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Entries about islington

SELL THE WIFE AND HEAD FOR ISLINGTON

Enjoy a slice of London's history by walking from Smithfield through Islington to Highbury Corner.

“He married Jane Carter,
No damsel look’d smarter;
But he caught a tartar,
John Hobbs, John Hobbs;
Yes, he caught a tartar, John Hobbs.
He tied a rope to her, John Hobbs, John Hobbs;
He tied a rope to her, John Hobbs!
To ‘scape from hot water,
To Smithfield he brought her;
But nobody bought her …”

“John Hobbs” from "Modern Street Ballads", ed. J Ashton (publ. 1888).

Smithfield Market

Smithfield Market

Clerkenwell’s St Johns Street was described in 1170 as the street: … which goeth from the bar of Smithfield towards Yseldon [i.e. Islington]” (see: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol46/pp203-221). It was a well-worn route from the country into town, and was lined with coaching inns for travellers and hostelries for cattle drovers bringing their animals to market. Before exploring the street, we will look at St Peters Italian Church in Clerkenwell Road just west of Farringdon Road.

St Peters Italian church

St Peters Italian church

St Peters Italian church

St Peters Italian church

This church is in the heart of what was once known as ‘Little Italy’ because of its Italian community, which was began growing rapidly at the beginning of the 19th century. St Peters, designed by the Irish Sir John Miller-Bryson, was consecrated in 1863. The congregation originated in the 18th century when Roman Catholicism was outlawed in England. Then, Catholic services were held clandestinely in the chapel of the Ambassador to the Kingdom of Sardinia (see: “La Chiesa italiana di San Pietro a Londra”, by LM Stanca, publ. 2001), which was in today’s Sardinia Street near Lincoln’s Inn Fields.

WW1 monument St Peters Italian church

WW1 monument St Peters Italian church

Its narrow façade belies the church’s large interior. In the porch, there is a monument to Italians who died during WW1. With an inscription by Gabriele d’Annunzio (1863-1938), the monument gives the war’s dates as 1915-1918, 1915 being the year when Italy joined the forces allied against Germany. The monument, which bears the symbol of Mussolini’s fascists is dated both as 1927 and as ‘Anno VI’, that being the 6th year since Mussolini assumed power. Above the war memorial, there is a monument to the victims of the ‘SS Arandora Star’, which was sunk in 1940 while carrying Italian internees and POWs to Canada.

St Peters Italian church

St Peters Italian church

Entering the spacious body of the church is like stepping out of London and into a typical late baroque church in Italy. The central aisle is flanked with polished marble pillars topped with Ionic capitals. Apart from various monuments including a list of those lost on the Arandora Star, there are many paintings, the oldest of which ‘l’Orbetto’ was painted by Alessandro Turchi (1578-1649). When not being used, this church is an oasis of peace in a busy area of London.

Farringdon Rd and Middlesex Session House

Farringdon Rd and Middlesex Session House

Descending Clerkenwell Road eastwards, we pass: Hatton Garden (of diamond-trading fame); Saffron Hill and Herbal Hill, where once there were gardens in which herbs and saffron were grown. Farringdon Road follows the course of the (now buried) Fleet River.

Well Court

Well Court

Well Court

Well Court

Well Court is in Farringdon Lane. A sign on its exterior reads “Clerks’ Well”. Through the windows, you can see a circular well lined with bricks, and some old piping. This was used to carry water from the well. Behind the well, there is brick facing that covers the mediaeval wall of the former St Mary’s Nunnery. Above it, there is a commemorative plaque that used to be located above a pump, which was formerly located in the street near the well. The notice informs that the water that supplied the well was “greatly esteemed by the Prior and Brethren of the Order of Jerusalem and the Benedictine Nuns in the Neighbourhood”. These establishments were closed by King Henry VIII. The well, which gives its name to Clerkenwell, continued to be used until the mid-19th century, when it became polluted, filled in, and built over. In 1924, it was rediscovered during building works.

Turnmill street in 2 languages

Turnmill street in 2 languages

Farringdon station

Farringdon station

Moving southwards, we pass the newly restored Middlesex Sessions House (described elsewhere), and approach Farringdon Station via Turnmill Street, an old thoroughfare which was close to mills powered by the waters of the River Fleet (before it was covered in the 19th century). Farringdon Station serves both the Underground and the Overground railways. Its Cowcross Street entrance hall, designed by Charles Walter Clark (1885–1972), who designed several other ‘tube’ stations, was opened in 1922.

Cowcross St and pawnbrokers sign

Cowcross St and pawnbrokers sign

Faulkners Alley off Cowcross St

Faulkners Alley off Cowcross St

Turnmill and Cowcross Streets mark the south-west boundary of the land owned by the former Priory of St John of Jerusalem (see: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol46/pp182-202#h2-0001). A building at the west end of Cowcross Street has a projecting bracket with three gold coloured spheres, the sign of a pawnbroker. Faulkners Alley, one of many alleys in the area, is visible through a narrow arch decorated with a pretty cast-iron metal screen.

70 to 75 Cowcross Str

70 to 75 Cowcross Str

Denmark Hse Cowcroft Str built 1879

Denmark Hse Cowcroft Str built 1879

Cowcroft and Peter Streets

Cowcroft and Peter Streets

Number 70-75 Cowcross Street is a large four-storey, glass-fronted, steel-framed building, designed by the London architects Smee & Houchin, and built in 1921. Almost opposite, is Denmark House constructed 1878-79. This building and number 70-75 were two of several buildings constructed in the area for use as warehouses or stores. At Peters Lane, Cowcross street turns southward towards to meet St Johns Street, which commences at the north side of Smithfield Market, an indoor wholesale meat marketplace.

Smithfield north side with Barbican behind

Smithfield north side with Barbican behind

Smithfield mkt

Smithfield mkt

Smithfield’s central Grand Avenue is entered through an archway flanked by two heraldic dragons and a pair of stone sculptures. The Avenue runs beneath a high roof supported by ornate painted ironwork arches. Side aisles are lined with the meat dealers’ stalls and glass-covered display cabinets. In 1852, London’s livestock market was moved from Smithfield to Copenhagen Fields in Islington (off Caledonian Road, where the Caledonian Park is now located). This cleared the area for the construction of the present meat market, which was completed by 1868. Constructed in an era before refrigerators were used, the market was designed to keep out the sun and to take advantages of prevailing breezes.

Smithfield mkt

Smithfield mkt

In mediaeval times, Smithfield had a bad reputation. It was known for criminal activity, violence, and public executions. In the early 19th century, when obtaining divorce was difficult, men brought their unwanted wives to Smithfield to sell them, then a legal way of ending a marriage (see: “Meat, Commerce and the City: The London Food Market, 1800–1855”, by RS Metcalfe, publ. 2015).

At the southern end of Saint Johns Street (‘SJS’), the gable of number 5 bears a bas-relief of a boar and the date 1897, when the building (used for commerce and retail) was re-built by W Harris. Just north of this, St John widens temporarily to form an oval space.

5 St Johns Str

5 St Johns Str

South end St Johns Str showing widening

South end St Johns Str showing widening

Number 16 on the east side of the oval bears a cross-keys symbol near its roof, and the intertwined letters ‘A & M’ above its central first-floor window. This building housed the ‘Cross Keys’ pub until before 1983. There had been a pub on this site, a coaching inn, since before the 18th century. Its neighbour, number 18, is a Victorian gothic building was formerly a warehouse built 1886-7. A disused crane arm can be seen projecting from between the building’s two main gothic arches. In 1889, the building was let to Oppenheimer & Co, sausage-skin manufacturers. Now, it has other uses.

16 and 18 St johns Str

16 and 18 St johns Str

22 St john Str

22 St john Str

26 St John Str

26 St John Str

The slender number 22 was already built by the early 18th century. It is the only surviving member of a row of three similar houses. Close by, number 26 was built in the early 19th century on a site once occupied by an inn called ‘The Swan with Two Necks’, which was already established by 1670. There used to be quite a cluster of inns in this part of St Johns. They catered for the coaches and the drovers who made much use of this thoroughfare.

