What happens under the bridge
Stays under the bridge

So is it ‘The Archway’ or plain Archway. Well, either is okay but it’s probably more deserving to just say Archway albeit the quote below taken from a newspaper cutting of 1906 uses ‘the Archway’. For a generation this place held no more importance than being the situate of a strategic roundabout to handle through traffic in and out of London in the north, but in recent times it has seen one of the largest transformations in its history, and is today a popular place once again.

Extract from a newspaper report of a tramcar accident in October 1906.
Click image to view the entire clipping.


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 completed the transversion from a traffic thoroughfare into a meaningful commuter metropolis, at a cost to Transport for London of £12.8 million, a little chunk from their £4bn Road Modernisation Plan. Despite the 1,000 signature petition to opposing the project, the works began on 1 February 2016 and took eighteen months to complete.

It seems like the council is hell bent on attracting city folk to come and live here. The transformation of this underrated area sitting snuggly between Holloway, Hornsey, Highgate and Tufnell Park, began as an Islington Council regeneration project. Before that, you would see people sampling the pollution levels every so often and you might read in the local paper how terribly high these pollution figures were – yet today less than 5% is through traffic.

For a generation of people this place will be remembered for ‘the roundabout years’ or perhaps ‘the quiet period’ in comparison with today’s hustle and bustle. It might have been called New Archway, but that would have painted over a remarkable history. The grand gyratory system serving local traffic and freight going in and out of London from the north gate, is no longer here and one wonders where on Earth it all went seeing as there are no other routes that can handle the level of traffic.

In Junction Road you no longer see the traditional butchers, grocers and bakeries that were there since before the roundabout came in the sixties. They faded out twenty years ago when the pound shops and kebab shops moved in. Regeneration saw that business heard of the potential for the area, restaurants and more fast food franchises appeared. And, more coffee vendors than a Moroccan souk, within a circumference that rivals the ethnic coffee establishments of Seven Sisters Road, Finsbury Park and Stroud Green.

Construction also, over-spilled from landscaping the new pedestrian area that replaced the roundabout, to refurbishment of the surrounding buildings. Severely underused office space became a Premiere Inn hotel and new homes were built alongside. New legislation permitted the internationally funded company Essential Living to buy the Archway tower and convert it into residential flats without any planning permission, which was targeted for 25-35 year olds. This ensured the conversion of the tower was done fast as The General Permitted Development Order allows developers to change offices to dwellings without the approval of residents and local authorities.

Navigator Square 2017. The first time traffic has not passed by the side of the Archway Tavern.

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

Developers describe the area as ‘a developing residential area known for its Victorian houses and new apartment blocks’, leaving out the numerous estates that sprouted up during Archway’s concrete period throughout the 60s and 70s.

Good transport links for an easy commute is the top priority for people in London seeking rental accommodation, who will be paying up to 85 per cent of their salaries on rent. Yet Archway has had this facility for many years but remained under the radar. Presumably the Council held a view that it had spent enough already on housing here some decades ago.

Housing around the new Arsenal Stadium was billed as ‘affordable housing’ but in reality it was out of reach for normal people. Similarly Archway developers have described their projects as ‘affordable’, yet the same question applies: affordable to who?

The real reason the developers have come to Archway is that more than half of renters are spending more than 40 per cent of their incomes on rent and London accounts for half of the 60,000 build-to-rent homes under construction in Britain,

It is a lucrative business with build-to-rent developments owned by large-scale corporate landlords ever rising. These ‘affordable’ homes, of which Vantage Point is an example, can include fully furnished flats with free wi-fi, 24-hour concierge and a hotel-style reception with lounge and dining space.

All being said they are not cheap. I mean who are these so called 25 to 35 year olds that can afford one of the ‘affordable’ properties at Vantage Point? This was Essential Living’s first build-to-rent development which opened in September 2016.

