Mr dear wife Carrie and I have just been a week in our new house, 'The Laurels' ,Brickfield Terrace, Holloway - a nice six-roomed residence, not counting basement, with a front breakfast-parlour. We have a little front garden; and there is a flight of ten steps up to the front door, which by-the-by, we keep locked with the chain up. ... We have a nice little back garden which runs down to the railway. We were rather afraid of the noise of the trains at first, but the landlord said we should not notice them after a bit, and took £2 off the rent. He was certainly right; and beyond the cracking of the garden wall at the bottom, we have suffered no inconvenience.
This is the opening paragraph of a comic classic, George and Weedon Grossmith's The Diary of a Nobody - which was first published in Punch from late 1888 and appeared in book form in 1892. It's a glorious comedy of manners and suburban social pretension with illustrations by Weedon Grossmith. And it immortalised the hapless City clerk, Charles Pooter, whose self-important diary we are invited to dip into .
But - where was the Pooters' new home, 'The Laurels'?
This is the most favoured model for 'The Laurels' - it's 1 Pemberton Gardens, close to St John's, Upper Holloway, on Holloway Road. It's not an exact match of either the description in the book's opening paragraph or of Weedon Grossmith's drawing, as you can see, but it's not far off - and it does back on to the rail lines at Upper Holloway station.
The truth is, of course, that there is no exact match - The Diary of a Nobody is a pastiche of lower middle-class Holloway of the 1880s not a documentary.
I went for a walk today around 'Mr Pooter's Victorian Holloway' and Jane, our guide, came up with an alternative theory. She believes that some of the houses fronting on to the west side of Holloway Road, close to the junction with Tavistock Terrace, are a really good fit - even though there are no railway lines to the rear. What do you reckon?
This is a good match for the architectural details in Weedon Grossmith's drawing. But the Grossmiths lived in Canonbury and he may well have drawn from houses in his own backyard for the Pooters' home.
Does it matter much? No - but it is quite fun looking for Mr Pooter's "Laurels".
Thanks to the Open House weekend - and the even more admirable volunteers of the Friends of Hornsey Church Tower - I have achieved a longstanding ambition. I've been to the top of St Mary's church tower in Hornsey.
The tower - fifteenth century in part - has outlived a whole succession of adjoining churches, and now stands alone and aloof with its trademark turret and crenellations.
The vestry has been restored and is in wonderful condition. Religious services are held here a few times a year (this is no longer Hornsey's parish church but it's still owned by the church) - otherwise it's available for hire, an 'intimate space' for performance or kids' parties, with room for about twenty-five.
But this isn't the way up the tower. That's through a recessed side door, and a perilous spiral staircase with 120 narrow steps. That leads first to the bell ringers' chamber (though the bells have long gone) and then beyond, past the deserted bell chamber, to the larger-than-you might-expect roof.
From the top you have a commanding view of Muswell Hill, Alexandra Palace, White Hart Lane, Crouch End's "hog's back" and beyond t0 the skyscrapers of the City and Canary Wharf.
I took this short video - starting off facing, very roughly, south and then moving clockwise:
And here's a selection of views from the top of St Mary's tower:
Next time Open House weekend comes around, head straight to Hornsey!
This is Maurice Margarot, one of the most prominent of Britain's neo-Jacobins at the close of the eighteenth century. He was a founding - and leading - member of the radical London Corresponding Society and this portrait was issued at the time of Margarot's trial for sedition at the High Court of Edinburgh in January 1794.
Maurice Margarot was born in Devon, the son of a wine merchant. The family travelled widely across Europe - a custom which Margarot maintained. He was in France in 1789 at the time of the Revolution. Returning to London in 1792, he became involved in the campaign for Reform. Late in 1793, he attended the Edinburgh Convention, a radical gathering which the authorities regarded as having insurrectionary intent.
The portrait below was issued at the time of Margarot's trial - and also formed the frontispiece of the published record of the hearings. He was found guilty and sentenced to transportation to Australia, along with other reformers who became known collectively as 'the Scottish Martyrs to Liberty'.
Margarot eventually returned from New South Wales to Britain in around 1810, died five years later (at the age of 70) and was buried in London's Old St Pancras burial ground.