34 to 36 St Johns Str

34 to 36 St Johns Str

Number 34-36, with its magnificent late Victorian stone and brick facade was once the premises of George Farmiloe & Sons, lead and glass merchants. This building and its neighbour are built on land once occupied by yet another inn and its yard. In 1999, Farmiloe’s moved their business from SJS.

Building with bulls heads in Peters Lane

Building with bulls heads in Peters Lane

Building with bulls heads in Peters Lane

Building with bulls heads in Peters Lane

Take a small detour into Peter’s Lane to see a tall brick building adorned with realistic bulls’ and cows’ heads (sculpted by Mark Merer and Lucy Glendenning) standing at its northern end. This tower was built in the late 1990s. It is attached to a boutique hotel, The Rookery, which occupies some modernised Victorian (or 18th century) buildings.

White Bear St Johns Str

White Bear St Johns Str

71 St John St

71 St John St

72 St Johns Str

72 St Johns Str

Returning to SJS, number 57 is occupied by the White Bear pub, which was rebuilt 1898-99. Nearly opposite it, number 71 has a neo-classical shopfront with Ionic pilasters. This building was built 1817-18. The shop was first leased by John Newton, a cork manufacturer. Opposite it, number 75 is a slender brick building with brick arches above its first-floor windows. It was built in the 1830s.

78 to 80 St john Str

78 to 80 St john Str

Passing Alley

Passing Alley

Passing Alley St Johns Str end

Passing Alley St Johns Str end

Passing Alley is no longer where it used to be in monastic times. The present alley is further south from its original location. On Rocque’s 1745 map and an earlier one (1676), it was named ‘Pissing Alley’. The current name first appeared on a 1790 map (see: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol46/pp142-163). It leads from SJS to St Johns Lane. From the latter end of the alley, there is a good view of the historic archway of the Order of St John (see elsewhere). This end of the alley emerges from a building labelled ‘Lovell and Christmas’, a former grocery built in 1897.

Former Cannon Brewery St Johns Str

Former Cannon Brewery St Johns Str

Former Cannon Brewery St Johns Str

Former Cannon Brewery St Johns Str

Former Cannon Brewery St Johns Str

Former Cannon Brewery St Johns Str

Further north along St Johns, there is a red brick building with a large street opening guarded by ornately decorated wooden gates. This was once the ‘Cannon Brewery’, descendant of a brewery founded in the 1670s. The Brewing Yard Offices were built in 1875, the date on the lovely clock that can be seen within the courtyard. The brewery faces a large white stone-faced building, which was designed by Malcolm Waverley Matts (1874-1960) and built 1925-27 for Pollard & Co Ltd, shopfitter suppliers (shopfronts, shelving, etc,). The company invented ‘invisible glass’, concave sheets of glass used in shopfronts.

158 to 173 St Johns Str

158 to 173 St Johns Str

Aylesbury Str

Aylesbury Str

Woodbridge Chapel

Woodbridge Chapel

After crossing Clerkenwell Road, take a detour along Aylesbury Street passing a new glass-fronted five-storey building with some black tiling on its facade, and then enter Woodbridge Street, where the Woodbridge Chapel stands. This was built in 1823 (architect: Thomas Porter) for a Calvinist sect. After having been used as a liquor store by Nicholsons (see below), this became a school, and then later a medical facility that is still in use. It is also still used for religious purposes.

St Johns Str old Nicholson's distillery

St Johns Str old Nicholson's distillery

A former Finch pub on Compton Str

A former Finch pub on Compton Str

Back on SJS at the corner of Compton Street, there is a former pub. Rebuilt in 1901, this was once ‘The George’ (already established at the beginning of the 19th century). The large building just north of this on the other side of St Johns, is decorated with eleven pilasters and has a central archway leading to an inner courtyard. This (built in the 1890s) and the building immediately to its north were part of Nicholson’s Distillery. The Nicholson’s, who had been distilling spirits in Clerkenwell since the 1730s and in Bow since the 1770s, established the origins of the present site in 1802. In 1872, the company bought the Three Mills Distillery on the River Lea at Bow (which I describe elsewhere). This supplied grain alcohol which was processed in the Clerkenwell works. The distillery has been converted into flats.

Liberty Hse former gas meter factory

Liberty Hse former gas meter factory

Former Scholl factory now refaced St Johns Str

Former Scholl factory now refaced St Johns Str

Another former factory that has been used to provide accommodation is Liberty House, number 218. Now a students’ residence, this was once Thomas Glover & Co.’s gas meter factory. This was built in 1868, designed by Alexander Peebles (1840-1891). Next door to it, there is a handsome modern glass-fronted office block, which stands where once the Scholl factory stood. The building’s current Mondriaan-like façade was created in 1989 by Brandon-Jones, Robinson, Sanders & Thorne.

North end of Sekforde Str

North end of Sekforde Str

Just opposite this, Sekforde Street, with its rows of 19th century terraced houses (built 1828-42), is well worth a glance. These rows are interrupted by an elegant neo-classical façade, that of the former Finsbury Savings Bank, built in 1840 (designed by Arthur Bartholomew). This institution was founded in 1816 for servants, labourers, tradesmen, and so on. In 1845, the author Charles Dickens deposited some of his money here.

The Peasant St johns Str

The Peasant St johns Str

North of Skinner Street, SJS changes character. It has less of a history of industry and commerce than the section south to Smithfield. Whereas the latter half was urbanised by the 17th century or earlier, the northern section remained almost rural until the late 18th century. The imposing, decorated Peasant pub was built in 1890 as the ‘George and Dragon public house and coffee tavern’.

Finsbury Library

Finsbury Library

Finsbury Library at number 245, a sweeping curved sixties’ construction (built 1967) that has a certain elegance celebrated 50 years of its existence in 2017. It was designed by the German Jewish refugee Carl Ludwig Franck (1904-1985), who collaborated on other buildings with Tecton (see below). The library houses a local history department. The Islington Museum is in the basement.

Islington Museum

Islington Museum

Lenin in Islington Museum

Lenin in Islington Museum

New River pipes in Islington Museum

New River pipes in Islington Museum

The Museum is well laid-out and interesting. Many of its exhibits tend to stress the socialistic aspects of Islington’s history. A prominently displayed bust of VI Lenin and an exhibit of local ‘radicals’ are in character with this. A recently created tapestry illustrates Islington’s many associations with socialism. One exhibit that particularly interested me was of some wooden water pipes that had once been used to convey drinking water from the New River (see below) to its consumers. I saw similar pipes, which are hollowed-out tree trunks, in a museum in Edinburgh. One end of each wooden section is carved to a taper so that it can be slotted into the uncarved end of another wooden section.

City University

City University

Across the road from the library, stands a grand brick and stone building of City University (completed 1898), which was designed by Edward William Mountford (1855-1908), who also designed The Old Bailey court house. This was first home to ‘The Northampton Institute’ founded in 1852 to teach a range of skills to young men and women from the less-affluent parts of the populace. In 1966, the college received its Royal Charter, and became a university. The Inns of Court School of Law, attached to the University in 2001, proudly includes amongst its alumni: ‘Mahatma’ Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, and my wife. These people graduated before the law school joined the university.

Spa Green

Spa Green

Spa Fields is a small park at the western end of the short Lloyd’s Row. It contains a WW1 memorial (erected 1921) with a statue of a winged Victory. In the early 18th century, this was an area where various violent sports, such as prize-fighting and bull-baiting, were enjoyed. In 1815, during riots against the Corn Laws, there was a large meeting at SpaFields, where: “… a tricolor flag and a revolutionary cap had been paraded before cheering crowds who had later broken into a gunsmith’s shop and marched towards the City” (See: “George IV”, by C Hibbert, publ. 1976).

Site of New River Head

Site of New River Head

Site of New River Head

Site of New River Head

Across Roseberry Avenue, which flanks Spa Fields, there is a large brick building with white stone trimmings, now a block of flats. Completed in 1920, New River Head House was designed by Herbert Austen Hall (1881-1968) as the headquarters of the Metropolitan Water Board. Above two of its windows, there are carved inscriptions. One reads “Erected MDCXIII”, and the other “MDCCLXXXII”. These dates are 1623 and 1782 respectively, which are carved in archaic lettering. The inscribed stones must have been saved from an earlier building. The land on which the house stands was formerly the ‘New River Head’.

