Bridges over the Dollis Brook: The Northern Line’s Dollis Brook Viaduct

I was wandering around this part of semi-suburban North London last week (don’t ask why) and decided to take a stroll to see one of London’s most impressive but least talked about structures. The Dollis Brook Viaduct.

Now, the Northern Line pretty much holds a lot of records. It is the busiest line on the system, it was the first of the ‘deep level tube tunnels’ (Stockwell to Bank), has the longest continuous tunnel on the tube (in fact one of the longest tunnels in the world Morden to East Finchley), has the lowest point below the surface (Hampstead), had the highest point above the surface (Dollis Brook Viaduct), the lowest point below sea level (Waterloo), the longest escalators in Europe (Angel) and of particular interest to me as I live on the wrong side of the river, the ironically named Northern Line goes the furthest south (Morden). Oh, and I work along the line as well.

Dubbed the misery line, it has got better over recent years (honestly, it has) but it suffers from severe overcrowding as the surrounding rail network is crap, there is a lack of timetabling and in summer it is baking hot (although at this time of year it is toasty warm!)

The Dollis Brook Viaduct seems like a mistake. After all, it carries a shuttle service between Mill Hill East and Finchley Central over a single track. Hardly befitting of such an impressive structure. Why would London Underground waste so much money on such a huge structure to serve just one station on a spur.

Well, it was built, allegedly, way before in the Victorian times and linked Edgeware (to the west) with the Ally Pally to the east, King’s Cross and Moorgate. Then in 1935, the New Works Programme kicked in as a way to stimulate the depression hit Brtish economy and Mill Hill East was to become the epicentre of the Northern Line’s operations. An electrified speedway encompassing the glories of North London. Typically, a war kicked in and then afterwards the government realised that we were bankrupt and stopped the plan to make the Northern Line truly Northern.

But, let us get back to the viaduct:

It is huge! With a train regularly crossing over it, I am shocked that TfL did not close the line in the 1980/90’s when other forlorn branches went. In today’s political and environmental climate, it is unacceptable to close stations and Mill Hill East looks safe. For now. But it is a grandiose structure, strutting away over the Dollis Brook. And I must admit, I expected a raging torrent to be responsible for the necessity of such a large bridge.

Yep that is the Dollis Brook. Want to see it again?

I expect the areas contours came from Post Glacial Melt and yes, the maximum extent of the ice pack reached Finchley. I told you it was cold up noorf. But saying that, this is quite a pretty part of London. Lots of parks and woods interspersed with dinky little houses, this is prime credit crunch territory. This is the place where the recession is going to hit home hard:

So before the area becomes a swathe of forgotten repayments, a rat race turned to hell and repossession central, just remember, the reason why the Northern Line comes out this far in the first place. It was an effort by government to stimulate the post-depression economy of the 1930’s by creating thousands of construction jobs.

Now whoever thought that a simple bridge could encompass so much politics, history (both natural and man-made) and factual fun. Such is the extent of London, just scratch beneath the surface and a whole story can be discovered. Sometimes, you got to love this city, despite the pap it throws at you.

The viaduct ends up at the unimpressive Mill Hill East. Now this is one forlorn looking station and one of the few points on the Northern Line that does not have its own Night Bus. Mirroring the lack of development from the 1930’s, the area looks as if it has been forgotten as well. A new supermarket round the corner illustrates the wasted opportunity to utilise this area’s transport links for real high density housing, built to modern standards. But this is posh country and the locals needed that shopping zone the North London equivalent of a farmers market.

Despite its location on the Northern Line, Mill Hill East is in a different world to the rest of that tube line. While there are some grubby parts to the tube’s busiest line, the branch to the north east is actually rather posh, with only Archway as the anomalous (crappy) bit on the track. No, I did not stop for photos there (another mission, another day), as I was too busy up in Mill Hill East scrabbling in the mud.

Okay, it is a little deviation from my normal monthly ramblings about the River Thames, but hey, it makes for an interesting diversion. In fact, one thing I am very impressed by is the fact that I am still keeping up to that monthly programme.

End of the line…

Getting there and away:

The Dollis Brook Viaduct is a short walk downhill in a straight line from Finchley Central or a scrabble through the back streets from Mill Hill East tube stations. Alternatively route 382 passes underneath it.

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