NORTHERN HEIGHTS

(1867 - 1954)

 

For a scan of a 1930s A-Z showing the route of the Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace section of this line, click here.

London Transport had planned to take over the entire line (hence it being shown as 'under construction' on contemporary tube maps) and incorporate it into its Northern Line. The conversion works were disrupted by the second world war however: the works that were suitably advanced were completed but the remainder were shelved and never resumed.

The map above shows everything except the plan to divert the section south of Finsbury Park onto the short underground line to Moorgate.

 


 

Comment

 

People indigenous to the area hold the Northern Heights line dear to their hearts. There will still be those who remember the line either in passenger service, seeing the later occasional stock transfers, or just the line still with its rails, yet even without those memories the subject of the line will cause strong debate.

Perhaps it is the seeming waste of it; the line was so near to being converted to a tube line (thus securing its future). Perhaps it is its scenic nature or that it would be a useful line to have now; it still could easily be reopened as a railway. Regardless of that, some notable locals have fought hard over the years to prevent the line being transformed into a road or being sold off for housing. As a consequence, it now lies relatively intact as the Parkland Walk, which can provide a pleasant and leafy oasis of tranquility amongst the congestion of North London (though see later comments about vandalism, graffiti, the rain and mud etc).

Certainly for this author as a child, the line provided mysterious territory to explore and a multiplicity of questions to (non-local) parents. Why was there a railway with no trains? Why stations with no passengers? Where did it lead to? Will there be services again? And so on.
Then the day when, after not having visited for a while, the shock of seeing the line suddenly trackless. Especially for one nearly run over by an enthusiasts train previously: so startling was the sight of a train on the line that it induced a frozen fascination, unfortunately while positioned dead centre of the track used by said approaching train. Only the swift intervention/removal by a less than impressed mother prevented mishap.

As for what the future holds for the line; to measure the possibilities of it returning to railway use or perhaps tram conversion, it is necessary to understand the reasons for its closure. It was ostensibly closed because of a lack of passengers; its custom drawn away by competing transport systems. The bus service running between Muswell Hill and Finsbury Park offered cheaper fares and a more direct route than the radial hill-avoiding route of the railway. These days however, this advantage has been negated by the huge increase in road traffic and the further speed reducing introduction of road humps and speed cameras (never mind the erratic bus services).
Pre-war plans became broken post-war promises. The two-thirds completed conversion works from steam line to tube line were so slow in resuming that the issue was raised in parliament; the reply stressed the need to restrict capital investment in a war-torn and bankrupt economy.
One of the primary areas of importance for public transport is reliability: war time cuts in the line's service did nothing to attract passengers. The line's gradient caused problems for the ageing steam locomotives that ran the line*, producing the chain effect of unreliability, loss of passengers, loss of investment, further unreliability, further loss of passengers, etc, until the line was deemed financially unviable and its electrification program was cancelled.

(*Modern day tube trains and trams would make short work of the line's gradients, as demonstrated by the DLR with its astonishing inclines.)

For the last half century, the densely populated areas of Crouch End and Muswell Hill have been railwayless, reliance being solely on road transport. Many of the large houses in the areas are being converted to flats and there is insuffient road parking space for the extra cars caused by individually owned, rather than family shared cars. Given the poor public transport in the area, car ownership is entirely understandable, yet it would presumably (hopefully) be rendered less of a necessity with the introduction of an efficient rail or tram service to central London.

The Parkland Walk as it stands now is struggling. It is difficult to police; weekend afternoons may be safe because of the numbers of people walking the line but at other times it is less so. Graffiti artists brazenly adorn the brickwork with their various levels of artistic skills. Some are actually quite good but the effect produced is still one of decay, urban desolation, and vandalism; not conducive to sustaining the line as a nature reserve or leafy retreat. It is often used for fly-tipping and rainy weather turns the track bed into a slippery mud path.

There is a need for rail transport in Crouch End and Muswell Hill. Alexandra Palace would benefit from it also. The investment that would be required to reinstate the Northern Heights (southern sections) to a working rail or tram route is minimal (in the same way that the East London Line extensions are being done 'on the cheap' by utilising existing but disused rail routes). The disadvantages of the line's radial route are outweighed by the advantages of its reinstatement. The 'rail-closure-party' was in power when the post-war decision was made to abandon the pre-war works to convert it to a tube line, plans that would have seen it thriving under the benefits of investment and regular, reliable service. While the current government is in power, it should take the opportunity to address the public transport inadequacies of the area before the pendulum swings toward road building again.

