Northbound – walk from St.Pauls through Islington to Highgate

It was an odd walk in a way, but one that has stayed with me over the Christmas period since. There was just the desire to walk – to be out. I knew where I didn’t fancy and with only around 3 hours of daylight I wanted options for walking in the dark. The pivotal moment was at the ticket barriers – east or west.

Roman Wall City of London

I alighted at St.Pauls and let old instincts guide me. A look at the Roman London Wall in Noble Street, the on to Golden Lane Estate where there was a recent protest against the redevelopment of former Police accommodation into a block of luxury flats.

Golden Lane development

Up Goswell Road and across Northampton Square, one variation on my daily walk home from work at the South Bank when I lived up at the Angel, and also our route to Ironmonger Row Baths. Andrew Kötting’s expression ‘the noise of memory’ came to mind, when there is so much memory attached to an area that it almost becomes overwhelming. This territory on the slopes of Islington and Finsbury is like that for me, the sound intensifying as I made my way up Chapel Market, the Christmas tree seller having a furious argument down the phone kicking empty boxes. There’s a For Let sign above the iconic Manze’s pie and mash shop, the one featured in The London Nobody Knows, let’s hope I don’t add to the ‘Dead Pie Shop Trail’*.

Manze's Pie and Mash Chapel Market

On through Barnsbury to Holloway Road as the sun starts hitting the glorious Holloway Odeon. I sorely tempted to give up the ghost and while away an hour or two in the Coronet – a beautiful old cinema converted into a Wetherspoons. Something keeps me plodding on towards the Northern Heights, an image I’d conjured in my head at the beginning of the walk of ending up in Highgate.

Coronet Holloway Road

Faced with the Archway Tavern I think of Nick Hornby’s novel High Fidelity that I first read some 20 years ago when music played a far bigger part in my life than it does today and I would routinely pass a happy hour thumbing through racks of vinyl on dusty old record shops. At the time I felt the Archway Tavern must have been the pub/venue in the book where the record shop staff watch bands. The shop, Championship Vinyl, is located in on Seven Sisters Road (so is the Harry Lauder actually the World’s End instead?). There’s a secondhand book stall in front of the old Archway Tavern and sure enough they have a slightly battered copy of High Fidelity that I pick up for £2.50 and have been reading over Christmas. It’s funny how the book has aged in that time.

Gatehouse Highgate

Highgate Village was every bit as festive as hoped with chains of Christmas lights looped across the High Street. I make for the Gatehouse, an old coaching inn with a resident ghost. I tell the young barman about the spectral guest that haunts the pub and he fixes me with a look of disbelief. ‘It’s true’, I say, ‘look out for it when you’re locking up later.’


– – – – – – – – – – – –

* this was an essay I wrote for Jake Green’s photobook documenting the surviving Pie and Mash shops in London. My essay was a walk linking sites of several former Pie and Mash shops. There are copies of the book in each of the remaining Pie and Mash Shops in London. Get yourself a double pie and mash and settle down with a copy.

Holloway Old Fire Station

This was the venue for last night’s screening of Make Your Own Damn Art – the Old Fire Station in Mayton Street, Holloway, now the home of the brilliant Rowan Arts.

As I was sat at the front of the room during the Q&A I noticed a hatch at the top of the wall near the ceiling then cast my eyes across to a ladder running down the wall and realised that where we sat chatting about Bob’s art and my film was where firemen would have slid down a pole and raced off to battle blazes across Islington.


The Holloway Comedians

I found this picture some time ago, and it is only after watching the superb adaptation of The Diary of a Nobody on BBC4 that I now realise that these chaps are in fact The Holloway Comedians mentioned in the book.

It is wrongly believed that ‘The Diary of a Nobody’ is a fictitious book. It is in fact, well, fact. George and Weedon Grossmith lived in Islington. The topographical detail of the book tells us that they had an intimate knowledge of the area. The diary was a double-bluff, made out to be fictitious in order to be publishable – confessional literature was not yet in vogue (that changed after the publication of WNP Barbellion’s ‘Journal of a Disappointed Man’ in 1919).

The discovery of this photo in Camden Passage, Islington next to some very old dancing shoes I think confirms it’s authenticity. The toothless old drunk who sold it to me confirmed that it had indeed come from a skip outside the Pooter/Grossmith household of ‘The Laurels’, Brickfield Street, Holloway. She elucidated further that the rather camp looking gentleman with a wistful look on his face, second from the right, is in fact the Pooter’s son ‘Lupin’ who apparently remained an active member of The Holloway Comedians until a ripe old age.

As to the location of the photo she was not sure, and to be honest, the way she waved her empty pint pot around in front of me made me think she was after another pint before she made something up (she had craftily set up her pitch outside The Camden’s Head). Personally, I think it could be the hall at Islington Central Library on Holloway Road. But if anyone out there recognises the venue I’d be most grateful if they could leave a comment. I’d also be keen to discover more about the play that The Comedians are promoting ‘Give Me A Kiss’. Maybe I could stage a long-overdue revival. Although I have never been a member of The Holloway Comedians, I have been a comedian in Holloway.