PICCADILLY walk to FINSBURY PARK
2 3/4 hours
This part of the Piccadilly line was planned as a stand-alone Underground line linking a train line north of King’s Cross with a central London terminus on the Strand. The train operator hoped to alleviate congestion on its suburban trains and in the King’s Cross terminus. The line would have been identical with the present route between Holborn and Finsbury Park. In the end, financial difficulties led to a combination with an other company and a connecting tunnel was built between Holborn and Piccadilly. The line opened in 1906. It included a short shuttle service between Holborn and Strand that opened in 1907 and finally closed in 1994.
Between 1906 and 1932, trains called at an additional station called York Road between Kings Cross St. Pancras and Caledonian Road. The station served an industrial area but factories closed during the Great Depression and the station became little used. Because of recent large housing developments nearby, there has been some talk of reopening it, but this appears unlikely as the Piccadilly line is congested enough as it is.
Routing note: This walk connects in Piccadilly, Leicester Square, Holborn, King’s Cross St Pancras and Finsbury Park with numerous other walks. The most convenient connections would be with Bakerloo line walk 1 in Piccadilly, with Piccadilly line walk 2 in Finsbury Park or with Victoria Underground line walk 4 also in Finsbury Park.
The time estimate does not include visits of the London Transport Museum and of the Freemasons’ Hall. Each of them may take you an additional hour. You will also have good shopping opportunities towards the beginning and may also want to relax in Covent Garden.
Both the Bakerloo line and the Piccadilly line platforms opened in 1906.
There was a station building originally but the station was so congested that it became necessary to build much larger facilities. This was impossible at surface level and all facilities are underground since 1928. The concourse is actually one of the more impressive ones on the network, together with that at Bank station. The original building was then demolished in the 1980s.
This was a traffic circus originally but the traffic has been redirected. It is an extremely busy crossroads both for cars and for pedestrians, and it can be cumbersome just trying to cross through the crowds. Not many people come specifically to this square but you often cross it to reach other locations. Tourists also need to come here once because of a wall covered in neon advertising meant to ape Times Square in New York. Fortunately, no one lives in the buildings in the vicinity as traffic and light would be serious nuisances.
The word Piccadilly comes from lace items popular around 1600 that were supplied by a shop located here. Interestingly, the French word “peccadille” means nowadays a modestly embarrassing indulgence or oversight, such as offering your aunt flowers in the wrong colour. Between 1850 and 1950, the area was very closed to notorious haunts of prostitutes, who can only qualify as “pecaddilles” if you are a conceited Victorian businessman or an energetic American soldier on holiday from the battlefield.
There is a mix of uncoordinated office and retail buildings around the circus, none of which warrants a particularly close look. What everyone usually notices is the central fountain. The winged figure on top is usually called Eros because it is a naked youth although it is actually supposed to be Anteros, the god of happy mutual love (Eros is the god of unreturned infatuation). The fountain commemorates a 19th century philanthropist, loving the citizens and loved by them… The pedestal of the small statue is massive and completely out of proportion, but makes sense considering that it was the actual middle of the roundabout originally.
Exit the station in Coventry Street
The first building on the street has an oversize Greek portico extending over a full three floors. It was built in 1896 as the luxurious Trocadero restaurant, named… after a battle in the Crimea war in the 1860s. It was turned into a maze of mass entertainment venues in the 1980s but most of them were not profitable enough and closed quickly. There is talk to convert the building into a hotel but this is doubtful as the area is extremely noisy day and night.
At the corner of Coventry Street and Oxendon Street, you reach the Prince of Wales theatre, specialising in lavish musicals. The house has a distinguished track record in this area and was already famous in the 1900s for its farces, comedies and risqué shows. The present building is a typical Art déco structure from 1937 with geometric shapes combining flat slabs of concrete with rounded shapes. There were often statues or reliefs on earlier Art déco buildings, but this had fallen out of fashion by the late 1930s.
Walk down Coventry Street
Ahead Swiss Court (pedestrianised road)
At the start of this short road, you pass a somewhat unexpected clock with a mast bearing colourful coats of arms. It seems to be a gift by the Swiss Confederation honouring the name of the street because the coats of arms are those of the federal “cantons” of the country. You need to be very knowledgeable if you are to list all 26 of them. I can tell you the mast was set up after 1979 because there were only 25 cantons before that year.
