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Malcolm Marjoram, historian & family history expert

17 Feb

Everyone has a story. For the next few years many people are uncovering stories of the people caught up in World War One (1914-18) – including the 9,400 men and three women from Finsbury & Islington who died. Meet Malcolm Marjoram who has been researching the 90+ men who worshipped at his local church, St Thomas’ in Finsbury Park, but died as a result of the war. Interview by Nicola Baird

Malcolm Marjoram, family and local historian: “I was brought up in chapel. Suffolk churches are very bare, but I like the finery and the icons at St Thomas’ Church.”

Malcolm Marjoram, family and local historian: “I was brought up in chapel. Most Suffolk churches are very bare, but I like the finery and the icons at St Thomas’ Church.”

Kids may see Malcolm Marjoram with his thick white beard and say ‘oh look there’s Father Christmas’, but to Islington Faces he looks more like Charles Darwin sitting in the parish office talking about St Thomas’ history.

He plays an active role at St Thomas’ Church, N4 – opening it up in the afternoons, caring for the garden, singing with the choir, helping at services but it’s clear that research is his first love.

It's hard to miss Blighty Cafe.

It’s hard to miss Blighty Cafe.

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. 

READERS ARE INVITED TO MEET UP on Monday 29 February at Blighty Cafe, 35-37 Blackstock Road, 10-11.30am

Malcolm’s full of stories about his early life in rural Suffolk, but he’s also a keen social history sleuth using people’s connection with their nearest parish to build up a picture of what it was like if you were teleported back in time.

Malcolm Marjoram’s tips to help you research family history

  • Ask elderly relatives. “Of course you can ask but they don’t necessarily give answers. You couldn’t get anything out of my grandmother.”
  • Root around for certificates. Often on marriage certificates the witnesses were family members.
  • Don’t take anything for granted – but hunches are very useful.
  • Always note down what you’ve checked, else you’ll forget and go back and try again.
  • Look for original documents. So much is on line, but if it is just a mention in an index always look at the original documents. They are often different and you may find more snippets of information.

Back in 2000 Malcolm wrote a history of the Parish of Brettenham in Suffolk, where he used to live. Now he plans to write a pamphlet about St Thomas’.

He moved here five years ago. “Now I’m settled I like looking at the history of Islington – it’s an interesting place. During the time this church was being built (1888) they had to turn people away from the small temporary chapel and run extra services,” says Malcolm. “Of course houses were multiple occupied, with largish families on each floor. By the end of the 1800s there were 1,000 children on the Sunday School list.”

ST Thomas the Apostle parish church - Monsell Road entrance.

St Thomas the Apostle parish church – Monsell Road entrance with the dogwood in flower. The tree commemorates Ron Rose, who was well known in Islington and was a neighbourhood development officer at the time of his death in 1996. His funeral was at St Thomas’s. His widow, Anne Rose, subsequently married Malcolm Marjoram in 2010 at St Thomas’s.

At recent church open days Malcolm has shared stories about St Thomas’ building. As it is 100 years since World War One began (1914-18), he particularly likes to tell visitors about the 90 plus men who were connected to the church*, but died in active service during World War One.

Apologies for the dreadful quality of this photo - it's the plaque that inspired Malcolm Marjoram to research the history of the people worshiping at St Thomas' Finsbury Park 100 years ago. (c) islington faces

This is the plaque that inspired Malcolm Marjoram to research the history of the people worshiping at St Thomas’ Finsbury Park 100 years ago. (c) islington faces

It’s a project Malcolm began after spotting the brass plaque and commemorative roodscreen around the altar. “We have a list of the men who died, but it’s becoming more difficult to trace them. They just have their initials and surnames – the plaque doesn’t even say where they served. And we can’t find anyone who is related to them,” he says. Despite this he’s found out a surprising amount.

One of those soldiers, Ernest H (Harry) Nowell is remembered as a server at the altar in a special brass plaque. He died in 1915 aged 23.

“He was home on leave, here at this church, a week before he was killed,” explains Malcolm who uses his long research career at the British Library to uncover the labours, loves and lives of the people who were living in Islington a century ago.

“Ernest’s mother brought him up,” continues Malcolm. “He joined the army as a private, got a war commission as a 2nd Lieutenant and not long after was killed in his dug out by a shell. I was surprised how young the officers (listed on the plaque) were who died, but it makes sense. They had to go over the top first, so they were the first ones shot. But not everyone was young. At least two were in their 40s and in one case a father and son.”

It’s sobering to think that on a normal 21st century Sunday around 75-85 adults worship at St Thomas’- so 90 men from the parish dying during World War 1 is “like the whole church today being killed,” says Malcolm.

There are plaques all round Islington listing men involved in World War 1 as part of the 100 year remembrance tributes for the 1914-18 conflict.

There are plaques all round Islington listing men involved in World War 1 as part of the 100 year remembrance tributes for the 1914-18 conflict.

More ways to find out about World War 1 (1914-18) in Islington

Malcolm Marjoram talks in this interview about his WW1 research at one church, but as Islington (and Finsbury) was a very crowded borough when WW1 broke out there are many other places to find information.

  • Crouch End Walks run by Blue Badge guides Paul and Oonagh can show you around Holloway, the home front for the Great War in North Islington. See some info about it here. They also run a walk about women and the war starting near Angel and ending on Farringdon Road by the building that was hit by a zeppelin and is fortuitously called Zeppelin Cafe.
  • Islington Council has an online display about WW1, see here. They have also put up plaques around the borough commemorating born and bred Islingtonians who fought in WW1. See them at Mackenzie Road, N7; Highbury Park, N5. You can also help find out more, see how here.
  • Some of the Islington soldiers who were wounded during the war, then sent home to recuperate but died are buried in Islington & St Pancras’ Cemetery in East Finchley. You can also find war graves in Abney Park cemetery (eg, sailor William Aylard who died on 23 May 1916 from the effects of gas poisoning after his battleship, HMS Russell, hit two mines off Malta). Islington Age UK, based at the Drovers Centre, N7, is working with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) on a Living Memory Pilot Project to encourage more people to discover and visit CWGC war graves in the British Isles to remember the war dead buried here. See http://www.cwgc.org
Where was this handsome building? It's the Quadrangle at St John's Hall, Highbury.

The Quadrangle at St John’s Hall, Highbury, owned by the church, was burned down in a fire.

Malcolm’s newest project is a history of the church site. “For years it was just fields, probably owned by the church as they had a lot of land around here (and a training centre for priests),” he explains. “The parish was mooted in 1877 and this church wasn’t built until 1889. Originally there was a small brick chapel at the Monsell Road end. When this was torn down to build our church the chapel was rebuilt as the parish rooms (now used by St Thomas’ Nursery as well as a polling station and for church socials).

  • More info about St Thomas The Apostle, Finsbury Park can be found on the website.
  • Sunday services are 8.30am, 10.30am and 6pm (please check).
  • Community activities include baby & bump, tea groups and girl guides. See community info here.
  • There is also a playgroup for pre-school children run every weekday morning. For info see St Thomas’ Playgroup.

Words*
90 men from the parish are recorded as having died during World War One. “they were not necessarily living in the parish. At least two had emigrated to Canada, but they were connected because their family were still living here.”

