A cosmopolitan part of north-east London. From Turnpike Lane to Clissold Park via the New River, eating Turkish and Albanian food along the way.
More than fifty percent of London’s inhabitants were born abroad.
Generalizing, certain ethnic groups have congregated in particular areas of London. As examples of this: Bangladeshis in Tower Hamlets; West Indians in Brixton; Punjabis in Southall; Poles in Hammersmith and Ealing; Nigerians in south-east London; and Koreans in New Malden. North-east London contains many people whose origins were places that once formed part of the huge Ottoman Empire. They come from, for example: Albania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Kosovo, Kurdistan, and Turkey. Green Lanes is one of the ‘post-Ottoman heartlands’ of north-east London, and it is here that this exploration begins.
Turnpike Lane Underground station stands at the intersection of Turnpike Lane (formerly part of ‘Tottenham Lane’) and Green Lanes. Between about 1715 and 1872, a toll-collecting station (a ‘turnpike’) stood at this road junction. The present art-deco station was designed by Charles Holden (1875-1960), who designed many stations on the Piccadilly Line. It opened in 1932. Its tall ticket hall resembles the station he created at Alperton. The curved building beside it, which is part of the station, now contains an eatery with a Turkish name. The ventilator grids on the platforms are decorated with a horseman riding towards the turnpike gate.
Green Lanes is one of the longest streets (with a single name) in London. It stretches south from Winchmore Hill to Newington Green, over six miles. It is part of an old road (it may have been in existence in the 2nd century AD) that ran between Hertford and London’s Shoreditch. It was used much by drovers bringing animals to London for slaughter. In general, a ‘green lane’ is a byway that has existed for centuries. They were sometimes used as drovers’ thoroughfares. While most green lanes are barely used unmetalled and often overgrown rustic tracks today, Green Lanes is quite the opposite.
Ducketts Common is a park bordering the west side of Green Lanes. It is all that remains of the former Dovecote Farm that was on land once owned by Laurence Duket, a goldsmith. In retaliation for an attack of Ralph Crepyn (c. 1245 – before 1331), a lawyer and one of London’s first Town Clerks, Duket was murdered in about 1283 (see: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/london-mayors-sheriffs/1188-1274/pp237-248). This episode of mediaeval history has been fictionalised by Paul Doherty in his 1986 novel “Satan in St Mary’s”.
Today, the Common is a much-used open space with trees, partly covered by grass, and partly by sports facilities. Facing the south end of the park, stands the Liberty Church (on Frobisher Road). This is housed in a former cinema. Built in 1910 as ‘The Premier Electric Cinema’ to the designs of William Emden and Stephen Egan (see: http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/23882), this was one of London’s first purpose-built cinemas. The original building is hidden behind a crumbling art-deco façade, badly in need of redecoration, that was added in 1938. After several name and ownership changes, the building finally stopped being used as a cinema in 2003. Its present owners, The Liberty Church, moved in 2003.
At the corner of Frobisher Road and Green Lanes, there is a late Victorian brick building (built 1898) adorned with pilasters and topped by a round tower. This was the Queens Head pub until it closed in 2010. The building stands on the site of the original pub, built in 1794. From 1856, the pub’s owner ran an ‘omnibus service’ from London and Winchmore Hill. Today, the building houses a branch of Dogtas, the Turkish furniture retailer. There are two Bulgarian eateries, a breakfast joint and a café/bar, across Green Lanes opposite the old pub.
Just south of the former pub, there is a row of shops, Queens Parade, that illustrates beautifully the international flavour of this area. Neighbouring a used car dealer and beneath a huge McDonald’s advertisement, is IFC Food Centre, which claims to stock food products of interest to: Iranians, Poles, Romanians, Hungarians, Bulgarians, Lithuanians, and … ‘English’. This is close to Savalan, a supermarket that contains a halal butcher. Then, there is a small Turkish bakery, where fresh products (including simit, bread, pide, lahmacun, börek, baklava) are baked on the premises.
