Archway Road - aka the A1 - is a busy arterial road not noted for its architecture. Although there are clusters of shops, it doesn't really have a centre ... I was going to say a heart. The closure of that remarkable gin palace the Winchester Tavern hasn't helped - on the other hand, the Murugan temple, the Tamil Hindu mandir, has brought a bit of life to this rather barren road.
But some renovation work has revealed just how imposing one of the buildings fronting Archway Road once was. This is at the junction with Cholmeley Park. Now that the rather overgrown garden - including several mature trees obscuring the frontage - has been cleared, you can see how grand this mansion was.
This wonderful late Victorian pile, 225 Archway Road, has a colonnaded porch, it's double fronted and has a matching wing alongside the main frontage.
It's a Grade II listed 'villa' from the 1880s. But it's all set to change. The building will be renovated and extended to allow - as I understand it from the planning application, (though this dates from 2011 and may have been superseded) - four flats, and there will be some building work in the grounds. Here's the developer's version of the plans.
So enjoy this touch of North London style before it gets restyled!
No, this isn't India House on Aldwych - completed in 1930 and from 1947 the Indian government's High Commission in London. This is a smaller, older, more anonymous building on Cromwell Avenue in north London, in that limbo land between Archway and Highgate.
The building bears a rather generously worded GLC blue plaque for Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. He was a founding ideologue of Hindutva or Hindu nationalism and is something of an intellectual hero to the more cerebral supporters of Narendra Modi's BJP.
Savarkar was and remains a deeply controversial figure. He was tried as a co-conspirator in the Gandhi murder trial and was acquitted. In the photo below of the accused, he's the older man with glasses on the front row. To his right as we are looking at the photo is Nathuram Godse who fired the shots that killed Gandhi and who was executed for his murder in November 1949.
Savarkar had another brush with the law - again alleged complicity in a political assassination - during his sojourn on Cromwell Avenue forty years earlier. We'll get to that in a moment. But this building was much more than Savarkar's temporary home.
65 Cromwell Avenue became, in 1905, a hostel for Indian students in London, taking the name India House. It was more than simply a place to live. There was a political purpose to India House. It was intended to be a nurturing place for a new and more assertive generation of Indian nationalists. It certainly was where Indian revolutionaries of different hues got to meet and organise. Ironically, perhaps, Gandhi visited here while in London in 1906.
India House was opened on 1 July 1905 by H.M. Hyndman, a veteran socialist (and founder in the 1880s of the SDF) with a longstanding interest in India. Also present at the opening ceremony were Dadabhai Naoroji, who a decade earlier had been the first Indian elected to the House of Commons, a radical Liberal and constitutional nationalist, and two much more revolutionary-minded women activists, Charlotte Despard, suffragist and Irish republican, and Madame Cama, a Paris-based Parsee who was at the centre of the web of militant Indian nationalists and socialists in Europe.
The founder of India House was Shyamji Krishna Varma, a scholar and barrister who founded the India Home Rule Society. He published the curiously named Indian Sociologist - and fled London for Paris in 1907 after some of his more intemperate remarks and articles attracted official attention. The journal continued to appear - the maverick anarchist Guy Aldred took over as publisher and was sentenced at the Old Bailey to twelve months hard labour for his troubles.
India House provided a base for an array of political activists of different hues. The communist and anarchist M.P.T. Acharya was among those associated with the building on Cromwell Avenue. So too was Madan Lal Dhingra, who came to London from Punjab to study mechanical engineering at University College.
On 1 July 1909, Dhingra fired seven shots at Sir William Curzon Wyllie, the political aide-de-camp of the British government's Secretary of State for India (at that time John Morley), on the steps of the Imperial Institute in London. Wyllie was killed, as was a Parsee doctor, Cawas Lalcaca, who sought to come to his aid. It was one of the most renowned political assassinations in London of agents of British rule in India - the most notorious being Udham Singh's killing of Sir Michael O'Dwyer more than thirty years later.
Dhingra was tried at the Old Bailey and, within seven weeks of the killing, was hanged in the grounds of Pentonville jail. A memorial tablet for Wyllie stands in the crypt of St Paul's cathedral.
There were suggestions that Savarkar had supplied Dhingra with the gun used in the killing and he certainly declined to criticise the assassination. Savarkar was eventually arrested and it was decided that he should stand trial in India.
