The East Finchley Station Archer

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 6 months ago
The East Finchley Station Archer
'Archie' has been crouched in this position for 80-odd years

There is a shooter on the roof of East Finchley station — but he is benign enough, crouched down as he has been for some 80 years now, above the redbrick entrance. And anyway, his weapon isn't loaded.

The East Finchley Archer — or 'Archie' as locals christened him — was unveiled by sculptor Eric Aumonier on 22 July 1940. "It is more than a decorative device — it is powerful symbolism," wrote London Transport's staff journal, Pennyfare. Archie was a metaphor for the speed with which the new Northern line trains (they started running from here on 3 July 1939) shot down into central London and beyond.

Eric Aumonier does the finishing touches to his Archer at the unveiling on 22 July 1940 — also giving an idea of the scale of the thing. Image: London Transport Museum

And the archery metaphor flies further than that. As London Transport Museum explains: "The station is on the edge of the site of the Royal Forest of Enfield, where the court and commoners used to hunt." Indeed, this was the Bishop of London's stomping ground — hence nearby Bishops Avenue.

You can really appreciate Archie's build in a photo of his creator stood next to him on the sculpture's unveiling. In a muscular, almost Soviet-style, the Archer fires from his bow on one knee — looking dead ahead and deadly serious. He is twice the size of a normal man and made from sturdier stuff: a steel armature covered in beechwood, in turn armoured in sheet lead.

Aumonier's relief of 'Britain' in the foyer of the Daily Express Building. Image: Steve Cadman in Creative Commons

Aumonier made his mark on London elsewhere, creating reliefs for 55 Broadway. He also designed the dazzling reliefs of 'Britain' 'Empire' for the forum of the redoutable Daily Express Building on Fleet Street. You can still just about make them out, as if through an ethereal mist, if you peer through the curtained windows.

The sculptor, who was born in Northwood, was also commissioned to work on the Powell and Pressburger film A Matter of Life and Death, which stars David Niven as a pilot who finds himself in a legal wrangle over the validity of his own death. The escalator scene, in which Niven tries to choose a defendant, forms one of the most memorable parts of the film, and Aumonier created the statues of influential figures, which Niven is to pick from.

One question remains: where is the arrow that is fired by the East Finchley Archer? Is it skewered into the ground somewhere around Morden? (Fittingly named) local Finchley publication, The Archer, explains how myths abound about an arrow that was filched from Morden station shortly after it opened. The story was even perpetuated by Dominoes Pizza. But Morden station opened in 1926 — 14 years before the Archer existed. So the tale doesn't hold water.

The arrow is more likely whichever tube train you board due south, from this wonderful art deco station.

Images of the Archer at East Finchley station by Matt Brown and our art critic, Tabish Khan @londonartcritic

Last Updated 13 March 2020

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