Islington: Communications

A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 8, Islington and Stoke Newington Parishes. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1985.

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A P Baggs. Diane K Bolton. Patricia E C Croot, 'Islington: Communications', A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 8, Islington and Stoke Newington Parishes, (London, 1985), pp. 3-8. British History Online [accessed 12 June 2024].

A P Baggs. Diane K Bolton. Patricia E C Croot. "Islington: Communications", in A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 8, Islington and Stoke Newington Parishes, (London, 1985) 3-8. British History Online, accessed June 12, 2024,

Baggs, A P. Bolton, Diane K. Croot, Patricia E C. "Islington: Communications", A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 8, Islington and Stoke Newington Parishes, (London, 1985). 3-8. British History Online. Web. 12 June 2024,


It was believed that a Roman road from Cripplegate to St. Albans ran through Islington along the line of Prebend Street and Highbury Grove to Stroud Green, (fn. 7) possibly following an earlier track, (fn. 8) but no firm evidence has been found. Two roads linking Islington with London were known as 'streets' c. 1170 (fn. 9) and the northern part of Essex Road was called Seveney Street in the 16th century, (fn. 10) perhaps indicating a Roman origin. (fn. 11) The continuation of Essex Road to Newington Green connected it with Green Lanes, also thought to be ancient. (fn. 12) The continuations of the 12th-century routes from London, St. John Street from west Smithfield and Goswell Street from Aldersgate, joined just before entering Islington near the Angel. It is therefore likely that the Great North Road, of which Aldersgate was the start, also existed at that time, running along Upper Street into Holloway Road. Before the 14th century it was thought to have left the parish northward along Tallington or Tollington Lane (also called Devil's Lane and later Hornsey Road) to Crouch End, but by 1300 the route had become as important as Ermine Street and was so impassable that a new road was made up Highgate Hill; the bishop was claiming a toll by 1318 and inhabitants of Islington were granted pavage to repair the road up the hill in 1380. (fn. 13) The name Holwey was used for the district around the road by 1307. (fn. 14) A road known as the Back Road, later Liverpool Road, ran from High Street to Ring Cross bypassing Upper Street by the late 16th century, (fn. 15) and connecting with lanes across the western part of the parish. It was particularly useful for large herds of cattle bound for Smithfield market, which were penned overnight in layers along its length. (fn. 16)

Another probably ancient route was the lane from Battle or Bradford Bridge (King's Cross) to Highgate recorded in 1492. (fn. 17) The lower part was called Longhedge lane in 1504 (fn. 18) and Longwich lane in the late 16th century, (fn. 19) but Maid or Maiden Lane in 1735, (fn. 20) the name it was known by in the 19th century until it became York Road (later Way), Brecknock Road, and Dartmouth Park Hill. Rocque, however, called it the Black Lane, probably an error for Black Dog Lane, in 1746, (fn. 21) while an estate plan of 1758 called it the lane from Battle Bridge to the Black Dog, Highgate, (fn. 22) a tavern that stood on the site of St. Joseph's. Plans of Barnsbury demesnes called it Back Lane in 1727 and Maiden Lane in 1755. (fn. 23) Maiden Lane, however, seems to have originally been applied to the road that ran from Upper Holloway southward parallel to the boundary route, with links to Kentish Town, Copenhagen House, Lower Holloway, and the Back Road. Although the route had dwindled into mere field lanes by the 19th century, it was probably much more important in the medieval period or earlier, apparently having been the main route from Gray's Inn and Clerkenwell to High Barnet, running from Longwich Lane to Tollington Lane. (fn. 24) In 1467 sums were bequeathed for the repair of Mayde Lane and the highway from the foot foot of Mayde Lane to the parish church, which must have been Holloway Road. Bequests in 1494 and 1497 for repairing the highway and two bridges between Ring Cross and Maiden Lane Cross also suggest that Maiden Lane joined Holloway Road. (fn. 25) Another name for the road was Hagbush Lane, used in 1676, (fn. 26) 1735, (fn. 27) and 1746, but parts were also called Copenhagen Lane and Maiden Lane in 1746. (fn. 28) Maiden Lane was used in a plan of 1758, (fn. 29) and Mead Lane was the name of the link to the three-mile stone in Holloway Road in 1727 and 1820. (fn. 30)