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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Oonagh Gay: inspiring London walks

27 Jan

Everyone has a story. Oonagh Gay may have retired in June 2015 from running the Parliament & Constitution Centre, which she set up at the House of Commons Library 15 years ago, but she’s now able to focus on her passion for local history and run some great weekend walks – many starting in Islington. Interview by Nicola Baird

Oonagh Gay xxx

Oonagh Gay runs weekend walking tours – several start in Islington. Try her Stroud Green walk, or Angel or Holloway Road. Info at crouchendwalks and inspiring london walks.

Oonagh Gay, OBE, claims she’s always been immersed in local history. Her father Ken Gay, who recently died aged 91, was president of the Hornsey Historical Society and had a huge local history collection. “We’ve just had to clear 11,000 books,” says Oonagh surprisingly calmly considering she’s spent the past two years winding up the job she’s had for 30 years, packing up and selling her father’s home as well as dispersing his huge collection of books.

“My father was an obsessive book buyer,” she admits. “He came from a modest East London background where the only book at home was the family Bible so he was over compensating. My husband and I threw out all our novels but there still wasn’t enough space.”

She has kept an accounts book which her grandfather used as he cycled round East London collecting Pearl life insurance payments. “Archives are very stuck for space – storage is a big problem. I gave some books and prints to Haringey, the British Film Institute and the Poetry Society, but people don’t like looking at accounts much, even if it tells you the price of everything. What they like is artefacts and diaries. I’ve still got my father’s war diary. At 17 it’s full of the girls at school he’d like to be brave enough to talk to, rather than the bombing all around him!”

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. 

In preparation for retirement she trained as a Clerkenwell and Islington Walking Tour guide at the University of Westminster in 2014. “The diploma takes a year and is harder than you think,” admits the unflappable Oonagh. “ It’s a real challenge to write a good walk that’s entertaining and informative and to learn to speak for five minutes at each stop without looking at your watch.”

Having enjoyed one of Oonagh’s guided tours around Angel, Islington and one following the Suffragettes in central London I can assure you that she’s a fabulous guide – easy to hear, exhaustively knowledgeable and good at finding interesting routes. Indeed her newest walk (East End working women) is to be launched on Saturday 30 January.

Walkers on crouchendx

Rapt attention from participants during a Crouch End Walk. (c) crouchendwalks

Oonagh teamed up with Westminster course mate Paul Sinclair, who like Oonagh has also had a long career closely associated with politics, to set up crouchendwalks – naming it after the area they live. But as time passed they realised that apart from their popular Hornsey Town Hall tour most of their newer walks are in Islington, with a couple starting in central London and the East End. Soon they plan to rename the business Inspiring London Walks to reflect how Crouch End Walks cover a much larger geographical area.

“Learning something new and doing something different everyday is very empowering,” says Oonagh who is volunteering at Islington Museum. Her current task is to edit its Streets with a Story (classic 1980s book) for uploading to the web. It gives the history of every Islington road – an invaluable resource.

It’s certainly not the most challenging task she’s had during her career. She tells me about the Parliamentary strengthening work she’s been involved with in Jordan. “I worked with the Iraqis to help write a code of conduct – you can’t transplant the UK version. Parliamentary behaviour is very ritualised, but like a lot of new democracies Iraqis had a lot of problems with basic behaviour and disruptive groups. You have to decide how to treat every political party with basic courtesy. If you know how, it helps a Parliament grow and become independent-minded.”

St Paul's Church, Myddleton Square - just off Amwell Street - has a memorial to the Finsbury Rifles who fought in WW1.

St Paul’s Church, Myddleton Square – just off Amwell Street – has a memorial to the Finsbury Rifles who fought in WW1.

Oonagh Gay picks the best of Islington

  • Finsbury Park bike lock up is good. I’ve got an electric bike so use the lock up if I want to go on the tube. It’s brilliant for commuting. And if it’s raining I can leave it over night and go home by bus. I wish we had Islington’s segregated bike lanes in Haringey where I live.
  • xx

    At Finsbury Park bus/train/tube station the cut out sculpture on the right shows the jujitsu teaching suffragette Edith Garrud, one of Oonagh Gay’s heroines.

    Islington People’s Plaques are a really great idea. I like the way they involve the public in the honouring. There’s one for Edith Garrud, the jujitsu suffragette, one of my heroines, and Marie Stopes who opened Britain’s first birth control clinic on Marlborough Road, N19. There is virtually no recognition of suffragettes in central London but it was transformative for half the population.

  • Wonderful Islington Museum does fantastic outreach work and makes local history really relevant to all sorts of cultural backgrounds. The Education Officer is doing work on Gallipoli (site of fierce World War One battles) talking about what it was like to be a Turkish soldier – not just telling stories about the Finsbury Rifles, who have a beautiful memorial in St Mark’s Church, Myddleton Square.
  • Islington’s town halls in Finsbury and Upper Street are architectural landmarks whichI would love to show to visitors. Local government has a rich history.
Oonagh Gay's Hornsey Town Hall tour. (c) crouchendwalk/inspiringlondonwalks

Oonagh Gay (third from the left) on her popular Hornsey Town Hall tour.                         (c) crouchendwalk/inspiringlondonwalks

“I like to synthesise knowledge across disciplines,” says Oonagh explaining how pleased she felt at being able to make Parliamentary Research publicly available on its website. “It’s taxpayers’ money – so people should benefit. But as a result I’ve been contacted by people from all over the world, including people doing Politics degrees, saying thank you for making this research available.”

As is clear on Oonagh’s Suffragette walk – from the Embankment to St George’s Church in Holborn where Emily Wilding Davis’ funeral was held – she is passionate about making sure people know more about the Suffragettes who helped women get the vote. So it is good news that she’s also been asked to work on an app for Parliament to celebrate the history of the Suffragettes Centenary in February 2018. Her task is to write the individual life stories of the first women MPs, “but it’s hard to do in only 100 words,” she adds. See UK Vote100 project.

Aware that women are still under-represented as MPs, Oonagh is looking at some of the unexpected reasons this might be so. “I’ve been involved in a project about women, ceremony and ritual. Anthropology is a very new discipline in Parliament, but there is a lot of ritualised behaviour there, like the state opening of Parliament, and PMQs, even the Lords in their ermine robes. This all works against women’s involvement because they can feel excluded by ceremony. Men love wearing uniforms and being part of the club – just look at our Arsenal fans.”

Considering the years Oonagh’s spent in Parliament she’s a remarkably candid thinker about women’s political suffrage. For anyone curious about the people who lived and worked in Islington – and other parts of London – do go on one of Oonagh and Paul’s inspiring London walks or arrange your own with them. It’s a fun way to get to know an area better and a very easy way to improve your historical knowledge. See you on the next walk.

Upcoming walks (turn up and pay approx £8 and/or email in advance using Oonagh & Paul’s websites above). 