While on board ship moored near Marseilles, Savarkar escaped - which doesn't say much for the competence of the Imperial authorities. When he eventually turned up in Bombay he was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment. He spent ten years in the cellular jail on the Andaman islands and many subsequent years in prison and internment.
By the time Savarkar was released in 1937, he had written his commanding work, Hindutva: what is a Hindu? He became the head of the right-wing Hindu Mahasabha and died in Bombay in 1966.
And what of India House? Well, after Wyllie's assassination the hostel was closed and the property sold. 65 Cromwell Avenue reverted to being an ordinary suburban home - but what a back story it has!
The plaque to Savarkar was unveiled by the Labour left-winger Fenner Brockway in 1985 - a staunch opponent of Empire and advocate of colonial freedom.
Ten years ago came a remarkable footnote to the India House story. A full-size replica of 65 Cromwell Avenue was built in the town of Mandvi in Gujarat, the birthplace of Shyamji Krishna Varma, as a memorial to the man who established the students' hostel. A little bit of Highgate in western India!
The lamentable clearing away of a row of buildings on the north side of Swain's Lane in Highgate - including the site of the near legendary Cavour's hardware store, a fixture for forty years until it closed a decade back - has delivered an unexpected dividend. Peeping over the hoardings, looking out on Swain's Lane for the first time in close on a century, is a stylish early Victorian villa which had been concealed behind the later, less distinguished, commercial buildings.
This is Brookfield House and Brookfield Lodge (it's now divided into two properties), with its frontage facing out on Swain's Lane as the architect intended, and the spire of St Anne's, Highgate, looming behind. The rear of the property - the only part publicly visible until now - is about as ordinary as can be. The villa was built to face south, and I imagine the premises just demolished were constructed in what was once its front garden.
This was originally the site of the Cow and Hare inn - yet another cattle-linked pub name along the route livestock would have taken towards Smithfield market. A brewery director. Richard Barnett, bought the land and built this imposing house shortly before his death in 1851. His sister Anne inherited the property, and in memory of her brother, built St Anne's next door (nice to name a church after yourself!).
The church was completed in 1853. It's the one whose peal is memorialised in the title of John Betjeman's verse memoir, Summoned by Bells. When Anne died a few years later, she bequeathed Brookfield Lodge as the vicarage.
I fear that when the new flats come up on this site, Brookfield Lodge and House will again be hidden from view, and by far the finest aspect of this impressive villa will once more be lost to us.
So depressing - Ripping Yarns, the wonderful second-hand bookshop near Highgate tube, is closing . Sunday will be the last trading day. The rent has doubled, and just to make them feel that little bit more special, the increase has been back-dated a couple of years.
So one of the last of those 'fun to delve' bookshops, which treasure pamphlets and poetry and radical squibs and old music papers, bites the dust. There's Walden Books in Chalk Farm still going, and Black Gull in East Finchley just about qualifies, but not much else in this part of north London.
Ripping Yarns has specialised in children's and illustrated books - but I've always relished it as a haven for radical tracts and old socialist titles. I've bought dozens of gloriously tatty old political pamphlets there. Today's purchase, no doubt my last, is entitled Mail Interception & Telephone Tapping in Britain, put out half-a-century ago by the Hampstead Group of the Committee of 100 - it cost me less than the price of a pint.
The shop was set up decades ago by Celia Hewitt - she's still very much around, indeed she was on the stage at the Jeremy Corbyn Night at The Forum on Monday reading poems by her late husband, Adrian Mitchell. There's a lovely account of the history of the shop here written by one of its staff. It's a shop with personality - which is not something you can say of most of the Oxfam bookshops, however much they are appreciated.
The Ripping Yarns website says the business will continue online. That's great - but it's not quite the same!
This charming yet deeply tragic memorial tablet is on the walls of St Anne's, Highgate - the church where John Betjeman was baptised. You can only imagine the excitement amid which Doris Tanner, newly married, headed out to India. Within a year she was dead. Aged just 23. It's not clear where in India she was buried.
Her husband was an 'A.S.P. India', by which I take it that he was an Assistant Superintendent in the Indian Police Force. Jocelyn Tanner outlived his wife by almost sixty years, dying in 1973. He appears to have made his career in the Indian Police and was awarded the King's Police Medal. He married again, and his new wife, Aileen, lived until 1983. They are buried in the same grave at Haughley in Suffolk.
