Walk 95: Highgate Linear: Hitler, George Michael & “a very naughty boy”

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 3.1 miles (4.99km)

Time to walk: Only about 1.5 hours, but there’s many places to stop & have a look around, or something to eat & drink

Difficulty: All on hard surfaces & quite hilly in places

Parking: Central London so maybe take public transport. We were working & staying in the area

Public toilets: Cafes, bars etc on the way

Map of the route: None but easy to follow

We have a slight affinity with Highgate, as this was the first place we worked after leaving home in 1979

Highgate is one of the most expensive London suburbs in which to live &, until late Victorian times, it was a distinct village outside London, sitting astride the main road to the north. The area retains many green expanses including the eastern part of Hampstead Heath, three ancient woods, Waterlow Park & the eastern facing slopes known as Highgate bowl

At its centre is the gorgeous Highgate village, a collection of largely Georgian shops, pubs, restaurants & residential streets. Highgate also contains the Victorian cemetery (which we’ll see on this walk) in which the Communist philosopher Karl Marx is buried along with many other notable people

Historically, Highgate adjoined the Bishop of London’s hunting estate & gets its name from these hunting grounds, as there was a high, deer proof hedge surrounding the estate

In later centuries Highgate was associated with the highwayman Dick Turpin

Highgate Hill, the steep street linking Archway (traditionally called part of Upper Holloway) & Highgate village, was the route of the first cable car to be built in Europe. It operated between 1884 & 1909. Like much of London, Highgate suffered damage during World War II by German air raids & the local tube station was used as a bomb shelter

So…shall we show you our old stomping ground?

Let’s Walk!

1. Where better to start a London walk than outside a tube station, in this case Highgate, but don’t come out the main exit – take the Priory Gardens one…

It might not be the most pleasant view, but if you look through the trees above the exit you can glimpse an abandoned station that was part of a line that ran from King’s Cross to the north between 1867 & 1941

2. The start of the walk is actually a slight detour from the main part as we’re heading down Priory Gardens to see a specific property…

3. Stop at No.26 which was the home of Bridget Elizabeth Hitler, née Dowling who was Adolf Hitler’s sister-in-law via her marriage to Alois Hitler

In 1909 Bridget & her father attended the Dublin Horse Show where they met Alois Hitler, Jr who claimed to be a wealthy hotelier touring Europe when, in fact, he was a poor kitchen porter at Dublin’s Shelbourne Hotel. Alois courted Bridget at various Dublin locales & soon they were discussing marriage. On 3 June 1910, the couple eloped to London. Her father threatened to charge Alois with kidnapping but accepted the marriage after Bridget pleaded with him

The couple settled at 102 Upper Stanhope Street in Toxteth, Liverpool &, in 1911 they had their only child, William Patrick Hitler. The house was destroyed in the last German air raid of the Liverpool Blitz on 10 January 1942

Alois had gone to Germany in 1914 to establish himself in business, but these plans were interrupted by the outbreak of World War I. Bridget refused to go with him, as he had become violent & started beating their son. Alois decided to abandon his family & returned to Germany, remarried bigamously, & sent word after the war that he was dead. His deception was later discovered & he was charged with bigamy by the German authorities in 1924. He escaped conviction due to Bridget’s intervention

Bridget raised her son alone with no support from her husband from whom she was eventually divorced & set up a home in Highgate taking in lodgers to make ends meet. In 1939, Bridget joined her son on a tour of the United States where he was invited to lecture on his infamous uncle. They decided to stay & Bridget wrote a manuscript, “My Brother-in-Law Adolf”, in which she claimed that her famous brother in law had moved to Liverpool to live with Bridget & Alois from November 1912 to April 1913 to dodge conscription in his native Austria. She claims that she introduced Adolf to astrology & that she advised him to trim off the edges of his moustache!!

