Nicolette Jones: plimsolls for #plimsollday

13 Jan

Everyone has a story. A corner of Finsbury Park, just off Blackstock Road boasts roads named after Victorian social reformers* such as Wilberforce, Romilly and Plimsoll. But it’s Plimsoll who has been a surprising inspiration for journalist Nicolette Jones. Now she’s on a mission to get homes all along Plimsoll Road advertising Plimsolls For Plimsoll Day in an RNLI fundraiser for 10 February. Interview by Nicola Baird

NIcolette Jones

Nicolette Jones: author of The Plimsoll Sensation and Samuel Plimsoll cheerleader. Here she’s holding a book produced to celebrate and sell the new Plimsoll Building at King’s Cross, NC1 – named after Samuel Plimsoll.

When journalist Nicolette Jones wrote about Samuel Plimsoll’s campaign to save lives at sea she didn’t expect to spend some of the next 10 years caught up in a Plimsoll remembrance campaign – including reawakening the notion of a Plimsoll Day – or fundraising for the RNLI.

“Because of my book I feel an extra connection to Plimsoll Road, where I live, but I did wonder if it got bad reviews I’d be so embarrassed I’d have to move,” says Nicolette in her sitting room. She’s taking a break between work and community activities, such as a regular email newsletter to 700+ households and work to brighten front gardens and tree pits with the Blackstock Triangle gardeners.

samplimsoll shoeLuckily The Plimsoll Sensation was an award-winning success, which she celebrated by printing Plimsoll’s distinctive looped signature on to a pair of trainers that she wears at the Plimsoll Road street party in July and in February on Plimsoll Day.

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Even now many people associate Samuel Plimsoll’s name with a slip-on trainer rather than the Plimsoll line on ships. Indeed it was the crude sticker of a red trainer on the pub sign nearest her home that started Nicolette’s interest in the man Plimsoll. It all began when she gave a new home to the unwanted pub sign, after The Plimsoll was renamed The Auld Triangle. By 2006 she’d published the biography.

But instead of momentum slacking off, it grew. In 2013 Nicolette helped establish the Plimsoll Memorial Lecture at St Martin’s Church, Cheriton, near Folkestone, where the great man is buried.

Now 10 years from publication date – and nearly 30 since she first moved to Highbury Grove and subsequently Plimsoll Road – she’s organising a fourth Plimsoll Day.

“Plimsoll Day was in British calendars for decades after Plimsoll’s death, marked on his birthday, 10 February. But then it dropped out of fashion, so I’ve reinvented it and hope on 10 February 2016 people will wear plimsolls to school, work or home and donate £1 to RNLI (and possibly tweet their feet),” she explains.

She’s also co-operated with estate agent Hotblack Desiato which will sponsor boards in front gardens around Plimsoll Road. “There are already 10 offers and I hope to have many more. Just tweet me at @nicolettejones if you live nearby and would like a board,” she says.

“Plimsoll’s story covers a very interesting slice of Victorian history. Plimsoll gave his name to the load line that marks how deeply a merchant ship can be safely loaded – the Plimsoll line. But it took a long time to achieve, after opposition from shipowners who wanted to load as deeply as possible in order to make as much profit as possible – while sailors drowned. His story is Erin Brockovich in frock coats. A story of social justice and one man taking on the fat cats. Or an individual, and his wife, trying to change the world for a better place. People involved ranged from humble sailors’ widows to aristocrats who supported the cause. It felt like a campaign involving a cross-section of all classes,” says Nicolette, adding that, “Plimsoll wouldn’t be short of causes if he was active today. Still, people who make the profit are not always the people who have to take the risk – just think of today’s sweatshops, cockle pickers or even rail safety.”


The new Plimsoll Building at King’s Cross, NC1 has apartments and a rooftop winter garden.

Nicolette Jones uncovers Samuel Plimsoll’s connections with Islington

  • Plimsoll Road used to be called Templeton Street. It was renamed in his honour in 1886 – while he was in Romania. He may have visited Plimsoll Road as years earlier when he first came to London he worked for his brother’s coal business on Upper Street.
  • His brother’s coal office was where Vintage Salt restaurant now is (formerly Maghreb restaurant), at 189 Upper Street.
  • The Auld Triangle pub, on the corner of Plimsoll Road and St Thomas’ was originally known as The Plimsoll [or The Plimsoll Arms].
  • The music hall song, A Cheer for Plimsoll, written by Fred Albert at the height of Plimsoll’s fame in 1876, is sung annually at the Plimsoll Road street party.


    Photo of a photo Nicolette has by Angela Inglis showing the Plimsoll Viaduct.

  • Samuel Plimsoll owned land behind King’s Cross, including the Plimsoll Viaduct which he had built. He transported coal from South Yorkshire to King’s Cross on the Great Northern Railway. Before that coal would come by sea. He also devised a special sliding grill to unload coal that filtered the dust and made his bags of coal better value than others’.
  • The Plimsoll Building N1C contains apartments and two state primary schools: the King’s Cross Academy and the Frank Barnes School for Deaf Children.
  • The Plimsoll Mark inspired the logo of London Underground. Charles Pick, who designed it, acknowledged this. (Its history meant it represented safety, democracy and integrity.) It is now ubiquitous for TfL tube stations. Islington has numerous tubes including Archway, Tufnell Park, Finsbury Park, Caledonian Road, Holloway Road, Angel, Highbury & Islington.
Every mug at Nicolette Jones' home has a story.

