Shoot up in north London

THE ROMANS BUILT straight roads when they occupied Britain. Watling Street, which linked Dover (in Kent) and Wroxeter (in Shropshire) via London, was no exception. London’s Edgware Road, part of the A5 main road, follows the course of Watling Street. It connects Marble Arch with Edgware. A short section of this road travels over a hill between Kilburn Underground station and the start of Cricklewood Broadway, about 840 yards away. This aesthetically unremarkable stretch of the former Watling street is called Shoot Up Hill. Although it is hard to imagine by looking at this non-descript portion of one of London’s main thoroughfares, its name is associated with the history of the area of northwest London known as Hampstead.

Also known in the past as ‘Shuttop’ or ‘Shot-up’, Shoot Up was the name of a mediaeval manor or an estate, which was part of the Manor of Hampstead. The land with the name Shoot Up (or its variants) was part of the Temple Estate, which was granted to the Knights Templars in the 12th century (https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol9/pp91-111). In 1312, the Pope dissolved the Order of the Templars and transferred its possessions to the Knights Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem.  By the 14th century, the Watling Street marked the estate’s western boundary, as well as that of the Manor of Hampstead. The Hospitallers were dissolved in 1540 by King Henry VIII.

One of the king’s officials involved in the dissolution of religious orders such as the Hospitallers was Sir Roger de Cholmeley (c1485-1565), the man who founded Highgate School in 1565, the school where I completed my secondary (‘high school’) education. One of his recent biographers, Benjamin Dabby, relates in his “Loyal to The Crown. The Extraordinary Life of Sir Roger Cholmeley” that in 1546, Sir Roger was granted the:

“… the lordship and manor of Hampstead Midd. [i.e. Middlesex], and lands in the parishes of Wyllesden and Hendon, Midd. …”

He was granted these lands which he helped to take from the Hospitallers. Dabby wrote that his newly acquired estate was known as ‘Shut Up Hill’ or ‘Shoot Up Hill’ Manor and that it consisted of:

“… some two hundred acres of arable land, fifty acres of meadow, two hundred of pasture, one hundred and forty of wood, and one hundred of waste, in the parishes of Hampstead, Willesden, and Hendon.”

It was a valuable estate, and being a landowner gave him enhanced status in Court circles. Income from this estate helped finance the school that Sir Roger created shortly before his death. Unlike others of his status, Sir Roger was uneasy about the signing of the document that brought the unfortunate Lady Jane Grey to the throne. This allowed him to escape execution when Queen Mary succeeded her as monarch. Instead, he was imprisoned briefly and fined.

The Shoot Up Manor (or Estate), which remained in the northwest corner of Hampstead Parish, passed through various owners after the death of Sir Roger. Until the 19th century when most of it was developed for building, there was little in the way of buildings on the land. A history of the area (https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol9/pp91-111#p41) revealed:

“There is unlikely to have been a dwelling house on the Temple estate earlier than the one which the prior of the Hospitallers was said in 1522 to have made at his own expense, a substantial dwelling house with a barn, stable, and tilehouse. It was probably on the site of the later Shoot Up Hill Farm, which certainly existed by the 1580s, on Edgware Road just south of its junction with Shoot Up Hill Lane.  The farm buildings remained until the early 20th century.”

A map surveyed in 1866 shows that what is now Edgware Road was built-up as far as the railway bridges where Kilburn station is located, but north of this, Shoot Up Hill ran through open country, passing a flour mill (‘Kilburn Mill’) where the current Mill Lane meets the Hill, on the west side of the road.

Today, Shoot Up Hill is lined on its eastern side by large dwelling houses, mostly divided into flats. The western side is occupied mainly by large purpose-built blocks of flats. One of these architecturally undistinguished blocks is appropriately named Watling Gardens. As for origin of the name Shoot Up Hill, this is unknown. It is extremely unlikely that it has anything to do with firing weapons.  If the traffic is heavy, you will have plenty of time to meditate on its possible origin, otherwise you will hardly notice it as you speed along it.