After the war Bridget & her son settled in Long Island, New York under the assumed name of Stuart-Houston. She died there on 18 November 1969

4. Right…let’s walk back to the station which incidentally has another famous connection. American chat show host Jerry Springer was born at the tube station in 1944 whilst his mother was sheltering from an air raid

Exit onto Archway Road…

We’re going to take a couple of detours again before we start this walk for real so turn right & then right again up Muswell Hill Road

5. The reason we want to walk up here is the building set back at No.10 where one of our favourite comedy heroes lived between 1936 – 1940

Peter Sellers, CBE was an English film actor, comedian & singer. He performed in the BBC Radio comedy series The Goon Show, featured on a number of hit comic songs & became known to a worldwide audience through his many film characterisations, among them Chief Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther series of films

Born in Portsmouth, Sellers made his stage debut at the Kings Theatre, Southsea, when he was two weeks old. He began accompanying his parents in a variety act that toured the provincial theatres & first worked as a drummer & toured around England as a member of the Entertainments National Service Association. He developed his mimicry & improvisational skills during a spell in Ralph Reader’s wartime Gang Show entertainment troupe, which toured Britain & the Far East. After the war, Sellers made his radio debut in ShowTime, & eventually became a regular performer on various BBC radio shows. During the early 1950s, Sellers, along with Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe & Michael Bentine, took part in the successful radio series The Goon Show, which ended in 1960

Sellers began his film career during the 1950s. Although the bulk of his work was comedic, often parodying characters of authority such as military officers or policemen, he also performed in other film genres & roles. Films demonstrating his artistic range include I’m All Right Jack (1959), Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita (1962) & Dr. Strangelove (1964), What’s New, Pussycat? (1965), Casino Royale (1967), The Party (1968), Being There (1979) & five films of the Pink Panther series (1963–78)

In his personal life, Sellers struggled with depression & insecurities. An enigmatic figure, he often claimed to have no identity outside the roles that he played. His behaviour was often erratic & compulsive, & he frequently clashed with his directors & co-stars, especially in the mid-1970s when his physical & mental health, together with his alcohol & drug problems, were at their worst

Sellers was married four times & had three children from his first two marriages. He died as a result of a heart attack in 1980, aged 54. English filmmakers the Boulting brothers described Sellers as “the greatest comic genius this country has produced since Charles Chaplin” – we wouldn’t disagree with that

6. Turn round & walk back to the junction passing, on the right one of the entrances into Highgate Wood

The wood has a notice board which shows some really fantastic activities…

7. Walk back across the road to the junction, where if you fancy an early stop, we can recommend The Woodman on the corner (will this walk ever get going!)

We haven’t got time to stop though so turn left down Archway Road for another detour…

8. Roughly 200 yards down on the left’s a rather famous pub…the Boogaloo

It’s worth a quick stop to sit where people like Pete Doherty & Carl Barat formed the Libertines & Kate Moss frequented with Doherty. It’s also a favourite haunt of Shane MacGowan, lead singer of The Pogues who used to live upstairs in-between sessions

9. Walk back once again to the tube station junction, passing on the other side of the road, Jacksons Lane arts centre

Jacksons Lane Arts Centre is a multi-arts venue located in a Grade II listed former Wesleyan Methodist church. The building is home to a 166 capacity theatre, a large scale dance & rehearsal studio, a cafe-bar & four other multi-purpose spaces

The venue has a history of innovative work including experimental visual theatre companies, contemporary dance & circus. It was acknowledged in Sideshow Magazine’s ‘State of the Circus’ report in 2014 as the UK’s leading presenter & supporter of contemporary circus

The annual Postcards Festival runs each Summer with range of circus, cabaret and performance.

Established names & companies such as Complicite, The Mighty Boosh, Shared Experience, Stephen Merchant, Out of Joint & Frantic Assembly have all performed or developed work at Jacksons Lane over the venue’s 40 year history. Matt Lucas & David Walliams (Little Britain) started out at Jacksons Lane

10. At the junction turn left up Southward Lane…

…looking for a narrow passageway on the right called Park Walk.

Follow the passage to emerge into North Hill

11. Directly opposite, although you wouldn’t think so, is quite an important building. This is the Highpoint apartment block complex. Highpoint I was the first of two apartment blocks erected in the 1930s on one of the highest points in London. The architectural design was by the Russian born architect Berthold Lubetkin, the structural design by the Anglo-Danish engineer Ove Arup & the construction by Kier

Highpoint I was built in 1935 for the entrepreneur Sigmund Gestetner, but was never used for its intended purpose of housing Gestetner company staff. One of the best examples of early International style architecture in London, this block of 64 flats was very innovative in its day

When the building was completed, it became widely renowned as the finest example of this form of construction for residential purposes. When Corbusier himself visited Highpoint in 1935 he said, “This beautiful building …. at Highgate is an achievement of the first rank.” The American critic Henry Russell Hitchcock called it, “One of the finest, if not absolutely the finest, middle class housing projects in the world.” In 1970 this reputation gained official recognition when both Highpoint blocks were classified Grade I within the historic buildings listing programme