Ahead along Leicester Square
The square is well known for being a hub for entertainment and can be very crowded in the evening. There is a small green space as well, but it clearly suffers under the onslaught of revellers. The statue on my picture was taken away in 2012 along with several others. One feature many Londoners know well in the square is a booth selling discounted tickets for performances taking place the same evening. There are many competitors in the vicinity pretending to be similar outfits but the one on the square is actually managed by the association of theatres.
There are no musical or variety theatres around the square itself nowadays but there are several large film theatres trying to outdo each other with their street fronts. The Empire theatre has a front from 1928 (it is obviously more modern inside) and the style is astonishing for that period. Frilly neo-baroque scrolls in blue and gold are rather Late Victorian in style and the white columns and balustrades are Georgian. For years, the owner hid most of the façade behind billboards for the next big film, but the present arrangement seems to be holding.
The Vue theatre has a slightly more recent front from 1938. Unlike the Prince of Wales theatre you saw earlier, this building shows all hallmarks of peak Art déco including reliefs. Asexual nudes were very in fashion, but the two figures seem to race and fascination for speed and sports was also very fashionable. The central tower with a pointed end a little like a steamship splitting the waves is also very typical of the period.
Ahead Cranbourn Street passing
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. Both are typical designs for the respective companies.
The Piccadilly line access has the conspicuous appearance that architect Leslie Green developed in 1903. His design was used on three different Underground lines as they belonged to the same group of companies. It involves striking dark red terracotta tiles covering the whole ground floor. Unfortunately, the heavy workload caused a burnout and the architect died very young just after finishing the plans for all the stations. Leslie Green often included the stations as the ground floor of office buildings and most arches were let to commercial premises, as is the case here. This raised funds for Underground companies that were financially not very comfortable, construction costs being high with a very slow payback through passenger receipts.
The platforms have a flashy, abstract decoration reminding of neon lights. This is a reference to the fact that there are several film theatres in the direct vicinity where premieres are hosted.
At the end of Cranbourn Street, you might notice away to the right the conspicuous building shown on my picture. The street corner is crowned by what I assume is a luxurious penthouse with a mock Greek tempietto on top. The property was not in use when I took the picture, but the building was new and this is taken several years ago. Roof towers with mock temples of this type were a surprisingly popular device in the mid-19th century to draw attention to what was usually a theatre.
Ahead Long Acre
L Mercer Street
There are two shopping arcades with an access on Mercer Street, one left (Slingsby Place) and one right (Mercer’s Walk). You can detour into both courtyards, coming back to Mercer Street afterwards. The whole area is devoted to tasteful boutiques mixed with a few boring high street chain outlets. Overall, it feels like the right area in London to look for interesting clothes. This is somehow fitting because the original owner of the area was the Company of Mercers. The buildings themselves are not interesting as most of them were built after a notorious slum was demolished in the early 20th century.
At the end of the street, you reach a crossroads with an obelisk called Seven Dials. It had originally six dials pointing to the six original streets until local authorities pulled it down because they felt it attracted “undesirable” persons. A reconstruction was set up in 1988. I long thought that it included clocks facing each street but the designs are actually sundials. They are too high up to be read easily and I guess 18th century citizens rather looked at where the shadow of the obelisk itself pointed.
Continue in Mercer Street
Ahead St Giles Passage
Don’t miss the delightful community garden in this passage. It is one of the best managed I have seen in London. It is also quite impressive and unexpected to find this haven of green in a part of London that has at best a few formal public squares.
Walk into the churchyard to the church
St Giles in the Fields was an unusual parish church, catering to a very poor part of London. Parishes cover only small areas in London and you can imagine what this implies when you read that there were 30,000 parishioners in 1831. A good part of them lived in notorious slums and had to live from crime or prostitution. The church building dates back to 1730, when the previous building threatened to collapse because the overflowing churchyard caused problems with damp. My picture shows mainly the baroque tower because the church was closed. Pictures show a rather grand interior with lots of gold trim.
