Today was looking like it was going to be a very wet day; a much needed one after the exceptionally dry summer, but thankfully the clouds parted as I arrived; and those I talked to on my visit were surprised that Highbury & Islington is an end of the line until I explained the overground ran from here with four destinations to New Cross, Crystal Palace, West Croydon and Clapham Junction.
The current station is the latest iteration of a station built over a 100 years to serve a growing population and rail services, and partially survived a doodlebug bomb in 1944. The original ‘HIghbury’ station is now derelict and is seen across the road as you exit north.
I had two options to travel: Northerly to explore HIghbury or as I decided, Southerly to explore Islington, an area I’m partially familiar with. Islington is a vibrant area with a diverse range of hostelries, eateries, entertainment and religious venues and its vibrancy can be seen during the day by the eclectic mix of visitors, which is multiplied several fold into the evening as the ‘gentrified locals’ return from a day’s graft.
Wining, Dining & Entertainment
Diversification is the key to survival in the demanding 21st Century where suppliers and providers need to find an ‘edge’ to their products to make them attractive and marketable. Rarely, in London, do you now just pop into a pub for a drink, as today’s punters look for that little bit extra too. This is demonstrated very well within a short walk of the station where there are several pubs; so how does each attract the commuter after a busy day? Here are some alternatives:
- The Famous Cock – which draws punters in with its free TV Football
- Hen & Chickens Theatre Bar – which offers fringe theatre and stand-up comedy events, and
- Brewhouse & Kitchen – which caters for the more discerning beer drinker
…but imagine your dilemma if you’re a discerning footy loving thespian?..I guess you just have to visit each in turn!
Some venues, despite diversifying, don’t quite make it, and the former Florence Tavern which became Dans Kards is one such example. Thankfully, though, the ornate tiling on the outside of the building can still be seen, but I suspect these may soon disappear once/if the building is redeveloped.
Upper Street, which forms the main artery out of London (A1) and cuts through Islington, is also blessed with many entertaining spaces, either on or just off the main road and so their proximity to good eateries isn’t a surprise. Those that caught my eye include:
- Islington Assembly Halls and Dead Dolls House
- Little Angel Theatre
- Almeida Theatre and Radici restaurant, and
- O2 Academy
Intrigued by the wall mural on the upper level of the Dead Doll’s House, I cross the road to take a closer look, and find myself drifting into Coopers Yard up a cobbled path to what looked like redeveloped and repurposed stables although the yard’s name gives a hint at its former purpose. Adjacent to eight luxury mews, there’s an attractive, and yet understated business named ‘Charlie Allen’. I’m drawn to a large display window, which has hanging in it a very attractive and sharp dark terracotta suit and a collection of ties, so clearly methinks this is a fashion outlet. Whilst trying to compose my picture and ensuring I don’t capture any car number plates, and whilst walking backwards to get the right frame, I’m beckoned by a smartly dressed gent who introduces the premises as that of Charlie Allen: Bespoke tailor.
In explaining my purpose I’m invited inside on the basis ‘if you’re going to write about us, ‘…then best you know who we are and what we do…’ and what a pleasant distraction this was.
I meet Charlie, who’s a composite professional and carries on with pressing a recently cut pair of trousers whilst I’m introduced to the intricacies of his small, yet industrious bespoke tailors. I count 6 people working on various garments at various stages of preparation, each paying meticulous attention to their task in hand.
I’m impressed by everyone’s calmness whilst I’m distracting them taking photos, and delighted by their open invitation to spend a little time in their presence. The dark terracotta suit in the window display is part of Charlie’s latest collection (SS19 Lookbook) which is partnered by a very striking electric blue suit with lining inspired by the artist José Chapellier.
Charlie has a strong pedigree of famous clients and recently redesigned the Umbro England football team kit; and in a recent BBC documentary (go to 3 minutes in), he’s described as an illusionist. However I have no illusions about the potential costs of a suit, although I am offered a 5% discount for every referral through this blog – so come on readers, let’s make it 20 referrals and I could get a free suit?
Thank you for your hospitality Charlie, and good to meet you all
This is a peaceful terrace of restored Georgian houses hidden from the main road by a narrow strip of gardens, but wide enough to dampen the sound of traffic. On first glance you wouldn’t think of giving the terrace a second glance until you walk around and find an historical plaque commemorating the loss of 26 lives due to a V1 flying bomb on the 27th June 1944. This link is one of many personal accounts of a local resident that can be found on the internet. The bomb not only destroyed part of the station (which was the intended target), but a large part of the surrounding area too, including 12 houses at the end of Compton Terrace.
The Terrace yielded other surprises too: the Union Chapel, which describes itself as being ‘an architectural treasure that’s home to a working church, an award winning venue, a unique organ and The Margins Project for those homeless and in crisis in London’. Unfortunately I was unable to enter as the stage was being prepared for an event that evening.
Close by, I also met Gary, a building contractor who was working on a nearby property and my interest was piqued by the word ‘Rockbone’ painted on the inside of his van. It turns out he’s part of a four piece rock band who plays the local pubs, so if you’re looking for a classic rock band in the Tring area, get in touch with Gary – good to meet you Gary…
Only a few shops caught my eye, as in the main and with a few exceptions, I find high street shops to be bland repetitive templates of national chains. Maybe I’m being unfair on the smaller independent shops which always have a quirky attraction especially if they are selling locally made/sourced goods or antiques…and this is exemplified throughout Camden Passage and its Market. I was particularly captivated by the street feature outside Danny Oh, a local hair salon.
At the bottom end of Upper Street, you reach Angel (Islington) which forms a cross roads to Kings Cross to the west, Shoreditch to the east and Farringdon/Barbican to the south. The local shopping centre at Angel Central has understandably adopted the iconic winged image as it’s main centrepiece, although many will know this stop for being the first light blue space on a traditional Monopoly Board.
Finally returning back up Upper Street to it’s junction with Almeida Street, I’m struck by the facade at 168, the home of a fashionable department store Aria in a former music hall – Barnsbury Hall. On first glance, I was unable to make out the design purpose, but after spending some time following the window shapes and openings, I suspect the building development may have wanted to keep the original dour features within a modern purpose – if I’ve interpreted this correctly, I think it works well. Unfortunately I’m unable to find any information on the former use as a Music Hall, so if any readers have any information please get in touch as I’d be happy to update this blog.
Few people know that Regents Canal runs directly under Islington so I decided to see how this happens, but en route I stumble across a few interesting sights. Firstly, Bambi – street artist, who is proclaimed as the female Banksy, has recently adorned some hoarding in Shillingford Street – go and have a look.
Then, as I turn into Duncan Street headed down to the canal, I notice Islington Council has installed some colourful cycle stands in the guise of large flower displays – very creative.
Continuing down Duncan Street approaching the tunnel, I look down and see a series of markers embedded in the pavement. These mark out the Towpath Link which run the course of the tunnel and helps guide walkers and runners from one end of the tunnel in Islington to the other near Caledonian Road.
The canal is busy as boats queue to pass through the tunnel and I continue along the towpath and end my journey at City Road Lock where the canal opens into City Road Basin. I stop and chat to one of the Canal Trust’s many volunteers who was acting as lock keeper, and we chatted about the forthcoming Angel Canal Festival.
A very pleasant day out…