Category Archives: Islington

London Lit: Neverwhere

I can’t believe how long it’s taken me to finally get around to writing this entry. If I’m going to be meta about it, this is actually one of the first entries I planned to write, and that must have been, what, two and a half years ago? Daaaamn.

So yeah, Neverwhere. One of the best-known works of urban fantasy and one of the best-known London novels, I think I’m being fair when I say these things. Neil Gaiman’s first novel and my personal favourite.

The story is fairly simple – our protagonist is the slightly Arthur Dent-esque Richard Mayhew, a relative newcomer to London. One day he comes across what he thinks is a wounded homeless girl and offers to help her, only to swiftly and unwittingly find himself drawn into a bizarre and fantastical version of the city existing below and around our own – London Below. Worse, the girl – Door – is being pursued by a couple of bizarre and apparently time-travelling assassins. And so we find outselves journeying through London-as-filtered-through-Neil-Gaiman’s-brain.

If any of you saw the superb Gaiman-penned Doctor Who episode, ‘The Doctor’s Wife,’ you’ll recognise the hallmarks. Strange people living in a thrown-together world and plenty of whiplash between scary and funny. If it was a movie, it would probably be directed by Tim Burton. Hence we get bizarre scenes like the visit to Earl’s Court. That is to say, an actual Court held by an Earl. A medieval court on an Underground train. There’s also an Angel called Islington and an order of Black Friars. Oh, and you get to learn the real reason why you should Mind the Gap.

For those of you familiar with the history and mythology surrounding the city, there’s even more. From abandoned Tube stations to a throwaway reference to Gog and Magog (blink and you’ll miss it), it’s very clear that Gaiman’s done his homework in researching his fantasy world.

My first exposure to the phenomenon, oddly enough, was not via the book. It was over a decade ago, on TV. You see, Neverwhere was originally developed as a fantasy TV series at the behest of none other than Lenny Henry. This was long before the revival of Doctor Who, and so the general attitude towards fantasy on TV was that it was all a little bit silly. As a result, the whole thing looks a bit cheap and naff. Which is a pity, because it’s really not. There is some superb location filming, including the use of Battersea Power Station, HMS Belfast, Down Street Station and the old Post Office Underground. The cast features some interesting before-they-were-famous faces, including Paterson Joseph, Tamsin Greig and Peter Capaldi (as the aforementioned Angel Islington). It was a bit weird, to be sure, but it piqued my curiosity and I went out and bought the book. And I was hooked. I’m told that the version in print today differs somewhat from that 1997 publication, so I should probably buy the new one as well. Not that I’m a fanboy or anything.

It’s not the only urban fantasy set in London, nor is it even the first. But it is perhaps the best-known and tends to be very highly rated – China Miéville, for instance, lists it as an influence on his own London fantasies.  I think the reason for its success is that it never takes itself too seriously.  The characters are strange, often scary, but strangely likeable – I want to see more of the sinister Croup and Vandemar, for a start.

As I say, Gaiman is clearly familiar with the folklore and history of London, but you don’t need to be in order to enjoy the book. It’s my experience that a lot of the more well-read authors want you to know just how clever they are and their work suffers as a result. In the case of Neverwhere, a passing familiarity with the city will see you just fine. And having read it, you may want to increase that familiarity.

That’s a thought – has anyone ever done a Neverwhere tour?

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Filed under 20th Century, Film and TV, Islington, Literature, London, London Underground, Occult, Paranormal, Psychogeography

Good Friday? I’ll say!

Happy Easter, chums. I hope the weekend finds you well. I am fine. At the time of writing, it’s Good Friday and I’ve just come back from a rather unexpectedly pleasant day out which was, I feel, in the true spirit of psychogeography.

I mean, it was a lovely sunny day outside, and as it was a four-day weekend, I was feeling rather chipper. I wasn’t at all sure what I wanted to do, so I thought I’d explore the canals around Limehouse a bit more. Alas, when I got to Bank, I discovered that the Docklands Light Railway wasn’t running. Yes, I know, I know, could have seen that when I started the journey, but that’s not how I roll.

