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HIGHBURY & ISLINGTON (Victoria Line) LONDON TUBE RAMBLES 
Discover beautiful buildingsa round watchman's hut, a house made of glass, a 
mini river walk . . . All in a distance of around 1½ miles.



Highbury and Islington Tube station is not a distinguished building, but it does have some interesting tiles depicting the old Highbury House, which was the original Jack Straw's castle.  For the remains of the 1904 station, look across the main road. Cross over at the lights to Highbury Place to get to Highbury Fields. Plenty to do here – a fitness centre with swimming pool, an adventure playground with scary tall slide, park land and tennis courts, all surrounded by superb Georgian and Victorian terraces. 


At the south end of the Fields, nearest the Tube, there is an unusual Boer War memorial in the shape of an Art Nouveau angel flanked  by a pair of captured cannons. Unless you particularly feel like spending time here it is probably not worth going right to the end, as the park is quite large and there is lots to explore in the other direction. Return to the Tube station  and walk away from Highbury Fields, keeping to the Tube side of the road with trees opposite. When you come to the traffic lights just before the imposing High Victorian Union Chapel, cross into Compton Terrace, an early nineteenth century street with arched windows facing a public garden. At Canonbury Lane go left, passing a set of windows on the end of the terrace that are secured by particularly ornate ironwork. You should keep an eye open throughout this walk for elegant windows and fanlights. Soon you will reach Canonbury Square. Begun in 1807, it suffered bomb damage in WW2 and was not fully restored until the 1950’s, but is now considered to be one of the most perfect ‘squares’ in London – though geometrically speaking it’s a rectangle. The southwest side has a raised pavement. It dates from the 1820’s and has some exceptionally graceful windows, while on the north-west side the windows are unusually tall and angular. Canonbury Road cuts across the square, and at the intersection you will find Northampton Lodge, a handsome brick villa now the Estorick Museum of Modern Italian Art (entrance fee). One of the two large gardens in the centre of the square has formal flower beds, the other boasts a tiny vineyard, following the refurbishment of this area by Loire Valley Wines in 2006. The name Canonbury comes from the Manor of Canonbury which belonged to StBartholomew’s Hospital. At the end of the square you will see Canonbury Tower. The tower was part of the original Canonbury House, an early sixteenth century manor built on a courtyard plan. Thomas Cromwell lived here while planning the dissolution of the monasteries and was given the property by a grateful Henry VIII in 1539 - though he was executed for treason the following year. The southern part of the manor was demolished 1770-80 and replaced by the present villas at Nos. 1-5 Canonbury Place to the right of the tower.  Canonbury House  comes first, with a stone balustrade, while No. 1 has dramatic, tall Ionic pilasters. If you pop down the small turning by the side of this you will be in a fascinating hodge-podge of old buildings that cluster round a walled garden.
Looking to the left you have another view of the tower. Return and go left, down Alwyne Villas.
Look out for the brick tower at No.4a. Bearing the date 1526, it was once part of the walled garden of the first Canonbury House. Walk down as far as Alwyne Road and turn left into this shady street lined with large, attractive houses At the corner of Alwyne Place you will see a small pink stuccoed building attached to a villa.This is the counterpart to the tower at Alwyne Villas. To continue the trail, return to Alwyne Road and proceed left towards Willow Bridge Road where you will find a paved area and some railings. 


On the left a gate leads to the New River Park. (See also the previous link) Although only a narrow strip, this park is of some interest.   Opened in 1954, it follows the line of the New River, an artificial water course created in 1613 to bring fresh water to Islington from the River Lee in Hertfordshire. It only takes about ten minutes to walk to the northern end of the river, but unless you are ready for a peaceful wander and perhaps a rest on one of the benches, you may want to return to the bridge after a brief exploration of the northern section. We shall go to the southern part of this delightful little park shortly. 
In the meantime, something completely different - a glass house! Not a ‘greenhouse’ as in gardening, but a real dwelling constructed in glass. (Jan Kaplicky and Amanda Levete for Future Systems 1993-4). On leaving the park, turn left and go left again down Douglas Road, passing the majestic Marquess pub . Sandwiched into the gap between the pub and terraced houses is the intriguing glass structure – more spectacular than practical, one would have thought. Pop round the back down Arran Walk to see the somewhat daunting rear elevation – sheets of plate glass bolted together. Not exactly cosy. Go back to the bridge, noting the pretty terraces of Canonbury Grove (1820’s) as it follows the line of the river. Enter the park again and potter in the direction of Canonbury Road. 

You might wonder what a circular brick building resembling a giant pork pie is doing perched on the bank. In the days when the New River was an important source for clean water, a guard occupied this watch house to ensure that nobody swam or fished in the channel. He also had to keep a look out for people throwing dead dogs etc. into the stream or stealing the stopcocks and other fittings.When you reach the end of the park, turn right along Canonbury Road to get back to Highbury & Islington Tube station or go left for the much closer Essex Road overground station  - rather creepy, as so little used during the day. This has trains which will take you back to Highbury & Islington Tube.  


Just one more oddity to see: at the corner of Canonbury Road (right) is a tiny builder's office.The firm has been in the area since 1860. 



 If you are interested in design you should allow plenty of time for this route, as it is crammed with more fascinating and beautiful architectural detail than I can list here.

Photos:(click on image to enlarge)
Highbury Fields
Tiles depicting Highbury Manor, which stood north of Highbury Fields.
Union Chapel/Memorial statue, Highbury Fields
Canonbury Square/Canonbury Tower
Canonbury  House
Two towers of the original Canonbury House
Glass house/the Marquess pub
Watchman's hut
Builder's office, Canonbury Road

Please note that this is one of the stations that serves the Emirates Stadium for the Arsenal Football Club, so you might wish to check on the fixture list before travelling.

This is just one walk from the many to be found at London Tube Rambles. There are architectural gems, beautiful country views, historic places and quirky buildings even in the most unpromising areas covered by outer London Underground stations. Usually the discoveries are within a mile of the Tube - often only five minutes walk away. If you reached this as an individual page via a search engine, you might like to go to www.londontuberambles.co.uk and see the other destinations explored. You'll be amazed at what's out there!

© DR