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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