MOORGATE walk to FINSBURY PARK 2 hours
This train line branches off the main Great Northern Line (terminal station King’s Cross) in Finsbury Park.
It started as a short separate train line called originally “Great Northern & City Railway”; it opened in 1904. Tunnels were built so as to accomodate normal train carriages and the idea was to offer direct services from Moorgate to the northern suburbs. But the Great Northern train company was reluctant and the trains ended at special underground platforms in Finsbury Park where clients had to climb 80 steps in a spiral staircase. These platforms are still in use (including the endless staircases), but have been converted for use by Underground Victoria and Piccadilly Line trains.
The train company was bought in 1913 by the Metropolitan Railway because the company thought of linking this short line to its main line (the present-day Metropolitan Line), but this did not happen in the end. The Metropolitan Railway was nationalised in 1933 and the new London Underground decided to rename the line “Northern City Line”. The new owner thought of linking the line with the main train line and with a branch railway going to Highgate. Work was nearly finished in 1939 but the junction was not finalised because of the war, so that nothing happened.
From 1964 on, the line ran only from Moorgate to Drayton Park because of engineering works at Finsbury Park. This situation lasted a full 12 years and the line was a minor isolated spur for all these years; it came to be called Northern Line (Highbury Branch) from 1970 on, although there was no possibility for through trains from the Northern Line. The line was then closed completely in mid-1975 for engineering works at Finsbury Park.
British Rail finally took over the line in 1976 at the end of the engineering works because there was now a possibility for through services via a new Finsbury Park junction. The line now runs services from Moorgate to Welwyn Garden City via Potters Bar and from Moorgate to Stevenage via the so-called Hertford Loop.
Routing note: Connects with routes 1 and 2 at Finsbury Park. It will also connect in Moorgate with Circle line walk 2 and Northern line walk 10, in Highbury & Islington with Victoria Underground line walk 3 and in Finsbury Park with Picadilly line walks 1 and 2 as well as with Victoria Undeground line walks 3 and 4. Finally, it connects to London Overground walk 5 at Highbury & Islington.
The tube station was opened in 1865, but the platforms used by the trains to Finsbury Park date back to 1904. Confusingly, when you are on the tube platforms and are looking for the connection to the train platforms, you will have to look carefully for small signs indicating “trains to Stevenage”. There were also “trains to Bedford” until 2009, leaving from completely different platforms and running via the Thameslink line.
A horrible accident took place in this station in 1975 when a train coming from Drayton Park was unable to brake at Moorgate station and crashed into the tunnel end. About 50 people died, partly because the carriages were old 1938 tube carriages that were much smaller than the tunnel and were able to pile one upon the other. The enquiry was unable to find out exactly what happened, but this led to new automatic brakes in all terminal stations.These brakes are the reason why trains have to slow down to 10 mph before reaching the start of the platform in terminal stations.
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. 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.
Exit the station on the West side into Moorfields.
Cross the street and look for a porch with elevators leading up to the Barbican complex.
Take the elevator and turn upstairs L on a footbridge across Fore Street Avenue. The elevated walkway turns R, crossing Fore Street on a footbridge.
There is a glass elevator at the corner of Fore Street with London Wall. This elevator was built as part of the building above you, called Moorhouse. It is a landmark building among the more recent skyscrapers in the City and it was designed by celebrated architects Foster & Partners. It was opened in 2005. As it has 19 storeys, it does not really stand out in terms of height, but it has a conspicuous rounded shape. Unfortunately, you cannot see this from where you are standing.
Follow the walkway (called St Alphage Walkway) in the direction initiated by the footbridge, walking along the road called London Wall, the road being below you on your left. At one point, you are overlooking the ruins of the former Priory of St Alphage, a hospital closed by Henry VIII in 1536. The ruins date back to the 14th century. There were also larger rests of the Priory church until 1959, but they were demolished because of the new road.
The walkway finally enters a passage through a large office building. On reaching a large and rather risqué bronze statue, turn R on Alban Highwalk. You will soon see a church below you on the left side. You can go to the church using a staircase marked “St Giles Barbican”. This was originally the parish church of St Giles without Cripplegate as it was outside the City walls. St Giles is the patron saint of cripples and beggars, an interesting choice in what is now one of the most expensive areas in Central London to live in. By the way, cripples probably have nothing to do with Cripplegate, the word comes from the old English “cruplegate”, meaning the vaulted passage linking the City wall gate with the Barbican itself, a watchtower.
