Victoria Tube walk 3
WARREN STREET to FINSBURY PARK
The Victoria line was built by Transport for London in the 1960s in order to alleviate congestion on existing underground lines in central London and proved very successful as it is considered to be congested as well by now. There are two good reasons for this: it is the line providing the most convenient interchange at many stations as changing to other lines is step free in a number of cases. And trains run very fast because distances between stations tend to be high.
The line was not meant to provide access to suburbs that might have been underserved until then and all stations are interchanges except for one that was added later. Looking at a map, you might argue that an opportunity was missed in several cases (New Covent Garden in Nine Elms, Clissold Park area, St Ann’s Road, Walthamstow Town Hall).
Apart from the interchange issue, the main peculiarity of the line is that it is the only longer line built fully underground (only the maintenance depot is over ground). The line is called “Victoria” because it passes Victoria train terminal. Other names had been proposed and some sound rather funny (“Viking line” or “Walvic line”).
Routing note: This route connects in Warren Street with Victoria Underground line walk 2 and with Northern line walk 9. It connects in Euston, in King’s Cross St. Pancras and in Highbury & Islington with a large number of walks relating to a number of different networks. I don’t give you detailed references because I think these would not be very logical walk combinations. The route finally connects in Finsbury Park with Victoria Underground line walk 4, with Piccadilly line walks 1 and 2 and with King’s Cross / Moorgate network walks 1, 2 and 6.
Please note that there are three different walks connecting King’s Cross St Pancras with Finsbury Park (a train walk and two Underground walks). The walks follow separate routes.
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.
Cross Tottenham Court Road and take opposite the Underground station Beaumont Place. This is a hospital access road that turns R.
At the end L Grafton Way
L Gower Street
R Gower Place
Between Warren Street and Euston stations, my route passes a number of institutional buildings. I chose the most direct route because I explore the area more closely in the Northern line walk covering exactly the same section.
L Gordon Street
Ahead Euston Square / Melton Street
R Walk across the main hall of Euston train terminal
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 terminal, a gloomy concrete structure from 1968.
On the east side of the train station, cross the main road into Doric Way
L and directly R Churchway (a footpath)
L Chalton Street
R Polygon Road
There is a so-called “outdoor gym” in the road. You will probably have noticed in similar locations that the equipment is quite popular with young men of Caribbean or African origin. It is a good reminder that affluent white young men go to private gyms, often in the vicinity of their office. Less affluent white young men usually work very long hours and have no time for gyms; if they do have the time because they are in a “low work intensity household”, they are often overweight in Britain and don’t seem to listen much to what authorities say about exercising. It seems many young Blacks pay more attention to being healthy and it is therefore a good thing that there are publicly accessible gyms like this one as they would not be able to afford commercial ones. I don’t intend to sound racist, I think it is a good cultural tradition that they bother about practising sports themselves.
Ahead on a footpath and cycle way along school grounds
R Purchese Street
As there is a large estate just further north, I think the small park along the road was planned together with the estate. It was often the case that the local authorities would buy derelict housing or factories and build high density housing on part of the acreage, keeping the rest for a local park. Purchese Street Open Space, to use the correct name, has no special amenities apart from a small playground.
L Brill Place
R Midland Road
L across the lower hall of St Pancras International train terminal
Cross St Pancras Road for
KING’S 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 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.
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.
Go to the main crossroads in front of the train station complex and take Pentonville Road
The large building at the corner with the road called King’s Cross Bridge was a film theatre called the Scala. It was not built for a major chain of theatres and the owner gave it an old-fashioned, neo-classical appearance with columns along the top floor. The building has lost its neighbours and the colonnade therefore looks rather lonely in the low-rise landscape of what was actually primarily an industrial part of London. The building is now a nightclub.
L Rodney Street
The park at the start of this road is Joseph Grimaldi Park, built on the grounds of a churchyard. The corresponding church was demolished in the 1960s for real estate purposes. The unusual name of the park honors an artist: Grimaldi was the most admired entertainer in London in the 1820s, being particularly famous for his clown roles in pantomimes (this quintessentially English amusement that never caught in Europe). As far as I am aware, Mr Grimaldi was not related to the royal family of Monaco, also called Grimaldi.
It is a well kept, small park with the old churchyard wall still standing along one edge. There was also a small rose garden until a refurbishment in 2010. More recent pictures show a very contemporary combination of dry shrubbery and curving grey stone seats.
R Donegal Street
L Penton Street
Ahead Barnsbury Road
At the corner with Copenhagen Street, you will find the Young Actors Theatre. It is actually not a theatre but a drama school for young people learning the actors trade. It is organised as a stand-alone charity, which is often the case with drama schools. Only few actors attend publicly-owned university colleges because the entry requirements are too competitive for most beginners.
Just after the drama school, you reach Barnard Park. It is a rather sizeable park developed on the location of Victorian housing that had been destroyed by bombs in 1940. The park opened only in 1975 after many years of discussion about what to do with the rubbish from the bombed houses. The main attraction of the park is a football field, but there is a small section along Richmond Avenue with banks and a few flowers.
