Victoria Tube walk 4
FINSBURY PARK walk to TOTTENHAM HALE
2 1/2 hours
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 Finsbury Park with Victoria Underground line walk 3, with Piccadilly line walks 1 and 2 and with King’s Cross / Moorgate network walks 1, 2 and 6. It connects in Seven Sisters with Liverpool Street network walks 2 and 3. Finally, it connects in Tottenham Hale with Victoria Underground line walk 5 and with Liverpool Street network walks 6, 7, 9 and 10.
I may have been overestimating the time needed for the walk. As the following and last walk on this network is quite short, you can easily combine them. By the way, the distance between Finsbury Park and Seven Sisters is the longest fully underground section in London without an intermediary station.
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.
Exit the station through the main train station exit on the eastern side and cross the bus interchange
L along the main road (Seven Sisters Road)
R Queen’s Drive
You soon reach an unsual church, St John the Evangelist. This is the parish church for Brownswood Park. The church is usually closed if there is no service, but the main attraction is the overall impression anyway. It is a very unusual church for an Anglican parish church; when the original Victorian building needed to be rebuilt in 1958, a choice was made to go for contemporary architecture and you get a rare example of a circular parish church. It looks a little like a lighthouse, which is not a bad idea for a church.
L Gloucester Drive
I noticed a very well kept property in this street with a superb palm tree. They are not unusual in London thanks to global warming but are seldom this lush. Otherwise, the whole area is not that much fun to walk through because of the long straight roads.
At the end R Green Lane
L into the access road for the Castle Climbing Centre
The Centre is indeed built within what looks like an impressive neo-medieval castle. It was originally a pumping station linked to the nearby drinking water reservoir and was converted in 1995 to an attraction. Businessmen interested in climbing realised that there was little opportunity to train in London and the large, empty inner space of the building was easy to outfit with training walls. The castle was built in 1855 when Sir Walter Scott’s medieval Scottish romances were the height of literary fashion.
There is a small canal on your left. When you see the footbridge across it with black signs for the New River Path, cross the canal
Follow the New River Path along two reservoirs
The path is originally the inspection path for the canal and is still used for this purpose by Thames Water, so that it may be closed on occasion for a few days. It is now marked as a long-distance footpath because the canal runs for 45 km between Hertfordhisre and Islington. It was built in order to bring clean drinking water into London at a time when the only alternative was dangerously polluted Thames water or weak beer (the alcohol being supposed to kill the dangerous stuff).
Of course, Romans already had the idea of building aqueducts, but this had become very fanciful in the Middle Ages. When an engineer convinced a few investors to build the canal in 1613, it was really a visionary plan and it encountered heavy opposition. Landowners along the planned canal were particularly worried by the idea that their cattle might drown in the water, that it may overflow or that it may hamper their normal hunting habits. In the end, the king took a majority of the shares of the company and landowners had to comply.
It is very interesting to note that a large, sensible piece of infrastructure could not be built because of opposing private interests until the State forced it through – it is still the case nowadays with motorways, high-speed rail lines etc. The company now controlled by the King proved extremely profitable, possibly because it had a natural monopoly. Water supply companies continue to be extremely profitable monopolies nowadays and their profiteering causes many problems with setting up the right regulation system.
On this particular section, the New River runs alongside two reservoirs built in the 1830s. They were fed by the canal and were used as a buffer in order to supply enough water in times of higher demand. The first reservoir, the Western one, is now cut off from the canal and is only used for sailing. The water is not clean enough to be used for swimming as far as I know and people have to use the Hampstead ponds for this.
The Eastern Reservoir continues to be a drinking water reservoir fed by the canal and is therefore strictly off limits to visitors. This has the advantage of making it attractive for water birds as there are reed beds along the water. One of my pictures looks so rural that you might think of a picture by Constable. Surprising so close to central London.
The New River needed a quantity of technical equipment and this added to quite a museum of techniques over the centuries. The canal snakes about quite a bit because the engineer sensibly tried to get a constant, slow incline over the whole distance in order to ensure the natural flow of water. As the ground is not flat, this implied following carefully each gully and vale over the way. Victorians later built siphons in order to shorten the length of the canal and to make better use of the unnecessary detours. They also built control houses and bridges as the suburbs grew; there is a rather nice brick house near the Eastern Reservoir.
After the second reservoir, follow the canal as it turns sharply L
On reaching a main highway R across the canal
Ahead Seven Sisters Road (this is the busy road downhill, not the one branching off to the right)
R Vartry Road
L Richmond Road
R into Paignton Park, exit the park at the bottom of the hill using the footpath along a modern building clad in grey metal
I don’t know when the park was originally set aside. It was a rather plain open space for a very long time until it was converted into a real park with a children’s playground in 2010. It is actually quite nice because it is sloping and because it has a shady copse of mature trees.
R St Ann’s Road
L Ermine Road, the road turns R at the end and ends on a main highway
Nr 148 on the main road is a rather striking corner building with an impressive neo-gothic oriel, clearly a harbinger to high Victorian times. The ground floor is covered in striking baby blue paint. I have no doubt that it draws attention to the pub located inside, but I think the council should bother a little more about the somewhat unfortunate clash with the elegant upper floors.
L under the train bridge
Directly afterwards L between the buildings to Stonebridge Road
Follow Stonebridge Road, the road turns R
At the end of the road, you are opposite the entrance to Seven Sisters train station. You might think that it is a rather unimpressive entrance. This is due to the fact that the original station building was located on a different street further north and that this secondary platform access was converted into the main entrance because it was closer to the Underground platforms.