The build-to-rent sector is worth £25 billion and is expected to rise to £70 billion by 2021. Far from offering affordable housing, developers use these phrases to secure the rights to build from the Council and then sell or rent for what they please. As build-to-rent developments rise, the more renters continue to be priced out of the housing market, and that’s the hard truth.

With nearly a quarter of households expected to be renting by 2021, there is no end in sight for developers. Someone wanting to get on the property ladder would take an estimated eighteen years to save a fifteen per cent deposit to buy, and a couple saving together would take eleven years (ref: Hamptons International).

The rebirth

For many there never was much purpose for Archway aside from its strategic logistical role as a traffic intersection, in fact whenever people ask me where I live they’ve never heard of Archway, but I say Holloway or Highgate or Camden Town and they immediately get a bearing. The area was in every way allowed to run down and was relegated and forgotten by Islington Council since the 1960s, pretty much in the same way the Nag’s Head was also allowed to decline during the nineties in favour of more investable areas like Angel, King’s Cross, Farringdon and Old Street. Certainly the south side of Islington where it meets with the City of London has always been the focus of town planning priorities.

But to assume it has no character is far from the truth as the bushel of landmarks testify to a busy history, pretty much up until the roundabout was constructed. Notably there is a catholic monastery, catholic schools, a hospital, underground and overground rail stations, places that were once used to rest horses and run trams, a wonderful bridge and in more recent years a library and swimming pool – so apart from the roundabout Archway has always had a purpose.

For over forty years a roundabout ensured no real commercial development, only estate housing emerged along the east and west flanks and the few shops along Junction Road to service them. To shop for a family, people would need to go to neighbouring Holloway or even Camden in order to find a decent sized supermarket and shops like Iceland, Marks & Spencer and Argos. These days Iceland and Marks & Spencer have re-located to Archway and aside from the Coop which has always been here, now Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Aldi and M&S all vie for business.

Islington Council finally appreciated the significance of this place when it recognised some years back that its heavy traffic was an important thoroughfare running northward from Angel through Highbury and Holloway to Archway where the borough boundary is splendidly demarked with a high iron bridge. This artery of London was referred to internally as the ‘The Gateway’.

Plenty of traffic was passing through so the idea was to convert some into footfall so travellers might visit the area and spend, especially on leisure at the restaurants, clubs and bars. It’s public knowledge that Jeremy Corbyn is the MP for Islington North but also one of Tony Blair’s favourite restaurants was the Cuba Libre on Islington Green. Islington In Bloom saw flower baskets draped on the railings of central reservations and the focus moved slowly on to Upper Street and Holloway Road.

Floral sculpture of Dick Whittington’s cat on Holloway Road.

Unfortunately the regeneration of the gateway came too late to save the Nag’s Head with Sainsbury’s, M&S, Boots and Iceland all having moved out over the years. The main areas of Finsbury Park, Angel, Old Street, and Clerkenwell all had steering committees and in particular the Angel initiative operates as a landlord collecting additional business rates for the privilege of receiving additional services on top of the Council’s duty. It seemed like overnight that Archway suddenly had a steering group of its very own.

Perhaps the significant factor was the Department of Transport’s role in upgrading the gateway and thereby involving Transport for London with infrastructure works. The roundabout had been 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 when the Council finally promised that the roundabout was to be removed, but there was no agreement between Islington and Transport For London as to who would pay for it. Finally the impasse was broken and appropriately for Archway 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.”

Archway Local Community

How far can we go back when looking at the history of our local community, it is of course a matter of the amount, source and integrity of the data and information that we have at hand. In truth there is usually not one group of people but several factions that occupy the same living space. England and London have always been multicultural and highly integrated.

For example at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 three quarters of the English Navy were non-English with a third of those being black men and approaching 40% were Irish-born. Therefore the territory that encompasses what we would today call Archway, does have a detailed record dating back as far as you wish, it is London after all, and easy enough to research, but it is a tale of a varied people.

In other sections we go back in time and discover what Georgian and Victorian life was like, who Dick Whittington was, get a sense of how the great plagues affected the area and how the Romans moved through Archway on the way to and from York.

