The disused Highgate train station in north London has been derelict since 1962. Nestled in the deep excavation next to Archway Road, it is basically the above ground roofing of the current Highgate station that is part of the London Underground.
Highgate station first opened on 22nd August 1867 to serve the Finsbury Park to Edgware line. Because of the hilly terrain, the station had to be built in a deep cutting excavated from Highgate Hill. Originally the station was constructed by Edgware, Highgate and London Railway (EH&LR). But it was purchased by the larger Great Northern Railway (GNR) before the build was completed. GNR’s main line ran from Kings Cross, through Finsbury Park on it’s way to Potters Bar and the north.
When it first opened, Highgate station had two side platforms with three tracks running through the middle, that included a loop for trains that terminated at Highgate. A footbridge linked the two platforms.
In 1880 the side platforms were replaced by a central island platform, with tracks running either side. Both the original side platforms and central island still exist today. The original 1860’s station house is also still in existence, but is now a private residence. The new station that was built in 1940 still stands today also.
The line closed to passengers on 5th July 1954 but the section between Finsbury Park and Highgate remained open to freight traffic until 1st October 1962. It’s demise is attributed to dwindling numbers in residential passengers, mainly attributed to competition from the new tram service.
A Brief History Of The Line
In 1862, Edgware, Highgate and London Railway (EH&LR) obtained an act to build a line between Seven Sisters Road (nowadays Finsbury Park) and Edgware. The following year saw Midlands Railway also gain permission to build a line between Bedford and St Pancras. EH&LR also proposed a branch from Highgate to Muswell Hill, whilst serving the new Alexandra Palace leisure complex, plus an extension to Watford. Both proposals were approved in 1864.
The line proved more costly than expected for EH&LR and shortly before completion, was taken over by Great Northern Railway (GNR). As mentioned above, the line opened on the 22nd August 1867. The line route was as follows:
Crouch End – Highgate – East End Finchley – Finchley – Hendon – Mill Hill
The extension to Watford was never built. A branch between High Barnet and Alexandra Palace opened in April 1872. A section between Muswell Hill and Alexandra Palace opened a year later. This section was owned by Muswell Hill and palace Railway (MH&PR) but still run by GNR.
The Alexandra Palace branch was an immediate success as it provided the most convenient way into central London. However the service was suspended just a few weeks later after a devastating fire at Alexandra Palace. It didn’t reopen until May 1875. It initially did well, but within a year MH&PR fell into financial difficulties. A new station was added on 11th April 1881 st Stroud Green. Residential traffic had also improved between Muswell Hill and Highgate. Another new station was added in 1902 at Cranley Gardens. But the Alexandra Palace station continued to be underused.
MH&PR was purchased by GNR in 1911, but improvement in numbers were halted by the new and more convenient tram services.
Northern Heights Project
In 1935 the London Passenger Transport Board announced their ‘new works plans’, that included the take over of GNR’s Finsbury Park, Edgware and High Barnet line, along with the Alexandra Palace branch. These were to be incorporated into the northern line, providing fast and frequent service of electric trains into central London. Shortly before World War II started, the new additions started appearing on underground maps. It was expected that trains would be running to Alexandra Palace by 1940.
Electrification started along with new infrastructure, alongside steam service that continued to operate. But then came the start of the war that saw services reduced. London Transport had every intention of completing their Northern Heights Project. So much so that several stations, including Alexandra Palace were marked as ‘under construction’, on maps until as late as 1950. Even though work never restarted.
The existing northern line was extended in July 1939, from Archway to East Finchley where it surfaced just south of the station. The steam trains that served High Barnet to Edgware were also cut back to East Finchley.
Through services were reinstated after the war but were suspended to save coal between 29th October 1951 and 7th January 1952. After local pressure, a peak hour only service was reinstated using Victorian locomotives and ancient rolling stock. But it was clear that final closure was inevitable. So it was announced in 1953 that there were not enough passengers to justify electrification. A shuttle service continued until the 3rd July 1954 when all stations closed to passenger traffic.
Freight trains continued to serve Muswell Hill until 14th June 1956 and Cranley Gardens until 18th May 1957. After which the line north of Park Junction was abandoned. Track north of Park Junction was removed in early 1958.
The section between Finsbury Park and Highgate remained open to freight traffic. Highgate, High Barnet and Mill Hill remained open until 1st October 1962 and Edgware until 1st June 1964.
After its official final closure, the line was used for a weekly transfer of tube stock between Drayton Park and Highgate until 29th September 1970. Trains were hauled by LT battery locomotives. The track was lifted in 1972.
Before finally closing for good, the line had been used as an unofficial walkway. The section between Cranley Gardens and Alexandra Palace, including St James’ Lane viaduct, was adopted as a Parkland Walk by Haringey Council in 1976. The section between Finsbury Park and Highgate was similarly adopted a few years later.
The Parkland Walkway officially opened in 1984. The 3.9 mile walkway and cycle-way is divided into two sections, Finsbury Park to Highgate and Cranley Gardens to Muswell Hill. Now London’s largest nature reserve and is also incorporated into the 78 mile Capital Ring Walk.
We’d had our eye on this place for a little while. So once we decided on hitting London, Highgate station was always going to make the list. Interestingly enough, before knowing anything about it, I’d drove down Archway Road many times and always wondered what was down the delve of overgrown nature I could see from the road.
We were pleasantly surprised on the day with how easy and relaxed the explore went. We had plenty of time to really take it all in and get the documentation we needed. And yet at one end of the platform, we were just yards away from people using one of the new Highgate station entrances. Being our first proper station, we had that element added to our excitement too.
There is a gated staircase on the platform that goes down to the new station below. In the 1970’s the site was so overgrown, it had to be cleared and tidied. Plastic sheet covers, cover part of the track bed to prevent water seepage. At the west end the plastic sheeting is at platform height.
The four tunnel mouths are gated and home to roosting bats. We managed to gain access to one of the four.
All in all, a nice pleasant explore.