So is it The Archway or just plain Archway. Well, either is okay but it’s probably more deserving to just say Archway. For a generation this place has been no more than a strategic roundabout but in recent years it has seen one of the biggest transformations of its history, and by ‘it’ I am referring to Archway the place and not just the roundabout.

So is it The Archway or just plain Archway. Well, either is okay but it’s probably more deserving to just say Archway. For a generation this place has been no more than a strategic roundabout but in recent years it has seen one of the biggest transformations of its history, and by ‘it’ I am referring to Archway the place and not just the roundabou.

What is Archway now that the Council have removed the roundabout. To many it is Suicide Bridge, to others it’s the Whittington hospital on the hill. Yet for some, Archway is a parade of shops just off the roundabout and under the DHSS tower, and yet even for others Archway is midweek yoga at the Methodist Church or a couple of drinks in the Tavern.

Did you know The Archway Tavern was the location of the photograph that appeared on the cover of The Kinks’ 1971 album ‘Muswell Hillbillies’? Rhythm guitarist Ray Davies was born in Muswell Hill and lived in Highgate.

What is Archway now that the Council have removed the roundabout. To many it is Suicide Bridge, to others it’s the Whittington hospital on the hill. Yet for some, Archway is a parade of shops just off the roundabout and under the DHSS tower, and yet even for others Archway is midweek yoga at the Methodist Church or a couple of drinks in the Tavern.

Did you know The Archway Tavern was the location of the photograph that appeared on the cover of The Kinks’ 1971 album ‘Muswell Hillbillies’? Rhythm guitarist Ray Davies was born in Muswell Hill and lived in Highgate.


The homeless, beggars, Romanians, Jews and Somalians are all seen about the Archway these days having arrived in proportion to the area’s steady development over recent years. 2017 has seen massive conversion from a traffic thoroughfare into a meaningful commuter metropolis, at a cost to Transport for London of £12.8 million.

It seems like the council is hell bent on attracting City folk who can live here and get to work within thirty minutes and businesses that will generate business rates. In Junction Road you no longer see traditional butchers, grocers and bakeries but kebabs and coffee shops, a contemporary brand of Turkish outlets and fast food franchises that mirror Seven Sisters Road, Finsbury Park and Stroud Green.

New legislation permitted an internationally funded company Essential Living to buy the Archway tower and convert the office space into residential flats without any planning permission and which was aimed at 25-35 year olds. The General Permitted Development Order allows developers to change offices to dwellings without the approval of residents and local authorities.

For a generation, which may become fondly remembered as ‘the roundabout years’ or even ‘the quiet period’, the place sat snuggly between Holloway, Hornsey, Highgate and Tuffnel Park at the extreme Western end, functioning as a gyratory system for local traffic and as an intersection for freight heading in and out of London via the Northern route. In fact less than 5% is through traffic these days.

Archway roundabout 1960s. Note one way traffic down Upper Holloway

In the eyes of many there never was much purpose for Archway, it was just a roundabout and some shops that existed alongside it. True, it was quiet and peaceful but that was due to under investment of the area. To say it had no character is very far from the truth as the place has a very interesting history and with landmarks like St Joseph’s church, St Joseph’s and St Aloysius schools, the Whittington hospital, the underground station and of course the roundabout, it has always had a purpose.

Islington Council finally recognised the significance of this place some years back when referring to it internally as the ‘The Gateway’. This gateway to London ran from Archway to Highbury Corner, in other words, Holloway Road. The idea being to keep it super clean and lined with flower baskets and decent shops so that travellers may have a good impression of Islington and by the time they reach the Angel they might want to stop and shop.

The roundabout was built in 1969 in an effort to improve traffic on the A1. That same plan proposed making Highgate Hill one-way traffic northbound and Archway Road one-way southbound, which never went ahead. Within 14 years it had become the worst accident hotspot in Islington. A borough survey recorded 58 accidents between 1983 and 1985.

Calls for new landscaping fell on deaf ears until in 2010 Islington Council finally promised that the ’roundabout’ (all of a sudden overnight it had become the ‘gyratory’,) would be removed, but there was no agreement between Islington and Transport For London as to who would pay for it.

The Lord Mayor Boris Johnson said of the 2017 improvement works: “For far too long Archway has suffered from this badly designed relic of a junction. By creating an attractive open space and improving the road layout, we’re making it a much safer and more pleasant place to be for all.”

The Old Place

The Gatehouse PH at the top of Highgate Hill is the real gateway to London in the north. It’s not in Islington but it’s relevant to the story about Archway not least because Archway was once thought of as the South of Highgate and because the history of the northern routes of Highgate Hill and at Archway Road are intertwined.

Perhaps the best place to start a history discussion about this place is around the time of the famous Dick Whittington. From here on we shall refer to the real person by his proper name and title.

Sir Richard Whittington lived from c. 1350 to 1423. It was a time that bridged the 14th and 15th Centuries as times moved out of the Middle Ages after the last Crusaders returned and into the Renaissance beginning after the first plague epidemic of the early 14th Century.

During the Middle Ages the boundaries of London parishes and councils were being established and hamlets around London were evolving and villages appearing. Major roads connecting the country had been the legacy left by the Romans and paths and tracks linking neighbouring places appeared, as they inevitably do, for people and horses to get about.

During the Renaissance, London was dealing with leprosy, plague and other diseases and the logistics of moving people around. For example it was the law that the dead had to be buried outside of the City of London. Meat was provided by live herds being shepherded in and long distance trading meant that cargoes arriving at ports like London and England’s second largest city Bristol, needed to be distributed.

The needs of managing these diseases led to the foundation of many hospitals that remain in use today. There was no understanding of how disease spreads but the basics were being laid in understanding the need for seclusion, the difference between physical illness and illness of the mind, and later on, as evidenced in the balconies and open bridges at St Mary’s Hospital, it was known that fresh air and sunlight aided recovery and good health.

For the next few centuries, urban planning greatly outpaced the ability to provide roads between them so that north of Islington for example grew Finchley and Barnet yet the way to get there was by an old route through Hornsey and Muswell Hill and not over Highgate.

The Old Place

The Gatehouse PH at the top of Highgate Hill is the real gateway to London in the north. It’s not in Islington but it’s relevant to the story about Archway not least because Archway was once thought of as the South of Highgate and because the history of the northern routes of Highgate Hill and at Archway Road are intertwined.

Perhaps the best place to start a history discussion about this place is around the time of the famous Dick Whittington. From here on we shall refer to the real person by his proper name and title.

Sir Richard Whittington lived from c. 1350 to 1423. It was a time that bridged the 14th and 15th Centuries as times moved out of the Middle Ages after the last Crusaders returned and into the Renaissance beginning after the first plague epidemic of the early 14th Century.

During the Middle Ages the boundaries of London parishes and councils were being established and hamlets around London were evolving and villages appearing. Major roads connecting the country had been the legacy left by the Romans and paths and tracks linking neighbouring places appeared, as they inevitably do, for people and horses to get about.

During the Renaissance, London was dealing with leprosy, plague and other diseases and the logistics of moving people around. For example it was the law that the dead had to be buried outside of the City of London. Meat was provided by live herds being shepherded in and long distance trading meant that cargoes arriving at ports like London and England’s second largest city Bristol, needed to be distributed.

The needs of managing these diseases led to the foundation of many hospitals that remain in use today. There was no understanding of how disease spreads but the basics were being laid in understanding the need for seclusion, the difference between physical illness and illness of the mind, and later on, as evidenced in the balconies and open bridges at St Mary’s Hospital, it was known that fresh air and sunlight aided recovery and good health.

For the next few centuries, urban planning greatly outpaced the ability to provide roads between them so that north of Islington for example grew Finchley and Barnet yet the way to get there was by an old route through Hornsey and Muswell Hill and not over Highgate.


King Henry I (fourth son of William the Conqueror,) began his reign in 1100. He struggled to keep a grip on his throne and enlisted the support of the London merchants. In exchange he gave them the right to charge taxes and elect a Sheriff. At the end of that century King John (Lackland) began his rule in 1199 and for the same favour, exempted the Bishop and his tenants from paying taxes making the Bishop of London virtually King of his domain.

Back then London then was in the capital county of Middlesex which reached Potters Bar in the North and Poplar in the East. Hard to believe that the population of London was around 18,000, less than half of the population in Roman times. In fact, for most of London’s history, deaths have exceeded the birth rate.

The Church acquired much land during these uncertain times. The Crusades started after the Muslims took Jerusalem in 1076 and would last for 200 years during which time the Church’s wealth was augmented with purchases of estates, often at a fraction of their value from noblemen that were raising money for expeditions.

Without the Crusades the map of England’s landowners would have been very different. Richard de Beauvois, when Bishop of London in 1112, granted the chapel at Muswell Hill to the priory of Clerkenwell, for example. In 1123 St Bartholomew’s Priory was founded at Smithfield, at the southern tip of Islington. Today it survives as The Royal Hospital of St Bartholomew.

The Manor of Fulham had been acquired by the church in 700 CE but the first mention of a bishop living at Fulham Palace is when Bishop Robert de Sigillo was captured there in 1141 and held to ransom. Fulham Palace was one of a number of residences within reach of London. In the 17th Century it became a summer retreat and the Bishop of London moved closer to St Paul’s at The Old Deanery near Ludgate.

The Bishop of London’s residence prior to 1141 is said to have been “… in the vicinity of which they were accustomed to hunt.“. A part of Highgate being in the parish of Isendone. In the Anglo-Saxon charter of 1,000 CE it is referred to as ‘Gislandune’ and later in the Domesday Book as ‘Isendone’ which may mean ‘the lower town or fort’. This is from where ‘Islington’ derives its name. The description from the Doomsday Book is as follows:

”The Canons of St. Paul’s hold two hides in Isendone. The land is one carucate and a half, on which there is only one plough; but another might be kept half employed. There are three villanes, who hold a vir-gate of land, and there is pasture for the cattle of the town.” The ploughed land mentioned is believed to be around where Hornsey Lane is.

By the 12th Century the Bishops had established a hunting park of 1070 acres accessed from the South, from Spaniards in the West, Highgate in the East and Finchley to the North, having a gate at each extremity. There were deer, woods and a hunting lodge in the centre (Kenwood), and the bishops used it for hunting from 1200 to around the 1660s.

The Hunting Park was also referred to as Hornsey Park because Hornsey Parish extended that far and the Bishop’s residence, was referred to as Hornsey Manor. Finchley started off as an appendage of the Bishop of London’s estate and would be administered as part of Hornsey. Between the High Gate and the Finch, were hunting grounds.

The hunting grounds were made up of large woods and large heaths. It is reported that stags, boars, and even wild bulls were roaming. Travelling through it could be dangerous for pilgrims heading to St Albans and other more affluent travellers being at the mercy of bandits. This wilderness would become the haunt of infamous highway men operating across a notorious Finchley Common and venturing down to the Spaniards and even to Highgate when it became more than the place of a hermitage.

The Bishop of London’s hunting grounds – (print of Hampstead Heath c1810)


In his The history and antiquities of Highgate, Middlesex, Frederick Prickett makes an assertion that hermitages had been “… scattered over the most wild and unfrequented parts of the country, and no part could have been much more wild than this — the summit of a steep hill, miles distant from any church, and to which no road conducted.”

Little is known about the hermits of Middlesex but the best known about was at Highgate where the summit is about 350 feet above the level of the Thames and slightly higher than Hampstead Heath. All hermits seem attracted to heights. They don’t always live alone but sometimes band together in twos or as a community.

The top of Highgate was seen as the heights of London during that time when The Bishop of London was amassing a fortune and Kings were sending Crusaders to fight papal wars. If one draws a line from Euston to Hornsey Rise, anything North from this arc would be rising land and considered suburbs reaching out as far as Potters Bar.

Access to the North was hindered by the Bishop’s hunting territory and so tracks, footways, bridleways and carriageways arose to the East and West of it. Imagine the year is 1100 and you’ve arrived at the Nag’s Head where Holloway Road ended. You want to continue North but it’s just fields. Instead, you either take the north-west route up Tuffnel Park Road or the north-east route first heading down Seven Sister’s Road then turning left at Hornsey Road.

In the diagram below you can see the extent of green land remaining today that still demarks the vast area of the Bishop’s hunting park. Holloway Road, Archway Road and Highgate Hill did not exist and so even from the drawing below 1,000 years later, you can see the north-eastern route is via Finchley Road through Golders Green and the north-western route through Crouch End.

The road from St Pancras Church first reaches Camden Town where continuing along Haverstock Hill it eventually leads to Golder’s Green and the Finchley Road. Another road leads to Tuffnel Park and another is a direct route to the East through Holloway and Hornsey and continuing to Green Lanes, Tottenham.

The significance of Tottenham was that it linked up with Ermine Street, an Anglo-Saxon route that the Romans adopted and established as a major thoroughfare from London to York (174 miles as the crow flies). The Roman name of it is not known, but it would become the Old North Road and continues in use today as part of the A10.

King Harold used Ermine Street in 1066 to march his army to defeat the Vikings near York and then returned and went South where he was defeated at the Battle of Hastings. York was also an important connection as The Bishop of York was more senior than The Bishop of London, as he still is today.


Ermine Street at High Dyke – Photo 2015

Ermine Street at Harnston Heath – Photo 2009

Ermine Street photos courtesy of Richard Croft.

During the 12th Century Ermine Street became so flooded that it was impassable for up to five months in the year. So an alternative route became important as well as to connect to the suburbs, for instance to provide pilgrims with passage to St Albans. This was the route that was taken through Hornsey passing through Crouch End, Muswell Hill, Finchley, Barnet and on to St Albans and South Mimms. This was the origin of the Great North Road (A1). In the 14th Century it too suffered constant flooding that made it impassable.