Almost next to the bakery, there is a pizzeria named ‘Durazzo’, which is the Italian name for Albania’s important seaport Durrës. It is run by Albanians. Nawroz restaurant (named after the Persian new year) at the end of the Parade offers Iranian (Persian) food. The Corner Café and Bar opposite it has a large covered terrace with comfortable chairs for the many smokers sitting there. Its drinks menu offers ‘raki’. I do not know whether this is the type drunk in Albania or the Turkish drink that resembles the Greek ouzo.
In complete contrast to the eateries and shops neighbouring it and wedged between them, is the Om Shakthivel Temple. Adorned with pictures of peacocks outside, it is a small Hindu temple. This caters for Tamil speakers. A lady cleaning the temple gave me a booklet, written both in Tamil and English. It contains stories of people who have had their misfortunes reversed by praying to Shakthivel.
Unlike other Albanian restaurants that I have come across in London, Bardhoshi Bar and Restaurant, makes no attempt to hide its ethnic origins. Its menu, displayed outside on the pavement of Green Lanes, is in Albanian with English translations in smaller letters. The first time that I entered this was early one weekday morning. The espresso I ordered was first-class and served, as it would be in Albania, with a glass of cold water. The lady who served me, the owner’s wife, told me that she and her family come from northern Albania. They have recently taken over the restaurant from another Albanian family from the southern Albanian city of Korçë. She also told me that there are two other Albanian restaurants in the vicinity, the Pizzeria Durazzo being one of them. These establishments attract Albanian and Kossovars from the surrounding districts and, also, from further out of London.
On the Saturday evening when we visited Bardhoshi at about 7 pm, every table was occupied by men. Almost all of them were having alcoholic drinks, mostly Mexican beer but also raki and other hard drinks. Almost without exception, they were enjoying food as well. A large TV screen was showing programmes (sports and music videos) from Kosovo and Albania. We were warmly welcomed by the owner.
The food was good, at least as good as much that we ate in Albania. A basket of warm bread was accompanied by delicious pickled apple peppers and white cabbage. My wife ordered a delicious okra (lady’s finger) with lamb casserole. I had qofte (minced meat kebabs – very often served in Albania) served with a generous mixed salad. We washed this enormous meal down with shots of good quality Albanian raki, and finished the meal with good espresso coffee, once again served with glasses of iced water. The waitress, an Albanian from Shkodër who had been brought up in Greece (where many Albanians have worked since Communism ended in Albania in 1990), busily served everyone in the restaurant. When we had finished our meal, the lady chef came out to meet us. We told her that we had enjoyed our meal, and she looked pleased. As we were leaving, the waitress presented us with a complementary package containing some soup for us to enjoy at home.
Across Green Lanes and further south, there is a pair of semi-detached houses, which house the Turkish Cypriot Community Association. Established in 1978, it “provides culturally, linguistically and religiously sensitive services to Turkish and Kurdish speakers residing in the UK” (see: http://tcca.org/). Nearby and across the road from this, is Duckett Dental Surgery which advertises a “Turk dis doktoru”, i.e. a Turkish dentist. Further south from this, there is a branch of The Turkish Bank.
A large building opposite the bank houses the ‘Hawes and Curtis Outlet Store’, which sells shirts for men. In the past, this building was marked on detailed maps as a laundry. Located next to Langhams Working Men’s Club, this was once the ‘Oaklands Laundry’, a large business in the days before domestic washing machines became common (see: http://www.woodses.co.uk/life-on-the-ladder-1-a-beginning.html).
The brick and stone neo-gothic Harringay United Church was opened in 1902. Facing it across Green Lanes, is ‘Evmolpia’, a Bulgarian grocery store named after the ancient Thracian name for the Bulgarian city of Plovdiv (see: http://www.plovdiv.bg/en/about-plovdiv/history/). This shop adjoins Salisbury Promenade, a row of shops contained in a long tile-covered building, whose architecture resembles that of many art-deco cinemas.