The New River, a canal constructed to bring fresh water from Hertfordshire into London ended at the reservoir called ‘New River Head’. It was high enough above what was the city of London in the 17th century to allow the flow of water from it to be ‘powered’ by gravity alone (see: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol47/pp165-184). The brick-lined reservoir was constructed in 1623, when the first building at the reservoir, the ‘Water House’, was also built. The architect Robert Mylne (1733-1811), surveyor to the New River Company, repaired, enlarged, and refaced it in the 18th century. The refacing was done in 1782. So, the two inscriptions on the present building derive from Mylne’s time. The old building, which had been enlarged many times, was demolished by 1915.

Former Lab building Site of New River Head

Former Lab building Site of New River Head

New River Head House is close to the Sadler’s Wells Theatre, where my parents used to take me to see opera during the 1960s. One of the first operas I saw was ‘La Traviata’. I remember finding it very tedious watching the heroine taking ages to die. This was performed by ‘The Sadler’s Wells Opera’, which moved to the larger capacity Coliseum Theatre in 1968, and later changed its name to ‘The English National Opera’. Standing between the theatre New River Head House, is an elegantly curved brick building, the former ‘Water-Testing Laboratory’. This was built 1936-38, and designed by John Murray Easton (1889-1975).

Spa Green Estate

Spa Green Estate

St Johns Str opposite Spa Green Estate

St Johns Str opposite Spa Green Estate

Returning to SJS via Lloyds Row, we pass a distinctive block of council flats with balconies punctuated by a semi-circular tower containing a staircase. This is part of Spa Green Estate (built after WW2), which was designed by the architectural firm Tecton, which was under the direction of Berthold Lubetkin (1901-1990) and other leading architects. Incidentally, this firm also designed the private block of flats, High Point, in Highgate. The estate was built on land that had been covered with slum-dwellings. Across SJS, older buildings face the newer ones.

Old Red Lion theatre pub

Old Red Lion theatre pub

The Old Red Lion Theatre Pub stands on SJS near its northern end at Pentonville Road. The pub has a long ancestry. It was first established in what was the tiny village of Islington in 1415. The present building decorated with lions painted in a lurid red was built in 1899. In 1979, a small theatre opened on its first floor. I have seen several plays well-performed in this very intimate little space.

Former Angel Hotel built 1903

Former Angel Hotel built 1903

SJS becomes ‘Upper Street’ after it crosses Pentonville Road at The Angel. There is a grand salmon-pink stone building with pilasters and an elaborately decorated dome at the corner of Upper Street and Pentonville Road. This was designed by Frederick James Eedle and Sydney Herbert Meyers, and completed in 1903 as the ‘Angel Hotel’. It stands where in the 17th century (by 1614) there was an inn called ‘The Angel’. By the 18th century, this had become an important staging post for coaches. The present building stands at the southern end of Upper Street, which, with no shortage of eateries, is one of London’s most popular places of refreshment. The street was so-named to distinguish it from the former ‘Lower Street’, now named Essex Road.

Upper Str former LCC electrical substation

Upper Str former LCC electrical substation

A long, single-storey building (on the east side of the street) built with yellow bricks and trimmed with white stonework was once an electrical sub-station for the London County Council Tramways This was designed by Vincent Harris (1876-1971), and built 1905-06 (see: “London 4: North”, by B Cherry and N Pevsner, publ. 1998). The pavement across the road from this is elevated, and lined with shops, cafes, and restaurants. Prior to the building of the substation and other buildings close to it, the southern section of Upper Street, which used to be part of the ‘High Street’, was wider than the rest of Upper Street to its north. This widening, such as was seen earlier at the southern section of SJS, and is also evident in Hampstead’s High Street, is typical of the widened sections of High Streets where markets were/are held in country towns.

Phelps Cottage 1838

Phelps Cottage 1838

Just north of the substation, a single two-storey cottage stands on a short road linking Upper Street and the Islington High Street. Dated 1838, this is Phelps Cottage, a solitary reminder of earlier times when Islington was a small town, rapidly becoming absorbed into the spreading city.

View of Islington High Str from Upper Str

View of Islington High Str from Upper Str

Camden Passage, with its many antiques dealers, is the northern continuation of the narrow High Street. There is a shop on the Passage, which has a first-floor terrace enclosed within a pretty wall of glass panes framed by interlocking gothic arches. This shop forms part of a terrace of 18th century buildings, which were present before Islington became a part of London.

Business Design Centre Islington

Business Design Centre Islington

The contemporary-looking Business Design Centre on the western side of Upper Street, designed by Frederick Peck (c1827-1875), was opened in 1862 as the ‘Royal Agricultural Hall’. Its vast glass-covered hall was used for a variety of shows and exhibitions until 1943, when it was used temporarily as a postal parcels’ office, the nearby Mount Pleasant postal centre having been damaged by bombing. Between the 1970, when the Post Office stopped using it, and 1986, the building stood empty. In ’86, it was bought by the businessman Sam Morris (1917-1991), who converted it to its present reincarnation, which is still used for exhibitions - I attended a contemporary art fair there not long ago - and for offices and conference usage.

Sir Hugh Mydelton

Sir Hugh Mydelton

At the triangular Islington Green (which was already on 18th century maps), Essex Road branches off from Upper Street at an acute angle. At the apex of the triangle, there is a statue of Sir Hugh Myddelton (1560-1631) sculpted by John Thomas (1813–1862). He stands bare-footed, wearing a ruff and breeches, which stop short of his uncovered knees and lower legs. Below his plinth, two carved children sit or kneel with pitchers between their legs. Once, they issued water, but no longer. Myddelton, a Welsh entrepreneur, was the driving force behind the creation of the New River water supply project (see above). The 38-mile-long canal, which he helped to finance, was constructed between 1608 and 1613. The statue was presented by Sir Morton Peto (1809-1889), a politician and civil engineer. Local financing paid for the fountain and the pedestal, dated 1862.

Islington War Memorial on Islington Green

Islington War Memorial on Islington Green

Islington Green is often filled with people relaxing on park benches. At its western edge, there is a circular sculpture resembling a three-dimensional Möbius Strip. This is Islington’s War Memorial designed by John Maine, and completed in 2007. It replaced an earlier memorial (an obelisk), which had fallen into disrepair. The ring was carved in China using stone from Fujian Province before being shipped to England. Today where there is a branch of Waterstones bookshops (numbers 10-11 Islington Green), there used to be a music hall, ‘Collin’s Music Hall’. This staggered on until it was damaged by fire in 1958 (see: http://www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/Collins.htm). In 2008, there was a plan to build another theatre on the site, which was already occupied by the bookshop, but this has not happened.

The Screen on the Green

The Screen on the Green

The Screen-on-the-Green cinema with its distinctive façade, surmounted by a semi-circular pediment the width of the building, faces the memorial across Upper Street. Built in 1911 as ‘The Picture Theatre’, this has survived (unlike the music hall). Modernised in 1981, this establishment is now part of the Everyman group of cinemas.

Congregational Chapel Upper Str

Congregational Chapel Upper Str

The distinctive brick building with triangular gables (one of them bearing the date 1888) and large upper storey windows at the corner of Gaskin Street was once the ‘Congregational Chapel’. This was the last building to be designed by the architect HJ Paull. It is no longer used for religious purposes.

Kings Head pub and theatre

Kings Head pub and theatre

Further north, is the Victorian King’s Head. I have visited this pub often, not so much to drink but, instead, to enjoy dramatic performances in the tiny theatre behind the bar-room. This theatre was founded by theatre producer Dan Crawford (1942-2005) in 1970. I have seen several great performances there. One, which I remember, was “Phallacy” by Carl Djerassi (1923-2005), a playwright and scientist who helped to develop the contraceptive pill. On that occasion, we took advantage of a service which used to be offered by the theatre. That was to eat a meal in the auditorium before the show. Although the play was wonderful, the food was disappointing. In 2018, the theatre is moving from behind the pub to a new location.

