Category Archives: Blackstock Road

The View Down To Highbury Vale/St John’s Church

My late neighbour, Edna Crome, seemed to know more about Highbury then anyone I know. She was always telling me stories about some aspect of local history, often relating to architecture, football and schools. One afternoon, as we chatted over the garden fence, she started to tell me about St John's Church. I didn't know anything about this and she explained that it was demolished int he early 80s and a block of flats was put up, on the western side of Highbury Park. (Like many old talkative people Edna had never had her stories put down on tape future generations. All I have the memories of the countless conversations, usually conducted over the garden fence or out in the street when we bumped into one another.)

Oldtree  This spot is is one of my favourite parts of Highbury. When my daughter stared school at the top of the hill I'd sit on the bench at the junction of Highbury Park and Northolme Road and look down into the vale and beyond, marveling at the semi-rural template that lay beneath the concreted scene.


I haven't managed to find any photos or illustrations of the old church. In some ways it doesn't matter so much that the church is no longer there. If I concentrate I can see it just as plainly as it was there in front of me. It's the same with other parts of the village. I sit on the viewing bench and imagine the scene without the buildings, imagine looking down over pastures and meadows with the new river winding its way through the landscape from Hornsey over towards Stoke Newington. And there, to the left of the scene, snaking down from the Crouch Hill heights to the west, is the Hackney Brook.


There is still a C of E primary School named after St John's. Going back further there had been at college of St John's around Aubert Park (it was demolished in the mid 40s and a block of flats put in its place) in this area (there still exist some old illustrations of this http://www.antiquemapsandprints.com/p-3679.jpg). Arsenal FC bought part of the college grounds to build their original stadium before the First World War. Going back to the mediaeval era Highbury had been given to the Priory of St John of Jerusalem, also known as the Knights Hospitallers in England. by the landowner Alica de Barrow in 1271.  They controlled the area until disbanded by Henry VIII in the 16th century. The thread still survives in the name of the school.


I have a more recent example of this feeling for "ghost buildings" for it is not that long ago that the old tin box factory on Blackstock Road was demolished to make way for a new block of flats. On the other side of the road, where now Il Baccio restaurant and further new flats exist, was an old-fashioned garage.


Unlike some London churches, such as old St Mary's in Stoke Newington, , the Church of St John in Highbury Park was relatively new. It was only consecrated in 1881 so according to the information available didn't even last 100 years as a working church. Perhaps the people of Highbury built simply too many churches in that late 19th-century is their rush to development of the area. As wel as St John's there was also Christchurch a few hundred yards up the road, Saint Augustine's in the smart backstreets of Highbury New Park and St Thomases in St Thomas's Road  down in the Vale. Highbury_park1  


Almost 20 years ago,  when my wife lived above a launderette at the other end of Blackstock Road, I'd sometimes walk southwards until I got to Highbury Vale. And for some reason I never walked up the hill towards Highbury village proper, the Barn and Highbury Fields, as if I wanted to keep some kind of mystery for a later date. So we moved in here together in the late 90s it was with great excitement that I began to map out the territory to the south Blackstock Road and was pleasantly surprised to find old-fashioned little shops and a tree-lined boulevard.


There's a smart new bench now at the junction of Northholme Road and Highbury Park. It's more comfortable than the old one but for some reason I'm less inclined to sit on it for very long. I tell myself that I should spend half a day sitting down at this spot watching life unfold around me and see the changing light over Stroud Green and FInsbury Park as the afternoon unfurls. These days I tell myself I'm too busy to do this. Perhaps one day, soon.

Highbury_park2  


 

Bottle Pen

The stationer breathed a sigh of relief today when I went in and brought four colour cartridges for my printer.

"Ha – you thought I was just going to ask for one envelope," I said. He smiled weakly, then quickly and with total stationeresque skill shifted his eyes to a display of pens on the counter. They're recycled. "Made from bottles" said the stationer. I'd just been in the library on Blackstock Road, reading an article in New Scientist about how the distant future for the earth is the extinction of all life, so buying a recycled pen, while a futile gesture, seemed like the right thing to do. Then the stationer's son (Stationer Jnr) came up to me.

"How are you?" he said.

"Poorer after coming into this shop," I said. The stationer looked hurt.

"I don't mean poorer spiritually. Just financially."

The stationer smiled.

