So off we go, on our journey around Great Britain in 66 Sketches. Not the UK, I hasten to add, but specifically Great Britain the island. I’m starting this journey in Burnt Oak, a north London suburb near the end of the Northern Line, the place where I was born and grew up. That is Burnt Oak tube station, on Watling Avenue. So many stories and memories associated there, but I won’t go into any interesting ones now (because none of them are that interesting). Except that this station is not just the start of this virtual journey, but it was also the start of all my journeys across the world, they all came from here and led back to here. I also used to catch the bus from outside the station. It’s a small little station. When coming home on the Northern Line years and years ago I could always tell when I was getting close, before they had the actual announcements on the train or the little digital display, because of the colour scheme of the stations leading up to Edgware. Hendon Central was painted light blue, then Colindale was yellow, then Burnt Oak was red. Of course I’d be asleep and miss my stop and end up in Edgware and there’d be no more tubes home so I’d have to walk. Same with the Night Bus, the good old N5, those were the days. Always glad I lived only one stop from the end of the line, walking home after falling asleep never took very long. The Northern Line, for those who aren’t aware, is the black line on the London Underground map, the one that snakes up from Morden in the distant south, splitting into two shortly before reaching the Thames and sending two branches through central London, “Charing Cross” and “Bank” (that is, the one through the West End and the one through the City), before high-fiving at Euston and then meeting up again at Camden Town, only to say fare-thee-well once more and race north, one side to Edgware and the other to High Barnet. Not to forget the little branch that ends in Mill Hill East, which happened when people going up to Barnet decided in Finchley that they wanted to go to Edgware after all, but only made it as far as Mill Hill East before giving up. They were supposed to keep going all the way to Edgware and beyond up to Bushey, but then the War happened and they said ah leave it, this’ll do.
So, that is #1 in the journey. To get to #2, you would not take the tube, but you’d walk up Watling Avenue (we just call it “The Watling”) to Burnt Oak Broadway and catch the 32 bus down Edgware Road, past Staples Corner, until you reach Kilburn. This is the Cock Tavern on Kilburn High Road. Now I just named four roads in that past sentence, but one is the odd one out. Can you guess it? That’s right, Watling Avenue. The other three are actually the same road, different names for the road called “Edgware Road” in London, which ironically is part of a much longer Roman road called, yep, “Watling Street”. So when I talk about Watling Avenue as “The Watling”, it’s actually not even the Watling most people know. Watling Street, also called the A5, is one of the great historic Roman roads, straight as an arrow for long stretches, going from Dover to Wroxeter, although the A5 was extended beyond through Wales up to Anglesey. The Romans loved long straight roads, though this virtual journey will be anything but straight. Incidentally, Burnt Oak is historically supposed to have gotten its name from the Roman custom of burning an oak tree to mark mile boundaries along the road, at least that’s what they told us at school.
That is enough Road talk. Let’s talk about the pub, the Cock Tavern. Pubs are an endangered species in England, even before COVID-19, with so many historic drinking spots stumbling and falling over on the pavement before being jumped and given a good kick-in by greedy property developers. For example the Carlton Tavern, which stood nearby on Carlton Vale, was the only building on its street to survive the Blitz, but it did not survive being illegally demolished by an Israeli property developer with no notice nor permission a few years back (they were ordered by Westminster Council to rebuild; have they? Yes, eventually, but not reopened it). So I’m glad the Cock Tavern is still there, a historic pub that dates from 1900. I haven’t been there in about twenty years though. Last time I was there was when I was seeing a woman who lived in Kilburn, which is a traditionally Irish area (as was Burnt Oak, but Kilburn and Cricklewood much more so), and I remember seeing this fight between two quite drunk old men in their 70s all over the outcome of a hurling match between Galway and Tipperary. Very heated it was, they were knocking each other into the fruit machine and eventually outside where I didn’t bother going to watch, but I imagine it was like High Noon, I just got another pint and some dry-roasted peanuts and put The Jam on the jukebox, probably. I don’t know, it was a very long time ago now. There were some good old pubs in Kilburn back then, some day I will get back to London and go and draw them in person. I want to go and draw the whole are in fact; you’ll see that I feel like this about a lot of the places I virtually visit.
The next part of the virtual journey will take us to Camden Town, and you don’t get the tube there from Kilburn, you have to take the Overground from Kilburn High Road to Camden Road, or take a bus, or just walk it (but that takes ages, don’t bother). We’ll cover that next time though. See you down Camden…