London is a funny old place, everywhere you turn seems to have some intriguing story about its past or a secret history you need to unearth. And while you might expect that this is reserved to the center of the city, where Parliament sits, the Queen lives and all those famous museums are, there are some pretty historic spots across the 30-mile-wide city.
Case in point, Finsbury Park in the north of London. This is where I lived through my five years in the UK capital, and while it might be dismissed as a place to go if you can’t afford a flat in Hackney or Hampstead (which I couldn’t) it’s actually pretty great.
Within a short walk of Finsbury Park you’ll find the original home of the BBC at Alexandra Palace, the grave of Karl Marx, and there’s even a subterranean river system that was covered over to make space for all the houses that are now there.
But if you’re a car fan, especially a fan of small, light, British sports cars, then there’s another less talked about monument worth seeking out. And, it’s one that I had no idea existed until I moved out of the city.
It’s the original home of Lotus Cars and after searching it out this week, it turns out it’s just a five minute walk from where I once lived. And I never even knew it was there!
While Lotus founder Colin Chapman was beginning to create his fledgling car brand, his father owned and ran a pub in the north of London called the Railway Hotel. It was right next to the Hornsey train station, and the building it inhabited still stands today.
When Chapman needed space to start building the Lotus 11 and Elite, he looked to the stables round the back of the hotel. It was there that he would go on to set up the Lotus Engineering Company on 1 January 1952.
The company began to grow and as well as a manufacturing facility in the stables ‘round the back of the hotel, Chapman also opened his first showroom for Lotus Cars at the very same site.
But, after less than 10 years working at the back of the hotel, Lotus had outgrown this cramped facility in north London and moved on to bigger and better things. The firm opened a factory in Chestnut in 1959.
While Lotus might have moved on from the Railway Hotel, the building still stands today. If you’re ever passing through Hornsey train station you can see it just outside. It’s at five Tottenham Lane, if you’re interested.
But, you sadly won’t find an aging factory or an old Lotus showroom to poke around. Nor is there an old fashioned pub for you to rest your feet after the trek north. Instead, there’s a builders merchant and a “fashionable restaurant and bar,” according to Google.
There’s no mention of Lotus or of Colin Chapman anywhere around the site. And that seems like a shame.
And this can’t be the only site of automotive history that has become inconspicuous over the years. What spots do you know of that hold a secret past we need to hear about?