So we are building up a picture of the way routes developed around the great fields and forests because there was no public way through them. Things either led left of Archway or to the right, but not directly to it. Archway did not even have a name as it was just open land with no purpose. There’s no doubting minor tracks formed between points such as between Tufnell Park and Hornsey Rise (Junction Road and St John’s Way) but as far as a main route, the triangle formed between Tufnell Park, Hornsey Rise (better known as Mount Pleasant) and Holloway (Nag’s Head) was the last to be developed.

It was however a significant route for the passage of animals coming into the city to be sold for meat. It’s known that drovers passed through Highgate Village and headed down the hill emerging at the Nag’s Head. One can imagine their satisfaction when passing through these fields, as it was illegal to graze upon the Bishop’s land.

In time Highgate and Archway would become major resting points for horses and travellers but drovers usually did not stop on account of their animals and would continue to Holloway as far as Liverpool Road where they rested before going on to Smithfield, a site where stood a livestock market since the beginning of the 10th Century. It’s this continuous use of the route that eroded the surface sufficiently to give it its name, ‘the hollow way.’

With both the Ermine and Hornsey routes North unreliable, the alternative was a continuation of Holloway Road to Highgate. This route would allow access to the park and to Finchley where the Barnet Road could be picked up or if not wanting to pay the toll at Highgate, turning into Hornsey Lane would take you to Crouch End. The Bishop of London had already provided as a business venture, a new toll in Finchley at (Park Gate) with the first recorded collection in 1321 and another toll at Spaniards allowing routes through his park.

By 1307 the road at Nag’s Head had become known as Holloway and where it started to rise from there became Upper Holloway. But it was not until c.1386 that Bishop Braybroke gifted the Highgate Hermitage a small chapel and dwelling (as most hermitages were) to hold as the earlier poor hermits had done, on account of the “deepnesse and dirtie” passageway. This is the first indication we have of the state of the area and that it was in some use by drovers of animals.

Minister and historian Thomas Fuller in his work ‘The History of the Worthies of England’ makes reference to “A nameless hermite, dwelling in the hermitage, where now the school is, on his own cost caused gravel to be digg’d in the top of Hygate Hill, where now is a fair pond of water, and therewith made a causeway from Hygate to Islington : a two-handed charity, providing water on the hill, where it was wanting, and cleanesse in the vale, which before, especially in winter, was passed with much molestation.

Another account by John Norden the cartographer gives the hermit a name: “William Lichfield, a poor infirm hermit, who caused to be made the cause way between Highgate and Islington, and the gravel was had from the top of Highgate hill, where is now a standing pond of water.

It was the hermit’s responsibility under the terms of the gift of his hermitage, that he should build and maintain the approach to Highgate. A seemingly impossible employment unless there were a community of hermits or he oversaw a local workforce. In any case, the hermits of Highgate maintained the road for about 170 years.

London sits on a massive clay deposit that’s stiff and not pliable at all like you might think. So it would have been an extremely difficult enterprise to construct a causeway on a steep hill wide enough for two carriages to pass without modern mechanical diggers. However, history credits the hermit with hewing out of the London clay a roadway and then metalling it with a layer of sand and gravel taken from Highgate. The excavated gravel created artificial ponds later known as Pond Square.

Until the hermit built the road there is no evidence of more than a walking track going over the hill and drovers using it. The toll gate was placed at the site of the current Gatehouse PH. With a gate going across from it to the old burial grounds opposite which became known as the gate on the hill, the High-Gate.

The toll collected from carts, carriages and pack-horses and it is said that not a thing got past without paying a fee. On the spot of the toll emerged a drinking establishment which is still in use today. Previous owners from the 19th Century claimed that it had been licensed since 1337, before the toll house was conceived, and Camden state that a road opened there about the year 1300.

If this early account of the Gatehouse is true then it is possible that the hermits may have had something to do with it, initially as a source of means and later to fund construction of the road, as one account we have seen so far states that the hermit funded he road himself.

Richard Cloudesley was a famous Islington resident and left £20 in his will dated 1517 to mend the road between Highgate and Ring Cross (The area around present day Holloway Road tube station). And he left an additional £20, if that should not be sufficient.

As far as is known, the hermit of Highgate was responsible for maintaining the causeway between Highgate and Islington up until the reign of Henry VIII’s and Anne Boleyn’s daughter Queen Elizabeth I whose coronation was in 1559. Sometime during the 1550s the hermit fades away and the road deteriorates. During the dissolution of the monasteries, the hermitage was closed and the land acquired in 1562 by Roger Cholmeley who build a school there known today as Highgate School.

We know that Henry VIII favoured these hunting grounds if not the hermits, because of a proclamation he issued in 1546 warning of imprisonment to anyone that interfered with the game, as follows:—

A PROCLAMATION Let no person interrupt the King’s game of partridge or pheasant. Rex majori et viccomitibus London. Vobis mandamus, &c.

Forasmuch as the King’s most Royale Majestie is much desirous of having the game of hare, partridge, pheasant, and heron, preserved in and about his manour at Westminster for his disport and pastime; that is to saye, from his said Palace toe our Ladye of Oke, toe Highgate and Hamsted Heathe, to be preserved for his owne pleasure and recreation; his Royale Highnesse doth straightway charge and commandeth all and singular of his subjects, of what estate and condition soev’ they be, not toe attempt toe hunte, or hawke, or kill anie of the said games within the precincts of Hamsted, as they tender his favour and wolvde eschewe the imprisonment of theyre bodies and further punishment, at his majestie’s will and pleasure.

During the 15th and 16th centuries, the main business of the Bishop was in providing wood. In the time of the Crusades it was the clearing of trees on the East and West of the estate that provided the space for the first exits out of the city. In 1545 timber from Finchley Wood was provided for the Tower of London and Westminster Palace.

Although from 1504 Finchley Wood was described as a Common, it never was one. The keepers of the woods had protested about wood being removed for the Tower but the Bishop tightened his grip. He forbade the felling and removal of timber and by 1645 was reserving all timber in the woods including Finchley common, when leasing out coppices and springs in Finchley and Hornsey.

The 17th to 18th Centuries of Highgate Hill

One reason we know animals were going though the Bishop’s fields and over Highgate is because of the number of butcher shops that sprang up on the approaches to the toll. Animals that would not make it into London could be butchered. And one must not rule out that it was a point of exchange, whereby a drover did not need to travel with coin and risk losing it, but could sell an animal when in Highgate that would provide the funds for board and refreshment and the continuing journey to London and back home again.

This developing drovers exchange and the comings of merchants and private travellers was the reason for the many public houses that sprang up. It’s only known for sure since records began but it makes The Swan the oldest licensed public house, recorded in 1480. In 1553 there were five licensed inns in Highgate, and a remarkable nineteen by 1826, reflecting the amount of activity and travellers.

From this period of increased activity the drovers are mentioned as stopping over at the inns instead of driving on to Liverpool Road. Presumably there were some areas where animals could be kept for a fee. But it was the animals that caused the first problems for Highgate. The sheer numbers being transported through became an issue and Regulations were issued in 1657, 1665, and 1672, requiring that animals being driven to London should not stray from the road.

The map above is of 1810 for the area of Upper Holloway. Note Highgate Hill then was the lane behind Swain’s Lane. The current Highgate Hill was called Upper Holloway. Swain’s Lane was called Swine Lane and Hornsey Road was called Devil’s Lane, sometimes Duval’s Lane after the infamous highwayman.

By the end of the eighteenth century the number of animals being brought into London was causing mayhem. The arrival of the railways brought about a revolution in the movement of animals so that by 1849 almost one million of the animals sold at Smithfield came to London by rail.

A second issue was with clean water. The flask is recorded in 1663 as selling flasks to fill up with water from Hampstead Spring. However the ponds were being used to dispose of human waste which caused a serious health issue and no doubt any flasks purchased from The Flask were by the many pilgrims travelling to the spring of water at the Mus Wel as the water was said to have curative powers. However, the Flask continued to supply drinking water until 1864 when the ponds were filled in.

There was a two tier system whereby the rich could have water brought in and stored in a reservoir whereas the poor had no choice but to draw water from the ponds, and if by well then it was charged by the pail if that well was on private property.

In 1800 Robert Kilby Cox had the right to convey spring water from Barnet to Highgate. The public ponds would become polluted as you may imagine. In Crouch End water was drawn from a small common pond, which became polluted c. 1820 and was filled up in 1828. At Muswell Hill people relied on the well which closed in 1861. And in Highgate the ponds became polluted in 1857 leaving houses dependant on one parish pump and nine private pumps. As late as 1863, cottages under construction at North Hill were to rely on the parish pump.

Three hundred years earlier when the Bishop of London had provided an alternate route North through his park, 1.6 mile’s West of Crouch Hill, the height of the land in Highgate provided a more passable route in winter than Crouch End and Muswell Hill and it was said that you could not smell the stench of animals and human cesspits in the air. By opening Highgate to people and animals those urban aromas eventually followed.

The toll would develop as Frederick Prickett’s book of Highgate describes it, not as a booth and barrier type but as a brick arch with people living in it. The account explains that the arch was so low that by 1769 it had to be removed because nothing much could go under it and travellers had to be taken around it through a yard behind the Gatehouse PH. Highly inconvenient when you consider that by 1780 The Red Lion PH alone (which closed in 1900,) was receiving 80 stage-coaches a day.

Yet John H. Lloyd states of the original toll that the gate was only of sufficient width to allow one loaded pack-horse to pass through at a time. When this original gate was removed in 1769 so that the road could be widened, the path through the yard of the Gatehouse PH was not essential and had subsequently an Assembly Hall built upon it.

The tollgate finally closed in 1876 having its gates removed in 1892, but the pub remains to this day. However, Frederick Prickett maintains that it was the original toll gate at the time of the hermit William Philippe in 1364 that Highgate originally owed its name even though the toll was granted to him for only one year, and in that grant, John H. Lloyd points out that Highgate is named as a place already recognised.

Print courtesy: The history of Highgate by John H. Lloyd 1888 (HLSI)

Prior to the construction of Highgate Hill the whole of Highgate had been known only as a portion of Hornsey, and was for the greater part covered with the woods of Hornsey and Haringey Park and originally formed part of the Forest of Middlesex. All that is left as a reminder today of the Bishop’s history is the name given to Bishop’s Wood and The Bishop’s Avenue constructed from Bishop’s wood to East End Road c. 1887.

Until the alleviation of traffic after the construction of the Archway cutting at the start of the 19th Century, Highgate Hill was a conduit between the splendour of London and the lavishness of wealth at the Highgate Village. Despite the wear and tear it endured, Highgate Hill still presented an unexplainable allure for building upon. Roman Catholic, COE and Anglican churches setup churches and famous authors moved into the area such as Charles Dickens, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and J.B. Priestley.

When the last hermit ceased maintenance of Highgate Hill in the 1550s the state of local roads deteriorated badly. We know this because a naval commander called Sir John Hawkins who lived here in those times tells of how difficult was the ascent of the hill that he required a carriage drawn by four horses. A hundred years later the diarist Samuel Pepys informs us that Lord Brouncker (first President of the Royal Society,) found it necessary to use six horses in order to climb it.

During the 1720s/1730s highwaymen were venturing near the foot of Highgate Hill. Indeed men were employed by pubs to patrol the area against highwaymen. I’m suggesting they ventured down the hill because it had become virtually impassable and the supply of unwitting victims travelling from London had consequently dried up.

The portrayal given to us by historical accounts paints Highgate Hill as a slippery slope – post hermit era. Its status as a medical hub was well established at the bottom half and at the top Highgate Village had long emerged. But at the middle, in 1767 we learn that the demands of traffic led to widening the road on Highgate Hill to the Gatehouse.

Accordingly, we have record of a footnote dated Oct. 1767 describing the widening of Highgate Hill thus: “The greatest part of the year 1767 was spent in enlarging the Highgate road from the four-mile stone up to the gate, and moderating the sharp ascent of the hill. To widen the road the great elms on the bank, and all through the town, were cutt down; the foot causeway on either side taken down and leveled to make more room, all the highway through the town to the gate was diged up many feet deep for the sake of the gravel, which was sifted and then laid on the surface.

We see today from Hornsey Lane to Highgate Village that the hill does indeed widen, with an inclusive high bank opposite Waterlow Park. One theory for the widening is that this was the impassable part requiring of immediate attention but we know for sure that it had become a deadly route.

Thomas Cromwell (not to be mistaken for the Thomas Cromwell that lived in Islington from 1535 and famed for organising the Dissolution of the Monasteries; read more about him below in the section about St Joseph’s Retreat,) in Walks Through Islington published 1835 arrives at Highgate Hill via Hornsey Lane and begins with the following interpretation:

The dangerous acclivity which ascends from Holloway for such a considerable length, at the rate of three inches in every yard and which several mail coaches, many heavy waggons, and a vast number of carriages of every description, were necessitated to climb daily, had been the destruction of many lives, both of horses and men, and it was therefore no wonder that a variety of plans should, at different times, have been suggested to remove the evil, by changing the course of the road altogether.”

Cromwell is referring to the plans of a proposed tunnel under Highgate and of the ensuing cutting for Archway Road. He goes on to describe the beauty of the houses on the mid part of the hill as follows:

By its sides stand many large and commodious houses, several of them somewhat ancient, the desirableness of the spot as a place of residence having been not less felt by our ancestors, than by numbers of the existing generation.

Cromwell House in itself is an enigma. It was the home of Oliver Cromwell, yet it was not because there is no evidence that he lived there. The grand staircase offers some clues in its design but again there is no proof. The house was built around 1637, but the record shows that Oliver Cromwell inherited estates in Ely from his uncle and moved there in 1636 for ten years.

