while Morden Hall Park is so close. The garden is actually quite well kept with rose bushes in circular beds and a variety of trees. Actually, the garden is just a thin covering of ground over the Underground tunnel. It made sense to put the tracks in a tunnel rather than in a cheaper cutting because they need to cross soon afterwards waterlogged ground and several busy roads.

Suburban footpath towards Morden station

At the end of the gardens R on Kenley Road

Soon after the car park L on the public footpath to the station

This footpath shows you why we should be happy about the somewhat surprising Kendor Gardens. Such a footpath would be decidedly less pleasant for residents.



Morden Civic Centre

Before going to the station, you can have a look at a peculiar remnant from the 1960s, now the Morden Civic Centre. It was built by a developer in 1960 as a commercial object but was taken over by the Borough in 1985. The flattish structure behind the building is a supermarket added by the developer while the official looking structure in more noble stone overlooking the roundabout was added in order to provide rooms for official purposes. The building is likely to have reached the end of its usefulness as it is probably a mess to heat or cool but it does have an interesting curved shape that few developers bothered about. It is actually a modest follower of the celebrated style used for major 20th century icons of architecture such as the official buildings in Brasilia or the Unesco headquarters in Paris.


Morden Underground station

The station opened as the terminus of the new line extension in 1926.

The station building is not fully original. The concrete cube in the middle is the typical design by Charles Holden and was originally standing free in the middle of a shopping parade, as was often done with suburban terminus stations. Behind the cubic entrance, Holden designed an octagonal ticket hall with a glassed dome providing light. This proved so pleasing that it gave him many ideas for later designs in the 1930s.

Underground tracks in Morden

Holden had been asked to ensure that the Underground company would be able to build offices above the station, taking advantage of the rising value of such premises when the suburb would develop. Because of World War II, the office building was only added in the 1960s and is an appallingly ugly example of cheap design during this period. You actually wonder why this eyesore was not demolished and replaced by flashier premises as it is probably quite ill suited to modern business conditions 50 years into its life.


Posted in Tube Northern Line | Leave a comment

Northern Tube line walk 13: Clapham Common walk to Tooting Bec

Walk 13


2 1/2 hours

This section of the Northern line opened in 1926.

Routing note: This walk connects in Clapham Common with Northern line walk 12 and in Tooting Bec with Northern line walk 14. There is also a convenient connection in Balham with Victorian train network walks 13, 16 and 31.


Clapham Common Underground station

The station opened as a new terminus for the Northern line in 1900. It was converted into a through station when the line was extended further in 1926.

The station building is a rather delightful pavilion from 1900. It reminds a little of a pavilion in a park, which is not inappropriate as it is located directly on the edge of a very large open space, Clapham Common. The part away from the Common is a low cylinder with a dome, the style chosen by the company to house the lift from the platforms.

The station is a listed building but I am not sure it is because of the dome. It may rather be due to the fact that it is one of only two Underground stations with a central platform. This arrangement remained rare for two reasons: accidents with people falling on the track were more likely to happen on a narrow central platform, and the station tunnel needed to be made much larger than the normal tunnel sections, which is much more expensive. Central platforms are much more frequent on suburban railways, where the problem does not apply.

Exit the station and turn R along the edge of the Common towards the nearest pond.

Eagle Pond in Clapham Common

Although Clapham Common lies relatively higher than some of the surrounding area, the ground is still mainly alluvial. As a result, digging for gravel sold to the construction industry was widespread in the 19th century like in most London commons. The gravel pits flooded over time and Eagle Pond is one of the relicts of this activity. Because it is smaller and less central, this particular pond has more the feeling of a nature reserve with wild irises in spring. As you can see in the background of the picture, the houses built in the 18th century around this section of the common were sizeable town houses intended for affluent middle class owners. The area was seen at the time as a sort of “country retreat” within commuting distance of London.

Turn then L towards the church.

Holy Trinity church Clapham

Holy Trinity Clapham is a church with more history than architecture. The building was inaugurated in 1776 and was a modest neoclassical building; the nice octogonal tower that may remind you of American town squares is typical of the design at the time. Because of the growth of the parish and the bombastic taste of the age, the eastern entrance was rebuilt in 1903 with all the pomp and circumstance that was seen fitting in Edwardian times.


Remembering the Clapham Sect

The church became famous in the 1800s as being the place of worship of the “Clapham Sect”. This was not what you might imagine considering the modern use of the word “sect”, it was more of a think tank. Members discussed important issues facing society such as slavery, corruption of politicians, opening the Church to people of non-white colour, ethics in personal behaviour etc. They were very good at choosing influential allies and ended up having a very significant impact on how Britain changed between Georgian and Victorian times. What they did not concentrate on was economics, explaining in part why Victorian capitalism was linked with such abject exploitation of workers in industrial slums.

Leave the church on the access road in front of you towards the road with the traffic lights that crosses the common

Ahead into Rookery Road, a minor road along sports grounds still across the common

When you reach the large pond, turn R towards the bandstand

Long Pond in Clapham Common

The large pond is actually called the “Long Pond”. It is lined with a paved path because it has traditionally been used regularly for model boating since the 1870s. You are now crossing the core of the common. It is one of the largest in London with 87 hectares and is one of a string of four important commons. You will cross two more later on, the fourth one being Streatham Common.

This area of London is a rare example of development terraces alternating in an intelligent manner with commons. You more often get just a green corridor along a brook and endless terraces on both sides.

Clapham Common during a football tournament

The common was parish land until Parliament converted commons into a sort of parkland in 1877. In many cases, Parliament authorised parishes to sell part or most of the ground to developers but this happened very little in Clapham, partly because two parishes were involved who traditionally never agreed on anything.


Clapham Common in summer

Bandstand in Clapham Common

The bandstand marks more or less the centre of the common and you see very few buildings from here. It is one of the most imposing bandstands in London and was beautifully rebuilt in 2006 after the original from 1890 had pretty much decayed away. Bandstands were an essential amenity of Victorian parks as concerts were a typical Sunday amusement. I have the feeling that bandstands are not used any more nowadays except for the decoration value. I wonder why the “friends of” clubs that exist in all large parks don’t try to discuss with local music schools or even buskers and artists in order to have them use the bandstand for entertainment on weekends.

Mount Pond in Clapham Common

Leave the bandstand on a path passing first a large playground and then a second large pond (leave both on your right)

This pond is Mount Pond, one of two fishing ponds in the Common. It is a former gravel pit and must have been stocked with fish later on. If Clapham Common were a formal park, I suspect the pond would rather have been used for boating.

Mount Pond

Wooded part of Clapham Common

The area of the Common around Mount Pond is not as flat as the northern part and there are many mature trees. This provides for many romantic places and Clapham Common became notorious in the 1990s for attracting thrill-seeking homosexuals who would look for anonymous partners here. This activity was also well known in Hampstead Heath but Clapham Common was obviously attractive for being easier to reach by Tube. Careless punters occasionally fell victim to robbery or assault, a problem made more prevalent by the fact that the Common is complex to police, being spread over two boroughs and several precincts. The notoriety has petered out in the 2000s due to the ever more numerous Internet dating websites.

Continue ahead across two roads towards the main road with the traffic lights. The Underground station is at the furthest corner of the Common in this direction.


Clapham South Underground station

The station opened in 1926 on the new line extension.

The building is a straightforward concept but is well proportioned as you can expect for a design by Charles Holden who was to be widely acclaimed for his iconic station designs in the 1930s. Simple shapes with no decoration were fashionable in the 1920s and the columns indeed have just modest spherical capitals. The interplay of horizontal and vertical lines that was to become typical of Art Déco is already quite visible here.

The very large brick building directly behind the station was built several years later but the architect was quite successful in blending the two styles. The corner building inspired in turn several imposing buildings further down Balham Hill.

Balham Hill building

Clapham South station has the somewhat unusual distinction of having been used as a shelter for immigrants. This was in 1948 when a campaign calling for immigrants from the Caribbean had unexpected success and hundreds of people had to be accommodated in a hurry at a time when war damages already strained the housing situation in London considerably. The immigrants had to spend several months in a wartime air shelter, built in the 1920s underneath the actual station “just in case”.

R along the edge of the common in Nightingale Road

Oliver School in Clapham

One of the first buildings in this road is now used by Oliver School, a Roman Catholic institution. The administration building has a serious neo-classical front and will probably have been built as a Georgian country house. In line with authentic neo-classicism (as opposed to fancy Edwardian versions of it), it is strictly symmetrical and there is no portico or balcony breaking the flat front.


Hightrees House in Clapham

At the corner of Nightingale Road with Clapham Common West Side, you reach a very nice Art Déco estate, Hightrees House. It was built in 1938 but the style is actually more that of the early 1930s. You recognise many typical features: rounded balconies, interplay of strict horizontal and vertical lines, generous use of white concrete (the modern material of the day), many large windows with a gridwork of small individuals panes.

R Clapham Common West Side

L Thurleigh Road

St Luke’s Battersea

The large church in this road is St Luke’s Battersea, built in the 1880s when the area was still primarily a scattering of large country houses. The vicar proved prescient as the area was heavily developed in the early 20th century. Pictures on the parish website show a significant number of beautiful works of art in the typical style of the 1900s (lots of gold and enamel). Unfortunately, the church was closed when I walked past it. By the way, the name of the church might surprise you as it is located between Clapham Common, Wandsworth Common and Clapham Junction station while Battersea looks much further away.

Town house in Thurleigh Road

This is actually misleading, you are indeed in Battersea and it is the train station that is misnamed. The train company feared that Battersea Junction would remind travelers too much of what was then an industrial suburb while Clapham Junction reminded of the lofty aims of the Clapham Sect and of the elegant residences along the common. This part of Battersea is actually rather upmarket with many nice properties along the road. The one on the picture is inspired by Arts & Crafts, a sign of affluence as it advocated made-to-measure construction with skilled craftsmen.

Entering Wandsworth Common

At the end R Bolingbroke Grove

Soon L paved cycle path across the common towards a bridge over a railway cutting

Cross the train line on the footbridge

L after the footbridge along the train line


Wandsworth Common

You are now in Wandsworth Common, the second in the string of commons I mentioned before. Like many commons in London, it was still quite rural by 1840 but came under heavy pressure in the 1860s from developers. Parliament had not allowed this particular common to be enclosed but significant portions were lost to public buildings and to the railway.

The land owner finally agreed to lease the rest to a committee of concerned persons in 1871 against a modest rent. Unfortunately, they were unable to curtail the rights of local slum dwellers to strip the commons of anything useful like gravel or firewood. Local authorities finally took ownership in 1887.

After the footbridge, the paved path passes a small lake. This is well worth a closer look as it has an interesting nature area with boardwalks. There is also a section where you are allowed to fish if you purchase an appropriate permit – honestly, I don’t think you get very tasty fish from such a small lake. There are actually two ponds linked by a short canal crossed by a comfortable stone bridge.

Wandsworth Common train station

After the lake, the paved path along the tracks reaches lovely Wandsworth Common train station (the route will now be identical with my Victoria train network walk 12 for the short remaining distance to Balham). Continue along the train line until the path ends on a residential road.

Southern end of Wandsworth Common

Ahead Balham Park Road

Housing in Balham Park Road

Houses along this road are average late Victorian terraces. If you compare with the area of Battersea you crossed before, you see that they are aimed at more modest owners while still catering to reasonably affluent persons.

At the end of the road, you pass on your right a huge block of flats. To appreciate the architecture, you may need to cross the main street.


Du Cane Court in Balham

Du Cane Court is an extremely impressive complex, one of the largest privately owned blocks of flats in Britain. It is also an Art Deco landmark from 1937 and it offered remarkable luxuries when it was built such as water softening, a luggage porter, a shop within the building and the ultimate selling argument, radio with a choice of two programmes. Pictures on the Internet show a very grand entrance hall but I am not sure you are allowed to enter as a casual visitor. I did not dare, being used to London properties being well protected against outsiders.

L Balham High Road

St Mary’ & St John’s Balham

The church on this road is St Mary’s & St John’s, a surprising church because the rotund facing the street looks more like an apse than like an entrance. This domed structure is actually a baptistery added in 1903 together with the tower. To have the baptistery near the entrance and at the opposite end from the sanctuary is a very ancient christian tradition: in 5th century churches like Fréjus and Portbail in France, the baptistery is a fully separate building. The tradition remained later although the original reason was practical: early baptisms involved being fully plunged into water (you would undress behind a modesty curtain) and you did not want water basins and canals in a sanctuary.

The tower reminds a bit of Queen Anne churches in the City of London while the baptistery reminds a bit of theatres and department stores from the same period… Edwardian architects definitely had no qualms mixing up details from whatever period of architectural history took their fancy. In the end, I often feel such buildings are overloaded and fussy.


Balham Underground station

The Underground station opened a few months after the line itself in late 1926, the reason for the delay being that it was more complex to build as it includes an interchange with suburban train platforms.

The station building is a design by Charles Holden and is very similar to that at Clapham South.

R Balham Station Road


Along this road, you will see four panels set in the brick wall of the railway embankment. They are made of a material called strangely “bronze resin” – strange because resin applies to plastic and bronze is a valuable metal, leading me to the conclusion that they are in a cheap material imitating bronze. The set is called “impressions of Balham” and was put up by the borough here in 1991.

The one on my picture shows some kind of a domestic scene with children toys under the table and a television set. You can note the figure sort of stepping out of the panel. This is a well-known artistic device that was much loved in baroque times. The other panels are not easier to interpret. You can get excellent pictures of all four panels on following blog:

Other panel from the series


Entering Tooting Bec Common

Ahead Fernlea Road

R Extension of Cavendish Road crossing under train tracks towards a small parking lot

Ahead on the paved cycle path crossing under a second set of railway tracks



Tooting Bec Common

Tooting Bec Common was a large expanse of countryside given to the abbey of Bec-Hellouin in Normandy after the Norman conquest. Major threats to the commons in general appeared in the 19th century: on the one hand, strong population growth caused over-use of limited resources like wood and predatory removal of valuable gravel for construction. On the other hand, private interests tried to buy commons for speculation purposes or like in Tooting in order to build railways and other infrastructure. Local authorities had little say in the process as they were not allowed to manage land holdings.

Prickly gorse in Tooting Bec Common

Parliament allowed London authorities to buy and manage commons in 1866 and Tooting Bec Common was bought in 1873 to avoid further segmentation through train lines. As it is quite large, several of my routes cross different parts of it as appropriate.

The cycle path turns slightly R, crosses a busier road, turns slightly L and leads between a large pond and tennis courts


Pavilion in Tooting Bec Common

There is a very nice pavilion in this section of the common, a rather typical example of Arts & Crafts. For some reason, this mock-medieval style was very popular in the 1900s but was seldom used for anything else than garden and park pavilions. It was used in housing developments in the 1930s but had turned by then into mock-Tudor, a decoration device without any impact on the core construction.



Pond in Tooting Bec Common

The pond in Tooting Bec common is rather larger than the ones you saw before and you might wish to walk once around it if you are interested in water birds. Because it has a variety of sheltered corners and trees along the waterside, it tends to attract wildlife. Obviously, the pond is a former gravel pit, the only one left in the common.


The path then reaches a second main road

R along this main road (Tooting Bec Road)

Crossing Tooting Graveney Common

You can obviously keep to the grass within the common while it lasts. This part of the common is called Tooting Graveney Common after a nearby brook. The reason why it has its own name is that it was originally part of a different parish, commons being attached to parishes until the 19th century. Tooting Graveney Common is a little less managed than Tooting Bec Common and you might notice a pond that has filled up with vegetation in an interesting way. I even found a wooden sculpture showing possibly a man holding a pet.