  • Saturday 30 Jan, East End working women, meet Bow church DLR, 1.30pm. Cost: £8 (pay on the day, ideally let Oonagh or Paul know you plan to join, using their contact details on their website).
  • Saturday 13 Feb, From Hay to houses: Stroud Green discovered. Meet World’s End Pub, 23 Stroud Green Road, 1.30pm. Cost £8 (pay on the day, ideally let Oonagh or Paul know you plan to join, using their contact details on their website).
  • Also see http://crouchendwalks.com/walks-coming-up/ 
  • Local businesses and groups can arrange for Oonagh or Paul to give a private tour at lunchtimes or evenings.

 

Enjoyed this interview?
Read more interviews with people who love local history, see

Mark Aston, Islington local history centre manager

Andy Gardner, historian and George Orwell walking tour leader

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

Charles Baron: born 1920 in Islington & still visiting the borough

18 Nov

Everyone has a story. Charles Baron is having lunch at the Highbury Barn pub – nothing remarkable about that, except he was born on 6 May 1920 to Jewish refugees from the Russian pogroms – 95 years ago. So what are his memories of pre-World War Two Islington and life in the airforce? Interview by Nicola Baird

Charles Baron

Charles Baron, who grew up in Islington, is a Freeman of the City of London, grandfather of 13 and now a great grandfather too – but he still enjoys trips to the Highbury Barn pub.

Charles Baron, 95, was born at home in 54 Colebrooke Row. Charles’ Romanian father and Lithuanian mother were renting the ground floor and basement. His parents (who spoke their home languages so had to talk to each other, and their children, in Yiddish) were both emigrées from the Russian pogroms who had met in the East End of London.

Islington-born Charles Baron with his wife Julia Baron and Charles’ daughter from his second marriage, Sarah Clay. Sarah: “We all like Islington, at one point myself and three of my six brothers were all living a quarter of a mile from where Dad used to live. Adam was on Upper Street, I was on Essex Road above Mosquito bikes and Marcus and Jason were on Roseberry Avenue.”

Islington-born Charles Baron with his wife Julia Baron and Charles’ daughter from his second marriage, Sarah Clay. Sarah: “We all like Islington, at one point myself and three of my six brothers were all living a quarter of a mile from where Dad used to live. Adam was on Upper Street, I was on Essex Road above Mosquito bikes and Marcus and Jason were on Roseberry Avenue.”

“When I was very small we moved to the second floor of 17 Chapel Street, which is now the market. My mother and father rented over the shop. I’m the youngest of four. My brother Louis Isaac was 13 years older than me; then there was Emanuel (who later called himself Earnest or Ernie) and my sister, Esther,” says Charles over a pot of tea outside the Highbury Barn.

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. 

It’s the last day of October and Charles’ extended family have met for Sunday lunch. His daughter Sarah Clay, who works at estate agent Hotblack Desiato, has introduced her Dad to Islington Faces. While we talk Charles’ adult children kick a ball with their kids around the paved area outside the pub and Mrs Lovell’s The Greengrocer.

Stallholders
“Islington was a very poor place,” says Charles who often helped his mother on her lace and embroidery stall at White Conduit Street.

“White Conduit Street was a Jewish community of shopkeepers, mostly selling clothes. My mother had to stand from 9am until 7pm – sometimes I minded the stall and spent freezing hours there in the pouring rain,” he says.

Because Charles and his Mum worked hard, cooking wasn’t a big part of family life. “She didn’t have time to cook,” he explains, “so she’d send me out to get the family fish and chips – It was thrupence: tuppence for fish and a pennyworth of chips. We’d eat bread at breakfast.”

xx

Baron Street as it is now where it meets Chapel Street market. The original Sainsbury’s was on the left. On the right there is still a pub.

“I used to look out of my window and enjoy seeing Baron Street opposite [his family name] and Sainsbury’s on the corner [now a betting shop]. There was a pub opposite too [The Alma]. Once I remember seeing a fat lady rather drunkenly cross the road to below my window. She then sat down and the next thing I knew there was a puddle surrounding her so presumably she wasn’t wearing underclothes!” says Charles who may have been used to outdoor plumbing (that’s what yards, or what we now call gardens, used to be used for), but was clearly shocked by a public pee.

His story seems so 21st century, covering Romania, Lithuania and even Sainsbury’s. I have to pinch myself to think of Islington nearly 100 years ago when one of the early Sainsbury’s was just a corner shop in Angel with rabbits hanging outside. Charles would be sent here to buy the week’s ration of butter (a quarter of a pound) which was patted out by the shop assistant.

Charles knows many parts of Islington well as he has also lived in Baalbec Road and Petherton Road.

Chapel Street stall holder Christopher Curtis, who sells old photos of Islington & football prints, holds up the 1920 view he has of Islington High Street when the Islington Empire was in its heyday.

Chapel Street stall holder Christopher Curtis, who sells old photos of Islington & football prints, holds up the 1920 view he has of Islington High Street when the Islington Empire was in its heyday. See the interview with Christopher Curtis, the Highbury Corner history man on Islington Faces.

  • Places Charles Baron knew in 1930s and 1940s Islington
  • I liked going to the Islington Empire*, near where Angel station is now. It was a theatre and music hall and had comedians.
  • I went to Sebbon Street School, off Upper Street [now called William Tyndale School]. I won a scholarship to Owens School. It has an Old Boys Society and I’m now Father of the House – we meet once a year.
  • I used to have to run away from gangs of anti-Jewish boys when I went to the synagogue at Lofting Road*. We used to walk and run everywhere.
  • I’m no longer interested in professional football because it’s all about money. We used to spend sixpence to go and watch from the Clock End. All the kids stood and the small ones were passed over the heads of the adults to the front. I remember liking Herbert Chapman (legendary Arsenal manager 1925-34).
  • My elder sister, Esther, played the violin to accompany silent movies at the Finsbury Park Empire. She learnt at school and then taught me and I got to like it. I didn’t take it seriously but I remember giving my squadron in the air force a recital and won great admiration. I’m am amateur musician but I was made a Member of the Musician’s Company so I am a Freeman of the City of London and can drive my sheep across London Bridge…  See more about what this means in this short video.

Just as Charles has no problem coming to Islington from his home in Lincolnshire, he’s able to slip backwards and forwards in conversational time.

20151031_155117

Highbury Barn pub as it is 2015.

1930s Islington
“My parents were not well educated and we had no money. My father ran away from Romania and somehow got to England. He worked as a storekeeper in a warehouse here,” explains Charles whose life chances changed dramatically when he was 11 and won a scholarship to Owen School (now Dame Alice Owen*) when it was based in Clerkenwell. 

After finishing school Charles got a job as a bank clerk working at a branch of the Anglo-Czechoslovak & Prague Credit Bank, at 48 Bishopsgate. “I took the job because they offered five shillings more than anyone else!” he admits to laughter from his wife Julia who clearly knows him very well. “I used to go to work wearing a suit that cost a fiver from a shop on Upper Street, tie and trilby. But when Hitler took over that bank I got the sack because I was Jewish.”

War broke out in 1939.

“I was called up in 1940, when I was 20, and joined the air force. I was then away until 1946.” It was an exciting time for the soldiers who’d never left London before – but came with a great cost.

“One out of every two air crew was killed. One of them was my elder brother Ernie,” he says sadly. Charles was one of the lucky ones: working as a navigator on the Bristol Beaufighter aircraft, which took him to the Middle East, India and Burma [in what was East Pakistan and became Bangladesh] and saw him rise up the career ladder, finally becoming a squadron leader.