So if Oliver Cromwell had anything to do with Highgate then it was between 1646 and his death in 1658. However, after the Civil War of 1642 he lived at Whitehall Palace and Hampton Court Palace. There is a connection though because it was the home of his eldest daughter Bridget and her husband General Henry Ireton who married in the year of Charles I’s surrender in 1646. Henry Ireton was one of those who signed Charles I’s death warrant.

Cromwell House – At present the Ghana High Commission

Cromwell House became a boarding school for boys and in 1869 became The Convalescent Home for Children providing 40 beds for Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Arundel House is next to Cromwell House on the bank. Lord Francis Bacon the Lord Chancellor died there in 1626. Thomas the 2nd Earl of Arundel was just 24 years old when he inherited the Arundel Estate. His father had died at the Tower of London for treason and after first having his fortunes confiscated by association, the Earl had most things returned excepting some estates in 1604 by King James. His friend Francis Bacon is recorded as having visited the house on two occasions. On the last visit he died but left the Earl a letter penned by Sir Julius Caesar.

My very good Lord,– I was likely to have had the fortune of Caius Plinus the elder, who lost his life by trying an experiment or two touching about the burning of Mount Vesuvius; for I was also desirious to try an experiment itself, it succeeded excellently well ; but in the journey between London and Highgate, I was taken with such a fit of casting as I know not whether it were the Stone, or some surfeit or cold, or indeed a touch of them all three. But when I came to your Lordship’s House, I was not able to go back, and therefore was forced to take up my lodging here, where your housekeeper is very careful and diligent about me, which I assure myself your Lordship will not only pardon towards him, but think the better of him for it. For indeed your Lordship’s House was happy to me, I kiss your noble hands for the welcome which I am sure you give me to it. I know how unfit it is for me to write with any other hand than mine own, but by my troth my fingers are so disjointed with sickness that I cannot steadily hold a pen.

Dick Whittington

The man who became Mayor of London four times (1397, 1398, 1406 and 1419) across the turn of the 15th Century lends part of his fame to a humble place that grew around a hill, simply because he stood there for a moment in time. Yes it’s amazing to think that Archway today is represented by the silhouetted image of Whittington’s cat.

Legend’s appear and grow over time when there isn’t much real information available that can be treated as undisputed fact. We know a little about the real Dick Whittington and it differs starkly with the legend.

For example, the tale of Dick Whittington and his cat is about a poor orphan boy from the countryside who came to London seeking his fortune. The actual man was the son of a Lord and there is no evidence of a cat.

So the legendary and historical figures are in contrast. What do you expect, it was a long time ago. So let’s look at the real version to see if there is anything specific that ties the man to the place.

When Richard Whittington arrived in London he had come from Gloucester. His father was Sir William Whittington, Lord of the Manor of Pauntley. As traffic enters the borough under Archway Bridge, the road on the left, formerly in olden maps called The Bank, is today renamed as Pauntley Street.

Sir William died in 1358 and Richard Whittington is thought to have been born in the 1350s, so presumably this is the reason he became an orphan in the legend, because he would have been no more than 8 years old when his father died.

The next thing we learn about him is that he served an apprenticeship dealing in cloths, silks and even gold fabric which he sold to the Royal Court. London was the centre of mercer purchases of silk, and he supplied Richard II with superlative Italian silks. Other clients included the duke of Gloucester, Henry IV and Henry V.

His trade as a mercer made him his personal fortune. He had acquired so much wealth that he would lend large sums of money to the crown. Further down Holloway Road, out of Archway and Upper Holloway, but still in Islington, can be found Mercer’s Road, see the map image below.

It was after his successful career that he turned away from textiles and became more politically active. Eventually he was rewarded with the position of Lord Mayor of London. He secured that position a further three terms before his death three years after the final term in 1423.

Dick Whittington

The man who became Mayor of London four times (1397, 1398, 1406 and 1419) across the turn of the 15th Century lends part of his fame to a humble place that grew around a hill, simply because he stood there for a moment in time. Yes it’s amazing to think that Archway today is represented by the silhouetted image of Whittington’s cat.

Legend’s appear and grow over time when there isn’t much real information available that can be treated as undisputed fact. We know a little about the real Dick Whittington and it differs starkly with the legend.

For example, the tale of Dick Whittington and his cat is about a poor orphan boy from the countryside who came to London seeking his fortune. The actual man was the son of a Lord and there is no evidence of a cat.

So the legendary and historical figures are in contrast. What do you expect, it was a long time ago. So let’s look at the real version to see if there is anything specific that ties the man to the place.

When Richard Whittington arrived in London he had come from Gloucester. His father was Sir William Whittington, Lord of the Manor of Pauntley. As traffic enters the borough under Archway Bridge, the road on the left, formerly in olden maps called The Bank, is today renamed as Pauntley Street.

Sir William died in 1358 and Richard Whittington is thought to have been born in the 1350s, so presumably this is the reason he became an orphan in the legend, because he would have been no more than 8 years old when his father died.

The next thing we learn about him is that he served an apprenticeship dealing in cloths, silks and even gold fabric which he sold to the Royal Court. London was the centre of mercer purchases of silk, and he supplied Richard II with superlative Italian silks. Other clients included the duke of Gloucester, Henry IV and Henry V.

His trade as a mercer made him his personal fortune. He had acquired so much wealth that he would lend large sums of money to the crown. Further down Holloway Road, out of Archway and Upper Holloway, but still in Islington, can be found Mercer’s Road, see the map image below.

It was after his successful career that he turned away from textiles and became more politically active. Eventually he was rewarded with the position of Lord Mayor of London. He secured that position a further three terms before his death three years after the final term in 1423.

His wife Alice was the daughter of Sir Ivo Fitzwaryn of Dorset. The crescent road off Hornsey Lane and just North of Pauntley Street is named after her family. The head of that family was a baron who frequented Parliament since 1295. The family continued in parliamentary service and started out with lands in Wilton and elsewhere in Wiltshire. By 1412 the estates in Wiltshire as well as Somerset, Dorset, and Surrey are estimated to have been worth over £163 p.a. and they would yet become richer and richer.

Fitzwaryn had two daughters, with no son to bequeath his fortune and his sister Philippa was a nun at Wilton. In August 1402 he arranged for some estates in Somerset and Wiltshire to pass to his daughter Alice and her husband Richard Whittington and the rest of his estate to the other daughter Eleanor, wife of John Chideock and later wife of Ralph Bush.


The plague arrived on a trading ship from Europe in 1348 and within months the pestilence had reached London and caused devastation. Deaths from the pestilence in the City of London had to be taken outside of the City, marked by the old Roman London Wall and disposed of at designated spots termed plague pits. Originally they were buried in the grounds of churches but the pestilence lasted across three centuries and mass graves became necessary. With a lot of London churches you can see the churchyard is above street level – that is because of the number of bodies underneath.

The following year in 1403, Henry IV granted his son, the later to be duke of Bedford, those estates that Fitzwaryn held by royal grant, in particular the estates at Wilton, Barford and Powerstock. These would revert to the crown following Fitzwaryn’s death.

It transpired that Alice fell ill in 1409 and her death followed shortly after. Fitzwaryn died in 1414 and Richard Whittington was one of the executors of that will. The reversion after Fitzwaryn’s death of estates in Wiltshire and Dorset left Eleanor Chideock as sole heir of the remaining Fitzwaryn estates.

This is the backdrop to the wealth of Richard Whittington. However his father albeit a nobleman was considered a minor landowner and Richard was the younger son and so would not expect to inherit. And so he headed for London to seek his fortune.

Richard Whittington became the wealthiest merchant of his day. He was not a poor orphan from the countryside but the son of a noble from Gloucester. The legend says that he came to London because he heard that the streets were paved with gold. An unlikely fantasy to believe, especially for an educated man of means. More credible is that during his mercer apprenticeship he learned that in London the finest fabrics were woven in gold.

So the story goes that he found work helping the cook of a wealthy merchant but the cook treated him so badly that he headed back home, some accounts place the blame on the cook’s wife. He left his cat behind and headed home and on Highgate Hill he heard the church bells of Bow beckoning him to turn back. On his return he found that the cat had been sold for to an African ruler whose kingdom was overrun with rats.

The African ruler had paid handsomely and Dick Whittington invested it and became a successful merchant. And to round off this fairy tale he married the boss’s daughter and became Lord Mayor of London no less than four times – The boss being Fitzwaryn of course.

The first question is why would he be heading out of London via Highgate Hill if he was travelling to Gloucester. Putting that aside most accounts say that he stopped at the foot of Highgate Hill to rest when he heard the peal of Bow bells and others place him at the top of the hill. Of course we will never know if he was actually ever on Highgate Hill at all, but evidence is cited of a stone that marks the spot. On that spot have stood a succession of stones marking first the distance to London and later marking the spot where a leper hospital stood.

The existence of a leper hospital on Salisbury Road facing Highgate Hill has by no means been proven without doubt but it almost certainly existed according to a few written testimonies. It was this leper hospital that first endowed the area with its medical heritage. The stone that marked the spot became the stone to mark the spot where Dick Whittington stopped.

The original stone lay flat on the ground broken into two pieces. They were removed and placed as curb stones against the posts at the corner of Queens head Lane, however I have not been able to verify this. One story states that the stone was placed on Highgate Hill by Richard Whittington after he had become successful to help him get on and off his horse.

The story of a cat sold for a fortune in a far-away country is a typical folkloric narrative, examples of which can be found in other countries well before the man himself was born. In 1612 a ballad called A Crowne-Garland of Goulden Roses tells that Dick Whittington left these shores with his cat and was fortunate to land upon a far land that had a rat problem which his cat resolved and for which the King rewarded him with heaps of gold. The ballad states the he went “to a land far vnknowne, With Marchandize of worth“.

In Wikipedia I read that Dick Whittington could not have possibly heard the sound of the Bow bells from Highgate Hill, and so I added the following text:

Indeed the Bow bells could have been easily heard from the foot of Highgate Hill. At the launch of the Times Atlas of London, a sound map of London was commissioned to show how far the sound of the bells reached in 2012 compared with 1851. They concluded that in 1851 the bells would have been heard from the City of London, across Islington, Hackney, Tower Hamlets and into parts of Camden, Southwark, Newham and Waltham Forest. However Dick Whittington was there 500 years before that, when ambient noise levels were virtually zero.

The legend developed in oral circulation into many tales and the narrative first appears in print in ballad form. But perhaps the safest bet is a play that was produced in 1605 called The Pauper, and entered into the records as: “The history of Ric Whittington, of his low birth, of his great fortune as it was played by the Princes Servantes.

A similar description from another source for this play dated 16 July 1605 reads: “The virtuous life and memorable death of Sir Richard Whittington mercer sometimes Lord Mayor of the honorable City of London.“. And another description reads: “A Song of Sir Richard Whittington, who by strange fortunes, came to bee thrice Lord Maior of London, with his bountifull guifts and liberallity giuen to this honorable Citty.

An embellished prose version of the Dick Whittington story, The Famous and Remarkable History of Sir Richard Whittington, appeared in 1656. Thereafter versions appear with varying storylines for the cat and the first visual representations appear of Dick Whittington with his cat. The first recorded pantomime version was produced in 1814.


In 1191 Richard I acknowledged the right of London to self-government and the first Mayor of London was elected in the following year. This right and tradition was confirmed by later monarchs. Westminster and the City of London had separate governments and The Mayor of London was the head of Government for the City of London with a Council elected from members of the merchant guilds.

The guilds of London controlled the City through commerce. Each guild had its own hall and a coat of arms until the Guildhall (1411-40) was built to accommodate the joint representatives. It was the London merchants that would one day support Edward IV when he grabbed the throne in 1461 after which many merchants received knighthoods.

In Richard Whittington’s time, he was based at the Guildhall during his successful merchant and political career. He had no children and amassed a fortune which he asked in his will to be used for the benefit of the city. From 1388 to 1422, he made at least 59 separate loans to the Crown of sums between £4 to £2,833. In 1412 his property in London was bringing in an income of £25 a year. By all accounts he was a benevolent and generous person, having provided in his will for a college of priests called Whittington College, the Whittington’s Almshouse, a library at Greyfriars, and was built the Gate of London called Newgate, among other projects.

Old burial grounds, Highgate – opposite the Gatehouse PH

There is little evidence of the location of plague pits but they are being discovered all the time. The Museum of London discovered one in Farringdon were it’s believed 50,000 victims were buried and Crossrail excavation at Liverpool Street uncovered a plague pit of 3,000 skeletons including the remains of Sir Ambrose Nicholas, Lord Mayor of London in 1575.

Smithfield today marks the southern boundary of Islington with the City of London. In 2013, a burial pit was discovered in Charterhouse Square, Smithfield, by Crossrail. The site dated to the first wave of the plague in the fourteenth century, and 25 bodies were found in two levels with a layer of clay between them and on top presumably to contain the disease.

It is known that Islington Green was one burial place of the 17th Century. Another was at Queens Wood in Highgate where it was reported that a plague pit was found in the 19th Century. Between these two locations the Holloway Road played a large part during the pestilence years. One story some decades ago was that Manor Gardens was a plague pit site but I have yet to find anything to back this up.

Leprosy was the other pestilence that abounded up until the 16th Century and vying with the Black Death for human prey. It had been around since the beginning of time. The disease attacks the skin and ultimately the body’s nerve cells and is caused by a bacterium similar to that responsible for tuberculosis.

One hundred years after the plague arrived in London, the independently funded leper hospital of St. Anthony was built in the fields along the west side of Highgate Hill in 1473 with a wayside cross situated at its front. The cross would be replaced much later with the Whittington stone.

Of the ten leper hospitals strategically sited on the main roads out of London, six were in Middlesex, located at Enfield, Hammersmith, Highgate, Holborn, Kingsland, and Mile End. In 1549 the administration of the City’s leper hospitals of Kingsland, Hammersmith, Highgate, Knightsbridge, Mile End, and Southwark was transferred to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. And in 1553, £60 was given to the leper hospitals on condition that the inmates did not beg within three miles of the city.