Exit the churchyard behind the church
R St Giles High Street
The set of office buildings along this road is a bit different from what you may be used to. The whole block called Central St Giles includes 15 individual buildings designed by star architect Renzo Piano who had never worked in the UK before. They were commissioned by an insurance company that unusually took the risk to spend 450 million £ without preletting the buildings. The insurer asked Piano to design a sort of landmark development and earmarked 10% above the typical London construction budget for office buildings. This paid out nicely as the development attracted very high profile tenants from the technology and media industries.
Opinions are mixed on the buildings being so conspicuous and so different from typical office buildings. In my opinion, it is a very good idea as long as there are no clashing landmarks in the direct vicinity. The colourful façade is apparently terracotta cladding although I thought it was some kind of metallic grid. Amusingly, the terracotta comes from Germany and was mounted in Poland before being stuck on the buildings.
R Shaftesbury Avenue
L Neal Street
I give you one example of the numerous shopping courtyards you can find in the area. The picture is taken on a weekday but you may want to be aware that the area is swamped on weekends with serious crowds all over the place. The second picture shows very small boutiques with elegant windows faintly reminiscent of French Art déco (stressing precious materials while German Art déco was more about function and English Art déco more about impressive street fronts and reliefs).
The station was originally planned on the branch to Strand, not on the main line, and this explains why it is so close to Leicester Square. The distance is actually the shortest between two stations on the whole network with 260 m. It opened in 1907 a few months after the line itself.
It is one of the very few Underground stations that only use lifts for platform access. There is obviously an emergency staircase but it is not in use normally as it is too long. Because Covent Garden has become such a popular area for shopping and entertainment, the station is often very congested and occasionally has to be closed temporarily for access or for exit.
The station building is one of the most impressive Leslie Green designs as it stands on a street corner. The lower arches house shops while the upper arches are only decoration, hiding the lift machinery.
Continue ahead James Street
Walk around Covent Garden Market. My description runs counterclockwise (first R, then always L)
You will probably be familiar with Covent Garden, a former produce market on the site of the short-lived Saxon town of London (the Roman town was further east, as was the medieval town). It was one of the very first planned developments on ground belonging to an aristocrat back in 1630 and was very influential in town planning. It launched the concept of an open central space with elegant houses on all sides, through traffic being rejected outside the development.
A produce market developed later on, making the area less elegant and attracting “gentlemen of pleasure” (that is, male clients looking for female prostitutes, not what you might think). The market moved out in the 1970s as a wholesale market in the middle of London was becoming very inconvenient. The halls were converted to shops and restaurants on two levels. They are somewhat touristy but there is a large variety of pretty trinkets and baubles of all kinds, so that it is quite pleasant. One of the restaurants occasionally employs young opera singers to entertain diners in the open, but you will only experience this if you are lucky with your timing.
The large open space to the west of the market hall (towards the church) was called a “piazza” by the original planner, architect Inigo Jones, because he was directly inspired by Renaissance town squares he had visited in Italy. The piazza is the only place in London where I have seen street entertainers perform in an informal manner on a regular basis. I suppose they have to be licensed.
I know there was a similar place in Paris for a long period (in front of Centre Georges Pompidou) until the police forbade it for security reasons as it was a potential easy target for terrorists. I guess police was also quite pleased about stuffing out a trade that did not pay tax and could be done by illegal immigrants. What you usually get nowadays is officially licensed street theatre organised by cities for specific festivals with artists being registered, paying taxes and social security contributions.
St Paul’s parish church was first built in 1633 although it had to be rebuilt to a large extent in 1798 following a fire. It is unclear whether the portico that makes it look like a Greek temple is a 1633 design. It has unusual details, in particular the fact that the columns have no decoration at all. This is clearly a reference to a particularly ancient type of temple (“etruscan” or “toscan”) and is partly linked to the ground owner, the Duke of Bedford, wanting to spend as little money as possible on the church as he was looking for financial return first.
I have been unable to enter the church as it is very often closed – the wardens are not keen on tourists having a snack or vagrants taking a snooze inside. There is a sizeable garden at the back but it is closed off for the same reason. I did notice a nice fountain though.
