ON BEHALF OF THE BISHOPSGATE INSTITUTE I WOULD LIKE TO EXTEND AN INVITATION TO READERS TO HELP US BOTH SOLVE A PUZZLE.
The image to the right – which you may recognise from this site’s banner – is used with kind permission of the Bishopsgate Institute who are very enthusiastic about this project. You can click, and then click again on the top right “X” to enlarge it for a better look.
The image is part of a collection of glass slides which were donated to Bishopsgate by the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society or LAMAS for short. The problem is that much as a dedicated team of volunteers have created a fantastic archive for us all to enjoy, they often had little to work with aside from faded old sellotaped-on labels when it came to identifying a lot of the locations featured in the slides. You can read what finally made its way into the catalogue by way of a description here, where the tunnel is described as ‘Old Highgate Archway Underpassage’.
When I first approached the institute about the image, I found myself sharing their sneaking suspicion that the tunnel in the photograph may not be a representation of an underground foot passage by Archway Bridge, where the old Archway Tunnel was previously attempted. The tunnel collapsed in 1812, resulting in the creation of Archway Road, and in 1813 the construction of the original bridge by which Hornsey Lane could continue to cross the thoroughfare.
The present bridge, known locally as Suicide Bridge, was constructed around 1897 and opened in 1900. I am not aware of a present day footpath beneath the bridge. Maybe everyone else knows about it except me, as I tend to get the bus down and especially UP Archway Road!
The mysterious image in question has been reproduced in various places on the internet without permission – perhaps more annoyingly without a correct description. Sometimes it is described as dating from circa 1920 whereas it’s faded label stated 1890. It is also sometimes described as the man-made tunnel of 1855 which leads from the chapel in Highgate Cemetery West under Swains Lane to the East Cemetery. I would think most readers would agree that the tunnel in the image certainly does not look practical for a coffin and pallbearers to navigate. Plus, it shows natural daylight, and electric light – not commensurate with the tunnel under Swains Lane.
Bishopsgate hold their hands up to not knowing exactly where this photograph was taken. If any readers have any suggestions, they are warmly encouraged to put them forward below! But I think I may have found the answer, thanks to “The Growth of Muswell Hill” by Jack Whitehead which is available in hardcopy from Amazon but also online. From Whitehead’s research I learned that by 1890
the 18 foot width of the roadway had become far too narrow for the traffic. Path-ways for pedestrians were opened up through the side arches, leaving the centre one solely for traffic.
The illustration below may well solve our mystery – that faded old label WAS right all along! Unless anyone out there knows otherwise …
This one’s for you, Stefan Dickers – thanks for all your help!