St Marys Church

St Marys Church

St Marys Church

St Marys Church

west end of St Marys Church

west end of St Marys Church

St Marys Church is opposite the pub. Its façade and steeple were built in the early 1750s to designs by Launcelot Dowbiggin (1685-1759). The rest of the church, having been destroyed by bombs in WW2, was rebuilt in a newer style designed by John Seely (1900-1963) and Paul Paget (1901-1985) in the early 1950s. The church’s post-war interior is worth visiting to enjoy its feeling of spaciousness and some paintings by Brian Thomas, who specialised in paintings for churches. Next to the church, is its large red brick vicarage, which was built when William Barlow (1833-1908) was the church’s vicar (from 1886-1902).

Vicarage of St Marys Church

Vicarage of St Marys Church

The Mitre Upper Str

The Mitre Upper Str

Former Old Parrs Head pub

Former Old Parrs Head pub

North of the church, there are two former pubs. The ‘Mitre’, which was already in existence by the mid-1850s, closed in about 2002. The ‘Old Parrs Head’, a Victorian pub, on the corner of Cross Street, now being used as a shop, retains its original ground floor tiling and lettering. It stopped serving drinks in 2007.

Almeida Theatre

Almeida Theatre

Almeida Street, named after a town in Portugal that featured in the Napoleonic Wars, is just north of Cross Street. It has become famous for its theatre, The Almeida. Formerly, the ‘Literary and Scientific Institute’ built 1837-38 by architects RL Roumieu (1814-1877) and AD Gough (1804-1871), this later became a music hall, then a Salvation Army ‘citadel’, and later a warehouse. In 1982, Burrell Foley and his colleagues converted this neo-classical building back into a theatre. Since then, it has undergone other ‘improvements’. Although it has a great reputation amongst its audiences and theatre critics, I do not like attending plays there. The auditorium is full of supporting pillars, and it is difficult to find a seat which does not have at least one of these in the line of sight between audience and stage.

Myddelton Hall  30 Almeida Str

Myddelton Hall 30 Almeida Str

Opposite the theatre there is a brick building with arched doorways and brick pilasters. This was formerly Myddelton Hall. It bears the date 1891. It contained an auditorium and a stage, and in 1892 it was licensed for musical performances (see: https://database.theatrestrust.org.uk/resources/theatres/show/2194-myddelton-hall). Part of its ground-floor now houses a restaurant.

Highbury Mansions

Highbury Mansions

Highbury Mansions on Upper Street is faced with decorative brickwork and stucco. The stucco is decorated with some terra-cotta coloured panels. Some of these bear the motto ‘labor omnia vincit’. For what reason, I cannot say. Nearby, on the corner of Upper Street and Waterloo Terrace, Waterloo House has its main entrance surmounted by a picturesque ogival arch.

Waterloo Hse 155 Upper Str

Waterloo Hse 155 Upper Str

Islington Town Hall

Islington Town Hall

Tyndale Mansions built 1926

Tyndale Mansions built 1926

The next major building on Upper Street is Islington Town hall, with its neo-classical stone façade. This was built in 1923 to the designs of Edward Monson (1872-1941), who also designed the nearby Tyndale Mansions (1926) with 102 flats. Almost opposite this residential complex, there is another one, a block of flats called Sutton Dwellings, which was built in 1917. This building was financed by The Sutton Model Dwellings Trust set up by William Sutton (1833-1900), the founder of Britain’s first door-to-door long-distance parcel delivery service.

Sutton Dwellings

Sutton Dwellings

Compton Terrace Gardens

Compton Terrace Gardens

The eastern side of the northern end of the road that began at Smithfield has a long thin garden, a pleasant shady strip with trees and planting beds called Compton Terrace Gardens. The facades of Compton Terrace (built from 1806 onwards) are interrupted midway by a gap that contains the Union Chapel.

Compton Terrace started 1806

Compton Terrace started 1806

Union Chapel

Union Chapel

The present Chapel, a fine, imposing Victorian gothic structure in brick and stone, was designed in the late 1870s by James Cubitt (1836-1912). His building replaced one of a series of earlier buildings (i.e. chapels), the first of which was built in 1806. The name ‘Union’ refers to the fact that the congregation was founded by a union of Anglicans and non-Conformists in 1799. The large church is also used for concerts. Sometime before 1993, I attended a concert at the Union Chapel. I was fortunate to see the minimalist composer Steve Reich (born 1936) performing music with his ensemble.

V1 memorial Highbury Corner

V1 memorial Highbury Corner

The northern end of Compton Terrace Gardens ends abruptly above a large, busy traffic roundabout at Highbury Corner. A plaque on the north facing wall of Compton Terrace recalls that on the 27th of June 1944 a German V1 flying bomb destroyed Highbury Corner, injured 150 people, and killed 26.

Old Highbury tube station

Old Highbury tube station

Our exploration ends at Highbury and Islington Station. Its present entrance was built in the 1960s. Opposite, there is a disused station entrance to ‘Highbury Station’ dated 1904, but closed in the late 1960s following the construction of the Victoria Line. Here we end a stroll that began in a part of London that was already developed in the 12th century, and end in another part, which was barely inhabited in the early 19th century. St Johns Street and its northern continuation, Upper Street, resemble the historical equivalent of a geological core sample, displaying different phases of London’s long history along its length.

Compton Terrace Gardens

Compton Terrace Gardens

Posted by ADAMYAMEY 00:00 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged london market islington clerkenwell farringdon smithfield the__angel Comments (3)

MONKS and NUNS, MARX and LENIN

A walk around Clerkenwell Green reveals much about the area's social and Socialist history.

Many years ago, in the 1980s, I was invited to join a friend for lunch at a trendy restaurant in Clerkenwell Green. A mutual friend joined us. We ordered our meal. When it arrived, there was far more empty space on the plate than food. There was a tiny piece of meat a little larger than a postage stamp, a floret of broccoli, and three minute boiled potatoes that had been whittled down to produce tiny whitish spindles. This was ‘nouvelle cuisine’, and entirely unsatisfactory. When the bill arrived, we discovered that we were being charged £25 each for these meagre, unwholesome offerings. Our mutual friend and I looked at our friend, who had suggested the restaurant. She, noticing our shocked expressions, settled our bills. I am afraid that this experience prejudiced me against Clerkenwell.

A recent visit to the area has killed my prejudice against it, and kindled a great enthusiasm.

Clerkenwell Green

Clerkenwell Green

Clerkenwell, which is now in the Borough of Islington, covers an area that includes: Farringdon Road, Goswell Road, Clerkenwell Road, Hatton Garden, and Smithfield Market (at its southern edge). I will confine my essay to the area around Clerkenwell Green.

The name ‘Clerkenwell’ is derived from the Old English words meaning ‘Clerks’ Well’. Remains of the well may be seen inside Well Court on Farringdon Lane. The formerly rustic Clerkenwell Green came into existence in the 12th century following the establishment of two neighbouring ecclesiastical institutions: The Knights Hospitallers’ priory of St John and, to the north-west of that, the Augustinian nunnery of St Mary. After the dissolution of these institutions by King Henry VIII between 1536 and 1541 , land was sold off and buildings had begun appearing around the green. A map drawn in 1560, shows what is now Clerkenwell Green close to the outer edge of the rest of London. The historian Riddell (see below) wrote:
“By the middle of the sixteenth century Clerkenwell had graduated from being a village on the outskirts of London, which had grown up round two monastic foundations, to being a suburb of the City”.
By the 18th century, Clerkenwell Green and its surroundings had become absorbed by the growth of London. A 1750 map shows that Clerkenwell Green and its associated buildings were on the northern edge of London. By 1860, the area could no longer be considered as being on the edge of London, but deeply within it. However, even today Clerkenwell Green, which is close to busy London thoroughfares, gives rise to feelings of its former rural past.

Clerkenwell Road: old Holborn Union offices

Clerkenwell Road: old Holborn Union offices

I will describe the area as I visited it recently, beginning with a building on Clerkenwell Road on the corner of Britton Street. This elegant red brick building decorated with neo-classical features such as pilasters and triangular pediments bears the words ‘Holborn Union Offices’ above the date 1886. Now converted into flats, this building, designed by the architectural firm H Saxon Snell and Sons, used to house the administrative offices and medical and ‘out-relief ‘departments for the Holborn Union Board of Guardians. The Board administered the Holborn Poor Law Union, which was established in 1836, a precursor of the Welfare State that tried to alleviate the lot of poor people. And, in the 19th century, Clerkenwell had of people living in squalid conditions close to, or below, the poverty line.

