Posts Tagged history

Gentleman’s Magazine brings back memories

Delighted to see coverage of the Gentleman’s Magazine as part of a One Show piece on obituaries.

Back in 1987 I was working on the ESTC project at the British Library. At that stage ESTC stood for EighteenthCentury Short Title Catalogue, but it later expanded to be the English Short Title Catalogue (top tip, if you pick an acronym, give yourself room to grow).

My role was to research the authors, in particular to try and find dates of death. And the Gentleman’s Magazine obituaries were a key source, requiring patient study of its printed indexes. Now it’s all online.

Some of the titles we catalogued for the ESTC were very quaint (Trisolbion, anyone?). But this was the age of reason and revolution, and the works on cleaning up politics, the relationship between religion and politics and calls for free speech, strike a timeless note.

The ESTC has made the titles available to everyone online. It’s wonderful to think the books themselves are just down the road in the British Library at St Pancras. And free to access for anyone with a genuine interest.

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Highbury & Islington station in times past

A fascinating picture of Highbury & Islington station nearly 100 years ago here on Flickr.

I won’t write up the history of the station as it’s done brilliantly by various contributors in the notes on the picture. Read and enjoy.

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Tolpuddle KX festival

Next month marks the 175th anniversary of the Tolpuddle Martyrs.

They were a group of farm workers in Dorset who in 1834 were sentenced to be deported to Australia for forming a trades union, an illegal act in those days. A massive demonstration in support of the men set off from Islington’s Copenhagen Fields to Parliament, and led to them being pardoned – a huge milestone in the history of trades unions and other campaigning organisations. The event is commemorated in the name of Tolpuddle Street, and by the mural at Edward Square.

And now there is to be a festival from 19-25 April, mirroring the annual event at Tolpuddle: more details of the Islington festival are here.

We have so many freedoms we take for granted (and others under attack) but we shouldn’t forget the struggles that won those freedoms for us.

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Whitecross Street: from monks to markets and makeovers

I’ve blogged before about Whitecross Street’s shops and market.

The street has a fascinating history. John Strype’s 1603 History of London dates the street back to a hospital founded in the reign of Edward I, and given as a monastery house for the Brotherhood of St. Giles by Henry V. There were also almshouses founded by a former Mayor of London, Sir John Gresham.

By the 19th century the street was more residential. In David Hughson’s 1806 History and Description of London it was described as “noble, wide, and well built, inhabited by persons of property.”

One of them, a Samuel Baylis of Whitecross Street, was a founder member of the Radical Club, a fore-runner of the Liberal Party, along such famous names as Daniel O’Connell, Joseph Hume, Francis Place and Sir William Molesworth.

The Guildhall Library’s print collection shows some of the fine buildings on the street, including the Lord Mayor’s stables, Lady Holles’s School House, the Great Northern Railway Goods Depot, and the City Weights and Measures Office. For most of the 19th century the street was best known for the debtor’s prison.

Like much of the area, parts of Whitecross Street were firebombed in the December 1940 blitz. And the southern end has since been transformed by the post-war developments of the Whitbread estate and the Barbican.

In recent years, the street has had a makeover with new lighting and paving. Now the revived market and the great mix of shops, from grocers to galleries, serve a very diverse neighbourhood in Bunhill ward.

One blot on the west side of the street is a run of empty properties opposite the Peabody estate. They have shop units on the ground floor and potential for housing above; the run of shops previously included cafes, a nail salon, and a record shop, but now they are just a semi-derelict eyesore.

Now the local regeneration project EC1 NewDeal and the Council are proposing to take over the properties with a compulsory purchase order, and plan to sell them on to a housing association; and if that isn’t possible, to sell them to a private developer. The Council may actually lose money on such a deal given falling property prices and all the legal costs involved in a CPO; so the partnership with EC1 NewDeal could make all the difference.

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Popham Princess

It is Kate Middleton’s birthday today, and again the press are speculating that there will shortly be a royal engagement announcement. If so, we could have a future Queen with Islington roots.