The second Lubetkin building in the same style, Highpoint II, was completed on an adjoining site in 1938. This is also a Grade I Listed Building. The gardens at Highpoint contain a swimming pool & two tennis courts. Lubetkin was also responsible for the Penguin Pool at London Zoo

Architectural historian Dan Cruickshank selected Highpoint as one of his eight choices for the 2002 BBC book The Story of Britain’s Best Buildings

12. Facing the complex turn left along North Hill & continue as it becomes North Road…

The blue plaque at No.92 remembers the short stay of Charles Dickens in 1832. He came back to Highgate on many occasions & it’s thought that ‘David Copperfield’ was based around this area

Across the road at No.17 is another blue plaque recalling that the poet, AE Housman wrote ‘A Shropshire Lad’ whilst living here in 1896

The poem remembers the Shropshire men who died fighting for their queen. It became a favourite of troops in the second World War. The poem is one of 63 & many have been set to music over the years

13. At the junction with Highgate High Street is the impressive Highgate School…

The school was founded in 1565 by a Royal Charter of Elizabeth I. Today it’s one of the most prestigious schools in the area with fees in excess of £20,000 per year. The list of former pupils contains some well-known names including Sir John Betjeman, Barry Norman & Phil Tufnell

14. Across the junction is the striking Gatehouse pub which is located close to the original toll gate that collected tolls from 1318 until it was demolished in 1892. Above it is a small fringe theatre that seats 140 people & is very active

The theatre is also one of the most haunted places around! The main ghost is Mother Marnes who was robbed & murdered inside the old gate. The new pub is somewhat different from the old one. Another claim to fame is that the first Punch magazine cartoon was drawn in the pub

15. Walk down busy Highgate High Street…

There’s some very attractive cafes along here to empty your pockets & expand your waistline!

16. Our route lies right along South Grove, where on the corner we find The Angel Inn with its blue plaque that made us smile

The plaque commemorates comedian & member of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Graham Chapman. It reads…

Graham Chapman
A very naughty boy
Drank here often & copiously

15. So turn right down South Grove. On the right’s Pond Square which is the site of the original village green. The pond that was here was trained in 1844. The story goes that a hermit employed by the local bishop dug the pond to obtain gravel to maintain the major road that ran north

The philosopher Francis Bacon caught a chill here & died after experimenting using snow to freeze a chicken! It’s said that the ghost of the frozen chicken now haunts the square!

On a sadder note, the square is also the site of the Highgate festival which, until his death, was funded by local resident George Michael

16. Look out for the white building that’s The Highgate Library & Scientific Institution at No.11…

The library & archive contain all things Highgate & was founded in 1839. Have a look at the website as it’s extremely active & has many lectures & presentations

17. Almost next door’s Church House which is thought to be the “old brick house at Highgate on the very summit of the hill” in David Copperfield where the Steerforths live

Peep through the gates at No.16 to see the rather futuristic house called The Lawns. This house was nominated for Britain’s top architecture prize in 2001 & was described by the Guardian newspaper as “the most important house built in Britain for years”

18. Next door’s another beautiful property, The Old Hall, which is the largest house on South Grove & used to be lived in by another Python, Terry Gilliam. Some of the house is very old, dating back to 1690 & it stands on the site of another property, Arundel House where Francis Bacon of the chicken fame died!

Arundel House was once visited by Elizabeth I

19. Next up is the magnificent St Michaels church…

It was finished in 1832 & is said to be the highest church in London with its entrance being level with the cross on St Paul’s Cathedral

20. Over the road’s Highgate’s most famous watering hole ‘The Flask’ which is well worth calling in at to mix with the “in crowd”. The Flask has stood on this spot since “at least as early as 1663”. The present buildings probably date from the early 18th century & were partially rebuilt in about 1767 by William Carpenter. A Manorial court met there in the eighteenth century

The pub is believed to have been named after the flasks of Hampstead mineral water that could be purchased here when Hampstead was popular for its wells in the 18th century. Like all good pubs, The Flask has its own legends which may or may not be true. It’s said that the highwayman Dick Turpin hid from the law in the stables there, that the artist William Hogarth drank at the bar & even that Karl Marx was a customer. For good measure, the pub is also said by some to have a female ghost