Continuing along the edge of the piazza, you walk past arcades, clearly an Italian import by Inigo Jones. In the southeastern corner, you will reach a former Victorian flower market converted into the London Transport Museum. The museum is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it shows a few amusing old carriages and it has a very interesting exhibition on design. On the other hand, it pays too much attention to the Second World War and it says very little about how and why the network developed as it did. Even if you decide not to visit the museum, you may want to have a look at the souvenir shop as it sells many items your friends and relatives overseas will love.
The last building you encounter while walking around Covent Garden Market is the Royal Opera House. The front is actually on Bow Street; what you see towards the piazza is a neo-classical set of arcades hiding the technical facilities. The opera house is from 1990 except for a neo-classical set of arcades from 1858 on Bow Street. Interestingly, opera crowds were much more boisterous in the 19th century than nowadays: every time management raised the ticket prices, there was a riot in the theatre involving for example throwing the seats at the actors or releasing pigs on the stage.
R Russell Street
You walk past the long arcade of the Royal Theatre Drury Lane, a very famous house in a listed building from 1812. It is not overly impressive as a building and owes its reputation to the fact that it has an uninterrupted, distinguished history on the same site since 1663. There is a portico on Catherine Street that was famous for being a place where teenagers earned a few pence selling oranges. This detail reminded me of Eliza Doolittle in the play “My fair Lady”.
L Drury Lane
R Great Queen Street
You cannot miss the massive concrete structure of the Freemason’s Hall. A meeting place for freemasons was already installed here in 1773 but the present building is from 1933. It was meant first as a war memorial and this is reflected in the heavyset quadrangular appearance reminiscent of a cenotaph. The style was very much in fashion and is what I call “bombastic imperial” because it was the style used by star architect Lutyens for the imperial buildings in Delhi.
Inside, it is an absolutely stunning Art déco masterpiece, particularly the lighting and the glass windows. You are not allowed to visit by yourself but there are several guided visits a day. As they are free, I suggest you take advantage of one because this will also get you entrance to the very impressive main hall with its painted domed ceiling.
The premises also house a somewhat cramped museum with an incredible wealth of odd objects either used in rituals or bearing symbols linked to Freemasonry. It is well worth a visit although it gets a bit overwhelming after a time. Many people are slightly cautious about the idea of Freemasonry. In the 18th century, it was a place away from official scrutiny where ideas of the Enlightenment could be discussed freely.
In the 19th century, many members got impatient about clerical conservatism, particularly in the Roman Catholic church, leading to mutual anathema. The movement appears to keep the character of a rather exclusive private club nowadays. The lofty ideals of the founders are reflected in an extreme love for symbolic rituals but the movement should not be confused with a religious organisation as it has always welcomed people from different religions. I hear it offers excellent networking opportunities to the business and political elite in some countries.
The station opened in 1906 with platforms on the Piccadilly line. Platforms for the Central line opened in 1933. The Central line is older but had not planned any connection, being very worried of its passengers switching to other lines as this would force the line to share the ticket receipts. Such behaviour was one of many reasons why the network finally came under one single owner, the public authorities. There are very few large cities in the world where different Underground lines have different private owners, the most conspicuous case being Tokyo. To be honest, the Central line soon realised that passengers were not happy with the arrangement but funding problems and the wartime shortage of building materials meant that nothing could be done until the late 1920s.
The station was rebuilt when the connection between the two lines was finally set in place. It is integrated into an office building as usual in central London and the front is a very clean, geometrical structure. Instead of Art déco, it refers rather to the Bauhaus school, advocating very logical, simple lines and many glass panels to let healthy sunlight into buildings.
The platforms have been decorated with plastic panels showing items held at the nearby British Museum. This is partly meant as a help for tourists, although it is easy to get lost at surface level afterwards. TfL only decorated few stations in this manner, one example being Charing Cross because of the National Gallery. There are similar examples overseas, in particular in Paris, but most operators are cautious because they fear vandalism.
