THE LOST RIVERS OF LONDON Hackney Brook 1) Holloway/Highbury
Did I ever mention how hard it is to track down a river that isn't there? Take the headwaters of the Hackney Brook as a case in point. They're not in Hackney, they're in Islington, but precisely where is a bit of mystery. I Googled for maps, and visited the local library, and scrawled a line on an A-Z which I thought best fitted theinformation I'd found. Then I headed up to Holloway to wander the modern landscape with my camera, and confirmed that the contours below Mercers Road sloped in an appropriate direction. But since then I've Googled again and found a map which suggests the top of the river was to the west of Finsbury Park station, somewhere around Tollington Place. Might be, might not, but no amount of field trips to the area will ever confirm one way or the other. So all I can say is that there used to be a tiny stream parallel to the Holloway and Hornsey Roads, on one side or the other, probably, near enough. And there most definitely isn't any more. [photo]
The river's path becomes a little clearer somewhere rather famous, around Arsenal's Highbury stadia. If you've ever streamed out of the front of the Emirates and seen a railway bridge off to your left, know that the Hackney Brook used to flow on the other side of that. Then to the north of the stadium proper [photo], approximately underneath the northern tip of the Ashburton Triangle flats [photo]. More railways to cross [photo], and then round the back of Arsenal tube station [photo] through the nature reserve at Gillespie Park. This is a delightful green backwater, lorded over by an ecology centre, created on the site of former railway sidings. The larger pond is artificial, not brook-filled, and a very peaceful place to sit and watch the reed-loving wildlife. [photo]
Go back a few centuries and the land to the south of the stream was pasture known as Long Mead. Today it's better known as the site of Highbury Stadium. Arsenal's North Stand was the closest to the old riverbanks, although that's now been replaced by characterless newbuild flats (and the only local water feature is a series of bubble tanks on the shared lawn where the pitch used to be). The rest of Long Mead disappeared under Victorian housing, with the Hackney Brook culverted and Gillespie Road laid in its place. The stream crossed the Blackstock Road at the dogleg where the Arsenal Tavern stands [photo] - a location still obviously at the foot of a valley slope. And then along Mountgrove Road (home to all your Sylvanian Family needs), where the Hackney Brook finally passed from Islington into the borough after which it was named.