Archive for Local history

Make your mark on Islington’s history

Islington Council are currently asking the public for nominations for historical people, places or events to be commemorated with new Islington People’s Plaques.

Nominations can be submitted until 6 December 2010 online.

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Jean Simmons: Islington star

Sad news of the death of Jean Simmons. It was only a few days ago that I was watching a Miss Marple repeat with her as the star. To my parents, she’ll always be Estella in Great Expectations.

I’ve been reading the obituaries, and they all agree she was born in London; but where exactly? According to IMDB, it was Crouch Hill; whereas Wikipedia says it was Lower Holloway. Which, as all Islington folk know, are two entirely different places!

Does anyone know for sure? And shouldn’t we have a blue plaque, wherever it is?

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TfL gets Michael Cliffe wrong

A few years ago I got TfL to correct the 153 bus stop which had renamed Hemingford Road as Hemmingford. Surely it’s not impossible to get placenames right when you are the main transport body for the city!

Now they’ve done it again. I was using the TfL journey planner to plot a route to the Finsbury Estate for a friend who was planning a trip to the nearby Islington Museum. The website came up with a walking map – but spoilt it all by referring to the destination as “Michael Clifton House/Patrick Coman House”. As Finsbury folk know, it’s Michael Cliffe House, not Michael Clifton.

Michael Cliffe was a Finsbury councillor, Chairman of the Housing Committee, and Mayor of Finsbury, who went on to be the MP for Shoreditch and Finsbury.

The whole point of naming estates after people is to honour their memory, so the least TfL can do is get the name right. I’ve written to them pointing out their mistake and asking them to correct it.

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Islington’s most haunted?

The Evening Standard has a piece about London’s most haunted places – and one of them is in Islington.

According to the Standard, Charterhouse Square, on the southern fringe of the borough, is haunted by ghostly screams from the site of a plague pit dating back to 1348, where some 50,000 victims were buried.

And it’s also claimed that the Charterhouse itself is haunted by the ghost of its former owner Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, “who strides down the main staircase, head tucked under his arm, as he returns to where he was arrested.”

They don’t mention the ghost of William Wallace, executed in nearby Smithfield. Nor all the ghosts that might haunt Poirot’s flat in ‘Whitehaven Mansions’ (real-life Florin Court).

I have to say that I’ve never had any ghostly experiences while delivering or doorknocking around Charterhouse Square. Not even while coming home late after a night out. What with the pubs, clubs and early morning meat market, it’s the living who have trouble sleeping….

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Honouring the HAC

Yesterday I went to a Council meeting with a difference, to see the Honourable Artillery Company receive the Freedom of the Borough of Islington.

The HAC is often summed up as the TA branch for the City of London, but that is not really a full or fair description. The HAC is a much more ancient organisation than the TA, having been founded by Henry VIII nearly 500 years ago. And while it has many City workers in its ranks, the Company’s HQ – the castle-like barracks on City Road – is in Islington, adjacent to Bunhill Fields (and just opposite the former home of my grandad, next to Wesley’s Chapel).

The HAC members turned out in uniform. And what uniforms! Not just the contemporary camouflage and dress uniforms, but red and white Tudor pikemen’s outfits and the fancy plumes and braids of the C19th light cavalrymen.

The HAC have a long history and rich traditions, but are also keen to serve the local community today. This ranges from providing a base for the emergency mortuary after the 7/7 bombings to neighbourhood open days.

What’s more, there are HAC members on active service in Afghanistan right now, and they have had their losses, including Trooper Jack Sadler. The award was in part the borough’s tribute to all servicemen and women; it was good to see many members of the local Islington Veterans’ Association at the ceremony.

Afterwards I talked to Major General Simon Lalor, head of the UK’s Reserves and Cadets, who was one of the distinguished guests. He was enthusing about the idea of getting a cadet branch of the HAC going for local young people. Whether they go on into the army or not is up to them; but it would provide structured, energetic activities, build self-esteem and teach new skills. I think it’s an excellent idea, and I’ve pledged my support for the scheme. Now we just need to knock some government heads together…..