R Richmond Avenue
L Lonsdale Square
Although the area of Barnard Park was a run-down area catering to the working class from the 1870s onwards, Lonsdale Square is a completely different world. Elegant townhouses from the 1840s attracted intellectuals, are still popular with professionals and artists and are correspondingly expensive. A large house with eight rooms was offered in 2018 for more than 3 million £.
There is a lovely garden in the middle of the development with blooming borders, a few rose bushes and a memorial.
The third picture shows more clearly the houses. The brick walls, the colour combination and the row of identical façades is quite typical for late Georgian developments, but there is no neo-classical decoration and the house gables remind more of medieval towns. Gothic revival was to become very popular later on for churches but is less frequent for housing.
R Barnsbury Street, the road turns a bit L then again R
L College Cross
R Islington Park Street
L Upper Street (A1)
HIGHBURY & ISLINGTON
The underground station opened in 1968 and is served only by the Victoria line but it offers easy interchange to two suburban train lines. 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.
There were station buildings for both train lines, but one of them was demolished and the other one shelters only technical equipment nowadays. The present station entrance is a nondescript brick and corrugated iron shed.
Take Highbury Place, the pedestrianised street branching off Holloway Road just south of a 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 1899-1903 Boer War. The memorial is a typical female allegory from 1906.
There is a popular swimming pool behind the memorial. Otherwise, the park is mostly grassy slopes with tall mature trees along the edges. At the top of the hill near the church, there is one of the typical late Victorian town clocks. This one was set up in 1897 for the Queen’s Jubilee, therefore the portrait of Her Majesty on the shaft. Dark red was an extremely popular colour in the late 19th century, including for upholstery and curtains.
The parish church behind the clock tower was built in 1848 and is a good example of the neo-gothic style. It keeps particularly close to medieval examples, including the use of mullions.
Continue past the church to the following crossroads
L Leigh Road, turns R and becomes Panmure Close
At the end of the road, you get a glimpse over the houses towards Arsenal Stadium.It 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 £. When I lived in England, I was surprised to hear that football is considered the more bourgeois sports while rugby is supposed to be a working class sports, but such ticket prices confirm it.
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 stadium can also be used as a conference centre and a French President once had a summit meeting here with Prime Minister Blair.
R and directly L Avenell Road
The road leads along an estate called Aubert Court, built in the 1960s. The flats are rather affordable compared to other locations close to central London, possibly because of the nuisances after football matches. The architecture is definitely worth a look. On the back façade towards the garden, there are many half-round balconies. This is both very pleasant for residents and lively to look at. On the road front, there is no feeling of gloomy, oversize shoebox because of the many staircase towers with tall white windows. This is unusual for the 1960s and reminds much more of Art Déco.
The next development is completely different. It was built on the grounds of the former Arsenal stadium. To keep the idea of a stadium, the former stands were each converted into a glass-fronted building overlooking a central garden. The buildings are surprisingly low; this was forced on the developer by the local authorities as the outer walls of two of the stands are listed features. The glass fronts are boring and could be any office building rather than flats. This is because the buildings are meant to maximise short-term profit and to be demolished as soon as a more profitable idea is found for the location. By the way, the four stands together add to no less than 711 flats, which implies most are likely to be quite tiny.
The listed wall along Avenell Road owes its protection listing to the Art Deco architecture. It was built in 1936 at a time when architects liked to break long, tall walls with geometric features, in this case recessed boxes. As you will probably know, the gun on the club’s coat of arms is linked to the fact that the club was founded originally in 1886 by workers from the ammunition factory at Woolwich Arsenal.
L Gillespie Road
R into Gillespie Park Nature Reserve. Beware that the entrance is a very inconspicuous arch just before house number 106
Cross the park keeping parallel to Gillespie Road
The first section of the park is a small neighbourhood park until you reach a pond that marks the start of the Nature Reserve. The few trees along the pond bear the grand name of the “Lakeside Copse”. After passing the lake, you reach a rather interesting wrought iron gate looking a little like intertwined silvery twigs. This is the “knotted gate”.
Colourful tiles showing beetles and other creepy-crawlies have been inset in the concrete path as this leads to the local Ecology Centre. I have never looked inside the building but I did notice the rather unusual plants that grow in the garden. They are specifically meant to be attractive to wildlife such as bees.
Walk up the embankment towards the train tracks, then R along the train tracks through the nature reserve. The reserve later turns into a very thin strip of greenery along the train embankment, but it is a valuable natural space because the grass grew naturally to a sort of small wilderness and now attracts many insects.
This area is sometimes closed off, particularly when there are football matches at the nearby stadium. If this is the case, you have to go back to Gillespie Road and take St. Thomas’s Road parallel to the train line.
The Underground station opened with platforms for the Piccadilly line in 1906. It was originally the northern terminal 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.