The lazar-house, or hospital for lepers sat on the site of Salisbury Road at the foot of Highgate Hill and was one of the oldest institutions in the area. Salisbury Road is no longer there having made way for the housing estate and pub.

One author noted that the lazer house named St Anthony had probably been a religious establishment perhaps of the same name, “… seized upon and demolished by Henry the Eighth.” But the Bishop Thomas Tanner, in his ‘Notitia Monastica’ published 1695, states “one William Pool, yeoman of the crown, founded the hospital below on the hill in the reign of King Edward the Fourth.” In the same work he adds, “being stricken with leprosy, he built an hospital for persons afflicted with the same distemper.

Additionally Thomas Cromwell’s work published 1835 would appear to agree almost verbatim. “On the lower part of the hill, William Poole, Yeoman of the Crown in the reign of Edward IV., being himself stricken with leprosy, founded an hospital for persons afflicted with that disorder.

It would be prudent to accept Thomas Tanner’s work as fact not least because his work ‘Notitia monastica’ was an historical record of religious houses in England and Wales and an account of all the abbeys, priories, colleges and hospitals that existed prior to 1540.

His grand work begins with the statement from a very learned gentleman: It is probable that from the druids, having been converted from the Pagan religion (whereof they were the priests) became our first monks. Do we need to look much further back in time than this.

Therefore we may surmise there existed a place for lepers sometime between the years of Edward IV’s reign, i.e. 1461 to 1483. Richard Cloudesley of whom we mentioned earlier as the Islington resident that helped to maintain the roads, also bequeathed 6s. 8d. “to the poor lazars of Hyegate.” And that perhaps the hospital stood until it was ‘seized upon and demolished by Henry the Eighth’, between the years 1491 to 1547.

Thomas Cromwell makes the assertion that, “Lazarcot Field, near Whittington, was no doubt the site of this hospital.

Leprosy is not a disease that affects everyone, in fact 90% of humans are immune to it and it’s known as Hansen’s disease today. Toes and fingers may be lost in its severest form but it is mainly a disease of horrendous sores and ulcerations, lesions and weakening of the skeletal frame. We hear of lepers from biblical stories and it’s believed that leprosy arrived in England in the 4th Century.

It was prevalent in Great Britain before 1200 CE since there were one hundred and eleven hospitals or ‘leproseries’ in the country as named in the ‘Monasticon Anglicanum – The history of the ancient abbeys, and other monasteries, hospitals, cathedral and collegiate churches in England and Wales’ written by Sir William Dugdale and published 1693. These grew to at least 320 lazar houses between 12th century and 1350.

In 1346 CE lepers were instructed to leave London and the suburbs and find refuge in the country. Any person harbouring a leper after this notice was to forfeit their house. The impact that leprosy had changed the landscape in terms of buildings that cared for lepers and other areas for lepers as well as the mindset of people.

John H. Lloyd states in The History of Highgate page 178, that on 26th October 1477, Edward IV granted Robert Wilson, a disabled soldier afflicted with leprosy, the new Lazar house at Highgate, for the term of his life without any payment and which had been constructed by William Pole.

On page 179 he writes that the next grant was to John Gymnar and wife Katherine given in December 1498 by Henry VII, of a Hospital with the chapel of St. Anthony, being between Highgate and Holloway. John H. Lloyd suggests that as there is no mention of leprosy it infers that neither the grantees nor the inmates were lepers, and that leprosy therefore was declining.

The decline of the Middlesex leper houses came in the 16th century with the extinction of leprosy and they were converted into houses for the reception of patients suffering other infectious disease. Of those in the neighbourhood of London seven remained in 1547; Mile End, Hammersmith, Finchley, Southwark, Knightsbriclge, Highgate, and Kingsland.

But the plague would have another serious impact in the second half of the 17th Century. Over 15% of London’s population was wiped out between 1665 and 1666 alone and it spread to many parts of England. Evidently the link between London and York remained strong because York was badly affected. Plague claimed an estimated 1.5 million British deaths, 25 million deaths in Europe and 75 million across the world.

Whittington Hospital

We discussed earlier that St Bartholomew’s Hospital located at Smithfield in the City of London was the first London hospital. The word hospital taken in two parts from the Latin ‘hospes’ meaning guest, and the word ‘patior’ meaning to suffer. So in essence a hospital is a place for a guest that is suffering. A modern description is defined by the Webster’s dictionary as ‘an institution where the sick or injured are given medical care.’

The dictionary definition may be a bit modern and we should touch on it briefly because we are discussing a time when hospitals, hospices, infirmaries were running side by side. A hospital diagnoses and treats a condition; an infirmary cares for that condition, and a hospice offers palliative care for the terminally ill.

In this vein, that ‘institution’ was an eclectic mix of medical care and Archway’s association with guest houses for the suffering have been in every sense head-on battles with the severest of diseases. From one of the first leprosy hospitals in London, to caring for victims of the plague and small-pox, to the understanding and treatment of mental health.

St Bartholomew’s Hospital, Smithfield

We saw that Highgate Hill in the Middle Ages became of strategic importance as the main route to the North, whether taken through Highgate Village or along Hornsey Lane to pick up the Crouch End and Muswell Hill route. At this junction of Highgate Hill, Hornsey Lane and Dartmouth Park Hill, where three boroughs meet; a person looking out over London and down the hill – what a sight would be seen.

Of 1666, the diarist John Evelyn says that people who had lost everything in the great fire headed North. On 7 September 1666 he records: “I went towards Islington and Highgate, where one might have seen some 200,000 people, of all ranks and degrees, dispersed and lying along by their heaps of what they could save from the fire, deploring their loss; and yet ready to perish for hunger and destitution, yet not asking one penny for relief, which to me seemed a stranger sight than any I had yet beheld.

So if Archway claims its primary purpose has been as a conduit to the North, then its secondary purpose has been as a pioneer of rudimentary health care in this country. It’s a place where people are drawn to when they are not well. Having dealt with leprosy for centuries it was on its way out by the middle of the 17th Century. And 1665 saw the last of the great plagues of London.

Small pox was the new killer and places that dealt with it sprang up all along Holloway from Barnsbury and Liverpool Road to the large expanse that occupies between Cheverton Road and St John’s Way on which was built a small-pox infirmary that became known as Hillside until its closure in 1972.

An Institution was founded in 1746 at King’s Cross to receive and treat medically persons suffering from small-pox, and to vaccinate others. The Small Pox and Vaccination Hospital was relocated to ‘Whittington Place’ in 1860, a site slightly laid back from Highgate Hill and within 100 metres of where the lazer-house had once been.

Images below of the Small Pox & Vaccination Hospital built at Whittington Place, the first part of the current Whittington Hospital. This building would be widely built around and form the hub of the three main wards. These buildings would become St Mary’s Hospital, later to be the St Mary’s Ward part of the whittington Hospital.

At the end of the Small-pox Pandemic of 1870-1874 about 200 in-patients were received and 300 out-patients were vaccinated by the The Small-pox and Vaccination Hospital. The Vaccination Act of 1853 inspired by the Epidemiological Society of London, was responsible for the incidence and fatality of the pandemic being less in Britain than other countries.

The connection between Highgate Hill and St Bartholomew’s had of course been the lazer-house on Salisbury Road where the Whittington Stone PH stands now. But much later, further along at the entrance to Waterlow Park is Lauderdale House, which served as a Convalescent Home to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital.

The original house was built in 1582 for Sir Richard Martin – The Master of the Mint and three times Lord Mayor of London. It was refurbished in the middle of the 17th Century and became the residence of the Earls of Lauderdale. The last private owner was Sir Sydney Waterlow – politician, philanthropist and Lord Mayor of London in 1872/73.

Sir Sydney Waterlow looking over London from Waterlow Park – March 2017

At the time of Sir Waterlow, he would have been reassured that Highgate was one of the most desirable parts of London. Looking out from that spot on Highgate Hill where three boroughs meet, he would have seen his neighbours building the new church and monastery of St Joseph’s with its iconic green dome raising into the London skyline. On Hornsey Lane, St Aloysius School was being built by the Brothers of Mercy as a Roman Catholic independent boarding school, opening in 1879, the same year an iron bridge replaced the brick viaduct over Archway Road. The first cable car trams in Europe were operating from Archway to Highgate and the hill itself having no less than three hospitals in the vicinity.

Map of 1900 showing the main Small Pox hospital
and both Infirmaries and also the womens’ hospital on the Bank.

Sir Waterlow would have been very much in tune with the medical institution as he leased Lauderdale House for a time to St Bartholomew’s Hospital as a convalescent home. But by 1883 the house lay all but empty and so in 1889 he gave the grounds comprising 29 acres over to the London County Council (LCC) “… as a garden for the gardenless and for the enjoyment of Londoners,” and thereafter the grounds became a public park and the house was restored in 1893.

A view of Waterlow Park looking out from Lauderdale House – March 2017

The height between St Joseph’s Retreat and St Paul’s Cathedral was revealed to me at the St Joseph’s Archives by the then Archivist Fr Ignatius McElligott CP. He showed me material where I read that on completion of the new dome, the top of the cross was exactly 130 feet higher than the top of the cross on St Paul’s Cathedral. A fact which on accounts I have told to others. But on examining the sun dial at Lauderdale House, the little bronze plaque states that it is level with the top of the dome, therefore if allowing a generous 30 feet tolerance for the crosses, it still means the height between the sun dial and the top of St Joseph’s must be 100 feet which does not appear to be the case – consider the height of Archway Bridge is just 80 feet. One fact or the other – is wrong.

Hospital 1: The Highgate Smallpox and Vaccination Hospital (on the site of the modern day campus) had been designed by Samuel Daukes – an English architect from Gloucester mostly given to designing churches. It was constructed in 1848-50 in the Italianate style. Daukes died in 1880 and was buried in the family vault in Highgate Cemetery.

When it opened it had 108 beds and was one of two isolation hospitals in London, the other being in Liverpool Road. It closed in 1896 and was moved to Clare Hall Hospital, a larger small-pox hospital in South Mimms. A larger section was built adjacent to the original small-pox building which housed an additional 800 beds and the site opened again in 1900 as a workhouse infirmary called the Highgate Hill Infirmary. In 1914 it was renamed to Islington Infirmary. And in 1930 it was renamed to St Mary’s Hospital and had 836 beds.

The current St Mary’s Ward entrance of the Whittington Hospital.

Hospital 2: Opposite the present day hospital, on the land between Highgate Hill and Archway Road, stands a prominent structure of what originally was the Holborn Union Infirmary when it opened in 1879. It had 625 beds and a two-storey block to house receiving wards, doctors quarters and a dispensary. In 1921 it was renamed the Holborn and Finsbury Hospital. And in 1930 it was renamed to Archway Hospital.

The image below shows the rear of Archway Hospital, as viewed from the foot of Highgate Hill standing on the spot of the original Lazar House (the leper infirmary). Today it’s called Archway Ward.

Hospital 3: On Dartmouth Park Hill on the land adjoining Waterlow Park, Florence Nightingale had advised the architects on the design for the new hospital. The St Pancras Union Infirmary opened in 1869. It had 545 beds. In 1930 it was renamed to Highgate Hospital. It became a center for the study of mental health and moved to a new building in the 1970s on Highgate Hill. The image below is on the East side of Highgate hill about 100 metres from the Smallpox building.

The grounds on the East side of Dartmouth Park Hill were redone and buildings built and renovated and the result was a new ward for mental health. The red brick building of the 70s has remained empty since the mental health ward moved back to its original home at the Highgate Ward, formerly Highgate Hospital.

The current grounds of Highgate Wing and the mental health department.

The LCC took over control of the three hospitals in 1930 and gave them straightforward and sensible names. In 1944 the St Mary’s, Archway and Highgate hospitals were brought together as one hospital and in 1948 it became part of the NHS as The Whittington Hospital comprising of St Mary’s wing, Archway wing and Highgate wing.

The Georgian and Victorian ages

At the turn of the 19th Century, there was still 37 years before the start of the Victorian age. Two King Georges reigned then a young William IV ruled for just ten years and then came Queen Victoria. What separated the Georgian and Victorian was the abolition of slavery in William IV’s reign and this had a severing effect between an empire dependant on forced labour and an empire expressing its unilateral superiority in the sciences, construction and technology.

The new century was not markedly different from the previous one at the start. The charitable relief for the needy was administered by local parishes through the provisions of the Poor Law. Legislation passed in 1722 entitled parishes to provide poor relief in specially built workhouses, of which 2,000 existed with 90 in London alone. Many were overcrowded and staggeringly, the death rate for workhouse children in London was over 90%. Those that did not enter the workhouse were left to beg on the streets.

The main difference between a workhouse and an almshouse is that workhouses (also poorhouse or poorfarm) were for the poor and children who earned their keep by doing jobs whereas almshouses were charitable premises offered to elderly people that were no longer able to manage.

In Archway there were several of these buildings. At the end of St John’s Way there was a workhouse. Just behind it in Cheverton Road was an Almshouse and also at the start of Archway Road where the toll gate used to be was built an Almshouse for women over fifty years old by Sir Richard Whittington.

The start of Archway Road showing the original Archway Tavern and the turnpike. Behind the toll is the Whittington Almshouse – built by the Mercers Company in 1822 in the Gothic Revival style.

In the center can be seen the Islington Workhouse on St John’s Way; the orphanage on Hazellville Hill and the back of the Whittington College (the Almshouse of Archway Road). Look at Albany and Alfred roads in St John’s Way – The S-bend currently in St John’s Road is there to get around an issue with land ownership, which was resolved and the road joined up, but the S-bend remained.

A photo taken from a scaffold on the site next to the Whittington Almshouse, where the
current housing estate stands and small play area known as Archway Park c. 1970s.

