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with a HISTORY


This part of Finchley Road, London

including Rail and Road



ground and water

Thousands of years ago, these hills were covered in a glacier, which, having travelled from the north, brought sands and crushed stone with it.  At the end of the ice age, the melt formed torrents and river courses, most notable being on the route of the now Fleet River. The water from these streams and The Thames, percolated through the sand and silt, only to collect in the basin of clay and then to be forced up again in a series of springs, forming yet more over-ground and underground streams. London lies in an alluvial flood plain. Under the clay dish is a layer of porous chalk. The whole area of Camden and Hampstead is a network of springs and streams, some from the thin chalk layer, offering a water supply and health giving wells, up to the mid 19th century. Just to the south of Swiss Cottage, a rapid stream flows, The Westbourne, in a conduit, under Finchley Road, through Kilburn and on to Paddington, to become The Serpentine. There are other water courses under these slopes, one following roughly the route of the railway. Water abounds in this London Clay, .



London, to the north of New Road, prior to the 18th century, was little more than open landscape. Camden Town dates from 1791. In 1795, Hampstead and district was described as having a small proportion of arable land, being mostly of clay, loam, bog-earth and gravel. Finchley Road was proposed by Colonel Henry Samuel Eyre in 1824, to open up his estate in St.John's Wood. The road was constructed in 1826, following much opposition and in some difficulties with local owners. The first buildings of Swiss Cottage date from 1841. Then to the north of Swiss Cottage was the Hampstead skating rink ( 1844 ), to become The Hampstead Baths in 1888. As London grew, so did the necessity for services. Water supplies date from Elizabethan conduit routes and followed new development, with New River, and culminating in the 1811 with chaos at the hands of the water companies. London is left with an inheritance of pipes cut through and along roads, with sewers cut in the same open manner, ensuring that there is little original unmade ground, anywhere. Then came gas pipes, laid largely in 1820-1870, laid in the same wide cut manner. The real destruction of the fabric of London's ground came with the advent of the Railway and the Underground. Ground conditions were altered forever, creating new water routes of natural drainage.



The Hampstead Junction Railway ( later to become the Broad Street Line ), an associate of the LNWR, was incorporated on the 20th August 1853, to link Camden Town and the NLR with Willesden and the NSWJR. The line was opened 2nd January 1860. The original stations were Gospel Oak ( Kentish Town ), Hampstead Heath, Finchley Road, and Edgware Road. West End Lane ( West Hampstead ) was not constructed until 1888. The construction of this railway line had to be cut right across Finchley Road, and a bridge had to be constructed to carry the road. 



The system employed in the construction of such tunnels and cuttings was extreme, as can be seen in many engravings and some rare photographs of the period. The excavations were cut in two depth stages, one about half of the depth required and three times as wide, forming working ledges for the men and machinery ( such as it was ), and the centre trench for the final tunnel or cutting.  In effect, this meant that whole streets were lost temporarily, while work was under way, or that whole swathes of adjoining sites were cut in such a way that the present soil is nothing more than made up ground, as the constructed tunnels were covered over with replenished and compacted soil.


The tunnel on the London Midland Region ( Broad Street to Richmond ) Line -  between Hampstead Heath and Finchley Road Stations was constructed in 1859, to dimensions considerably narrower than other tunnels and bridges, but the reasons for this do not appear to have been recorded. The width of the line at the crossing of Finchley Road is also narrow but, at the time, there were no buildings on the Arkwright Mansions side of the line. It may be possible to surmise that the width of the cutting was controlled by the width of bridge needed and its relevant cost; it could also be surmised that there may have been some financial interest in the sites adjoining the line which would prevent the line and tunnel being any wider, but it has to be noted that Arkwright Road was not yet built and therefore it would not have had any serious implications on the value of this piece of land. It is more likely that the engineers found that the soil was particularly fluid and that there were problems in construction ( as was found in the construction of Belsize Park Station, where constant pumping was necessary to relieve the excavations of the great well of water in the area).


The tunnel was opened to traffic in 1860 and widened in 1866: In 1962, it was recorded that it was still below normal dimensions.


Arkwright Road was constructed in 1871. The 1894/96 Ordnance Survey map does not show Arkwright Mansions, but the railway cutting and the road bridge are clearly defined. The cutting extends into the rear of the present  site, adjoining Arkwright Mansions, as was fairly obvious from the arrangements of site boundaries shown on modern OS maps.


The Central Library ( The Camden Arts Centre, since 1964 ) was built in 1897.



Drawings were made of the front of the proposed building of Arkwright Mansions, in order to request permission to construct the bay windows and balconies in front of the Building Line, under The London Building Act of 1894, Section 73. These flats were part of a large amount of housing development for Mr. E. J Cave and E. A. Cave, and the drawings of the front are dated 18th June 1896, with the approval signed on the 26th June 1896.


The original building was constructed over the period 1897 to 1899, and was opened in 1900 and it originally had a half-mansard roof, covered in leadwork. Each of the original dormer windows were formed in a Dutch decorated style. Only one of these remains, today. There were also lead covered spires on two of the dormers, besides the fine dome over the corner tower, which has survived. Unfortunately these spires have been lost, or were not built. All other features appear to remain as they were in 1900, but with various re-buildings and alterations to the internal layout and with considerable alteration and extensions to the rear of the building, some made necessary by war damage and later contract works.


From the observations made of the building, as work progresses on site, it became clear that the building was commenced at the Arkwright Road end; as the project continued down Finchley Road, so money must have become a factor, since it is clear that the building quality reduces down the length of the building, including workmanship and materials.


Arkwright Mansions was built at a time when there was much experimentation and innovation in construction and design techniques. The late 19th century had seen the culmination of the replacement of stone with brickwork, though retaining features and strings of stonework; this was a time of the final development of Portland cement and its use in concrete, and in its use in simply reinforced slabs, suspended between steelwork, also very much in its infancy. A full description of cement, aggregate and steelwork is given on a separate page.



The most dramatic effects on Arkwright Mansions were the result of a series of incendiary bombs, which landed at the rear of Block C, on the edge of the railway cutting, and a V2 rocket which landed at the rear of the Arts Centre. It has to be admitted that the series of crack patterns in the walls of Arkwright Mansions are a direct result of these explosions, and these will not disappear.


Finchley Road was widened and the area of the cutting adjoining Arkwright Mansions covered over with a steel grillage and buildings constructed over it. The LCC scheme drawings for the widening of the road are dated January 1962, and these show the proposed new bridge width ( as not being part of the contract ). The cutting was covered over c1972.


The road widening scheme of 1968 has had some substantial effect on Arkwright Mansions, as does the increased traffic, over the years. The original road edge was 30 feet ( 9.2 metres ) from the building main wall. The new garden walls were set back some 15 feet ( 4.5 metres ) from their original alignment, with the necessity to create new retaining walls and to alter the access steps.


The London Borough of Camden had implemented works to the building in 1984, but the second phase had been delayed, the second phase was emplaced with a new, more comprehensive brief, in 1995.


The tunnel ( now comprising the bridge, the covered cutting and the original tunnel ) were the subject of major works, starting October 1995 ( twelve months after the programmed date ) to accommodate overhead electric wiring for the Eurostar. When the line was re-opened in 1996, a survey of the resultant tunnel entrance had shown that the present surface of the rail track ballast is some 6 metres below the floor level of the basement of Arkwright Mansions, this at a distance of  3 metres from the edge of  the site and building of Arkwright Mansions, it is not apparent that any work has been made to the original walls of the tunnel.



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