So, vaguely at a loss, I decided to just go for a wander. I broke the surface (not literally) and wandered vaguely North-East through Leadenhall Market. This place, pictured right, is an absolutely gorgeous Victorian shopping arcade. During the week it houses a food market, but at weekends is rather peaceful – I have yet to sample the weekday wares, alas. You may know it from the film of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, in which it appeared as the area around Diagon Alley. I got the impression Chris Columbus was going for the Bridget Jones’ Diary school of London film making, in which London is a magical place that hasn’t quite moved out of the Victorian era.

Heading out beyond Liverpool Street, I came upon Petticoat Lane market. I’ve never been here before, and I must admit that I’d never really thought about going there before. I’d heard of it, but had no especial desire to visit. It’s not one of the top tourist destinations, and as such doesn’t cater to tourists. It’s primarily a clothing market, which is great if you are me. However, I do have to say that there’s a lot of duplication between stalls – if you’ve seen one selection of shirts, you’ve seen them all. The market has historically been a place of dubious legality, only becoming official in 1936, but despite this and the lack of tourism, it remains a firm local institution. While I wouldn’t go out of my way for it personally, it’s worth a look if, like me, you get stupidly excited about clothes.

Speaking of places where one can get stupidly excited about clothes, Brick Lane is very nearby, and so I made a beeline that way. With it being a bank holiday and thus less crowded than usual, and with the sun out, it was an utterly delightful experience. Sadly, at present, I find myself having to hold the purse strings – I’m moving house shortly, you see. And so it makes perfect sense that the universe should choose this point to taunt me with an incredible stripy blazer in black, red and grey (which I could totally pull off, I’m telling you) and a pair of Chelsea boots in exactly the style I’ve been looking for. Sadly, I could afford neither of these. Not even in the “can but shouldn’t” way. Instead, I consoled myself with a bagel, and now my fingers smell indelibly of chopped herring.

It was at this point that a teenager told me to get a haircut. I have thus out-fabuloused both the teens and the Shoreditch kids, which I believe is what is termed “bi-winning.”

This being done, I decided to finish my journey by walking up City Road to Islington. Wandering around Camden Passage, I came across one of the most amazing canes I have ever seen. It had a silver skull-shaped handle with a jawbone that doubled as a cigar cutter. But sadly it was £150, which I really, really, really cannot afford. Finally, I know the pain of unrequited love.

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Filed under Current events, East End and Docklands, Fashion and trends, Geography, Islington, London, Markets, Photos, Psychogeography, Shopping, Shoreditch, The City, tourism, Weird shops

What’s wrong with hipsters?

You see a lot of them in London. Shoreditch and Hoxton are where they’re most prevalent, but Hackney, Soho, Camden, Islington and Fitzrovia can all boast plenty. Even dear old Wandsworth has been invaded. Find anywhere with an art school and you’ll find a few of them hanging around. If you haven’t guessed, I’m talking about hipsters.

Now, hipsters get a lot of stick these days. As subcultures go, they’re more reviled than goths, geeks and hippies combined. But what exactly is a hipster? This is where people seem to run into trouble.

A hipster, it seems, is someone who takes pride in being different from the crowd. Nothing wrong with that, surely? I mean, who wouldn’t want to be seen as an individual? Ah, hold on, looks like I missed the point. The point is that the hipster is someone who takes pride in the difference itself – difference is what they cultivate. The problem arises from the fact that the difference manifests itself in the same clothing , hair and affectations as every other hipster, resulting in a kind of uniform. And the pride manifests itself in smugness.

The ire towards hipsters is not derived from the fact that they are eclectic and different, so much as that they think they are eclectic and different. Ironically, if someone genuinely was eclectic and different, they probably wouldn’t be classed as a hipster.

The look is fairly easy to identify – NHS glasses, lumberjack shirt, skinny jeans, keffiyeh, maybe some sort of woolly hat. And stupid hair. Basically, if you see a haircut and think, “That looks stupid,” you’ve probably found yourself a hipster. There may be a scraggly beard attached, if scraggly is even a word (I don’t think it is). If you trawl Topman, you can probably catch several.