A year or so ago, I blogged about a small war memorial in Highgate which was quite literally falling apart - and with it remembrance of those who served at Highgate Camp and lost their lives in the First World War. That's the memorial as it was on the left. When I chanced upon it this afternoon, I discovered that it has been splendidly restored.
There are two memorials either side of a gateway at the top of Swains Lane, just a minute's stroll from Pond Square. There was something elegiac about the manner in which they were crumbling away - and part of me wonders whether that is the most poetic fate. But I imagine those whose forbears are commemorated here will much prefer this new lease of life for the memorial - and now in a century's time, the names should still be decipherable, and some of those who stop and take notice will ponder on the tragedy which befell this nation - indeed the world, for this was a global conflict - in what contemporaries called the Great War.
The facing memorial, to J. Dawbarn Young, has also been replaced. This wasn't as tarnished, but it's clearly appropriate that both memorials should match. James Dawbarn Young was a barrister whose passion for yachting led him to enroll in the naval reserves, and reach the rank of Lieutenant Commander. He died 96 years ago this week.
These are of course memorials not graves. But just a short distance down Swains Lane lies Highgate Cemetery, which in the spring has a quiet enchantment to it. I hope you agree.
Yes, I was watching 'The Village' last night. And yes, it did put me in mind of the memorial in our local village, Highgate village. It stands at the top of Swains Lane, though you easily walk past the plaque without spotting it. And as you can see, some of the names are already undecipherable and in a few years all will have been weathered into anonymity.
You can find out a little about the memorial at what was once Highgate Camp here - the names are slightly more legible on the photo on this site. I do hope someone has taken the trouble to set down the inscription before it started to wear away. This is what I make out the names to be, with some of those on the right-hand column rather less then certain transcriptions:
RAYMOND C. BRICE CYRIL P. MADDAX
ERNEST JOHN DODD CHAS BERNARD MILLER
EDWARD E. GRIMWADE ALFRED MOORE
HERBERT HEAVINGHAM HENRY MORLEY
FRANK J. HOCKING, D.C.M. KENNETH H. RE...
ALAN J. HOPKINS JOHN WOODWA...
FELIX E. JONES, M.C. J.D. YOUNG
The memorial is on a gate, and opposite is a tablet which has survived the decades slightly better. There's more about James Dawbarn Young here.
Towards the end of Zadie Smith's new novel NW, the central character, Natalie/Keisha, walks out of her home near Queen's Park - walks out on her husband, her old life - and makes her way across north London. It's a memorable walk. And today - with the bright winter sun making every aspect of the city sparkle and shine - I retraced Keisha's steps. It took me three hours. Well worthwhile!
You can follow in outline Keisha's walk by the chapter titles: 'Willesden Lane to Kilburn High Road', 'Shoot Up Hill to Fortune Green', 'Hampstead to Archway', 'Hampstead Heath', 'Corner of Hornsey Lane', 'Hornsey Lane'.
Whatever truth you look for from a novelist, it's not cartographic precision. But Zadie Smith maps out her character's route pretty precisely.
The walk emphasises how much the lives of the main characters in NW intersect with the author's own. It walk starts at Keisha's house on the Willesden Lane side of Queen's Park. Within minutes she has passed her friend Leah's house - and the Caldwell estate which plays such a big part in the novel.
This is exactly where Zadie Smith was brought up. She went to Malorees primary school just a stone's throw away. Her mother, it's said, still lives here. So too does Zadie Smith, not now in a council flat but a three-storey Victorian house. It makes you wonder how much of Keisha's story is Zadie Smith's exploration of 'the other path', the way her own life might have worked out.
Where Winchester Avenue meets Willesden Lane, cheek-by-jowl with more gentrified Brondesbury, stands the Fiveways estate. Not quite the model for Caldwell, but with much in common - including the stout boundary wall. Caldwell has five blocks linked by walkways and bridges. 'The smell of weed was everywhere'. On a Sunday morning, Fiveways was quiet, almost sylvan, and entirely odour free.
Keisha at one point ends up in Albert Road - quite a way to the south. She can't get through - there's a police cordon - and has to retrace her steps. The geography doesn't quite add up. But trying to make sense of it, I make the detour. Past the entrance to Paddington cemetery on Willesden Lane - where, as the novel glancingly mentions, Arthur Orton, the Tichborne claimant is buried. Past the basketball court. Along stylish Lonsdale Road - reminding me of Hackney's Broadway Market - and into Salusbury Road with its book shop and library ...
