Underground Islington: a collection of local tube factoids

Tube nerds in Islington must be a happy bunch: there’s a goldmine of Underground history in the borough, with all sorts trivia to be unearthed (sometimes literally) at many of its stations. So being partial to a spot of tube-geekery myself, I did a bit of research into Islington’s stations and came back with more fascinating facts than I ever expected…

Article originally published at Islington Pepople

Most recently, we’ve had the campaign to rename Archway station as ‘Whittington’, after the area’s most famous occupant.

Islington residents have been campaigning for the name change for years, and according to Going Underground’s Annie Mole, they got a ‘sort of yes’ from Boris Jounson in August of last year. But the present-day Mayor told residents not to hold their breath, and the only change most Archway dwellers have noted recently is the regular closure of the station on weekends!

And then there’s Arsenal, which is the only station on the Underground to be named directly after a football club, changed from Gillespie Road in 1932.

Two of my favourite tube factoids are to do with escalators on the Underground: the longest of which can be found in our very own Angel station. At 197 ft (60m) it takes 80 seconds to carry passengers up or down, so if you’ve ever felt like you were taking the longest escalator ride of your life while emerging from the Northern Line at rush hour, you were probably right.

Holloway Road station, meanwhile, briefly played host to the first escalator on the whole of the Underground system: a bizarre, spiral-shaped contraption that was built in 1906 but deemed unsafe and never used. It was then apparently forgotten for the best part of 80 years, before an engineer discovered it gathering dust in the station’s second, dis-used lift shaft during a routine inspection.

spiral-escalator-holloway-roadThe spiral escalator, devised by American inventor Jesse W. Reno, was an experiment that could have been taken up all over the underground if it had been successful, and would presumably have saved a lot of space in stations. But its trial at Holloway Road seems to have been enough to bury the idea forever.

Looking at some of the old photographs found in the abandoned shaft, it’s easy to see why the device was considered too dangerous for public use: passengers would have stood on a very narrow walkway, possibly with no handrail, and with no steps to climb in the event of a breakdown. Some have speculated that the escalator was based on a fairground ride that was in use at the time. The first fully-functional, non-hazardous escalator was installed at Earl’s Court five years later in 1911.

Highbury & Islington Station, now a 1960s concrete box, was once a grand old building that looked almost like a mini version of Waterloo. With pillars and gothic arches, the original Highbury Station could not look more different from its lowly reincarnation as Hi&I Tube.

There are some fascinating eyewitness accounts from Highbury residents caught up in the blast, which came from a V1 bomber that crash-landed at the North end of Upper Street, taking out shops, gardens and the part of the station that has now become the ‘Famous C0ck’ pub.

Observant commuters entering Highbury & Islington station to this day can see a small relic of the earlier station: look to the left of the entrance, between the station and the Famous Cock, and you’ll see one solitary column that was never taken down.

Do you have any fascinating facts on underground Islington you’d like to share with us? We’d love to hear them.


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