R Seven Sisters Road
The Underground station opened in 1968. It is located a fair bit away from the much older train station although there is a connecting corridor.
The station is entirely underground and there is no entrance building. Like most Victoria line stations, it has a tile decoration on the platform. In this case, it is a tree because “Seven Sisters” refers to seven trees.
On the corner opposite the Underground station entrance, you can see an other building in the castle style. From the shape, I can imagine that it was originally a business, possibly a garage. It is the main London base of the Christ Apostolic Church, an important Pentecostal church founded in Nigeria during World War II. I noticed the sign announcing that Miss Maria Lorena would be offering a “campaign of miracles”. I am always a bit surprised at the ability of such churches to provide miracles at specific hours announced in advance every week.
R High Road (back towards the train bridge)
There is a pleasant strip of greenery along the busy road. The road itself is strikingly straight over a very long distance from central London all the way to the Hertfordshire border. This is due to the fact that it is actually the oldest road in England, built by the Romans about 2,000 years ago. They preferred straight roads both in order to see potential dangers more in advance and because it made roads shorter.
The strip of greenery, Page Green, is the actual location of the “Seven Sisters”. This was a group of seven trees. They had to be replanted quite often in Victorian times due to pollution issues and this was always done by the seven daughters of whichever local family could be found for the purpose. The last planting abandoned the tradition, the seven trees are not standing together any more and no family of seven daughters could be found.
Cross under the train line
L Crowland Road
You are now in a more lower middle class Victorian suburb. This is due to the fact that you will soon be reaching the river Lea, which attracted a high number of factories.
Ahead into Markfield Park
The park was first opened as a so-called King George Field in 1938. The scheme was supposed to provide many working class suburbs with open spaces where young people could train sports. The idea that open air sports were important for health was quite new as a general government policy but fit with the hygienic movement of the 1930s, brought about by advancement in medicine. The park was not in an attractive location as the lower part of the ground near the river Lea was used for sewage works. You can see that it was a King George Field because of the two pillars with coats of arms at the entrance.
It is not before 2005 that the local council developed a plan for a real park, long after the sewage treatment plant had been moved to Walthamstow. The work involved primarily a rehabilitation of the industrial part along the railway embankment. It was very well made with a maze of foundation walls being left standing and being used as retaining walls for plant beds. This is officially called the Conservation Garden because the bad quality ground attracts drought-resistant plants that are unusual in other parks.
At the end of the Conservation Garden, you reach what was obviously an industrial building. It is a small museum housing the “Markfield Beam Engine”, a major piece of Victorian industrial heritage dating back to 1886. Its function was originally to pump sewage into the treatment plant but it was not powerful enough by 1905 and was only used in case of flooding risks.
Because it was not used for long, it is in very good shape and local enthusiasts repainted it in gay colours that make it very nice to look at. Opening times of the museum are extremely limited as it is run by volunteers and you will usually have to be content with peeking through the windows. If you plan your visit accordingly, though, it is worth going inside as part of the engine can be operated and is quite spectacular. There are very few beam engines still in their original location.
Walk ahead past the Beam Engine building to the river Lea
L on the towpath along the river, crossing under two train bridges
You are not actually walking along the river, rather along the Navigation arm of the river. There is a second channel further east, which is important as the river level can rise quickly after heavy rains on the clay ground of Essex and Hertfordshire. The Navigation was built as an important transportation link between the agricultural areas north of London and the consumer markets in the city. Of course, there were many disputes between canal operators and mill owners relying on sufficient flow in the natural arm of the river.
Like all canals in England, commercial traffic is now nearly nil (the occasional barge with construction materials), but the location near central London makes it very popular with boaters both for weekend trips and for residential marinas. The towpath is accessible in most places and I use it on many of my routes through this area. The river Lea area has an unusual governance; it is managed by a specific authority and financed by an additional tax on all residents of adjoining boroughs.
Strictly financial experts complain that this arrangement does not motivate the authority to lower costs and manage as efficiently as possible while public policy experts point out that this makes sure that the area is managed under due consideration of common goods like providing room for leisure activities instead of maximising profits by asking for fees and blocking access everywhere.
The further north you come, the more pleasant the waterside estates look like. This is because they are catering to commuters and not to speculators. Jobs in Canary Wharf or in the City remain easily accessible, but the location is too isolated to make quick turnover of flats realistic. Hackney is not the London borough with the best reputation in terms of peaceful, middle classe environment, but there are enough pockets offering this and the estates along the river belong to them.
After the second bridge, there are three gates giving you access to an estate on your L. Take the third gate using the footpath and ignore the first road you cross
The footpath joins the central garden of the estate. Turn now R towards the next road
L along the open space until you reach the train line
R to a staircase enabling you to cross the railway line
Cross the train line and go the traffic lights to cross the main road
The Underground station opened in 1968 and offers a very convenient interchange with the suburban train station. Because this is a station also served by all train services to Stansted Airport, Tottenham Hale is one of the Underground stations with a full set of elevators.
I have read that the station building dates back to the 1990s. The London Underground part of the complex is a plain brick box crowned by a tall tower with blue glass tiles at the top. The tower is spectacular at night because the tiles are lit from inside. This is unusual for a train station and is possibly inspired by the landmark Art Deco stations on the Underground Piccadilly line. Major works are being discussed at this interchange, so stay tuned for a different building in the future.