The lamentable clearing away of a row of buildings on the north side of Swain's Lane in Highgate - including the site of the near legendary Cavour's hardware store, a fixture for forty years until it closed a decade back - has delivered an unexpected dividend. Peeping over the hoardings, looking out on Swain's Lane for the first time in close on a century, is a stylish early Victorian villa which had been concealed behind the later, less distinguished, commercial buildings.
This is Brookfield House and Brookfield Lodge (it's now divided into two properties), with its frontage facing out on Swain's Lane as the architect intended, and the spire of St Anne's, Highgate, looming behind. The rear of the property - the only part publicly visible until now - is about as ordinary as can be. The villa was built to face south, and I imagine the premises just demolished were constructed in what was once its front garden.
This was originally the site of the Cow and Hare inn - yet another cattle-linked pub name along the route livestock would have taken towards Smithfield market. A brewery director. Richard Barnett, bought the land and built this imposing house shortly before his death in 1851. His sister Anne inherited the property, and in memory of her brother, built St Anne's next door (nice to name a church after yourself!).
The church was completed in 1853. It's the one whose peal is memorialised in the title of John Betjeman's verse memoir, Summoned by Bells. When Anne died a few years later, she bequeathed Brookfield Lodge as the vicarage.
I fear that when the new flats come up on this site, Brookfield Lodge and House will again be hidden from view, and by far the finest aspect of this impressive villa will once more be lost to us.
So depressing - Ripping Yarns, the wonderful second-hand bookshop near Highgate tube, is closing . Sunday will be the last trading day. The rent has doubled, and just to make them feel that little bit more special, the increase has been back-dated a couple of years.
So one of the last of those 'fun to delve' bookshops, which treasure pamphlets and poetry and radical squibs and old music papers, bites the dust. There's Walden Books in Chalk Farm still going, and Black Gull in East Finchley just about qualifies, but not much else in this part of north London.
Ripping Yarns has specialised in children's and illustrated books - but I've always relished it as a haven for radical tracts and old socialist titles. I've bought dozens of gloriously tatty old political pamphlets there. Today's purchase, no doubt my last, is entitled Mail Interception & Telephone Tapping in Britain, put out half-a-century ago by the Hampstead Group of the Committee of 100 - it cost me less than the price of a pint.
The shop was set up decades ago by Celia Hewitt - she's still very much around, indeed she was on the stage at the Jeremy Corbyn Night at The Forum on Monday reading poems by her late husband, Adrian Mitchell. There's a lovely account of the history of the shop here written by one of its staff. It's a shop with personality - which is not something you can say of most of the Oxfam bookshops, however much they are appreciated.
The Ripping Yarns website says the business will continue online. That's great - but it's not quite the same!
This charming yet deeply tragic memorial tablet is on the walls of St Anne's, Highgate - the church where John Betjeman was baptised. You can only imagine the excitement amid which Doris Tanner, newly married, headed out to India. Within a year she was dead. Aged just 23. It's not clear where in India she was buried.
Her husband was an 'A.S.P. India', by which I take it that he was an Assistant Superintendent in the Indian Police Force. Jocelyn Tanner outlived his wife by almost sixty years, dying in 1973. He appears to have made his career in the Indian Police and was awarded the King's Police Medal. He married again, and his new wife, Aileen, lived until 1983. They are buried in the same grave at Haughley in Suffolk.
A year or so ago, I blogged about a small war memorial in Highgate which was quite literally falling apart - and with it remembrance of those who served at Highgate Camp and lost their lives in the First World War. That's the memorial as it was on the left. When I chanced upon it this afternoon, I discovered that it has been splendidly restored.
There are two memorials either side of a gateway at the top of Swains Lane, just a minute's stroll from Pond Square. There was something elegiac about the manner in which they were crumbling away - and part of me wonders whether that is the most poetic fate. But I imagine those whose forbears are commemorated here will much prefer this new lease of life for the memorial - and now in a century's time, the names should still be decipherable, and some of those who stop and take notice will ponder on the tragedy which befell this nation - indeed the world, for this was a global conflict - in what contemporaries called the Great War.
The facing memorial, to J. Dawbarn Young, has also been replaced. This wasn't as tarnished, but it's clearly appropriate that both memorials should match. James Dawbarn Young was a barrister whose passion for yachting led him to enroll in the naval reserves, and reach the rank of Lieutenant Commander. He died 96 years ago this week.
These are of course memorials not graves. But just a short distance down Swains Lane lies Highgate Cemetery, which in the spring has a quiet enchantment to it. I hope you agree.
Yes, I was watching 'The Village' last night. And yes, it did put me in mind of the memorial in our local village, Highgate village. It stands at the top of Swains Lane, though you easily walk past the plaque without spotting it. And as you can see, some of the names are already undecipherable and in a few years all will have been weathered into anonymity.
