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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