diamond geezer

 Tuesday, February 20, 2024



London's Monopoly Streets


Colour group: light blue
Purchase price: £100
Rent: £6
Length: n/a
Borough: Islington
Postcode: N1

Of all the streets on the Monopoly board, this one's unique because it isn't a street. It's more a street corner, or more specifically a pub on a street corner, or more accurately an ex-pub beside an arterial crossroads that's seen better days. The Angel has quite a backstory, indeed if you want a full a proper history you should read the lengthy treatise at British History Online or the illustrated analysis by the ever-excellent A London Inheritance, because that's what I did. It's also where, according to Monopoly legend, Victor Watson and Marjory Philips sat down during their daytrip from Leeds and mapped out which London properties would take each spot on the board. If so it'd make sense that they named the cheapest light blue after the cafe they were sitting in.

early 17th century
Islington High Street, part of the main road north out of London, is already a densely built-up thoroughfare. A long bay-fronted property owned by St John's Priory becomes an inn called the Angel.

early 18th century
There are now three neighbouring coaching inns along the high street, the largest being the Angel. Its frontage is 90 feet long and it attracts considerable trade from livestock traders driving cattle to Smithfield and travellers aboard cross-country stagecoaches seeking overnight accommodation.

mid 18th century
A new road (called the New Road) is built from Marylebone to Islington - essentially a north London bypass to keep coaches and drovers out of the crowded city. One day all the light blue properties will lie along it. But to reach Islington High Street it has to cut straight through the Angel Inn, specifically targeting the weakspot of its stable yard, because demolishing buildings for bypasses was a thing even in 1756.

In 1820 the inn, now known as the Angel Inn Tavern and Hotel for Gentlemen and Families, is rebuilt on a more compact site. However the arrival of the railways swiftly dampens its popularity with long-distance travellers and over the Victorian period it evolves into more of a big pub.

The Truman, Hanbury and Buxton Brewery undertakes an extravagant rebuild, creating the current incarnation of the Angel. The pub has eating rooms and a smoking lounge upstairs (accessed via a green-marble and mahogany-lined staircase), a billiard room in the basement and 23 bedrooms on the upper storeys.

The building still looks striking, particularly if you’re climbing St John Street from the direction of town. A bulbous terracotta dome overshadows the street corner, rising to a weirdly phallic nipple. You have to get much closer to identify the ring of angels around the dome’s equator, plus multiple cherubic embellishments scattered across the remaining frontage. Above the original main entrance, facing Pentonville Road, another ring-haired angel stares from a gleaming pediment beneath a reminder of the date of construction. Get the sunlight right and the exterior gleams orange, and merits far closer inspection than most of those dashing by afford.

The building becomes a flagship Lyons' Café (though not officially a 'corner house', despite being on a corner site). In its heyday over 300 customers can be accommodated, spread between the main ground floor cafe, an upstairs cafeteria and a basement grill. Victor and Marjory drop by in 1935.

London County Council buy the building with an eye to making major road junction improvements, specifically the insertion of an Angel roundabout. This and several other proposals fail, blocked by conservationists, so City University's geology department takes temporary occupation as a meanwhile use.

The building, recently sold on to the New River Company, is repaired and refitted for use as offices and a bank. The building looks rather less dazzling at ground floor level as a result.

The Angel's been a bank even longer than it was a Lyons. Most recently it's been a branch of the Co-operative bank, its walls painted a light blue that befits its grouping on the Monopoly board. It's all a bit of a comedown from earlier hospitality uses, with tellers issuing notes behind drab counters and small siderooms for private chats and the upselling of services. A letterbox cut into a large window confirms the postal address as 1 Islington High Street. I rather like the idea that an actual bank appears on the Monopoly board given that a repository of money is a key part of the game. Alas it transpires that the bank unit is now empty, having closed a mere seven weeks ago.

Closure was foreseen in the letting notes ("Highly reversionary retail bank unit on a lease expiring in 2023") when the upper five floors of office space were revamped in 2013. The Co-op in fact limped on until 5th January 2024, after which the bank switched premises to the former HSBC at number 25 (and simultaneously introduced Saturday opening). Peer in now through the windows and you'll see a vacant space with blank blue surfaces being cleared by workmen, the fittings now stripped back to a few partitions. A map showing how to reach the new branch has only just been taken down. It seems my Monopoly board quest has unintentionally brought me here at a pivotal moment in the Angel's history, but without yet making it clear what its customer-facing future might be.

To be confirmed

The pub next-door (technically at number 5) was until fairly recently called The Angel. The name was semi-accurate inasmuch as it sits within the footprint of the original coaching inn, that is until Wetherspoons decided to shrink their portfolio and sold the pub to an independent company. Since last summer it's been known by the much less evocative name of The Junction and advertises a 'banging pub lunch with tasty options from just £10', if that's your thing. Continue along the street to the Doner Kebab and Chinese takeaway combo at number 11 and this retains some of the frontage of The Phoenix, another of those historic coaching inns, as a plaque on the front attests.

The Angel is still one of London's most significant road junctions, a snarl of queues where the A1 crosses the Inner Ring Road. Of the three other buildings facing the crossroads only one is still a Victorian edifice, and that's to let, while the block on the southwest corner is an unapologetically modern glassy thing offering cocktails and beer pong at ground level. Meanwhile the northeastern wedge, above the tube station, is currently a huge and somewhat controversial building site. The postmodern office block that used to sit here has been razed and a miserably bland replacement called Angel Square is rising in its place. The developers describe it as "energising workspace that you'll love to call your working home... with sustainability and wellbeing at its heart", and all I can say about its proposed corner cafe is that Victor and Marjory wouldn't have given it a second look. The Angel has fallen.

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