Interestingly, the reputation of the hipster as less “trend setter/social rebel” and more “rich, middle-class, self-important, unoriginal snob in uniform” means that now, about the most insulting thing you can say to a hipster is that they are, in fact, a hipster. By labelling them a hipster, you effectively call them exactly the opposite of what a hipster desires to be. Some commentators have even gone so far as to suggest that by their very existence, hipsters have destroyed the meaning of cool.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that, but I do think the hipsters may be an interesting (although it goes against the hipster way to admit to being interested in anything) by-product of globalisation. With minor variations, hipsters may be found all over the world (as the Independent article above notes). As so many of the major clothing stores are multinational if not worldwide, there’s no need to hipsters to mix and match to achieve a look – they can buy the whole thing down their local high street. Head into Top Shop or Uni Qlo or – if you’re poor – Primark or H&M.

Primark. I think my image researcher may have made a mistake.

Basically, Westfield should see you alright. Interesting fact: Uni Qlo is a Japanese term derived from the English “eunuch clothes.” [NOTE FROM LAWYERS: No it is not]

So what’s the solution? Well, if you want to be unique and different, try actually being unique and different. Try enjoying what you like, rather than what the Internet and adverts tell you you should like. Wear clothes that suit you that you picked out yourself – instead of going for a charity shop look, try going to an actual charity shop. Listen to music you’ve found that you like, and if it goes mainstream, well, that’s just a sign of your good taste.
Also, stop wearing those plastic glasses, you look ridiculous.

Further Viewing
Being a dickhead’s cool, apparently. Thanks to Sazzi for alerting me to this.

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Filed under Arts, Camden, Fashion and trends, Hackney, Islington, London, Music, Only loosely about London, Shopping, Shoreditch, West End

Fully Booked

Right, chums, I think I’ve finally got the last of my Christmas shopping done. Hmm, that’s odd, I seem to recall having more money than that. Oh well.

I realise that many people here are not so fortunate – indeed, I myself have only got mine complete now as a result of a short-term change in my working hours. I feel I ought to do something to help. Here, therefore, are six of my favourite specialist bookshops for those obscure volumes that you can’t find anywhere else that make awesome presents if you know people of a literary bent and that.

I’m going to steer clear of second-hand and bargain bookshops, and also chains. So much as I’d love to, I can’t talk about Forbidden Planet or The Lamb, although both are excellent in their own way. I am also steering clear of those bookshops attached to museums, though these too are fine places for that specialist tome (The Cartoon Museum and the London Transport Museum both have excellent selections on their respective subjects) for the simple reason that they’d likely end up dominating the list. But do bear them in mind.

Anyway, without further ado…

1. Gosh! Comics

Specialises in: Graphic novels

Where is it? 39 Great Russell Street, WC1B

Nearest Tube: Tottenham Court Road or Holborn

There’s no shortage of comics shops in London, but to my mind Gosh! is the best. Comic shops have a tendency to be slightly grotty and a little intimidating to the novice. Gosh! is far more user-friendly, with less emphasis on mouldering racks of old Marvels and more on indie graphic novels, the kind of hip things that get reviewed in The Guardian. There’s also a superb selection of classic illustrated children’s books if you want something for the kids. An occasional treat for comic geeks like me is the signings they had – Hurricane Jack and I were once privileged to attend a signing by the great and hirstute Alan Moore. He’s really very friendly in real life.

http://www.goshlondon.com/

2. Motor Books

Specialises in: Car and other transport books

Where is it? 13-15 Cecil Court, WC2N

Nearest Tube: Leicester Square

Motor Books describes itself as “the world’s oldest motoring bookshop,” and it’s situated on the eminently bumble-able street of Cecil Court. It has a fantastic selection of books on all transport subjects, but as the name suggests, particularly specialises in those related to automobilia, arranged by category and marque. I’m no petrol-head, but even I was able to almost instantly find one of the books I was searching for. The staff are marvellous, and were able to pinpoint the second book right away. Given that both titles were fairly obscure, I must say I was most impressed.