An historic photograph reveals that it had already been built by 1934, when the upper floor was occupied by a ‘Billiardrome’ and the lower by shops. Shops and restaurants occupy the ground floor. A snooker hall and gym centre occupy the building’s only upper floor. The staircase leading from the street to the gym is decorated much as theatres and cinemas built before WW2 used to be.
The grandiose Salisbury pub, a masterpiece of stone and brickwork with decorative gables and towers topped with domes, is on the corner of St Annes Road and Green Lanes. Built to the designs of John Cathles Hill (1857-1915), an architect, developer, and founder of the London Brick Company, this pub opened in 1899. On both sides of Green Lanes beyond this hostelry, there are lines of shops and restaurants, mostly Turkish.
I have only been to one of these restaurants to date: Gökyüzü. It is a large restaurant, modern in design, with good service and lovely food in generous portions. It is opposite a big supermarket called Yasar Halim, which was established in 1981. The window of its bakery section has the word ‘patisserie’ written in French, Greek, and Turkish. Apart from several Turkish restaurants, all of which attract large numbers of diners, there is: a Turkish bakery specialising in gözleme (savoury flatbreads filled with, for example, spinach, egg, or cheese); Turkish jewellery shops; a Polish grocery; a Polish restaurant; a Hungarian supermarket (‘Paprika Store’); and, even, a branch of the UK chain ‘Iceland’.
The Overground line, which runs between Gospel Oak and Barking, traverses Green Lanes over a metal bridge on which the words ‘Harringay Green Lanes’ are written in large orange capital letters. Just south of this, on the corner of Williamson Road and Green Lanes, there is a notice about the history of the Harringay Arena. The Arena, an indoor stadium which could seat 10,000 people, was built in by the Canadian-born Brigadier-General AC Critchley (1890-1963) in 1936. Originally designed for that popular Canadian sport ice-hockey, the Arena was also used for boxing, horse-shows, basket-ball (during the Olympic Games of 1948), and Billy Grahame’s preaching rallies. It was built besides an outdoor stadium for grey-hound and motor-cycling racing, which Critchley had built in 1927. The Arena, designed by the modernist architect Oscar Faber (1886-1956), a structural engineer – a pioneer of the use of reinforced concrete in the UK, closed in 1978, and its open-air neighbour closed in 1987. Where these two landmark buildings once stood, a large, mundane branch of Sainsburys stands instead.
The Beaconsfield hotel/pub is across the Green Lanes facing the notice about the Arena. This Victorian building with tall brick chimneys dates from before 1894. The pub was possibly designed by JC Hill, who designed The Salisbury (see above).
Just south of this, the New River flows out of Finsbury Park and eastwards under Green Lanes. It is here that I left the ‘post-Ottoman trail’, and joined the footpath that runs beside this waterway, which despite its name is not a river but a canal. Elsewhere, I have described the New River’s lovely course through Canonbury. The walk that begins at Green Lanes is at first less charming than that through Canonbury, but gradually begins to rival it.
The New River was opened in 1613 to conduct drinking water to the New River Head in London’s Clerkenwell from springs in Hertfordshire and, also, from the River Lea. Before it was built, Londoners had to rely on oft contaminated local wells and streams, as well as The Thames, for its water supply. Now, there is a properly sign-posted footpath (see: http://shelford.org/walks/newriver.pdf) that runs along most of The New River’s 28-mile length. At first, the path I followed ran roughly parallel to Eade Road. Bounded on both sides by unattractive landscape, the canal winds its way along a strip of grassland punctuated by occasional trees and bushes. The canal is raised above the land to its north, and from it there is a fine view over the semi-industrial landscape of Harringay and beyond.
Shortly before reaching the bridge carrying Seven Sisters Road over it, the canal passes the brightly decorated New River Studios, which is housed in a former industrial building, a converted furniture warehouse (see: http://newriverstudios.com/). The Studios’ mission is to provide a centre for the promotion of arts and other creative pursuits. It is run on a ‘not-for-profit-basis’. Just beyond the studios, the canal passes under a graffiti-covered, unattractively designed brick and concrete bridge over which the busy Seven Sisters Road crosses.