Archway Bridge

There had been attempts to improve Highgate hill and make it less difficult and dangerous but these had failed. The second half of the 18th Century appears to have on record the most dangerous due to the weight of traffic. A record was kept in the Assembly Hall book at Highgate of notable events, here are two entries:

1770 – Lord Sandys was upset in his coach coming down Highgate Hill, from the effects of which accident he died 21st April.

1804 – On Sunday evening two young men riding for a wager down Highgate Hill, one of the horses stumbled, and the rider broke his neck.

Highgate Hill had been unsuited to heavy traffic for a long time and the proposal that received approval was for a tunnel under the hill along the line of the existing Archway Road to join the Great North Road. In 1808/1809, engineer Robert Vazie had proposed an arched tunnel. Scottish civil engineer John Rennie was consulted in 1811 and he expressed concerns in building a brick tunnel and instead suggested a bridge.

Nevertheless, a tunnel was decided on. In May 1810 a private Act was obtained and a turnpike trust, the Highgate Archway Company was formed. In the same year a solicitor, William Whitton of Great James Street, specialising in property, leased 14 acres from Thomas Causton of Highgate for 30 years to the Highgate Archway Company.

The Highgate by-pass was not desirable for a hamlet that had developed since the 14th Century to cater for travellers. The decline of horses and the advent of mechanical transport negated the need to stop at Highgate and refresh, and traffic just passed through.

The work commenced on the tunnel without delay in 1810. In 1811, John Rennie a Scottish consultant civil engineer, was expressing doubts about the quality of the brickwork. The tunnel went in for 130 yards before collapsing in April 1812 suffering no loss or injury. The collapse rendered Hornsey Lane impassable and the project was abandoned.

Map of 1805 showing the tunnel road. Note: Highgate Hill marked as Upper Holloway, the borough boundary marked as Hornsey Line. The tunnel is called Highgate Archway so perhaps the map is dated after the tunnel collapse of 1812.

The experience gained in boring through the London clay was useful to the engineers who constructed the early railway tunnels in the London area and no doubt useful to Isambard K. Brunel who planned his Wapping to Rotherhithe subaqueous tunnel in 1823 and finished it in 1843.

One assumes engineers considered building the Highgate Hill tunnel and then covering it with earth but the plan suggested by John Rennie and decided upon pretty much immediately after the collapse was to form a cutting to take a new road with a bridge allowing for the continuation of Hornsey Lane.

The bridge was designed of brick by John Nash, a British architect. The foundation stone was laid in October 1812 and the foundations completed a month later. A plinth bridge was built to hold a high multi-arched bridge, similar to a canal viaduct. The arch was 18ft wide and 36ft high. The bridge opened on the 21st of August 1813.

The road surface did not last well and some travellers returned to Highgate Hill instead. The problem required an improved road and in 1829 Thomas Telford was brought in to do it. He lifted the surface and laid a concrete foundation, the first time this had been done.

Ten years after the road and bridge opened the spoil from the roadworks was still heaped up on the Eastern bank. The company in 1822 having obtained a lease for 1,000 years for the land now had to remove it in order to site the Whittington Almshouses.

Note in the images below the large grass mound running all the way along the East side. In the first image you can see the height, the new bridge needed to be higher so it was moved a little further along. The second image shows the toll gate and what is stated to be the Archway Tavern, however, its looks like this building is on the land of the Holborn Union Infirmary which was built in 1879. as it appears opposite the toll which is the site on which the Whittington almshouse was built.

Highgate Archway Bridge designed by John Nash – print courtesy of Cromwell’s Walks Through Islington

Highgate Archway Bridge designed by John Nash – print courtesy of British History Online

The increase of passenger services to and from London increased at this time as one might expect with the provision of a wider and lower gradient Archway Road. A daily coach left London for Finchley in 1817 at 4 pm and in 1826-7 one left the Queen’s Head, Church End, Finchley, for London at 8.20 am, returning in the evening.

By 1826 The Wellington PH opened at the junction with North Hill (long demolished). And in 1828 The Woodman PH appeared at the junction with Muswell Hill Road and opposite Southwood Lane. Both catered to travellers and played their part in reducing Highgate’s high number of purpose-built public houses from nineteen to just four.

Archway Road that passed under the Highgate Archway bridge now became a toll road from north London to the Great North Road. It had cost around £13,000, which was a large sum seeing that its length is only a little more than a mile. The toll was different from other tolls in that it charged not just the drivers of horses and vehicles, but foot passengers as well. 6d. for a horse-drawn cart or carriage, 3d. for a horse and rider, 2d. for a donkey and 1d. for a pedestrian. The toll remained until 1864.

This wall plaque is situated where the Whittington Almhouse stood,
within fifteen meters of where the toll booth was situated.

This wall plaque is situated where the Whittington Almhouse stood, within fifteen meters of where the toll booth was situated.

The matter of turnpikes went before the House of Commons in 1861 which resulted in the Holyhead Road Act. Pavage grants had been issued in the 14th Century for paving of streets and markets and the turnpike trusts were based on that to apply for such time as was likely to be required to pay for the required works. The first turnpike toll appeared in 1663 for a section of the Great North Road and the first trusts followed an Act of Parliament in 1706. Their decline was due to the coming of the railway.

The Holyhead Road Act allowed the Highgate Archway Company to stay the interest and peripheral charges of the company and agree on a repayment of debt to the amount of £9,000 which was repaid and thereafter the toll closed. The Act’s purpose was to free trusts from forever making loan repayments and close the tolls. Highgate toll followed in 1876.

Until the Victorian age building took place in old settlements along existing roads. The cutting was described at the time as going through countryside with few buildings. This was because the area was always fields and the Archway Road was for all purposes the first development through there. The roads off Archway Road, such as Shepherds Hill, are fine examples of planned development of the late Georgian and early Victorian periods. The Archway Road ensuing north from the cutting is fronted by a wonderful high arched parade of late Victorian and Edwardian terraced housing with independent shops and flats above.

Increased traffic meant that the road required widening and Nash’s bridge was also too narrow across Hornsey Lane. Under powers obtained in 1894 by the London County Council a new bridge was built a few yards South of the existing structure (1897), and the old bridge was then dismantled (1901).

The new Archway Highgate bridge was a single span iron and steel construction of 120 feet designed by Sir Alexander Binnie, an English civil engineer famed for designing crossings over and under the Thames. It was estimated to cost £28,000 and in July 1897 a tender was accepted for £25,626 and the new bridge opened on 28 July 1900.

Highgate Archway Bridge – In with the new and out with the old. Source unknown: contact

Archway Bridge March 2017

From 1954 The Great North Road was diverted around the congested suburbs of Finchley and High Barnet along better roads constructed from the 1920s. The next stage of development for Archway Road was in the 1960s when it was widened. Protests from the tenants of the arched parade ensured that those houses remained, as was the suggestion that they should be demolished.

Archway Road looking towards Archway. You can just see Archway bridge in the distance.

In the 1960s the roundabout was constructed which left a few buildings isolated in the centre, namely the Archway Tavern PH and the Methodist Church. The tube station was redesigned in 1970 and this period should have marked a new beginning for the area seeing it transformed from a significant intersection into a modern region of North London and claiming its right to be known as a place. Instead it was the beginning of the end resulting in many thriving businesses dying out and Archway became just a place between places, that had a roundabout.

Henry VIII, The Passionists and Holy Joes


When Henry VIII became king in 1509 there were more than 850 religious houses in England and Wales. The period during his reign when he broke away from the religious authority of the church of Rome, is known as the Dissolution of the Monasteries. We think of it as a time when soldiers entered Catholic places of worship and put to death many monks and other devotees, stealing their wealth and confiscating land. This was true of course, but in terms of the implementation of the suppression of the monasteries it was a legal and administrative framework for dissolving Catholic monasteries and consolidating their wealth.

The reason so many people died was because the King needed public support for his actions. The church was firmly embedded in the lives of people and everything the church owned came from the people and it had become wealthier than the government. So the King put a spanner in the works arguing that the Church was exporting most of its wealth which meant the Pope was benefiting from it instead of the poor and the community at wide.

It’s a scenario that’s repeated throughout history. Today in London people see Russians, Poles and Romanians as syphoning money from this country back to their mother lands; in the 1950s it was Indians, Pakistanis and Jamaicans. Not much of it has any foundation or relevance on a fiscal scale today and the same was true for the 1500s, as it was known by the government that virtually none of the monasteries’ wealth was leaving the country.

The King would have been aware that the Roman Catholic Church owned about one-third of all the land in England and Wales. His advisor Thomas Cromwell (not to be confused with Thomas Cromwell author of Walks Through Islington of whom we met earlier,) had taken care of the legal framework when Cardinal Wolsey had shut down many monasteries and now working for the King, Cromwell sent emissaries to all religious houses to assess their value which he recorded in a tome known as the ‘Valor Ecclesiasticus’.

It was from 1530 that attitudes towards the Roman Catholic Church changed. Prior to Thomas Cromwell’s assessments the interests of religious houses had been the task of the bishops. Now they were all at the mercy of Cromwell’s scrutiny. He wanted to show the King what they were worth on paper so that the King would act. The Emissaries were knowing of the outcome desired by Cromwell and there are records of complaints made by religious houses about being bullied.

Whatever the opposition, it fell on deaf ears and in 1536 an Act was passed that took from the Church much of its wealth and this legislation ended the Pope’s authority in England and Wales. Whether the King attacked the monasteries for financial or spiritual reasons is not wholly understood, but it’s known that he was a lavish spender having inherited considerable wealth from his father Henry VII and that it was virtually spent by the mid 1530s.

Having divorced in 1533, the Pope annulled the divorce and in order to re-legitimise it, Parliament passed the Acts of Supremacy in 1534 making Henry VIII the head of the English Church forcing Pope Paul III in 1535 to issue a bill of excommunication which was subsequently suspended in the hope that Henry VIII would make amends.

Referencing the Valor Ecclesiasticus, an Act of 1536 required monasteries with an income of less than £200 a year to be dissolved and the property handed to the Crown. This affected around 300 houses of which around 80 were saved for a fee of one year’s income. Once the Act had been passed it became essential to move quickly to shut down the religious houses before they could move their wealth.

That England and Wales were full of monasteries is slightly misleading as it was a generic term. The larger houses were abbeys, medium size houses were priories and nunneries, and the smaller house was called a friary or hermitage. The purpose of an open house was a devotion to the poor and needy, using whatever income they received in that pursuit and for which they remained relatively poor themselves. Closed houses were more about monastic life and retreating from public view, and they often developed orchards, wineries, and dairies.

It was the closed houses that had acquired the great wealth. In fact many of them were richer than the wealthiest nobles. People whether rich or poor, would bequeath their estates to these churches with the expectation of securing a place in heaven. Records right up to the twentieth century are full of people leaving money in wills for clergy to say prays on their behalf for a given period.

In the North mainly Yorkshire, there was a highly organised dissent in October of 1536 known as the Pilgrimage of Grace. It was made up of a combination of lesser uprisings that opposed the King’s break with the Roman Catholic Church that lasted for a few months and involved around 35,000 men. The leader was Robert Aske, who blamed Thomas Cromwell and not so much the King for the way things were. But the King showed no mercy and the rebel leaders were executed including Robert Aske. And of the religious houses that were judged to have sided with the rebels, the head of each house was executed, the other monks made to leave, and the property taken for the Crown.

Had the rebels looked to obtain Papal support they would surely have received it, and had they marched South it’s doubtful the King could have put up a successful defence. The King promised to pardon all the rebels but held out waiting for their army to fall into disarray and then he attacked and had all the leaders executed.

The handling of the Pilgrimage of Grace rebellion was another event that was not accepted by the Pope. As it was, the King was much stronger for it and the Reformation started after it had all died down, in 1538. But his next move was to attack religious shrines that were visited by many pilgrims such as that of St Thomas Becket deemed to be one of Europe’s holiest shrines.

Sentence to the effect that Thomas, formerly archbishop of Canterbury, having been cited, and no one having appeared for him, judgment is given that in his life time he disturbed the realm, and his crimes were the cause of his death, although the people hold him for a martyr. He is therefore never to be named martyr in future, his bones are to be token up and publicly burnt and the treasures of his shrine confiscated to the King. This edict to be published in London, Canterbury, and elsewhere. London, 11 June, 1538.

It took nine days to fill 26 wagons with gold and silver from the shrine. The religious relics were burned and scattered and in April 1538 Pope John III renewed the Bill of Excommunication from 1535:

Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket murdered in Canterbury Cathedral on 29 December 1170 CE.

Bull against Hen. VIII., renewing the execution of the bull of 30 Aug. 1535, which had been suspended in hope of his amendment, as he has since gone to still further excesses, having dug up and burned the bones of St, Thomas of Canterbury and scattered the ashes to the winds, after calling the saint to judgment, condemning him as contumacious, and proclaiming him a traitor, and spoiled his shrine. He has also spoiled St. Augustine’s monastery in the same city, driven out the monks and put in deer in their place.

Thomas Cromwell then turned to those religious houses situated South of Yorkshire with a yearly income of more than £200. His emissaries again visited advising that they voluntary hand over their assets to the King. An Act in 1539 made it legal for monasteries to voluntary surrender their property to the crown, therefore not doing so may be interpreted as unfavourable by the King.

Those larger abbeys that resisted the intimidation had to be dealt with by the law. By 1540 over 800 monasteries had been dissolved. Henry VIII and later his daughter Elizabeth I were excommunicated (1538 and 1570 respectively,) a futile act since the King had effectively excommunicated the Church from England.

When the King placed himself as head of the Church of England it necessitated revised doctrines and so documents were formulated from existing Catholic and Protestant papers that by 1571 came to be known as the thirty-nine articles. They formed the basis of Protestantism which itself was based on the Lutheran theology, a reformed view of Christian doctrines that asserted the way to heaven was through faith and not by penance and that all were equal in the eyes of God.

