‘A man should look to his drains before he furnishes his drawing-room.’ Proverb, London, c1870, quoted in Sanitary Engineering, Baldwin Latham, 1873.
I bagged another ghost station today – if abandoned overground railway stations count. A bona fide ghost station needs, like an iceberg, a hinterland that you can’t see. I fumbled with my phone just long enough for the platform to empty of the dead, who were chatting about being professional in meetings, among other things.
My destination was the crossroads of Green Lanes and Turnpike Lane, but a little bird had told me that by the time the day was over, we would be back in lockdown, so I yanked two spokes into an oval and jumped the ghost train to Finsbury Park. Tomorrow, I would most likely be walking close enough to my cabin to hear the planks creek in the shifting ice.
It was nice to answer a research question before the window closed. I had thought that the long alley (a mile?) through the Haringey Ladder and known as ‘Haringey Passage’ was something special: I mean, over and above the fact that I have always loved tarmacked alleys hemmed in by suburban gardens.
Today I noticed a stink pipe (looks like a rusty street lamp without a lamp) – the telltale sign of Victorian sewerage. Then I saw another and another. The penny dropped. The path did not follow a field boundary (it would have been a rather large field) or church path, but a sewer: physical proof of our Victorian ancestors’ battle with pandemics and preventable illnesses.
It is difficult not to get swept up in the idealism of the Victorian sewerage engineers. Baldwin Latham, the designer of the Haringey system, planned to rescue the world from sanitary neglect. In the ancient world, the business of waste disposal was not only a practical but a sacred duty.
It was, he pointed out in his pitch to the council, value for money. Sewerage would pay for itself, in lives saved, many times over. The Cloaca Maxima, the main sewer in Rome, was still in use two and a half thousand years later.
Among the scientific evidence Latham draws on, is a record of the last seven years rainfall in the borough as recorded by the appropriately surnamed Mr Cutbush of Highgate Nursery. Mr Cutbush recorded rain on an average of 145 days a year.
It was raining today. The path, I realised a bit too late, wasn’t brilliant for social distancing. But it is so segmented by roads – the rungs of the ladder – that it was not difficult to wait for gaps.
From Turnpike Lane, I edged around a ghostly Wood Green to Hornsey Station, where I crossed the tracks to enter Alexandra Park. Here I joined another old railway to take me under Muswell Hill to Highgate and home.