Across the busy Clerkenwell Road almost opposite this building, a short road leads into the southwestern side of Clerkenwell Green. Entering the Green with its trees and picturesque buildings is like stepping out of the city and into a village green.

Clerkenwell Green: The Old Sessions House

Clerkenwell Green: The Old Sessions House

Covered in scaffolding and just visible through it, there stands a building that used to be the Middlesex Sessions House. This court house, standing at the west end of the Green, was built in the last two decades of the 18th century. The Sessions House replaced the nearby Hicks Hall that dated back to 1611, and served many of the roles played by today’s Old Bailey. The court buildings figure in Charles Dickens novel “Oliver Twist”, in which they are referred to as ‘Clerkinwell Sessions’. It was conveniently located to a nearby prison (see below). The current building was used as a court until 1921. Now, the building is being developed to join Clerkenwell’s already large population of eateries and bars (see: http://theoldsessionshouse.com). I look forward to visiting the building when it has been restored.

Marx Memorial Library

Marx Memorial Library

Close to the Sessions House on the north side of the Green, there stands a building, number 37a, with a revolutionary past (and, who knows, maybe also a future). Karl Marx (1818-1883) lived in London between 1849 and 1850 (but not in Clerkenwell). His memory lives on in Clerkenwell Green at the Marx Memorial Library at number 37a, which was established in 1933 to celebrate the golden anniversary of his death. I have visited this centre of socialist study and education once, on a London Open House Day (see: www.openhouselondon.org.uk/). We were shown around the library and, also, the Lenin Room. Long before the establishment of the library, Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924) worked in this building in 1902 and 1903, supervising his revolutionary newspaper ‘Iskra’. The so-called Lenin Room, which houses much of the great man’s memorabilia is possibly not the exact place in the building where he worked.

When we were shown around the Marx Memorial Library, we were taken into its basement where books and other parts of the collection are stored. The basement contains remains of subterranean mediaeval structures, 15th century vaults that lead into tunnels. We were told by our guides that these tunnels might very possibly have connected the former nunnery of St Mary with the nearby former Priory of St John. If this was the case, one might wonder why they were built.

Before becoming used as the Marx Memorial Library, the building housing it was associated with the radical activity that pervaded Clerkenwell during much of the 19th century. Clerkenwell Green itself, being one of the few open spaces in the area, was the site of open-air rallies or meetings, both for radical and religious causes. Evangelical clerics held vast outdoor meetings to attempt to bring Christianity to the poor of the area, and left-wing groups attempted to rouse the people, often beginning protest marches in the Green. Clerkenwell Green became the 19th century’s equivalent to the later Hyde Park’s ‘Speakers’ Corner’. Number 37a housed first the radical ‘London Patriotic Club’, and then later the socialist ‘Twentieth Century Press’, before it became the Marx Memorial Library.

Clerkenwell Green: Crown Tavern

Clerkenwell Green: Crown Tavern

Feeling thirsty already? Then, help is at hand in the form of the nearby Crown Tavern. This pub might well have had Leninist connections. First established in the 1720s, the present pub is in a building that dates from about the beginning of the 19th century. Many believe that the young Joseph Stalin met Lenin in this pub in 1903. But not everyone shares that belief (see: http://sarahjyoung.com/site/2011/01/16/russians-in-london-lenin/). While Lenin was in London in 1902 and 1903, Stalin was not. Stalin first visited the city in 1907, along with other Russian revolutionaries including Lenin, whom he first met in Finland in 1906.

St James Church viewed from Clerkenwell Green

St James Church viewed from Clerkenwell Green

The southernmost stretch of the winding Clerkenwell Close (‘close’ as in ‘cathedral close’ or abbey precincts) leads from the Green towards the west end of St James Church, which is well-worth visiting. A board close to its entrance informs that there has been a church on this spot since 1100 AD. To enter the present church, which dates back to 1792, it is necessary to ring a doorbell. When I visited it, I bought a copy of a most interesting book about the church “A History of The Church of Saint James Clerkenwell” by N Ridell (published 2016). This is full of information about both the church and the area surrounding it.

St James Church: west front

St James Church: west front

The present church stands within the ‘footprint’ of an older, larger one that was demolished (because it was falling to pieces, and could no longer be repaired) in order for the new one to be built. The older, demolished church had its origins as the chapel for the Nunnery of St Mary. The north side of the older church was attached to cloisters, which still existed as late as 1786. After the dissolution of the monasteries, much of the nunnery was destroyed and the land on which it stood was sold for housing and other purposes.

There is much that could be written about the history of the St James Church, but I will confine myself to a few things that I found interesting when I visited it. Before doings so, I will mention that Clerkenwell was a parish in which certain residents (the wealthier ones!) chose their church officials by election. Choosing someone to fill the highly-prized position of vicar was often associated with much public disorder. Prior to the later 19th century, much administration of the parish – both religious and secular – was carried out by a church-based committee, the ‘Vestry’. Members of the Vestry had many opportunities to enrich themselves. I will say no more.

The west end of the church consists of three interconnected lobbies. Both the northern and the southern ones have lovely curving staircases leading to the church’s upper storeys. The southern lobby, which I entered first, has several well-preserved memorial plaques on its walls, including an elaborately sculpted one for Thomas Crosse, who died aged 49 in 1712. He did much good work for the poor children of the parish, including founding a school.

St James Church: bell ringing feat

St James Church: bell ringing feat

The nave of the church is entered from the central lobby. This lobby contains two memorials that interested me. One of them commemorates the 8th of December 1800, when eight young men managed to ring a complete peal of 5040 changes on the church’s steeple bells. They achieved this remarkable feat in three hours and 15 minutes. Ridell records that the 19th century bell-ringer G Morris was able to ring a peal on the eight bells on his own, with the bell-pull cords fixed to both of his hands and feet. The other memorial relates to a disaster that occurred on Friday the 13th of December 1867.

There were several prisons near to Clerkenwell Green in the 19th century. One of them was the Clerkenwell House of Detention (or Middlesex House of Detention) on Bowling Green Lane, very close to St James Church (and to the Middlesex Sessions House, where many of the inmates had been tried). In December 1867, several Fenians (revolutionary Irish nationalists) were being held in the prison. Some of their comrades planned to rescue them by breaching the wall of the exercise yard during the prisoners’ exercise break. A barrel of explosives was placed by the wall, but the prison authorities, having caught wind of the plot, cancelled the exercise session. The explosives were detonated on the 13th of December, causing much damage to people in the neighbourhood. The memorial in the church relates that 15 people were killed, 40 were injured, and 600 families suffered material loss. The large number of families reflects the overcrowded living conditions that had developed in Clerkenwell during the 19th century, making it one of the most deprived districts in London.

St James Church: Lion and Unicorn above entrance to nave

St James Church: Lion and Unicorn above entrance to nave

A beautifully sculpted Lion and Unicorn (dated 1792) recline on the pediment above the entrance to the body of the church. The rectangular body of the church is light and airy. It has a curved first floor gallery and fine stained glass windows above the high altar at its eastern end. The pale Wedgewood blue ceiling is decorated with delicate stucco designs.

St James Church: organ and ceiling

St James Church: organ and ceiling

The organ on the first-floor gallery is flanked by a pair of incomplete second-floor galleries, remains of what had once been complete galleries like the one below it. At the western end of the church on both sides of the central entrance doors, there are boxed pews, one of which was labelled ‘Church Officers’ Pew’. These are the last of the original box pews that formerly filled the church, and were replaced by the present more open-plan pews sometime in the 19th century.

St James Church: Church officers' box pews

St James Church: Church officers' box pews


A small garden to the west of the church affords a good view of the tower and steeple with its white stone and brick facing and an old clock. The church is surrounded by green open spaces, some of which were part of the original churchyard. A part of these to the north of the church must have once been the site of the garden that used to be enclosed in the former nunnery’s cloister.