“The Beaufighter was a night fighter, one of the first aircraft to have airborne radar. Our job was to make lives as unpleasant as possible for the Japanese.”

After the war he went back to India to work in civilian jobs. Then in his 50s he qualified as a management accountant.

Although Charles only spent his young life in Islington, he’s had a surprisingly long connection with the borough because some of the seven children from his second marriage moved to Islington and family gatherings are still here. Gatherings are often large because Charles married three times and had eight children. He now has 13 grandchildren and his first great grandchild was born on 24 October 2015.

“I just had one daughter with my first wife, and she’s now a pensioner,” says Charles in disbelief as he finishes his cup of tea. Turns out that his daughter Rosalind is 68 and lives nearby too, in Stroud Green.

Charles married Julia in 1990, “a week before my 70th birthday.” The pair have just celebrated their silver wedding anniversary with a party at their home in Lincolnshire.

Islington Faces found it an absolute pleasure to meet Charles and his family and to hear a little more about Islington all those years ago. To realise that Charles may have even been drinking in the same pubs as George Orwell of Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four fame (or just walking past each other on Highbury Fields) is a fascinating thought!

  • If you have any questions you’d like to ask Charles Baron about Islington – particularly the Angel area or Highbury Barn – in the 1930s/1940s do send a message to Islington Faces and we’ll see if he can answer them. Thank you.

Words*
The Islington Empire Cinema existed for six years (1932 to 1938) and closed down under the title of ABC Cinema in 1962.  It was on the site of the infamous Royal Bank of Scotland building.

The synagogue in Lofting Road (originally known as John Street) was opened as the North London Synagogue in 1868. It had around 200+ worshippers. It was closed in 1958 when the synagogue was amalgamated with Dalston. According to http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol8/p117 from the late 1860s many Jewish families moved into Highbury and Mildmay Park. In 1967 the Dalston synagogue was amalgamated with Stoke Newington and it was closed.

Dame Alice Owen School moved from Clerkenwell to near Hatfield. More about its history, including paying students beer money (!) is here.

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

 

Jackie Badger: saw the Beatles play Finsbury Park

28 Oct

Everyone has a story. Jackie Badger saw the Beatles and the Rolling Stones play live in Finsbury Park! The Astoria Finsbury Park (now UKCG church on Seven Sisters Road, just opposite Fontwell Road) used to be London’s hottest venue – and never more so than when the Fab Four came to play there in December 1963 when she was 14. Here she shares her knowledge of famous Islington venues and the bands she saw. Find out more at her brilliant site Jackie Badger’s retro blog which reveals what it was like to be a music-mad teenager growing up in Islington and her successful quest to become part of that world. Plus Q&A with Nicola Baird

Jackie Badger (now known as Jackie Parsons). (c) Jackie Parsons

Jackie Badger (now known as Jackie Parsons). (c) Jackie Parsons

Q&A with Jackie Badger
Q: Where did you live in Islington?
1956-1963 Canonbury Court, Sebbon Street
1963-1978 Barnes Court, Lofting Road
1980-1985 just off the Archway.

bibaQ: Which shops did you go to for gig clothes?
A lot of my clothes were made by me and my Nan, but if I was shopping in the early ‘60s it would have been Chapel Street Market, I once found a pair of black and white pin-striped Lee Cooper jeans, fabulous, never saw another pair anywhere. There was a great shoe shop on Holloway Road at the Nag’s Head, no idea what it was called though. Later would have gone to Carnaby Street, King’s Road, Biba…

Q: What did you wear to see the Fab Four?
Can remember wearing a black wool dress with white Peter Pan collar – made by my Nan, but what else, I’ve no idea.

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. 

Q: How old were you when you went to see the Beatles – was it easy to get tickets?
I was 14 when I saw The Beatles at the Astoria. Generally you would go to the theatre box office for tickets as soon as they went on sale and if you wanted good seats you would need to get there early. It wasn’t difficult to get tickets then, but it wasn’t long before is seemed like the whole world wanted to be at these gigs and queuing for tickets became a serious affair, involving hours of standing in line. I never queued over night, but some did – clearly you couldn’t buy them on your computer using a credit card!

Q: At the gigs did people drink? Did you need ID?
When we were first going to gigs we were a bit young to buy drinks at the bar and not all places sold alcohol. We were never asked how old we were, although when we were 14 and going to the Manor House Blues Club, we were taken by a friend’s older brother, who made us promise not to embarrass him, by attracting too much attention, or by mentioning the Rolling Stones, who were not held in high esteem at ‘proper’ blues clubs. We had to do as he asked because without him they wouldn’t have let us in.

The following year when we were going out ‘unchaperoned’ we would persuade older girls, or at least the ones who looked older, to buy drinks for us, usually cider.

When I was 17 and going to all nighters, which were regularly raided by the police looking for drugs, I had to carry my birth certificate because I was always getting thrown out because they thought I was underage.

Q: How did you get home?
We usually got home by bus or tube, on the rare occasion we missed the last bus or tube, I would phone my home and if my Dad was there he’d come and pick us up, but he would not be especially happy about that!

Q: What did you do the last time you came to Islington?
The last time I was in Islington I met with two friends and we went to the craft fair at the Business Design Centre or the Royal Agricultural Hall as was.

Q: Where do you like going in Islington now?
Most of the people I knew who lived in Islington are no longer there. If I do go there I love to eat at Ottolenghi’s on Upper Street and look at the shops. Obviously there’s been a lot of changes since I lived there and it’s quite strange to walk down Cross Street and Shillingford Street remembering the sweet shop and the family that sold fruit and veg from a shed, Jack’s, the bakers, the fish and chip shop on the end of Dagmar Terrace, Al’s records where I bought my first singles and albums, and the place that sold the pink and blue paraffin. It was another world.

Jackie Badger at Ally Pally.

Jackie Badger at Ally Pally.

Jackie’s memories of music in Islington…
December 1963, I walked into the foyer of the Astoria Finsbury Park with some friends from Barnsbury Secondary School for Girls and the first thing I saw was a fountain filled with goldfish. After handing out my ticket to be ripped in half, I entered the auditorium, its dramatic interior was just the start of that night’s eye opening spectacle, I’d never seen anything like it before. Above the stage appeared to be village, Spanish or Moorish. I don’t think I ever understood the significance and found it slightly spooky, wondering if someone would appear at one of the windows.

As a young teenager this was my first gig, my parents had paid for me to go, everyone was caught up in the phenomenon. This was The Beatles Christmas Show with Cilla Black, Billy J Kramer… I had little idea of what to expect. The audience mostly of girls similar to myself was quite noisy, but nothing prepared me for the volume when the Fab Four came out on stage. It was much louder than the band and Ringo perched up on an extremely high podium seemed to be struggling to hear what the other three were doing. What a night – fabulous, the start of something special, I would never look back, music would change my life and the lives of many others. Swinging London was ready to go and the Astoria was home to many gigs.