(May 2005)

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Five years after the above comments and one cannot complain about Labour's investment in new railways, despite the mess that is PPP: The East London Line extension has opened (in fact, the newly termed London Overground network has been a success generally) plus the long awaited go-ahead for Crossrail. The Northern Heights has been mentioned only as a possible northern route for Crossrail 2 but given the doubts surrounding even the first Crossrail getting through to completion, Muswell Hillbillies and Crouch Enders may be waiting a long time for the reinstatement of a railway service.

(May 2010)

 

 




 

GNR FINSBURY PARK - EDGWARE (8 miles)
(Northern Heights Line)



Opened: 22.8.1867
Closed: (Passengers) 5.7.1954 Finsbury Park - Highgate; 11.9 1939 Mill Hill East - Edgware
  (Goods) 6.10.1970 Finsbury Park - Park Jn; 1.6.1964 Park Jn - Edgware


STATIONS

- Seven Sisters Road (Holloway) (opened 1861) r/n 1869 Finsbury Park
- Stroud Green (opened 1881)
- Crouch End
- Highgate
- East End (Finchley) r/n 1887 East Finchley
- Finchley & Hendon r/n 1872 Finchley r/n 1894 Finchley Church End r/n 1940 Finchley Central
- Mill Hill East r/n 1912 Mill Hill for Mill Hill Barracks r/n Mill Hill East 1941
- The Hale Halt (opened 1906) r/n 1912 The Hale for Mill Hill
- Edgware GNR.

Motive Power Depots - Edgware one-track shed building destroyed in a blizzard c1885 but facilities continued to be used until the end of steam on the branch in BR days


HISTORY

A line between Finsbury Park and Edgware was promoted by the Edgware, Highgate & London Railway (EH&LR) and was opened by the GNR in 1867. There was a frequent passenger service from Kings Cross and Moorgate with the North London Railway working trains from Broad Street with about 30 mins allowed to cover the 8 miles between Finsbury Park and Edgware. Stirling and Ivatt 0-4-4Ts worked most trains supplemented from 1899 by Ivatt 4-4-2Ts while North London Railway 4-4-0Ts were also common. In 1907 Ivatt introduced his N1 0-6-2Ts replaced in the 1930s by Gresley N2s which were used almost to the withdrawal of branch services. The Mill Hill East - Edgware section closed to passengers in 1939 whilst, under a joint LNER/LPTB scheme in 1940/41, the section between Highgate (Park Junction) and Mill Hill East was electrified and came under the control of London Transport. The remaining section of this line from Finsbury Park - Highgate closed to passenger in 1954 and the non LT lines closed to goods traffic in 1964. The section between Finsbury Park and Highgate was retained for LT stock movements finally closing in 1970.


ROUTE - WHEN OPEN

Finsbury Park - Park Jn

At Finsbury Park (GR313868) the branch began each side of the main lines, the down track climbing on arches between the two down main slow tracks to join the up line which crossed all the main lines on a flyover before descending to the extreme east side of the station. It then swung west bridging the Tottenham & Hampstead Junction Joint line at Stroud Green. Further west it passed under Crouch Hill then Crouch End Hill at Crouch End station before turning NW and passing through a tunnel to reach the high level Highgate GNR station (GR286881) which was above the later Northern Line underground station at this point. It then passed through a second tunnel to reach Park Junction where the Alexandra Palace branch diverged north. Gradients were not easy, the climb up Highgate Bank from Finsbury Park varied between 1 in 75/50 before the summit was reached at Park Junction (GR281885).

Park Jn - Mill Hill East

Beyond Park Junction the Northern Heights line headed NW to Church End (r/n by LT Finchley Central) where the branch to New Barnet turned away north and this line continued NW over the Dollis Brook Viaduct to Mill Hill East.
Mill Hill East - Edgware (single track)
From Mill Hill East (GR240915) it swung SW passing under Sanders Lane, Page Street, Deans Road and Watford Way as it turned NW alongside the later M1. It then passed under the M1, the Midland main line and Bunns Lane to reach Mill Hill for the Hale station which was adjacent to the Midland's Mill Hill Broadway. Now heading west it passed under Deans Lane then over Deans Brook and the Northern line to reach Edgware GNR station (GR194918) 300yds south of the LT station, with both termini located in Station Road (A5100).