A team of genealogists, (led by William Addams Reitwiesner and Michael J. Wood) has traced Kate’s family history, and it makes fascinating reading.

Kate’s mother was Carole Goldsmith before she married Michael Middleton. Carole’s great-grandfather was John Goldsmith, a labourer, born at 3 Popham Street, on 6 July 1851. John Goldsmith’s parents, John and Esther (nee Jones) were married at St. John the Baptist, Hoxton, on 23 Sept. 1850. John senior was a labourer, Esther was a laundress, and they were both living at 2 Triangle Place, Islington when they died in the 1880s.

Triangle Place has long gone, but Popham Street still exists, running between Essex Road and Prebend Street, but the 19th century houses have long gone. In 1928, the New Survey of London Life and Labour found this area had some of the worst overcrowding, with over 1.75 persons to a room. The houses were demolished and replaced by the Popham estate (designed by Harley Sherlock) in the 1960s, but not before Cathy Come Home was filmed there.

Whether Kate will come home to Islington remains to be seen.

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Ascent of money

I’ve had a rare evening in, and been enjoying ‘The Ascent of Money’ on Channel 4.

Last month, Rich & I had our regular weekend in Amsterdam (for Museumnacht) and visited the Historical Museum among many others.

We had an unexpected diversion this year when we hopped on what we thought was the Museumnacht circular canal boat only to find we had gate-crashed a Russian tour party. All part of life’s rich tapestry.

Anyway, tonight there was Niall Ferguson using one of my favourite pictures – Dirck Bas and family – to illustrate the story of the Dutch East India Company.

Then via John Laws, and the Louisiana bubble, to Enron and the ‘miraculous institution’ of the limited company. I don’t share his politics, but Niall Ferguson is a fine presenter, making complex ideas understandable, and linking past and present in an engaging way.

Talk of economic models, not to mention bull markets, inevitably reminds me of those Economic Models explained with Cows – updated for the post-Enron age.

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Islington’s Synagogues

After last week’s Remembrance service, I met Judith Fox, who gave a Jewish prayer at the multi-faith event.

Judith is a distinguished Canonbury resident and high-powered life coach - not the porn star of the same name who, she cheerfully told me, causes confusion when people Google her…..

Islington’s Jewish community is small, and we don’t currently have any synagogues within the borough boundaries, but in the 19th there was a growing Jewish population here. Judith reminded me that there used to be a synagogue on Lofting Road in Barnsbury, where Barnes Court now stands. The North London Synagogue started meeting in rooms on Upper Street. In 1863, the congregation moved to Barnsbury Hall, 2-4 Barnsbury Street.

(Incidentally, Barnsbury Hall has its own fascinating history, variously housing a Victorian photographers’ studio, different religious groups, and a boxing venue, plus it’s allegedly the place where Michael Collins joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood. It is now a posh interiors shop. Such is Islington….)

The North London Synagogue building in Lofting Road (then known as John Street West) opened in 1868 and lasted 90 years, before closing in 1958 and being demolished in 1960.

There were other synagogues in Islington. One congregation met in a private home in Clephane Road, Canonbury, prior to 1874. There were synagogues in Mildmay based at 39 Mildmay Park (1886-1937) and at Poets Road (1885-1967). Later there were two synagogues in Highbury New Park: one at 24a (now the site of Bushfield House) from 1915-1954 and one at 13a (now part of Highbury Grove School site) from 1926-1971.

Another synagogue, Highgate Synagogue, started (just) in Islington at 88 Archway Road, where it was based from 1930 to 1950. From many a past canvassing session, I recall it’s a challenge locating no 88, which is now only accessible up a steep footpath near the end of Gladsmuir Road. The synagogue was actually based next to the house, and was demolished as part of the unfortunate Archway Road rewidening scheme. The synagogue then moved to 200 Archway Road, until it burned down in 1976. Highgate Synagogue is now flourishing in North Road N6; and the Archway Road site is still a place of worship – the Hindu Murugan temple.

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