Holloway Road and I have an alright relationship. I can’t pretend to love it, but bits of it jump out at me just enough to keep it interesting. They hint at the history of the people and events that came way, way before I showed up in an Addison Lee van packed with the former contents of my university res room.
There’s no getting around it: Holloway Road is loud. And pushy. And sometimes scuzzy, and often rude. Boisterous youths, determined mothers with one child on their hip and another in the pram, grocery shoppers carrying their body weight in produce, leery Middle Eastern men – all conspiring to prevent you from getting from point A to B in a straight line and as fast as possible. Holloway Road is basically North London’s connection out of the city, so traffic is frequently at a standstill and somehow, though statistically I’m not sure how this works, there is an ambulance siren going all the time.
The pluses? The connections to pretty much anywhere else you’d like to go. The 271 will take you north towards peaceful Hampstead Heath, the 43 goes all the way south of the Thames to London Bridge, the 91 through Bloomsbury to Trafalgar Square. And then there’s the Waitrose. And London’s best sushi place.
So, not completely enamoured, but the history is pretty darn cool. Wikipedia and Cyril Harris’ ‘What’s in a name?’ tell me that ‘Holloway Road’ comes from the dips in the road (hollows) that the cows used to make as they trekked along unsuspectingly to the cattle farm way back when. And I mean way back when – the earliest the name was recorded was 1307. Seven CENTURIES ago. I was there at the genesis of my house in Oakville, Ontario, in 2000.
Focusing on the last 100 years or so, a few choice buildings speak to the changes the high street has seen (many were bombed in the war, of course, but have lived to tell the tale – I’ll save these for another post).
My favourite building, by happy coincidence, happens to be one on my street. In true Beaux Arts style, it evokes similarities to distant relatives like the Pont Alexandre III in Paris or Grand Central Terminal in New York City. Built in the early 1900s, it used to be a Royal Post Office building, and was converted into flats in 1994. From the roof you can see parts of Holloway but also how close the financial district is in the distance. Each time I visit home, my father pulls up Google maps and insists that, as my workplace is only 10km away, it’d be virtually impossible for my commute to take 50min (which it does). I still haven’t found a convincing explanation.
All in all, life in the Holloway Road is never one thing: dull. From the kebabs shops to the pubs to the all purpose convenience stores, it’s always buzzing. And I guess it’s the inhabitants who make it really interesting, people from all walks of life. I just discovered this project, Stories of Holloway Road, which has collated the stories of those born and bred here but also those who landed from abroad. Makes you feel like less of a foreigner in a way, and part of a greater whole. I’ll probably stick around for a little while longer.