Archway in north London seems at first glance an unlikely place for gentrification. When you leave the Northern line Tube station and emerge in the grotty 1960s shopping precinct, it is late night fried chicken takeaways and pound shops that greet you.
But some it seems have faith that this suburb – nestling below prosperous Highgate in Islington borough – can be transformed. Developer Essential Living has converted an ugly towering office block into 17 floors of luxury apartments, with communal roof gardens, right above the station which it hopes will attract yuppies to the area. It says on its website that the homes enjoy “one of the best panoramic views you will find” in London.
The hotel operator Premier Inn has already opened here in a 1960s building, which has been enhanced through being re-clad with a colourful glass facade. In many ways it makes sense given that tourists can reach Leicester Square in little more than 15 minutes via the Northern line.
It was the arrival of the railway that really put Archway on the map. Until the 1890s visitors heading north would have discovered little more than market gardens (Benjamin Samuel Williams cultivated rare orchids at the Victoria and Paradise nurseries), but then in 1907 the Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway, opened what was originally called Highgate station. Until the line was extended after the Second World War by blasting through the hill to the Highgate station, this was the end of the line.
Archway in the 19th century had become known for its factories (such as the Chivers jam factory), as well as its hospitals. The current Whittington Hospital – named after the four times Lord Mayor of London Dick Whittington who heard the Bow Bells sounding at Archway as he made his way into London – has its origins in a Small Pox and Vaccination Hospital (the wording for this is still etched on the surviving Victorian building) which was moved here in 1849 from King’s Cross when that area was bering re-developed for the new station.
Having such institutions in populated areas was believed to not be good for the health of people, so with Archway booming on the back of the arrival of the railway it was moved – to South Mimms – in 1896. After it was closed, the building was converted into a workhouse infirmary which was officially opened by the Duke and Duchess of York in 1900.
But the vast site was to have a total of three separately run hospitals (now all Whittington Hospital – as inner London boroughs realised it was cheaper to buy land here for founding institutions than nearer the centre. St Pancras Union Infirmary, which was managed by the St Pancras Guardians of the Poor, opened in 1866. Florence Nightingale, who advised on the design, said it was “by far the best of any workhouse infirmary we have” and indeed “the finest metropolitan hospital”. Meanwhile Holborn Union Infirmary was founded in 1877.
Given the increase in traffic passing through Archway, there had been for some time been attempts to build a bypass, avoiding the steep Highgate Hill and Highgate village, to join the Great North Road. But plans to bore a tunnel through the hill ended in disaster when it collapsed and, rather than repairing the damage, John Nash was commissioned to a brick bridge crossing the cutting below in 1813. The bridge, which consisted of a series of arches like a canal viaduct.
The construction of the bride was funded by tolls, which were collected until 1876. On the wall of a block of council flats – not far from Archway station – there is a plaque marking the spot where a toll booth stood from 1813 to 1864.
Nash’s bridge was replaced in 1901 by the cast-iron Hornsey Lane Bridge that gave the area of Archway its name and still stands to today a little further to the north of the original. It has however, has sadly become known as “suicide bridge” given the number of people who have taken their lives by jumping to the carriageway below. There are already some guards in place, but there have been talks to make these higher in an attempt to make it “suicide proof.”
Post war re-development
Madness set in during the 1960s when the aforementioned shopping precinct, with its gloomy underpasses, was built. The decade also saw major road changes, with a confusing one-way system installed, and new high-rise office blocks built in a bid to re-locate some government departments away from central London.
Archway Tower, which was built in 1963 and originally used for offices by the department of Social Security, replaced Chivers jam factory and other buildings. After standing empty for some time, Essential Living purchased it in 2013 for £6 million, pledging to convert it into 17-storey private residential apartment block. Now re-named, Vantage Point, it welcomed its first residents in the latter months of 2016.
As part of the works, Charles Holden’s 1930s station went, as did a cinema and the existing shops. And almshouses which had been been built for 46 widows in 1822 (but which were originally built in the City of London in the 15th century) were demolished. They were replaced by council flats, which remain.
While the ugly construction work was going on around Archway station in the 1960s, forward-thinking residents at nearby Whitehall Park decided action needed to be taken to ensure their neighbourhood would be protected. Their efforts brought about one of the first conservation areas in London.
The network of quiet, leafy streets that form the 245 or so acres of Whitehall Park are today extremely pleasant to explore. Houses here are built in a range of different styles, with lovely late 19th century terraced houses on one portion of the development retaining a range of ornate features. And on the upper part, there are bigger semi-detached homes, which date from the 1920s. If you are interested in this area, the Whitehall Park Area Residents Association has put together a detailed history.
Spending some time exploring the wider Archway area and taking in places like Whitehall Park and nearby Highgate, you start to realise that maybe gentrification is not such a mad idea after all. After all, given the Northern line station, reaching central London is very do-able, which makes the area attractive to young professionals.
Although Archway does of course have someway to go, the early signs are promising. Once the road construction works are complete – the much-hated 1960s gyratory is being removed – it should at least be more straight forward to drive around.
The Archway Tavern stands boarded up on a traffic island, but in the 1960s it was a popular live music venue and was featured on the cover of the Kinks album, Muswell Hillbillies. Luckily the Victorian building survived the concrete construction madness. It’s prime for re-development. If new owners can capture the area’s past, while also appealing to Archway’s new arrivals, then their job will be done.
Categories: Changing London