The church was completely destroyed by bombs in 1940 but nonetheless listed as Grade I building in 1950 and rebuilt on plans of 1545. The church had a very distinguished congregation in the 17th century: among others, Oliver Cromwell married here in 1620 and John Milton was buried here in 1674. The church is supposedly open from 11 to 4 on weekdays and there are some interesting busts, documents and historic items you can see, but it can be difficult to visit due to a large number of events involving previous closures and rehearsals.
You now have to climb back the stairs to the highwalk. Follow the yellow line on the concrete slabs underneath a concrete building to a spectacular walkway crossing Barbican Lake over columns. The view to the lake on both sides is really interesting as the concrete line of the apartment blocks around the lakes is pleasantly broken by the many balconies. The lakes are themselves landscaped in a very original manner. The towers (42 stories) are less convincing in my opinion, but certainly offer very nice views to the flat owners !
The whole area had been destroyed by bombs during World War II and it is interesting to realise that the decision was taken to create new residential accomodation in 1957. I think there would be heavy pressure to build much more profitable offices if a similar city centre location became available nowadays. The estate was opened in 1969 and is considered one of the most impressive examples of Brutalist architecture. Brutalist architecture (from concrete being shown “brut”, without cladding), launched by star architect Le Corbusier, is one of the most influential trends after WWII.
It was seen as honest and unfussy. There was also a socially progressive concept behind it as Le Corbusier meant each unit should have a number of important social services such as kindergarten, youth clubs etc. This is also the case at the Barbican with a church, major cultural institutions, schools and gardens. It is undoubtedly one of the most successful examples of the style and is now a very sought-after residential area. This will come as a real surprise to many people as we are used to associating concrete bars and towers with crumbling, badly maintained ghettoes full of dangerous hoodies. It is unfortunately correct that many local authorities used the brutalist style as a pretence to build shoddy, cheap public housing.
Walking across the lake, you might hear some classical tunes to your right. The low building along the lake is the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, built in 1977 with limited consideration for the rules of Brutalist architecture. This is one of the best places in London to hear classical music for free and there are frequently excellent small concerts you can attend after work if you are not too fussy about acoustics and seating comfort. The school is one of the foremost such institutions in the world.
On the left of the walkway, the large building along the lake with the nice terrace is the Barbican Centre, one of the most important cultural centres in London. It was built later than the rest of the area, but in the same style. The inside layout is particularly confusing. If you explore long enough, you might find a public library, a theatre and several expensive restaurants with nice views. The centrepiece is the huge Barbican Hall, used in particular for prestigious classical concerts. Despite several attempts to improve the acoustics, music aficionados have divided opinions about it. If you don’t get lost in the building, you might also find an art gallery called The Curve. The gallery often commissions large-scale works for this space and some are decidedly quirky and enjoyable. Entrance is sometimes free, sometimes not.
There is also a seriously large and rather nice conservatory somewhere in the upper floors of the complex, but it is difficult to find and only opens two hours a week. I suppose it was meant as a winter garden for the residents of the Barbican Estate, but it would probably have become a meeting point for students and artists from downstairs and this in turn would have implied cleaning and surveillance. As a result, the conservatory is nearly only used as a commercial venue investment bankers can rent for private events.
After visiting the Barbican Centre, try to find the ticket office. This is at the north-east end on the ground floor. Exit the building here on Silk Street.
Take Silk Street northwards (not eastwards !)
(Ahead) Whitecross Street
On Thursdays and Fridays, there is a rather popular food market in this street with individual traders serving hot food from all over the world. Try to avoid lunchtime as it will be full of office workers seeking an alternative to their corporate restaurants and packaged sandwiches.
R Dufferin Street
(Ahead) passage across Bunhill Fields Burial Ground
Bunhill Fields is one of the most important cemeteries in London. From about 1680, it was the main burial ground for Nonconformists (actually any of the numerous non-Anglican denominations except for Catholics). The origin of the cemetery is a bit weird: hundreds of loads of bones were dropped here when the cemetery of St Paul’s Cathedral was emptied in order to make it available for new burials. There were so many bones that the existing swamp was raised to a hill where windmills were put up.