http://www.motorbooks.co.uk/

3. Persephone

Specialises in: Obscure 20th century books by female novelists

Where is it? 59 Lambs Conduit Street

Nearest Tube: Russell Square or Holborn

Persephone is both bookshop and small-press publisher, publishing mainly female-authored books of the twentieth century that have been allowed to go out of print. Famed authors in their day now unjustly forgotten, lesser-known works by well-known writers and even cookbooks and diaries from bygone eras, all are liable to appear in the distinctive grey covers of Persephone. The bookshop has a real intimacy about it, and not just because it’s small. The staff are extremely knowledgeable and ready to provide advice (Yr. Humble Chronicler being less than familiar with between-the-wars women’s fiction). There’s a regular newsletter, too, and you get the feeling that Persephone is the sort of place that likes to nurture a regular customer base. Which is super.

http://www.persephonebooks.co.uk/index.asp

4. Housman’s

Specialises in: Radical literature

Where is it? 5 Caledonian Road, King’s Cross

Nearest Tube: King’s Cross St Pancras

I suspect this is a shop whose time has definitely come, what with the Coalition working hard to piss everyone off simultaneously. Therefore, you may find this place just the ticket if you’re looking for an alternative. Opened in 1945 as an offshoot of the pacifist movement, it offers a massive selection of political literature, including books, pamphlets and zines. However, if you’re not a very political person, but you are a regular on this blog, you may also wish to examine their massive wall of London-based books. Up the workers, and so forth.

http://www.housmans.com/index.php

5. Gay’s The Word

Specialises in: LGBT books

Where is it? 66 Marchmont Street

Nearest Tube: Russell Square

Gay’s The Word proudly advertises itself as the only specialist gay and lesbian bookshop in London, and its selection is very impressive indeed – they cover the whole spectrum from light-hearted fiction to in-depth political tomes, not to mention a fine range of cards and magazines on queer topics. I was rather taken by Sodomy and the Pirate Tradition, as well as a couple of books on the history of gay London. Recommended to anyone with an interest in gender politics, regardless of orientation.

http://freespace.virgin.net/gays.theword/

6. The School of Life

Specialising in: Philosophy, life improvement, self-help… I’ll get back to you on that one.

Where is it? 70 Marchmont Street

Nearest Tube: Russell Square

The School of Life was founded by Alain de Botton. Not strictly a bookshop, it nevertheless does sell an excellent range of books on topics that are related to improving your life. How to enjoy work, how to be ethical, how to take advantage of the simple pleasures of life, how to make relationships work, how to be happy – anything relating to life that’s not easily categorised. The chances are that you’ll find three or four different books you’ll want yourself, along with a bunch for your friends. Bring money, is what I’m saying.

http://www.theschooloflife.com/

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Filed under 20th Century, Arts, Bloomsbury, Geography, History, Islington, Kings Cross, Literature, London, Politics, Shopping, Weird shops, West End

Ice, Ice Baby

Winter, it would seem, is well and truly here. I am basing this purely on the heinous amount of snow outside. Of course, this isn’t entirely unexpected – it’s been brass-monkeys cold for a while now. I’m not a religious guy, but on Saturday, with my hands purple and aching with cold, I had cause to thank God for Primark and their inexpensive gloves. Later that day I took the terrible photo above, showing that City Road Basin in Islington was partially frozen.

Back in “The Day,” (i.e. up until about the mid-20th century) frozen canals and rivers were a serious issue. Canals in particular, which don’t flow like a river, were vulnerable to icing up. This had obvious economic consequences for trade, particularly before the advent of decent roads and railways. The low-tech but cunning solution was to apply brute force and a certain amount of wiggling. This was achieved using the canal icebreaker, or “rocker,” as they were known in the business.

The rocker was like a shortened narrowboat, but instead of a cargo area, it simply had a long bar. The bow sloped upwards. A team of men would stand either side, holding on to the bar. When the rocker came to ice, the bow would ride up on top of the ice and the men would rock back and forth to break it (hence the vessel’s nickname). This was usually sufficient for all but the most Arctic conditions in London.

[PARENTHESIS: Did you know that the word “Arctic” comes from the Latin word for polar bear, “arcta.” Arctic literally means “place where there are polar bears.” Antarctic means “place where there are no polar bears.” Now you know.]

