Walking a North London lost river: the Stonebridge Brook

Haringey’s Lost River: the Stonebridge Brook

Back in the summer of 2021 I received an email while on holiday about the sighting of a river with a boat in the 1980’s behind Salisbury Mansions N4. I was intrigued and had a quick look to see if this aligned with the course of any of the lost rivers of the area I was aware of, but drew a blank.
Then I checked the 1863 – 1869 Ordnance survey map of the area and could make out what appeared to be a possible watercourse running off Green Lanes just north of present day St Ann’s Road (Hangar Lane) – along the top of Chestnuts Park which cut across Avenue Road and South Grove (Newsam Ave). Then it could run along modern day Culvert Road, across Seven Sisters Road shortly afterwards flowing parallel to the railway line near South Tottenham Station, beneath the A10 (Ermine St). The watercourse then appeared to feed a lake at Page Green, run beneath the railway line and join the Lea just South of West Junction and near South Junction where it is joined by another stream from the north (the Moselle). Stonebridge House is marked near the course as well – which was another possible indicator.

I was excited to share this potential course with Rebecca who replied that she’d received an anecdote about the St. Ann’s Hospital site. Apparently there was access, via a door and a few steps, to an underground lake – with boats in the basement of one of the nurses blocks. It was said ‘that there is a Victorian underground water holding area, to the south of site.’ “Another former staff member, was able to verify that there was a spring onsite.”
 The only way to find out for sure was to walk the course of this potential lost river of Haringey … and try and find a name for it.

Haringey Map 1873 'Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland' 
‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ 
Stonebridge Road, South Tottenham from Stonebridge Brook walk

A year and a half or more passed then a comment from Joe was posted on my Crouch End video in March this year. “At the end of the street that Hornsey Library is in, there’s a manhole cover where you can see and hear the Stonebridge Brook. It starts here in Crouch End and flows down to the River Lea, somewhere near the Markfield Brook. There are a few places in Hornsey where you can spot it running beneath the streets.”
Looking online I found this fantastic thread of information. Including this historical record of the river being discussed for culverting by the local council in its 1906 Report on The Health of Tottenham.
Outlining Typhoid statistics the report refers to the Stonebridge (and Moselle) Brook: “It is a noteworthy fact that 52 out of the 62 cases occurred in the portion of the district “ watered ” by the Moselle and Stonebridge Brooks, most of the objectionable portions of which are now fortunately being culverted.
Amongst the public health improvements put forward the Report recommended, “Culverting Stonebridge Brook (East of Avenue Road to South Grove); Culverting Stonebridge Brook at Green Lanes; Culverting Moselle Brook at Scotland Green
The works under consideration included:
(a) Culverting the Stonebridge Brook between Chestnuts Estate and Culvert Road
(b) Culverting the brook rear of houses in Hermitage Road.”

 I now had enough information to plot a course and head out to walk the Stonebridge Brook.

You can watch my videos of the Moselle walk here and Part two here

The mysteries of Crouch End

A walk round one of my favourite locations in London – Crouch End. A place with uncanny links to tales of the undead and general weird stuff from the middle ages to Shaun of the Dead.

We start with the Parkland Walk, a former railway line where the King of Horror himself, Stephen King, had a mystical experience that inspired him to write a short story. Next, we explore the fascinating story of Bob Dylan’s infamous visit to Crouch End that has become a vital piece of London folklore.

But the mysteries of the Northern Heights don’t stop there. The area is said to be the site of two powerful ley lines that cross beneath the Victorian clocktower. This tower was originally the site of a wooden cross that gave the area its name.

Crouch End - view of Alexandra Palace
Tottenham Lane Crouch End in North London from a video by John Rogers
Tottenham Lane

Some of the key scenes of Shaun of the Dead were filmed in Crouch End, but that features in a previous video and only gets a passing mention here as I list the references to the undead in this eldritch zone from Sir Roger Bolingbroke through the Highgate Vampire to that brilliant Zom Com. We also visit the legendary Kings Head pub, the Harringay Arms, the Queens, Tottenham Lane, Hornsey Town Hall, Hornsey Library, Church Studios, Crouch End Hippodrome, and much more.