Sculpture in Tooting Graveney Common


St Anselm’s Roman Catholic church in Tooting

At the end of Tooting Bec Road, you reach the Roman Catholic church of St Anselm. The saint patron is well chosen as he was an abbot of the Bec Abbey Tooting Bec got its name from. The church does not seem to be exceptional inside but it does have an intriguing outside appearance. This includes a neo-classical entrance portico, a number of overly pointed neo-gothic arches and a very Georgian relief below the statue of the saint. Such a mix of styles but also the mix of whitewashed details with red bricks are typically Edwardian. The one detail that is not Edwardian at all but very Catholic is the flattish octagonal dome, reminiscent of Italian churches.


Tooting Bec Underground station

The station opened in 1926 on the new line extension.

The station building is again a design by Charles Holden and seems to be identical with the design in Balham. There are actually two buildings, one on a corner with two sides and one on the other corner with three sides. It is interesting to compare both and to think whether the additional corner changes the proportions noticeably.

Side entrance of Tooting Bec station


Posted in Tube Northern Line | 1 Comment

Northern Tube line walk 12: Oval walk to Clapham Common

Walk 12


2 hours

An Underground line opened in 1890 linking Stockwell with central London via Oval. It was the first railway to use electrical locomotives over a significant distance. The line was extended towards Clapham Common in 1900.

Routing note: This walk connects in Oval with Northern line walk 11 and in Clapham Common with Northern line walk 13. A short section of the present route around Stockwell station is identical with Victoria Underground line walk 1 so that I chose to comment on different buildings in each of the route descriptions. As the route passes pleasant green spaces but no cultural highlights, you might be forgiven for thinking that a combination with an other walking route will probably make sense.


Oval Underground station

The station opened together with the original Underground line in 1890.

The station building was similar to that at Kennington with a conspicuous dome hiding the lift machinery. The station was rebuilt in the 1920s when the whole line was renovated and the present building indeed reflects the style of that period with clean, geometric shapes. The stepped gable is the kind of modest geometric decoration architects liked in the 1920s. The awning looks much newer and is an addition from 2008. It is well integrated into the design as it is just unobtrusive glass and a few thin steel beams.

Column in Oval

Exit the station and cross both main roads in order to enter Kennington Park

On the triangle between the two main roads, there is a tall column topped with a golden globe. Large black letters spell “Kennington” on the shaft. I have been unable to find out details about the origin of this column and I could imagine it was set up when Kennington Road was opened in the 1750s.

Kennington Park is originally a common and was used in the 18th century for many purposes requiring a lot of space such as cricket matches, religious rallies and amusement fairs. This culminated in 1848 in a political rally that shocked British elite to its core when more than 100,000 people gathered and petitioned Parliament for a more generous voting system. Parliament cracked down heavily on the organisers, banning many to the penal colony in Australia, and the first tentative opening of the restrictive voting right legislation did not happen before 1867. As part of the crackdown, the common was enclosed in 1852 in order to prevent crowds from gathering in dangerous distance of Parliament.

Plane trees in Kennington Park

Because it is such an old park, it has impressive rows of venerable plane trees along many alleys. It has also a very nice pavilion in the Arts & Crafts style, built around 1895.


Pavilion in Kennington Park

There is also a nice formal flower garden with circular beds in the style of the Royal Parks, but there is also a circular pergola used to support roses, an element that was quite popular in the 1930s. As you can see on the pictures, the effect of the formal garden varies a lot depending on the season.

Flower garden in Kennington Park

Wisteria in Kennington Park

Pergola in Kennington Park

Cross the park passing the flower garden and cross a minor road into Kennington Common.

Kennington Park East

The name is slightly confusing, it is actually an extension of the park provided in the 1960s on land that had been cleared after slums were demolished. You can see from here where the residents were relocated, namely in the many council estate towers around you. In terms of comfort, this was definitely an improvement: indoor toilets and running water into the kitchens were lacking in many slums. The towers got a bad reputation later when many residents lost their jobs due to the decline of British industry and councils were starved of funds to ensure policing and maintenance. The “common” is now the part of Kennington Park used for informal sports.

Mostyn Gardens

Turn slowly to the right until you reach the footpath that crosses in a straight line across the common. Turn R onto this footpath

The footpath merges into a minor road, Bolton Crescent

Cross the main road into Foxley Road

Ahead Elliott Road

After the churchyard R Cancell Road

At the end of the road, walk L into Eythorne Park. This is an open space along Cowley Road, exit the park at the other end and follow Cowley Road further south

Mostyn Gardens

Eythorne Park is the new name of a green space that grew over the decades and changed names regularly. The oldest part of it opened in 1925 and was a small neighbourhood park with flowering shrubs. It was extended in 1958 and renamed Melbourne Fields, when it was converted into an open space for informal sports. It was renamed Mostyn Gardens in 1971 when the local council started to manage it together with the surrounding estates. The new name changes nothing to the park. It does not have flower beds or monuments but it is surprisingly hilly, probably because there is demolition rubbish underneath the grass.

Entering Slade Gardens

At the end R Mostyn Road

Ahead Lorn Road

L on the footpath giving acces to Slade Gardens, exit the gardens near the adventure playground

The park opened in 1962 on cleared land a little like Mostyn Gardens you saw before. It is rather small and most of it is just a neighbourhood green space with bushes and a few benches. What sets it apart is that is has one of the most elaborate and most popular adventure playgrounds in London. The highlight for onlookers is a climbing castle in the shape of a yellow submarine. The playground has been in existence for more than 50 years but the submarine must be more recent as the famous song by The Beatles was released in 1966.

Slade Gardens

R past a church on Stockwell Park Road

Slade Gardens playground with Church spire

You can see the church spire in the background of the picture. St Michael’s Stockwell was built in 1839 on land set aside by the developer of the surrounding area as having a church in the middle was seen as raising the attractiveness. The architecture is of interest primarily for the spire, an example of early neo-gothic. The small pinnacles around the spire are fanciful in terms of gothic tradition but they are indeed frequent in some areas of Western France and therefore quite acceptable.

House in St Michael’s Road

The church has two peculiarities. One is that the altar is not at the eastern end where it is normally. It was indeed the case until the 1880s, putting the altar under the spire. This was perfectly in line with some strands of gothic tradition but late Victorians wanted to have more room around the altar and moved it to the western end of the church. The other peculiarity is that the church had separate entrances for the central nave and the side ones. The reason was that pews in the central nave cost a significant donation while the side naves were free. To use cheeky wording, this enabled arrogant bourgeois plutocrats to show off their money while relegating their own domestic servants to the less glamorous part of the church. You will notice in the next road that the houses were indeed appropriate for the affluent middle class at that time.

L Stockwell Park Crescent

R St Michaels Road

At the end R Stockwell Road


Stockwell station

The station was originally the southern terminus of the Northern line when it opened in 1890. It became a through station when the line was extended towards Clapham in 1900. New platforms opened in 1971 for the Victoria line.

The original station building was similar to the one in Kennington but was replaced by a new building in 1926. This was replaced in turn by the present building after the construction of the Victoria line in 1971. The architecture is a little surprising for the 1970s, using very traditional dark bricks and geometrical shapes that remind of the 1930s.

The station was the location of a tragic police mistake when plainclothes policemen shot an electrician down, thinking he looked like the perpetrator of a terrorist attack that had taken place the day before. Very interestingly, the victim was from Brazil while the terrorists who were caught later were from the Middle East. Apparently, skin colour made the electrician sufficiently suspicious that the police would shoot at him before checking more closely. You wonder whether more modern technology like face profiling used nowadays in China would be better at avoiding such a tragic mistake.

The affair led to quite a number of controversial enquiries about how police deals with uncertain situations when under heavy pressure. In the end, the family got an unknown amount of money for letting the affair go. Police was heavily criticised for procedures making it extremely difficult to achieve redress but was not held criminally responsible.

Walk past the station on Binfield Road

The road turns R along the rear walls of a bus depot

At the end L Lansdowne Way

L Priory Court, a narrow lane giving access to Larkhall Park

Turn slowly L within the park and exit at the very end after the fenced sports ground

Larkhall Park

This is a sizeable park although it reaches only half the size of what was planned originally. The park is a rare testimony to an important plan discussed in the 1940s in order to create more green spaces in areas of London deemed too densely built. Planners were encouraged to identify sensible locations for new parks disregarding the usual issues of accessibility and ground ownership. After World War II, the plan was dropped because some areas had become available due to war damages, making planning easier.

In the case of Larkhall Park, war damages were limited and the housing was low quality but not as bad as slums. Nonetheless, the park was dearly needed in this part of London and the authorities started purchasing the properties. This took nearly 30 years and the park opened in 1974. Because so much money had been spent on purchasing and clearing the land, not much was invested in amenities and the park is just an open green space.

R Larkhall Lane

Ahead Larkhall Rise

L Gauden Road

The road turns twice and ends along a train embankment. When you reach the main road, you can detour L to the Underground station. The route continues otherwise passing under the train tracks.


Clapham North Underground station

The station opened on the new extension of the Underground line in 1900 and was called initially Clapham Road. The name was changed in 1926.

The station building is a rather modest box from 1924 although it was designed by an otherwise creative architect; Charles Holden. The tiling at ground level was redone in 1996 but is about as dreary as the first floor tiles from the 1920s, just a bit less prone to get dirty because of traffic exhaust fumes.

Cross under the train tracks

Ahead Clapham High Street

Former billiard room of the Clapham Temperance Society

For the main part, this is just a normal high street with lots of traffic, lots of chain shops and quite a few fast food outlets. I did notice one peculiar building at number 47. It is now an office building used by architects but it obviously had a very different function originally. The cute little dome is not a giveaway but the long vault is. It was a billiard hall and was built by a Temperance Society in 1908. Trying to lure decent workers away from the pitfalls of drinking alcohol was seen as a very worthy cause at that time and the building was designed to impress. The daring mix of baroque decoration elements while eschewing typically baroque ideas of symmetry is very Edwardian.

Clashing styles on Clapham High Street

I was not overly impressed by most other buildings in High Street except for a strikingly contemporary supermarket front further towards the Common. The supermarket clashes in a most egregious way with the neighbouring neoclassical bank branch. If you are interested in more information about the many celebrities who lived over the centuries in the close vicinity, I am pleased to point you to The main purpose of the website is to make you shop in the area but the history section is really well made.


Clapham Common Underground station

The station opened as the new terminus of the Northern line when this was extended in 1900. It was converted into a through station when the line was extended further in 1926.

The station building is a rather delightful pavilion from 1900. It reminds a little of a pavilion in a park, which is not inappropriate as it is located directly on the edge of a very large open space, Clapham Common. The part away from the Common is a low cylinder with a dome, the style chosen by the company to house the lift from the platforms. All stations in South London had a dome originally although this is only the case now in Kennington and in Clapham Common.

The station is a listed building but I am not sure it is because of the dome. It may rather be due to the fact that it is one of only two Underground stations with a central platform. This arrangement remained rare for two reasons: accidents with people falling on the track were more likely to happen on a narrow central platform, and the station tunnel needed to be made much larger than the normal tunnel sections, which is much more expensive. Central platforms are much more frequent on suburban railways, where the problem does not apply.

Posted in Tube Northern Line | Leave a comment

Northern Tube line walk 11: Bank walk to Oval

Walk 11

BANK walk to OVAL

2 1/4 hours

The original Underground railway ran between Oval and a terminus called King William Street close to present Bank station. It opened in 1890. The terminus was replaced by through platforms called Bank when the line was extended towards Angel in 1900.

The original plan was to move carriages along a cable set in the ground. This was a proven system that had been used for tramways and is still in use nowadays for the famous San Francisco cable trams. Cable trams are normally used for short steep sections and it was therefore quite experimental to use it on a longer railway. In the end, the cable contractor went bankrupt and the railway company had to look for a replacement system in an emergency. It chose electrical locomotives and this train line ended up being the first longer railway to be operated with electricity rather than coal / steam.

The train company decided on a daring pricing policy. It was customary for railways to ask for the highest possible price commuters would be able to pay, with some cheaper tickets for lines serving industrial areas because industrial users compensated the company for lost passenger revenues through transportation of goods. The new railway decided to offer cheap tickets enabling it to compete with horse tramways. As it was also the only fast transport crossing the Thames into the City at the time, the policy was successful in attracting high passenger traffic. Financially, the company was not very profitable, but this was mainly due to high investment in line extensions towards the northern suburbs.

Routing note: The Northern line connects in nearly all stations with several other lines. Due to the way I have written my walks, the most convenient combinations are logically Northern line walk 10 at Bank and Northern line walk 12 at Oval.

At Bank station, there are also convenient combinations with Central line walk 7 or Waterloo & City line. At Elephant & Castle, there is a good combination with Blackfriars / Thameslink walk 6 or with Bakerloo line walk 1.

Please note that my route goes through many confusing passages, particularly in the City and in Borough Market. On some occasions, street names are missing on passages or the main road is not indicated when one comes out of a passage. I think you are unlikely to get lost following my suggestions, but you will probably feel more comfortable if you carry a map. The most convenient one is the “Cycling in Central London” map available from Transport for London for free.


Bank Underground station

The station opened in 1900 on the new extension of a line coming from the southern suburbs and ending temporarily at Moorgate before being extended the following year to Angel. Platforms opened for the Central Line a few months later, also in 1900. The station was then linked to two other Underground stations that have their own name: a connection opened already in 1900 with the pre-existing City terminus of the Waterloo & City railway, and a connection opened much later (in 1933) with Monument station on the District Line. Finally, platforms opened on a completely new line in 1991, the Docklands Light Railway.

Bank crossroads since from King William Street

A station building had originally been intended in 1900, but this would have forced the demolition of a church and the railway company was only allowed to use the crypt as an entrance. As a result, the station is entirely underground with no building above.

Exit the station on the main crossroads and start along King William Street towards the Thames

Soon L Lombard Street

Baroque pulpit in St Mary Woolnoth

The church on the corner of Lombard Street and King William Street, St Mary Woolnoth, is the church the railway operator wanted to replace with a station building. It is one of the many churches that had to be rebuilt following the great fire of 1666 and is a work by Nicholas Hawksmoor, one of the masters of English Baroque. This involves lots of neo-classical columns, a more or less centric design (a “box in a box” as it is often described), a preference for blindingly white walls and ceilings and a scattering of gilded highlights.

External appearance is less standardised as Hawksmoor liked to experiment with unusual church towers. If the church is open, have a look inside at the very nice pulpit with rotund shapes that were very fashionable around 1700.

Inside St Mary Woolnoth

L Change Alley (a passage under a building)

R within the passage, still on Change Alley

Ahead Cowpers Court (again a passage under a building)

At the end L Birchin Lane

Pub in Castle Court

Very soon R Castle Court

Ahead past a pub towards a garden courtyard

There are two well-known pubs in this maze of courtyards. Both cater to rich bankers showing off their tailored suits and expensive shoes. One of the two has a rather interesting colour scheme as the street front in pink stone clashes with the concrete buildings around it.

On reaching the garden L towards the church

St Michael's CornhillThis church is St Michael’s Cornhill, one of the larger ones in the City. It was rebuilt after the Great Fire by Sir Christopher Wren but the gothic tower remained standing until 1722 when Nicholas Hawksmoor was asked to rebuild it for safety reasons. He chose to keep the gothic style but the pinnacles are actually closely inspired by a Cambridge chapel rather than by the previous building.