Now, earlier this year I wrote about the frost fairs that were held on the Thames when it froze over in winter. The idea of the river freezing over sounds like the sort of thing that went out with breeches and snufftaking. In fact, the end of the frozen Thames can be put down to several factors. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, the river flows that much faster these days. The construction of the Embankments north and south of the river has constrained it, which, if you recall your school physics lessons, speeds the flow up. The old London Bridge, which had lots of arches and waterwheels to slow things down, has been demolished and replaced twice – the new one allowing freer flow and also, interestingly, possessing heating elements for the road over it.

Industry since the dawn of the steam age has discharged a lot of hot water – and other products – into the Thames, raising the overall temperature. I would imagine residential and commercial premises, with their heating and lighting, are contributing factors as well – but I’m no scientist.

And down in South London, the draining of the Lambeth marshes (commemorated with the street called Lower Marsh in Waterloo) has meant that ice no longer forms along the banks there, preventing the freeze from getting a foothold, or whatever it is that freezes do.

That being said, I was surprised to learn how recent the last big freeze was. In fact, it was 1963. This was the coldest winter since 1740. Roads and railways were, as you might imagine, choked up. Rivers fared little better, and even the sea was frozen at Margate and Chatham (the Navy employed an icebreaker at the latter). The Thames, as you can see above in this view at Windsor, was no exception. At Oxford, one chap managed to drive a car across the river. The docks in London iced up like many others, driving prices of imported goods up. Kingston saw ice skating on the river, and bicycle races were held at Hampton. Below right may be seen boas iced up near Hampton Wick.

Will climate change result in us seeing another freeze like 1963, or are such sights finally confined to the history books? Well I don’t know.

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Filed under 19th century, 20th Century, Canals and Waterways, Current events, Disasters, East End and Docklands, Geography, History, Islington, Kingston, London, london bridge, Rambling on and on, Randomness, Rivers, Sports and Recreation, Suburbia, Thames, Transport, Waterloo and Southwark, Windsor and Eton

Going Postal

I’ve written about abandoned Underground stations before, and even entire abandoned lines beneath London’s streets. This one, however, is a real one-off. Whereas most of the abandoned spurs of the Tube were closed due to lack of passengers, this one never had any passengers at all. Despite this, it lasted seventy-six years. It ran through Central London and had eight stations. And it was never actually owned by London Transport.

Give up? Actually, some of you have probably already worked it out, and may allow yourselves a smug grin. I’m talking about the London Post Office Railway.

The London Post Office Railway was opened in 1927. It carried letters and parcels from Paddington in the west to the Whitechapel in the east. Its “stations” were sorting offices. At its peak, it was carrying over four million letters per day. Its trains were automatically controlled and electrically driven, operating for nineteen hours a day and 256 days a year.

It wasn’t the first such railway – it wasn’t even the first such railway in London, in fact. Inspiration came from the Chicago Tunnel Company’s freight-only subway system. Like the Post Office Railway, this was narrow gauge and electrically powered, opening in 1906. Yet while this was the most obvious source of inspiration, even this was a whippersnapper compared to London’s first post office Tubes.

The very, very first experimental postal railway was a short line in Battersea, built in 1861 and shown right. It was air-powered, built by the Pneumatic Despatch Company. The experiment was a success. The Post Office, fearing competition from the increasingly popular telegraph service, expressed a strong interest, as did the London and North Western Railway. The first “proper” line was opened on 15th January 1863 – just five days after the Metropolitan Railway, the first underground passenger line – and ran from the LNWR’s Euston Station to the North West District Sorting Office. This was later extended to Holborn and later Cheapside and Gresham Street. The company had grand plans for an entire network of lines under the city, but as it happened, despite very favourable rates, the Post Office weren’t all that interested after all. The system went bust in 1875. At least one of the knee-high carriages survives in the Museum of London’s collection and the tunnels are now used for cables.

I’ve mentioned before that gridlock in the city is nothing new, and in the early years of the twentieth century this prompted the Post Office to take another look at the underground railway idea. Approval was given in 1911, construction began in 1915 and the system was open in time for Christmas 1927. As well as Paddington and the Eastern District Post Office in Whitechapel, the six-and-a-half-mile-long line called at six intermediate stops, including Liverpool Street station and the main sorting office at Mount Pleasant in Clerkenwell. The trains, if you can call them that, were stored and maintained at a depot under Mount Pleasant.