We might associate the time of our grandparents with the world wars, and the time of our parents as the rock and roll years or the swinging sixties, or in architectural terms, the time before there was a roundabout. Until two years ago the rest of us have only known Archway as a place with a roundabout.

To examine the changing infrastructure offers an insight to the social landscape. Our grandparents would regard the turn of the twentieth century as their connection between the Victorian and Edwardian periods, the Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles. Our parents being war babies might see both world wars as the line between the antiquated past and the modern industrial age.

Some of the shops and businesses that we see today were established in the 1950s. There were ample shops but with a notable absence in the retail of clothes, the single clothes outlet on Junction Road having closed down in July 2019. Perhaps it was always thought that Fonthill Road catered for this. For Christmas shopping a trip to the Nag’s Head or Oxford Street was necessary. Later on Brent Cross and Wood Green would offer more options but it remains the case today that the nearest place for Christmas shopping is probably James Selby in the Nag’s Head.

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 Coop for its milk rounds. Many houses still had the WC outside with no hot water and perhaps a single running tap in the kitchen, conditions we normally associate with living in the 1940s.

The 1960s in a very broad sense were about building in concrete, giving us the roundabout and the tower. It didn’t seek glory such as the building of St Joseph’s Retreat did, or construction of Archway Bridge, but the pouring of concrete was about functionality, to provide new housing and at the same time resolve the existing Victorian design. Many of the streets and buildings were completely erased in the 1960s and 1970s to make way for housing estates which resolved the plumbing issues and houses had bathrooms and hot water.

It is a testament to the planners and builders of our past that their constructions still stand whereas the concrete jungle of the 60s and 70s will soon disappear alongside the roundabout. The only saving grace is that the estates were not constructed in the horrific concrete block design that befell most estates and tower blocks of the 60s throughout the country. At least those in Archway are mainly brick faced, (e.g. Elthorne Estate) and floors are made with wood boards instead of concrete, (e.g. Cheverton Estate).

The Archway roundabout concrete carbuncle as it was.

Research that didn’t quite make it.

  • There is no archaeological trace of a Roman camp in Archway.
  • There is no record of the date of the erection of the Hunting Lodge at Highgate, but it was probably between 1068 and 1080 CE.
  • The great forest of Middlesex extended as far as Dunstable. The infamous highwayman Dunne, and of him the place where he most used, by reason of the great woods thereabouts, is to this day called Dunstable.
  • The Whittington Almshouses next to St Michael Paternoster Royal moved to Highgate in 1808 and to East Grinstead in 1966.
  • Between 1500 and 1650 population increased tenfold.
  • Highgate record: Lloyd – April 2Oth 1763. “Yesterday morning a Porter walked from the conduit in Cheapside to Highgate for a wager of ^5 and a leg of mutton and caper sauce; he was allowed an hour, but performed it in 56 minutes.”
  • Highgate record: August 24th, 1770. “This morning the Post Boy carrying the Chester Mail was robbed at the foot of Highgate Hill by a single highwayman, who took out of his cart a small mail containing twelve bags ; 200 reward are offered for the discovery of the robber.”
  • Highgate record: 1779- “Friday evening about seven o’clock Mr. Hart and his wife were returning to town from Hatfield ; three footpads stopped their post-chaise at the bottom of Highgate Hill, when the villains obliged them to get out, took what money they had, and examined the inside of the chaise, where they found a turkey and a hare, which they carried off, saying they should have a good Sunday’s dinner.”
  • Highgate record: 1782. “John Prince, one of the horse patroles employed by the trustees of tlu- Highgate and Hampstead roads, whilst on his duty at Holloway on Saturday last, had his horse shot under him, by a man who was in company with three more, and who afterwards surrounded him with cutlasses, but some more of the patrole coming. up, the fellows made off.”
  • Highgate record: 1804. “Yesterday Their Majesties in a post chariot, and followed by the Princesses and Duke of Kent, in two coaches and four, took an airing in the neighbourhood
  • Islington Workhouse gave shelter to a thousand paupers, not counting children, and was reckoned one of the largest and finest in the kingdom – “certainly,” said the Times correspondent, “a very spacious, well-built, well-ventilated, clean and orderly establishment.”
  • An inscription on the Monument blames the Great Fire of London on Catholics.
  • Cromwell House was built in 1638 by Sir Richard Sprignell and is Grade 1 listed. . And from one of the vaults is an entrance to a subterranean passage, which emerged on the lower ground at the back of the house, near to the present Archway Road.
  • Highgate synagogue was registered 1930 at no. 88 Archway Road, bought by an orthodox Jewish community in 1929, was replaced in 1937 by a new building adjoining it, seating c. 400, and in 1950 moved to no.200 Archway Road, Hornsey.
  • In 1927 a fleet of Guy 6-wheelers were sold to the London Public Omnibus Company and appeared on the streets of London.
  • The Archway Tower is 59 meters high. Constructed in 1963.
  • It’s 6.5 miles from the foot of Highgate Hill to the Barbican on London Wall.