ROUTE - TODAY

Finsbury Park - Park Jn

The whole of the section between Finsbury Park and Highgate has been converted into a cyclepath - the Parkland Walk. The trail starts from the park entrance at the bottom of Stroud Green Road just before the railway bridges. A footbridge carries it over the main line to join the trackbed and ends at the twin bores of Highgate No 1 tunnel with an exit into Holmesdale Road. It is then necessary to detour around Highgate station by walking along Archway Road and Muswell Hill to enter Highgate Woods and pick up the trackbed of Alexandra Palace Branch (see below).


Park Jn - Mill Hill East

The section between Park Jn and East Finchley is used by LUL to access their Highgate Depot. The Northern Line from Camden Town surfaces at East Finchley and has taken over the line to Mill Hill East (and New Barnet).


Mill Hill East - Edgware

Access to the trackbed can be gained from the embankment beyond the buffer stops at Mill Hill East station where the formation is landscaped. A clear footpath can be followed through a lightly wooded section and through Copthall sports fields (with the large modern sports centre on your left) as far as Page Street where the headquarters of the construction company Laings blocks further progress. Little remains between Page Street and the M1 but the shallow cutting west of The Hale for Mill Hill station can be paralleled along the edge of Lyndhurst Park. It ends at gates forming the entrance to a nature reserve built along the line as far as Deans Lane. A section of densely overgrown rough ground that emerges at the bridge over Deans Brook which is passable but a little further on are two wire-topped gates which have to negotiated before emerging into the vast car park of the Broadwalk Shopping Centre - built on the site of Edgware GNR station.


Edgware - Bushey Heath

The planned pre-war extension of the line from Edgware (London Transport station, not the GNR station) to Bushey Heath was abandoned after the new Green Belt legislation would have prohibited new housing being built in the vicinity. Some works were begun however: the twin tunnels taking the line under Station Road north of Edgware station were constructed; their abutment wall still exists at Rectory Lane, and the remains of the aborted construction of Brockley Hill station exist just north of Edgware Way.



RELICS

Stations

- Finsbury Park : still open (Kings Cross suburban service)
- Stroud Green : access stairway but no trace of platforms, station house below at street level is an information centre
- Crouch End : platforms and bricked up remains of station building
- Highgate (high level) : platforms and platform buildings are intact, the island platform is heavily overgrown, station building converted into a residence
- Highgate (low level), East Finchley, Finchley Central and Mill Hill East : still open (Northern Line)
- Mill Hill for the Hale: mostly covered over by spoil taken from the slip road connection for the M1, a small piece of platform survives under Bunns Lane bridge
- Edgware GNR demolished : site now a large car park for the Broadwalk Shopping centre.

Bridges: Finsbury Park - Highgate
Plate girder bridge carrying up line over main lines at Finsbury Park station removed
Most other bridges in place including:
Masonry viaduct over Stapleton Hall Road and South Tottenham - Gospel Oak line at Crouch Green
Plate girder bridge over Mount Pleasant Villas
Bridge carrying Mount View Road
Footbridge at south end of Crouch End station in place and renovated
Bridge over Northwood Road (very narrow for vehicles)
Double-arched bridge carrying Shepherd's Hill blocked in.


Bridges: Mill Hill East - Edgware
Three-arch brick bridge carrying Sanders Lane intact;
Underpass under Page Street blocked off
Three-arch brick bridge carrying Bunns Lane (on east side of M1) demolished when Bunns Lane was realigned;
Three-arch brick bridge carrying Bunns Lane (at The Hale for Mill Hill station) in place but arches bricked up;
Bridge over Deans Brook and Northern line at Edgware wired off but passable.

Tunnels - Highgate No 1 332yds twin bore: sealed at both ends; Highgate No 2 139yds twin bore: sealed at both ends.
Loco sheds - Edgware (GR191920) on north side of station,

 

 

GNR HIGHGATE (PARK JN) - ALEXANDRA PALACE (1 miles)
(Alexandra Palace Branch)



Opened 24.5.1873
Closed (Pass) 5.7.1954 (Gds) 18..5.1957
Stations Highgate (opened 1867); Cranley Gardens (opened 1902); Alexandra Park (Muswell Hill) r/n 1875 Muswell Hill; Alexandra Palace.