Continue ahead Southampton Row
L Sicilian Avenue (a pedestrian passage with an arcade)
This is quite an odd street, just cutting a corner through a block of apartments. It is a scheme from 1910 aimed at attracting educated persons who had fond memories of their travels in Italy. It is primarily a shopping arcade without a roof, which provides much more light to the apartments on either side. You cannot expect unusual boutiques in a part of London which is not a typical shopping destination and the arcade has primarily cafés and restaurants. In order to mark the street as an arcade, it has a neo-classical portico towards Southampton Row; the pillars are a bit too thin because they are just cast iron poles dressed in stone.
Ahead along Bloomsbury Square
The square was the central open space of a development from the 1660s. It was built some 30 years after Covent Garden piazza and shows a return to the time-honoured English tradition of greens among houses – English cathedrals already had such squares with lawn in the Middle Ages while European cathedrals had paved forecourts. The gardens are not very exciting, with few flowers or statues. It is an area people pass across, not an area people would stay in and enjoy. This is partly due to the fact that most houses around the square are now office buildings.
L and very soon R Bedford Place
This straight road is lined with typically stern Georgian town houses. Typical are the dark bricks used for the walls and the fact that the roof is invisible from the road, being hidden behind a cornice. This architecture appealed to the upper class in the 18th century but became the typical house of middle class professionals in the 19th century. Most terraces of this type in central London are now offices or sometimes hotels.
Enter ahead Russell Square Gardens
The square was developed by the Duke of Bedford like Covent Garden and Bloomsbury Square. This aristocratic family still owns the lucrative freehold for all three squares. Russell Square was aimed more at the upper middle class, which implies that the houses around it had an additional storey in order to generate more rental income. Most of them are now offices, in many cases linked to educational or official institutions.
The gardens are among the largest ones in central London and are managed by the borough on behalf of the owner. You see the impact this has as the gardens include a few nice flower beds around a little fountain. The gardens tend to be well patronised because they are on the direct route between Russell Square Tube station and the British Museum.
Cross the gardens and exit at the northeastern corner behind the café
On leaving the gardens, you cannot miss the bombastic building of a luxury hotel built in 1898. It is a massive pile with many late Victorian elements like the row of arcades along the first floor. It might remind you a little of the older wing of the Victoria & Albert Museum. The colour scheme is similar as well (the actual colour is called amusingly “thé-au-lait”, that is “tea with milk”). Apparently, the architect tried to copy a French 16th century palace located near Paris, but the palace had been demolished in the late 18th century and he therefore relied on prints. When the hotel was opened, it was one of the most outrageously luxurious ones in London, having for example a bathroom with every bedroom.
Look for the Underground sign on the other side of the main road and take
Ahead and R Bernard Street passing
The station opened in 1906 together with the Underground line. Like Covent Garden, it is very deep underground and platforms are normally accessed by lifts. But unlike Covent Garden, the staircase is in everyday use.
The station building is a typical Leslie Green design with some additional decoration compared to others. There are shops under the arches as usual but it is a free-standing building, possibly showing that demand for office space was not strong in the area in the 1900s. The lettering appears old-fashioned; it is actually the historical lettering because the building is listed.
L Climb a few steps into the courtyard of Brunswick Centre
This development is an interesting example of the “brutalist” style popular in the 1960s. Modern architects wanted to lay bare the material they used, concrete, and eschewed fussy coverings or frilly decoration. You can notice the receding balconies. This was rare in European brutalist buildings, partly in order to save on ground surface and insulation costs, but is replicated elsewhere in London buildings of the period. Those in Brunswick Centre include winter gardens, which was also unusual but may have been added when the centre was refurbished in the early 2000s.
The peculiar cream colour of the building was requested by the architect as an homage to Georgian tradition. He worked on this project with leading architect Leslie Martin, the guru of International Style in Britain.
The scheme did not sell well by the time it was completed and part of it ended up as social housing. This caused many problems with some residents trying to prevent the borough from opening the courtyard for shopping purposes as had been planned from the onset. Mixed-use estates were unusual until the 1980s as you may have seen at the Barbican, a brutalist estate without any shopping opportunities. By now, most people like to shop and enjoy a cup of coffee in courtyards away from the traffic, but you can imagine that some residents don’t enjoy the noise in the evening.
