In this episode of the podcast I attempt a sonic recreation of a part of the London Underground that never got built, a stretch of the Northern Line that would have run from Moorgate to Alexandra Palace. En route I reflect on the transport infrastructure shapes our experience of the city and the difference between what engineers plan and what actually gets built. I really loved making this podcast – it features my mother, Anne Soutry, as Northern Line announcer, making the most of her skills as a continuity announcer for BBC Radio Manchester many years ago. Also, as part of my research, I got a ride in the cab of a Northern Line train with my friend Stuart McGee – thanks Stu. So, have a listen, and I hope you enjoy the ride.

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Show notes

Before I go into the show notes I should call out three great sources of information about the Northern Heights extension:

  • CORRECTION: I was in fact sitting at the disused Crouch End station. Crouch Hill does exist, and is part of the operational Overground network, although at the time of recording, that station too was closed, albeit tempoarily as part of the upgrade works for the line [00:12]
  • ‘Platform 10 of Finsbury Park station is now demolished, but there is a photograph of it on Disused Railways
  • The Edgware, Highgate and London Railway was an example of a company that built new lines out of London in order to build business from the creation of new suburbs around their stations. Their plan was to build a railway that would begin in Kings Cross, leave the mainline at Finsbury Park and climb the hills of North London and reach up to Highgate and Edgware. See more on the history of the EH&L railway network on this page from Disused Stations. [02:52]
  • Stroud Green station was not included in the original EH&L plan but was add later as housing was developed in hte area. See images of the original Stroud Green station here. [03:31]
  • How the railway climbs the steep hill to Highgate. To build up extra revenue in the face of competition from the Midland Railway, the EH&L railway builds extensions to High Barnet and Alexandra Palace [04:00]
  • Arrival at Crouch End station – images here – [04:58]
  • In 1935 the Government announces its New Works Plan, which involves the extension of the existing Tube line from Archway up to East Finchley where it would connect with the EH&L railway. The whole network was to be electrified, including the stretch to Finsbury Park, and the network was to be called the ‘Northern Line’.[05:00]
  • What the line would have looked like on the Underground map.
  • Arrival at Highgate station – images from Disused Stations – including a really great info graphic of the whole station [06:05]
  • All electrification works stops during WW2. After the war, new Green Belt legislation means there will be no further expansion of London to the north and so there is no need to carry on electrifying the network. The stretch from Finsbury Park to Highgate and round to Alexandra Palace never gets its electric rails [07:00]
  • Arrival at Cranley Gardens [07:30]
  • Eventually steam services on the line stopped in 1964 and the rails were eventually pulled up. The line was designated a nature reserve, known as the Parkland Walk.
  • Arrival at Muswell Hill [08:50]
  • History of Alexandra Palace [09:00]
  • Conclusions – it is easy to think of our infrastructure as having been built according to plan but the Northern Heights story tells us otherwise. [09:46]