diamond geezer

 Monday, January 24, 2005

Great British Roads - A1: London - Edinburgh
The first mile: Barbican - Islington

Road begins: Aldersgate (Museum of London)
Britain's most important trunk road starts somewhere rather unimportant. This wasn't always the case. The A1 used to begin outside St Paul's Cathedral, following an old coaching road north up St Martin's-le-Grand, past Little Britain and past the site of the magnificent Victorian General Post Office. That was before the IRA came along, causing City authorities to erect 'the ring of steel' in the mid 1990s. The A1 now starts a few yards past an unstaffed security checkpoint at a shadowy characterless roundabout. A circular brick island rises up in the centre of the roundabout - this the well-hidden entrance to the Museum of London (which is well worth a visit, by the way). And the A1 heads north from this lonely spot, unlabelled, unsigned, unnoticed.

This is Aldersgate, a medieval street once the site of one of the seven gates into the old city of London. There's nothing medieval about the road today, however. Here lies the Barbican estate, a sprawling monument to 60s architecture complete with arts centre, lake, tall towers and a baffling labyrinth of concrete walkways. I looked into renting one of the two thousand posh flats here when I moved down to London, but a quick check of my bank balance soon put an end to my dreams. Those with deeper pockets might appreciate the huge residents' car park beneath the Barbican, from where it's easy to slip one's BMW or Bentley out onto the deserted A1. A little further up the road lies the rather less affluent Golden Lane Estate, the northernmost outpost of the City of London. Weekly rents here are only in double figures, and rows of grimy net curtains betray the fact that the residents here are more likely to be cleaning under a desk in some financial institution rather than sitting at one.

A griffin on a pedestal near the junction with Old Street marks the shift from the Square Mile to the London borough of Islington. There's an obvious change as Aldersgate becomes the Goswell Road - lower wealth, lower status but not quite lower class. The Hat & Feathers pub (Victorian, yellow and ornate) has long closed down through lack of business, and there's a gaping scar behind which has been taken over as a makeshift NCP car park. For a few hundred yards the A1 is lined by small shops and services, including Dennis Motor Accessories, Nicola Jane (mastectomy wear) and Spunkies Imaging (they look quite legit, don't worry). But after Kings Square Garden (think dog waste bins, patchy grass and pigeons) the A1 opens out and heads rapidly downmarket, bordered by boxy modern tenements and one very ordinary tower block. You wouldn't imagine such social housing to exist so close to the financial centre of town, but a lot can change in a mile.

Mile ends: The Angel, Islington
At the Angel the A1 climbs gently to meet London's Inner Ring Road, the A501, and the road number is signposted for the first time. All of a sudden there is proper traffic, and a bustling busyness that hasn't been present along the road before. Cars whizz round the one-way system, trapping pedestrians on a small triangular island in the middle of the flow. A well-kept clock stands here on a square green pillar in the middle of a pristine flowerbed. On each side is written in gold leaf the name of J Smith & Sons, once eminent local clockmakers, along with their long defunct telephone number - Clerkenwell 1277. Just around the corner Upper Street beckons, and thence the long journey to part of Britain that only really exists on road signs - The NORTH. There are still 408 miles to go until the A1 reaches Edinburgh's Waverley station, but I suspect the final mile is rather more impressive than the first.

Road continues: Upper Street, Holloway Road, Archway Road, Barnet By-Pass, Borehamwood, South Mimms, Hatfield, Stevenage, Peterborough, Grantham, Doncaster, Scotch Corner, Durham, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Edinburgh (Waterloo Place/ Princes Street)

A1 links
A1: The Great North Road (an in-depth e-book)
A1 route description (from uk-roads)
the route of the A1 in North London (then, later and now)

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream