A favourite game played at night by cabbies is ‘riding the green wave’. This entails travelling from King’s Cross Station to the Marylebone flyover, or vice versa, catching every light at green, and therefore not stopping . . . . . . . . . .
Exclusively for Patrons, here is the start of the next chapter from my travelogue Pootling around London: Manor House to Gibson Square, again I hope you find it both amusing and informative.
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With the northern limits of The Knowledge encompassing some of London’s wealthiest verdant villages, it pays to learn this affluent area of northern London. Separated by Hampstead Heath are the villages of Highgate and Hampstead, two of the most desirable places to live in London.
My favourite part of Hampstead is the curiously named Vale of Health. Once a malarial marsh it was drained by the Hampstead Water Company, which supplied the City via pipes from the Hampstead Ponds. Vale of Health is a little cul-de-sac stretching into the Heath and in the past was a favourite with artisans. Among others, artist James Henry Leigh Hunt entertained Shelley and Keats, and writer D. H. Laurence lived at the aptly named Byron Villas.
For Knowledge students, the most visited spot in Highgate is to be found at the bottom of Highgate Hill. The Whittington Stone, an 1821 monument and statue of a cat is said to mark roughly where a forlorn Dick Whittington heard Bow Bells prophesying his good fortune should he return to the City of London. Knowledge students pat the cat’s head to improve their fortunes on completing the Knowledge.
The most northerly point on the Knowledge is Alexandra Palace. Mischievous examiners would ask you to describe a route from Alexandra Palace to Crystal Palace, the Knowledge’s most southerly point. This landmark is a personal favourite of mine, from the kitchen of my first flat I had a perfect unobscured view of Ally Pally.
Travel northwards from central London and the first major road you cross is Euston/Marylebone Road. A favourite game played at night by cabbies is ‘riding the green wave’. This entails travelling from King’s Cross Station to the Marylebone flyover, or vice versa, catching every light at green, and therefore not stopping.
The more inquisitive of readers have probably wondered why the termini of four railways running north: King’s Cross, St. Pancras, Marylebone and Euston, are located just north of this busy road.
When the Victorians were building the train network we use today they were forbidden from entering into, what was then London. By 1850 a quarter of a million workers – a force bigger than the army and navy combined had laid down 3,000 miles of track across Britain. The men who constructed this network radiating out of London were called navies from the ‘navigators’ who built the first navigation canals.
Tramping from job to job, navvies lived without adequate housing or sanitation and worked in appalling conditions. In the 1840s there was no compensation for death or injury, this culminated in the trans-Pennine Woodhead Tunnel scandal where the death rate among the navvies building the tunnel between 1839 and 1852 was higher than that of the soldiers who fought at the battle of Waterloo.
The harsh conditions and communal living meant that navvies evolved a lifestyle, culture and even a language of their own. They built a reputation for toiling hard, fighting, hard living and hard drinking. ’Respectable’ Victorians viewed them as degenerate and a threat to social order.
Despite cruel exploitation and extreme deprivation the navvies achieved amazing feats of engineering, equipped with little more than gunpowder, picks and shovels in 1863 the Underground Metropolitan Railway from King’s Cross to Smithfield was completed, the first underground railway in the world. Huge cuttings had to be dug and lined with brickwork which was then roofed over and the streets above rebuilt. When in operation gas-lit wooden carriages were hauled by steam locomotives.
After a difficult and dangerous day, if they had avoided injury, cholera or typhoid their evening were spent together boozing and gambling with the inevitable fist-fight, which on some occasions necessitated the army being sent in the break up the combatants.
An urban myth, which alas has been proved to be incorrect, has it that bitterly divided along nationalistic and sectarian lines interlopers in a pub would be summarily dealt with. As the London-Birmingham railway line was being constructed in the north of the capital, ever anxious to attract customers while keeping trouble at bay four pubs located in today’s Camden Town, were named after castles located in each part of Britain. The Edinboro’ Castle, The Pembroke Castle, The Windsor Castle and The Dublin Castle, each worker would, therefore, know he was welcome and could drink with his fellow countrymen. As the pubs were built at different times and the navvies had a plethora of boozers in Camden to slake their thirst, they probably mingled with each other with the inevitable results.
As each line was constructed, ribbon development meant that London was inevitably pushed northwards. We have to thank those Victorian navies for London’s suburbs stretching out as far as today’s modern M25.
An easy way to remember is by using personal experiences. Known as episodic memories, these can be something that has a resonance in your life.
When I started the Knowledge memories would come flooding back. Before each place was in isolation known to me as being somewhere in London. As my knowledge of London expanded I could join up the dots.
One very early memory was unloading camping equipment, prior to taking a train on holiday with scouts. When I encountered Waterloo Station I realised that in the ’50s vehicles could be driven onto the concourse under the famous clock.