Every mug at Nicolette Jones’ home has a story.

Plot twist
Nicolette grew up in Leeds and was a teenager at the height of the Yorkshire Ripper murders. “We lived in Headingley. And because of the Yorkshire Ripper, everyone was afraid. I can remember in the shopping precincts this awful booming Geordie voice. It was a recording of a man taunting the police inspector leading the case,” says Nicolette, mimicking the words ‘hello, George’ which they played in case anyone recognised the voice. “It was very frightening and turned out to be a hoax. It wasn’t Peter Sutcliffe.”

Nicolette is expert at finding happy twists to her stories, perhaps thanks to bringing up two daughters and more than 20 years as children’s book reviewer for the Sunday Times. “Some years ago Headingley was identified as a particularly disconnected neighbourhood, but locals changed that: now they have a chat network, an arts centre, and a literary festival. It has become a very lively community,” she explains. “My mother, who is British-born but grew up in Argentina, was good at connecting people with people and making that link between one person’s need and another person’s capacity to supply. The Neighbours’ News (a regular email newsletter created and shared by Nicolette) echoes that.”


Music, bunting, shared food and a lot of neighbours at the annual July Plimsoll Road Street Party.

How 19 out of 20 matters
In contrast Finsbury Park was dubbed the 19th friendliest neighbourhood in the UK in a 2014 Telegraph survey. “They said the area has a street party, a joint gardening project, a little free library and an email newsletter,” says Nicolette who had a hand in all these projects. “You can make a place more connected by small things. That’s why I say ‘community begins at home’.”

Four celebrating Plimsoll Roaders at the Blackstock Triangle Gardeners' autumn Cake Sunday holding the certificate that says the Plimsoll Road won Islington in Bloom 2015's BEST STREET. Photo, taken by Naomi Schillinger, of (L-R) Dorothy, Caroline, Judith and Nicolette.

Four celebrating Plimsoll Roaders at the Blackstock Triangle Gardeners’ autumn Cake Sunday holding the certificate that says the Plimsoll Road won Islington in Bloom 2015’s Best Street. Photo taken by Naomi Schillinger, of (L-R) Dorothy, Caroline, Judith and Nicolette.

Nicolette’s love of gardening – working with her friend and neighbour Naomi Schillinger – hasn’t just helped green this little corner of N4, it’s also got strangers talking to each other. “The Blackstock Triangle Gardeners’ principle is that gardening in the back is for yourself but gardening in the front is for everybody. And people talk to you as they go past – it’s very community-building. Soon you’ve improved the street scape and you have flowers in tree pits and window boxes that benefit everybody and you have a connection with other people.”

The first little free library in Islington went up in Prah Road - photo shows neighbours on the opening day. It features Samuel Plimsoll and Johnny Rotten (who grew up nearby).

The first little free library in Islington went up in Prah Road in July 2014 – photo shows neighbours on the opening day. It features Samuel Plimsoll and Johnny Rotten (who grew up nearby). (c) Nicolette Jones

No wonder that Nicolette says “I love the way this area is a microcosm of a perfect world where people get along with each other despite different economic levels, races, creeds, sexuality, language and culture. Long may it last! I can’t imagine leaving. I think Nick [her husband Nicholas Clee] and I will become the oldest inhabitants.”

  • More info about Nicolette Jones including events she chairs, talks etc on her website. See for upcoming events. @NicoletteJones
  • Read Plimsoll Sensation: The Great Campaign to Save Lives at Sea by Nicolette Jones (Abacus 2007) paperback and ebook.
  • Plimsoll Day 2016 is Wednesday 10 February. Please support by donating at
  • Plimsoll Memorial Lecture 2016 is on Saturday 13 February, St Martin’s Church, Horn St, Cheriton, Kent. Service at 2.30pm, wreath-laying and lecture by maritime historian Richard Woodman at 3pm followed by tea and cakes. Anyone welcome.

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  • Wilberforce helped end the slave trade. Romilly campaigned for criminal law reforms including the abolishment in 1814 of death by hanging, drawing and quartering. In 1813 he removed the death penalty for all crimes except treason and murder.
  • Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) helps save lives at sea. A former RNLI lifeboat (working from Whitby in the 1970s) has been turned into a playground boat for the enjoyment of children at Drayton Park Primary School.

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 at Thank you.

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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




9 Responses to “Nicolette Jones: plimsolls for #plimsollday”

  1. Nicolette Jones January 14, 2016 at 10:01 am #

    Thanks so much for this, Nicola. Tag also Little Free Libraries?

    • nicola baird blogs January 15, 2016 at 11:12 am #

      Great idea nicolette – hopefully you’ll tweet Little Free Libraries as well. Nicola

  2. Antony Melville January 14, 2016 at 2:25 pm #

    bravo for Nicolette! HAppy new year Antony

  3. Charles Leeuwenburg February 3, 2016 at 3:18 pm #

    You can bet your Plimsolls that this Yank will be donning his for Plimsoll Day.

  4. Charles Leeuwenburg February 10, 2016 at 12:07 pm #

    Greetings Nicola – I’m a retired seaman now working as a cargo surveyor. As with many maritime professionals, I frequently observed the Plimsoll Mark (load line) during vessel cargo operations with no thought to its origin, prior to reading “The Plimsoll Sensation,” which has given me an appreciation of this extraordinary gentleman.

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