Tree sculpture near St James Church. "Spontaneous City"

Tree sculpture near St James Church. "Spontaneous City"

One tree to the east of the church contains a curious modern sculptural work, which looks like a cluster of miniature wooden bird houses wrapped around the tree’s branches. This was installed in 2011 by London Fieldworks.

Clerkenwell Close Challoner House

Clerkenwell Close Challoner House

Following Clerkenwell Close away from the Green, we come across a newish building called ‘Challoner House’. The original house bearing this name was built on this site in about 1612 for Sir Thomas Challoner, a courtier and naturalist, and tutor to the Prince of Wales. The present Challoner House stands beside a huge Peabody Estate that extends northwards to Bowling Green Lane and westwards almost to Farringdon.

Clerkenwell Close Peabody doorway

Clerkenwell Close Peabody doorway

Clerkenwell Close Peabody Buildings

Clerkenwell Close Peabody Buildings

The Peabody Trust built the estate in 1884 following the passing of new housing legislation in 1875. The original estate consisted of 11 blocks of flats built around a central court yard. Each of the blocks had a laundry room on their top floors, but no communal bath houses.

Clerkenwell Close Peabody Trust buildings

Clerkenwell Close Peabody Trust buildings

Clerkenwell Close Peabody courtyard

Clerkenwell Close Peabody courtyard

George Peabody (1795-1869) was born into a poor family in the USA. In 1837, already a successful businessman and banker, he came to London. He became the ‘father of modern philanthropy’. His Trust begun in 1862, which continues today, financed, amongst many other things, the construction of decent housing for “artisans and labouring poor of London”. Noble as was this venture in Clerkenwell, it involved the demolition of slums that housed many poor people. Many of these people were too poor to afford the albeit modest rates (rents) charged by the Peabody Trust for their superior dwellings. This resulted in many of former the slum dwellers having to squeeze into the remaining, already overcrowded, disgusting slums in the area.

Clerkenwell Close and The Horseshoe pub

Clerkenwell Close and The Horseshoe pub

Across the Close from the barrack-like, somewhat forbidding looking Peabody buildings there is a quaint corner-sited pub ‘The Horseshoe’. It existed by 1747, and stands close to a large building that was built between 1895 and 1897 as the ‘central stores of the London School Board’.

Former  London School Board stores

Former London School Board stores

Old notices above the street-level doors of the building, such as ‘Needlework Stores’, ‘Furniture Dept.’, and ‘Stationery Dept.’, remind the passer-by of its original purpose. Unfortunately, as soon as it was opened, it was found to be too small, and additional premises had to be found nearby.

Former  London School Board stores: modified internal courtyard

Former London School Board stores: modified internal courtyard


Former  London School Board stores: modifiedentrance

Former London School Board stores: modifiedentrance

modified interior]

In 1976, the premises were converted to house craft workshops, the ‘Clerkenwell Workshops’. In 2006, MAK Architects gave the building a beautiful ‘make-over’. This can be enjoyed by entering the courtyard within the building via an attractive, gently sloping central passageway.

Old Hugh Myddelton School entrance Clerkenwell Close

Old Hugh Myddelton School entrance Clerkenwell Close

Almost opposite the Clerkenwell Workshops on the east side of the northernmost stretch of Clerkenwell Close, I spotted an old white stone entrance arch that had the words ‘GIRLS & INFANTS’ carved on its lintel. This was once an entrance to the Hugh Middleton School that opened in 1893. The school was built on part of the site that had been occupied by the prison, which had been attacked by the Fenians a few years earlier (see above). The prison was closed in 1885-1886, and then demolished. The main building of the school with spectacular sloping tiled roofs, which is has been used as a block of flats since 1999, was designed by the school board’s architect TJ Bailey. Part of this property’s perimeter wall is all that survives of the former prison. The school, which had been regarded as a ‘model school, was closed in 1971. One of its better-known pupils was the popular 1930’s and ‘40’s band-leader Geraldo (Gerald Walcan Bright: 1904-1974). Geraldo was not the only famous musician in Clerkenwell (see below).

Sekforde Street opposite  John Groom's New Crippleage

Sekforde Street opposite John Groom's New Crippleage

Seckforde Street, which begins near St James Church, attracted me both because of its name and, also, its attractive buildings. Its name derives from that of Thomas Seckforde (1515-1587), a lawyer and courtier in the Court of Elizabeth I, who:
“bequeathed a part of his Clerkenwell estate … to endow almshouses in the town of Woodbridge in Suffolk.” (see: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol46/pp72-85).
Seckforde Street was laid out in the late 1820s. It cut across what had been one of the poorest parts of Clerkenwell.

Corner of St James Walk and Sekforde Street: former  John Groom's New Crippleage 'factory'

Corner of St James Walk and Sekforde Street: former John Groom's New Crippleage 'factory'


A wedge-shaped building standing where Seckforde Street meets St James Walk at an acute angle has a certain elegance and some antiquity. Its main entrance at its apex is surmounted by a circular tower-like structure. This building was once part of ‘John Groom’s Crippleage’ (being a shortened version of ‘John Groom’s Crippleage and Flower Girls Mission’). Born in Clerkenwell in 1845 (died 1919), Groom, an engraver, became a philanthropist concerned with the plight of the blinded and crippled girls who eked out a living selling flowers on Farringdon and sprigs of watercress in Covent Garden. His charity enabled the girls to be fed and clothed properly, as well as housed. The building at the corner was built to the designs of W H Woodroffe and E Carritt between 1908 and 1910 to be used as a factory and warehouse for Groom’s ‘Watercress and Flower Girls’ Christian Mission’. The factory produced, amongst other things, cotton roses for the first Alexandra Rose Day in 1912. Between the 1930s and 1950s, the building was occupied by the tobacco company Gallaher’s. Now, it is used to provide office space.
Some of the existing original 19th century houses on Seckforde Street opposite the former factory, were used to provide protective housing for girls rescued by the Crippleage Mission.

Jerusalem Passage: Thomas Britton lived and worked here

Jerusalem Passage: Thomas Britton lived and worked here

Jerusalem Passage is a few steps away from the southern end of Seckforde Street. On the corner of the Passage and Aylesbury Street, a building bears a plaque to the memory of the ‘Musical Coalman’. He was Thomas Britton (1644-1714), a local charcoal merchant. Successful as a coalman, Britton was blessed with a fine singing voice and a superior intellect. He built his own library and set-up a concert hall in his Clerkenwell premises, where the plaque is affixed today. His concert hall was furnished with a harpsichord and a small organ. He attracted many of the finest musicians of his day, including JC Pepusch and GF Handel, to play in his concert hall. In addition to his commercial and musical achievements, Britton became an accomplished chemist and a highly respected, serious bibliophile – well-known to leading collectors of books and manuscripts. Even though he achieved a fine reputation in the literary, intellectual, and musical worlds, Britton continued to work as a ‘coal man’ until his death.

Priory Church of St John: garden

Priory Church of St John: garden

Jerusalem Passage leads southwards into St Johns Square, which stands on the large piece of land that was once occupied by the Priory of the Order of St John, the ecclesiastical neighbour of the former Nunnery of St Mary. In the 11th century, a hospital was set up in Jerusalem to give assistance to pilgrims. The men and women who staffed this were known as the ‘Hospitallers’. With the arrival of the Crusaders in the Holy Land, the Hospitallers became a religious order recognised by ‘The Church’. They became known as the ‘Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem’. In about 1140, a priory was built in Clerkenwell by the Knights. It was their London headquarters. When King Henry VIII broke with the Church in Rome, the Order was dissolved, and much of the priory demolished. Many years later in 1888, Queen Victoria granted ‘Order of St John in England’ a Royal Charter.

Gateway to Order of St John

Gateway to Order of St John

Gateway to Order of St John

Gateway to Order of St John

The Priory Church of the Order of St John can be entered from the Square. The present structure, which is much smaller than previous incarnations of this church, the first of which dated back to the 12th century, was badly damaged by bombing in 1941. Now restored, it stands on the site of the chancel of the much larger 15th century church. The crypt of the present church, which can occasionally be visited by members of the public, dates to the 12th century. South of the present church, there is a modern cloister with a lovely garden, where anyone can sit and rest.