Lower Street and Lower Road (later Essex Road) continued to Ball's Pond, to Newington Green, and to Kingsland, where it joined Ermine Street. It was a highway in 1582 when money was left for its repair. (fn. 31) Other local roads were Heame or Hame Lane, so called in the early 17th century, (fn. 32) which ran from Tollington Lane towards Brownswood until the 19th century when it was replaced by Seven Sisters Road. Hopping Lane linked Holloway Road and Ball's Pond by the 1540s, (fn. 33) and a lane from Hopping Lane to Highbury Barn and on past Highbury woods to Stroud Green, in use by 1692, (fn. 34) was later called Highbury Grove and Highbury Vale. From the fields east of the town Frog Lane ran from Lower Road to the parish boundary at City Gardens and thence to Old Street. (fn. 35) Along the eastern boundary lay another lane from Ball's Pond Road to Hoxton, including the strip of land called Islington common in 1817. (fn. 36) The lane was called Long Acre in 1532 (fn. 37) and Hyde Lane in 1554, (fn. 38) and parts were taken into Southgate Road in the 19th century.

Figure 3:

Islington and Stoke Newington communications

By the late 17th century all the roads were in bad condition; statute labour was not adequate, even with assistance from the pockets of the surveyors, and additional rates were levied on the parish by the Middlesex justices. (fn. 39) William Heron's trust, administered by the Clothworkers' Company of London, provided £8 a year from the late 16th century towards repairing the highway from Highgate to Clerkenwell and the road from Highgate through Kentish Town to Battle Bridge. (fn. 40)

An Act of 1716 set up the Islington turnpike trust, also known as the Hampstead and Highgate trust. In 1735 it controlled 6 1/2 miles of road in the parish, covering the modern Islington High Street, Upper Street, Holloway, Liverpool, Essex, and Ball's Pond roads and Highgate Hill. The trust, with the Marylebone turnpike trust, also became responsible for the New Road (Marylebone, Euston, and Pentonville roads) built from Paddington to the Angel between 1756 and 1775. The continuation from the Angel to Finsbury Square, called City Road, was built in 1761. Parts of both roads touched Islington on its southern boundary. In the early 19th century four new turnpike roads were built in the parish. Two were to improve the Great North Road: Archway Road, built in 1813 to bypass Highgate Hill; New North Road, authorized in 1813 and built by 1823 to bypass the town and lead more directly to the City. Two were to improve communications with London's west end. Caledonian Road, originally the Chalk Road but renamed after the Caledonian asylum, was built in 1826 to provide a direct cut from the area west of the City to Holloway Road via Battle Bridge. Camden Road and Seven Sisters Road was the last of the major through routes, from Camden Town to Tottenham. Begun in 1825, it had reached Holloway when the Metropolitan turnpike trust was created in 1826 and Tottenham by 1834. (fn. 41)

The Great North Road remained a major route for goods being carried to the docks, and to the channel ports via the Blackwall tunnel. Archway Road was widened to a dual carriageway over the site of Whittington College in the early 1970s, (fn. 42) leaving Archway tavern and the Methodist central hall on a traffic island. In addition, the middle section of Holloway Road was widened to four and six lanes, but congestion persisted at either end, while the heavy lorries using the route, which sliced the parish diagonally in two, blighted trade and damaged old buildings along the narrower stretches. Hopping Lane, renamed St. Paul's Road in the 19th century, linked Holloway Road and Dalston, and also carried heavy goods traffic using East London routes.

Small bridges crossed tributaries of Hackney brook at Heame Lane, Tollington Lane, Ring Cross, and London fields in 1614-16 (fn. 43) and 1735. (fn. 44) The parish was responsible in 1692 for mending the bridge in Heame Lane, (fn. 45) possibly the one known as Prestbourne bridge in 1540. (fn. 46) None of the bridges was mentioned in 1826, by which time the streams were probably culverted. Three bridges crossed the New River, at Green Lanes, Ball's Pond Lane (St. Paul's Road), and City Road, all maintained by the New River Co. Bridges over the canal at Maiden Lane and Frog Lane and the tunnel were maintained by the Regent's Canal Co. (fn. 47)