At that time a wave of Lutheranism was spreading out of Germany through Scandinavia, France and even Scotland, so it was fortunate for Henry VIII that he found allegiance in that movement to justify his actions and the direction that he was taking the country. It was a movement of reformed churches that gave its name to the ‘Reformation’.

Martin Luther had started a wave of interdependency away from the Roman Catholic Church and it was the perfect model for the Church of England to adopt. The Church of England’s doctrines, the thirty-nine articles, are contained in the common book of prayer, first published in 1549. Adherence to the Articles was made a legal requirement in 1571 and they are the common belief for all Christian denominations that are labelled as protestant.


Martin Luther was a German professor of theology and an Augustine friar who was highly critical of Roman Catholicism. In one of his thesis he writes: “Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St. Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money?” His thesis were popular and spread through Europe around 1519. In 1520 he published three works including ‘On the Freedom of a Christian’ in which he expounded his teachings about faith and absolvement.

The main threat to the Catholic Church from Lutherism was financial. Money raised for building and repairs came from people paying for indulgences. By giving money to the Church it absolved you of sin. If adultery was sinful then absolve yourself with a financial penance. This is what he was referring to in the thesis mentioned above. He preached that everyone is forgiven whether they pay or not and indeed to seek forgiveness for payment was not Christian. In his ‘The Judgement of Martin Luther on Monastic Vows,’ he advises monks and nuns that they can break their vows without sin, because vows are illegitimate and vain attempts to win salvation.

Martin Luther cut out the middle man whereby anyone could have a relationship directly with God. Catholicism was adamant that people and clergy were two separate entities and that the clergy were closer to God by virtue of their devotion, and purity. Martin Luther argued that a bishop had no more right to interpret the scriptures than the average person. One has to remember how strict and cruel the Roman Catholic Church was, particularly the Orthodox variety that murdered its way across Europe. Reformists where those churches that went with most Christian edicts but amended or removed others.

As a theologian and Augustinian friar, he had questioned the leadership and theology of the Catholic Church in 1517. Pope Leo X arranged for other theologians to make a case against him and several hearings ensued. He was denounced as an enemy of the Pope and told to recant various written statements from his writings. Martin Luther responded by sending the Pope a copy of ‘On the Freedom of a Christian’ and was excommunicated in 1521 with permission given for anyone to kill him without consequence and forbidding anyone to assist him by way of food or shelter.

He is credited today with having taken the Church in a positive direction and his views are generally accepted as being the truth. His influence remains extensive: Protestant priests can marry unlike their Catholic colleagues because Martin Luther married a nun and this precedent accommodates clerical marriage today.

As if his achievement wasn’t great enough, he also translated the Latin bible into German making it available to anyone that could read. A copy of his bible was acquired by William Tyndale in 1522 who translated it in to English against the will of the Bishop of London who labelled it a heretical work. Tyndale used both the Lutheran version and the ‘Erasmus’ version the only translation authorised by the Catholic Church.

As a heretic, Tyndale had to evade the authorities and his work appeared in the Matthew Bible published in 1537, so called because it was published by John Rogers under the pseudonym Thomas Matthew. Tyndale was eventually caught and suffered death in 1536 by strangulation and burning at the stake. John Rogers was put to death with fire in 1555 at Smithfield. Martin Luther survived the charges of heresy and died in 1546 having 62 years.


Following the Reformation came the Renaissance but it would be 250 years before Roman Catholics were able to practice their religion in the United Kingdom and not until 1829 that the Catholic Emancipation Act allowed Catholics to hold public office.

By 1829 there were few Catholics in England, just those arriving from Catholic countries such as Ireland. Their numbers would increase with the development of the railways in the 1830s when navvies and navigators came to work on its construction and settling mainly around Holloway.

The Duke of Marlborough’s nephew, the Hon and Reverend George Spencer was a great uncle of Winston Churchill and the great-great-great uncle of Lady Diana Spencer. George Spencer was born in Admiralty House in 1799, the youngest son of the 2nd Earl Spencer, First Lord of the Admiralty, and brother of Lord Althorp. He turned away from a life of immense wealth and was to become a man instrumental to the Catholics’ return to the UK and joined the Passionists.

The Passionists, or The Congregation of the Passion (since 1984; The Congregation of the Passion of Jesus Christ.) was founded in 1790 by St Paul of the Cross in Italy. He was occupied with the return of England to the Catholic Church, and during one of the last masses of his life he had a vision after which his face was radiant as he said: “Oh what have I seen? — my children in England!” But it was another Italian, Father Dominic Barberi, that would take the order to England.

Dominic Barberi believed that he had a mission to preach the Gospel in England in a similar calling that St Paul of the Cross had felt. He joined the Passionists in 1814, was ordained in 1818, and worked as a lecturer in Rome for a time before meeting with English Catholics and being introduced to the Honourable and Reverend George Spencer. However, he was tasked with establishing the order in Belgium where he struggled until receiving an invitation from the then Dr Wiseman inviting him to establish the Passionists in England.

Father Dominic Barberi arrived in England in November 1840 to discuss plans with the Reverend George Spencer and returned again for good in 1841. In February 1842 a property was secured at Aston Hall, Staffordshire. The tales of his determination are astounding, enduring physical violence from a nearby church and stones being thrown at him that on occasions he was lucky to escape with his life. Eventually he endeared himself to the residents and became quite well known in England for his teachings.

In 1845 at the College of Littlemore (south of the city of Oxford) Father Dominic Barberi received John Henry Newman, an Anglican priest, into the Catholic Church. Pope Leo XIII would make him Cardinal Newman in 1879, in recognition of his role in assisting the return of the Catholic Church in England.

In 1847 Fr Dominic received the Reverend George Spencer into the Congregation who took the name Father Ignatius. And in continuing the search for suitable premises in London he wrote the following:

At the end of the year 1847, Divine Providence was pleased to advance Dr Wiseman to be Vicar Apostolic of the London District. Immediately on receiving this happy news we anticipated, and rightly too, that this good Bishop, after giving us our first house and obtaining for us our second, would give us our third house in his own District.

Dr Wiseman did write to Fr Dominic asking if the Passionists could assist with the Irish population and so Fr Dominic went to London in 1848 to view a house in Hampstead, observing that “… nothing can be seen but trees and sky.” The Passionists took possession of Poplar House in West End Lane in June 1848 and with a parish that extended from Kilburn to Watford.

They soon realised they were administering from the edge of a very large area, and their chapel was at Hyde several miles away. And then, still in 1848 Fr Dominic set out from London to Woodchester and suffered a heart attack at Reading from which he died. He had established three churches and would later be beatified as Blessed Dominic. Cardinal Manning said of Fr Dominic that he was was an Apostle to England.

When Father Ignatius became Provincial of the Passionist order following Fr Dominic, it was his task to raise the finances needed to establish a suitable home in London. They moved to Hyde Lane in December 1849 and moved again to Woodfield House, Cool Oak Lane, the Hyde, Hendon in 1852, but always it would prove to be unsuited to their needs and not least because Barnet had been incorporated in to their parish.

The wilderness years followed for the community could not reach the extremities of their parish and parishioners could not reach the chapel. Then in April 1857 three senior Passionists returned to the mother house in Rome for Provincial elections; these were the current Provincial of England Fr Vincent Grotti, and Fathers Ignatius and Martorelli. Fr Ignatius Paoli was elected as Provincial of England.

Fr Ignatius Paoli had joined the Passionists in 1845 and would be Provincial for nine years. Of his many achievements, his part in the founding of St Joseph’s in Highgate is most notable. In June 1857 he set out for England and arrived at the Hyde. As had troubled Fr Dominic, it was the distance from London that Fr Ignatius Paoli now saw as his major obstacle. It was a mile to the nearest house across fields or two miles by track.

Fr Ignatius Paoli wrote to Cardinal Wiseman, having become Archbishop of Westminster in 1850, to ask for a meeting. His aim was to sell the Hyde and buy another property but the Hyde was wished to remain in the diocese. Before leaving he asked the brethren there if they would kindly notify him of any properties that came up for sale. Having no more business to attend with the Hyde, the Provincial moved on to other business in the province, particularly in Dublin, where he founded the monastery at Mount Argus, Dublin; once described as the noblest religious house erected in these countries since the Reformation.

So in April of 1858 came the message that he had been hoping for from the brethren in London. He left immediately for London and looked at the proposal of land for Highgate. He subsequently went to view the site taking with him Fr Eugene Martorelli, the Rector at the Hyde.

On this site on Highgate Hill stood the Old Black Dog PH, mentioned from 1735. It’s thought that drovers used to frequent it probably taking their dogs and this may be the reason for the tavern’s name. The owner was a Mr Woodward which one account labels him as a hater of Christians, or ‘Papists’ as they were referred to then. England was still very much opposed to non-Protestant religions and the account tells of Mr Woodward that he was in the process of selling his land and property in 1849 but the night before had a dream that the buyers were Papists and so he cancelled the sale. However, Fr Ignatius Paoli tells of a rumour that the house was haunted and this prompted Mr Woodward to put the land up for sale again in 1858.

In order to appraise and appropriate the house Fathers Ignatius Paoli and Eugene went in disguise. They dressed as laymen and proceeded to reconnoiter. Father Eugene returned disguised as a Hall-Porter to view the inside. Once it was decided the place was suitable they had to deposit £1,500 with the solicitor in order to be able to bid for the purchase of this house and garden. They had eight days to get the money and they hadn’t even told Cardinal Wiseman yet.

As had been the case when they went to see the Cardinal, he had been laid up quite ill and they did not get to see him but had dealt with his secretaries. He was still ill so they wrote to him and he wrote back refusing the request to buy the property at Highgate. So Fathers Ignatius Paoli and Eugene went to see him in person. At first the Cardinal denied them and then he agreed but made them deal with an auxiliary Bishop who gave his permission only at the eleventh hour, on the evening of the auction date on the 24th of May 1858.

At 10pm Fr Ignatius Paoli was in the solicitor’s office agreeing on the finances. The Community were at the Hyde praying for Divine Providence but they need not have been so tentative for at the auction on the morning of the 25th of May there were no other bidders and the property became theirs at the cost of £4,500.

Immediately on arriving at their new property on 29th September 1858, Fr Ignatius Paoli blessed a basin of water and proceeded to bless every room. And that was the last of any ghost stories. In Cardinal Wiseman’s description of the place we have a clearer idea of the public house, “This house inside is more like a ship than a house.” And Fr Ignatius said of it, “It was better suited for the original purpose for which it had been built, 300 years before when it was christened The Black Dog.” These accounts sometimes call it The Black Dog and sometimes the Old Black Dog, we don’t know for sure. But we can place it as being built originally circa 1558.

The new parish ran from The Royal Northern Hospital in Holloway Road to Barnet and from Kilburn in the West to Palmer’s Green and beyond. Of course it was not as it is populated today and was largely farming land. The house was adapted and a chapel was built in the honour of St Joseph, which cost a further £600 but it meant room for 65 people that could attend Mass. Within a few weeks the numbers were increasing so that they filled the adjacent rooms. And in not long there were so many turning up on Sundays, Protestants as well as Catholics, that the Protestants had to be turned away in favour of the Catholics, as many as 60 at times. All of a sudden they needed a bigger church.

Seeking to finance the new church Fr Ignatius Spencer called on his nephew, the fifth Earl Spencer, for a loan of £1,000. When he became a Passionist an annuity that would have been in the region of £300 per annum was stopped. His nephew did not grant the loan but did re-instate the annuity which enabled him to secure a mortgage with it. The church that was built in 1861 was not the green dome structure seen today but a smaller version.

In 1861 there was also a small school in use at the base of the grounds described as a building that had been once used as a stable. Fr Ignatius Spencer died in 1864 so he did not see the new school or the domed church but thanks to his financing in 1865 the building of the new school started and opened in 1867. It was run by the Marist Sisters from Holloway Road until 1870 and then from 1874 by Nuns of La Sainte Union.

Looking up Highgate Hill: St Joseph’s Upper and Lower schools c. 1958

Fr Ignatius Paoli saw the end of his third term as Provincial in 1866. He had been responsible for the acquisition and development of everything in Highgate and indeed all in England and Ireland as Provincial of the St Joseph’s Province of England.

The monastery was built in 1873 and without much pause in 1888 it was decided to build a new church and the existing one was demolished in the same year. The foundation stone was laid on 24th May 1888, and horses struggled in bringing the blocks of stone up the hill. The construction work was supervised by Brother Alphonsus Zeegers. The Bishop of Liverpool blessed the church and it opened on 21st November 1889.

Also in 1888, Fr Eugene Martorelli died at Highgate on 21st April just before seeing the cornerstone being laid for the new church. He had been instrumental in securing the property at Highagte and was the first Rector of the parish and four times Provincial of the English Province. A year later in September 1889 Fr Anselm Lomax died, he had planned and built the monastery. And Fr Gerard Woollett died at Highgate in February 1894, he had built the existing church of which it is said, hastened his death.

In 1928 St Gabriel’s Church opened which reduced the Southern boundary of the St Joseph parish and in 1932 the final debt was cleared for the building of the new church. This meant the church was finally consecrated on 28th April 1932. This rite can only be performed once the building is debt-free as it would be contradictory to dedicate to the service of God a mortgage-burdened building. The alter had been consecrated in 1905.

1953 saw a complete redecoration of the church, repaired of all war damage and the organ was installed to commemorate the war dead. 1958 was the centenary year and to celebrate this, parishioners erected a new altar in honour of the Blessed Mary.

The Passionist Community on centenary year, 1959. I was fortunate to have known four of these gentlemen: Fathers Romuald, Gabriel, Gregory and Brother Leonard.