The gate that has disappeared

NOTTING HILL GATE is a stretch of roadway, 670 yards long, that runs west from Bayswater Road to Holland Park Avenue. It is part of what was once a Roman Road that ran from London to places west and southwest of the city, passing through what is now Staines. The ‘gate’ in the street name refers to a tollgate that stood along it until about 1860. The gates of this barrier were placed so that there was no way of bypassing them via the few side roads that existed prior to the development of the area during the 19th century. I have no idea of how much was charged at this turnpike, but one might get a rough idea from a list of charges levied in early 18th century Wiltshire:

“1s. for a coach or wagon, 6d. for a cart, 1d. for a ridden or led horse, 10d. a score for cattle, and 5d. a score for sheep.” (www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/wilts/vol4/pp254-271).

I became curious to learn where the Notting Hill gate was located. I found the answer in a book that I bought whilst browsing the shelves of a local charity shop.

According to Florence Gladstone and Ashley Barker, authors of “Notting Hill in bygone days” (published in 1924), a detailed history of the area, the tollgate known as ‘Notting Hill Gate’:

“… was the first of three successive turnpikes at this spot and crossed the road east of the site of the Metropolitan Station. It seems possible that the toll-keeper’s house occupied the corner where that station is set back from the road. The very interesting view of this gate by Paul Sandby, R.A., dated 1793 … faces west and apparently shows the end of Portobello Lane and the Coach and Horses Inn.”

This gives a clear description of where the turnpike (tollgate) was located, but today, the appearance of the area described has changed considerably.

To begin with, Portobello Lane no longer exists, at least not with that name. It most likely followed the course of the present Portobello Road and connected with Notting Hill Gate along the southern stretch of what is now Pembridge Road. On a map surveyed in 1863-65, Portobello Road is marked in its present position but the northern stretch of it that led through what were then open fields to Portobello Farm was then still called ‘Portobello Lane’.

Today, the Underground station, formerly the ‘Metropolitan Station, is not visible on the road as it can only be accessed by staircases leading down from the pavements to a subterranean ticket hall. The platforms of the Circle and District Lines are housed in what was part of the original station, which is set back from the road. These platforms were opened in 1868 and were accessed through a building set back from the road as can be seen on an extremely detailed (1:1056) map surveyed in 1895.

During the 18th century, The Coach and Horses Inn stood at number 108 Notting Hill Gate, a few feet west of Pembridge Road (formerly ‘Portobello Lane’), where today a recently opened branch of Marks and Spencer is doing good business.

The tollgate disappeared long ago, and so did much of Notting Hill Gate that would have been recognisable to the two authors of the book mentioned above. The most prominent survivor of pre-WW2 days is the Coronet, currently the home of the Print Room theatre organisation. Near it but clothed in a dull, modern (1960s) exterior is The Gate Cinema, whose well-conserved auditorium was constructed in 1911 within a building that had been a restaurant since 1861 (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1385016). Most of the rest of the architecture lining Notting Hill Gate is mostly 20th century and/or aesthetically unpleasing.  

I am not sure that what preceded the buildings that we see today was necessarily much better aesthetically, but we can get an idea from a short stretch of buildings, currently numbered 26 to 70, opposite the northern end of Church Street. These are mostly shops, whose ground floors stretch away from the road to join buildings with two or three storeys set back from the road. Judging by the architecture of the buildings above and behind these shops, they were probably already built by the end of the 19th century. A drawing created in 1912 by William Cleverley Alexander (1840-1916), who resided near Notting Hill Gate, shows some of these buildings looking remarkably like how they appear today. However, since he created his picture, the row of buildings has been changed by the construction of two banks, each with a neo-classical façade.

While I would not recommend visiting Notting Hill Gate for its own sake, it is the gateway to far more attractive sights such as Portobello Road, Kensington Gardens, Holland Park, and Notting Hill of movie fame. And if you are thirsty, there are at least nine cafés within a paper cup’s throw away from the Underground station, and the number continues to increase.