Walk 14: GOSPEL OAK walk to HARRINGAY GREEN LANES
Most of the train line opened in 1868 as an attempt by the operator of the Lea River railway to get access to Westminster rather than only to its normal terminal in the City of London. This would involve a tunnel under Mayfair and was rejected by politicians who feared inconvenience in this elegant and influential part of London. As a result, the train company ended the line at Kentish Town.
In order to hopefully attract travellers from the western suburbs, the company built a junction to Gospel Oak in 1888, but this was closed again in 1926. The problem with the Kentish Town terminal was congestion on a line much used by freight trains and British Rail switched the line terminal in 1981 again from Kentish Town to Gospel Oak. This was an inconvenient interchange and passenger traffic was low until service improved in the 2000s.
Interestingly, although the line was connected with all the main lines it crossed, there are no convenient interchange possibilities with any of those.
Trains stopped originally at additional stations. Between Gospel Oak and Upper Holloway, they stopped at Highgate Road. This station opened with the train line in 1868 and closed in 1915 due to staff shortages during World War I. Trains then stopped from 1872 onwards at Junction Road (originally called “Junction Road for Tufnell Park”) but the station closed in 1943 due to overwhelming competition from a nearby Underground station. Between Upper Holloway and Crouch Hill, trains stopped at Hornsey Road. That station opened in 1872 and closed in 1943 due to wartime cost savings. Traffic was too low to justify reopening the station after the war.
Routing note: This walk connects in Gospel Oak with Overground walks 5 and 6. It connects in Harringay Green Lanes with Overground walk 15.
The station opened in 1860 on a new train line between Camden and Willesden and was called originally “Kentish Town” although it was located rather far away from that neighbourhood. The name was changed in 1867 when the present Kentish Town West station opened with more believable credentials to the name Kentish Town. The name Gospel Oak comes from an oak tree marking the boundary between two parishes and being popular with open-air preachers. The tree disappeared already around 1800 but the name remained.The new line towards Tottenham was opened in 1888, but there was no actual junction because competitors prevented this out of fear that freight traffic might use the new route to their detriment. As a result, passengers had to change trains. The line from Tottenham was closed in 1926 because trains from Tottenham were routed directly to Euston terminal. This arrangement was changed again in 1981 due to congestion problems with the line from Tottenham starting again from Gospel Oak.
There is no real station building at street level, my picture showing rather the pillar of the railway viaduct. Architects cleverly set a large glass window into the brick pillar in order to give more light inside. The actual station building is a modest shed on the platform.
Exit the station and turn L passing under the railway line. You are on Gordon House Road
The area suffered significant bomb damage in 1940 due to the vicinity of important railway installations. Reconstruction after the war was driven primarily by cost and the street landscape is indeed not very attractive. The estate on my picture was worth a short look for the staircase casings.
R Highgate Road
Highgate Studios on this road was a wallpaper factory before being converted to office space. The only reason it is called “studios” is because the marketing advisor of the corporation who owns it hopes to attract tenants from the creative industries.
L Burghley Road, turns first L then R
At the end R then L into Tufnell Park Road
L Campdale Road
You can either walk along the road or within the sports grounds along it
Tufnell Park Playing Fields is just a plain open space available for sports.
At the end R Foxham Road passing along Foxham Gardens
The gardens are a small neighbourhood park, just a strip of greenery with a wooded hedge at the back.
At the end R Yerbury Road
Very soon L Rupert Road
Ahead into Whittington Park, cross the park to the main road at the other end
This park is the main neighbourhood park with the usual amenities in terms of playground and sports. I did not notice flower beds, sculptures or other attractions, although some websites mention a topiary cat at the entrance.
L Holloway Road (the main road) passing
The station opened in 1868 together with the train line.
As with many stations on this line, there is no actual station building, just a canopy on the platform for the vending machine. There was a ticket office in the 19th century but it has been demolished. The most interesting detail is the extremely long ramp giving access to the platforms for pushcarts and wheelchairs.
Further on along Holloway Road, you pass a rather massive Roman Catholic church. St Gabriel’s has a blind wall to the main road because of traffic noise. The side wall is broken through a set of two glass cubes crowned in a faintly medieval manner. The minimalistic design is of a type popular in the 1960s. The inside is austere, particularly the rather unattractive ceiling.
R Elthorne Road
Ahead Holland Walk, the main path across an estate
Near the middle of the estate, the walkway passes small Zoffany Park. There is also a secluded, quiet open space connected with the park at one corner. The difference between the two is that an open space has no fences while a park has fences and a few bits of playground equipment.
Continue on Holland Walk
Ahead Courtauld Road
Ahead into Elthorne Park
This is one of the nicest parks in the borough of Islington and it does have unusual features. One I found particularly lovely is the silver birch glade because the white trunks are wonderfully set off by the dark green laurel bushes. It is one of the few colour schemes in London parks that also work in winter. In the middle of the glade, there is an interesting bronze sculpture that seems inspired by the Amerindian totems of the West Coast of Canada. I get an idea of a beaver and a frog, but I may be wrong.
In addition to the birch glade, Elthorne Park has an enclosed Peace Garden set up in the 1980s when there was a strong movement against nuclear weapons and the East-West rivalry. The garden may be closed because of occurrences of vandalism and drunkenness; if open, it enables you to look at strongly geometric paths and beds with rose bushes.