I did not bother looking inside the church as this is only possible by checking the restricted opening times on Cornhill with no access from the rear garden. Pictures show a colourful ceiling in baby blue chosen in 1860.

Down a few steps R into Corbet Court

Within the passage L under the building (also part of Corbet Court)

Soon R along the garden in St Peter’s Alley

Buildings on Cornhill near St Peter church

The alley is named after a small nearby church, St Peter upon Cornhill. You might be surprised to hear that the church marks the highest ground within the City of London. In medieval times, local enthusiasts had launched a rumour according to which it was the church chosen by King Lucius in 179 A.D. as the seat of the Archbishop of Brittany (both the king and the archbishop being though a pure invention). The church is now used only for study groups and is not open to the public.

Cross Gracechurch Street into Leadenhall Market


Leadenhall Market

This market is an important tourist attraction but it does have historical significance. It is located more or less on the central square of Roman Londinium and a market is already documented here in the 14th century. The present cast iron structure is typical for Victorian market halls and was built in 1881. It is not really used as a market nowadays but the stalls include primarily delicatessen shops that have counters selling prepared food at lunchtime, attracting an incredible crowd of bank and insurance employees for about two hours. It is much quieter during actual working hours. In the side aisles, there are also a few shops selling upmarket knick-knacks bankers might want to use as goodwill presents.


Victorian colour scheme

You will certainly notice how colourful the pillars are throughout the market. The red-and-white scheme was very popular in the late 19th century, partly for patriotic reasons (the Cross of St George), partly because these colours faded more slowly in the polluted air caused by coal heating. The northern arm of the market (leading to Whittington Avenue) has a very ornate gable with dragons bearing a clock while the eastern arm (leading to Leadenhall Place) has dragons bearing a coat of arms.

Eastern entrance of Leadenhall Market

Northern entrance of Leadenhall Market

Ahead into Leadenhall Place at the rear of Lloyd’s building

Lloyd’s building

It is a little difficult to get a feeling for the real size of the building from where you are standing (turn L into Lime Street towards the small church to get the better view) but you get a very good feeling for the actual architectural novelty. It is a design from 1986 by star architect Richard Rodgers and became a listed monument only 26 years after construction, the shortest time span ever recorded for such a nomination.

It is widely recognised as a bellweather building for a style Rogers called Bowellism because the building shows its “bowels” by pushing utility ducts on the outside. This has two advantages: it enables easier access for repairs and maintenance and it leaves a maximum of freedom to organise office floors. It did not really catch much, the only other iconic building in this style being the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

Building bowels laid bare


Lloyd’s building by night

I don’t know whether the limited success is due to other architects finding the design too complicated or to owners fearing that core utilities are too exposed to incidents. One main difference between Centre Pompidou and Lloyd’s is that the latter, built earlier, is fully clad in silvery metal. The view by night can be quite stunning depending on the lighting scheme and this is what was used in Paris, painting each type of utility tube in a different, garish colour.

R Lime Street

At the end L Fenchurch Street

R Rood Lane


Former churchyard in Rood Lane

You pass still an other church in this road. St Margaret Pattens is one of the many parish churches that had to be rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1666 and is a design by Sir Christopher Wren. I was unable to get inside but pictures show a typical rectangular layout with columns topped by gilded capitals. Outside, there is a peculiarity, an unusually high spire. Wren seldom chose this type of tower. The church is not a parish church since 1954 but a guild church and this is the reason for the name: the guild of pattenmakers sold pattens, overshoes with a wooden basis and iron rings that made it easier to survive a walk through the filthy, muddy streets of London.

Ahead St Mary at Hill (a street)


There is also a church in this street and it is called logically St-Mary-at-Hill but the entrance is in Lovat Lane where I will lead you shortly. The view from the rear is a curiosity as few churches in London have a neo-classical flat façade at the back.

at the end R Lower Thames Street

Directly R and again R into Lovat Lane

You can now have a look inside St-Mary-at-Hill. The church was rebuilt to a large extent after the Great Fire but also in 1988 after a second large fire. Although it combines parts from different centuries, it is one of the more impressive City churches due to the central dome, a design we would associate willingly with Sir Christopher Wren. It is indeed inspired by his design although it is a reconstruction.

Old relict monument

The 1988 work is very delicate with remarkably fine stucco. The dome is borne by four very 17th century columns (just lacking some gilding) and there is a barrel-vaulted aisle in every direction, a frequent design at the time. In addition to the architecture, I noticed an amusing detail on a monument; Mrs Mary Old is remembered as a “relict” to her husband. Do you fancy being an old relict ?

By the way, you have now passed quite a large number of churches since you started the walk and you might be wondering why there are so many of them in the City. I must admit that I was surprised as well, churches being less numerous in most old Europeans cities. I see two possible reasons but I would welcome information on this matter. One suggestion is that the kings of England controlled the populace of unruly London through the parish priests who were part of the government machinery as the King is the head of the Church since Henry VIII. A very populous city like London would have warranted many controlling parishes. An other suggestion is that English kings already barred foreigners from owning land in England as early as the Middle Ages. As most religious orders qualified as owned by a foreign power (the Church based in Rome), only few of them could own land in London and religious services had to be organised by the Bishop who created many parishes.

Former trading house dealing with the Middle East

At the end of Lovat Lane, look above you at the corner building with the main road, currently a bank branch. There is a large relief above the rounded corner showing a caravan of camels. I guess the offices in the building belonged to a trading company active in the Middle East. I assume a large part of Eastcheap is listed because there are many elegant 19th century office buildings of uniform height rather than a scattering of modern towers around mineral plazas.

At the end L Eastcheap

The strange name of the road comes from an old English word we have completely forgotten. A cheap was a market, in this case the butcher’s market. Number 33-35 in the street is one of the most striking office buildings in the City. It is completely over-the-top Victorian neo-gothic in style and was originally a vinegar warehouse. The architect, Roumieu, is otherwise pretty much forgotten nowadays. One unusual feature is that some of the many gables are stepped to the point of appearing rounded.

Roumieu building on Eastcheap

As I mentioned, there are many nice 19th century office buildings along the street and I give you a few examples. Note how the styles vary including German Renaissance (with the scrolls on the gable), neo-byzantine (alternating red and white bricks on arches), neo-classical (oversize engaged columns) or Arts & Crafts (interplay of horizontal and vertical lines with the colour black being used a lot).

German Renaissance on Eastcheap


Neo-byzantine style on Eastcheap

Neo-classical style on Eastcheap

Arts & Crafts style on Eastcheap


View towards King William Street

At the end of the street, you get a view to the right towards the massive front of a former department store. The building closes off the view for people who cross London Bridge and the main road has to curve to the right in order to continue northwards. The massive building is typically Edwardian and was part of the redevelopment in the City at the time, replacing a maze of narrow streets. It is a good example of how London was seldom planned in terms of straight, long avenues like Paris.

At the main crossroads L on King William Street


Adelaide House

You are very close here to the Monument, the column commemorating the Great Fire of 1666, but I comment more in detail about it in a District line walk. The last building before reaching the Thames on the downstream side is Adelaide House, an office building that was a landmark when it was built in 1925. It had unfathomably modern amenities like telephone connections on all floors and was built around a core of steel frames, the technique used later all over the world to build skyscrapers. The main entrance is very grand with marble and an Art Déco statue.

Fishmongers Hall

Opposite Adelaide House on the upstream side of London Bridge, you get a good view of Fishmongers’ Hall, a not very well proportioned late Georgian building from 1834. I comment in detail about it on my London Bridge network walk 3. I also comment in this walk on London Bridge and on the view from the bridge. The view upstream is rather limited while the view downstream is really enjoyable with a good panorama towards Tower Bridge.


View downstream from London Bridge towards the City

View downstream from London Bridge

Cross London Bridge

Ahead Borough High Street


London Bridge Underground station (Northern line)

There was no station here on the original 1890 railway because the company felt most passengers arriving at the long-distance terminus were likely to stay on trains continuing to Cannon Street terminus rather than switch to its line for one single station. When the company extended the line in 1900 beyond Bank, it opened a new station at London Bridge as it could now offer a sensible connection.

There is no actual station building and the original main access was demolished in 2013. There are now two completely separate accesses, one closer to London Bridge long-distance terminus in Tooley Street and one in Borough High Street. The second one has a nicer front with a stone dressing. At the time of my picture, the office building above the station was still being planned. There is now a nondescript glass wall hiding a plain brick building.

Southwark Cathedral

Just before the train bridges R down the stairs into Southwark Cathedral Precinct

If the access is closed, you need to walk between the train viaduct and the precinct fence until you can turn R towards the cathedral main doors. This is no detour and brings you along a whole set of open air eateries, which can be fun as well.

Southwark Cathedral is only a cathedral since 1905. Before that, the suburbs south of the Thames were managed from Rochester or Winchester. It is actually peculiar that there are two separate dioceses covering London. The church looks gothic but most of it was actually rebuilt in the 19th century. The retrochoir or retroquire (the part at the back of the main altar towards the eastern wall) is the section that was rebuilt closest to the original style.

Retroquire of Southwark Cathedral

The church might actually have disappeared in the 19th century but the train companies agreed in the end to add a steep curve in the viaduct and save the building. Because it has not been a cathedral for a long time, there are not many interesting works of art inside. The main point of interest for me was a collection of funeral monuments but none justified taking pictures.

Exiting the cathedral, take L Bedale Street towards the railway bridges

After passing under the first set of tracks R into Borough Market Middle Road.


Borough Market

Borough Market has two functions. One is as an upmarket selection of fine foods and stalls where you can buy all sorts of nice snacks and exotic foods. It tends to be extremely crowded on Saturdays for brunch and this is the place to meet yuppie bankers and their career-minded DINKY (Double Income No Kids) wives. I noticed that the prices in Borough Market include a sizeable premium for the location.


Detail in Borough Market

The original use of Borough Market is as a wholesale market for foodstuffs, catering in particular to smaller shops and restaurants. This activity takes place in the early morning on weekdays and is finished by 8 a.m. You can have a look at the cast iron and glass halls from the 1851. There is also an imposing Art Déco entrance on Southwark Street added in 1932.

You might get the feeling that the market squeezes awkwardly around the pillars of the railway viaduct. Actually, it is the other way around: the market is owned by a trust founded by law in 1756 who is not allowed to sell the ground. Rather than try to change the law, the train companies negociated the right to cross the market on pillars with due compensation for any loss of useful space. Additional railway work is expected to take place again in the near future; the market will remain in place but most of the older buildings will be replaced.

L Sidney Street

Gate of Hop Exchange

You have reached Southwark Street. Number 24 is the location of Hop Exchange, now a commercial building with offices and a large central courtyard rented for events. The entrance gate is a very elaborate example of Victorian wrought iron work and dates back to 1874. Logically, this exchange was used by hop traders (hop being an important raw material for beer production); there were several other, equally specialised exchanges in the area. The one known as Royal Exchange, located at Bank crossroads, was specialised in securities.

Cross Southwark Street towards the junction of the two main roads

Then R in Borough High Street

Shortly after the crossroads, do not miss on your L George Inn Yard at number 77

George Inn

The George Inn is an eatery managed by a large chain and is of no gastronomic interest but it is an interesting building owned by the National Trust. At the beginning of the 20th century, it belonged to a hospital and later to a railway company who had no use for a pub and therefore gave it to the National Trust. The historical interest comes from the fact that it is the only old coaching inn still standing in London.

It was rebuilt after a fire in 1677 and was one of many inns where travelers coming to London would alight from horse-drawn carriages linking London with the Channel ports. Part of the inn has first and second floor balconies called galleries, a very common feature replacing corridors. Actually, this architecture is still inspiring many roadside motels in countries like the United States. The idea is that rooms should not have windows to the noisy courtyard.

Mews in Borough

There are several former courtyards with an access from Borough High Street but they have all been converted and remind rather of mews or of alleys in the docklands district.

Continue afterwards along Borough High Street




The station opened together with the original Underground line in 1890.

Borough Underground station

The station building was similar to that at Kennington with a conspicuous dome hiding the lift machinery. The station was rebuilt several times but the general curving shape was kept as it fits nicely with the street corner. The red and white colour combination is unusual for a 20th century station while the interlocking curving shapes are really a pleasant design to look at.

Continue a short while along Borough High Street passing a long brick building

L Avon Place (a footpath)

R Swan Street

L Trinity Street

R Trinity Church Square walking towards the back of the former church

Holy Trinity Church

This imposing building was Holy Trinity Church, built in 1824 as the centrepiece of a new suburb intended for the middle class. This explains why the church was built at a high standard with one of the purest neo-classical porticoes in London. The building became unsafe over time and had to be rebuilt in 1974 following a fire. It is now used as a recording studio for classical music.

There is a sizeable garden in front of the former church with the statue of a bearded king, King Alfred. It is obvious that the statue was not meant to stand in a square if you look at the rear of it and it should be in front of a wall, but there are several theories about what actually happened. It might have been planned for a building in Manchester, ending up being surplus to requirement due to a size issue.

Trinity Church Square

The square around the former church is quite large and the houses look dignified and comfortable. This was indeed the intention of the developer, who thought the area would attract businessmen due to the vicinity of central London. In the late 19th century, when most of Southwark was a very poor working-class suburb depending on factory and dock jobs, Trinity Square remained an affluent area.

Ahead Brockham Street


Newington mosque

There is a nice little mosque on the left side of this road, marked with a copper dome. Although you might expect mosques to have thin towers called minarets, this is actually a regional tradition related mainly to former Ottoman possessions and to Byzantine churches converted to mosques. The oldest purpose-built mosques often had domes and courtyards lined with columns but not necessarily towers.

Ahead Bath Terrace, part of which you can bypass by crossing Newington Gardens

Newington Gardens

The small park was landscaped on ground originally used for a prison. It had become quite a notorious gaol by the mid-19th century with reputable writers bemoaning the inhuman treatment of prisoners. It is quite shocking to hear that two thirds of inmates where under 16 in 1860, including 42 children under 12. Charles Dickens’ letter to the Times over the disgusting behaviour of crowds watching criminals being put to death on the prison roof contributed to public executions being outlawed in 1868.

After demolishing the prison, the borough wanted to sell the ground to developers despite philanthropists pointing out the lack of green spaces in this part of London. Fortunately, the ground did not sell for the high price wished by the borough and was converted into the present park in 1917.

At the end R Rockingham Street passing under the railway

L Newington Causeway

Elephant & Castle subway

When you reach the huge roundabout, you can opt for walking around it but there is also a very long subway across it. As you can see on my pictures, the walls have been used for colourful mosaics that are worth a look. The theme with animals is not linked to the Elephant in the station name (this was just a pub sign) but to a zoo I will mention again a little later.

ELEPHANT & CASTLE (Northern line)

Elephant & Castle Underground station (Northern line)

The station opened together with the original Underground line in 1890. A separate station opened as the terminus of the new Bakerloo line in 1906. There is also a railway station called Elephant & Castle but there is no direct connection between the three stations.

The Northern line had originally a station building in the style of that at Kennington but the area was developed extensively in the 1960s and the station was rebuilt several times. The present building from 2003 is a rather ugly frosted glass box that looks like a big plastic blurb. To be honest, the style was in fashion in the 1990s but it was often combined with some fancier shapes such as in Hounslow on the Piccadilly line and this would have been nicer.