Exit the courtyard near the water feature through a passage R below the buildings
L Brunswick Square (the road along the gardens)
I don’t comment here on the gardens or on the Georgian house with the Foundling Museum because I cover this on Thameslink network walk 5.
Ahead Hunter Street
R Handel Street
Ahead across St George’s Gardens all the way to the northern exit
The gardens combine two former churchyards and you can indeed see a number of funeral monuments. They look like they were scattered haphazardly but they just stand where they were originally before the churchyards were closed in 1855 like in all London. A number of these churchyards were then converted into parks in the 1880s. There are no flower beds in this particular garden, but the bushes are pleasant and there are many nice mature plane trees. The feeling is surprisingly suburban if you compare with the formal squares you crossed earlier on the walk.
R Sidmouth Street
L Seaford Street
R Harrison Street
L Gray’s Inn Road
This is a very busy road with noisy traffic and few interesting buildings, but you might note the bulky one at the corner with Harrison Street. The style is a somewhat weird Art déco version of neo-classical with columns and cornices. What strikes passers-by is the baby blue paint on the many window frames and even on the barbed wire at ground floor level. There is no sign on the building, but I think it is probably a telephone exchange from the 1930s.
L Argyle Street
R Argyle Square
This is a small neighbourhood square but it does have a flower bed and a small playground with an inventive fence. It was the centrepiece of a development in the 1830s. It sold badly at first until the vicinity to the new rail terminus created demand. Unfortunately, the kind of businesses that like to settle near a terminus tend to be on the seedy side (there was many “hotels” where you could rent a room and a young woman by the hour). This did not change much until police began to raid the area on a regular basis in the 1990s.
Ahead Crestfield Street
KINGS CROSS ST. PANCRAS
The station is the second busiest on the Underground network as it combines six Underground lines and two train terminals. 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 terminus 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 terminus.
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.
My first picture shows a more modest side entrance, that located under St Pancras terminus, my second picture shows the main entrance used in the years 2000 in front of King’s Cross terminus.
R Pentonville Road (the busy main road towards the City)
very soon L Caledonian Road
R Northdown Street
L Collier Street
I noticed a typical public building from the 1990s in this street. Bright colours achieved by glazed tiles and protruding, angular shapes were quite popular. This particular building is one of a large number of schools rebuilt under a Labour government at that time following many years of Conservative government when little was invested in public facilities resulting in seriously inappropriate school and hospital buildings.
The Labour government took advantage of a financial market innovation, the PPP (for Public-Private-Partnership): a commercial investor, usually a pension fund or insurance company, builds the school according to government requirements and lends it to the appropriate public body. After 15 to 25 years, the property is fully paid and is transferred to the public body.
The advantage for the government is that it does not need to show a public debt, having only entered a long-term rental contract. The disadvantage is that construction was occasionally not good quality but mainly that the rent included a hefty profit premium for the investor. In the end, most PPPs are much more expensive than direct public investment, but are a comfortable solution if the government wants to show lower debt.
L Rodney Street
Ahead Muriel Street
L down to the canal towpath (there is a blue sign for the “Regent’s Canal Bypass West”). Follow the towpath to the next road bridge
You are walking here along a small portion of Regent’s Canal as it exits the tunnel under Islington Hill. The canal was built in the 1800s to provide a direct link between the Midlands and the Port of London bypassing the overcrowded section of the Thames through central London. The canal was very busy and attracted many industrial premises along its basins, in particular in the area you are now in. The industry disappeared after World War II, which is not necessarily a bad thing considering the pollution problems so close to central London, and canal traffic did not survive.
R up the stairs Caledonian Road
R Copenhagen Street
L Matilda Street
The green space on your right is a public garden, but it is only lawn because it is primarily an annex of nearby Barnard Park and is mainly used for informal sports.
Ahead across Thornhill Square (beware that there is no exit at the end of the garden, you need to exit R near the playground and follow the garden fence)
The square was the centrepiece of a development from the 1850s. The houses around the square are comfortable town houses with pleasant neo-classical details but are not ostentatious because the scheme was aimed at the upper middle class. The central garden was a private property of the residents with restricted access until the landowner gifted the property to the borough in 1947 in order to avoid maintenance costs. The borough does a commendable job with a number of pleasant flower beds. As this part of Islington had turned into a rather rundown suburb, the efforts were important and have contributed to attracting again middle class residents.