During the Great Plague of 1665, the City of London had victims buried here, but the ground was not consecrated and was leased to a private entrepreneur who proved much more tolerant than Anglican priests about the exact beliefs of the deceased as long as the fees were paid. The City took back the lease in 1781. No less than 120,000 people were buried here before the field was closed in 1854. The Nonconformists then held their burials in a new cemetery in Stoke Newington called Abney Park.
The cemetery is now managed officially as a public garden, but much of it is enclosed because of the fragile monuments. A considerable number of important people are buried here, such as John Bunyan, William Blake, Eleanor Coade, two close relatives of Oliver Cromwell, Daniel Defoe, Thomas Hardy, Thomas Newcomen…
Cross the main road (City Road) into the forecourt of a church called Wesley’s Chapel. 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, but should be prepared 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, but 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.
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.
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 !).
After visiting the Methodist Chapel, go back to City Road.
R City Road (northwards) to a big roundabout
The roundabout is on the Ring Road and is overwhelmed with traffic. Take one of the subways to the station.
OLD STREET station
Like at Moorgate, the train platforms were opened separately from the pre-existing platforms for the Underground. The opening was in 1904. There was originally a station building above ground, but it was demolished in 1969 when the roundabout was built.
If you take the train here, you should be aware that there are long corridors and stairs.
Leave the roundabout towards the east on
Old Great Eastern Street
You will be passing first an interesting Fire Station building. The flats above are built in standardised square blocks that make it look a bit like a Lego building. The Fire Station became involved in a nasty lawsuit in 2006 about racially motivated bullying.
Shortly afterwards, note on your left a colourful mural from 1999 showing the history of Hoxton, the area you will be crossing next. This work by Neil Irons shows i.a. an archery contest in the fields in medieval times and a cabinet-maker from the 20th century as this was a major industry in the area. One thing it does not show is that Hoxton was very popular with Catholic people in the 16th century as the Portuguese ambassador lived here – his house was one of the very few places in England where catholic worship was allowed.
You can cross into Charles Square itself through a passage just left of the mural and you will be surprised how quiet it is after the pandemonium on the ring road.
Turn R along the square then
L Pitfield Street
Note an impressive building on the right housing a library. This was built in 1897 in an eclectic style vaguely reminiscent of German Renaissance architecture. Facing the library, you can enter a small park, Aske Gardens. The main feature in the park is the tennis courts. The park is named after Mr Aske, a prominent merchant who died in 1689. He had no children and his estate was used to build a school and almshouses in Hoxton.
The large building at the back of the garden with the classical portico is part of the former Haberdasher’s Hospital, a charity managed by “The Master and Four Wardens of the Fraternity of the Art or Mystery of Haberdashers in the City of London”, a particularly venerable livery company chartered in 1448. Haberdashers is the medieval word for cloth merchants. The building was built in 1825 in the so-called “Greek Revival” style and actually hosted the company’s school for boys until 1898. It was later used by the London College of Furniture and has now been converted into luxury flats.
Where the street divides in two branches, you will find the church of St John the Baptist with a large garden. The church was built in 1826 by Francis Edwards, the foremost pupil of Sir John Soane, and was known in Victorian times for outstanding work in what was a very poor area of London. The savings bank of the parish was at a time the largest in the whole of London and the vicars were able to send many missionaries to India and Africa. The church is usually closed but you can enjoy the very pleasant garden. The spring display of daffodils is excellent.
Continuing Pitfield Street at the apse of the church, you will soon pass a playful modern building from 2008 called Opal1. This is actually the name of the company owning it, a large property developper specialised in student flats. This particular building offers a rather impressive 512 student beds (8 per flat) and is leased to the University of the Arts.
On crossing Mintern Street, enter L Shoreditch Park.
This is not a historical park, it is wasteland created by bombings during WWII. There was prefabricated housing in this spot a few years and it is a park only since 1973. Most of it is a rather bleak expanse of grass bisected by a cycle path with very ornate lamp posts. There are a few small flower beds in the more sheltered corner where you enter the park. Note the benches painted with flowers.
Cross the park to the north exit on the cycle path, leading to pedestrianised Bridport Street (there is an exit further north-west, but it is on a noisy main road).