Long-distance coaches used the Great North Road in the 18th century and by the 1790s two local stage coaches ran return journeys every hour: Chilton's coach to the Royal Exchange and George Jenk's to the Exchange and Temple Bar. A carrier ran a daily return service between the Angel in Well's Row (Highbury Corner) and the Flower Pot, Bishopsgate. (fn. 48) By 1816 a local shortstage service of three coaches daily made return journeys between London and Holloway. (fn. 49) In 1825 eleven coaches making 53 return journeys a day terminated at Islington, with four more at Highgate making to return journeys. (fn. 50) The first omnibus service was operated by George Shillibeer in 1829 along the New Road past the Angel to the Bank. Thereafter services increased so rapidly that in 1838-9, besides 55 vehicles using the New Road, 42 omnibuses served Islington. From Islington 15 ran to Kennington Gate, two to the Elephant and Castle, and one to Albany Road (possibly Southwark); from Holloway 19 ran to the City and two to Charing Cross; two ran from Highgate to the Bank, and another from Highbury Barn to the Royal Exchange. (fn. 51) In the next two decades builders in Islington and Holloway, whose success depended on good transport to the City, promoted omnibus services. (fn. 52) E. & J. Wilson of Holloway ran the largest fleet in the parish with II vehicles in 1839, and 48, operating from Highbury to the City, in 1856, when their fleet was sold to the Compagnie Générale des Omnibus de Londres (from 1858 the London General Omnibus Co.). Other vehicles sold to the L.G.O.C. were 19 from Islington to Chelsea, 10 running from Barnsbury Park to Kennington, 2 from Islington to Kennington, and 2 from Caledonian Road to Pimlico. Omnibuses also ran from Hornsey Rise to the Post Office and to Sloane Square, and from Archway tavern to Westminster. Vehicles from Tottenham to Oxford Street passed along Ball's Pond Road, and the eastern part of the parish was also served by fleets operating through Dalston to the City. (fn. 53)

The first tramway in Islington was opened in 1871 by the North Metropolitan Tramways Co. from the Nag's Head, Holloway Road, to the Angel via both Upper Street and Liverpool Road, and on to Finsbury Square. (fn. 54) It was extended to Archway tavern and Finsbury Park in 1872, when the company opened another line from Dalston to Islington Green via Ball's Pond and Essex roads. London Street Tramways extended their routes from Camden Town to the Nag's Head in 1872 and from Kentish Town to Archway tavern in 1875. Other routes opened were from City Road along Southgate Road to Newington Green and Riversdale Road in 1874, from King's Cross to the Nag's Head along Caledonian Road in 1878, and from Highbury Corner to Old Street along New North Road in 1879. An electric tram service from Highbury station along Upper Street to the Angel and on to Rosebery Avenue was started in 1906 and extended in 1907 along Holloway Road to Archway tavern; in 1908 through services ran from Highbury to Tower Bridge via Westminster and the Elephant and Castle, and from Highbury to Kennington Gate. (fn. 55)

Motor buses had superseded horse buses on the L.G.O.C.'s routes from Highbury Barn and Barnsbury by 1911. (fn. 56) Trolleybuses replaced trams from 1938, (fn. 57) and were in turn replaced by buses in 1961. (fn. 58)

An extension of the Paddington branch of the Grand Junction canal, under a separate company and the name Regent's canal, was authorized by Act of 1812 to run from near the Paddington basin to the Thames at Limehouse. (fn. 59) The section from Camden Town to the Thames was the last to be opened, in 1820, and included the 960-yd. Islington tunnel between Muriel Street and Colebrooke Row. (fn. 60) The City Road basin, on the parish boundary, came to supersede the Paddington basin as a distribution point for London. Although the canal was intended to link the Thames with the Midlands, local transport became much more important, particularly in carrying coal: in 1835 one-fifth of all coal imported into London entered the canal, mostly for local use. Building materials also formed much of the tonnage, which more than doubled between 1823 and 1832. The growing trade attracted building along the canal: privately owned basins included Horsfall basin, near York Way, opened in 1825, with warehouses, depots, and businesses nearby. After the opening of the London & Birmingham Railway in 1838 transhipment helped to maintain the tonnage carried by water, particularly coal for the gasworks and timber, and to defeat schemes in 1850s and 1880s to convert the canal to a railway. Most trade was local, however, by the early 20th century, the Midlands traffic having been largely lost to rail. In 1929 the Regent's and Grand Junction canals joined in a new Grand Union Canal Co., which was transferred to the British Transport Commission in 1948. Commercial craft belonged only to private carriers after 1963, when the canal passed to the British Waterways Board. Locally the canal became important both for boating and for waterside walks.

