Archway showing the Tavern with Highgate Hill to the left with St.Joseph's Retreat visible at the top of the hill.
The history of London fascinates me. My bookshelves bend under the weight of books about the history of the city, its churches, its criminals, its streets, public buildings, development and walks. I even collect fiction that has a strong London background - books like Michael Moorcock's Mother London or the novels of Peter Ackroyd and Iain Sinclair - I am even referred to in Sinclair's novel Down River as "a scholar I once knew". I'm not named in the novel but have a copy inscribed by the author which acknowledges the fact. I am, like Ackroyd and Sinclair, drawn to the darker side of the metropolis's history, the shadowy places, the eccentics, the myths and legends of the city - Springheel Jack, Jack the Ripper, The Tower of London, the street gangs,the highwaymen,the ghosts, organised crime, but there is much more to the history of the streets of London. We are the trustees of the stories that our parents and grandparents told us and if we don't tell them they will dies with us. Stories like my grandfather (and possibly yours) heroically stopping a runaway horse in Windermere Road, chasing a burglar through a wood yard or joining his brothers for an impromptu game of midnight football in Anatola Road. We all have stories we remember (yes you do!) and we should pass them on, preferably we should write them down. Developers and politicians may try to determine the shape of the city but its real history is made in the streets by ordinary people.
An early print of Archway. Junction Road is in the bottom
left-hand corner. The big building on the corner is the
originalArchway Tavern.I suppose we are all drawn to the area where we grew up. For me that is Upper Holloway. I've returned there a few times in recent years but much of what I remember is vanishing. Upper Holloway, London N.19, or more simply "Archway" is situated in the north-west of Islington at the western end of Holloway Road. On an island in the middle of the road stands The Archway Tavern marking the spot where five roads converge. If you approach from the east up the aforementioned Holloway Road, directly ahead of you is Highgate Hill which leads steeply to the old village of Highgate. Slightly to the right is Archway Road with its "suicide bridge" archway which gives the area its name. To the north is St.John's Way which leads to Crouch End and to the south is Junction Road which leads to Tufnell Park, Kentish Town, Camden Town and on to Tottenham Court Road and the West End.
Whittington Stone and Cat
Archway is very much a crossroads - all these roads seem to be leading away from from the area, there is very little sense of "coming to". Our family came to the area in the mid-1860's. It was the final London destination on their twenty year journey from Gloucestershire and I will write more about that in the near future. Every area of London has its legends, its myth and even its murderers (Dr.Crippen lived in neighbouring Lower Holloway and one of the infamous "Brides in the Bath" murders took place in Bismark Road [(later Waterlow Road] just off Highgate Hill) but, perhaps, the most potent local legend is the story of another native of Gloucestershire who made his way to the area. According to legend (and the famous pantomime based on it) Dick Whittington was a poor boy who came to London in the 14th Century to make his fortune. Having failed to do so he set off on foot to begin the long journey home, accompanied, only by his faithful pet cat. When he got to the bottom of Highgate Hill he rested on a milestone and heard the sound of Bow Bells ringing far away in the City. In his imagination the bells told him to "turn again Whittington" and predicted that he would be "thrice Lord Mayor of London". Dick returns to the city, makes his fortune (in a foreign adventure that involves his cat and an army of rats), marries a rich merchants daughter and does become Lord mayor of London three times. The legend has little to do with fact although Richard Whittington was a very real person who was actually Lord Mayor of The City four, not three times. He was a great reformer and philanthropist and endowed many charities - some of which are still in operation today.There seems to be no cat involved in the true story (read it by clicking this LINK) and no real reason to connect him with Highgate Hill. Certainly he came from Gloucestershire but there is no evidence that he was at any time in his life poor. But if you go to Archway you will find the milestone complete with black cat, you will find two public houses named after Whittington and a hospital. Until the 1960's there was also The Whittington College Almshouses - perhaps connected with one of Whittington's endowments.
Another, more notorious, figure connected with the area (tenuously and with even less justification) is the notorious highwayman and cattle thief, Dick Turpin. My mother used to tell me that he had a hideout under Archway bridge despite my protestations that Turpin was hanged in 1739, well before the building of the first bridge, let alone the structure that stands there today. These were famous figures, but the recording of tales about ordinary people - our forebears - are equally important as social history. Even the recording of the memories of the streets where we lived as children have a value, what are your school memories? work memories? That is real history. I will, in the future, be writing about the street I grew up in - will you? I was lucky in that my mother told me a lot about her life (although some important aspects she kept very secret) but oh how I wish I could ask my grandmother about her early years. Don't let our descendants have the same regret.