Follow Bridport Street northwards and cross the canal. This is Regent’s Canal, crossing here through a rather less attractive part of London with large estates from the 1960s. In 1902, a philanthropist, Charles Booth, described this as “Poverty is everywhere, with a considerable admixture of the very poor and vicious”. Although parts of Hoxton have become fashionable with artists and creative professions, the area around Shoreditch Park is still one of the most crime-afflicted in the borough. A high rate of joblessness among immigrants is conspicuous if you cross the area in good weather, although it does not feel opressive or threatening.
At the crossroads just after the canal bridge, turn
L Shepperton Road
R into Rosemary Gardens
This is a neat, well-kept park. It is considered to be part of Canonbury, a much more expensive neighbourhood than Hoxton, and it does feel different. The park has winding alleys, many trees and a pleasant fountain. I did not notice flower beds.
Exit the park at the NW exit near the roundabout. Cross the roundabout and take ahead and L
L Bourne Road
R New North Road
At the main crossroads with Essex Road, detour L along Essex Road to look at the delightful facade of the former film theatre in the Art Déco Egyptian style. It is boarded up and I wonder what will become of it, but I would expect that it is listed.
ESSEX ROAD station
The only part of the station you can see from the street is the inconspicuous entrance on Canonbury Road. The station was opened in 1904, the name changed to “Canonbury & Essex Road” in 1922 and reverted to Essex Road in 1948. The station is unique as it is the only deep-level underground station in London served by suburban trains and not by London Underground. The station is also one of the relatively few stations in London that are completely closed on weekends and it remains a rather quiet station at all times.
If you take the train here, you will be surprised that there are no turnstiles and that the access to the platforms is complicated, involving a creaky lift (or a very long spiral staircase) down, long corridors and about 50 steps back up. But it can be convenient to save money when you want to go out in Islington as it is in zone 2.
Take Canonbury Road northwards
You can have a look at the small park on the left side of the road, Canonbury Park. The park has a rose bed and a few ornamental rocks but is otherwise nothing special. There is a much more interesting park extending in a thin strip on both sides away from Canonbury Road. This marks the course of the New River, a canal built in the 17th century to bring drinking water from the Hertford area to the City of London. I walked most sections on other train walks, so that I ignored it this time, but it is very enjoyable.
Continue ahead and R into
(Ahead) Compton Road
L St Paul’s Road
Follow the signs for the station as the building is not easy to notice.
HIGHBURY & ISLINGTON station
This is a major interchange station with an underground line and two train lines. There were originally two separate stations, one on each side of Holloway Road. One was an impressive building used by the North London Railway (now called London Overground). This building was demolished in the 1960s during engineering works to build the underground Victoria Line and the present station building is actually the modest, functional entrance of the Underground station.
On the other side of Holloway Road, there was a separate station used by the Great Northern & City Railway and opened in 1904. The building is now closed but still exists as it houses equipment for the Victoria Line. The style reminds me of some Underground stations because of the arches and colour, but the building is not covered in tiles.
One of the unusual features of the station is that the trains to Finsbury Park and the northbound Underground services stop on two sides of the same platform, giving one of the most convenient interchanges in the whole of London. The same arrangement is available for trains to Moorgate and southbound Victoria Line services. I think this is the only case in London of subterranean platforms shared by trains and Underground services.
Take Highbury Place, the pedestrianised street branching off Holloway Road just south of the disused train station. The street runs between a long row of georgian houses and a park. The georgian townhouses were built around 1790 on land leased by the local landowner, a stockbroker (showing that canny, slick traders keen on showing off their newly acquired wealth in flashy properties already existed more than two centuries ago…). This was a very desirable location from the onset and important people like the painter Walter Sickert, the methodist preacher John Wesley and the influential politician Joseph Chamberlain lived here. The town houses on Highbury Crescent (the other side of the park) are even more impressive.
The park called Highbury Fields was set up in 1869 when earlier plans for a much larger park in the area were dropped considering the potential for luscious profits from real estate development. At the bottom of the park, you can see a large war memorial devoted to soldiers who fell in the 1906 Boer War. It is considered a good example of Art Déco. There is a popular swimming pool behind the memorial. Otherwise, the park is mostly grassy slopes with tall mature trees along the edges.
Walk up Highbury Place until the corner with Baalbec Road and Highbury Crescent.
L Highbury Crescent
R Ronalds Road
R Arvon Road
You can walk along the strip of green between Arvon Road and the train cutting. This leads you directly to the station.