The East & West India Docks & Birmingham Junction Railway was incorporated in 1846 to construct a line between the London and North Western's goods station at Camden Town and the West India docks. The section from Highbury to Bow Junction was opened in 1850 and in addition a 15-minute through passenger service started between Islington and Fenchurch Street via Bow. Although it followed a roundabout route to the City, the service was both quick and cheap and catered for a large residential area, cutting across the middle of the parish. Known as the North London Railway from 1853, it opened a line to its own City terminus at Broad Street in 1865, and services to Fenchurch Street ceased after 1868. (fn. 61) The line ran in a cutting from Caledonian Road to Dalston, so preserving the middle-class character of the area nearby. Stations serving Islington and opened in 1850 were Islington (called Highbury from 1872) at Highbury Corner, and Kingsland in Hackney, just north of the present Dalston Junction which replaced it in 1865. (fn. 62) Caledonian Road was opened in 1852, replaced a little eastward by Barnsbury in 1870 (renamed Caledonian Road and Barnsbury from 1893), which from 1855 was much used as access to the Metropolitan market; the N.L.R. also built a cattle terminal at Maiden Lane in 1854 in expectation of the market. (fn. 63) Newington Road and Ball's Pond was opened in 1858 but replaced a little westward by Canonbury in 1870, when the lines were quadrupled. By the 1870s the neighbourhood had been built over and a further station, Mildmay Park, was opened in 1880. Another, Maiden Lane, was added on the western boundary of the parish in 1887. (fn. 64)

The last stretch of the Great Northern Railway's line under Copenhagen fields to its temporary terminal at Maiden Lane was opened in 1850, but did little to link Islington with central London until suburban stations served the northern half of the parish. Holloway and Caledonian Road was opened for passengers for London in 1852 and full service in 1856, and Seven Sisters Road in 1861, the latter merely two wooden platforms in a predominantly rural area. After the through connexion between King's Cross and the City was opened by the Metropolitan Railway in 1863, suburban passenger traffic was expected to increase. A footbridge and waiting-shed were added at Seven Sisters Road in 1868 and a waiting-room and covered platforms in 1869, when the name was changed to Finsbury Park. The G.N.R. opened the Canonbury spur for goods in 1874, linking its line with the N.L.R., and the latter ran passenger services to the G.N.R.'s suburban stations from 1875, giving passengers from Finsbury Park and beyond an alternative route to the City. (fn. 65)

The heavy suburban passenger traffic caused the G.N.R. to build a new tunnel under Copenhagen fields, opened 1886, and led eventually to the development of two underground lines serving Islington. (fn. 66) The G.N. & City Railway built a line from Finsbury Park to a City terminus at Finsbury Pavement (Moorgate). Projected in 1891, it was opened in 1904 with intermediate stations at Drayton Park, Highbury, and Essex Road, and later became the Highbury branch of the Northern line. The Great Northern, Piccadilly & Brompton Railway opened a line, later the Piccadilly line, in 1906 between Finsbury Park and Hammersmith via London's west end, with stations at Gillespie Road (renamed Arsenal (Highbury Hill) 1932), Holloway Road, Caledonian Road, and York Road (corner of York Way and Bingfield Street). A third underground line, later the Northern Line, opened in 1907 by the Charing Cross, Euston & Hampstead Railway, linked the north-western extremity of the parish with London's west end, with stations at Highgate and Tufnell Park; Highgate station was successively renamed Archway (Highgate) in 1939, Highgate (Archway) in 1941, and Archway in 1947. (fn. 67)