Continue ahead in Newington Butts passing St Mary Churchyard

Metropolitan Tabernacle

The very large neo-classical building on this road opposite the shopping centre is the Methodist Tabernacle. Only the impressive portico is from the 1861 original building, the rest had to be rebuilt in 1959 due to wartime damage. The church could accommodate no less than 6,000 worshippers in its heyday although it is a lot smaller nowadays. The huge size was needed because of the incredible enthusiasm caused by a new preacher, Mr Spurgeon, one of the most celebrated Methodist preachers of all times. He wished the new church to be called a Tabernacle because of the biblical associations of the word.

St Mary Churchyard

The open space on the southern side of the Tabernacle is called St Mary Churchyard after a former church. The building had to be removed in order to widen the roads in 1876 and is now located further south. Planners have decided to set numerous small half spheres in the ground of the park. I don’t know if they are supposed to attract playing children or if they have some symbolic meaning.

L Hampton Street

Ahead towards the green space using the footpath

Ahead into Crampton Street

My picture shows an interesting estate in this road. The pattern of box balconies is probably a reference to a former factory in the area.

Interesting façade in Crampton Street

At the end R Manor Place

Pasley Park

The road ends on the corner of Pasley Park, also known under its former name of Surrey Gardens. It was originally a zoo opened in 1831 but did not survive the competition with the more professional zoo in Regent’s Park (the present London Zoo). The ground was bought in 1878 by developers who kept aside the present park for the new estate.

R Braganza Street


Kennington Underground station

The Underground station opened in 1890 on what is now the Eastern branch of the Northern Line (Euston to Kennington via Bank). The platforms towards Charing Cross opened in 1926.

The station building is the only surviving example of the original architecture chosen by the company. The main floor is a rather subdued version of late Victorian public buildings. It does use the fashionable combination of reddish bricks with white sections dressed in stone. But the decoration is kept to a modest set of columns in the neoclassical tradition without the riot of uncoordinated Renaissance and gothic details many architects indulged in. Kennington station is also conspicuous for its dome, built to cover the lift machinery. The dome reminds a little bit of St Paul’s Cathedral… Most companies preferred plain brick cubes to house the machinery as this was cheaper and needed less cleaning.

L Kennington Park Road

R Cleaver Square

Cleaver Square

This is an unusual pattern for a square in London, the central reservation being made of gravel rather than grass or pavement. The square is a development from 1788 aimed at the middle class. Development in this area was made possible by Waterloo Bridge, opened in 1750, as civil servants could now commute from Kennington easily. The houses around the square are typical for a run-of-the-mill Georgian development, with no ornamentation and roofs hidden behind a cornice.

Ahead Cleaver Street

Lambeth County Court

The road leads past Lambeth County Court, most probably an Art Déco building from the 1930s in the tradition of Scottish Arts & Crafts. The government closed the court in 2017 and I have seen no information about the future use of the building. I suppose it could end up being demolished and replaced by a luxury flat estate. The fact that the government closes courts (and raises fees to very high levels) is obviously linked to cost-cutting efforts and to the attempt to convince people to use computer-based mediation services instead. It is to be hoped that mediation will prove efficient and unbiased, because there would be otherwise a serious risk of making it very difficult for normal citizens to achieve judicial review of disputes, a human right of the highest order.

Sharp L Bowden Street, continues as Methley Street

Methley Street

The road is not spectacular but is known among film lovers for being one of the childhood addresses of famous actor and director Charlie Chaplin. As you can see, his background was not particularly privileged.

R Milverton Street

At the end L Kennington Road


Former Kennington Town Hall

The elegant neo-classical building with the white portico is the former town hall for Kennington, used between 1853 and 1908. The colour scheme is very dignified but the building is otherwise an embarrassing example for a very uncoordinated combination of styles: the arched windows of the ground floor are neo-Romanic, the door surrounding is neo-Renaissance, the portico is obviously neo-Greek and the roof cornice is neo-baroque. This is now an office building.

R Clayton Street

L Kennington Oval

L Harleyford Street

St Mark’s Kennington

On the other side of the main road, you see the church of St Mark’s Kennington. It was built in 1824 during a wave of church construction financed by Parliament. Government was anxious about catering to the spiritual needs of the increasingly unruly working classes in new industrial suburbs and funds were more easily available after the end of the Napoleonic wars (therefore the nickname “Waterloo Churches”). The architecture is typically neo-classical with the ubiquitous white portico.


Oval Underground station

The station opened together with the original Underground line in 1890.

The station building was similar to that at Kennington with a conspicuous dome hiding the lift machinery. The station was rebuilt in the 1920s when the whole line was renovated and the present building indeed reflects the style of that period with clean, geometric shapes. The stepped gable is the kind of modest geometric decoration architects liked in the 1920s. The awning looks much newer and is an addition from 2008. It is well integrated into the design as it is just unobtrusive glass and a few thin steel beams.


Posted in Tube Northern Line | Leave a comment

Northern Tube line walk 10: Euston walk to Bank

Walk 10


2 1/2 hours

The Underground line between Euston and Angel opened in 1907. The line between Angel and Moorgate had already opened in 1901, the section between Bank and Moorgate (as an extension of an older line coming from the southern suburbs) in 1900.

Former City Road Underground station

Between Angel and Old Street, trains called at an additional station called City Road. The station was closed in 1922 because it was located in a partly industrial area with little passenger traffic. Most of the station building was demolished in the 1960s and the remaining lift shaft is expected to be demolished shortly as well.

Routing note: The Northern line connects in Euston, King’s Cross St Pancras, Moorgate and Bank with several other lines. Due to the way I have written my walks, the most convenient combinations are at Bank: Northern line walk 11, Central line walk 7 or Docklands Light Railway walk 1. Convenient combinations in other stations include Piccadilly line walk 1 in King’s Cross St Pancras and King’s Cross / Moorgate network walk 6 in Moorgate.

Please note that there are many large construction sites in the area between Angel and Moorgate. As a result, you might have to follow a temporary diversion that is not always perfectly marked on the ground. In addition, the borough is a trifle sloppy about street signs and some are missing. I strongly recommend that you take a map with you, the most convenient being “Cycling in central London”, issued by Transport for London and available free of charge.

The walking time estimate does not include the time spent to visit Guildhall and the different small museums included within the complex. If you visit all attractions (but you need to check beforehand that they are indeed all open on the day you plan to visit them), you may need at least an additional hour.


Euston train terminal and Underground station

The station opened on the account of two different Underground companies in 1907; both lines are now called Northern Line but are actually two separate lines. An interconnection was put in place in 1924 in order to enable trains to switch from the one line to the other. The Victoria line platforms opened in 1968.

The station is entirely underground and has no dedicated entrance at street level. It is accessed through the Euston train terminus, a gloomy concrete structure from 1968.

Original Euston Underground station

There was a separate station building for the Underground originally and it is still visible at the corner of Melton Street with Drummond Street. It was designed by Leslie Green, the company architect, who used a standard scheme as he was supposed to design no less than 50 stations within a few years. The scheme involves a steel frame housing the concourse, which made it cheap and quick to build, with outside walls covered in glazed terracotta. Most stations then have some minor one-off decoration details. In Euston, it was a neo-baroque scroll bearing a semblance of a coat of arms.

Euston Square Gardens

Exit the train terminus on the main forecourt

Ahead across Euston Square Gardens to the main road

This is just a small green space along a terribly busy main road. It does not even provide many seating opportunities for travelers who might prefer to wait for their train in a garden rather than in the station itself. Actually, terminus stations normally don’t have or need a garden nearby, be it in Britain or in Europe.

L towards the church

St Pancras New Church

St Pancras New Church was built in 1822 to replace the derelict old parish church. A new location was chosen because the original church was located quite far away from the growing area of Bloomsbury. It was a very expensive church fully built in prestigious Portland stone, taking advantage of the fact that the congregation was quite affluent. The style is unashamedly neo-Greek, fully in line with the fad for anything Greek at the time (Lord Byron would soon decamp to Greece to help supposedly oppressed Christians against Ottoman occupation).

Crypt entrance at St Pancras New Church

The church is normally closed outside of services because of the mixed population that may linger around so close to large train stations. When you reach the apse, don’t miss the very unusual structures on both sides. They look like mini-temples and the female columns of the galleries are heavily inspired by the Erechtheion temple on the Athens Acropolis. The actual use of the structures is to serve as an entrance portico for the burial crypt.


St Pancras New Church crypt

You might be surprised to hear of a burial crypt in an Anglican church built in the 19th century. It was actually a very old-fashioned idea and the practice was banned in all of London in 1854 out of fear that degrading corpses might pollute ground water. Part of the crypt is used nowadays on occasion for contemporary art exhibitions, as you can see on the picture. The crypt is of limited interest in itself as it is a plain brick vault.

Just after the church R Duke’s Road

At the end R Burton Street, follow the road as it turns L (the street ahead is a dead end)

Terrace in Burton Street

The street is named after James Burton, one of the most impressive businessmen of his generation. Son of a real estate speculator, he started in the trade at the early age of 21 and ended up developing most of Bloomsbury, the up-and-coming area of London in the 1800s. He also developed the celebrated Regent’s Park terraces, having his son do the detailed plans on the basis of the sketches by star architect John Nash.

Burton was a leading member of the highest levels of society despite having no title and was a close friend of several princesses, including Queen Victoria at the time she had not yet ascended the throne. His developments were seen as the epitome of elegance, his terraces looked solid without fussy decoration but they were less boring than traditional Georgian terraces. You can make an interesting comparison between the properties in Burton Street, with ground floor shops, and the purely residential properties in Cartwright Gardens.

St Pancras Vestry

Between both sets, you cross Flaxman Terrace where you can notice a very unusual villa built in 1908. It is actually a set of two houses and was built as the vestry for St Pancras New Church. The towers on either side of the entrance and particularly the copper domes are really very unusual. The railings are worth a look as they are a good example of Art Nouveau; flowery shapes were much in fashion since William Morris used them a lot in the late 19th century.


Terrace in Cartwright Gardens

R along Cartwright Gardens

Ahead Leigh Street

At the end ahead into Judd Street Open Space, turn L inside the garden towards the church

This is a nice little neighbourhood garden created in the 1950s for the nearby council estate. It has been refurbished since and has interesting railings. They are indeed very sturdy but there is a pretty leaf motif at the top of the pillars.

Judd Street Open Space

Ahead Tonbridge Street

R Argyle Walk (a public footpath)

First L Whidborne Street

L Argyle Street

R St Chad’s Street passing along Argyle Square

After a short footpath L Birkenhead Street


Chinese Methodist Church

I was intrigued to find a Chinese methodist church here. You might expect the Chinese community to be concentrating in other areas of London like Chinatown but this indeed shows that people don’t necessarily live or worship near their place of work ! The church exists since 1824 but it got a Chinese focus in 1975 when the Church sent a pastor from Hong Kong to tend to the spiritual needs of Chinese students in London. The congregation is currently attempting to get permission to rebuild the church and it will be interesting to see what the front will look like in a few years.


King’s Cross St Pancras Underground station

The station is the second busiest on the Underground network as it combines six Underground lines and two train termini. There were actually two clearly separate Underground stations; the first one was built for the Metropolitan line and opened in 1863; the platforms are under the main road in front of the St Pancras terminal complex. Platforms for the Piccadilly line opened in 1906, for the Northern line in 1907 and finally for the Victoria line in 1968. Those platforms are located more or less under the forecourt of King’s Cross terminal.

Kings Cross St Pancras Underground station

There have been a series of structures at ground level giving access to the different platforms over time. The main access is now a flattish dome located between the two train terminals. It is much larger than you would think necessary because it is actually a small shopping mall with just the escalators being part of the Underground station. The dome is a glass structure on a lattice of steel beams, a very popular design in the 2000s. The main point was not to use concrete in a visible manner as this was considered ugly and difficult to keep clean.

R Pentonville Road

Scala building in Pentonville Road

Number 275 on this road is a very conspicuous corner building with a dome and second floor columns. The mix of uncoordinated decoration elements from different periods of architectural history (rustico ground floor from the Renaissance, columns from Antiquity and medieval dome) points to a design around 1900. It was meant to be a film theatre but it has a checkered history, having been used for a variety of entertainment industry purposes with mixed success. It is currently a music club with a bit over 1,000 seats.

Right-hand fork King’s Cross Road



Evangelical church from Ethiopia

My picture shows a church you reach soon after starting along the road. I found the combination of the contemporary aluminum building with the flint walls of the church quite interesting.

R very inconspicuous public passage under a building, clearly marked as St Chad’s Place. The path leads to a bridge over train tracks

L at the end of the bridge into Wicklow Street (the street sign is missing here)

Former hospital access

In older times, there was a back entrance here for the Royal National Nose, Throat & Ear Hospital, a foundation from 1874 that is now part of the NHS network. As you can see from the old inscriptions, this was the entrance for emergencies. Obviously, ambulances are now bulky vehicles that would be quite embarrassed about using this access.

The street turns later L

Percy Circus

At the end of the street, cross both main roads into Vernon Square towards a church

Take Vernon Rise on the right-hand side of the church (King’s Cross Baptist Church)

Walk counterclockwise around Percy Circus and exit the circus on the third road, Great Percy Street


Percy Circus terrace

Percy was the middle name of a businessman who was an associate of the company developing this area in the early 19th century. He was primarily an attorney although he was also known for writing elegant odes. The most interesting part of his career is that he bought for a sizeable amount the job of attorney-general for Bengal in India. He came back seven years later filthily rich. You obviously wonder whether he might have taken some personal interest in how cases were settled in court…

The development around Percy Circus looks somewhat inspired by James Burton’s slightly older terraces. A big difference is road planning. Circuses were to have limited success in London, probably because it was more difficult to plan stables at the back of the properties when they are arranged in a circle. I also think Percy Circus is unusually wide.

At the end R Amwell Street

Soon L Inglebert Street

walk around the church and continue in the same direction on Chadwell Street

Myddelton Square

The church, St Mark’s Clerkenwell, is a rather good quality example of early neo-gothic. It was built in 1827 as the centrepiece of the new real estate development around it. There is a sizeable garden around the church; it has not much to offer in terms of flowers or amenities but it is a large green space that enhances the appeal of the surrounding residences considerably. The terraces around the square are late Georgian (1830s) and are clearly simpler than those around Percy Circus. Window surrounds and horizontal cornices are lacking.

Terraces in Myddleton Square

L St John Street

Ahead Islington High Street


Angel Underground station

The station opened in 1901 as the new terminus for an Underground line originating in the southern suburbs. The line was extended in 1907 towards Euston.

Because of congestion issues, the station was rebuilt in 1992 and boasts the longest escalators in the London Underground network. The platforms are a relatively long way from the ticket hall because of this reconstruction, when the station access was relocated closer to the main crossroads.

The station building is a large commercial block and the access itself is only marked by a modest frieze at ground floor level without any awning. Stations built or rebuilt in the 1990s are often very inconspicuous within the townscape.

Continue ahead on Islington High Street

R Duncan Street


Rock garden in Colebrooke Row

At the end, the road crosses a strip of green. You may want to detour into the small park on both sides of Duncan Street, coming back to Duncan Street afterwards

The narrow band of greenery along Colebrooke Row has been beautified with rocks in interesting shapes, an unusual idea that reminds actually more of Chinese than of English gardening.


Park above the New River

The elongated shape of the park is due to the fact that it is actually a covering for a water supply channel, the New River. This 17th century venture is a canal that brings water from Hertfordshire to a reservoir in Clerkenwell and the water is used to produce drinking water for central London. There is a very interesting long-distance path running all the way along the canal, courtesy of Thames Water. I use the path on several occasions on my King’s Cross train network walks. The water channel is open air through the suburbs but it was covered closer to central London in order to lower pollution risks.