DRAYTON PARK station
The station building is not very impressive but there are some peculiar features. The station is very close to the Arsenal football stadium (called Emirates Stadium), but is always closed when games take place because it is too small to channel safely thousands of fans. The station must have been the most unimportant terminal in London between 1964 and 1975 when Finsbury Park station was unavailable due to engineering works.
On the west side of the station, you can see from over the wall a large area where rolling stock of this mini-line was kept. This became redundant in 1977 and a tourist railway from Wales bought the sidings. Having been abandoned for more than 20 years, it has been partly reclaimed by nature and is one of the better opportunities in London to see how pioneer plants like birch settle on a former industrial use area. Considering the excellent location (university, stadium, expensive housing), I expect it will be developped at some point.
Something interesting happens to trains in Drayton Park station. The driver has to switch between the pantograph electricity supply used towards the north and the third rail supply used in the tunnel towards the south. The trains therefore stop for up to several minutes in this station where very few travellers alight and power is often off for a few seconds in the carriages. As there are very few train lines in London using pantograph supply, Drayton Park may be the only station where this particular system switch is necessary.
Walk along Drayton Park (the name of the road) to the footbridge towards Emirates Stadium. Cross the footbridge to get a close-up view. This is certainly the best approach to get a feeling for the elegant elliptical shape of the building, although you obviously cannot peek inside. It is a landmark bulding, 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 intedded 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. Walking around the stadium, go down the wide stairs on the west side towards a large road (Hornsey Road) and turn R under the railway bridge. Just after Citizen Road, you can enter the housing estate ahead and right on a short straight paved path and aim directly for Tollington Road. You can also continue along Hornsey Road and turn R into Tollington Road.
On the opposite side of Tollington Road, you can see the modern architecture of Sobell Leisure Centre with a green space around it. This is an important building, one of the earliest “leisure supercentres”. It was developped by a charity (Aquaterra) led by generous businessman Sir Michael Sobell and was opened in 1973 by the Duke of Edinburgh. It had one of the largest halls in London and was used at a time for pop music concerts and television shows.
It is now purely a sports centre managed by the charity with the help of borough subsidies; the activities geared specifically towards young people from nearby housing estates have contributed significantly to lowering the incidence of public disturbances. The building façade is quite typical of 1960s brutalist architecture with a very flat concrete arch. It is becoming dilapidated but repairs would be very expensive and there are discussions about replacing it with a commercial development including housing, shops and a small sports centre within the complex.
Follow Tollington Road
R Stacey Street (crossing a very recent housing estate, interesting to compare with the one on Hornsey Road)
L Steve Biko Road
L Parkside Crescent
R Isledon Road. There is a small but rather pleasant green space at the corner of Parkside Crescent with this road, featuring a mini-walled garden with ornamental planting.
At the end of Isledon Road, note on the left the impressive frontage of a pentecostal church. The building was originally the Astoria Theatre, one of the largest film theatres in the world when it was opened in 1930. The outside is a rather geometric Art Déco composition where the colour panels are the only ornament while the inside was decorated in a lavish mock-spanish style. It became later on a leading venue for rock concerts; all major bands and artists played here including the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Sinatra, The Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Bob Marley…
The managing company closed the venue in 1982 because it was not willing to pay for keeping the theatre in the state demanded for listed buildings. The present owner, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, bought the building as a decaying half-ruin in 1995. Like many Pentecostal churches, this church (headquartered in Brazil) has been heavily criticised in the past for racketeering its members, money laundering, tax fraud and desecrating religious images of other faiths, or just plain charlatanism, but there are no allegations of brainwashing or inciting civic disturbances.
R Seven Sisters Road passing under the train tracks to
FINSBURY PARK station
The station opened 1861 on the main train line from London King’s Cross. It opened as “Seven Sisters Road (Holloway)” station and the name was changed in 1870 when the adjacent park was opened. There were two branch lines starting from Finsbury Park, so that the station was an important interchange very early. One branch went to Alexandra Palace via Highgate; it opened in 1867 and closed in 1954. The other branch is the branch to Moorgate you have walked along.
Finsbury Park also has connections with the Underground Piccadilly Line (southbound since 1906, northbound since 1932) and with the Victoria Line since1968.
The train station façade on the east side is strikingly modern and was redeveloped in 2007. There are conspicuous references to Arsenal football club as Finsbury Park is the station used for the stadium on match days when Drayton Park is closed because of crowd control measures.