Quink (black)

"Do you sell Quink?" I said to my local stationer.
"Do we sell Quink? Of course we sell Quink. That's a strange question."
"Well, it's the digital age. I wasn't sure that people still used Quink."
He snorts with derision and sells me the Quink, while also slipping in some crafty cross-selling and getting me to buy two expensive black ink cartridges for my inkjet printer.
I used to do loads of stuff in Quink, until I bought myself a Wacom art pad in 1997. There was a girl I worked with when I first came to London who drew wild landscapes in Quink. I fancied her, of course, but she had an on-off relationship with a Scottish rugby player so I didn't get involved. He didn't play for Scotland or anything, he was just Scottish and played rugby. We lost touch around 1989 but I kept her memory alive by starting to draw my own pictures in Quink. My pictures weren't wild, mostly just sketches of fat people at Walthamstow market or caricatures of my flatmates.
The stationer also cross-sold me some nice writing paper. I'm going to stop emailing my friends and write them proper letters instead. Masterpieces of the genre such as:
"Howdy. Fancy a pint Thursday? T."

The acne red faced bloke dogshit incident

The bloke was in his early 20s and had a stripey t-shirt and a spotty red face. He swaggered out of the King's Head with his dog then watched, transfixed, as the dog did a big runny shit all over the pavement. He was about to swagger off in the direction of Finsbury Park when I announced that if everyone acted like him the whole world would be covered in dogshit. He looked at me in disbelief. How will I clear it up? he whined. I pointed to the paper bag he was holding, which contained a brand new tube of what I presume was acne cream. The dog looked up at his master as if to say "want me to bite his gonads, master?" but the bloke in the stripey t-shirt still seemed confused, as if he had never realised that leaving dogshit in the middle of the pavement was wrong. I left him standing over the pile of crap, wondering what to do, though my daughter informed me that as soon as my back was turned he had swaggered over to the bus stop as if nothing had happened.

The Origins of Danebottom

My six year old son often asks me, when we walk up Canning Road, to tell him about the Viking battle of Blackstock Road.

"How do you know about that?" I said the other day.
"You told me."
OK. I did read something about that a few years ago and must have mentioned it to him once. So I took to researching – on the internet, you understand – where the story comes from. 

The archived paper 'Perambulations in Islington' by Thomas Edlyne Tomlins (1858) can be found here:

http://www.archive.org/stream/yseldonperambula00toml/yseldonperambula00toml_djvu.txt


In this he mentions Danebottom several times, such as:
"in writings so far back as the reign of Henry II. demon- 
strates that this name of Danebottom has peculiar reference to
some of those encounters our Saxon ancestors had with the
Danes."
"some battle fought there in earlier times,perhaps so far back as the period of tlie Danish incursions, the memory of which, as I have ventured to suggest, have been tra- 
ditionally preserved in Danebottom, at Highbury Vale."
There is no older source for this story but what Tomlins is saying, essentially, is that the Saxons held the bridge over the Hackney Brook, presumably near the Arsenal Tavern, and the Danes came down from the heights of Finsbury Park and tried to 'take' the Arsenal Tavern, er, I mean bridge. There was an almighty rumpus but luckily it took place on the site of the present police station and most of the miscreants were carted off, though not charged because no witnesses came forward.

The old tin box factory on Blackstock Road

In my post-pub dreams the old deserted tin box factory on Blackstock Road was going to be turned into something exciting. Any day now. Over the years it has been the site of:

1) A writers’ retreat with running water and personalised minibars
2) A cafe for nymphomaniac jazz chicks
3) A zoo for put-upon grey squirrels
4) A cinema for stay-at-home dads
5) A swimming pool for people with dodgy knees
6) A museum of cheese

Unfortunately I always dreamed these things but never did anything about them. Now the bulldozers have arrived and the old deserted tin box factory on Blackstcok Road is now just a few piles of browny-yellow brick.

So which of my ideas will become reailty? Or will it become just another shite block of modernist flats?

Hackney Brook and Bayern Munich

Coinciding with a massive hangover, the Hackney Brook appears to have resurfaced on Blackstock Road, just south of the Arsenal Tavern. Not caused by heavy rains this time but a large yellow JCB, which has dug a huge hole in the side of the road. Water shoots out of a pipe and into what’s becoming a quite decent sized pond. My little boy Seánie is well impressed. “Digger!” “River!” He dances up and down on the pavement. We go to the Gunners Fish Bar for lunch, where we meet a group of Bayern Munich fans in town for tonight’s Champions League game. They have come for some hot Pukka Pies. Blackstock Road is certainly at its most beautfiul for these visitors – shit weather, grey skies, soggy chips. and huge puddles in the road.

I suspect an Arsenal plot, some kind of pitch waterlogging thing must be going on here. I notice that one of the Germans looks like Nigel Winterburn and mention it to Seánie. He is not impressed.

Which reminds me of that poem, ‘Arsenal fullbacks try to change the world in a night’:

Lee Dixon came to our local pub
And tried to convert us all
To the cause of International socialism
“You’re too late mate,” said the landlord
“We had that Nigel Winterburn in here last night.
We’re all Buddhists now.”