Back row L to R: Bro. Columban, Bro. John May, Fr. Gabriel, Fr. Umberto, Fr. Henry, Fr. Casimer, Fr. Finlan, Fr. Gregory, Bro. Bernignus.

Front row L to R: Bro. Leonard, Fr. Jeremias, Fr. Canisius, Fr. Bonaventure (Rector), Fr. Romuald, Fr. Alphonsus.

Archway tube

The first passenger carrying underground railway in the world was steam operated and was opened by a private company called the Metropolitan Railway in 1863 and it carried 26,000 passengers a day between Paddington and Farringdon Street. Indeed the underground was funded entirely by private companies up until the 1930s.

It took 21 years from 1863 to 1884 to complete the Inner Circle of tube lines in central London by which time there were over 800 trains running every day. But it was not until 1896 that the next complete underground railway opened in the UK outside of London, the Glasgow District Subway.

The first passenger carrying underground railway in the world was steam operated and was opened by a private company called the Metropolitan Railway in 1863 and it carried 26,000 passengers a day between Paddington and Farringdon Street. Indeed the underground was funded entirely by private companies up until the 1930s.

It took 21 years from 1863 to 1884 to complete the Inner Circle of tube lines in central London by which time there were over 800 trains running every day. But it was not until 1896 that the next complete underground railway opened in the UK outside of London, the Glasgow District Subway.

It would take until 1907 for the Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway (CCE&HR) to commence services from Charing Cross to Golders Green and Highgate which was known as the Hampstead Tube. In present day Archway, a station was opened on 22 June but it was named ‘Highgate’ and not Archway, nor Archway Tavern as had also been proposed.

The station’s name changed several times over its history, undecided whether the place was in the south of Highgate or a place where Archway Bridge stood. In 1907 when it opened, the area had no specific name and it was in naming the station that a de facto name for the place emerged. Perhaps in the hope of attracting patronage it opened as ‘Highgate’ because that was the nearest affluent area. Historically it could have just as equally been named Upper Holloway. It became the center of a place and Archway today is generally considered to be an area within half a mile around the station. Its various names have been as follows:

  1. Highgate: 1907–39
  2. Archway (Highgate): 1939–41
  3. Highgate (Archway): 1941–47
  4. Archway: 1947–present

1907 was a busy year in the history of the Underground with a huge amount of construction going on. For instance in the south men were working on a spiral escalator at Holloway Road station but it was left unfinished and forgotten about until it was discovered many years later. Angel station opened in 1907. And in the north Hampstead tube opened. And many other stations opened in this year. Even buses changed, before 1907 different routes had different colours, they have not always been red.

Underground Electric Railways Company of London Limited – Deep level tube lines 1908

All the station exteriors were photographed in order to look at ways of designing a uniform exterior which led to the appearance in 1908 of the red circle logo and passengers were provided with the first free Underground map. Between 1907 and 1908 the Hampstead Tube carried 25 million passengers.

The main entrance has always been in Junction Road with the second entrance opening in 1929. When the station opened it was one of two terminuses from Charing Cross, the other being Golders Green. The line underwent continual development particularly after London Transport inherited it in 1933 and from then on started forming it in to what we recognise today as the Northern Line. When it was extended to Finchley, Archway (Highgate) station kept the terminus tracks which can be still be used for trains that terminate at Archway.

  • 1914 Hampstead Tube extended to Embankment.
  • 1923 Hampstead Tube extended to Hendon Central.
  • 1924 Hampstead Tube extended to Edgware.
  • 1924 C&SLR extended from Euston to connect to Hampstead Tube at Camden Town.
  • 1926 Hampstead Tube links Embankment to Kennington.
  • 1926 C&SLR extended to Morden (C&SLR and Hampstead Tube are now fully integrated)
  • 1937 The combined Hampstead Tube and C&SLR routes are named the Northern line.
  • 1939 Northern Line extended to East Finchley.
  • 1940 Northern line extended to High Barnet.
  • 1932 – April. Highgate station reopened with Charles Holden’s glazed wall frontage.

When we learn about the history of London Underground the name Charles Holden springs up but he was one of several people that contributed. Specific to the Northern Line, three of these people were American financier Charles Tyson Yerkes from Chicago, Leslie William Green a London architect, and Charles Holden an architect from Bolton.

Yerkes and Green both died within a few years of the opening of Highgate, (1905 and 1908 respectively). Yerkes was a financier with a love for art, which he avidly collected. He arrived in England in 1900 to seize a financial opportunity as advised to him by his friend Sir Robert Perks. Over the next five years he would travel regularly between Chicago and London in an endeavour that would help to ruin him financially.

In 1901, following the folding of London & Globe, financiers of the Baker Street & Waterloo Railway, Yerkes formed the company Underground Electric Railways of London Ltd (UERL) with American financial investment (paticularly from the Speyer banking family,) to acquire what are today called the District, Piccadilly and Northern (Hampstead Tube) lines.

That’s an over simplified description as the Piccadilly Line was not yet built, but Yerkes began massive building immediately, including the Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway (CCEHR) – the beginning of the Northern Line. In 1903 he added the Bakerloo Line to the company’s portfolio. Basically within three years he had acquired a considerable amount of London’s existing network and his three new lines all opened between March 1906 and June 1907, all unfortunately after his death.

In 1902 Yerkes extension proposal from Golders Green to Highgate was approved by parliament and in September of 1903 Leslie Green, who had a history of credible work but no large scale projects under his belt, was appointed by the Yerkes syndicate to design the station buildings above ground. His task, in modern language, was to create a lasting brand for the Underground.

Green’s stations were erected with a structural steel frame, two-storeys high with a flat roof, to allow for future commercial office development above if required although most have remained unbuilt upon. The steel load-bearing structure provided maximum interior space, featured large semi-circular windows at first floor level and the exterior was clad in ox-blood red glazed terracotta blocks made by the Leeds Fireclay Company. A broad strip between the two floors displayed the name of the station in capital letters. Some of the surviving stations are Grade II listed buildings including Holloway Road and Caledonian Road.

Both Yerkes’ love of art and Greens’ eye for functional beauty gave us the wonderful buildings we see today. There is still something pleasant about walking in to one of these buildings. That being said, according to one account I have seen when Highgate opened it had a green tiled frontage but I have yet to see evidence of this. Another account states it was red clad like Green’s other stations, but this has something to do with a temporary station connected to Tufnell Park I am led to believe.

Green was only contracted to design the building itself above ground level but he got involved as had Yerkes, with the interior; its foyer, corridors, stairways and platforms and most interestingly the tile art that plastered its walls.

Green was only 33 years old when he died, but his work over four years had contributed to over fifty stations spread across the three tube lines. In his application for Fellowship of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in 1907, he was proud to exclaim:

Early in 1903 I was appointed Architect to the Underground Electric Railway Company of London Limited, which was formed for the construction of the Baker Street & Waterloo, the Great Northern Piccadilly & Brompton, and the Charing Cross, Euston & Hampstead Tube Railways. Since that time I have designed and completed the erection of more than 50 Tube Station Buildings, besides designing and carrying out the decorative works to station tunnels, platforms and passages….

By the time of the first world war the UERL controlled all but one of the tube lines. It was against the rules to use the Undergound as a bomb shelter prefering to keep it in use for transportation but after protests the government allowed stations to be used as shelters and provided beds and food services. The main bombing campaign by Germany was directed at England using airships from January 1915 and known as Zeppelin raids. Police reports of German bomb raids on London in 1917 estimated that 300,000 people were taking shelter in Tube stations.

Charles Holden in comparison to Green also saw the beauty in simple functional design. If one thinks of war time German design as simple and functional then Holden had aligned himself with that model to a point were he may be described as modernist or minimalist. In fact in 1930 Holden made a tour of Germany and Scandinavia to survey the modern architecture.

His first commission for the Underground was for the design of the entrance to Westminster Station in 1924 which was demolished in 1999 when the station was rebuilt. He designed about 20 stations and is most famed for designing the new London Underground headquarters at 55 Broadway in 1929 as well as the Piccadilli extensions.

The first escalators were installed at Earl’s Court in 1911 but Highgate had to wait until major refurbishment work took place in 1930 for the lifts to be replaced with escalators. Holden built a marvellous front in Portland Stone and glass and replaced the secondary entrance to Highgate Hill. The works finished in 1931 and he went on to redesign the entrances for East Finchley and Finchley Central.

When the line pushed towards Hampstead it met with local opposition as it was claimed that the tube would drain the Heath of moisture, but there would be no stopping the tube as there had been no stopping the railways that came before that. The Underground went into public control in 1933 and previous plans to extend the line from Highgate were reinstated. London Transport became responsible for an area of 2,000 square miles within a 20 to 30 mile radius of Charing Cross, carrying 415 million passengers each year.

By 1926 the line had pushed south to Morden station making it the most southern station and in 1933 the line had pushed past Hampstead on the Golders Green branch and now terminated at Edgware, as it does today. But on the other northern branch the terminus was still Highgate until 1939 when the Great Northern Railway extended the Northern Line to East Finchley. The stretch from East Finchley to Morden became the longest continuous tunnel (via Bank) being some 27.8km/17.25 miles long.

Today the underground network reaches as far as Chesam, that’s 40km north-west of Charing Cross. There are 270 stations of which less than 10 per cent are south of the Thames and only 45 per cent of the Underground is actually in tunnels. In the 1970s, having been named just ‘Archway’ for thirty years, the station underwent its next major renovations at which time most of the Leslie Green and Charles Holden evidence was removed forever when both platforms were fully re-tiled and the building exterior changed to resemble the entrance of a Nazi bunker.

Trams & Buses

A trolley bus and a tram differ in the way they are steered or guided. Trams are guided on tracks and the trolley bus is steered like a normal diesel bus. The tram is confined to its rails whereas the trolley bus has a limited range from its power lines. You can think of the trolley bus as a tram without rails or a bus with electric power.


The battery had been invented in 1800 by Allesandro Volta, then came the generating of a magnetic field from electric current in 1820 by Hans Christian Oersted, and then the electromagnet in 1825 by William Sturgeon. Many inventors then worked simultaneously on the development of the electric motor until two Dutchmen Sibrandus Stratingh and Christopher Becker built the first known practical application of an electric motor in 1835. But it was the German company Siemens that developed a sufficiently powerful electric generator in 1867 which saw the advent of electricity.

Since Stratingh and Becker’s demonstration had proved that the electric motor offered propulsion, as soon as they became powerful enough it did not take long to think of it driving a vehicle. The obstacle was that a rather long cable would be required to supply the motor power and so experiments began using methods to connect the vehicle to the power by means of live wires along the journey route and rolling or sliding contacts linking the wires to the vehicle.

In Germany Ernst Werner Von Siemens ran experiments between Charlottenburg and Spandau Bock for six weeks beginning May 1882, with what he called his ‘contaktwagen’. Also in 1882 Chicago, A Belgian Charles Van Depoele patented a trolley wheel taking power from an overhead wire. While in 1889 another American Harvey D.Dibble also patented a trolley bus.

These working models primarily in Germany and America were not reliable, they just proved that the concept was sound. In 1889 a patent was granted for the invention of a three-legged three-phase transformer which was the beginning of the world wide introduction of the three-phase alternating current system for the provision of electricity. AEG built the first three-phase electric power transmission line in 1891 from Lauffen to Frankfurt and five years later the first American electric power line was built by Tesla and Westinghouse from Niagara Falls to New York.

It was this new higher voltage power supply that made regular tramline services possible. Where the UK picks up the trail is that overhead operation was first seen at a demonstration in Edinburgh in 1890. An American company International Thompson Houston Co., installed the Leeds Roundhay tramway in 1891. The overhead and trolley-wheel system was then used in Bradford and then in Guernsey in 1892. After that overhead tram systems spread throughout the world.


In the 19th Century, ‘progress’ was defined with the advent of the horse drawn omnibus and the railways in the 1830s, horse drawn trams in the 1870s, automobiles in the 1880s and electric trams from the 1890s. In the UK the 1860 Cheap Trains Act introduced cheap fares at times outside of business hours. One can see that from the 1860s the railways were beginning efforts to hold on to patrons.

The panic started when the first horse drawn trams started in London, operating along Victoria Street from 1860. This enterprise was owned by an American with a rather appropriate name, George Francis Train. It is from him that we visualise tram tracks embedded into the road. He was arrested for causing damage to the road surface and it took a change in the law to permit tram lines on the condition they be sunken into the roadway. The demonstration lines went through affluent areas and the well to do complained about the noise of the trams. Then it was noted the rails were protruding from the road surface causing great inconvenience to road users and after just a few months the lines were removed.

When the turnpikes were removed the cost of maintaining roads fell back to the tax payer. However the tramway law made it the responsibility of the tram companies to maintain the road the tracks were on and any parallel carriageway. So the fare to ride on a tram was a charge per mile. Trams had no problem competing with existing omnibuses as the tram was far more comfortable running on its rails.

By 1871 horse-drawn trams had reached the foot of Highgate Hill. The steepness of the hill meant that horses were unable to take the omnibus further. As we discussed earlier, the coming of electricity was being experimented with in regards to a power source for trams, but in the meantime horse drawn vehicles were the only option and limited by the power of horses, which for 60 seater vehicles was usually two.

Other power sources were being looked at too, for example on the Caledonian Road between 1881 and 1883 some trams were powered by compressed air. And the solution for Highgate Hill in 1884, was a cable tramway operated by the Highgate Steep Grade Tramways and Works Co. A similar system was operating in San Francisco designed by William Eppelsheimer, the man who was also employed to design the grip system for Highgate Hill and which became the first of its kind in Europe. The fact that it worked meant other steep gradients such as Brixton Hill could implement a cable tramway system.

Highgate cable tram – View from Highgate Village looking down Highgate Hill.