The Manor House Blues Club or Harringay R&B Bluesville as it was sometimes known, was a dusty room above the Manor House Pub just across from Finsbury Park, next to Manor House tube station. A few wooden chairs you could drag over to the stage, otherwise standing only. Nanda and Ron Lesley booked a procession of amazing artists. John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Reed, The Animals, Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, Them (with Van Morrison), Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart on vocals, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with guitarist Eric Clapton, followed by the incredible Peter Green (just listen to The Supernatural) – it was jaw droppingly good. To be able to see someone like John Lee Hooker, born in America’s deep south and that I only knew from hard-searched-for-records, playing in a club a bus ride away, was unbelievable.

beatlesHighlights at the Astoria Finsbury Park (later The Rainbow Theatre)

  • 1963 (24 April) – Beatles pull in a crowd of 2,000
  • 24 Dec 1963- 11 Jan 1964 – the sell out Beatles Christmas Show – 100,000 tickets were sold
  • 1964 – for one night, The Rolling Stones
  • 1 Nov 1964 – Beatles
  • 11 Dec 1965 – Beatles again, playing Help! and Yesterday. Afterwards George Harrison said: “This is one of the most incredible shows we’ve done. Not just because of the audience, but because they’re Londoners. This is the funny thing. It’s always been the other way round – fantastic in the North but just that little bit cool in London. It’s incredible. It seems like the Beatlemania thing is happening all over again.”
  • 1967 – Jimmi Hendrix sets fire to this guitar on stage for the first time
  • 8 Nov 1970 Astoria is renamed The Odeon
  • In 1971 the last band to play there were The Byrds
  • Autumn 1971 it reopens after a £150,000 refit as The Rainbow Theatre
  • Sep 1972 Pete Townsend’s rock opera Tommy opens with The Who, Rod Stewart and Steve Winwood
  • More info at http://www.islington.gov.uk/publicrecords/library/Leisure-and-culture/Information/Guidance/2013-2014/(2013-08-08)-2013-Local-History-Astoria-Rainbow.pdf

Nearly a year and many gigs later I was back in the Astoria, Friday 24th September 1964, 6.40pm to be precise, this time for the Rolling Stones on their British tour, at the bargain price of 12/6. Again the auditorium was rammed with screaming girls (and some boys), all standing on their seats. The sets were not long in those days – ‘She Said Yeah’, ‘Mercy, Mercy’, ‘Cry to Me’. ‘The Last Time’, ‘That’s How Strong My Love Is’, ‘I’m Moving On’, ‘Talkin’ Bout You’, ‘We Got A Good Thing Going’ and their latest single ‘Satisfaction’ (only two Rolling Stones originals). At the end of the show I went outside and someone asked me if I wanted a ticket for the second show for free – er yes I do! So straight back in to do it all over again. What a night, I couldn’t speak to ask for my 6d fare on the 19 bus back home.

During its time as The Rainbow, I visited several times – Captain Beefheart, Doctor John, The Faces, Jimi Hendrix film…

Blues Clubs were popping up all over the place, the Hornsey Wood Tavern on Seven Sisters Road, opposite Finsbury Park and now apparently demolished, was one where my friend and I saw Led Zeppelin play on 7 March 1969. The place was rammed, we’d been sent to scope them out by someone who wanted to know if they were worth booking for his blues club in Finchley. We told him we thought they weren’t as good as the Jeff Beck Group, but he should book them anyway because they were clearly pulling a crowd!

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

 

Jerry White: author of Campbell Bunk the worst street in London

19 Aug

Everyone has a story. Professor Jerry White is one of London’s leading social historians. He started his career inspecting homes in Islington after taking a job as a Public Health Inspector for Islington Council back in the 1970s. Jerry has written many history books about London including Islington’s most notorious street, Campbell Road in Finsbury Park. It was pulled down in the 1950s, but is still remembered as the Campbell Bunk. Here Jerry White talks about memories of Islington. Interview by Nicola Baird

Jerry at the Broadgate Institute in June giving a talk considering which of 18th century London's values we share today.

Social hisotrian Jerry White at the Bishopsgate Institute before his talk during the Spitalfields Music Festival. He focussed on which of 18th century London’s values we share today.

“I followed a career in local government for 42 years and enjoyed it,” says Jerry White modestly, neglecting to mention that he was Chief Executive of Hackney Council from 1989-1995. “I didn’t want to become an academic even though I was also writing history books,” he says over the phone after I tracked him down as a result of finding his fascinating book Campbell Bunk in the N4 Library.

Islington gave me a love of London: the motivating force for my whole life for the past 40-odd years. And that was partly from working in Islington as a public health inspector (nowadays the job is called an Environmental Health Inspector). I was 21 when I came here, and spent my first 11 years working on bad housing conditions. Your first job is always such a formative experience, so that for me was undoubtedly life changing.”

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. 

Although Jerry’s been teaching London history at Birkbeck University since 2009, he now lives in Leamington Spa, in a Victorian house. He’s often in London – and was here in June to give a talk at the Spitalfields Festival about Georgian London – a taster for his next book, a History of the Marshalsea Prison where debtors, such as Charles Dicken’s father, were sent, sometimes for owing no more than £250 in today’s money.

Perhaps Jerry’s best-known book is about a now-demolished street in Finsbury Park, just parallel to Fonthill Roa, see Campbell Bunk: the worst street in London between the wars “It was begun in 1976, finished in 1986 but not published until 1986,” he says.

My job
“In September 1970 I moved into a grotty attic room in Kelross Road. There was no water supply. It was very primitive and I was there for a very short time,” remembers Jerry.

“My job took me into people’s homes – privately owned properties which people were complaining about. My job was taking me around the grottiest living conditions in Highbury. My district was Seven Sisters road to east of Holloway Road. I saw terrible slum conditions – seven people in a room. Some of it was unbelievable. There was a brothel on Riversdale Road that was filthy; people were shitting in the bath. I’d never seen stuff like this before.”

“The whole of Barnsbury was considered to be one of the worst slums in London in 1970. On every street you could guarantee there’d be some property just left out by gentrification – it had missed out. It’s all gentrified now.”

“But Islington in the 1970s was nothing like as bad as Islington in the 1950s.”

A fascinating book about Islington life between 1880-1945. I got this from North Library.

A fascinating book about Islington life between 1880-1945 by Jerry White.

Campbell Bunk
Campbell Road – a long street just to the west of Fonthill Road, off Seven Sisters – used to be notorious. You can see the Islington Faces review of Campbell Bunk: the worst street in London between the wars here.

To summarise: Campbell Road had a bad reputation from the moment it was built. Campbell Road residents were frightened to give their address as it often meant they wouldn’t be given a job at the numerous small factories in Islington. Career criminals lived there, soon police officers feared to go down it while any stranger was likely to be attacked. People were really poor, many of them with large families. With such over-crowded rooms life was often lived in the street. Men and boys loved to gamble and fight, many residents were big drinkers. There was fierce territorial rivalry between the top and bottom end: Campbell Road residents looked out for themselves when a choice came up between them and us. Much of the rest of the time they were settling scores or setting up deals in the street.

Even though the street was demolished in the 1950s – it’s now where the Six Acre estate is – locals still talk about doing a Campbell Bunk or getting-away-with-it.

Jerry’s book includes many interviews of former residents. It follows a classic Marxist analysis, but with a twist – the focus on gender differences and the younger generation’s desire to better themselves.