During the progress of the works (i.e. Archway tunnel), a vast number of fossil shells, sharks’ teeth, palates, and scales of different fish were discovered also fossil wood and fruits, and a peculiar resinous substance, which emits an odour, when heated, and melts into a limpid fluid. These remains were found at the depth of about eighty feet from the surface of the earth. They have been classed by N. T. Wetherell, Esq., of Highgate, F.G.S., M.R.C.S., to whom I am indebted for the accurate list subjoined, a paper of which was read on June 13th, 1832, at the Geological Society of London. For the new road at Highgate, numerous fossils were dug up, which have already been described as be longing to very distant parts of this stratum; afford indubitable testimony that the ocean at one time extended far into Middle sex, without making more especial reference to the Deluge, which occurred about 4190 years since. In cutting this road various fossil remains were found, consisting of shells, crabs, and lobsters, the teeth and vertebræ of sharks and other fish, thus proving that there was a time when the hill held a far lower level, or else that the whole valley of the Thames was one large arm of the sea.


Aged Pilgrims’ Friend Society Hornsey Rise Chapel and Terrace View of the Chapel and Terrace of the Aged Pilgrims’ Asylum which used to be on the corner of St John’s Road (now St John’s way) and Hazelville Road. The Aged Pilgrims Friend Society built a home for 120 pensioners at the northern corner of St. John’s Road and Hazelville Road in 1871. It was for aged and comparatively destitute members of Christian churches of all denominations. The two-storeyed building was designed by F. Boreham in Tudor Gothic style around a large courtyard with chapel, hall, and committee rooms. Building work was carried out by Messrs. Hill & Sons, of Islington for £9,345 sterling.The buildings were cleared in the 1970’s when most of the workhouse near-by was demolished.Postcard by Aged Pilgrim Friend Society 19-21 Ludgate Circus, London EC4.

The awful visitations of 1665 and 1666

This segregation until now would seem to have offered Highgate some protection from the onslaught of the plague which seemingly had no barrier in its path. Plague was a constant threat, particularly because sanitation was so rudimentary. London was subject to no less than 16 outbreaks of the plague between 1348 and the Great Plague of 1665. Upper Holloway was a place devoted to establishments that dealt with leprosy and the plague yet writings of note from the 17th Century testify that Highgate Hill remained remarkably unaffected by it.


In 1808, believing the soil in the area to be even and solid in formation, he proposed to build a tunnel through the hill. From Shepherd’s Hill one would have seen the same fields as before, with Archway Road sloping down between the fields to a tunnel mouth, with an unchanged Hornsey Lane running high above. A Turnpike Trust resolved to follow Vazie’s advice and by-pass Highgate Hill by building a tunnel through the escarpment, below Hornsey Lane. After a long, steady climb the road would skirt Highgate Hill along the dip at Shepherd’s Hill as it does today, and then it would go on to meet the old North Road at the Wellington.