Ahead down a ramp to the canal towpath

Walk along the canal to the next road bridge

Regent’s Canal in Islington

Regent’s Canal was built around 1800 as a commercial venture. It gave much faster access to the Docklands for barges carrying export goods from the Midlands, bypassing the crowded tidal reach of the Thames across central London. This convenient thoroughfare attracted in turn many industrial premises and was very successful. With the decline of industry, it has been turned into a leisure infrastructure and the towpath is very popular with joggers and cyclists.


Eastern mouth of Islington canal tunnel

As you can see easily, the canal crosses Islington Hill via a tunnel. It is nearly 900 meters long and caused the canal company a lot of headaches because it could not find enough shareholders willing to invest in such a risky venture. In the end, the Government lent the necessary money in 1818 under the condition that the company would employ many jobless labourers who suffered under the economic depression after the end of the Napoleonic wars.

In order to save costs, the tunnel was built without a towpath. Barges had to be “legged” through a tunnel: professional leggers would push on the walls with their legs, a dangerous venture that led to many of them falling in the water and drowning. It was slow work, a barge would need 20 to 50 minutes to cross the tunnel depending on the boat weight. A machine was attached to a cable laid on the bottom of the canal in 1826 in order to pull the barges.

Mix of industry and new developments

If you have the time, you might want to continue along the towpath until you reach the next canal lock. This enables you to get a good feeling for how recent developments have started to change the feeling you get along the canal. Individual buildings even remind me a little of construction along Dutch canals. You need to come back to the bridge if you go on the detour.


Canalside Development


Vincent Terrace bridge

Cross the bridge

L Graham Street

L across the small green space aiming for the waterside

R on the footpath along City Road Basin

City Basin gots its name from the fact that it is the canal dock closest to the City of London. This made the busiest dock of all on Regent’s Canal.

Open space along City Road Basin

The canal did not expect considerable traffic for end delivery in London but most barges in the mid-19th century ended up not being aimed at the Docklands, they were barges carrying coal to the households and businesses in central London. You might expect coal to be carried on trains, but the limited capacity on the train line led the train operating company to prefer high value goods and passengers over bulk commodities.


City Road Basin

Due to the decline of industries and to increasing transportation by road, canal traffic fell considerably after World War II and the area turned into a derelict eyesore for many years. It started to be developed again in the 2000s with the rising demand for luxury flats and offices for creative industries spilling over from Shoreditch. When I walked though the area, the waterside park was still a little barren. It is actually not a public park, it is a garden planned the developers of neighbouring estates and they were not interested in expensive, fancy equipment or maintenance-heavy flower beds.

At the end of the basin R on City Road to the next traffic lights

L Central Street (beware that the street sign may be hidden temporarily during construction works)

Telephone exchange on Central Street

On the corner of Central Street with Lever Street, I noticed a very imposing building with a surprisingly high number of windows at roof level. A slanted roof with so many windows is actually more in the French 17th century tradition while it was more customary in Georgian England to have a flat roof above the top floor. The building is from the 1920s and the lack of decoration is due to the fact that it is actually a very utilitarian structure, a telephone exchange. The reason the building is so big and has so many windows is that there were crowds of telephone ladies working inside at connecting the callers. It was considered one of the few acceptable jobs for a respectable young woman as there was less risk she would meet leery gentlemen or potential seducers. Nonetheless, there are countless novels and films where young men flirt with telephone exchange girls.

L Dingley Road

R Ironmonger Row

Victorian baths in Ironmonger Row

No change in architecture here compared with the telephone exchange, you still have a massive brick shape. But there is much more decoration, particularly the arcades over the ground floor windows, the surroundings for the first floor windows and the neo-classical cornice. This is indeed an older building, developed in Victorian times as public baths. They were converted recently to a private spa with all kinds of facilities for tired City workers who need some pampering. I noted that the main swimming pool has a length of 30.5 meters. I wonder why most pools in England do not use the standard length of Olympic regulation (25 or 50 meters), making them useless for people who train for competition purposes.

St Luke’s Garden

You will reach a garden on the right-hand side shortly thereafter. St Luke’s Garden was a churchyard and was converted to a nice little neighbourhood garden with a few flowers. At the end of the garden, you can see the former church of St Luke’s, built in 1733 but closed in 1965. If you look closely at my picture, you can see the windows on the church wall do not seem to be aligned properly. The reason the church was closed is that it is indeed unsafe due to subsidence problems.


Former St Luke’s Old Street church

After long discussions, the building was sold to the London Symphony Orchestra and is now used as a rehearsal room. You can attend some of the rehearsals on special occasions. The room was made safe and insulated from traffic noise by a sort of concrete box set on pillars inside the church. The building is listed because of the remarkable church spire, a tall obelisk with gouged vertical lines. This is a very rare design for an 18th century church and is the work of Nicholas Hawksmoor, a neo-classical architect who was very creative with church towers.

Opposite the small park L into Radnor Street (the street sign is missing here as well)

Radnor Street Open Space

Radnor Street Open Space is a public neighbourhood garden and offers the sports and playground facilities you do not have in St Luke’s Garden. Correspondingly, the planting and the seats are more modest.

Cross the main road into Peerless Street

Children wing of Eye Hospital

You might notice an intriguing hospital building in this street. It is an extension of the main hospital you will see a little later. This particular unit caters for children and this justified the more playful front with a big orange box in the middle working a little like an eye in a face. This extension is a major scientific centre with an international reputation and was opened in 2007 by Her Majesty the Queen herself.

The main building is a massive pink brick structure facing City Road. It was opened in 1899 and the architecture is quite typical for the excess of uncoordinated decoration details that was popular at the time: a gallery with neo-Greek columns, pointed neo-gothic gables and a baroque dome. The hospital was founded in 1805 as the London Dispensary for Curing Diseases of the Eye and Ear; the founder was a well-known surgeon who saw the need to teach specialist care to more doctors at a time when many soldiers came back from the Napoleonic war with eye diseases (in particular those who had served in the Egyptian desert).

Main hospital building

The road forks later but it does not matter as both forks lead you to City Road

At the end R City Road


Old Street Underground station

The station opened in 1901 on the extension of the line from the southern suburbs when it was extended towards Angel. Additional platforms opened in 1904 on a suburban train line that runs between Moorgate and Finsbury Park. The connection is not particularly convenient, involving long corridors and several flights of steps.

There was a station building but it was demolished in 1968 in order to make room for the new major roundabout and all facilities are now underground. Access is through inconspicuous steps on one side of the roundabout.


Inmarsat headquarters


Because of increasing passenger traffic, the station facilities were refurbished in 2014. The central structure of the roundabout works now as a light well for a small shopping centre with the station facilities being integrated in a corner of the complex.

The roundabout is notorious. One issue is massive traffic jams compounded by numerous large construction works in the vicinity as this area of London has become popular with the fast growing IT industry. An other issue is an appalling number of life-threatening accidents when cyclists attempt to cross the roundabout and are hurt by lorries. To be perfectly honest, I was well aware of the risk and therefore always used the safe lights-controlled crossing a few yards away in Pitfield Street.

Office buildings on Old Street Roundabout

The oldest of the large office buildings overlooking the roundabout bears an oversize inscription referring to Inmarsat. The steel-and-glass box is of no particular interest but the Inmarsat pillar might remind you faintly of the shape of rockets. This is on purpose as the company operates telecommunication satellites. The original satellites had been launched by an intergovernmental organisation in order to ensure better navigation at sea in the 1960s but the company was privatised when it became clear that operating satellites can be a commercial business.

Leave the roundabout continuing along City Road (runs now towards the South)

Wesley Mémorial Chapel

You will soon reach a church in a recessed courtyard. The building is the mother church of the methodist movement, built surprisingly enough on ground given by the City of London. The church is listed as an interesting Georgian building but has been modified later on. You can enter the church, expecting to have a chat with a charming exponent of the faith immediately.

There is also a Museum of Methodism in the crypt of the church but I have been unable to visit it despite three attempts. You can also supposedly visit Wesley’s House although you need to check first with the lady who exposed the faith to you because you need to attend a guided tour. What I did visit is a small chapel up a staircase to the right of the main church. This is a moving meditation room with interesting notes about the links between Methodists and Anglicans.

Ceiling of Wesley chapel

John Wesley, the founder, saw himself as an Anglican, but the established church was uncomfortable with his views on some political issues (such as slavery) and with his preaching style (he was willing to preach to any Christian person even when not belonging to the proper church). He stressed scripture over the role of the church hierarchy, which is clearly Protestant and did not go down well with part of the Anglican clergy of the time, but he rejected the calvinist doctrine of predestination. There are some discussions about the validity of his ordinations but Anglicans and Methodists consider that they are in apostolic communion.


Wesley mémorial monument

You can also have a short look at the small cemetery at the back of the chapel. It comes as quite a surprise when you compare with the noisy traffic on City Road. If you are male, you might also want to have a look at the conveniences for gentlemen. They look rather quaintly old-fashioned and are actually of historical interest as this is a model built by George Jennings, the inventor of the public toilets. There are very few such conveniences left. George Jennings was quite a character: he had 15 children. He received his first medal from Prince Albert at the young age of 37 and installed the very first public toilets ever in 1851 for the Hyde Park Great Exhibition (it was such a novelty that people paid to use them even if they did not need them !).

Honourable Artillery Company Barracks

I do not comment here on the cemetery opposite the chapel (Bunhill Fields Burial Ground) because I do so on my King’s Cross network walk 6. What I will do here is point to the rather unexpectedly medieval building just after the cemetery. It was actually built in 1857 but the architect tried to imitate a medieval castle with a Tudor entrance gate because these barracks are the headquarters of the venerable “Honourable Artillery Company”, one of the most prestigious and ancient regiments of the British army. One of their roles is to provide escorts for state visits. If you are interested, they have a small museum accessible for free but you need to make an appointment well in advance.

The road merges into Finsbury Square

Finsbury Square

This is a very large open space (large by City of London standards) and ends up being used for all sorts of events that need room such as markets or demonstrations. It is surrounded by tall, forbidding office buildings. The only spectacular one is on the north side of the square because it has an imposing, massive tower over the entrance. The heavy shapes out of concrete are typical of what I call the “imperial style” of the 1920s. I was unable to find out the original use of the building but there are intriguing decoration details such as medical caducea and a double coat of arms.

Office building on Finsbury Square


Tom Smith fountain

In one corner of the square, you will find pleasant flower beds but they are really overwhelmed by the massive office buildings. There is also a somewhat squat drinking fountain commemorating Mr Tom Smith. The name sounds hopelessly forgettable but Mr Smith invented a quaint English custom Europeans find very bemusing. He produced sweets as a trade and came upon the idea of the Christmas crackers; his son later added the tradition of the silly hats in order to differentiate himself from the other cracker producers. I was always baffled at the merriment office workers entered into more or less willingly every December when their boss invited to the department year end dinner and jollities. What I found particularly embarrassing is that it was apparently considered normal if individual participants got drunk enough to turn slanderous.

Flower bed in Finsbury Square

R Chiswell Street

L Finsbury Street

L Ropemaker Street

“Crown of thorns” building

I give you a good example of a contemporary office building. What I find interesting about it is the “crown of thorns” at roof level. I wonder whether this has a practical purpose or whether it is just a device to make the building stand out a little more.

R Moorfields


Moorgate Underground station

The Underground platforms used by the Circle Line opened in 1865 under the name “Moorgate Street”. Deep-level platforms used by what is now the Northern Line opened in 1900.

The station was also used as a terminus for two suburban train networks. The deeper level terminus now used by trains to Hertford or Potters Bar was opened in 1904; a second terminus located close to the Circle Line platforms opened in 1868 and closed in 2009.

The present name of the station was given in 1924 when the suburban trains from the upper level terminus switched from destinations on the Watford line to destinations on the Bedford line.

Rear entrance

The main entrance to the station is in the building at the corner of Moorgate (the street) with Moorgate Place. The building is rather impressive and even looks venerable compared to the modern skyscrapers in the background. It was built in 1900 by the operator of the present-day Northern Line of London Underground and was its headquarters. For an Edwardian building, it has rather subdued decoration, possibly because the company was not flush with funds. What is typically Edwardian is the mix of red bricks with rows of light coloured stones.

There is a much more functional entrance on the next street, Moorfields. All these names with “moors” relate to a large swampy field just inside the City wall. There was a gate in the wall here until 1761 and most of the Moor Fields were developed in 1777.

At the end of Moorfields, continue ahead and cross the main road into Coleman Street

R Basinghall Avenue

Girdlers Hall

The very elegant building you pass at the start of this short road is Girdlers Hall, one of the 110 buildings in the City of London that house a livery company. They were professional bodies tasked in medieval times with regulating issues like education of apprentices or quality control. The girdlers produced girdles, that is belts. Many companies have no economic role any more, as is the case for girdlers, but they continue to manage charitable funds and have invariably an elegantly appointed company hall. Unfortunately, halls are never open to the public except for a half dozen of them on Open Monument Day in September. Girdlers Hall had to be rebuilt after World War II and is a simplified copy of the original 1680 hall. Many halls had a small courtyard or garden, as is the case here. It is managed by the City and therefore in pristine condition.

Rear wing of Guildhall

Towards the end of the street, you can see on your left a triangular courtyard with a few trees and a fountain lined in black marble, one of surprisingly many such small open spaces throughout the City. The large brick building with the ground floor concrete columns is the rear building of Guildhall, from where the City is managed. The style reminds of the 1930s but I think it was rebuilt after World War II.

Ahead under a footbridge into Basinghall Street

L Aldermanbury

Just before the main road L along the church onto the pedestrianised plaza in front of Guildhall

Guildhall Yard is surrounded by important monuments. To start with the least historical one, the western wing was built after World War II. It houses mainly offices but the rear entrance gives access to a library and to a small City Police Museum. Entry is free, so don’t hesitate.

St Lawrence Jewry

The church opening towards the yard is St Lawrence Jewry. It was rebuilt in 1687 on plans by Christopher Wren, the architect in charge with rebuilding the City churches after the fire disaster of 1666, and again on the same design after World War II. It is quite subdued outside; if you are lucky enough to find the church open, have a look as it is a typical baroque church with gilded cornices and capitals. You can also see a collection of regimental flags as this is the official church of the Mayor of London. The name Jewry comes from the fact that the Jewish ghetto was located in the vicinity.

Ceiling of St Lawrence Jewry

Regimental flags

Glimpse of Guildhall Yard


Guildhall Art Gallery building

The third important building overlooking the yard is Guidhall Art Gallery, rebuilt in 1999. The architecture is a nondescript version of post-modern mock gothic and is not worth a second look. The building is used to display a selection of paintings owned by the City. They can be amusing as they show scenes and monuments of London; most are not of outstanding quality but are worth having a short look. You can also have a look at the basement where you can see a few modest remnants of Roman walls. Guidhall is apparently located where the Romans had their amphitheatre. Archeologists were quite surprised to find the remnants in 1985 by chance as it had been assumed that everything had been destroyed when the original Guildhall was built in the 12th century.


The fourth and by far the most important building around the yard is Guildhall itself. The core is a medieval great hall built in 1440 above a basement described as a crypt. This architecture was typical for city halls and many examples have survived for example in Belgium. The vaulted basement was used for business meetings or even as a marketplace in bad weather; part of this basement is at least 100 years older than the main structure and is the oldest non-religious building in the City. It is a beautiful room with “palm tree pillars”.

