4♣ Islington Specifically that's the former Metropolitan borough, not the current borough (which also includes Finsbury, south of the City Road). It's also my last inner London borough, and my final club, as this year-long playing card project draws to a close. For today's post I'm taking a two mile walk along a main road I've somehow managed never to visit before, other than the footbally bit at the southern end. If Time Out can write about the unexpected pleasures of Hornsey Road, then so can I. [Islington's history][Islington's streets]
Up the Hornsey Road
Hornsey Road runs north from Holloway to almost Crouch Hill, and has for many centuries. Two hundred years ago there were only three houses along its length, plus Elizabeth Duke's waterproofing factory which treated army clothing. Today it's considerably more built up, a gritty artery which rarely attains the cachet of its feeder streets. It'd give you a mild workout on a bike. Cyclist Jeremy Corbyn very sensibly lives near the bottom of the hilly bit.
Hornsey Road veers off the Holloway Road close to the tube station, at a junction hemmed in by bits of London Metropolitan University. A tiny newsagents somehow survives on an unredeveloped corner, but maybe not for long. The first stretch of pavement is wider than you'd expect it to be, for crowd-marshalling reasons. The owner of the first convenience shop has devoted a very high proportion of his shelf space to crisps and drinks, having correctly deduced that this is what most local bedsitters truly need. Bergkamp and Henry's red and white shirts blaze out from The Match Day shop when its shutters are down to remind fans that memorabilia is still available online.
What utterly dominates the southern end of Hornsey Road is Arsenal's decade-old footballstadium, a silver bowl wrapped within a concrete podium. Children scramble over the cannons out front, while proud dads try to line their phones up properly so that the backdrop doesn't read ARSE. To either side of the shop, allegedly ideal for Christmas gifts, two colossal staircases funnel occasional hordes in and out of matches. Iconic manager Herbert Chapman has been commemorated with his own refreshment kiosk selling teas and coffees, paninis and "a range of deserts". Across the street a man with a pushchair bashes on the door of a very humble bedsit, screaming at his wife to let him back inside.
The footballing vibe fades the moment you pass through the dark arches beneath the railway. On the left is a very-Islington terrace, four-storeys tall, and on the right the Harvist Estate and four stark 1970s towers. Its somewhat space-age shopping parade is bookended by Wolkite, a "buzzing Ethiopian eatery", and a Dominos for the less adventurous eater. A road sign by the Chinese takeaway reminds drivers they're on the A103. At the next main junction is the Sobell Leisure Centre, opened by the Duke of Edinburgh in 1973, and about to launch its first Extreme Trampoline Park. More famously there's The Tollington Arms, a cavernous Gooner bolthole, which on non-matchdays attempts to whip up trade with Thai fusion and Sky Sports.
I deviated here to visit the parallel street where the Leader of the Opposition lives. Even if you don't know the number, his house is easy to spot. Everyone else in the street lives in terraced villas typical of the locale, but Jeremy and his neighbours live in a redeveloped gap filled by five flat-roofed 1960s townhouses. The central house has been spruced up with Cotswold tiles and sleek windows, and recently sold for almost a million, but Jezza lives nextdoor behind a picket fence and a screen of foliage. His house has net curtains in the windows, plus a few small ornaments and potted plants, but no Vote Labour poster as some of those elsewhere in the street still do.
Back on Hornsey Road, this is the busy section cut-through by the Seven Sisters Road one-way system. Time Out thought Kitchen @149 was brunch heaven, but overlooked the One Stop Dreadlock salon, as well as Reid's Stout and Watney's Ales picked out in gold lettering across The Eaglet. The road's most esteemed landmark lies ahead, the former Hornsey Baths, once the largest washhouse facility in the country but closed in 1991. It took several years before the building was rescued by the council as offices, flats and an arts centre, and today a neon lady dives repeatedly down the wall of the gatehouse as a symbol of regeneration.
The next bit of Hornsey Road's all modern, lined by stacked terrace flats and a hub for the emergency services. Here's that mirror shop which Time Out rates, and that guitar emporium, and what they mysteriously describe as a high-end tattooist. Tucked inbetween are more mundane businesses, like tailoring and minicabs, plus a string of takeaways proudly flying the Just Eat banner. A pub nobody wants to drink in any more has become offices. Another pub nobody wants to drink in any more has become a mosque. A factory which no longer makes anything has become a Private Gym and Wellbeing Centre. There are many hints that this is an area in slow transition.
Last year a tribe of yellow plastic men suddenly appeared around the junction with Grenville Road. They clung to lampposts, perched on walls and performed handstands on belisha beacons, and brought a smile to all those who passed. Each stickman had been created by an anonymous artist from polystyrene pipe cladding, chopped up and stuck together with humour and glue. Alas the elements and/or the local population have not been kind, and all I found was a lone survivor in the window of Deti's Deli Cafe, and a torso and a dangling leg hanging somewhat bereft halfway up a lamppost.
Beyond the railway is Hornsey Road's proper shopping parade, a broad retail canyon on a gentle bend. At one end is the Hornsey Cafe - I turned up a week too late to see Terry Pratchett's Good Omens being filmed outside. In the centre is W. Plumb, an art nouveau Edwardianbutchers which only opens up for Open House. Still trading are all the dry cleaners, nail spas and betting shops a neighbourhood like this needs. And at the top end is TheShaftesburyTavern, a restored Victorian boozer with, oh look, one last yellow man hanging by his foot in front of an etched window. This gastropub's also number 534 Hornsey Road, and the last building before the street morphs into Hornsey Rise.
As the steepest ascent begins the houses become briefly grand, before some rather more compact Islington council estates take control. Across the road is Elthorne Park, a former recreational backwater gifted a peace garden by the GLC and a caged footie pitch by Johan Cruyff. The last roses of the summer are dropping their petals beside the reflective pool, and a bunch of drunks may be raising a rumpus on the bench by the boxing club. The boundary between Islington and Haringey comes at the top of the hill, just past the BP Garage and a bunch of villas large enough to be converted into doctors' surgeries. Grab the bus back down for a brief but splendid view of Docklands from the upper deck, and the Tollington's only ten minutes away.