The Flask is one of those that still participates in the old ritual of “The Swearing on the Horns” which involves visitors swearing to drink only strong beer, eat only white bread & not brown, & not to kiss the maid if they could kiss the mistress, unless they preferred the maid or could kiss both. Having so sworn they must kiss a pair of horns, or a pretty girl if they saw one, & were then free of Highgate

The ritual is said to have been the source of the expression that a man was “Sworn at Highgate”, meaning that he was a man of the world. Lord Byron took the oath, though not necessarily at The Flask, & devoted a verse of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage to it. The Flask was one of the pubs that used a pair of ram’s horns, but other pubs in Highgate used either stag’s or bullock’s horns

21. Walk over the road from The Flask to the terrace of houses known as The Grove which is one of the most exclusive streets in Highgate. The properties along here sell for £10 million+ & owners include Sting. Jude Law, Annie Lennox, Kate Moss & the late George Michael

22. Turn round & walk down the rather steep Highgate West Hill which brings back memories of 1979

The massive house behind the wall on the right is Witanhurst which is said to be the second largest residential property in London after Buckingham Palace. The original estate, dating from 1774, was known as Parkfield. The current house, built between 1913 & 1920, was designed by architect George Hubbard for soap magnate Sir Arthur Crosfield on an 11 acre site

Witanhust was used as the location of BBC’s Fame Academy talent show from 2002 to 2004. In September 2009 The Sunday Times erroneously stated that the property had been bought by Elena Baturina, the wife of the former Mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, via an offshore front company

23. The hill is really quite steep. Look out for the massive gated properties on the right – there was a party having drinks on the upper decking but we didn’t get an invite so carried on…

About half way down on the right’s No.431 which was the childhood home of Sir John Betjeman. He remembered his days here in “Summoned by Bells”

Deeply I loved thee, 31 West Hill
At that hill’s foot did London then begin

24. Continue down the hill to the junction with Swain’s Lane where we pause for a while to remember a young man, fresh out of the country, turning up here for work in 1979 not knowing a soul

The Barclays Bank Highgate Holly Lodge branch holds so many special memories, but is now sadly no more…

Over the road the old family owned Italian restaurant that gave us food poisoning has now changed into a posh bistro but the sights & smells are still the same…

Next door is the entrance to Parliament Hill Fields from where you can get a fantastic view over London. In 1133, the hill was part of a manor that Henry I gave to a baron called Richard de Balta. During Henry II’s reign it was passed to Alexander de Barentyn, the king’s butler. The area, which became known as Traitors’ Hill, acquired its current name in the 17th century because during the English Civil War it was defended by troops loyal to the English Parliament

A legend states that this was the site from where Guy Fawkes & Robert Catesby planned to watch the destruction of Parliament in the Gunpowder Plot on 5 November 1605. When we worked there we used to see boxer John Conteh running each morning

25. Cross the road down Swain’s Lane which dates from the 15th century…

It was once known as Swine’s Lane as it led to the fields where the farmers kept their livestock. On the left’s the entrance to the famous Holly Lodge Estate, which dates back to 1798

The estate is located on the site & grounds of a villa built in 1798 by Sir Henry Tempest & is one of the most exclusive residences in the area

26. Further along on the right’s Holly Village which is fascinating village within a village.It’s a unique group of cottages created by one of the richest women in Victorian England, second only to Queen Victoria, Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts

With the help of Charles Dickens & architect Henry Darbishire, Baroness Burdett-Coutts set up this quiet enclave of cottages in Highgate using striking gothic architecture. Today, the homes in the Dartmouth Park conservation area are all Grade II listed

Angela Burdett was the daughter of Sir Francis Burdett & the granddaughter of Thomas Coutts of Coutts Bank. With these connections she grew up with associations as diverse as politicians such as Gladstone & Disraeli & European royalty & nobility, including the French royal family. In 1837, at the age of 23, Burdett inherited a large portion of the Coutts estate, making her one of the wealthiest women in Britain

The difference with Baroness Burdett-Coutts was that along with being extremely wealthy & having some of the most illustrious connections in Britain, she was one of the most generous & gave large sums of money to charitable causes. Her generosity led to schemes for improvement in sanitation in London slums, ragged schools (those for poor & neglected children), homes for prostitutes & homeless women, & she gave vast sums to the building of new churches. She was also responsible for the establishment of the NSPCC, the RSPCA