“The generation battle in Campbell Bunk became the central argument in the book. I started with class, but at the end of the day class wasn’t enough. Your gender too became the key mobilising fact in internal change in Campbell Bunk.

I’d done a similar project on Rothschild Buildings in Spitalfields and I then became interested in Campbell Road. I wrote to the local paper and said I wanted to talk to people who lived in Campbell Bunk. I went to local old peoples homes and gave a little talk about the street and asked if anyone had lived there.

Often they wouldn’t put their hands up but got in touch with me after. They were still ashamed of the place. Then they’d put me in touch with other people. Everyone I spoke to had lived in Campbell Bunk stayed locally in Islington. But when I wrote to the retired London police officers who’d policed in Campbell Bunk they had all moved away and were in Brighton, Suffolk, the West Country.

“In the 1970s some estates had a terribly bad reputation and I think that’s partly because people from Campbell Bunk had been moved there in the late ‘50s – there was a definite prejudice. But I found people to be pretty friendly. Only a couple were cadgey.”

Is life as bad?
Campbell Road was notorious for its over-crowding. Many families struggled to keep jobs, or chose to work outside the labour market in businesses that weren’t strictly legal – begging, gaming, theft. The kids went to schools we are still familiar with, such as Pooles Park, but many were barefoot and in constant need of a meal.

“Poverty isn’t the same as then,” says the professor.” Thank goodness there’s no longer the deprivation that some of these kids were brought up with or the brutality in the family. You hear some dreadful tales now, but culturally the working class have become softer and not so violent, especially to their children.”

The interview with Jerry was during Islington Giving week – an event that helps highlight the many people in Islington who still struggle to get by. They’ve helped make it clear that Islington has become a borough of two halves – the rich and the poorest.

  • Of the 40,000 children and young people living in Islington, 13,000 live below the poverty line. This is the 4th highest rate in England and the second highest in London.
  • 4 per cent of families have incomes of over £75,000 whilst a further 28.7 per cent of families in Islington have incomes of less than £20,000.
  • Islington has the highest level of male suicide in London.

 London’s changing
“I’ve been writing about London since middle of 1970s I started with a book on the east end, then did Campbell Bunk, then in the 1990s and 2000s three big books on London and Londoners over the last century. The whole issue of change in London is one of my big themes. So I’ve thought a lot about why the city has changed and how, including the loss of industry in central London – which is largely, but not entirely, a post World War Two phenomenon.”

Although Jerry doesn’t have answers he points out that: “What’s happened to London in the past 70 years is unprecedented in its history. Extraordinary proportions of Londoners weren’t born here. That phenomenon of provincials coming to London is a very old one. When I came in the 1970s every Londoner wanted to get out. And they did seem to get out.”

“London lost 2 million people between 1939 and 1986. We’ve not yet quite recovered the London population that it had in 1939,” says Jerry. Islington in 2015 has around 200,000 people. That’s the same number living in Finsbury before WW2.

War caused the Ethiopian disapora - you can find Ethiopian shops, internet cafes, restuarants and butchers in Finsbury Park, N4.

War caused the Ethiopian disapora – you can find Ethiopian shops, internet cafes, restaurants and butchers in Finsbury Park, N4.

Living on your wits
Of course this has brought about all sorts of change.

“The wit and a quick-wittedness that was bred through the generations living in London – that you see in Campbell Bunk – is no doubt still there, but adapting itself to streetwise cultures imported from all over the world,” suggests Jerry.

It’s a fair point, and may also be why so many of us love modern Islington – a place where there are still old-style Italian delis but where change seems unstoppable and often welcome. So now the area that was once Finsbury Park goods yard, a couple of streets from Campbell Bunk, has a new theatre, two big student accommodation complexes and at the same time is also home to Algerian butchers, Ethiopian restaurants, a Korean noodle bar and Turkish-owned corner shops. There are two big mosques, an evangelical church in the old Empire cinema plus the German-owned supermarket Lidl, where we all mix in the queue.

Really if you live in Islington you either have no excuse to travel at all – or are being pulled at from all corners of the world. It just depends on how you view life. And that ability to adapt, so excellently captured by Jerry in Campbell Bunk remains a London speciality.

http://www.jerrywhite.co.uk

  • Campbell Bunk: the worst street in London between the wars (1986)
  • London in the Twentieth Century: A City and Its People, winner of the Wolfson History Prize in 2002;
  • London in the Nineteenth Century: ‘A Human Awful Wonder of God’
  • London in the Eighteenth Century: A Great and Monstrous Thing (2012).
  • Zeppelin Nights. London in the First World War (2014) won the Spear’s Social History Prize for that year.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Ivy Allan Freeman: Islington memories from 1933

22 Jul

Everyone has a story. Perhaps it is because Ivy Allan Freeman has been living in the US for nearly 50 years that her memories of growing up near King’s Cross – with the sound of horses’ hooves on the cobbles and later the terrifying air raids – are so astonishingly vivid. Here she writes from America about life in Islington from 1933 until the 1950s. As an aspirational young Londoner Ivy knew she had to leave Islington if she wanted to better herself, but she’s still really fond of her old home. Thank you Ivy for this fascinating insight… Edited by Nicola Baird

The Islington blanket

Ivy Freeman, who grew up in Islington and now lives in the US, with her Islington blanket. “I really don’t have anything from my time in Islington, except for the blanket which is not very exciting looking! My mother couldn’t afford to buy expensive items, but somehow she managed to collect a few of these blankets. They are wool, very warm, hard-wearing – they are decades old. She bought them at a shop in Chapel Market. My sisters and I divided them between us, after her death.”

“When Nicola invited me to be interviewed for her blog Islington Faces I was surprised but pleased by the timing. I am currently writing about growing up in Islington so have many memories fresh in my mind.

However, if you had told me back then that I would be writing about my life it would have been like telling me that one day a man would walk on the moon, Ludicrous! How could I ever amount to anything I was “lower class.” Though if you had told me that I would one day live in America, as I have, since 1967, that would have intrigued me. I loved going to the pictures. The America I saw on film seemed very glamorous and there was always left over food in their big refrigerators.

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

1933
At the time I was born, home births were routine, and I drew my first independent breath in one of the two rooms that were already home to my parents and two older sisters. The date was May 24, 1933. This tenement house on Albion Street, later re-named Balfe Street, bears little resemblance to the astonishingly expensive homes I now see advertised online. Outside they are the same sturdy brick structures but inside they look very different. Today, each house has been renovated into two separate flats each with a bathroom, a fitted kitchen and a patio garden.

In May of 1933, these houses have two rooms on each of the three floors and also in the basement. The only fittings are a gas mantel for light and a coin machine to keep the gas going. It is common that two or three families share the house. There is a shared lavatory outside in the back yard and a cold water tap on the stairs landing.

Tenants, in the house we lived in, took turns weekly cleaning the public areas with mop and broom. There was the Bag Wash for Laundry. Take a bag of laundry, leave it overnight, collect it next day – wet – it would be very heavy. Most women took the baby’s pram to carry it home to hang out to dry. Before this my Mum had used a washboard and wringer.