[PARENTHESIS: Mount Pleasant actually sounds like a rather pleasant place. In reality, the name derives from heaps of industrial waste on the banks of the River Fleet. This is the famous British sense of irony at work]

1930-built train, preserved at the National Railway Museum in York.

The railway, as I said earlier, was a great success, reaching its peak after the Second World War. Extensions serving Euston, King’s Cross, Camden, Islington, Waterloo, Southwark, Cannon Street and latterly Willesden were proposed but never constructed. It kept going through the War, despite one direct hit at Mount Pleasant in 1943, and like so many other Tube lines, served as an air raid shelter (albeit one used only by staff).

"What'll I tell the wife, Jess?"

The post office, ‘lack the day, isn’t exactly the most hip and with-it service, and with the coming of the Information Age had to make a few changes. This included cutting many post offices, several sorting offices and Postman Pat. I’m not joking about that last one, by the way. The Post Office used to sponsor Postman Pat, it doesn’t any more and in the most recent series he no longer works for them. As you can see in the above picture, he is a victim of red tape.

As a result of the cuts, by the late 1990s there were only four stations left on the Post Office Railway. The Post Office dynamically responded by renaming the system “Mail Rail” in 1997. In 2003, when it was decided that the Paddington sorting office would be moved, Royal Mail threw up their hands and decided to close the damn railway once and for all. There were protests of mismanagement from the Communication Workers’ Union, who argued that the line wouldn’t be so expensive to run if it was properly maintained and used to its full capacity. Nevertheless, it was decided that the post would go by road, which was cheaper. So on 30th May, it rattled off into the history books. It may be relevant to note that this was also the year when post trains disappeared from national rail.

Although the line was never as well-known or glamorous as its passenger-carrying chums, it’s had a couple of moments in the sun. In 1997, it was used in the BBC fantasy series Neverwhere (along with various other nooks and crannies of subterrainean London) and in 1990 it posed as a Vatican line in the flop movie Hudson Hawk, making Bruce Willis one of its fewpassengers. I’m told the latter film is alright if you suspend your disbelief, lower your expectations and have a sense of humour about it – beer helps.

A few of the trains have been preserved. The tunnels have been mothballed. Every so often someone suggests a use for them – while they’re very unlikely to ever see use for post again, they could conceivably be used for goods traffic. One idea is that they might be used for valuable or perishable items. I’ve even heard it suggested that it might be used for passengers, but this idea is frankly barmy – the trains were barely wide enough for one person, let alone enough for the line to pay its way, and rebuilding seems a little pointless given the extent of work needed. I fear that the London Post Office Railway is destined to remain one of those abandoned curiosities beneath our feet. Still, we can hope…

Further Reading

http://www.mailrail.co.uk/ – Excellent fan site from which I got much of the information in this entry. Not updated since the line’s closure, sadly, but otherwise very comprehensive.

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Filed under 19th century, 20th Century, East End and Docklands, Film and TV, Geography, History, Islington, Kings Cross, London, london bridge, London Underground, London's Termini, Politics, The City, Transport, Waterloo and Southwark, West End

Up and down the City Road

This entry may be a little brief, for which I apologise. I found myself on an unexpected evening out with Teachmaster D, the Catlady, Mistress Bitch and Mistress Bitch’s boyfriend, among others. It was a surprisingly eventful evening in which the Archies somehow became associated with Holocaust denial.

The Archies

You bastards.

That being said, here is the entry for today, such as it is.

I’ve always been a bit sceptical about those people who claim there’s something mystical about wandering about the city. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice and all, but let’s not pretend it’s anything other than a pleasant way to fill a boring afternoon. Still, yesterday I had a trip out that did rather make me wonder.

You see, I set out with no particular goal in mind. It’s quite often how I roll on a boring weekend – jump on a train and see where I end up. As the train rolled into London Bridge, it occurred to me that it might be quite pleasant to head over to Islington and have a look down Camden Passage. Cass Art have a very large shop there, and I felt I could justify a visit.