Crypt of Guildhall


List of important trials held at Guildhall

Great Hall of Guildhall

The Great Hall above was used to parade but also to conduct major trials. A plaque mentions a number of illustrious accused. The walls are indeed gothic while two parts of Guildhall are not ancient. The timber roof was rebuilt after World War II. The pretentious Grand Entrance used for parades is not medieval but not so new either as it was added in 1788 in a style described at the time as “Hindustani gothic”. You can visit the Great Hall for free and it is worth a short look for the sheer size of the room.

Grand Entrance in the “Hindustani Gothic” style


Nice office building in Ironmongers Lane

Exit the courtyard through the passage along Guildhall Art Gallery

R Basinghall Street

R Gresham Steeet

very soon L Ironmonger Lane

L Cheapside

Ahead Poultry

On the last building before reaching the crossroads, I noticed a detailed frieze showing 16th or 17th century guards escorting a sedan chair and a 19th century scene with a state carriage. I wonder whether this might be a reference to the yearly Lord Mayor’s Parade, one of the most colourful parades in the London calendar.

Frieze with parade

Scene from the 17th century


Bank Underground station

The station opened in 1900 on the new extension of a line coming from the southern suburbs and ending temporarily at Moorgate before being extended the following year to Angel. Platforms opened for the Central Line a few months later, also in 1900. The station was then linked to two other Underground stations that have their own name: a connection opened already in 1900 with the pre-existing City terminus of the Waterloo & City railway, and a connection opened much later (in 1933) with Monument station on the District Line. Finally, platforms opened on a completely new line in 1991, the Docklands Light Railway.

A station building had originally been intended in 1900, but this would have forced the demolition of a church and the railway company was only allowed to use the crypt as an entrance. As a result, the station is entirely underground with no building above.


Posted in Tube Northern Line | Leave a comment

Northern Tube line walk 9: Euston walk to Charing Cross and Kennington

Walk 9


1 3/4 hours

The Underground line between Euston and Charing Cross opened in 1907 as part of a suburban line towards Hampstead. The line was extended in 1926 in order to provide a better connection towards the southern suburbs but trains terminate normally at Kennington because the other Northern line branch (Euston to Kennington via Bank continuing towards Clapham and Morden) was a pre-existing railway.

Routing note: Most stations on this section of the Northern line have interchanges so that you can connect with many other walks. As my route descriptions are one-way, not all routes would be convenient to combine with the present one. I suggest combining with the Northern line walk 11 in Kennington or with a walk starting in Waterloo such as Waterloo train network walk 1, the Waterloo & City walk or Bakerloo line walk 1. If you prefer combining in the Euston area, the most convenient combination is with Victoria Underground network walk 2.

My walking time estimate does not include visiting two museums towards the end of the walk. Visiting both may take you up to an hour.


Euston train terminal and Underground station

The station opened on the account of two different Underground companies in 1907; both lines are now called Northern Line but are actually two separate lines. An interconnection was put in place in 1924 in order to enable trains to switch from the one line to the other. The Victoria line platforms opened in 1968.

The station is entirely underground and has no dedicated entrance at street level. It is accessed through the Euston train terminus, a gloomy concrete structure from 1968.

Original Euston Underground station

There was a separate station building for the Underground originally and it is still visible at the corner of Melton Street with Drummond Street. Like most stations on this Underground line, it was designed by Leslie Green, the company architect, who used a standard scheme as he was supposed to design no less than 50 stations within a few years. The scheme involves a steel frame housing the concourse, which made it cheap and quick to build, with outside walls covered in glazed terracotta. Most stations then have some minor one-off decoration details. In Euston, it was a neo-baroque scroll bearing a semblance of a coat of arms.

Euston terminal seen from the side

Exit the train terminal on the main forecourt towards Euston Road

R along the terminal

Ahead Euston Street

Ahead across Tolmer’s Square

This square is a nice oasis of quiet so close to busy roads. The original development from the 1870s attracted working-class tenants in cramped conditions because of the vicinity of the railway yard and the borough became increasingly inclined after World War II to allow developers to build large office towers in this convenient location rather than keep the derelict housing.

Tolmer’s Square

Students from the nearby university got interested in this controversial urban planning issue and squatted in the derelict buildings for a few years. In the end, the developer who suffered under the economic crisis gave up on the planning permission it had secured as far back as 1959 and sold the ground to the borough in 1975. Camden Borough then replaced the old houses primarily with modern social housing and there is some greenery in the old central courtyard of the complex.

L on the main road (A400) crossing over an underpass


Warren Street Underground station

The station opened on the Northern Line in 1907 and was originally called “Euston Road”, a highly confusing name as there are also stations called “Euston” and “Euston Square”. The name was therefore changed directly in 1908. The Victoria line platforms opened in 1969 and were given a themed decoration in form of a labyrinth (from “warren”).

The access is the ground floor of an imposing rotunda built at the end of a large office building from 1934. The shape is typically Art Déco but no effort was made in terms of decoration or a particular window scheme. A bit cheap for this period.

R along the station building Warren Street

L Whitfield Street

L Tottenham Street

Department store on Tottenham Court Road

When you reach the main road, you face a rather impressive department store building. Heal’s was a major supplier of furniture and decoration items. The company is listed and is actually primarily into online sales nowadays although it retains several shops for display purposes. The building feels a bit Art Déco but is much older (1854) and was built in a very unusual style for the time. The core concept is neo-classical but the columns are not very conspicuous. What I always found pretty about the building are the colourful vignettes. They don’t actually show products (except for the four-poster bed); they refer to trades such as wool (with shearing scissors) or clay (with a potter’s bench).

R Tottenham Court Road passing


Goodge Street Underground station

The station opened together with the Underground line in 1907 and was originally called Tottenham Court Road because it was close to the station bearing the same name on the Central Line. There was no interchange at the time and this caused confusions. As a result, the Northern Line changed the name already in 1908.

The station building is a typical Leslie Green design except that it has the now unusual feature of two separate bays that were used to separate incoming traffic from exiting passengers. The strictly symmetrical design is not very frequent but is quite pleasing to the eye in the cluttered environment of central London. The station hall is the ground floor of an office building, the usual solution when the Underground company could hope to rent the offices above in order to improve profitability.

R Goodge Street

L Whitfield Street

R Windmill Street

Garden in Windmill Street

There is a nice little garden in this street. There are actually few green spaces in this part of London as opposed to the City or Mayfair. In the City, the many former churchyards could be converted to neighbourhood gardens. In Mayfair, development was around central squares with sizeable gardens. Between both areas, commercial interests ran free and left very little room for open spaces. Some office complexes have courtyards or plazas but these are usually fully paved for maintenance reasons.

L Charlotte Street

Ahead Rathbone Place

17 Oxford Street

On Oxford Street, you soon reach one of not many interesting buildings on this very commercial road. It is currently used as an apparel chain store. The street front is overloaded with big columns and all sorts of cornices. I think it is most probably late Edwardian (1920s ?) and is a good example of what I would call “bombastic style”. The one rather pleasant feature is the wrought iron frieze just below the roof level. It has a stylised floral design that is much nicer than the rest. I was unable to find out the original use of the building but the frieze points out to an interesting story.

L Oxford Street passing


Tottenham Court Road Underground station (old access)

The Northern Line platforms opened without an interchange to the pre-existing Central Line station in 1907. The Northern Line stressed that no interchange was available by calling the station originally Oxford Street. The interchange opened in 1908 and the station name was duly changed.

The original station building, a Leslie Green design, was demolished later on in order to enable the construction of a large office building. The access to the Northern Line is now through the Central Line ticket hall. My picture shows a somewhat tired but elaborate office building combined with a cheaply garish plastic awning. This has all disappeared with the construction of new office blocks and the only remnant over ground is a glass box sheltering the access stairs.

Platform at Tottenham Court Road station

As you can see on the other picture, there is an interesting design on the platforms. The materials are contemporary but the decorative elements are very 1930s, particularly the sun rays above the middle of the arch.

When you reach the corner of the main roads, you can have a look at the Dominion Theatre. It opened in 1931 and was used for many years both as a film theatre and as a venue for live musicals. This was not unusual for major venues at the time as musicals seldom ran for more than a few months. It is one of the larger theatres in London with over 2,000 seats and belongs to a large American corporation.

Dominion Theatre

The architecture is a little similar to that of the apparel shop I pointed to just before: quite bombastic with columns and a roof cornice in light grey stone. The wrought iron decoration at roof level may be geometrical but may also remind of peacocks, an appropriate symbol for Soho actors.

R Charing Cross Road

Cross the large square towards the apse of the church (this may be temporarily impossible due to a large construction site. In this case, continue on Charing Cross Road and turn then R into Manette Street and R again into Greek Street in order to reach Soho Square)

R along the church Sutton Row

Walk around Soho Square and take the third road L

Soho Square

Soho Square is on the edge of what we call now the Soho entertainment district, most of which is located south of the square all the way to Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden. The word Soho is of unclear origin and may have been just a hunting call. The square can be pleasantly quiet in daytime with four symmetrical flower beds around a cutesy mock Tudor structure that was built in 1926 to hide an ugly industrial vent. There is also a somewhat weathered statue of King Charles II. In the evening and on weekends, the square is often crowded and not too clean.

Pietà in St Patrick’s church

The most interesting building overlooking the square is St Patrick’s church, originally built in 1792 as one of the very first Roman Catholic churches to be authorised in England. It was rebuilt in the 1890s and is worth a short look if you find it open. Roman Catholic churches are normally open during the day but St Patrick’s is closed when there are fears of disturbances through unruly crowds in the entertainment district. The most interesting features inside are the impressive marble pavement and a curious Lamentation statue where Jesus is not held by his Mother but by a topless male angel. Knowing the cautious learnings of the Roman Catholic church on the topic of homosexuality, the statue shows a rather open mind.


Office building on Soho Square

A building of more minor interest on the square is 27 Soho Square, a refurbished office building with a conspicuous concrete decoration around the doors. The tiered design reminds faintly of an inverted pyramid and this is on purpose because there was a big fad in the 1920s for Egyptian and Mayan pyramids.

L Frith Street

This minor street crosses soon Old Compton Street, the core of the entertainment district and also the one street in London with a concentration of establishments catering to male homosexuals (pubs primarily). Many patrons like to stay on the pavement rather than in the crowded and overheated venues so that it may be interesting to walk through the street on a Friday or Saturday evening if you are not familiar with the metropolis version of this way of life.

Old Compton Street


Former hotel in Old Compton Street

The best known pub in this category is Comptons, a gay institution that was actually a hotel originally when it was built in 1890. The time of construction is reflected in the seriously overdone mass of decoration details. It is just a pub since 1986. Despite being very well-known, also with tourists, it changed ownership surprisingly often. The last owner was a smaller private company that ended up being wound down for not paying overdue taxes.


Recess at the Prince Edward Theatre

There are of course many other venues that have no special orientation and the street tends to be incredibly lively and crowded on weekends. One interesting building is a mock tudor house, a style you don’t actually see very often in central London. Nearly opposite, the Prince Edward Theatre was built in 1930. It was an important venue in the 1950s because it was the main London site for a new film projection concept called Cinerama that involved several projectors and a complex sound system. This was cumbersome and expensive to operate so that the building was converted back to a musical venue. The building is interesting for the peculiar neo-classical front where the traditional stone columns have been replaced with unusual brick pillars. My picture shows the patrons during a recess and may help you understand how lively the street gets in the evening.

L Shaftesbury Avenue

Soon R Gerrard Place

Gerrard Street

You are entering here the London Chinatown, made of about three streets. The original Chinatown was close to the Docklands as it catered primarily to sailors. The present version started more or less by chance in the 1980s and nearly all houses in the street now have a Chinese restaurant (a few do have travel agencies or medicine shops catering to Chinese requirements). To be honest, I always wondered how you are supposed to choose which restaurant to try as they look similar and have similar prices.

Chinese-style gate in Gerrard Street


Interestingly, Chinatown as nearly the only place to go for Chinese food seems to be a US and UK concept. In most of Europe, Chinese restaurants spread over cities and even rural towns even if there might be a specific area in large cities like Paris with a concentration of specialised shops for Oriental goods. From a commercial point of view, spreading the restaurants over a larger area sounds reasonable, as Indian restaurants indeed do in England.

Chinese communities have been considered by authorities often with a dose of caution. On the one hand, European police and immigration officers have difficulties identifying people with certainty despite passport pictures and this makes authorities very distrustful. Chinese businessmen also have the reputation of being a bit too willing to enter shady dealings or to exploit shamelessly new immigrants if authorities do not crack down regularly and efficiently. On the other hand, Chinese immigrants tend to work hard towards founding successful, tax-paying businesses and their children are often among the star pupils in any school or university because education has a very high value in Chinese society.

R Gerrard Street

At the end L Wardour Street

Former wigmaker shop in Wardour Street

Number 41 Wardour Street has a blue plaque commemorating Willy Clarkson, who was a well-known costume designer and wigmaker who died in 1934. The sign on the house is in French for effect (“costumier” is obvious, “perruquier” is wigmaker). In his time, the street was known for businesses selling antiquities of occasionally somewhat shoddy provenience, which was obfuscated by using effete turns of phrase.

Mr Clarkson delivered disguises to Scotland Yard detectives… but also to gangsters. He was a rather unsavoury character, having women work on Sundays although this was illegal, having 11 of his 12 successive business premises burn down mysteriously at great expense to the insurers, and cavorting with lowly persons in an infamous lavatory in the area.


Teenagers looking for a celebrity to mob

Wardour Street is part of Chinatown in the lower area you cross while the upper area further North is very popular with the creative industries including a number of film studios. My picture shows accordingly teenager girls that think they have identified some celebrity in the van and trying to mob him while the traffic jam lasts.

L Lisle Street

R Leicester Place (not Leicester Street !)

Notre-Dame de France

Please distanciate yourself now from the many entertainment and gastronomic pleasures you might have been looking at since entering Soho. You are now reaching an interesting religious building, Notre-Dame de France. As the name says, it is a Roman Catholic church catering to the French-speaking community. A look inside is definitely to be recommended.

The church was converted in 1865 from a tourist attraction that is a bit difficult to imagine nowadays, a so-called panorama. There were many of those round buildings where owners would present circular paintings of some important event like a battle. This replaced pictures and films that did not exist, so that these particular paintings were made as detailed and dramatic as possible.


Inside Notre-Dame de France

That the church uses a former panorama is obvious when looking at the circular shape of the building, a very rare shape for a church in England. The columns all around are of cast iron and not of concrete, the very first church in London built in this manner. Due to heavy damages during World War II, all furnishings were replaced in the 1950s and the French embassy gave commissions to leading artists of the time such as Dom Robert (for the tapestry) and Jean Cocteau (in the Virgin Mary chapel). I apologise for not taking pictures of their works.

L Cranbourn Street passing



Leicester Square (Northern Line) Underground station

The station opened in 1906 on the Piccadilly line with platforms opening on the Northern line in 1907. Like many other stations on the line, it originally used lifts but congestion forced the operator to build escalators in 1935. They were the longest ones on the network with 54 m until longer ones were built at Angel station in the late 20th century. There are two station buildings, one for the Northern line and one for the Piccadilly line.

The Northern line station was rebuilt in the 1930s and is now a reasonably modest Art Déco design, a pure concrete cube at the street corner. The style was also used on some stations at the southern end of the Northern line extension towards Tooting and Morden.

At the 6-way crossroads R into St Martin’s Lane

Noel Coward Theatre

This road is home to several theatres, marking the southern end of the core entertainment district. The Noel Coward Theatre opened in 1903 under the somewhat boring name “New Theatre”. It was renamed in 2006 after the actor because he played here to great acclaim in 1920 in a play he had written himself. Like many theatres in London, it staged both serious dramas and entertaining musicals over the years. The building is typically Edwardian with rather heavy shapes and a mix of heterogeneous decoration details from baroque to neo-classical to Renaissance.