Baroness Burdett Coutts became good friends with Charles Dickens who helped her in her philanthropic endeavours & was said to have planned Holly Village with her, “down to the last details”. She was also a close friend of the Duke of Wellington, even to the point of possible marriage. In 1871 she was bestowed with the title Baroness Burdett-Coutts of Highgate & Brookfield & was given the freedom of the City of London in 1872. Edward VII said, that after his mother Queen Victoria, she was “the most remarkable woman in the country”

Holly Village was completed in 1865 by Henry Darbishire, who was also responsible for a number of designs for another Victorian philanthropist, George Peabody. Italian craftsmen were also hired specifically for the ornate wood carving. The 12 cottages that make up the village were built with colour stock brick & stone dressings. The entrance gate features a gabled archway above,  with two stone female statues, one holding a lamb & the other a dove

Each home within Holly Village may look similar but they all have distinct features, including variations of ornate wooden turrets & stone gargoyles. When built, the homes also included a unique cleaning system – a dust shoot below the floor that took dust directly into the cellar

27. Continue up the hill to arrive at the eastern & western gates of the world famous Highgate Cemetery. It wasn’t open when we were there, but is definitely somewhere we’ll come back & explore as it’s so atmospheric. There are approximately 170,000 people buried in around 53,000 graves & it’s notable both for some of the people buried there as well as for being a nature reserve.

The northwestern wooded area opened in 1839, as part of a plan to provide seven large, modern cemeteries, now known as the “Magnificent Seven”, around the outside of central London. The inner-city cemeteries, mostly the graveyards attached to individual churches, had long been unable to cope with the number of burials & were seen as a hazard to health & an undignified way to treat the dead

Highgate, like the others of the Magnificent Seven, soon became a fashionable place for burials & was much admired & visited. The Victorian attitude to death & its presentation led to the creation of a wealth of Gothic tombs & buildings. In 1854 the area to the east of the original area across Swains Lane was bought to form the eastern part of the cemetery. This part is still used today for burials, as is the western part

The most famous burial in the East cemetery is arguably that of Karl Marx, whose tomb was the site of attempted bombings on 2 September 1965 & in 1970.

There are many other prominent figures, Victorian and otherwise, buried at Highgate Cemetery. Most of the historically notable figures lie in the eastern part. Tours of the most famous graves are available but, due to vandalism & souvenir hunters, visitors are no longer allowed to explore unaccompanied, unless they have a personal connection with the cemetery & hold a pass to their deceased relative’s grave…

Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the GalaxyJeremy Beadle, television presenter; Roger Lloyd-Pack, British actor; Malcolm McLaren, punk impresario and original manager of the Sex PistolsSir Ralph Richardson, actor; Max Wall, comedian and entertainer; Charles Cruft, founder of Crufts dog show; Alfred Lamert Dickens, the younger brother of Charles DickensCatherine Dickens, wife of Charles Dickens;
Alexander Litvinenko, Russian dissident, murdered by poisoning in London

28. Just past the cemetery is the entrance into the very attractive Waterlow Park

The park was given to the public by Sir Sydney Waterlow, as “a garden for the gardenless” in 1889. It has three ponds all fed by natural springs & the land has been laid out as gardens since the seventeenth century & contains many mature trees

Head for Lauderdale House which is at the edge of the park & is used as a tea room & for functions & arts events 7 is surrounded by formal gardens. It is a much modified very old timber framed house, dating back to the sixteenth century. None of the interior remains in its original state. It was the home of the notorious Earl (later Duke) of Lauderdale in the 17th century. There is a local tradition that Nell Gwyn, the mistress of King Charles II lived there at a later date

29. Walk straight through the park to emerge onto Highgate Hill & turn right down it…

Now there’s something to look out for on the pavement down here outside the Whittington Stone pub…it’s the Whittington Stone

The Whittington Stone is a monumental stone which is said to mark the spot where Dick Whittington is said to have heard Bow Bells prophesying his good fortune: “Turn again Whittington, thrice Lord Mayor of London!”

30. Continue down the hill to Archway Tube Station where this walk ends

Well, we’re sorry if this walk was slightly self-indulgent, but we hope you agree it’s a lovely stroll probably taking you round part of London you’ve never contemplated walking before

Plus you never know who you’ll bump into, or if Sting will make you a cup of tea, so…

Go Walk!