Order of St Johns Museum

Order of St Johns Museum

Not much else remains of the priory except the fine 16th century gateway south of Clerkenwell Road. During the 18th century, this building was used briefly as a coffee house, which was run by the father of the famous artist Hogarth. Today, it houses offices and meeting halls of the Order of St John on its upper floor, and a well-laid out museum on its ground floor. It illustrates not only the fascinating history of the Order but also the good work it has done over the centuries. Amongst its many exhibits, there is a painting, which might well have been executed by the great Italian artist Caravaggio.

Lawson Ward and Gammage Ltd

Lawson Ward and Gammage Ltd

Jewellery and watch-making were amongst the many crafts practised in Clerkenwell. The jewellery firm of Lawson Ward & Gammage Ltd was founded in the area in 1861. There are still some descendants of the founders working in the firm. Although their current workshops are now in Hatton Garden, a clock bearing their name projects from a building in Berry Street, to the east of Clerkenwell Green.

Sutton Arms pub

Sutton Arms pub

Further along Berry Street on a corner site, there stands the Sutton Arms pub. This hostelry was rebuilt in 1897, but was in existence at least as early as 1848.

Northburgh House designed by Cubitt & Co Ltd

Northburgh House designed by Cubitt & Co Ltd

Even further along Berry Street at the corner of Northburgh Street, there is a well-restored, elegant red brick building, Northburgh House. Standing between Berry Street and Pardon Street, this former warehouse was designed and constructed by William Cubitt & Co., who also built well-known buildings including Fishmongers’ Hall, Covent Garden market, Paxton’s Crystal Palace at the Great Exhibition of 1851, and the former Euston Station (see: http://www.gracesguide.co.uk/W._Cubitt_and_Co). The warehouse was built in 1893-4 for Edward Saunders, a paper-bag manufacturer. Today, the refurbished building is home to various companies.

Goswell Road Graffiti

Goswell Road Graffiti

My ‘tour’ of Clerkenwell Green and its surroundings ends in a car park at the corner of Clerkenwell Road and Goswell Road. Standing amidst the cars parked in this vacant lot of prime London building land, there are two enormous works of graffiti to be seen. One work depicting a female figure is by Italian artist Vera Bugatti (born 1979; see: http://www.verabugatti.it). The other work depicts people walking at night in a wet street with unfurled umbrellas. It is painted by British born Dan Kitchener (born 1974), a prolific street artist (see: http://www.dankitchener.co.uk/). I wonder what will happen to these pictures when eventually someone decides to build upon the presently vacant space.

Goswell Road graffiti

Goswell Road graffiti

Clerkenwell Green and around it is full of interesting places that illustrate aspects of the history of London ranging from the 12th century to the present. Initially home to major religious establishments, the area has witnessed momentous social changes, and from being one of the poorest parts of London it has become one of the more prosperous and more fashionable parts of the city.

View of Clerkenwell Green from St James Church

View of Clerkenwell Green from St James Church

Posted by ADAMYAMEY 04:31 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged lenin london islington marx clerkenwell Comments (2)

ENJOY ART AND NATURE IN CANONBURY

Canonbury: a door

Canonbury: a door

I have been visiting Upper Street in Islington ever since I was quite young. When I was a child, my parents used to take me to performances of opera in English by the Sadlers Wells Company, which performed in a theatre (one of the many reincarnations of today’s Sadlers Wells Theatre) near to Upper Street. Before the performances, we often ate a dinner in a no longer existing Italian restaurant in Camden Passage which runs parallel to Upper Street. Since then, I have made many visits to the Upper Street part of Islington to eat, to see theatrical performances (at the Almeida,The Old Red Lion, and The Kings Head), hear a concert at the Union Chapel, and watch films (at The Screen on the Green). Yet, I have never liked this bustling, and now quite trendy, part of Islington. On the other hand, nearby Canonbury delights me.

In the middle of Upper Street, there is a statue of Hugh Myddelton, a seventeenth century worthy to whom I shall return below. It stands at the southern end of Essex Road that heads straight in a north-easterly direction.

CANONBURY today

CANONBURY today

Both Upper Street and Essex Road eventually intersect St Pauls Road. The three thoroughfares enclose a roughly triangular area of London that is known as ‘Canonbury’. This tranquil, attractive, largely residential area is the subject of this essay.

Canonbury: doors

Canonbury: doors

Until the 18th century, there were very few buildings in Canonbury except for Canonbury House, which existed in the 14th century and the Canonbury Tavern with its popular tea gardens, which was already in place by 1730. It was a largely rural area. The name of the area derives from the fact that it was land granted to the canons of the Priory of St Bartholomew’s Priory (in Smithfield) in about 1250.

CANONBURY in 1850

CANONBURY in 1850

A map (stored in the British Library) shows that by 1850, Canonbury was becoming urbanised. Although much of it was still rural, new streets were being laid out and buildings were being erected. This urbanisation began at the beginning of the 19th century. For example, by 1805 building plots were being let around what is now Canonbury Square. By the middle of the second half of the 19th century, Canonbury had become a largely urban (as opposed to rural) area. Its convenient proximity to the City and other parts of central London made it a desirable suburb.

The houses in the streets surrounding the Gardens (and, also, many others in Canonbury) often have picturesque front doors, many of them painted in different colours. One of the joys of walking about Canonbury is looking at the wonderful variety of front doors of the houses lining the streets. Many of these doors look to me as if they were the originals installed when these 19th century homes were built.

Canonbury: a door

Canonbury: a door

“A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 8, Islington and Stoke Newington Parishes”. published by Victoria County History, London, 1985, mentions some of Canonbury’s now famous culturally inclined residents:
“Canonbury Square and Place had several residents prominent in literary and artistic spheres between and after the World Wars, including Evelyn Waugh in 1928, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, and Eric Blair (George Orwell) 1944-5.” The architect Basil Spence also lived on this square, as will be described later.

According to the above-mentioned source, the ‘gentrification’ of the area (Canonbury/Islington) commenced in about 1960; it became populated by professional and other higher earning people.

Canonbury Gardens

Canonbury Gardens

One of my mother’s cousins was amongst the first of the ‘gentry’ to live in Islington. His family was the first of the ‘pioneering’ higher income families to live in a street whose name I never knew. Their house was close to a pub. On many occasions, the locals threw stones at the windows of their ‘posh’ neighbour on their way home from the pub. This upset my mother’s cousin’s family so much that they felt forced to leave Islington and buy a home somewhere more genteel. Today, most of Canonbury’s residents would be classifiable as ‘posh’ enough to be able to afford their homes in the area.

Gracepoint, formerly Carlton Cinema

Gracepoint, formerly Carlton Cinema

This exploration of Canonbury begins on Essex Road, at a building with a fantastic art-deco façade. Today, it houses ‘Gracepoint’.

Gracepoint: pillars

Gracepoint: pillars

A number of former cinemas in London have been renovated and re-used as venues for religious meetings or other purposes. The old Coronet Cinema in Notting Hill Gate and Gateway House in Woolwich are fine examples of this. For years, the Coronet was a cinema, then it became a church meeting hall as well as a cinema, and now it is a theatre again (it was originally built as a theatre before it became a cinema!). Gracepoint is yet another former cinema that has been converted to a new use.

Gracepoint

Gracepoint

The facade of Gracepoint on Essex Road is a fine example of art-deco neo-Egyptian architecture. Built in the 1920s, designed by the architect George COLES, it was formerly the Carlton Cinema. After being abandoned for a while, it has been fully restored and is used both as a religious meeting place and a 'venue' for hiring. I was not able to enter, but I have seen photos of the interior, which has been restored to its former glory. It is worth stopping to look at!

St Stephens Canonbury:  rear

St Stephens Canonbury: rear

Leaving Gracepoint, River Place leads away from Essex Road towards the small Canonbury Gardens. Along this street, one can see the rear (eastern) end of St Stephens Church. From this vantage point, the church looks as if it has been converted to some new use, maybe apartments. This is misleading, because the church is still being used for worship. The modern bit is part of a new extension to provide space for church and community events. The church was built between 1837 and 1839 to the designs of Messrs Inwood and Clifton. It was erected at the same time as Canonbury was becoming urbanised. The main façade of the church is on Canonbury Road.