The service on Highgate Hill comprised of five double decker trams running between the Archway Tavern and Highgate Village, each capable of carrying 26 passengers inside and 28 on top. The cable was 3780ft that’s about three quarters of a mile and was set into the road between the 3ft 3in gauge rails. 2700 ft was double track with the remaining single track having two passing places. It was kept continuously moving at six and a half miles an hour by two steam engines housed on the east side at the top of the hill. Trams attached themselves to the cable with a clamp-like grip to pick up a tow.

Representatives from other cities came to appraise the system working and Birmingham adopted the system for one of their steep hills. However it was not faultless nor inexpensive to run and by 1892 a series of accidents saw the cable tramway removed from service for repairs. The repairs went on for months and a new company had to be formed in 1893 to continue, but the local authorities would not grant a licence until the tramway was in a proper state and so the line was reconstructed and new engines installed then at long last services started again in April 1897 and continued until 1909 when the cable system was replaced by electric trams.

Towards the end of the 19th century, the London County Council (LCC) was acquiring companies running horse drawn trams because it was planning to unify and electrify the transport system. In 1899 and again in 1901 it sent delegates to America to study their tramways. Operators were looking for alternatives to the horse that would be cheaper and more efficient.

The two major costs associated with operating trams were the maintenance of the roads and even costlier, the maintenance of the horses. In 1900 London was the world’s largest city with a population of 6.5 million. The streets were crowded with horse drawn omnibuses, hackney cabs, carriages and trams. Single decker vehicles required one horse with double deckers drawn by two horses. All these horses deposited 1000 tonnes of dung on the streets every day.

The horses represented 55% of operating costs. Each horse worked for three to four hours and completed about fifteen miles. They worked in teams of twelve horses to keep a single vehicle on the road for twelve hours a day. The electrification of the trams and the later arrival of the motor bus before the First World War was the reason for the demise of the working horses in London with the last horse drawn trams being withdrawn in 1915.

The conversion work in London started in 1901 with the first electric line opening in May 1903 between Westminster Bridge and Tooting. In the Greater London Area, the Croydon Corporation began the first electric tram services in 1901 using power from overhead wires. In 1903 there were 300 electric trams in London and by 1914 London tram operators formed the largest tram network in Europe.

Electric trams took several decades to catch on, mainly as we have seen, due to waiting for electrical power technology to catch up. But once they did take off they were limited by the expensive costs and this is why trams were only viable on main high-footfall routes. In the heyday the longest tram route within London was a weekend service between Archway and Downham via Brockley, 16 miles (26 kilometres).


We are familiar in Archway with the number 17 bus. It started out as tram route 17 on New Year’s Day 1913 running between Archway and Farringdon Street and reports describe it as a busy service running along Caledonian Road. As a trolley bus route it had the number 617 and ran between North Finchley and King’s Cross via East Finchley, Highgate, Archway, Holloway and Caledonian Road and on Saturday morning the route was extended to Farringdon Street via Grays Inn Road and Holborn Circus. In 1961 route 17 started using a diesel bus. Today’s route was introduced in 1985 and runs from Archway to London Bridge.

Trolley buses were viable compared to trams because of the expense of laying tram tracks. So in places where the demand was so low that the cost of laying tracks could not be justified, the trolley bus was the alternative system. Trolley buses started replacing trams in London from 1931. Passengers found them more comfortable and safer to use because they pulled up to the kerb.

The Bielatal system was the world’s first passenger carrying trolley bus network and commenced near Dresden on 10 July 1901. It was designed by Max Schiemann who developed – and I’m quoting this: “the standard current collection system with spring-loaded, rigid trolley poles, and an under wire running contact.

On 20 June 1911 Leeds and Bradford simultaneously opened Britain’s first trolleybus services. The trolley buses were capable of running within 15ft from the centre of the trolley wires. The Bradford trolley buses were the last network to operate in the UK when they stopped in March 1972.

The original six-wheeler trolley bus was made by Guy Motors in 1926. The electrical equipment was supplied by the British Thomson-Houston Company with each bus having twin forty horsepower self-ventilated interpole traction motors. Some models had an auxiliary internal combustion engine, allowing the vehicle to leave the power line.

Britain’s first 6-wheeled double decker trolley bus, outside Wolverhampton Town Hall. Guy Motors Ltd. (source)

In 1933 the London Passenger Transport Board (i.e. London Transport) inherited 327 tramway miles and just 18 trolley bus miles but by 1948 the numbers were 102 miles and 255 miles respectively. From the start they had parliamentary approval to abandon the whole tramway system rather than any part of it, and they were permitted to introduce any system as long as it was not more expensive to implement and operate than a trolley bus system.

London Transport continued to swap out the trams for trolley buses. Thousands of cast iron poles needed to be erected to support overhead wires and in narrower streets attached to buildings with large cast iron blocks. Finchley’s trams were all replaced by trolley buses in 1938. However, in January 1939 the General Manager reported that due to improvements in the internal combustion engine, motor buses were now cheaper to run than trolley buses.

But nothing progressed during the war years because of priorities for the war effort. Already by this time all the trams north of the river had been replaced leaving just over 1,000 trams in the south. After the war the trams continued to be replaced by trolley buses despite the inevitability that they would soon have to be replaced with motor buses.

In 1950 Operation Tramway was announced by Lord Latham of the London Transport Executive, it would begin to replace trolley buses with motor buses. This began in October of that year. It affected other cities too, for example in 1950 Wolverhampton’s trolley buses made up two thirds of their fleet but by 1960 it was made up of 153 trolley buses and 149 motor buses. The last trams finally left service in July 1952 and oddly enough all the trolley buses in London had been replaced by 8 May 1962 – just ten years later.

Today the Archway remains a hub for buses continuing its transport role as a through route or bus terminus for several routes. In a few instances, it is possible to trace the lineage of existing routes back to their identically numbered predecessors from horse drawn days. There is a tradition for route planners to respect the past by re-using numbers that have local historic associations.

In this vein we have already discussed route 17 and its equivalent trolley route number, the 617. A similar story is true for the C11. Originally Tram 11 terminated at Highgate Village. It was the last tram in North London to be replaced by a trolley bus, the 611 took over from 10 December 1939. On 19th July 1960 the time had come for the 611 to be replaced with a motor bus, but it took on the number 271, and not route 11 as that already existed from 1906 running between Fulham Broadway and Liverpool Street.

In 1968 London Transport first started using the system of prefix numbers. The C in C11 stands for Camden. It began on 28 October 1972 running between Cricklewood Broadway and Archway via Hampstead Heath and Parliament Hill Fields and it has no connection to the trolley bus 611.

For people that live for some time in an area they become familiar with certain numbers, in Archway that may be routes 4, C11, 17, 271, whereas 263 and 43 are familiar through routes. But it’s a strange thought that those living elsewhere will share no ounce of affinity with the significance of these numbers, yet they will have random numbers of their own like 12, 152, 246 and 3 – numbers that mean absolutely nothing to me!

Notable Landmarks



When we talk about the Methodist Hall, it’s used interchangeably with Methodist Church and this is because the Church sits on the corner of the central Archway area and the Hall takes a more prominent position in the central area, but both were built as one complex and owned and maintained by the same owners thereafter for over half a century.

They are entirely neglected in academic literature as well as having no graded architectural status due to the carefree method of its construction. Although the Archway Central Hall is one of the few remaining examples of these halls built throughout the country in the early twentieth century, it always was and remains a place of significance with regards to its prominent location and involvement with the local community, rather than for architectural importance.

The headquarters of the Methodist Church in Great Britain is Westminster Central Hall, situated across from Westminster Abbey. It was built in 1912 as part of a programme from 1886 to 1945 that erected great halls throughout Britain. Westminster was not the first Central Hall, the first ones appeared in Manchester (1886), Bermondsey (1898), Liverpool (1905), and Sheffield (1908).

More than thirty Central Halls were built throughout London, equating to a third that were built in Greater London. They were not solely for worship but for general use and secular events alike; for meetings, theatre, cinema, or dancing etc. Westminster Central Hall in 1946 held the founding sessions that created the United Nations General Assembly.

The denomination of Methodism sits withing the Church of England. It was the result of a movement led my an English evangelist called John Wesley. Perhaps the most notable aim of the movement was a main focus in addressing the poverty of areas. John Wesley said “I look upon the whole world as my parish.”

John Wesley put roots in Archway with the Wesleyan Chapel built in 1864. By 1930 it was the Archway Road Chapel and had deteriorated to a point were it was decided to build a Central Hall. The Wesleyans, the Primitives and the United Methodists, joined together to form one church and in 1934 the present buildings were erected as the Archway Central Hall. The Reverend Charles Hulbert was appointed to oversee the building works.

Central Halls are distinct in their lack of elaborate design. They were not built in Georgian or art deco fashion but instead were to sit alongside existing buildings, to compete with pubs, dance halls and cinemas but with a grander central space.

The large hall was in the specifications which stated that at least 1,000 people could worship at once. There was also a requirement to self maintain the building. Therefore so many are found in prominent locations offering ground floor shop units, the renting of the main hall for cinema or dancing, and with smaller halls for hire. This was a method used in historic times where temples would also provide non-religious functionality such as a market place.

An architectural competition was held and the company George E. and K. G. Withers of London, won the commission for the design of the Archway Central Hall. When Charles Hulbert enquired about the design style he learned of the frugality of building restrictions, Withers replied that: ‘there is no particular style of architecture, we have adopted the modern style which is in keeping with present day costs and steel constructed buildings’.

The first planning application was refused because of the anticipated road widening projects and so the building line had to be set back by fourteen feet on Archway Road and six feet on St Johns Way, after which planning approval was granted in November 1932, and Archway Central Hall opened in April 1934. The new hall made immediate impact with a floodlit stone cross that dominated the building. When the tower was truncated in 1956 the cross was removed and replaced with a neon equivalent.

The church entrance off St John’s Way boasted a full sized cinema screen that could be winched up and down as required. Traffic noise was addressed by insulating the walls with a high density fibrous board. A snippet in a Methodist Church magazine said: ‘At first before our people had got really used to it, all sorts of amusing ideas existed as to what it really was. It is on record that several people from time to time passed the swing door with their towel around their necks, asking which way to the swimming bath.

Saturday afternoons were given over to a children’s cinema showing a mixture of cartoons and educational films and there were concerts and variety acts and whatever films they could get hold of from the Rank corporation. This was the heydey of the Methodist Mission in Archway.

During the Second World War the basement was requisitioned by Islington Borough Council as an air raid shelter. Hundreds of people used it and the Methodists provided entertainment and provisions. In 1946 the cine-projectors were sold and the hall turned to facilities for teenagers – the Methodist Association of Youth Clubs (MAYC), an organisation that in the 50’s had some 3,400 clubs.

Archway Methodist Hall provided six rooms up to four times a week for these creative classes. However, this phase petered out in the 60’s. As early as 1939 the congregation began to wane and with commercial success came complaints that it was no longer prominent as a church. So by the 1950s the sign on the outside was separated to display above both entrances ‘Archway Central Hall’ and ‘Archway Methodist Church’.

When the Greater London Council (GLC) eventually superseded the LCC in 1965, Archway Road was widened to a dual carriageway and the intersection became a gyratory roundabout, isolating the Archway Tavern and Methodist Hall and Church within a traffic island. It was the single most damaging development in Archway’s history as it curtailed social development and relegated the area to ‘that place where the roundabout is’.

A Methodist report of 1974 stated: ‘Archway is still suffering grievously from people moving away and there is still widespread dereliction in the area.‘ During this time only 10% of the church on Sunday was filled by worshippers. Years later in 2007 an architect Sir Terry Farrell commented on the disrupting effect that gyratory road schemes had in London, amongst them Archway of which he described as a lost town.

Archway Local Community

In the sections above we have discussed the history of Archway from the Medieval Times. How far should we go back when looking at the local community, probably I would suggest, a generation. Not a typical generation which is considered to be just thirty years, but to the time around when your parents were in their teens and your grandparents were still running up Highgate Hill.

We associate the Second World War as the generation of our grandparents and the swinging sixties that of our parents. And so meeting them in the middle are the 1950s, a time of austerity and re-building after the war years and a time also heading into uncertainty and a new search for identity with music and fashion and attitudes.

In terms of the local community at Archway, the 1950s was a decade before Archway turned in to a roundabout and therefore our connection to the previous people that lived here. Some of the shops and business that we see today were established in those times and it also offers insight into the social landscape as many of the streets and buildings were completely erased in the 1960s and 1970s to make way for housing estates.


In the 1950s many houses still had the WC outside with no hot water and perhaps a single running tap in the kitchen, this is what we associate with living conditions in the war years. The 1960s in a very broad sense seemed more concerned with laying concrete, roads, walls, that sort of thing, giving us the roundabout and the tower etc. By the 1970s a move was being made to address housing and that was done by building housing estates, albeit by then the plumbing issues had mainly been dealt with and existing houses did have bathrooms and hot water.

1950s Archway had ample shops but for Christmas shopping a trip to the Nag’s Head or Oxford Street was necessary as remains the case today. Particularly in Archway there has been a notable absence in the retail of clothes, perhaps because the not so distant Fonthill Road has provided that.

Although horses for public transport had long disappeared from every day life, the humble horse and cart was still to be seen in the employ of local businesses making deliveries. The notable place of that time were the stables in Flowers Mews, which were used by the Co-op for its milk rounds.

On the south side in Upper Holloway, the mews next to what was Thomas Brothers, can be still seen some tram tracks at the old entrance to the tram depot. The whole area behind contained the trams and the minimum twelve stables required to operate services for twelve hours around the clock.

The site now is used by the Job Centre and before that it was used by Crosfield electronic and printing works. Previously it had belonged to the Integral Propeller Co. before they moved to Hendon in 1914 and before them it was used as a tramway depot, as demonstrated with the image below.