Joseph Chamberlain, George Orwell & Horace Warner: grave voices

12 Aug

Everyone has a story, but in this EXCLUSIVE SUMMER HOLIDAY discovery, Islington Faces blog can reveal the secrets and sentimentality of famous Islington residents – politician Joseph Chamberlain, critic/writer George Orwell and photographer Horace Warner. Prepare to be amazed by these men’s frank revelations about their time in Islington – and try not to go to the pub with George… Interviews by Nicola Baird.

Horace Warner: photographer and general do-gooder. He was born in Stokey, spent a couple of decades living at 44 Highbury Park and then moved to 26 Aberdeen Park (see 1911 census and photo above). On the census he calls his profession "painter stainer".

Horace Warner: photographer. He was born in Stokey (Stoke Newington), spent a couple of decades living at 44 Highbury Park and then moved to 26 Aberdeen Park (see 1911 census and photo above). On the census his occupation is listed as “paint stainer”.This photo is snapped from Spitalfields Nippers by Horace Warner, published in 2015 thanks to a crowdfunding venture by http://www.spitalfieldslife.com (see p8). Do order the book – it’s great.

Horace Warner (1871 – 1939)
“My Papa, Metford Warner, ran a wallpaper factory at 64 Essex Road. It’s a Planet Organic now! He walked there and back daily from our turreted family home in Aberdeen Park. Pater was good friends with William Morris and all those naturists so when he invented a way to printed wallpaper without using arsenic, Morris & Co lapped it up. Frankly I got sick of wallpaper – all the twining honeysuckle and lush willow leaves felt peculiar when we lived so close to the poverty of the East End.”

NEVER MISS AN ISLINGTON FACES: if you enjoy reading about people who live or work in Islington please follow this blog by email (see how on right hand panel). Fresh interviews are published once a week. 

One of Horace Warner's Highbury homes - 26 Aberdeen Park.

One of Horace Warner’s Highbury homes – 26 Aberdeen Park.

“So, when I took up a job in my 20s as superintendent of the Sunday School at the Bedford Institute – one of nine Quaker Missions in the East End – it was children I liked to photograph. I got to know a little gang, christened them the Spitalfield Nippers. There was Jerry with his cat; most of the Nippers had kittens or pet birds or even great big rabbits they were too soft to put in the pot. These little kids with no shoes would be working making kindling, foraging for cabbages that couldn’t be sold on the market stalls or bunching up parsley. Sometimes the Nellies were minding their little brothers and sisters. Some of the boys wore rags over rags, but some of the girls wore the most gorgeous dresses – cut down to size or made by their mothers and aunts who were highly skilled seamstresses. I did love those Nippers – even took them to see Burne-Jones’ exhibition. One poor lass fell asleep at it! My kids have been so spoilt in comparison – it’s why I kept up just one photograph in my own home of Little Adelaide’s boots. You’ve never seen such imperfect beauty amongst those less fortunate than ourselves. Now, if you’ve got some spare change, can I suggest you pass it to…”

"I think Canonbury Tower used to be covered in ivy. The paintwork is just the sort of shade William Morris would have approved of! Good work 21st century Islingtonians!" - Horace Warner

“I think Canonbury Tower used to be covered in ivy. The paintwork is just the sort of shade William Morris would have approved of! Good work 21st century Islingtonians!” – Horace Warner

Q: Favourite place in Islington?
Horace Warner: “It has to be Canonbury Tower – my younger brother, Maurice, and I always pass this way going to or from the factory.”

  • Spitalfields Nippers photographs by Horace Warner, £20, www.spitalfieldslife.com
  • More detailed info about Horace Warner is on the spitalfieldslife blog, see here
Joseph Chamberlain: "Look at that lovely house - such happy times I had there. It may look posh now, but really it wasn't a big house compared to the whoppers going up on Highbury Grove and in Aberdeen Park."

Joseph Chamberlain: “Look at that lovely house – such happy times I had there. 25 Highbury Place may look posh now, but really it wasn’t a big house compared to the whoppers going up on Highbury Park, Highbury Grove and Aberdeen Park.”