St Stephens Canonbury: front

St Stephens Canonbury: front

Canonbury Gardens, a small almost triangular park is built above a section of the New River, where it begins flowing underground.

NEW RIVER WALK: map

NEW RIVER WALK: map

For me, the New River is the ‘star’ amongst Canonbury’s attractions. It is a wonderful surprise for first-time visitors, and a joy to return there. Here, you can escape from urban life without ever being more than a few metres from it.

NEW RIVER WALK: view with a duck

NEW RIVER WALK: view with a duck

Surrounded by houses (mostly residential), you can almost imagine that you are in the heart of the countryside. Between St Pauls Road and Canonbury Gardens, the waterway runs in the open-air, and is lined by luxuriously planted parkland. A pathway alongside the stream, the ‘New River Walk’, for walkers (no cyclists) was opened in the 1950s.

NEW RIVER WALK: foliage, path, and  bench

NEW RIVER WALK: foliage, path, and bench

The New River is neither new nor a river. Created at the instigation of Hugh Myddelton (1560-1631), whose statue stands where Essex Road and Upper Street (Islington) part company, this canal was opened in 1613. The canal was constructed to bring fresh water for drinking into London from various sources such as the River Lea and springs along its course. A walk has been designated along the New River from its ‘source’ in Hertfordshire to where it terminates in Islington. Full mapping of the walk is available at: http://www.shelford.org/walks/newriver.pdf. The New River walk in Canonbury is a part of it.

New River Walk: memorial to  Herbert Morrison

New River Walk: memorial to Herbert Morrison

The waterside gardens along the Islington/Canonbury section of the New River were first laid out in the 1950s. If you look carefully, you can find a small plaque commemorating their opening by the Labour Party politician, Herbert Morrison(1888-1965) in May 1954.

NEW RIVER WALK: watchmans hut

NEW RIVER WALK: watchmans hut

The New River has undergone many changes in its course over the years. One original section remains in the gardens in Canonbury. It is the short curve that runs around a small brick watchman’s hut, which was built in about 1820. The watchman’s job was to prevent fishing and swimming in water that was destined to become drinking water.

NEW RIVER WALK: rocks

NEW RIVER WALK: rocks

The Walk winds its way along the gently curving stretch of the New River. Weeping willows dangle their foliage in the water, ducks and moorhens swim past, local people walk their children and dogs, and an air of peace prevails.

NEW RIVER WALK: Walkers and willows

NEW RIVER WALK: Walkers and willows

The gardens along the water's edge are beautiful, containing a wide variety of different plants. In spring, the blossoms add to the charm of this wonderful place. This is a park worth going far out of your way to see and enjoy.

Canonbury: MARQUESS TAVERN

Canonbury: MARQUESS TAVERN

NEW RIVER WALK:  curved bridge near Marquess Tavern

NEW RIVER WALK: curved bridge near Marquess Tavern

If you get hungry or thirsty, I would recommend popping into the excellent MARQUESS TAVERN. I have visited Islington too many times to remember, and never eaten a memorably good meal (only one exception: Ottolenghi) or even enjoyed the ambience of any of its eateries. At last, I have found a place, The Marquess, that I like. Located at the Canonbury Road and Douglas Road, very close to the New River Walk, the pub was built and opened in 1850. It is not far from Marquess Road, and its construction coincided with the building of new ‘villas’ in the neighbourhood. I am not sure to which if any marquess the name of the pub refers. It is now the only pub named ‘Marquess’ in the area. However, there used to be a pub, which was built in the 1970s, called ‘The Marquess’ on the nearby Marquess Estate, but this closed at least ten years ago.

NEW RIVER WALK: Trunk and duck

NEW RIVER WALK: Trunk and duck

The pub is beautifully and somewhat quirkily decorated. Look up at the lampshades, for example. On one cluster of lamps, the shades were made to look like the horn-shaped speakers that emitted sound on old-fashioned clockwork gramophones. The pub is spacious with plenty of places to sit down inside, and also outside in the garden. There was a small range of beers and lagers on offer, and a good range of harder drinks including sloe gin. The menu offers a wide range of food including vegetarian dishes. Not being particularly hungry, we ordered starters only: mussels in creamy white wine sauce and wild mushrooms with poached egg. Both dishes were top-class. We intend returning to try some of the other tempting things on the menu.

Canonbury Square

Canonbury Square

Canonbury Square was our next destination in Canonbury. Ill-named like the New River, it is not really a square, but an elongated rectangle. Although building began around it in about 1805, it was not fully surrounded by buildings until the early 1820s. Amongst the many fine buildings around the ‘square’, I will focus on Northumberland Lodge.

ESTORICK: view from Canonbury Square

ESTORICK: view from Canonbury Square

Once the home of Basil Spence (1907-1976), the architect of Coventry Cathedral, and the less successful (in terms of aesthetics) Hyde Park Barracks, the Lodge now housed The Estorick Collection.

ESTORICK: Luigi Russolo detail

ESTORICK: Luigi Russolo detail

This contains a wonderful collection of artworks created by Italian artists in the early to mid-twentieth century. It is a must for those interested in this body of work, but of scant interest if Italian twentieth century art means little to you. Of course, if you are undecided about it or know little about it, the collection provides a superb opportunity to help you explore it.

ESTORICK: a downstairs gallery

ESTORICK: a downstairs gallery

Eric Estorick (1913-1993) married his wife Salome (née Dessau) in 1947. They met, and became engaged while crossing the Atlantic in the “Queen Elizabeth” liner. Salome was artistically inclined, an art student daughter of a Nottingham textile manufacturer. During their honeymoon in Switzerland, Estorick discovered a book by the Italian futurist Boccioni, and this helped to trigger his fascination with modern Italian art. According to an article in “The Independent” newspaper, dated 25th February 1996 :
“A former teacher at the Bauhaus, Arturo Bryks, introduced to the young couple by Stafford Cripps’s daughter Peggy, gave them the idea of visiting Milan and meeting contemporary artists. Estorick became a friend of Sironi, Campigli, Morandi and de Chirico.
Two years after the war, Italian paintings still carried a taint of fascism, so they cost little. With Salome's help, Estorick was able to buy on a significant scale.”

ESTORICK: an upstairs gallery

ESTORICK: an upstairs gallery

Incidentally, Eric published two books about Sir Stafford Cripps (1889-1952), whom Churchill sent to India in 1942 to try to gain Indian cooperation in the Allied war effort. Eventually, the Estoricks settled in London. Eric began collecting art just after WW2, when he was already a dealer. He and his wife settled in London, where they founded the still extant Grosvenor Gallery.

ESTORICK: art works in permanent collection

ESTORICK: art works in permanent collection

The Estoricks, whilst carrying on their business of art dealing, collected the works of twentieth century Italian artists, and this became the collection, some of which is on display at the gallery/museum in Canonbury. There are two galleries on the ground floor. These are dedicated to temporary exhibitions, often containing artworks not in the Estorick Collection. There is also a café and a gift/book shop on the ground floor.

Steep steps lead up to the first and second floors where works from the Estoricks’ collection may be viewed. And, these paintings, prints, and sculptures are very fine. As the Collection’s website explains, the Estorick Collection:
“...brings together some of the finest and most important works created by Italian artists during the first half of the twentieth century, and is Britain’s only museum devoted to modern Italian art.”
This is no exaggeration.

This place is a must for lovers of twentieth century ‘modern art’, and especially for those who are interested in the Italian Futurist Movement. While the Estorick is more esoteric than, say, the Tate Modern, its collection though small certainly rivals it in quality.

ESTORICK: cafe

ESTORICK: cafe

The Estorick is close to bus stops on the route number 271, which will take you to a variety of useful transport nodes including Highbury and Islington station and Old Street station. As its route transverses Canonbury, this is a useful way to reach places mentioned above in order to begin your own exploration of this delightful area.

NEW RIVER WALK: foliage

NEW RIVER WALK: foliage

Posted by ADAMYAMEY 10:43 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged london islington canonbury Comments (2)

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