Duke of York’s Theatre

The Duke of York’s Theatre further down the street opened in 1892. It has staged musicals on occasion but has a more distinguished tradition as a venue for “classical” theatre. The architecture is neo-classical as usual for theatres at the time but I find the proportions and the colour scheme particularly well thought through. Even the columns respect quite well the size and details of Greek originals, the only concession to showy Victorian taste being the gilding of the capitals.

Towards the end of the street, you reach the grandest of the theatres. The London Coliseum is the largest theatre in London with over 2,300 seats. It was built in 1904 as a “music hall” with the intention of offering lavish entertainment suitable for families. It became well known for pantomimes and later on for dazzling shows from America. It is called the National English Opera since 1974 and houses the English National Ballet.

London Coliseum

Gates of London Coliseum

Keeping in mind the intention of the original owner, it is not surprising that the theatre was built to impress and awe. This includes a tall tower with a neo-baroque gallery and at the very top a globe.

There is nothing to link the building to the name “Coliseum”, which was a circus in ancient Rome. The street level doors look a bit strange with columns and arches in weird grey-purple marble. Pictures of the interior are very impressive, on par with many European opera houses from the late 19th century.

St Martin’s Vestry Hall

St Martin’s Lane is unsurprisingly named after St Martin’s in the Fields, the church at the end of the street on the right-hand side. I comment on the church in a Bakerloo line walk. You could have a short look at the vestry hall, a very nice neo-classical building with an elaborate set of columns around the porch and a stucco medallion in the gable. This is obviously a design of grace and restraint and it is indeed an 1830 design by star architect John Nash. It reminds a lot of the terraces around Regent’s Park, his better known work.

L William IV Street (called incorrectly Williams Street on some online maps)

R Adelaide Street

Cross the main road for


Charing Cross Underground station

The Bakerloo line platforms opened in 1906 under the name “Trafalgar Square”. A separate nearby station was opened in 1907 by the Northern line under the name “Charing Cross” as it was closer to the train terminal. An interchange was built in 1979 and the opportunity was taken to rename the Bakerloo line station “Charing Cross”.

There is no station building and all facilities are underground. If you have an opportunity one day, go and have a look at the platforms. Some of them (I think it is on the Northern line but I am not sure) show evocations of paintings held at the National Gallery or at the National Portrait Gallery. I think it is an excellent idea and some Underground networks in Europe are serious tourist attractions because of the interesting decoration or art in the stations (Helsinki and Stockholm in particular). Paris holds it like London, it is just an occasional idea for appropriate stations.

With the train terminal in front of you, take the left-handed street down towards the Thames passing under the small hotel footbridge. This is Villiers Street

Charing Cross hotel footbridge

The footbridge linking the train terminal with part of the hotel is a detail not many people notice although enclosed footbridges are actually very rare in London. It was usually more profitable to build a full-size structure, leaving a passage or even a tunnel for the street.

Before reaching the next Underground station, you walk past a shopping arcade. I don’t think it warrants special comments but I like my own picture. A big gloomy.

Shopping arcade off Villiers Street


Embankment Underground station

The station opened first for the District line in 1870. At the time, it was called Charing Cross because it enabled interchange with the nearby train terminus. The deep level platforms for the Bakerloo line were added in 1906 and this station was called “Embankment” because the Bakerloo line stops separately for Charing Cross terminal. When platforms opened for the Northern line in 1914, both existing stations switched to “Charing Cross (Embankment)” to emphasize the interchange opportunity. This turned into “Charing Cross” in 1915 and reverted to Charing Cross Embankment in 1974. The present name came about in 1976 exactly for the reasons given in 1906.

The station building is a 1915 structure built on the occasion of the opening of the Northern line platforms. It was seen at the time as a very elegant neo-Renaissance structure with columns, spiraling gable ends and baroque scrolls. There are large slabs of plain concrete as well, announcing the Imperial style popular in the 1920s.

Cross through the station concourse

Climb R up to the pedestrian walkway along Hungerford Bridge. Do not cross under the train tracks for the time being.


Golden Jubilee Bridge (downstream bridge)

The bridge you are on is often called Hungerford Bridge, but this applies officially only to the railway bridge. The pedestrian bridges on both sides are the Golden Jubilee Bridges. A simple walkway along the tracks existed before but it was necessary to reinforce the old pillars anyway and this was a good opportunity. The new footbridges are technically complex structures as the walkway is suspended to cables that are held by oblique pillars that cannot be fully integrated into the railway bridge pillars. They make for interesting pictures although it is difficult to find a lull in the considerable foot traffic. The northern bridge you are using is the busier one.

Cables of Hungerford Bridge


Charing Cross terminal complex

Looking back, you get the best view of the Charing Cross station complex. Actually, it is a large office building over the train terminal. The complex interplay of different geometric shapes (slanting, vertical or rounded) is recurrent in the work of star architect Sir Terry Farrell. You may have seen similar shapes in the MI6 complex in Vauxhall but the Charing Cross design is better integrated into the general riverside landscape. It was one of his earlier major projects, inaugurated in 1990. The style is called “post-modernist” because “modernist” means big steel and glass boxes.

View from Hungerford Bridge downstream

The view from the bridge is familiar to London residents and tourists alike. It does not give a very good view towards the landmark buildings in the City as most of them are hidden behind the bend of the river. One conspicuous detail is how low the St Paul’s Cathedral dome appears compared to the skyscrapers behind it.

On the northern bank, the view is towards the large hotels along the Strand, huge stone piles towering above the riverside trees. You see them closer on my London Bridge network walk 1.

Hotels on the Strand seen from Hungerford Bridge

On the southern bank, the view is towards the cultural institutions of the South Bank, on which I comment in detail on my Waterloo & City walk.

Royal Festival Hall from Hungerford Bridge

After the bridge, continue ahead along the train viaduct.

Just before the big roundabout, there is a short passage (Sutton Walk) crossing under the train tracks towards the main terminal


Central entrance of Waterloo Underground station

The Underground station opened for the Waterloo & City underground railway shuttle in 1898. It was then extended as true Underground lines were built: Bakerloo line in 1906, Northern line in 1926 and Jubilee line in 1999. The location of the platforms and the length of the corridors is such that you could argue for three separate stations: the Northern and Bakerloo lines are located at the western end of the train terminal, the Waterloo & City platform in the middle and the Jubilee line at the eastern end.

There is no separate building for the Underground stations as there was enough room in the arches below the train terminus access road. As a result, what you see from the road is just a porch. By chance, the iron girders bearing the structure are painting red and this fits more or less with the Leslie Green colour scheme.

From the most ornate corner of the train terminal with the grand staircase, come back a short way to York Road and cross York Road using the footbridge

L along York Road

R Chicheley Street walking towards the London Eye

Shell headquarters and Jubilee Gardens

The road skirts a green space, Jubilee Gardens. It was landscaped when buildings used in a 1951 exhibition were demolished. There is not much to see except grass and a few larger trees transplanted here in 2012. It is actually not advisable to develop the park much because it is extremely heavily used in summer by tourists relaxing and snacking before or after their London Eye experience. From the gardens, you have a good overview of the massive concrete tower built in 1962 as headquarters for Shell.

The building was heavily criticised at the time but not for the reason you might think. Few people objected against the massive cubic shape or the height. They did not like that the building was clad in stone rather than in sleek, modern glass. Shell used a number of buildings around the tower but relocated many employees and developed the vacated area into a typical shopping centre-luxury flats complex.

London Eye

Walk to the riverside, coming close to the London Eye. It is nothing else than what our grandparents would have called a Ferris wheel, named after Mr Ferris who installed the first one in the USA in 1893. It was the largest Ferris wheel in the world when it opened in 2000. Wheels in China and in Las Vegas are now larger, but the London one is the tallest that is held only on one side (“cantilevered”). It is the busiest attraction in the United Kingdom with more than 10,000 visitors a day on average. To some extent, it is not really interesting as many monuments are better seen from other locations and for free, but it is a must-see item for tourists and is a useful landmark as Big Ben and St Paul’s Cathedral don’t stand out as much in the landscape.

L along the Thames all the way to the second bridge (Lambeth Bridge)

Former London County Hall

Just after the London Eye, the large somewhat bombastic building on your left is the former London County Hall, built from 1911 until 1922 to house the London County Council, the body that oversaw the different London boroughs. In other urban parts of England, the council body was later merged with the individual municipalities into “unitary authorities”. In London, the central government feared that such a merger may make the unitary authority very powerful; as a result, the government scrapped the council in 1985 and devoted all powers to the individual boroughs. Where boroughs had to cooperate (on issues like public transportation or river management), they were expected to do this through special purpose bodies. This ended up being so cumbersome and complex that the council body was resurrected in a somewhat different manner only 15 years later.

Central section of County Hall building

By the way, I think this story shows an interesting concept of democracy compared to Europe: the central government can scrap or merge local authorities pretty much as it wants without consultation of the residents. I think modern voters want to be consulted on important issues. A binding referendum can have unintended consequences (voters might vote on the overall popularity of the government rather than on the issue at stake) but a consultation makes sense with transparent discussions on the consequences if the referendum result is sufficiently clear. I think Britain would have been better off considering the divisive and not very clear referendum on Brexit as consultative. This should then have started a large-scale social dialogue at regional or local level on the issues citizens were really worried about.

To give an other example, several French councils (département) rejected a merger with the upper body (région) so that the government changed the competences of both levels and merged regions while preserving councils. In Luxembourg, citizens occasionally reject mergers between neighbouring local authorities and mayors then open discussions with other local authorities in order to achieve a more acceptable merger.

Evening light on County Hall building

To go back to County Hall, it had become vacant in 1985. Because of the conspicuous location and old-fashioned layout inside, it appeared inappropriate to lease it to some commercial corporation for headquarter purposes and it ended up being converted piecemeal into a variety of uses including flats, a hotel and a number of tourist attractions. Most of those don’t last for decades and are not exactly highbrow, fitting with the normal London Eye tourist. To some extent, the use of County Hall reminds me of 19th century attractions like Alexandra Palace and Crystal Palace. A large part of the building remains unused.

Original official entrance of County Hall building

Where the architecture is concerned, the building was designed to be conspicuous and impressive. This is achieved by sheer size and huge columns. Fashion around 1910 was for an overload of heavy decoration inspired from all sorts of historical styles while fashion around 1920 had turned to blocky shapes with decoration being much less conspicuous. County Hall has the massive shape of a 1910 building but the more subdued decoration of a 1920 building.

Opposite County Hall on the other bank of the Thames, you have a good view of Whitehall, more precisely of the sprawling complex used by the Ministry of Defence. It was designed in 1915 and this explains the rather geometrical shapes. It was not actually built before the 1940s. The style had fallen completely out of fashion and was heavily criticised.

Ministry of Defence in Whitehall

The building needed to be refurbished in the 2000s and this was done in form of a public-private partnership: the works were paid by private investors and the Ministry repays the debt in form of a long-term rental contract. The advantage is that the government does not need to declare such a contract as a debt for national account purposes. The disadvantage is that the rental fee necessarily includes a sufficient interest for the investor, and this is higher than government would pay for direct debt. In this particular case, the additional cost was analysed to be reasonable considering that this ensured speedy and professional management of the refurbishment works. In other cases, particularly for easily manageable projects like schools or bridges, taxpayers often end up paying much more to the investor than would have been necessary.

Houses of Parliament in the evening

Continuing along the Thames, you soon walk under Westminster Bridge and get the postcard view of the Houses of Parliament. I comment on them on a Jubilee line walk. I think the possibly more interesting view is from further up the Thames just before Lambeth Bridge. You get a different feeling for the towers.


Houses of Parliament from Lambeth Bridge

L Lambeth Road walking along the garden of the former church

Gate of Archbishop’s Palace in Lambeth

Before reaching the church and the small green space, you cross in front of the somewhat forbidding entrance of Lambeth Palace, the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury. This is a good example of early Tudor architecture dated in the 1490s. Royal palaces usually had such defensive works at the time due to the risk of attacks during civil wars. The Archbishop needed similar works because he was at risk of attack by popular mobs complaining about excruciating church taxes.


Courtyard of Lambeth Palace

Obviously, the Palace itself cannot be visited as it is used regularly as an actual residence. There are occasional guided tours. The one time I could go inside is on occasion of an exhibition held in the library, a very large hall rebuilt in 1663 with a magnificent gothic hammerbeam roof. Such roofs were actually very old-fashioned at that time and the Archbishop will probably have wanted to rebuilt the hall in the ancient style as a reaction against the Cromwellian puritans who had destroyed the previous structure.

St Mary at Lambeth

The small church in front of the palace is St Mary at Lambeth, rebuilt in 1851. The church tower is much older as the core of it goes back to 1377. The church has been converted into a Garden Museum because the churchyard houses the monument for important 17th century horticulturalists, John Tradescant Sr and Jr. I have never been inside because pictures don’t look too exciting when you take into account the entry price.

Monuments in St Mary’s churchyard


Garden Museum

I also think it is more fun to see actual gardens interpreted in historical styles as is the case at Hampton Court, at Kensington Palace or in a very intelligent and pedagogical manner at Geffrye Museum in Hoxton. What I did in Lambeth was have a look at the museum garden in the former churchyard although I did not find it overly exciting.

Soon R Lambeth High Street

L Old Paradise Street

After passing under the train tracks L into Lambeth Walk

R Fitzalan Street

The road runs along Lambeth Walk Doorstep Green all the way to the main road

Lambeth Walk Doorstep Green

This is a sizeable neighbourhood garden. It has been landscaped carefully and the backdrop of a contemporary school building is interesting for the jumble of shapes and the use of wood paneling. I noticed how building site rubbish was cleverly spread over the garden in order to create some hummocks. I have been wondering whether this idea is also an elegant manner to deter teenagers from playing football too close to house windows.

Hummocks in Lambeth Walk Doorstep Green

At the end R Kennington Road

L Chester Way

L Kennington Lane

R Cottington Street

Local garden in Kennington

There is a very nice little park at the end of this street with an entrance porch and a pergola. It does not have a name on borough maps and may be part of the nearby estate.

Same garden off Othello Close

Ahead Othello Close

R on the main road for


Kennington Underground station

The Underground station opened in 1890 on what is now the Eastern branch of the Northern Line (Euston to Kennington via Bank). The platforms towards Charing Cross opened in 1926.

The station building is a quite unique design. At the time, the company operating the line was using a very innovative technology (it was the first deep-level electrical line) and the stations were expected to be just “different”. The red and white colour scheme was quite common for commercial buildings at the time; as opposed to later fashion in the 1900s, the decoration remains subdued, just a few details in the neo-classical style. The really striking element is the large dome with a somewhat playful, unnecessary open gallery at the top. It actually housed the lift machinery.

Posted in Tube Northern Line | Leave a comment

Northern Tube line walk 8: Brent Cross walk to Edgware

Walk 8


2 3/4 hours

The Underground line is an extension of the Northern line built in the 1920s. Hendon Central was reached in 1923 and Edgware in 1924.

Routing note: This walk connects in Brent Cross with Northern line walk 7. A small section through the core of Hendon is common with my Thameslink walk 3 so that you can switch between the two walks near Hendon parish church if you want to.


