With the page turned horizontally, among the trees on the right shallow arches appear above a central arch largely obscured by a slope. These are elements of the Highgate Archway, an impressive Roman aqueduct-style bridge designed by Turner’s friend architect John Nash1 and opened on 21August 1813 to carry Hornsey Lane across a cutting through Highgate Hill between Highgate Village and Hornsey, not far east of Hampstead Heath on the then largely rural northern outskirts of London. It spanned the new toll road, Archway Road, along this section of the Great North Road (largely the modern A1), which began on the northern fringes of the City of London, indicated on the left by the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral about four miles to the south-south-east. The construction project had begun as a tunnel under Hornsey Lane, but its collapse in April 1812 had occasioned Nash’s design, which was replaced in 1897 by the present single-span cast-iron bridge.2
Given that Turner worked largely on the versos of the leaves in a sequence of views of the arch and its setting, it seems likely that the present view was actually the last made. Apparently owing to a later misbinding, there is a long run of blank leaves between this and the rest of the Highgate sketches (see the Technical notes below), which otherwise fall between folios 218 verso and 227 verso (D09362–D09380; Turner Bequest CXXXI 129a–138a); the last of these is the most detailed drawing of the structure, and seems likely to have been made first; it shows a similar view, with St Paul’s on the horizon. D09362 is another, rather slighter version.
The subject is an exception to the South Devon views filling the beginning and end of this sketchbook. That it has remained unidentified until now is perhaps on account of its somewhat misleading proximity to a sequence of Devon scenes on the versos working in from the back of the book, ending with the hilly Plymouth Citadel view on folio 228 verso (D09382; Turner Bequest CXXXI 139a). Turner presumably made the short trip out of town to Highgate specially to see the newly opened structure soon after his return to London from the West Country, and thriftily used some of the many remaining empty pages in this sketchbook to record it.
See Terry Riggs, ‘Nash, John (1752–1835)’ in Evelyn Joll, Martin Butlin and Luke Herrmann (eds.), The Oxford Companion to J.M.W. Turner, Oxford 2001, pp.198–9.
See ‘Archway Road’ in Ben Weinreb, Christopher Hibbert, Julia Keay and John Keay, The London Encyclopedia, revised ed., London 2010, p.26.