It is the only Blue Book run that many Londoners know – Manor House to Gibson Square. The prospective cabbies’ itinerary the Blue Book – which had of course a pink cover – and nestled between those pink sheets were 320 routes criss-crossing the capital. But when embarking on that first journey in pursuit of The Knowledge what do we know of the roads we travel along? The following is a brief description of the beginning of a Knowledge Boy’s or Girl’s odyssey.
Manor House This grandly named station takes its name, not from some palatial residence once owned by the local lord, but from an inn called the Manor Tavern. This boozer had a chequered history, first opening its doors in 1820 then closed only to be resurrected before demolition. Over the years its name transmogrified into the Manor House fortuitously in time for the 1931 opening of the tube station that takes its name, much to the relief of residents setting them apart from downmarket Finsbury Park.
Leave on left: Green Lanes As its name implied, this busy stretch of road was once a bucolic idyll. If you can divert your eyes from the road and the oncoming traffic you will see on your left Stoke Newington Pumping Station [featured picture]. Built by the Victorians in the Scottish Baronial manner, this medieval-style oddity with its crenulations and turrets is now the Castle Climbing Centre. Built between 1852 and 1856 at a cost of £81,500 in an area that then was mostly fields, its curious design is thought to be the result of assuaging local concerns in having an industrial building plonked in the middle of a field. The New River Company which owned and operated it would have been a lucrative investment at the time to any of those dissenters. In 1873 a quarter share was sold for £12; twenty years later a single share was worth £94,900.
Right: Highbury New Park This tree lined road was laid out in the 1850s and given its modern name to set the development apart from the more established Highbury Barn. This street might appear affluent now but between the wars it was very different. An example was No. 150 Highbury New Park, which in 1936 had two flats on the ground floor with a shared bathroom, one flat and two bed-sitting rooms on the first floor, and one flat with a balcony on the second floor; its detached stable block, which had been converted into a caretaker’s cottage in 1914, was a garage with a flat over it, let separately and with its own garden. Despite multi-occupation, overcrowding was not a problem in Highbury as a whole, which had few of the very poor.
Left: Highbury Grove Just 100 yards of travel along this road. If you think all this area is affluent now given that the previous description was taken 80 years ago consider this: as you turn into Highbury Grove on your right is Highbury Grove School. In 2005 Channel 4’s Dispatches sent an undercover teacher who filmed pupils clambering across desks, throwing books across the room and attacking each other. Clearly something was needed and a super-strict headmaster was appointed to this music specialist school, by giving out 300 detentions a day he has turned around, for the time, this failing school now described by Tatler as one of the best in Britain.
Right: St. Pauls Road On the left at the junction with Highbury Corner is the curiously named Hen and Chickens Theatre. Seating only 54 this Victorian pub has paid a role in launching the careers of Jimmy Carr, Frankie Boyle and Rhona Cameron.
Comply: Highbury Corner The title is misleading as this junction is less a ‘corner’ and more a small gyratory system. One contributing factor for this area to have a wide open space was an event that took place at 12.46 pm on 27th June 1944 when a German V1 flying bomb flattened a wide area killing 26 and seriously injuring another 84.
Leave by: Upper Street The question that must be on your lips must be: “Where is Lower Street?” Well, it’s on your left and now renamed Essex Road, not that it goes to Essex, you have to turn right at Balls Pond Road to get there. Upper Street is the start of the Great North Road not that it resembles anything like that great highway. It could lay claim to the greatest number of unused pedestrian crossing per mile in London. As you travel down this trendy road it takes some stretch of imagination to realise that Islington was once an 18th century village and the hub of dairy farming supplying much of London’s milk.
Right: Theberton Street The old field path across these once bucolic lands form the basis of Theberton Street which is named after the Theberton estate in Suffolk the ancestral home of the Milner-Gibson family who developed these old cow pastures. As you turn into Theberton Street on the corner is was the Sir Walter Raleigh pub once the site of an ancient house – the Pied Bull with associations with the old pirate, now renamed the Bull which brings us neatly back to the area’s dairy farming roots.
On right: Gibson Square the first of two squares built as part of the Milner-Gibson Estate, was laid out from 1832 to 1839 by architect Francis Edwards, a pupil of Sir John Soane. The garden was originally open to residents only, but in the 1930s it had become rundown and was surrendered to Islington Council for upkeep. During World War II the garden was dug up for air raid shelters and later replanted. In 1963, a proposed ventilation shaft for the new Victoria Line, in the form of a 50-foot concrete structure, was staunchly opposed by residents. This resulted in the simulated classical temple [below] designed by Prince Charles’ favourite architect Quinlan Terry with a domed roof which stands in the garden today, designed to be in harmony with its surroundings. The work was carried out in the early 1970s, when London Transport also restored the garden and replaced its railings.
Photo: The Gibson Square Vent David McGroarty