Wharfdale Road (faces are shaded out intentionally). The gorup are standing close to the iron railings by the Picton pub, with Caledonian Road behind them. The large triangle on the right at the middle right of the picture is where Ivy remembers the men's urinal and the horse trough being situated. (c) Ivy Freeman

Wharfdale Road (faces are shaded out intentionally). The gorup are standing close to the iron railings by the Picton pub, with Caledonian Road behind them. The large triangle on the right at the middle right of the picture is where Ivy remembers the men’s urinal and the horse trough being situated. (c) Ivy Freeman

My sister Joan is born three years after me. Soon after her birth we move around the corner to number 5 Wharfdale Road, same kind of house, but we now have four rooms, two on the ground floor and two in the basement. The front basement room faces the coal cellars. The back room has doors that open outward to the back yard which seem to us to be very grand, despite the yard being just a concrete square of space.

Wharfdale Road: "In front of our house, number 5, the third house along from the Cally."

Wharfdale Road: “In front of our house, number 5, the third house along from the Cally.” (c) Ivy Freeman

Wharfdale is a busy, noisy, street stretching between the back end of Kings Cross station on York Way, and ending at Caledonian Road. Many merchants, use horse and carts for deliveries.

The milkman leaves the milk on the doorstep, the coal man tips the bags of coal down through the manhole into our coal cellar, the rag and bone man comes around shouting “any old iron”, gypsies go door to door selling clothes pegs, and we can get kitchen knives sharpened every few months.

I attend Winton Primary School, on Killick Street. On school mornings, amid the clamor of horse hooves on the cobblestones, I walk to the corner where a friendly policeman stops traffic to escort us across the “Cally” as we call it. There is a men’s public urinal on one corner, a necessary convenience for men who work long days making deliveries, in front of it is a large trough filled with water for their horses.

Later, during the war, I will step over shattered glass and other debris resulting from the previous night’s air raid. Many of our teachers are older, having been called back from retirement, replacing those now serving in the military or working in munitions factories. The cane is still in use. We have to go to the headmaster’s office to pick it up and bring it back to the classroom for the caning.

The school day begins with Assembly, after which we form a line in front of Mrs Argent, each of us holding a large spoon. Taking our spoon she dips into a thick treacle-like substance and returns it directly into our mouth. We have to stand in front of her until she is certain we have swallowed it (to prevent the boys from spitting it out behind the radiators.) The “treacle” is a vitamin mixture of Cod Liver Oil and Malt Extract supplied by the government to offset the food shortage. It tastes horrible.

Play time
After school, with my friends along the street, I play outside.

There is soot and smoke in the air and horse manure underfoot. There is no electricity, television, CDs, DVDs, computers, mobile phones, or any kind of phone. Our toys are white chalk to draw the hop scotch pattern on the pavement and rope for skipping or for tying around the lamppost to make a swing. Boys run after lorries to hang on the back for a ride.

Trying to supplement our rationed sweets we chase after American soldiers chanting “Got any gum chum?”. They give us either gum or money.

Before the war, and the introduction of the blackout, a lamplighter would come around at dusk with his long pole. We are told not to play on the bomb sites because of unexploded bombs but we do anyway. The Pearly Kings and Queens, and the barrel organ man provide free entertainment as they hang out around the Picton pub.

All Saints Parish Church, then situated on the corner of All Saints Street and Caledonian Road, sponsor our local Girl Guides and Boy Scouts groups. This, and other activities at the church, open up new experiences for us such as trips to Parliament Hill Fields and Epping Forest.

Health
This is a time prior to the advent of The National Health Service. The one book my family owns is a compendium of home remedies for all ills. When the book fails to produce a cure we take the long walk to the Clinic on Amwell Street. This is also a time before immunisations for childhood diseases so, when I get whooping cough from a school contact, it is inevitable that Joan, now two-years-old, will catch it. Pneumonia develops, there are no antibiotics, she is hospitalised and dies within a week. The wound to our family is deep. In time there are two more additions to the family, both boys.

A young Ivy in 1940 with her family. (c) Ivy Freeman

A young Ivy in 1940 with her two older sisters, mum and dad. “It was taken sometime after my younger sister died and before my brothers were born. It is the only childhood photo I have, we didn’t own a camera.” (c) Ivy Freeman

Like many of the local women, Mum is a charlady.

She gets up at 5am each weekday morning to go to work scrubbing floors. On Saturday mornings we go to Chapel Market, stopping at Granny’s house on Wynford Road for a cup of tea. The market is busy and noisy, there are no supermarkets, Mum makes her way around the variety of stalls, for fish, vegetables, fruit. Looking at the fake bunch of bananas hanging up at the fruit stall I always ask what bananas taste like and mum always replies it’s hard to explain. I like walking through the market till we reach the Angel where I can look in the shop windows.

early 1970s Children with Granny and Great Granny in her new council flat

Early 1970s: Ivy’s children (Deborah who helped with this article is on her granny’s knee) with their granny and great-granny Florence Sessions. “She lived to be 100 years old and was visited by the Mayor of Islington and the Labour party member. There was a picture in the Islington Gazette. She ended her days in one of the first blocks of flats that were built – I think they were on the corner of Collier Street and maybe Calshot Street.” (c) Ivy Freeman

Despite extreme rationing and food shortages Mum manages to keep us fed. After finishing her morning cleaning job during the week she goes to the local butcher’s shop, waiting for it to open in hopes some kind of meat will have come in. With no refrigerators, daily shopping for some items is necessary.

I don’t recollect being hungry but there is very little variety, and whatever is on your plate is all there is, no extras, or left overs. I do remember a lot of boiled potatoes and cabbage with fried pigs’ liver!

Saturdays
My Dad works Saturday nights, bundling newspapers and loading them on to lorries for distribution around London.

Family members who are at home Saturday evening listen to the battery powered wireless and the BBC’s Saturday Night Theatre. Sitting as close as we can to our coal fire for warmth we snack on a popular treat of bread with dripping, oblivious to the toxins inhaled with the coal and the drippings clogging our arteries.

Later, lying in bed, I listen to the singing as the pubs turn out and people sing their way home to songs such as Roll Out The Barrel, It’s a long way to Tipperary, Maybe It’s Because I’m a Londoner and others with more bawdy lyrics! Occasionally I hear some shouting and scuffling as a little fight occurs but it usually doesn’t amount to much.

WW2
The first air raid is unexpected.

When the Siren begins it’s urgent wailing over the city we don’t know what to do. In previous months the bombs have fallen outside of Central London. Now the siren is followed by a high shrill whistling sound then by explosions that shake the house. The London Blitz has begun, consecutive nights of merciless battering. It is more terrifying than I can find words to describe. There are not enough air raid shelters and none in our neighborhood.

We sleep in our daytime clothes, huddle under the stairs, crawl under the beds, take our blankets down to King’s Cross underground station, attempting to sleep on the platform alongside hundreds of others while the trains continue to run. Large street shelters are built but there is not enough sanitation to accommodate the crowds seeking shelter.

Difficult as it is for us to endure the impact of explosions, gunfire, windows smashing, ceilings cracking, we have it easy. In that first raid the German Air Force is focused on the London Docks and the surrounding civilian population. When the All Clear sounds our relief is huge but is short-lived, two hours later the skies are again filled with hundreds and hundreds of German planes that bomb relentlessly, this will be the nightly pattern. It is easier now for them to find their targets, London is ablaze the sky lit by the fires raging around the docks.