North Islington also had a passenger service over the Tottenham & Hampstead Junction line, which was opened in 1868 and ran from the Lea Valley line via Crouch Hill to Highgate Road in St. Pancras. The Great Eastern Railway ran a passenger service to Fenchurch Street via Stratford, but closed it in 1870 because the route was circuitous and only at Holloway were there many residents. The Midland Railway started suburban trains between Moorgate Street and Crouch Hill in 1870, with additional stations at Hornsey Road (opened 1872), Upper Holloway, and Junction Road (1872). Because the service was good the district served by the line became completely built up between 1870 and 1882. (fn. 68) Although just outside the parish, the City & South London, later the Northern, line gave southern Islington a useful service to Moorgate, with stations at the Angel from 1901, at City Road from 1901 to 1922, and at King's Cross from 1907. (fn. 69)

The Underground stations reduced local use of the earlier lines and led to some closures. (fn. 70) Most of the passenger traffic at the G.N.R.'s Holloway Road station was lost to the Piccadilly line's station nearby from 1906, until the former finally closed in 1915. (fn. 71) The N.L.R.'s Mildmay Park station closed in 1934, after a period of limited opening times, because residents worked in local industry rather than in the City. (fn. 72) The N.L.R.'s Maiden Lane station closed in 1916 as a wartime measure and did not reopen. The Piccadilly line's York Road station closed in 1932, probably because of social changes, and Junction Road and Hornsey Road stations both closed in 1943. (fn. 73)

From the 1960s Islington became increasingly popular with middle-class commuters to central London. The Highbury branch of the Northern line, transferred to British Rail in 1976, and London Transport's Northern and Piccadilly lines, linked most parts with the City or the west end, and from 1968 the Victoria line (fn. 74) gave a quicker link between Finsbury Park, Highbury, King's Cross, and the west end. The N.L.R., although threatened with closure in the 1960s (fn. 75) and early 1980s, continued to run trains to the City besides forming part of a crosstown link promoted in the early 1980s. The two remaining stations on the former Tottenham & Hampstead Junction line, at Crouch Hill and Upper Holloway, were part of the Gospel Oak to Barking crosstown line from 1981, but both that line (fn. 76) and the N.L.R. line were possibly more important as part of the freight routes through the capital than for local services. The Great Northern line from the Second World War became more important locally for freight than for passengers, with goods and coal depots at Highbury Vale, Clarence Yard, and Finsbury Park (East Goods Sidings) that attracted businesses and warehouses. Clarence Yard and East Goods Sidings were closed in 1960 and Highbury Vale in 1971. The G.N.R. Canonbury line was still used in 1983 for through freight trains. (fn. 77)