On the west side of the bridge, I spotted a small brick-built structure that looked like a military bunker. Across the canal from this, there is a brick and stone neo-gothic church on Amhurst Park. This is now ‘The Sanctuary’, a church run (since 2003) by Resurrection Manifestations, which is an affiliated member of Resurrection Power and Living Bread Ministries International. On Sundays, one of its services is in a local Ghanaian language (see: http://www.resman.org/history/).
The canal makes a U-turn just east of the church, and begins flowing in a south-west direction. While it is turning, it flows under a brick footbridge with metal railings at the eastern end of Newnton Close. Next, the visitor must make a choice. Whether to continue along the path beside the canal or to make a small diversion to enter the Woodberry Wetlands.
The wetlands form a nature reserve surrounding the East Reservoir, one of two adjoining expanses of water that collect water from the New River. The East Reservoir and its neighbour The West Reservoir were built in 1830 to supply water to the then developing suburbs of Stoke Newington and Stamford Hill (see: http://www.woodberrywetlands.org.uk/about/history/). In 1992, the reservoirs were offered for sale to be filled in and then used for building purposes. Fortunately, this did not happen. In 2016, the land surrounding the East Reservoir was developed as a nature reserve, and opened to the public.
The walk through the Wetlands is delightful, and popular with mothers pushing their babies in buggies. Near the entrance, I saw a maintenance hut outside of which I saw a rack on which several pairs of red rubber gloves were hanging out to dry; it looked ghoulish. The reservoir is surrounded by untamed grassland. The water contains islands of reedbeds. A modern housing development consisting of apartment blocks of varying heights overlooks the reservoir from its western shore. When I visited the reserve, I spotted little wildlife apart from plants, ducks, and a pair of cormorants, one of which had pale white breast feathers. The path within the Wetlands leads around the reservoir to The Coal House Café (see below).
Returning to the bridge at Newnton Close, I re-joined the canal. Just before it skirts the East Reservoir, it passes beneath a small brick building that straddles the water. This is the Ivy House Sluice, which was built in the first half of the 19th century. Its hand-operated sluice-gate machinery is still in working order.
As I walked along the north-western side of the East Reservoir, I met many people with young children. Quite a few of them were speaking in Slav languages. Shortly before the path reaches the Lordship Lane bridge over the New River, there is an elaborate modern sluicing system. This regulates entrance of water from the canal into the East Reservoir. Its apparatus includes an automated weed-grabbing mechanism that plucks weeds and other rubbish from the New River, and then deposits on the bank so that it can be collected and removed (see: http://www.londongardenstrust.org/features/NewRiver.htm).
A pathway leads from this machine along the south-western shore of the East Reservoir to the elegant brick-built Coal House Café. Constructed in 1833, this was, as its name suggests, once used for storing coal. At one end of the building there is an enormous white stone commemorative slab with words carved on it, including: “These reservoirs the property of the New River Company were begun in the year 1830 and were completed in the year 1833 under the direction of Mr William Chadwell Mylne, their engineer…”
The Scottish born architect and engineer William Chadwell Mylne (1781-1863) was a son of Robert Mylne (1733–1811), who not only built the first Blackfriars Bridge but was also the New River Company’s surveyor. William became the Company’s Chief Engineer when his father retired in 1810. Apart from the reservoirs, he was responsible for another significant building in the neighbourhood (see below).
The New River continues beyond Lordship Lane for a few yards before it begins to skirt the western shore of the West Reservoir. First it passes a couple of modern fountains – one of them is spherical. They decorate the blocks of flats surrounding Riverside Gardens. From here onwards, the path has been re-built and looks attractive, but overly ‘manicured’.
Across the reservoir I saw a tall brick building with tall windows. This was flanked by long low newer single-storey wings, outside of which there were many small sailing dinghies. Behind this building, there were several tall brick-built towers crowned with castellated walls. I stopped an elderly couple to ask them to identify what I was seeing. They did not know because, like me, they were visiting the area for the first time. They had South African accents, and were in London visiting their children, none of whom lived anywhere near these reservoirs. They told me that whenever they visit London, they explore a part of it which is new to them. I admired them for their adventurousness.