You can find out a little about the memorial at what was once Highgate Camp here - the names are slightly more legible on the photo on this site. I do hope someone has taken the trouble to set down the inscription before it started to wear away. This is what I make out the names to be, with some of those on the right-hand column rather less then certain transcriptions:
RAYMOND C. BRICE CYRIL P. MADDAX
ERNEST JOHN DODD CHAS BERNARD MILLER
EDWARD E. GRIMWADE ALFRED MOORE
HERBERT HEAVINGHAM HENRY MORLEY
FRANK J. HOCKING, D.C.M. KENNETH H. RE...
ALAN J. HOPKINS JOHN WOODWA...
FELIX E. JONES, M.C. J.D. YOUNG
The memorial is on a gate, and opposite is a tablet which has survived the decades slightly better. There's more about James Dawbarn Young here.
Towards the end of Zadie Smith's new novel NW, the central character, Natalie/Keisha, walks out of her home near Queen's Park - walks out on her husband, her old life - and makes her way across north London. It's a memorable walk. And today - with the bright winter sun making every aspect of the city sparkle and shine - I retraced Keisha's steps. It took me three hours. Well worthwhile!
You can follow in outline Keisha's walk by the chapter titles: 'Willesden Lane to Kilburn High Road', 'Shoot Up Hill to Fortune Green', 'Hampstead to Archway', 'Hampstead Heath', 'Corner of Hornsey Lane', 'Hornsey Lane'.
Whatever truth you look for from a novelist, it's not cartographic precision. But Zadie Smith maps out her character's route pretty precisely.
The walk emphasises how much the lives of the main characters in NW intersect with the author's own. It walk starts at Keisha's house on the Willesden Lane side of Queen's Park. Within minutes she has passed her friend Leah's house - and the Caldwell estate which plays such a big part in the novel.
This is exactly where Zadie Smith was brought up. She went to Malorees primary school just a stone's throw away. Her mother, it's said, still lives here. So too does Zadie Smith, not now in a council flat but a three-storey Victorian house. It makes you wonder how much of Keisha's story is Zadie Smith's exploration of 'the other path', the way her own life might have worked out.
Where Winchester Avenue meets Willesden Lane, cheek-by-jowl with more gentrified Brondesbury, stands the Fiveways estate. Not quite the model for Caldwell, but with much in common - including the stout boundary wall. Caldwell has five blocks linked by walkways and bridges. 'The smell of weed was everywhere'. On a Sunday morning, Fiveways was quiet, almost sylvan, and entirely odour free.
Keisha at one point ends up in Albert Road - quite a way to the south. She can't get through - there's a police cordon - and has to retrace her steps. The geography doesn't quite add up. But trying to make sense of it, I make the detour. Past the entrance to Paddington cemetery on Willesden Lane - where, as the novel glancingly mentions, Arthur Orton, the Tichborne claimant is buried. Past the basketball court. Along stylish Lonsdale Road - reminding me of Hackney's Broadway Market - and into Salusbury Road with its book shop and library ...
When I reach Albert Road, the other side of the tracks from up-market Queen's Park, I feel that perhaps this is also Caldwell - the estate is an amalgam. The sun is strong, the sky so blue, every vista has an enchantment. But there's also something a little spooky about the estates off Albert Road. For one thing, at midday on a beautiful Sunday, there's no one around. Hardly a soul. And then there's the hardness to the architecture. It's a little forbidding.
If Natalie/Keisha had managed to thread her way through the length of Albert Road and beyond - at least if she was doing it today - just before reaching Kilburn High Road, she would have come across a remarkable sight. Beirut come to north London. A wreck, a ruin, an estate block which looks as if it has been ravaged by a tsunami. Part demolished and - it seems - abandoned. A really unsettling and arresting image.
By the time she hits Kilburn High Road and heads north (as she sets out on her walk, her intention is clear: 'Without looking where she was going, she began climbing the hill that begins in Willesden and ends in Highgate') she has teamed up with Nathan Bogle. He's flying on something or other, and rolling joints. And as they pass Kilburn tube, it also becomes apparent that he's poncing girls.
They head up Shoot Up Hill. The area changes. 'The world of council flats lay far behind them, at the bottom of the hill. Victorian houses began to appear ...'. This is an area Zadie Smith knows with easy familiarity - close by is her old secondary school, Hampstead (though it's not Hampstead - Hampstead cemetery lies here, yes, but this is NW6 not NW3).
Not too far up the hill, however, it crests. If you want to continue going up, you have to turn along Mill Lane, Hillfield Road, Fortune Green Road, and then still more sharply ascending, to Platt's Lane and an outlying section of Hampstead Heath.
This seems to be the route Keisha and Nathan follow - pausing, briefly, on the margins of the Heath for squalid, feral sex.
They stop in the doorway of Jack Straw's Castle, the highest point of the walk - and indeed just about the highest point in London - then head down towards Archway.
The walk ends at suicide bridge on Hornsey Lane, which runs sixty feet above the busy dual carriageway that's Archway Road. She has headed here for a purpose but 'had forgotten that the bridge was not purely functional. She tried her best but could not completely ignore its beauty.' She steps on the ledge, and peers out at London as best the railings allow. She doesn't attempt to jump, but instead abandons Nathan and hurries off after a night bus. The journey is over.
