Highgate (High Level) Tour
On Friday, 20th July 2018, as part of a "Hidden London" tour run by London Transport Museum, I visited the abandoned platform area above the current Highgate station that was planned to serve the former LNER branch to Alexandra Palace.. Owing to the Second World War, and post-war Green Belt legislation, the High Level platforms never saw a Northern line train in passenger service.
Even in the middle of July, the platform canopies are still plainly visible behind the undergrowth. This tour was called the "Wilderness Walkabout" for obvious reasons!
Only the Station House remains from the LNER days; until the 1990s, this was still a private residence, but is owned by TfL now.
Having entered the High Level site and traversed the former southbound running line, two information boards provide some details of the station’s history. The right-hand board depicts the station in its LNER days, in 1868; shortly after opening. Originally, the station was provided with two side platforms and a central passing / reversing loop in the middle. By the 1880s, however, with the increase of traffic, this arrangement was found to be unsatisfactory, and an island platform constructed. With the new arrangement, the side platforms fell into disuse, but were retained.
This close-up of the left-hand board shows how the line was extended in only a few years. The Finsbury Park to Edgware section (black line) opened in 1867, followed by Finchley (Finchley Central today) to High Barnet (dashed red line) in 1872. A year later, the Highgate (High Level today) to Alexandra Palace section opened.
Our group then walked along the southbound platform. Plastic sheeting covers the majority of the trackbed on both sides of the island platform.
Looking north from the northbound platform, a portion of the original side platform is visible on the left of the picture, while the tunnel mouth is a lot less conspicuous, owing to vegetation growth.
Looking the other way, a ventilation shaft has been constructed over a portion of the former northbound trackbed.
Here, Audrey, one of the two guides on the tour, explains why the station became part of the Underground.
A close-up of the poster seen in the above video.
In preparation for the High Level station becoming part of the Underground, the island platform arrangement was redesigned by Charles Holden as part of the so-called "New Works Programme" of the 1930s. Holden’s design incorporated an interchange between the new Underground platforms and the High Level platforms. Had his full design been implemented, a somewhat more elaborate design would have existed, which would have included a weather vane mounted atop a rotunda to the entrance located adjacent Archway Road.
Matt, the other guide on the tour, talks of how London expanded dramatically between the First and Second World Wars, and how this led to the ‘New Works Programme’ being implemented.
Both northbound tunnels had (more-or-less) returned to nature, with the southbound (right-hand) tunnel mouth being completely obscured by foliage. It was this tunnel mouth that suffered wartime bomb damage in April 1941. Ultimately, the damage was repaired, but not quite to the same design, giving the two mouths a rather asymmetrical appearance.
Close-up of the northbound tunnel mouth. Today, locked gates prevent access into the tunnels.
Steel conduit boxes, designed to support and connect the platform lighting, were visible at various points in the ceiling. The surface-mounted fluorescent lighting seen below the platform canopies today is modern.
The interchange to the lower-level platforms is now sealed off. Indeed, the passageway now leads to the station mess room, rather than to any public areas.
The circular recesses in the ceiling allowed natural daylight to pass through the concrete platform canopy, with a glass dome preventing rain from doing the same. The glass domes in these are now (mostly) broken, but in any event, the recesses have been covered from above anyway.
0Another view of the rather sorry-looking station house, seen across from the southbound platform.
Never-used frames for advertising posters are still extant on the far side of the northbound platform.
Audrey explains how the onset of the Second World War played a significant impact on the expansion of Highgate Station, and the London Underground system as a whole.
A facsimile of a London Transport poster advertising for conductors was situated on the inside of the island platform. When this poster was produced, the Commencing Standard Rate (plain time) was £7·8·6 (which converts to £7·43 in decimal coinage), rising to £7·14·6 (£7·73), with additional payments (average) of 16/9 (84 pence), rising to 17/3 (86 pence). The Average Wage for a 44 hour week of six days was £8·5·3 (£8·26), rising to £8·11·9 (£8.59).
Matt describes how many of the proposals made under the New Works Programme were scrapped (or changed considerably) in the austere post-war years, and how this affected Highgate in particular.
The platform continues south for some distance after the sheltered section. The vegetation along here has been allowed to reclaim the cutting as its own.
After a short "woodland walk" (i.e. walking south down the centre of the platform, tripping on roots as you go!), the two tunnel mouths come into sight. These are far more exposed than those at the north end of the station are. The southbound tunnel is seen below - sadly, the former trackbed has become something of an eyesore, thanks to the efforts of slovenly types who would rather fly-tip items that they no longer want, than dispose of them by more environmentally-friendly means.
A discarded concrete post supporting a couple of cable brackets was seen amongst the debris.
Access to the northbound tunnel mouth is also prevented by the presence of a locked gate. Several species of bat have made their home in the tunnels, and so access to the tunnels is restricted to chiropterologists (people who study the creatures; as if you didn’t know!), and the occasional graffiti vandal.
One final view of the tunnel entrances, as seen through the trees.
Looking the other way, things look far more "urbanised" once again!
One final look along the northbound platform. A roundel is visible on the wall opposite the end of the railing; this is a modern addition; the original roundels (although fitted) having been removed long ago.
The equivalent view from the southbound platform, taken from the approximate centre of the former trackbed.
With that, we exited the abandoned platform area and returned to the fully-functioning lower-level station, being greeted by a CU Phosco P392 70 Watt SON (High Pressure Sodium) lantern situated above the main station name before descending the staircase.