While there, I remembered a thing I’d seen a couple of weeks ago on the walk described in the entry I tastefully titled ‘Canal Penetration.’ Opposite the towpath, I’d seen an old factory converted into offices, complete with what looked like an elderly crane. I have a strange fascination with old machinery, so I thought I’d see if I could get any closer, as I was in the area and all. I’d been meaning to.

I was therefore surprised to see that, as part of the Open House weekend, about which I’d entirely forgotten, the normally-closed-off wharf was open. It’s just weird to me that the one day I decide, randomly, to check this out on the offchance is the one day that I actually can check it out. No doubt the statisticians will tell me that actually there’s nothing weird about that, but boo.

I managed to get plenty of photos of the factory and the crane. The crane appears to have had its cabin replaced, judging by the neatness of the wood.

I was also quite interested to note that there is what looks like an abandoned railway on the wharfside. It’s a narrow gauge railway, as was once common in industry in Britain. A few old trucks had also survived and were dotted about the place.

Narrow gauge railway, IslingtonI took many photos, most of which would be of interest only to nerds like me. But check out the picture on the left. A pillar of the factory goes straight through the railway track, suggesting to me that the line pre-dates the factory (or at least, that part of it).

The trucks have had their bodies replaced, so even if we assume they’re original, it’s hard to tell what they would have looked like during their working lives. However, they were very light to push over cobbles, and even with their original bodies I suspect they would not have been difficult to move on rails. Long story short, I don’t think this railway would ever have been locomotive worked, although I suspect it would once have been longer. Two tracks are in situ, one of which I suspect would have been a siding used for storage. Unfortunately, I’ve been able to find nothing on Google about this railway, and the rest of the area has been built over.

City Road BasinI had a quick shufti at the City Road Basin, seen on the right. This was once an important industrial site, built in 1820 (was this the date when our mystery railway appeared?) and the closest canal basin to the City. Despite its profitable location, like the rest of Britain’s canal system, it’s become more-or-less obsolete in recent years. There have been some residential developments, but even on a sunny Saturday afternoon, the place had an air of quiet loneliness about it.

Bantam tug, City Road BasinThe little boat on the left deserves some brief attention. It’s a Bantam tug. These were built in Brentford in the 1950s and 60s to push and pull barges on the canals. Several have been preserved and several more remain in service. Life is obviously slower on the waterways. Or they’re just pretty good tugboats.

City Road Underground StationAs I turned on to City Road, the building on the right caught my eye. At first glance, it’s just your standard common-or-garden eyesore. It looks like an ancillary building for the tower block behind. Yet there were one or two things that made me wonder. For instance, it looks like there’s quite a large door that’s been boarded over at the front. And though it’s not entirely clear in this photo, there’s some architectural detail that seems a little fancy for the rough-and-ready architecture on display behind.

My suspicions were confirmed when I got home. This is, in fact, an abandoned Tube station, or as much as survives. It’s City Road, opened by the City and South London Railway in 1901. It lay between Angel and Old Street on what is now the Northern Line, City Branch. It was never a very popular station, and to be honest even today it’s not hard to see why. It’s only about 15-20 minutes gentle stroll from Angel to Old Street, and it’s not like there’s anything around here that really justifies a whole Tube station.

When rebuilding work was carried out on the stations of the C&SLR in the 1920s, the Company decided to cut their losses and simply shut the station down rather than waste money bringing it up to then-modern standards. Aside from being used as an air raid shelter, the station saw no further use after 1924. The only reason there’s anything above ground at all is because it was decided to convert the old lift shafts into ventilation shafts – what survives is the brickwork that once surrounded those shafts, the rest having been demolished. There are also remains at platform level, though I’ll own I’ve not seen them myself.

Honestly, this place is pretty good if you like your abandoned transport systems. If T. S. Eliot was an industrial archaeologist, he’d probably write a poem about it.

Further Reading

http://www.abandonedstations.org.uk/City_Road_station.html – An excellent feature showing the below-ground remains of City Road.

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Filed under 19th century, 20th Century, Buildings and architecture, Camden, Canals and Waterways, Geography, History, Islington, London, London Underground, Photos, Psychogeography, Shoreditch, The City, Transport