Along the Parkland Walk from Finsbury Park to Highgate

There was some discussion with my wife about the last time I’d been along Haringey’s Parkland Walk but in any case we’re sure a pram was involved meaning it must have been at least 10 years ago. It has become one of the most requested walks on my YouTube channel and with the snow starting to melt after the ‘Beast from the East’ had smothered London in Siberian snow, it seemed like the perfect timing.

Parkland Walk Haringey

The Parkland Walk follows the railway line that ran from Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace that opened in 1867, closing to passengers in 1954 and carrying freight till 1964. The Parkland Walk opened in 1984 – the intervening 20 years would have been a fascinating period of its existence, left to be reclaimed by nature and intrepid urban ramblers.

Parkland Walk Haringey

For some reason I’ve always thought the Parkland Walk Nature Reserve could be accessed from Harringay Green Lanes, maybe it once connected with the small nature reserve there, but in reality it starts at Oxford Road on the far side of Finsbury Park. There the snow had already started to turn to slush but as the path moved into the foothills of the Northern Heights it transitioned into an icy track flanked by deep-sided banks of snow capped pines. It was along here that Stephen King got spooked by a mystical presence, recorded in the short story Crouch End. The synopsis on Wikipedia reads, “After encountering something unseen beyond a hedge, Lonnie becomes unhinged, and eventually disappears while the couple is walking through a tunnel”. Published in 1980, it means that King had been one of those intrepid urban ramblers walking the disused railway line when he encountered that eerie presence.

Parkland Walk Haringey

Parkland Walk Haringey

I encountered no superficial forces along the walk mostly just joggers, dog-walkers and Dads hand-in-hand with toddlers. I did meet a lovely bloke called Matt from Melbourne though who recognised me from my YouTube videos and said he’d watched most of them. That’s always nice.

Parkland Walk Haringey tunnel

Highgate Woods snow

At Highgate I entered Highgate Woods, a remnant of the old forest of Middlesex, now managed by the Corporation of London. The snow lay thick and heavy here, kids dragged sledges looking for a place to sled, stomping over the earthwork that carves a diagonal line across one corner of the woods. I wonder how much more of this ancient landscape is buried beneath the suburbanized hills and valleys of Highgate, Muswell, Hornsey and Crouch End.

ancient earthwork Highgate Woods

possible site of the ancient earthwork Highgate Woods


Northern Heights – Highbury to Hornsey

Highbury Fields – one of my favourite places in London, yeah I know, I have a lot of favourite places in London. It was here that Londoners sought refuge during the Great Fire of 1666 and watched the city below burn down. It still feels like a place of retreat from the madness of Highbury Corner and Holloway Road.

Passing the Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee Clocktower I stop to admire Aubert Court, a fine modernist block of flats designed by E C P Monson, who also built Islington Town Hall and numerous other public buildings and social housing across London from around 1895 – 1940. The flats occupy land that was once home to Highbury College of Dissenters, opened in 1825. Alexander Aubert, who gives his name to Aubert Court and Aubert Road was a wealthy stockbroker who owned a mansion and grounds in Highbury and most notably built an enormous observatory on one wing of Highbury House.

Highbury Clocktower

It is odd now to be able to wander around the perimeter of the old Arsenal pitch at Highbury – now Highbury Stadium Square, diminished by conversion to flats built into the stands, hard to recall being in here with 40,000 chanting fans.

I move on through Gillespie Road Nature Reserve and across Finsbury Park, feeling fatigued and wondering where to head next. The high ground of the Northern Heights draws me on towards Hornsey and to the corner shop made famous by the great ZomCom Shaun of the Dead. When I came here for one of the chapters in my book This Other London, I studied the scene in the film where Shaun wakes up on the day of the Zombie outbreak and, heavily hungover, walks across to the shop for a can of Diet Coke and a Cornetto. I then attempted to recreate single tracking shot with my point and shoot camera.

I stopped shooting my weekly YouTube video at this point and wander onto Crouch End Broadway where I pick up a History of Highbury pamphlet I first bought 20 years ago and lost, a book on Prehistoric England, and a copy of the Tales of King Arthur that I used to read in my Primary School Library.