A couple of raids stand out from the rest, one is the land mine that obliterated Rising Hill Street. This kind of mine comes down quietly by parachute. When it lands my older sister and I are in bed, the family having given up on air raid shelters. The force is such that I think our house has been hit and I am afraid to come out from under the bedclothes. Both sides of Rising Hill street are completely demolished.

I remember the VE Day party, but not very well. Long tables lined up down the street, sandwiches, little flags on the tables.

In 2007 Ivy and Bob celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. Ivy: "One of the photo's I sent is of our family taken on our 50th wedding anniversary, this does not include our youngest grandson Connor or our first great grandson Nathaniel, they had not yet been born. They are amazing and a great joy to me, I worry about the environmental damage they will inherit, while at the same time I'm encouraged to do my bit however small, for them." (c) Ivy Freeman

In 2007 Ivy and Bob celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. Ivy: “This is our family taken on our 50th wedding anniversary, this does not include our youngest grandson Connor or our first great grandson Nathaniel, as they had not yet been born. They are amazing and a great joy to me, I worry about the environmental damage they will inherit, while at the same time I’m encouraged to do my bit however small, for them.” (c) Ivy Freeman

Life plan
My parents place no value on education, not unlike other parents of the time. For them it is bad enough that the school leaving age has increased to 15. They are not uncaring but are shaped by their own experience, they want security for their children. They want their boys to go into a trade and their girls to marry someone with a steady job.

I want to marry and have a house with grass in the backyard and an inside toilet, but there are a lot of things I want to know more about.

I attend Ritchie Street Comprehensive until I am 15. I’m disappointed that I can’t go on to more learning, but at All Saints we have been given hope, taught that things can be different, there is a plan for our lives. I hold on tightly to this hope. There is one thing I am determined about, I will not go to work in a factory or shop. I want an office job. I attend evening classes for typing and shorthand.

Work
My first job after I leave school is in a legal office in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. I proofread legal documents. There are no computers, everything is typed, two people “proof” – one reads aloud (my job) the other listens. Lincoln’s Inn is very different to Wharfdale and I love watching the barristers hurrying around wearing their wigs. This is the first of many office-type jobs I will have.

Location, location, location
Those of us who live close to the station will say we live in King’s Cross. As I begin to move around in the greater London area I discover that King’s Cross has a bad reputation, and is referred to in a disparaging way. I don’t have a lot of self-confidence and don’t want to be looked down on so I begin to say I live in Islington, which I do. This works well, because there are two Islingtons, the part where I live, and the area up and around the Islington Public Library, much nicer and where “artsy” people live.

1970s holiday back to Islington: Ivy's children with their Granny and Grandad outside 5 Wharfdale Road. (c) Ivy Freeman

1970s holiday back to Islington: Ivy’s children with their Granny and Grandad outside 5 Wharfdale Road. Deborah (in the red cardigan) also helped with this article. (c) Ivy Freeman

Q: Were you ever afraid?
I wasn’t afraid to go anywhere in Islington The buses and trains didn’t run very late so I would walk home after an evening out with friends, often alone if they lived elsewhere. I was never accosted or expected to be. The Kings Cross area had a bad reputation I think mostly because there were prostitutes, or as we called them “tarts”. Many of them would hang around the Star and Garter Pub on Caledonian Road. There were a lot of servicemen around from all countries who seemed to know the location of the pub!

Also the area was perceived as “slummy” and people often assume that poverty equals dishonesty and crime. I do think that there was a certain amount of petty crime that happened, though I never experienced it. There was what today we would call domestic violence, and also angry exchanges at times between people living in the same house, sometimes some shoving would happen, I never saw any weapons, or injuries. It was frightening when it happened, but not a regular occurrence, mostly it was fueled by alcohol and overcrowded living conditions. None of the inside rooms in these tenement houses had locks on them, so anyone could walk in. We never experienced any problem with this.

There was just one street I was afraid to walk down, having been told “don’t go down there they are a rough lot”. I think it was Affleck Street. A short street that ran between Collier and Pentonville. I was completely afraid and never stepped foot along there although I never did learn why I shouldn’t!

Ivy Freeman: "The funny hats picture was taken at a party we had for the Queen's Jubilee. Our American friends and neighbours were good sports and joined us. Bob and I continue to feel a very close bond with all things British." (c) Ivy Freeman

Ivy Freeman: “The funny hats picture was taken at a party we had for the Queen’s Jubilee. Our American friends and neighbours were good sports and joined us. Bob and I continue to feel a very close bond with all things British.” (c) Ivy Freeman

Q: What was it like being a post war teenager?
As children we were viewed as just little adults. The word teenager had not yet been invented. Because of the overcrowding there was little privacy, so we overheard all conversations. We all learned early that there was nothing to be gained by running home if we were picked on by other kids. My Mum, like the others, told us we must “stick up” for ourselves or we’d never survive in the world.

As teenagers we went to the pictures, dancing, went up the West End and walked around, rode our bikes up to Regent’s Park and at a certain age (don’t remember what it was) could go into the pub but not drink alcohol. However, as girls, we sometimes had to say “can’t go out tonight, washing my hair”. This, as with all personal hygiene, was a monumental task. Cold water had to be collected from the tap on the stairs, warmed up on the gas stove and passed into a bowl. Then came the problem of drying the hair, this usually done in front of the coal fire.

Q: How mixed was Islington then?
We were a white community. English with a smattering of Scots and Irish. A larger group were Italians, They attended the Roman Catholic School and Church, so we didn’t really get to know them.

Ivy and husband Bob on holiday not long after their wedding in 1957. (c) Ivy Freeman

Ivy and husband Bob on holiday not long after their wedding in 1957. (c) Ivy Freeman

Q: How easy was it to find somewhere to live in Islington?
I got married in 1957. It was 12 years after the war’s end but the housing shortage was still acute. There were lists we could put our names on for a council flat, or a house in one of the new towns being built, but the wait time was years. I would knock on doors if I saw a window with no curtains, asking if there was a vacancy. There never was.

Many couples just moved in with one set or other of parents. Bob and I were remarkably fortunate in that some friends moved to West London and, in the process, found a place for us.

Q: Was leaving school at 15 a problem?
Later as an adult I did go to University in the States. I earned a four year undergraduate degree, and a two year Master’s Level. I then had a long career as a psychotherapist. In my practice my main focus was working with women who, as children, had experienced trauma of one kind or another.

Mid 1980s: Ivy visits her Mum in Islington.

Mid 1980s: Ivy visits her Mum in Islington. What changes both these ladies lived through in Islington. (c) Ivy Freeman

Q: How do you feel about Islington now you’ve been away for 45+ years?
I always wanted to get away from Islington. I did leave, but Islington never left me.

I carried with me the resilience, work ethic, and sense of humour! Even after the most difficult night of bombing, people would find something to laugh about. This ability to laugh has carried me through some difficult times. I continue to feel London English and still hope I can make that one last trip back…

  • If you were born in Islington in the 1930s, 1940s or 1950s you might like to join this Facebook group here 

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.

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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