Tom Watt on the Laundry End

For the great and the good, Arsenal’s main entrance was via the Marble Halls on Avenell Road. The arched entrance to the West Stand on Highbury Hill had its own identity, also unique in world football.

But for the vast majority of supporters who took their places on the terraces at Highbury – Arsenal Stadium – from 1913 onwards, finding your way into the game meant walking off Gillespie Road and up the steep staircase which led out onto the North Bank, past the sign welcoming one and all to the ‘Home of Football’.

When the ground first opened for business, though, that staircase – created in the gap left by the purchase and demolition of two houses facing out onto Gillespie Road, opposite the tube station – also led onto the Spion Kop, the west terrace backing onto Highbury Hill, which was where the majority of the crowd were accommodated. The North Terrace was extended in the early 1930s to take up the extra capacity needed after the West Stand replaced the Kop, providing seating and extraordinary comforts for wealthier fans.

Back in the 30s, though, what the Club referred to as the ‘North Terrace’ was known popularly as the Laundry End. Squeezed in between the back of the terrace and Gillespie Road was the Mayfield Steam Laundry. At about the same time supporters were taking their places ahead of a 3 o’clock Saturday afternoon kick off, having finished work – as everyone did – at midday, the laundry would be shutting down for the weekend, too. This involved Mayfield clearing its pipes of steam. Supporters on the End would be lost in swirling clouds of the stuff for several minutes at a time, at least until the roof was built over the terrace in 1935.

In April 1941, the Luftwaffe dropped five incendiaries onto the Laundry End. The bombs went through the roof and set canvas camp beds which were being stored underneath ablaze. It was a big night for local fire crews and the End was left to burn. Come morning, the roof was a crumpled mess and the terrace itself a smoking ruin. Supporters returned after the War but didn’t have a roof over their heads again until 1956. The Mayfield Laundry was back in full working order rather sooner but shut down in 1966, when the premises were converted into a photo processing plant by Kays Photographic Laboratories.

During the 20 years that followed, the North Bank was at its loudest, rowdiest and most vociferous. Locals knew what to expect from an Arsenal crowd for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon or a Wednesday night. The Kays labs, though, were a constant cause of nuisance and complaint, operating as they did 24 hours a day, apart from overnight on Sundays, all year round. Applications to extend were constantly refused until Kays eventually got their way on the back of promises to create 300-plus new jobs. In the late 1980s, new owners, Metrocolor, took over the factory but closed down in 2000. By then, the terracing behind the Laundry End had long since been replaced by a new all-seater North Bank and, six years later, the Club itself moved on, leaving Gillespie Road – bar on matchdays – as the quiet suburban street it had been before the Arsenal arrived 100 years ago.

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