Highbury & Islington station serves both the Victoria Line (light blue) and London Overground (orange) and is located on what is still referred to as Highbury Corner. But that corner was obliterated by a WW2 bomb becoming first a roundabout and today a welcome patch of open space next to the station.
After the bomb destroyed Highbury Corner, the Council built a new roundabout to replace the “corner” and took the opportunity to experiment with planting various species of trees to see which would withstand urban pollution best. The roundabout is no longer, today it is this green open space, but if you take the time to look at the trees you will notice that there is something rather unusual about them. They are different. They all did well, despite the urban pollution, which is why we have the amazing mix we can see today.
The bomb that destroyed Highbury Corner also destroyed the original Highbury & Islington station. So, what did Highbury & Islington’s station look like before the bomb? Well, as you can see at this Wikimedia image, rather magnificent is the answer. It was grand, as befitted a station on the North London Railway, with services connecting to the Midlands, the North and Scotland.
It was built in 1872 for the North London Railway and the architect was Edwin Henry Horne. He designed 5 other stations for that railway company at Bow, Barnsbury, Cannonbury, Camden Town and Hackney. Only the Camden Town station survives in its original use, it was renamed Camden Road in 1950 to avoid confusion with the underground station, and is now Grade II listed. The station at Hackney has been restored as a music venue.
Horne’s design for Highbury & Islington station, described as Italianate style, had a drive-in forecourt and 3 wings with a pub, the Cock Tavern on the left, the station in the middle and shops on the right. The construction was of white Suffolk bricks, Portland stone and terracotta – cutting edge design for the time. In 1872 a model of the station was exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. In 1910 shops were added in the station forecourt which must have increased revenue but rather spoilt the look of the station.
The station was damaged by bombs on 2 occasions in WW2. The first was an incendiary bomb which fell on 14 October 1940 and destroyed the mansard roof and top floor.
Then at 12.46 pm on 27 June 1944 a German doodle bug pilotless rocket, 25’ long, travelling at 400 mph, and carrying 1,000 kg of TNT landed on Highbury Corner. It killed 28 people and injured 150. Highbury & Islington station was severely damaged but remained in use until 1960 when it was demolished during the building of the underground Victoria Line.
Some of the original westbound platform buildings remain plus this small part of the original entrance which can be seen to the right of the Cock Tavern.
Inside the station is a plaque commemorating those who died and were injured in the bombing. Today there is a lovely display of plants by the plaque, and it is designated the “Calming Corner”.
After the bombing the Cock Tavern was rebuilt, and a “temporary” post office built on the station forecourt, which actually remained there for 50 years.
The present single storey Highbury & Islington station is not much to look at. It was built in the 1960’s for the opening of the Victoria Line in 1968. There are some attractive features though if one looks carefully.
In the late 1960’s London Transport decided to incorporate into the design of each of the Victoria Line stations reference to historical details of that area. Edward Bawden designed this one for Highbury & Islington, a manor house. Islington was formerly part of the large Manor of Tolentone, mentioned in the Domesday Book. The manor shown on the tiling at the station was apparently near the junction with Seven Sisters Road. When that manor was no longer habitable a new manor was built in 1271 on a nearby hill and became known as Highbury. It was destroyed during the Peasants Revolt in 1381.
To celebrate 150 years of the tube, artist Mark Wallinger was commissioned to design an artwork for each of the underground’s 270 stations. Each station has its own unique circular labyrinth in black and white with red graphics produced in vitreous enamel, the material used for signs throughout London Underground. The Highbury & Islington artwork is numbered 171/270. The labyrinths also reflect the tube’s roundel logo. At each entrance to a labyrinth is a red X and the tactile feel of the artwork encourages one to trace a path into the centre and out of the labyrinth. Something to do whilst waiting for your tube.
For more information contact the author Lynette Densey