The church at the top of the square is the parish church of St Andrew’s Islington, built in 1854 together with the new development. It is of no particular interest, being a typical Victorian neo-gothic church as can be found in many suburbs.
R Bridgeman Road
L Hemingford Road
Ahead Roman Way
I mentioned before this part of Islington had become quite rundown in the mid-20th century. The very plain, long wall on your left for part of Roman Way hides Pentonville prison.
The station opened in 1906 together with the Underground line.
The station building is a typical Leslie Green design, a simpler version of the Russell Square building. I use the opportunity to show the tiling on the platforms. On most of the line you follow on this walk, Leslie Green also designed the platforms and the scheme was slightly different for every station in terms of colours and landmarks depicted.
Turn around and walk back in Roman Way
L Mackenzie Road
R into Paradise Park
I have found no details about the history of the park, but the estates around it seem to have been built after World War II, possibly following bomb damage and slum clearance, and I suppose the local authorities took the opportunity to keep some space for a park. My picture shows the nursery at the northeastern corner with a “vegetation wall” in the background. Vegetation on otherwise blank walls provide many advantages like a moister climate and a cooling effect in summer. For the time being, they remain a bit experimental because there are complex issues with weight, moisture, maintenance and insulation. And they don’t catch on private buildings because of construction cost.
Walk across the park to the southeastern corner near the café and the urban farm. The farm is strangely named Freightliners Farm and this reminds me more of long-distance lorries than of rabbits and carrots but there is indeed a link: at the start, the animals were housed in disused railway vans. The park is not a formal garden with flower beds and I actually found the enclosed “wild meadows” shown on my picture very artificial.
L Sheringham Road
Ahead Madras Place
The road runs along St Mary Magdalene Gardens, the former churchyard for the parish church. Like elsewhere, the burial site was closed in 1855 as mandated by law and only a few interesting memorials remained here until the park was opened in 1894. Originally, it was laid out as a park with just lawn, trees and a small rose garden. Colourful flower beds have been laid out later in the small section of the park between the church and the library. The flowers involved are nothing fancy but the borough gardeners usually find a very good combination of colours.
St Mary Magdalene church dates back to 1814 and the style is plain neo-clacissism with tall windows in plain arches as was popular at the time.
Opposite the church, you find the borough library in a weird building from 1906. I say weird because it does not fit with typical Edwardian libraries: the building has no upper floor with windows, which was unusual. There is an upper floor, but it is hidden behind a mass of ornamental stone cladding. The building is painted white while Edwardians loved combinations of stones and bricks in natural or gaily glazed colours. And there is an upper balustrade for purely ornamental reasons that would have been very fitting in the 1780s but was very unusual in the 1900s.
L Holloway Road
Further up the road, you walk past a strikingly contemporary building, part of the Metropolitan University complex. The university has a very significant following among foreign students and this caused some controversy as Government grew suspicious of the university enrolling “bogus students” who paid the fee only to gain an immigration visa. The university as such is not seen as outstanding but some departments do enjoy a good reputation.
The main reason to mention the university is the Orion Building, the structure clad in shiny metal below the main tower. It is not big, having just room for a few lecture halls and meeting rooms, but its actual objective may be to draw attention to the university as a whole and attract foreign students paying profitable tuition fees.
The building is by star architect Daniel Libeskind and is typical of his style described by a critic as “jagged edges, sharp angles and tortured geometries”. The conspicuous and easily recognisable style is a bit artificial, but it fulfills an important function in giving institutions like museums and large companies something they can stand out with and be proud of.
Just before the railway bridge and the Tube station, have a look left towards Hornsey Street. You get an opportunity to laugh at a good example of a design made to impress without any thought given to practical considerations. Look carefully at the balconies and try to imagine how you will make use of them. They are narrow passages in horseshoe shape overlooking an empty well. You will never allow children to play there, you have no room for lounge chairs or a breakfast table, and it is likely to be very droughty. Utterly ridiculous.