HISTORY

This branch was opened by the Muswell Hill Railway (MHR) on the 24 May 1873, the same day as Alexandra Palace opened. The railway carried 99,000 passengers in the first 16 days, then the Palace was burnt out and the line closed for two years until it was rebuilt. Between 1875 and 1898 the Palace was closed seven time and so was the railway. It was absorbed by the GNR in 1911 and they operated a frequent service of trains from/to Moorgate/Kings Cross; including eleven on Sundays all of which terminated at Muswell Hill. Conductor rails were laid as part of the 1936 electrification scheme but the war intervened and they were taken up in 1955. In BR days trains started from Finsbury Park the journey to Alexandra Palace taking 17 minutes. There were 23 trains on weekdays, usually worked by auto-trains with N7 0-6-2Ts in charge, but there were none on Sundays. The service was withdrawn in 1954 and, three years later, the branch closed to all traffic.


ROUTE - WHEN OPEN

It diverged from the Finsbury Park - Edgware line at Park Junction (GR281886) and curved NE alongside Highgate Wood to Cranley Gardens where it passed under Muswell Hill Road. Swinging north it soon passed under Muswell Hill to reach the station of the same name. Continuing NE the end of the line was reached at Alexandra Palace station (GR295901) located at the south end of The Avenue but overshadowed by the huge bulk of the Palace's north west face.

ROUTE - TODAY

The line can be picked close to Park Junction by entering Highgate Woods from Muswell Hill. Cranley Gardens station has been built over by a school but from there to Muswell Hill it has been converted into a cyclepath part of the Parkland Walk which ends at the underpass of Muswell Hill. Most of the remaining section towards Alexandra Palace has been built over by another school, a council depot and other buildings.


RELICS

Stations

- Highgate (high level) platforms and platform buildings are intact, the island platform is heavily overgrown, station building on original platform converted into a residence
- Cranley Gardens demolished - site occupied by a primary school
- Muswell Hill demolished - site occupied by a primary school
- Alexandra Palace
station building restored and in use as a community centre.

Bridges - most bridges in place including:
Muswell Hill Viaduct (GR288894)17 arches over St Jame's Lane;
Brick bridge over a drive in the palace grounds on approach to Alexandra Palace station
Footbridge at Alexandra Palace station site.

 

(The white text above courtesy of Ralph Rawlinson   ©2005.)

 

 



 

 

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The area where the viaduct for the Northern Heights platforms at Finsbury Park used to be. They were demolished in the 1970s.

This photograph dates only from March 2003 yet the area has changed considerably since then. An impressive new integrated ticket office/bus station has been built, improving the locality beyond measure.

(photo: 2003)

 

 

 

 

 

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Facing the other way and the 'missing' bridge over Stroud Green Road.

The gates seen here provide the beginning of the Parkland Walk, though they have been rebuilt since the date of this photo. The small viaduct carrying the line through Finsbury Park has been demolished to allow integration of the line into the park itself. Previously it was a separate, hidden part.

(photo: 2003)

 

 

 

 

 

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Bridge over Upper Tollington Park, the road that actor Bob Hoskins grew up in.

(photo: 2003)

 

 

 

 

 

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The bridge over Upper Tollington Park.

(photo: 2003)

 

 

 

 

 

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(photo: 2003)

 

 

 

 

 

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The site of Stroud Green station, the first one northwards from Finsbury Park. The station was added in 1881 to provide for the population growth in the area. The only indication at track level that there was ever a station there, is provided (in this photo) by the wooden platform support stumps. Today, even these have disappeared.

This view, from the southern end of the platform location, is looking north toward the Highgate direction.

 

 

 

 

 

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Looking south from the northern end of the platform area (i.e. the opposite view from the photo above).

That this view is from the other side of the Stapleton Hall Road bridge, and that there are the wooden platform support stumps here as well, shows that the platforms not only existed on the bridge itself but extended either side of it as well.

 

 

 

 

 

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More recent northward view with the top of the station house visible in the centre of the photo.
The line is high above street level at this point.

If the line was to reopen, would this station be reopened with it?
The East London line extension to Dalston Junction along the old Broad Street line has raised some interesting points. One of the former stations on the line has not been reopened, yet a new station has been opened on the route where there was no station previously. So would this station reopen or would a better location be found?

(photo: 2003)

 

 

 

 

 

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The bridge over Stapleton Hall Road where the Stroud Green platforms were, and the station house is, still standing proud. The ticket office was located between the station house and the bridge but was burnt down - only the lower section survived (for a time), as seen here.

 


For some interesting comparisons between the following photos and how the line was in 1970,
have a look at Peter Wright's Northern Heights website.

 



Northern Heights: Stroud Green - Crouch End

 

 

Photos taken between 1977 and 1981, except where stated.