Exit the park at the same place and walk towards the main road
Cross the main road into Shaftesbury Road (past the conspicuous Shaftesbury Tavern)
at the end R Crouch Hill passing
The station opened in 1868 together with the train line.
As with many stations on this line, there is no actual station building, just a canopy on the platform for the vending machine. You can still see the former station building, a nice little pavilion in typically Victorian yellow bricks.
At the end of Crouch Hill road, you pass a peculiar building called the Old Dairy. The façade is delightfully ornate with baroque scrolls, neo-classical columns and lovely frescoes depicting grazing, milking, cooling and delivery of milk. Technically, the frescoes are made in an Italian technique consisting in applying first plaster and then scraping away whatever is needed to make the design appear. Above the building, two fanciful turrets add an oriental feeling.
The building dates from 1891 and belonged to a company initially incorporated in 1836, the Friern Manor Dairy Company. This was an innovative company that owned large farms in Northern London and delivered the milk daily through a network of depots like the one in Crouch Hill. It was considered very modern and industrial processes applied by them definitely did not look like those on the frescoes. This is a running tradition in the British food industry as beer, cheddar and biscuits are definitely not made in the way advertising might suggest.
Milk distribution was an important business until the 1960s because very few houses had refrigerators, so that milk had to be delivered daily before breakfast. Interestingly, there was no such tradition of delivering milk daily to households in most of Europe because milk was not part of the traditional breakfast there, any small quantity needed being readily available as powdered milk in tin cans.
L Stapleton Hall Road
On reaching an ivy-smothered subway, R up the embankment onto Parkland Walk
On reaching the walkway, you definitely feel like having escaped the big city traffic. The path uses a former railway line that ran for about 2 1/2 miles from Finsbury Park to Highgate. It was closed in 1954 because of competition from London Underground and could well have been converted into an expressway, as was often the case in the 1970s, but this could be prevented and it is now an important link within the Capital Ring network of paths around London. The path can be slightly overgrown in late summer and there might be some puddles after heavy rains, so that it even feels a little wild.
At the end of Parkland Walk L on the footbridge across train lines
You cross here the main line from London King’s Cross to Scotland and this is a good spot for trainspotters.
Ahead into Finsbury Park
Finsbury Park was originally to be named Albert Park but Parliament changed the name in 1857. The name sounds strange as the part of London called Finsbury is actually much further south (close to the City) – it is said that the initiators of the park lived in Finsbury and thought it would be nice to be remembered in this roundabout manner. The park was built on the site of Hornsey Wood, demolishing a popular inn with amusements, and this caused quite a deal of complaints in the neighbourhood.
The park was opened in 1869. It soon became a setting for important demonstrations such as pacifist rallies during the First World War. In the 1970s, the park was not well kept and became dangerous but significant improvements were done in the 1990s. It became a popular venue for open-air music events during a few years (Bob Dylan, Sex Pistols and Oasis played here).
My route remains on the perimeter road because I suggested visiting in detail on a King’s Cross network walk, but you can obviously explore if you have the time. There is a nice boating lake and a pavilion with a café in the middle of the park at the top of the hill. Other attractions for walkers include a few modest flower beds south of the lake and a number of beautiful mature trees on the slope north of the lake where my route leads.
L on the perimeter road, continue to follow the road as it goes downhill and turns right
The road passes near a canal (do not cross the canal).
To your left on both sides of the canal, there were significant attractions. The North-East corner is still a cricket ground and is not accessible to the general public. The North-West corner was called the American Garden because of the trees that were planted there. It was also the rhododendron dell for the park. It is now plain grassland and trees like most of Finsbury Park and not really worth the detour.
After leaving the canal, you will reach a marked pedestrian crossing. There is a small signpost with a black arrow on yellow ground. Turn here L on the paved path to exit the park at Green Lanes Gate
L Green Lanes (the main road)
Before going up the embankment to the station platform, you could detour a few steps ahead on Green Lanes for the gate to Railway Fields Nature Park. This is a natural reserve set up on the site of former railway sidings. It is normally protected from vandalism by being kept closed but you can have a look at the very nice wrought iron gate. I took the picture at night on purpose at it shows a fox.
HARRINGAY GREEN LANES
This station opened in 1880 under the name “Green Lanes” and changed names more often than any other station in London. It was “Harringay Park Green Lanes” in 1883 (because there were too many “Green Lanes” in London, causing confusion), “Harringay Park” in 1951 (as a shorter name), “Harringay Stadium” in 1958 (because of a popular greyhound race course nearby, the new name being meant to attract more travellers to the train line) and “Harringay East” in 1990 because the racecourse had been closed. The present name is in use since 1991.
The station is located directly above the Underground Picadilly Line on a very busy shopping road. Surprisingly, the Underground did not open a station here nor anywhere in the vicinity so that there is no convenient interchange. The reason might be that the Underground planners faced heavy criticism from the train companies for supposedly trying to lure travellers away from them, so that they tried to avoid conflicts whenever possible.
As with many stations on this line, there is no actual station building, just a canopy on the platform for the vending machine. The original ticket office was not demolished but is difficult to identify nowadays because it was transformed into a normal commercial outlet.