Joseph Chamberlain (1836-1914)
“Ah Highbury,” he says in a voice almost choking. Our interview is on skype, but I can see Mr Chamberlain wiping away a tear with a large silk handkerchief. He’s an old man now, stroke prone, but determined to talk about his happy early days in north London.  “I was born in Camberwell and my father never had enough money. I was apprenticed as a shoemaker at 16. Outrageous treatment of a scholar. When I was nine years old we moved to Highbury, and I grew up on the fields. Watched the horses cutting the hay meadows. Listened to the birds in the grand avenues. It was bliss. Made me the politician I became – radical, liberal, imperial, sort of Tory. Years later when I became MP for Birmingham I built myself a decent sized manor and called it Highbury Hall. Gad did it take a long time to build. We had the cutting of the turf ceremony in 1878. But it’s stood the test of time – renovated in the 1980s and still used by Birmingham Council. “

Q: Favourite place in Islington?
Joseph Chamberlain: “I have to remind you that it’s all about Birmingham now – I had a factory, manufacturing screws, worked as Mayor and then MP. They loved me. You know about the house, but there’s also a sixth form college with my name, have a look. But my dreams are still of my childhood days living in that new house overlooking Highbury Fields from 1845-1854.”

  • More info about Joseph Chamberlain here
George Orwell lived in a flat on the top floor at 27b Canonbury Square. The plaque has the wrong dates.

George Orwell lived in a lateral flat on the top floor at 27b Canonbury Square. The plaque has the wrong dates.

George Orwell (1903-1950)
“Islington – the best of times, the worst of times. When Animal Farm was published in 1945 my dear wife Eileen had just died in a botched operation. I was left with our adopted son, Richard, living in a bleak flat on the third floor of a once grand house on Canonbury Square. My neighbour at 17a was a Mitford girl, rather enjoying slumming it when she wasn’t rowing with my friend Evelyn Waugh. Vile Bodies definitely sums it up. Most of the square was full of proper proles. There was a factory providing some employment on the corner, but most of the houses were in a terrible condition. Where there was no glass in the windows families would nail up boards and stuff the gaps with newspaper. Course I wasn’t in the best of health – TB. I know smoking didn’t help, nor did the old bullet wound. But 1946 was so damn cold that I burnt the furniture, even the child’s toys just to get some heat… Bed was the worst. Can’t imagine why no one else would marry me – tried at least three ladies during those Islington days but they wouldn’t hear of it. I even wrote a British cookery book to prove my credentials, though that project got shelved. Thanks British Council and bloody Hitler with all the war shortages.”

Andy Gardner's flyer for his George Orwell walk.

George Orwell: “Apologies I look a bit craggy these days. I guess I’d have looked more like Russell Brand if I was alive now. Joke. Now how do you do emojis?”

Puffing up the stairwell with little Richard, his farm story books, and the rations for another pot-luck dinner made me feel old. Gave me some ideas for the Winston character though in Nineteen Eighty-Four; you won’t let on will you? Then when the gossip got going about who really dropped the V1 that smashed the houses at the end of Upper Street and St Paul’s Road I knew I had it – the whole plot for Nineteen Eighty-Four, which came out in 1949. Course I wrote some on Jura, when I wasn’t fighting adders or searching for food or worrying about the visitors and who was taking care of Richard – but it doesn’t take a fool to find run-down Highbury & Islington between the pages. Winston and Julia take their last walk across Highbury Fields down to the underground. It’s my last memory too of being outside with Eileen. I was in Paris, reporting the peace when she died. Terrible. Never felt over it. Always need a woman – lucky to convince Sonia to marry me when I was in hospital in 1949, I think she felt so too. I might have been dangerously ill, but by then I’d become the Left’s literary voice. I still am. If you can’t make aspidistras fly you can at least go down and out writing your own epitaph.”

 

The Hen & Chickens at Highbury Corner still has the name of the old brewery, Charringtons. George Orwell used to drink there and used it as a piece of his model pub in the essay Moon Under Water, while Charrington becomes a key player in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The Hen & Chickens at Highbury Corner still has the name of the old brewery, Charringtons. George Orwell “It’s a fine pub and a good place for a pint.”

Q: Favourite place in Islington?
George Orwell: “See my Evening Standard column (9 February 1946) – and you’ll know my favourite place in the world is that mythical pub, The Moon Under Water with its friendly barmaid, decent food, pint of stout and a family-friendly garden. I enjoyed the research, manfully done at the Hen & Chickens, The Canonbury and the Compton Arms. Now, assuming you are going to vote Labour, what are you having?”

  • Go for a George Orwell walk with historian Andy Garner (who keeps the facts correct) and help raise money for the Union Chapel’s Margins project. See more at the Islington Archaeology & History Society here, or the facebook page.

Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com. Thank you.

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook or join the Facebook group. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right) or follow me on twitter @nicolabairduk

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or Meet Islingtonians to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola

 

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