Speakers at the event praised the Lib Dem Council’s new initiative to give returning forces extra points towards council housing. Liberal Democrats marched against the war in Iraq. We’re critical of the strategy in Afghanistan. But that does not stop us wanting decent treatment for our troops on the ground.

I recently signed up to support the Royal British Legion’s manifesto. And I’m also backing Nick Clegg’s campaign for fair pay for our troops. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the war in Afghanistan, we should support our forces in the field properly or else not send them in the first place. Sending inadequate numbers of inadequately-equipped troops is worst of all worlds.

You can sign up to back Nick’s campaign here.

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Dukes and peasants

The Independent has listed its top 50 gastropubs, and two Islington establishments are included: the Peasant (a regular haunt for Islington Lib Dems after a Clerkenwell campaign session) and the Duke of Cambridge.

The latter is named after George, Duke of Cambridge a leading C19th general, Crimean War hero and cousin of the royal family. He has a genuine local connection beyond pub names, as he got married in St James church Clerkenwell.

I recently blogged about pubs, including former pubs, in Islington. Since then I’ve come across this fascinating set of photos on Flickr, showing over 500 former London pubs. I’d not realised before that the HSBC branch on the corner of White Lion Street was indeed the former White Lion pub.

Once you start looking for them, you spot the ex-pubs everywhere. Corner sites with high ceilings or large windows, often slightly taller than the adjacent buildings. Or with giveaway details like the old pub name in tiled floors or on the pediments.

As well as the bank branch, new uses for Islington’s old pubs include a church and even a mosque.

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Islington Remembrance Project

When the new war memorial – which I love – was unveiled at Islington Green, once of the criticisms made was that it did not have the names of the war dead.

This was despite the fact that the previous war memorial had not had names, and neither do many others, notably the Cenotaph. It’s also very difficult to maintain names on war memorials at a time when, sadly, our troops are still being killed every week.

Islington’s innovative solution is to have a living Book of Remembrance, and research is well underway.

According to John Shepherd, who is working on compiling the Book of Remembrance, “this will have the names and as much detail as possible about every individual born or who lived in the Borough, civilian and servicemen/women, who lost their lives as a result of warfare during the 20th century. To date we have compiled details for 10,000 individuals as well as many thousands of their close relatives (as next-of-kin, parents, spouses and siblings). The modern Borough of Islington comprises districts such as Islington itself, Finsbury, Canonbury, Barnsbury, Highbury, St. Luke’s, Clerkenwell, Holloway and parts of Highgate, Tufnell Park and Finsbury Park.”

He adds: “If you believe you have information about a family member who came from what is now Islington or who lived there at the time of their death, through conflict (Second Boer War, WW1, WW2 or any other 20th century conflict, civilian or military), I would be most grateful to hear from you. Our aim is to try to embellish the biographies of each person with additional detail – especially media such as images. Reminiscences would also be extremely welcome. The aim is for the Book of Remembrance to go live later this year.”

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Kodak in Clerkenwell

The Daily Mail has an article with some interesting old photos of London and beyond.

I was intrigued by the Kodak shop, which the Mail says is in Clerkenwell: but where? According to Nachphoto, it’s Kodak’s head office, in Clerkenwell Road, and the photo was taken in 1902.

The building was designed by George Walton, a Glaswegian designer and architect who came to London in 1897. Examples of his furniture are here. There’s a photo of the interior here, when it was Head Office of the Eastman Photographic Materials Company, and you can certainly see Walton’s style.

Today the site of the building is a mix of shops and cafes; Kodak has long since relocated its HQ to a tower block in Hemel Hempstead.

Meanwhile, as one of the Mail readers has spotted, even in those days they were digging up the roads…

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Richmond, sphinxes and umbrellas

Parliament may be on holiday, but the campaigning continues. Last week we were surveying in Richmond. Without leaving Islington.