The station opened in 1906 together with the Underground line. Because of congestion issues, it is closed partly and temporarily when there is a big football match at the nearby stadium. An analysis was made about improving the platform access as there is only one lift but this proved too expensive for TfL. The station has a second lift shaft, but that was used for an experimental elevator that proved not to work properly.
The station building is again a typical Leslie Green design. The cryptic letters GNP & BRY on the building front refer to the original name of the operating company, the Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway.
R Hornsey Road
R up the stairs to the stadium
Walk around the stadium keeping the stands on your right-hand side. Once you reach Arsenal Museum, look for a footbridge in front of you over a train line
The stadium is a landmark building, costing 390 million £ in 2004 and being the third largest sports facilities in London with about 60,000 seats. It is also a money-making machine as season tickets to the stadium cost from 1,000 to 7,000 £. Emirates Airlines paid 100 million £ to sponsor the building for a duration of 15 years, but it has to be called Arsenal Stadium for international competitions as Emirates did not pay sponsoring fees to UEFA.
The football club had significant difficulties and very high costs to secure the ground as numerous organisations had activities here that were difficult to relocate, such as the borough recycling plant and a Royal Mail depot. The new stadium was considered so important that Her Majesty the Queen had agreed to open it (in the end, it was the Duke of Edinburgh who did it). The stadium can also be used as a conference centre and a French President once had a summit meeting here with Prime Minister Blair. This particular president is mainly remembered in the UK for having brought along a beautiful pop singer – model, Carla Bruni, whom he intended to wed shortly thereafter after ditching his plainer previous wife.
For Arsenal fans, there are many possibilities to spend money. Visiting the club museum costs 6 £, visiting the stadium costs 15 £ and listening to a retired player retell highlights costs 35 £. Tickets to matches are very hard to obtain but will often cost about 100 £.
Turning your back to the stadium, you might notice modern housing blocks on different sides. These are owned by the football club and the rents help to pay for the stadium.
Cross the tracks near the museum
L Drayton Park
R Gillespie Road passing
The station opened in 1906 in a quiet residential neighbourhood as “Gillespie Road”. The tiling on the platforms still bears this name in addition to the present name. A football stadium was built nearby in 1913 and the name of the station was changed in 1932 to “Arsenal (Highbury Hill)”. This was shortened to the present name in the 1960s. The nearby stadium is not called Arsenal any more, so that you may wonder whether a name change may happen one day. As it is, the station is the only one in Britain to bear the name of a football club and not of a stadium.
The station building was very small from the onset, corresponding to the width of two houses only. Reconstruction in the 1930s led to a new front, an extremely plain slab of concrete. This is probably due to the financial crisis at the time. As you can see on my picture, the station is very well patronised on football match days. For this reason, there is a complex arrangement inside similar to a one-way system so that exiting and entering people can use separate routes.
L Avenell Road
Ahead Ambler Road
L Plimsoll Road
R Prah Road
The road ends in front of Finsbury Park Mosque, a building impressive for having been integrated extremely well in the streetscape. The height is just fitting for the last house along the street and the minaret plays its role of a local landmark without looking pretentious or aggressive. The colours chosen, dark red and light grey, blend very well in London where many Edwardian buildings have similar contrasts. When I see such a building, I cannot understand why some excited right-wing politicians push a ban on minarets. Making a fair use of local construction guidelines is perfectly sufficient to ensure that a mosque is a nice addition to the streetscape.
Continue ahead at the end of the road and cross then the main road
The Underground station opened with platforms for the Piccadilly line in 1906. It was originally the northern terminus for the line until it was extended northwards in 1932. The Victoria line platforms opened in 1968.
The station is located beneath the train station but a separate access was built for the Underground on the western side of the train line, the normal access to rail services being on the eastern side. The Underground access is a rather simple brick building in geometrical shapes.
The Piccadilly line platforms have beautiful mosaic decoration showing elaborate neo-classical pillars and hot-air balloons. This is obviously a reference to the nearby park. The Victorian line platforms are much simpler, showing a pair of pistols because the park was also used for dueling.