  • 7. I.D. Margary, Roman Rds. in Britain (1967), 201; Inner Lond. Archaeology Unit, Archaeology of Islington [after 1974].
  • 8. W.F. Grimes, Excavation of Roman and Medieval Lond. (1968), 43-4.
  • 9. Deed cited in Tomlins, Islington, 18.
  • 10. P.R.O., SC 6/Hen. VIII/2396, m.94.
  • 11. Margary, Roman Rds. 26.
  • 12. Below, Stoke Newington.
  • 13. J. T. Coppock and H. C. Prince, Gtr. Lond. (1964), 54; V.C.H. Mdx. vi. 103. Inf. based on Norden, who does not give his source.
  • 14. P.N. Mdx. (E.P.N.S.), 126.
  • 15. B.L. Maps 186.h.2.(12).
  • 16. Below, econ., agrarian; other est. (Drapers).
  • 17. P.R.O., E 303/8/Lond. no. 134.
  • 18. Ibid. E 315/104, f. 186.
  • 19. Tomlins, Islington, 30.
  • 20. Ibid. 12.
  • 21. Rocque, Map of Lond. (1741-5).
  • 22. G.L.R.O., A/CSC/3161/B.
  • 23. G.L.R.O., map dept., 627 JI 1727, 626 JI 1755.
  • 24. Tomlins, Islington, 30.
  • 25. Guildhall MSS. 9171/6, f. 16; 8, ff. 77, 194V.
  • 26. P.R.O., C 6/79/47.
  • 27. Nelson, Islington (1829), plan (1735).
  • 28. Rocque, Map of Lond. (1741-5).
  • 29. G.L.R.O., A/CSC/3161/B.
  • 30. G.L.R.O., map dept., 627 JI 1727; Tomlins, Islington, 26.
  • 31. P.R.O., PROB 11/65 (P.C.C. 9 Rowe, will of Wm. Rickthorne).
  • 32. Guildhall MS. 3460/1; P.R.O., C 8/422/53.
  • 33. P.R.O., E 315/230, p. 89.
  • 34. P.R.O., C 8/436/98.
  • 35. Nelson, Islington (1829), plan (1735).
  • 36. Baker's plan (1817).
  • 37. P.R.O., SC 6/Hen. VIII/2396, m. 94.
  • 38. Guildhall MS. (formerly St. Paul's MS. C (Dean's Reg., Sampson), ff. 304V-5).
  • 39. Tomlins, Islington, 32; P.R.O., C 10/285/34.
  • 40. Below, charities.
  • 41. Rep. Sel. Cttee. on Met. Turnpike Rds. H.C. 355, pp. 177-90 (1825), v; C. A. A. Clarke, 'Turnpike Trusts of Islington and Marylebone from 1700 to 1825' (Lond. Univ. M.A. thesis, 1955); V.C.H. Mdx. vi. 103; 52 Geo. III, c. 154; P.N. Mdx. (E.P.N.S.), p. xxxiv; Coppock and Prince, Gtr. Lond. 53-6. Rec. of trust are in Islington libr.
  • 42. V.C.H. Mdx. vi. 103.
  • 43. Guildhall MS. 3460/1.
  • 44. Nelson, Islington, plan (1735).
  • 45. Islington libr., vestry min. bk. 1662-1708, 246.
  • 46. P.R.O., SC 6/Hen. VIII/2402, m. 4.
  • 47. Rep. on Bridges in Mdx. 141.
  • 48. Univ. British Dir. (1791-7), iii. 434.
  • 49. V.C.H. Mdx. vi. 106.
  • 50. Hist. Lond. Transport, i. 391.
  • 51. Hist. Lond. Transport, 398-401.
  • 52. R. Glass and others, Lond., Aspects of Change (1964), 35.
  • 53. Hist. Lond. Transport, i. 404-5, 411; L.T.E. Lond. General: Story of Lond. Bus, 1856-1956, 68-70.
  • 54. Para. based on Hist. Lond. Transport, i. 185.
  • 55. Ibid. ii. 94-5; below, plate 7.
  • 56. Hist. Lond. Transport, ii. 169.
  • 57. Ibid. ii. 300-1.
  • 58. Inf. from Mr. R. M. Robbins.
  • 59. Para. based on C. Hadfield, Canals of E. Midlands (1970), 127-34, 231-7, 240, 247.
  • 60. Plate 1.
  • 61. Hist. Lond. Transport, i.51; R.M. Robbins, North Lond. Rly. (1974), 1-4.
  • 62. Robbins, N.L.R. 11-12, 28.
  • 63. Ibis. 12; E. Course, Lond. Rlys. (1962), 241; H. P. White, Gtr. Lond. (Regional Hist. of Rlys. of Gt. Britain, iii, 1963), 77.
  • 64. Robbins, N.L.R. 12.
  • 65. C. H. Grinling, Hist. of Gt. Northern Rly. (1966), 89, 203, 257-8, 303; White, Gtr. Lond. 79; Course, Lond. Rlys. 242; inf. from Mr. R.M. Robbins.
  • 66. Grinling, G.N.R. 379; White, Gtr. Lond. 103.
  • 67. A. E. Bennett and H. V. Borley, Lond. Transport Rlys. (1963), 10-11, 13-14, 19, 24, 26-7; Hist. Lond. Transport, ii. 112.
  • 68. White, Gtr. Lond. 150-2; Hist. Lond. Transport, i. 131, 349; Course, Lond. Rlys. 243.
  • 69. Bennett and Borley, Lond. Transport, 10; inf. from Mr. H. V. Borley.
  • 70. White, Gtr. Lond. 152.
  • 71. Course, Lond. Rlys. 229, 242.
  • 72. Ibid. 240, 243.
  • 73. Ibid. 243.
  • 74. Hist. Lond. Transport, ii. 347; inf. from Mr. R. M. Robbins.
  • 75. Robbins, N.L.R. 29.
  • 76. White, Gtr. Lond. 151-2.
  • 77. Inf. from Mr. H. V. Borley.