Like all local authorities, Islington divides its area into wards, and each ward into 3 polling districts. To plan our campaign organisation, we Lib Dems further divide them up into ‘walks’, one of which is ‘Richmond’, covering Richmond Avenue and the surrounding turnings.

Richmond is both a rather grand placename – meaning ‘rich world’ in French – and a very common one. Even within Islington there’s a different Richmond, Richmond Grove, which runs from the Town Hall to Canonbury Road. There are towns called Richmond everywhere from Aberdeenshire to West Sussex, not least the London Borough of Richmond (blessed with not one but two Lib Dem MPs!). According to the Times Atlas, Richmond is the most influential British place name worldwide.

Part of the Barnsbury ‘Richmond’ is Richmond Crescent, which certainly is a rich world. It became famous in 1997 as the home of Tony Blair when he set out from there for Downing Street. The Crescent is still home to other Labour luvvies including MPs Margaret Hodge and Emily Thornberry. Although I’m pleased to report that even in this unpromising territory there are Lib Dem votes to be found.

Ms Thornberry presumably does know which Richmond is which. However as Simon Calder reports, “Last Saturday the London Labour MP, Emily Thornberry, had the dismal job of defending the party’s defeat in the Norwich North by-election on Breakfast News. But the MP for Islington South and Finsbury told viewers that she had been energetically canvassing in Ipswich”. Oh dear.

Richmond Avenue is famous for the Egyptian-inspired sphinxes and miniture obelisks that flank the front doors of the houses on the southside, backing onto Barnard Park. There’s a great photo of a Richmond sphinx by Barnsbury resident Barbara Rich.

According to Harry Mount, the NILE caption is a tribute to Nelson’s 1798 victory at the Battle of the Nile, although the Richmond Avenue houses date from 1841. (I’ve blogged before about Nelson’s influence on Islington streetnames.) So not so much Nelson’s Column as Nelson’s sphinx.

The Richmond sphinxes may not be as ancient as the original, but they have survived nearly 170 years. So it was very sad to see that one had been smashed by vandals last weekend. I suppose ‘mindless vandalism’ is a tautology, but this really is stupid.

The previous time I’d canvassed Richmond Avenue was a weekend during the Euro elections, a rainy day. Many kindly voters invited me into their hallways. And by the end of that day I was without my umbrella. I was convinced I’d left it in the pub at lunchtime, but it never turned up.

Anyway, on Tuesday night I knocked on one door, to be greeted with “hello Bridget, we’ve got your umbrella!” But of course I wasn’t expected and despite a rummage in the hall cupboard, the umbrella was hiding, as umbrellas do. Still at least we know roughly where it is. And next time I canvass in Richmond, I’ll come away with more than votes.

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The Fleet River

The Fleet river is one of London’s lost rivers, running from springs at Hampstead and Highgate into the Thames at Blackfriars Bridge.

On the way, it flows through the ‘Ken Ditch’ that apparently gives Kentish Town its name, and of course, past Fleet Street. Between the two, it runs through Battlebridge at Kings Cross, and onto Clerkenwell by Farringdon. So although not flowing under Fleet Street itself, it does link the past and present site of the Guardian….

What was for years the filthy Fleet Ditch was culverted in the 19th century and became the Fleet sewer.

It didn’t always stay out of sight. Basements in Clerkenwell regularly flooded. The engineers digging out the route of the Metropolitan line faced the Fleet erupting more than once, covering the neighbourhood with filth and disrupting the rail works.

With the Fleet now safely underground, it risks being forgotten, although you can apparently hear it underground at Ray Street and at Charterhouse Street.

Earlier this year there were reports that the Environment Agency might open up some of our lost rivers. Similar projects have already seen bits of the river Wandle, for example, restored, although I fear the Fleet may be a bit too built up to create much of a wildlife habitat.

In the meantime, this week there’s a great piece in the FT about a walk (well, more of a pub crawl!) along the route of the Fleet. And you can trace it on the map courtesy of the ever wonderful Diamond Geezer.

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