When I reach Albert Road, the other side of the tracks from up-market Queen's Park, I feel that perhaps this is also Caldwell - the estate is an amalgam. The sun is strong, the sky so blue, every vista has an enchantment. But there's also something a little spooky about the estates off Albert Road. For one thing, at midday on a beautiful Sunday, there's no one around. Hardly a soul. And then there's the hardness to the architecture. It's a little forbidding.
If Natalie/Keisha had managed to thread her way through the length of Albert Road and beyond - at least if she was doing it today - just before reaching Kilburn High Road, she would have come across a remarkable sight. Beirut come to north London. A wreck, a ruin, an estate block which looks as if it has been ravaged by a tsunami. Part demolished and - it seems - abandoned. A really unsettling and arresting image.
By the time she hits Kilburn High Road and heads north (as she sets out on her walk, her intention is clear: 'Without looking where she was going, she began climbing the hill that begins in Willesden and ends in Highgate') she has teamed up with Nathan Bogle. He's flying on something or other, and rolling joints. And as they pass Kilburn tube, it also becomes apparent that he's poncing girls.
They head up Shoot Up Hill. The area changes. 'The world of council flats lay far behind them, at the bottom of the hill. Victorian houses began to appear ...'. This is an area Zadie Smith knows with easy familiarity - close by is her old secondary school, Hampstead (though it's not Hampstead - Hampstead cemetery lies here, yes, but this is NW6 not NW3).
Not too far up the hill, however, it crests. If you want to continue going up, you have to turn along Mill Lane, Hillfield Road, Fortune Green Road, and then still more sharply ascending, to Platt's Lane and an outlying section of Hampstead Heath.
This seems to be the route Keisha and Nathan follow - pausing, briefly, on the margins of the Heath for squalid, feral sex.
They stop in the doorway of Jack Straw's Castle, the highest point of the walk - and indeed just about the highest point in London - then head down towards Archway.
The walk ends at suicide bridge on Hornsey Lane, which runs sixty feet above the busy dual carriageway that's Archway Road. She has headed here for a purpose but 'had forgotten that the bridge was not purely functional. She tried her best but could not completely ignore its beauty.' She steps on the ledge, and peers out at London as best the railings allow. She doesn't attempt to jump, but instead abandons Nathan and hurries off after a night bus. The journey is over.
On Saturday, I strolled along the southern section of the Parkland Walk, which starts just south of Highgate tube station and takes you along the route of a disused railway line. It leads all the way to Finsbury Park. There's a bewitching section where you walk through an abandoned commuter station. So the path, as you can see, sticks to the tracks, but if you prefer you can walk along the old station platforms on either side.
This was Crouch End Station - the map below will help you work out where it was. It opened in the 1860s, closed in 1954, and the track was last used in 1970.
There must be people still around who travelled to and from work through this now deserted station. For them, I wonder what memories walking along these platforms must evoke.
The Whittington hospital in north London is much improved. The new wing is light and spacious. The A+E is as friendly and efficient as an inner city casualty ward can be. But spending a Sunday morning at the Whittington isn't anyone's idea of fun.
The saving grace is the wonderful architecture hidden within the hospital grounds.
And above all, there's the majesty of the double-fronted Smallpox and Vaccination Hospital - not visible from the road, but well worth a wander through the maze of Whittington buildings.
The Smallpox and Vaccination Hospital dates from 1848-50 - an Italianate design by Samuel Dawkes (that information lifted from the Camden History Society's excellent Streets of Highgate). The hospital was earlier at Kings Cross, but was displaced by the building of the station.
Two workhouse infirmaries were later built in the same area - one, an equally splendid design just across Dartmouth Park Hill, is now the Highgate Mental Health Centre. You can get a good view of the main infirmary building from Waterlow Park, next door. Highgate cemetery is also very close at hand.
The Whittington was created at the time of the birth of the NHS in 1948 - bringing together Highgate Hospital, on the current main site and including the Smallpox and Vaccination Hospital, with the two former workhouse infirmaries.
This distinctly dated photo of the Smallpox Hospital - used for many decades as a nurses' home - is from the history page of the Whittington's website.
The name of course comes from the Dick Whittington legend. The Whittington stone, where young Dick was prompted to 'turn, turn and turn again' back to London, is nearby on Highgate Hill.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
Welcome - read - comment - throw stones - pick up threads - and tell me how to do this better!