Brent Cross Underground station

The station opened together with the line extension in 1923 and was originally called plain Brent after the local river. The name was changed in 1972 on request by the shopping centre that was being built nearby and that hoped to attract more clients in this manner. There are few other occurrences of a train or Underground station being renamed after a massive shopping centre is built nearby but it does happen, e.g. with “Stone Crossing for Bluewater”.

The building is a modest pavilion hiding behind a very impressive neo-classical colonnade. The company architect, Stanley Heaps, had been the assistant of Leslie Green and his designs in central London stations are in the tradition of his mentor. He chose an other style for Brent Cross, wanting to stress the suburban character by building a portico supposedly reminiscent of a sports enclosure. I personally think the colonnade looks very urban and formal. This being said, it is a seriously nice design.

R Highfield Avenue

R Brentfield Gardens

L on a footpath parallel to Tilling Road, then R on the footbridge across the North Circular Road

Footbridge across the North Circular Road

The footbridge is a rather unusual device as it is a long concrete arch without pillars. It is held only through a series of cables hanging from the car lanes above your head. The flyover was built in order to ease access to the shopping centre from the North Circular Road. The shopping centre is not particularly big by today’s measure but was impressive when it opened in 1976. It is clearly outdated and is currently undergoing refurbishment.

At the end R towards Haley Road

Follow the road towards the roundabout

L Shirehall Lane crossing under the tracks

L into Hendon Park

Hendon Park

The park was the garden of a private mansion until the borough bought it in 1903. Most of the park is held as a typical suburban grass expanse well suited to family picnics and informal football. At the top of the park, there are a few formal flower beds and a rose garden. The latter one has a portico with a Hebraic inscription and is laid out as the “garden of remembrance”. This is a nod to the sizeable Jewish community in Hendon.

Hendon Park looking South


Formal garden in Hendon Park


Garden of remembrance in Hendon Park

Cross the length of the park towards the formal garden, exit then near the tennis courts

L Queens Road


Hendon Central Underground station

The station opened together with the line expansion in 1923 and was a temporary terminus until the line continued to Edgware in 1924.

It was considered a landmark in urban planning because it opened in the middle of the countryside and could therefore be integrated purposefully in the shopping parade of the future suburb.

Despite being fully integrated within a much larger office and commercial building, the station stands out impressively with two concrete towers breaking the brick front and drawing attention to the majestic neo-classical portico. The details are very similar to those at Brent Cross while the overall impression is much more urban.

Former film theatre in Hendon Central

The crossroads in front of the station was not developed in a unified manner as you might have expected in a completely new suburb. The two quadrants on the western side are lower and less imposing than the station quadrant and the last quadrant is broken by an oversize white tower, a typical device to draw your attention to what was originally a film theatre. The style is a bit more subdued than in the Art Déco theatres of the 1930s but there is a nice glass awning.

Turn around on Queens Road passing again along the whole upper length of Hendon Park (obviously, you can walk along the road within the park rather than on the pavement !)

Rose garden in Hendon Park

L West View (a public footpath)

After crossing Brampton Grove, continue following the sign of the cycling route for Hendon until you reach a footpath junction

L Chapel Walk

West View

West View and Chapel Walk are perfect examples of public footpaths in the suburbs. I use them whenever they are convenient as I find it less boring to walk between gardens and back fences than along rows of identical houses. Most public footpaths were originally church paths and this is obvious in Hendon: West View leads directly to the parish church. I suggest you leave West View in order to see the public buildings of Hendon.

At the end of Chapel Walk, continue around the two churches to the main road

R The Burroughs

Hendon methodist church

Walking up the hill, you first reach an interesting church building. It does not really look like a church, but this is common for Methodist places of worship. It is a particularly austere example of Art Déco style and was opened in 1936. No visible roof, no spires, nothing to distract from the simplest geometric lines.




Hendon Town Hall

Nearly opposite the church, you reach the first of a series of official buildings. Hendon Town Hall was built in 1901 in a very Edwardian manner, but the architect did not try to build over four or five storeys as was customary to stress how urban a place was. This particular building reminds somewhat of a french Loire château where the mix of bricks and stones is concerned (so-called Louis XIII style, about 1640s). The main level with the bow windows is more English and reminds a bit of Elizabethan manors. The entrance portico finally reminds of Italian early baroque portals. This eclectic mix is quite typically Edwardian.

The town hall is still in use although the Borough is called Barnet, Hendon being the more central location for meetings. You can also get married here, which I find a rather suitable place for a ceremony although it is not as spectacular inside. Margaret Thatcher must have thought so as her first speech as Prime Minister was here.

Hendon Library

The next official building is the beautiful, restrained Hendon library. It is decorated with triangles and columns reminiscent of Georgian manor houses, but they are skillfully put fully out of proportion so that the building avoids any false historicism. The borough was careful enough to keep windows with small panes of glass, which is really sensible.



Hendon Fire Station

The following building is the pretty massive Fire Station with a very Georgian balustrade-bound roof. This building dates back to 1914 and is quite utilitarian, which explains probably why you avoid Edwardian ornaments. As fire stations go, I find it rather nice from the front. From the side, it looks a bit too much like a castle, as if the firemen had to protect themselves against attacks. An aisle was added recently and has a large glass front contrasting with the older building. This is popular with architects in order to make optically clear where the historical building is and where not. This concern became more common from the 1980s on as the Charter of Venice became better known. This international agreement from 1964 gives guidelines about how to manage and maintain historical buildings for contemporary uses.

Hendon University

Finally, you pass a very large, institutional building that is now part of Middlesex University. They also have campuses in Dubai, Malta and Mauritius, which is possibly very motivating for students who wish to study abroad for a few months and will appreciate that the alternative campuses are not in Iceland or Russia. The building dates back to 1938 and I don’t find it very convincing, it is a cheap version of neo-Georgian.


Hendon Almshouses

At the top of the hill, where the road changes names and turns into Church Road, there is a low brick building with a modest entrance. These were almshouses, the niche above the door certainly holding a statue in older times. The building dates back to about 1800 although the bequeath is from 1729. There is a much nicer row of almshouses just a few steps further into Church Road; the pointed gables used both for the doors and the roof windows is a neo-gothic detail that was a novelty in the 1800s.

Nicer part of Hendon Almshouses

L Church End

Hendon parish church

The parish church at the end of the street lies in a lovely setting with a very pretty flower garden in the front part of the churchyard. From the outside, both the nave and the choir give a feeling of 16th century late Gothic architecture, but this is confusing as the church was rebuilt to a large extent in 1913. I have been unable to enter the church; if you have an opportunity, the most interesting item is the font with clearly Norman arcades. This is a remnant of the original parish church from the 12th century.

Hendon churchyard

The churchyard is particularly pleasant and has two rather imposing monuments. The one in the foreground of my picture reminds a bit of a soup turreen set the wrong way around, but I am obviously a bit unfair.


Has the vampire escaped from the vault ?


Pub near Hendon church

There is a pub with a very neat appearance just beside the church. According to the parish website, this is no surprise because the pub is actually church property and housed the vestry meetings until the mid-19th century. Church commandments are still displayed inside to inspire those meetings should they take place again. I am not keen on the large chain who now operates the pub but it does look like a village inn.

L down Greyhound Hill

17th century farm building in Hendon

One of the next houses before the road drops down Greyhound Hill is the former Church Farmbouse Museum. It has a nice little overgrown garden and a few pleasant rooms. I was saddened to read that the Borough could not afford to maintain it and closed it in 2011, selling the building later to the nearby University. It was actually the only Borough museum in London to deal in some detail with life in a country village, which was very appropriate as Hendon only became a suburb in the 1920s with the arrival of the Northern Line.

Recreated Victorian Christmas tree

You could have a look at interesting household implements – I did not know that there were special machines to make creases in bed linen. There were also some slightly terrifying and horribly heavy ironing shoes on display. Finally, I learned that you would not give presents for a religious holiday like Christmas until the 1820s (New Year was more usual). Commercial interests pushed Christmas because this enabled them to suggest going out for New Year, doubling the potential spending.

An additional attraction of the museum was the small garden at the back with an unusual mini-maze set in the lawn around a bird fountain. Surprisingly, I have not seen this delightful idea in normal borough parks although I think it would make a nice addition for children and grown-ups alike without causing high maintenance costs.

Maze in the garden of Church Farm House

Ahead Aerodrome Road passing under the motorway

Pay close attention under the motorway and follow the light green sign pointing L to the public footpath towards Colindeep Lane

Follow carefully as the footpath turns several times R then L crossing two separate sets of tracks, then quite further on a third set of tracks. The path ends just afterwards

Footpath under two train lines

As you can see on the picture (I apologise for the bad quality due to snow flurries), the subway under the tracks is not exactly the most welcoming place. It is convenient and clean though. The footpath gets better afterwards at it is nicely shaded.


Rowan Drive public footpath

R Colindeep Lane

Silk Stream in Colindale

You cross a brook twice before reaching the next station. This is the quaintly named Silk Stream, a subsidiary of the river Brent. You will be following the stream over some distance later on. As the banks of the stream were prone to flooding, they were left as neighbourhood parks on many occasions and this provides a nice route for this walk.

R Sheaveshill Avenue

At the end L along the tracks across Colindale Park

Colindale Park

This is a small neighbourhood park with no particular amenities. It is also the first riverside park you get to cross along Silk Stream.


Colindale Underground station

The station opened in 1924 on the extension of the Northern Line towards Edgware.

The original station building was similar to that at Brent Cross but it was destroyed by a German bomb in 1940. The present building is just a modest corner entrance in a very plain office building from 1962.

R Colindale Avenue

Walk across the roundabout taking the start of Grahame Park Road

Victor Way

Soon L on a footpath along the back of the library. The footpath (called Victor Way on some maps) turns slightly L and skirts a number of residential buildings as well as the back end of Cherry Close and Hazel Close. Do not worry if you are not certain about the path, there are several parallel walks across the estate all ending on the same road


Grahame Park estate

You are skirting the older part of a very large former council estate, Grahame Park. It was built in the 1970s on the site of a disused aerodrome and included about 1800 residences, most of them in low brick buildings devoid of ornamentation. You notice directly that fashion had changed since the 1960s with concrete towers and bars being avoided. You also notice that a network of dead end roads serves each building; this was also a change as fashion in the 1960s was for separate rows of garages and large raised platforms for pedestrian traffic above the car traffic. The change had come about partly because car ownership had become much more frequent including for council flat beneficiaries.

Kenley Avenue

Major reconstruction started in the 2000s and is ongoing. The borough decided to build significantly higher residences in order both to lodge many more flat applicants and also to free space for a large park in the middle of the estate, something that was missing in the original plan of the 1970s. You have a good example of the contrasting concepts if you compare Victor Way and Kenley Avenue on my pictures. The one thing I don’t like about the new concept is that very few trees were planted. Trees break boring lines of sights along roads, provide shade and harbour some modicum of wildlife. They also contribute to lowering temperature on hot summer days. Boroughs are hesitant about trees because of the dreaded leaf falls in autumn causing expensive maintenance requirements.

Refurbished part of Grahame Park estate

At the end L Lanacre Avenue

L Kenley Avenue

R Martlesham Walk (a public footpath)

My last picture of Grahame Park shows a recent development on the edge of the area. This architecture is very 2000s and is typical for suburban commercial developments trying to give a feeling of traditional house shapes while squeezing as many flats as possible on the ground available. The style has some fanciful medieval reminders. It is typical for such developments to be designed in L or S shape rather than around a courtyard. Although parents like courtyards in order to protect children from traffic, boroughs worry about illegal handlings away from the eyes of CCTV cameras.

Contemporary development on the edge of Grahame Park Estate

At the end R Booth Road

Soon L (along house number 163) on the footpath crossing under the Underground tracks

Ahead into Montrose Playing Fields, walk ahead until you reach the brook

Montrose Recreation Ground

While you walk towards the brook, you might notice a new development with luxury flats off to your left. My picture shows the previous building, a hospital specialising in vaccines. The development includes 1100 apartments.

R along the brook passing a pavilion (do not cross the brook yet)

Although the park itself is not very interesting, the waterside walk is very pleasant.

Silk Stream

When you reach the end of the park, turn L across the brook, then R again into Silk Stream Park still walking along the brook

Silk Stream Park

There is a convenient paved path across this particular park. The disadvantage is that you are a bit further from the brook hidden among trees and shrubs.

At the end of the park ahead on Barnfield Road

R Watling Avenue




Burnt Oak Underground station

The station opened in 1924 on the extension of the Northern Line towards Edgware and was originally called Burnt Oak (Watling). The name was shortened in 1950.

Although the station building was designed by the same architect as Brent Cross, the neo-classical portico is hardly to be seen and the whole impression is much closer to a typical Victorian suburban train station. This is the impression Stanley Heaps indeed intended to give.

Continue on Watling Avenue

Burnt Oak library

The area library is a rather pretty building. Blacked steel beams and lots of glass panels are very 1970s. The pyramid on the roof is a bit surprising and might fit better for a church.

Ahead and L into Watling Park, walking again along the brook


Watling Park

This is a larger park with a rose garden, small cascades and cute little footbridges. Obviously, most of the park is just trees standing in large grassy spaces, the normal design in the outer suburbs where parks are too numerous to make each of them into some formal garden. This park was open farmland in the 1920s and was kept aside by the borough while the surrounding area was being developed. The park then opened in 1931.

Silk Stream in Watling Park

Follow the riverside all the way to the park exit

L on Abbotts Road crossing the brook

very soon R Hook Walk (a public footpath along allotments)

L Deansbrook Road

By now, the Silk Stream has disappeared and is just a trace crossing open spaces.

Trace of Silk Stream in Deansbrook Road

R Deans Lane

John Keble Church in Mill Hill

The imposing church in this road is worth a short look. It is one of the very few Anglican parish churches that are not named after a Saint but after a simple cleric. It is the “John Keble parish church for Mill Hill” and it honors a leading figure of the Oxford Movement, poet and theologian. The Oxford Movement was an influential group of 19th century Anglican clerics who reacted against new-fangled protestant denominations like Methodism and felt attracted to parts of the Roman Catholic tradition. John Keble remained an Anglican priest and was very sad when a few of his good friends in the movement converted to Catholicism.

From an architecture point of view, the church completed in 1936 is a good example of Art Déco in the northern European version: uncompromising geometric shapes, a sense of verticality, brick walls without any ornamentation. The style is occasionally called “modernist style” in Britain.

School in Deans Lane

A bit further on in the same road, you walk past a contemporary school building. It is obvious that you are in the outer suburbs considering the fact that the school is all on one level and therefore takes a lot of ground. The front is mostly wood, not a traditional material in English public buildings as construction wood usually has to be imported from Scandinavia or Eastern Europe. The advantage of wood is that it weathers gracefully, requiring limited maintenance and that it insulates very efficiently. Contrary to popular belief, construction wood burns very slowly in case of a catastrophe. It additionally burns without issuing chocking fumes or oozing chemicals.

L West Way

When the road turns R, continue ahead across a small open space past the children’s playground

Crossing Deans Brook

You cross a small brook here but is not Silk Stream, it is a minor subsidiary called Deans Brook.

Ahead Brook Avenue

L Bakery Lane (a public footpath)




Edgware Underground terminal

The station opened in 1924 as the terminal of the Northern Line extension. Plans to extend the line further towards the North were thwarted by World War II and by the introduction of development restrictions in the outer suburbs (the Green Belt policy).

The station building is obviously a design by Stanley Heaps, who combined here the steep roof of Burnt Oak station with the neo-classical portico of Brent Cross station. The combination fits nicely with the idea of a suburban terminal.

Posted in Tube Northern Line | Leave a comment