I continued along the path, stopping to watch families of wildfowl swimming in the water. As I rounded the lake, and got closer to the long low building with boats stacked outside it, I saw groups of children paddling kayaks in the West Reservoir, which is now used mainly for water-sports. The building with the boats outside it is the West Reservoir Centre. Its central tall structure was formerly a water filtration centre, which was built in the 1930s.
Just before the New River disappears under Green Lanes, it passes what looks like a grimly forbidding castle. Built in 1855 to house a pumping station, it bears a logo consisting of the letters in the name ‘Mylne’. This is because it was built by WC Mylne, who had built the Reservoirs. It was designed by the architect Robert Billings (1813-1874), who also wrote many books including his four-volume “Baronial and Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Scotland”. The pumping station was built to pump water from the reservoir to northwest London, which was suffering from a cholera epidemic at that time (see: http://www.londongardenstrust.org/features/NewRiver.htm). Between 1953 and 1995, when it was converted into a climbing centre, the pump stood disused.
I re-joined Green Lanes about just over half of a mile south of where I left it to follow the New River. But, I had walked almost thrice that distance by following the canal.
The late 19th century Brownswood pub is several yards north of Clissold Park. Its name refers to the Manor of Brownswood, which probably existed before the first written record of it was produced in the early 12th century (see: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol6/pp140-146).
Clissold Park, where we end this exploration, was once the grounds of Clissold House (originally called ‘Paradise House’). The house was built in the early 1790s for the Quaker merchant, philanthropist, and anti-slavery campaigner Jonathan Hoare, who was a member of the well-known Hoare family of bankers. Hoare wanted a new home close to the New River, and the site he chose to lease in 1790, the present park, used to have the canal flowing through it until it was re-routed.
In 1811, the estate was bought by Augustus Clissold (c. 1797-1882), an English Anglican priest, who was an exponent of the theological ideas proposed by Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772). After Clissold’s death, there were plans to sell the park for building development. Fortunately for us, two local politicians, John Runtz (a director of the New River Company; 1818-1891) and Joseph Beck (an optical instrument maker; 1828-1891), were able to persuade the Metropolitan Board of Works to buy the land in 1887, and then to develop it as a public park.
The park contains various water features, which are remnants of the part of the old course of the New River from the time when it used to flow through it. These include two lakes, and a stretch of what looks like a canal. The latter is traversed by an elaborate cast-iron bridge, which is far more attractive than any of the bridges that I saw while walking along the New River further north.
The bridge is almost in front of the house that was built for Hoare. With six Doric pillars supporting a veranda that runs the length of the front of the house, the brick-built house has two main floors and an extensive basement. It is now used for private functions such as weddings, and contains a popular café. Most of the rooms that I entered were sparsely, if at all, furnished. The main staircase is a spectacular, almost spiral construction.
In addition to the water features, the park contains a small animal enclosure that includes an aviary and a butterfly house. Near this, there is a pink granite drinking fountain erected in 1890, and dedicated to the memory of Messrs Beck and Runtz. Near the Clissold Road exit, I saw a stone fragment with the date 1790 carved on it. At the exit near Riversdale Road, which recalls the former course of the New River, there is a small brick building on Green Lanes with shuttered windows. Labelled ‘Pump House’, it is a reminder of the days when the New River flowed through the park.
Opposite the pump house, stand the forlorn remains of what was once the White House pub. This was in business from 1866 until 2013. Nearby, there are bus stops that allow you to travel either back up north, or into the centre of London.
This walk fulfilled several of my pleasures, including: discovering places new to me; exploring London’s lesser-known waterways; and enjoying the cosmopolitan nature of the city. People from the formerly Ottoman territories have moved into north-east London both to escape from the horrors of war (e.g. the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, and troubles in Kurdistan and Cyprus) and, also, to enjoy the economic advantages of living in Western Europe. However, I often wonder whether they miss the lovely scenery and better climate of the places they have left in order to live in one of the more aesthetically bleak parts of London.