On Saturday, I strolled along the southern section of the Parkland Walk, which starts just south of Highgate tube station and takes you along the route of a disused railway line. It leads all the way to Finsbury Park. There's a bewitching section where you walk through an abandoned commuter station. So the path, as you can see, sticks to the tracks, but if you prefer you can walk along the old station platforms on either side.
This was Crouch End Station - the map below will help you work out where it was. It opened in the 1860s, closed in 1954, and the track was last used in 1970.
There must be people still around who travelled to and from work through this now deserted station. For them, I wonder what memories walking along these platforms must evoke.
The Whittington hospital in north London is much improved. The new wing is light and spacious. The A+E is as friendly and efficient as an inner city casualty ward can be. But spending a Sunday morning at the Whittington isn't anyone's idea of fun.
The saving grace is the wonderful architecture hidden within the hospital grounds.
And above all, there's the majesty of the double-fronted Smallpox and Vaccination Hospital - not visible from the road, but well worth a wander through the maze of Whittington buildings.
The Smallpox and Vaccination Hospital dates from 1848-50 - an Italianate design by Samuel Dawkes (that information lifted from the Camden History Society's excellent Streets of Highgate). The hospital was earlier at Kings Cross, but was displaced by the building of the station.
Two workhouse infirmaries were later built in the same area - one, an equally splendid design just across Dartmouth Park Hill, is now the Highgate Mental Health Centre. You can get a good view of the main infirmary building from Waterlow Park, next door. Highgate cemetery is also very close at hand.
The Whittington was created at the time of the birth of the NHS in 1948 - bringing together Highgate Hospital, on the current main site and including the Smallpox and Vaccination Hospital, with the two former workhouse infirmaries.
This distinctly dated photo of the Smallpox Hospital - used for many decades as a nurses' home - is from the history page of the Whittington's website.
The name of course comes from the Dick Whittington legend. The Whittington stone, where young Dick was prompted to 'turn, turn and turn again' back to London, is nearby on Highgate Hill.
Four years ago I wrote a book. It's about how the Kashmir conflict started in 1947. A Mission in Kashmir was published in India and did rather well there. It's now out of print, and as a service to the world I have posted the full text on line.
The book was never published in Britain - and although it was, and is, available online (from Amazon for instance), it was never distributed in bookshops over here. So while I have had the pleasure of seeing my book on sale in Delhi, Srinagar and elsewhere, I've never seen it in a bookshop in the UK.
Until today. When I came across a copy in the Oxfam bookshop in Highgate. Priced at £4. I am curious to know how that copy got there, but it was nice to see it on the shelves.
But my dilemma - do I buy it myself or not. I have a few copies left, but not all that many. And I do keep doling out copies to those with an interest in the subject. And it is a bargain price (though the India cover price isn't that much higher).
What did I decide? Yes, there is now another copy of A Mission in Kashmir in my study.
Every so often, I spend a weekend afternoon trawling round second-hand bookshops and what you might call vintage shops in search of, well, anything that attracts my interest. Today was my winter wander - around Highgate and Archway, taking in two good charity shops, Oxfam and Mind, the excellent Ripping Yarns near Highgate tube, and the always intriguing Green Room down Archway Road.
This is my favourite purchase - bought entirely because of the wonderful, and gloriously dated, cover. It came out in 1929, don't you know. It's sub-titled 'a handbook for electors', and was clearly aimed at the new women's vote (women only got the vote on the same terms as men, I believe, in 1928).
The principal author was Amabel Williams-Ellis - whose father, John Strachey, was editor of the 'Spectator' and similarly named brother dallied variously with communism, socialism and Oswald Mosley.
This too I bought largely because of the remarkable cover. The book is by a Zionist writer, Izak Goller - 'stark, undiluted melodrama', in his words - and was published by the Ghetto Press in London in 1931.
Goller co-founded the press 'to provide both the Jewish and non-Jewish English reading public with modern Anglo-Jewish literature.'
It is, to me at least, a bibliographic curiosity - in great condition, and hardly expensive at a tenner. If anyone knows anything more about the author or indeed the symbolical importance of the revolt of the Maccabees, do let me know.
Richard Acland's Forward March - published in 1941, with a remarkably dull cover - was a key step in the foundation that year of Common Wealth, a radical (slightly libertarian) party which went on to win a series of wartime Parliamentary by-elections.
Acland was a Liberal MP and a Christian progressive who allied with the author J.B. Priestley and a former communist Tom Wintringham to set up Common Wealth. It was a remarkable phenomenon but collapsed very quickly with the return to peacetime politics. The last vestiges of the party survived into the 1990s.
All the books came from Ripping Yarns. At the Green Room, I bought some intriguing bagdes. The 'silver' badge I got - for a very modest amount - because I though it was a Common Wealth badge or tie pin. Their emblem was a 'W' inside a 'C'. I'm now not so sure.
I had no idea what the S.U.M. was - though the badge is very striking. I suspect after sleuthing round the interent that it stands for the Sudan United Mission - bringing the gospel to the 'dark' continent, and all that.
Anyway, that's what I did during my afternoon wander. I hope you approve.
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