Caledonian Road

Caledonian Road, Islington

The Cally (as locals call it) is a characterful north-south route running for a mile through the western side of Islington

London Islington February 23 2015 003 Caledonian Road

In 1826 a com­pa­ny was formed to build a road from King’s Cross to the Hol­loway Road. Orig­i­nal­ly named Chalk Road, it ran through the open Copen­hagen Fields for most of its length. In 1861 it was renamed Cale­don­ian Road, after the Roy­al Cale­don­ian Asy­lum, found­ed in 1815, which had moved to Copen­hagen Fields in 1827. The asy­lum cared for “the chil­dren of sol­diers, sailors and mariners, natives of Scot­land, who have died or been dis­abled in the ser­vice of their coun­try; and the chil­dren of indi­gent Scotch par­ents resid­ing in Lon­don, not enti­tled to parochial relief.” Like the Reed­ham Asy­lum near Pur­ley, the build­ing has gone but its pur­pose sur­vives in the form of a char­i­ta­ble trust.

Ter­raced hous­es were built for the mid­dle class­es in the 1850s but these soon slid down­mar­ket, often with more than one fam­i­ly occu­py­ing each prop­er­ty.

Pen­tonville Prison was built on land to the south of the asy­lum in 1842. The Great North­ern Hos­pi­tal stood on the Cale­don­ian Road until 1884. In 1892 the first pub­lic baths in Isling­ton, with first- and sec­ond-class facil­i­ties, were built on the hos­pi­tal site. The baths were demol­ished and rebuilt in 1980 and are uni­ver­sal­ly known as the Cal­ly Pool.

Most decades of the 20th cen­tu­ry saw fur­ther devel­op­ments of some kind, includ­ing the con­struc­tion of post-war coun­cil flats, and more hous­ing in the 1980s, main­ly at the north­ern end of the road. The area north-east of Cale­don­ian Road sta­tion is the site of a mas­sive waste recy­cling cen­tre, decant­ed here as part of Arse­nal Foot­ball Club’s relo­ca­tion from High­bury to the Emi­rates Sta­di­um.

Cale­don­ian Road is home to Hous­mans Book­shop and to numer­ous alter­na­tive char­i­ties and com­mu­ni­ty organ­i­sa­tions, relat­ed to issues as diverse as gay rights and coun­selling, paci­fism, Tibetan Bud­dhism, and sup­port for pris­on­ers’ fam­i­lies. There’s also a num­ber of home improve­ment shops, spe­cial­is­ing in iron­work, glass, paint and sec­ond-hand fur­ni­ture.

Hidden London: The Cally Road and its railway bridge

The rel­a­tive afford­abil­i­ty of the road and its hin­ter­land has attract­ed var­i­ous groups of incom­ers in recent times, includ­ing young grad­u­ates and oth­ers who may not stay long. Nev­er­the­less, the Cal­ly remains a com­par­a­tive rar­i­ty in today’s Lon­don: pri­mar­i­ly a close-knit work­ing-class com­mu­ni­ty.

More than 70 per cent of the Cale­don­ian ward’s res­i­dents live in rent­ed acco­mo­da­tion, most­ly coun­cil flats.

The road­’s dis­tinc­tive char­ac­ter was the sub­ject of a BBC Two doc­u­men­tary in 2012, in the Secret His­to­ry of Our Streets series.

In 2013 Net­work Rail worked with the local com­mu­ni­ty to repaint the bridge across the Cale­don­ian Road with the words ‘The Cal­ly’. Like many oth­er rail­way bridges cross­ing British main roads, it had pre­vi­ous­ly car­ried an adver­tise­ment for Fer­o­do brake pads.

The London Canal Museum, on New Wharf Road, was built as a cold store in 1863 to preserve ice imported from Norway to make ice cream.

Postal districts: N1 and N7
Population: 13,896 (Caledonian ward, 2011 census)
Stations: Piccadilly line (Caledonian Road, zone 2), London Overground (North London line) (Caledonian Road and Barnsbury, zone 2)
Website: Team Cally
Observer article: Murder of teenage boy on London street exposes city’s great wealth divide
* The picture of Caledonian Road at the top of this page is adapted from an original photograph, copyright David Holt, at Flickr, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse is hereby freely permitted under the terms of that licence.