As well as coming across a nice copy of this portrait, I've also recently got hold of a copy of a London Corresponding Society pamphlet in Margarot's name. Here it is:
The historian E.P. Thompson, in his magisterial The Making of the English Working Class, says of Margarot: 'He was energetic and audacious, but badly bitten by the characteristic vice of English Jacobins - self-dramatization.' Ouch!
Of the Edinburgh trial, Thompson records: 'Margarot, who was accompanied to his trial by a procession holding a 'tree of liberty' in the shape of a letter M above his head, overplayed his hand and was too eager for the crown of martyrdom. But he challenged Braxfield [ ie Lord Justice Clerk, the leading judge in Scotland] with great audacity of having boasted at a dinner-party before the trial that he would have the reformers whipped before transportation, and that 'the mob would be the better for losing a little blood'.'
This is the exchange which features on the text below the portrait, though that talks of the mob 'letting' a little blood, which I take to mean drawing blood rather than losing it.
This is Ibrahim Colliver who runs Affinity, the cafe which has added a bit of sparkle to that once fly-blown stretch of Highgate Road between Gordonhouse Road and the Southampton Arms. If you haven't popped in here, you should. The coffee's good ... the pie-and-peas exceptional ... and it's a friendly sort of place which adds lustre to the locality.
This used to be a fish shop (remember Fish and Fowl and more recently Fish Tales?) Affinity has incorporated part of the old signboard, and other relics of the property's previous incarnations, in its interior decor.
Next door, the long derelict Chinese takeaway has been transformed into a 'natural' grocery.
And the garage opposite is being demolished - in its place will come a smart, three storey block of flats, set low so it will have a smaller silhouette, and stylishly designed using the motif of the nearby railway arches.
All-in-all, quite a makeover!
The highlight of Affinity's limited menu: the pies, of course! Not the old fashioned steak-and-mushroom type - something much more tempting; and all but the fish pie are vegetarian. Some come from the Scottish Borders - the gluten-free ones from a pie company in Plymouth; increasingly the fillings are bespoke to Affinity.
And if you have any sense, you will order a small mushy-pea-based dhal to accompany your pie - it's brilliant and made locally.
Affinity opened in February, and while it has a growing band of regulars, custom has been slow to build-up. That's in part because the cafe has done very little marketing. It should perhaps put more effort into promotion.
Affinity is Ibrahim's first venture into the cafe business - but he's an old hand at the food trade. He tells me that he had a business supplying cafes and other outlets with organic salads and meals, but he didn't want to scale that up so decided to go retail himself. He lives just two minutes walk away and makes the salads and rice pudding on site.
I had the great pleasure a few days ago - courtesy of the St Pancras Cruising Club - of travelling by narrowboat through the two-centuries-old Islington Tunnel. What a thrill!
A cavalcade of three narrowboats set off from close to St Pancras Basin, now the home of the wonderful transplanted Victorian Waterpoint which serves as the clubhouse, and headed east along the Regent's Canal.
The Islington Tunnel opened in 1818 and runs for 960 yards. There's no towpath, so initially boats had to be 'legged' through the tunnel - the boatmen would lie on their backs and use their legs to push against the tunnel walls to propel the barge along. From 1826, a steam tug attached to a chain on the canal bed would heave the barges through.
Nowadays, although there's room in the tunnel for narrow boats to pass, the convention is that it's one direction at a time - the tunnel is absolutely straight so it's easy to see if another boat is heading towards you.
Sometimes kayakers and canoeists use the tunnel too, but that must be really scary. There is no lighting - narrowboats have their own lights, but kayakers head through in complete darkness with just a pinprick of light at the end to offer any orientation.
The tunnel interrupts the towpath walk along the Regent's Canal but there are waymarkers to guide you from one tunnel mouth to the other. So if you are heading east to west you would go along Duncan Street, on to and across Islington High Street, up Liverpool Road, on to Chapel Market, right into Penton Street, left into Maygood Street and along Muriel Street and, hey presto, there's the canal again!
You do wonder whether a ferry service through the tunnel might be a worthwhile venture. Any takers?
A big thank you to Liz, the SPCC's vice-president, whose special invitee I was on this wonderful excursion, and to the skipper of the narrowboat I travelled on, Sally, not forgetting her faithful assistant, Flapjack ...
What a remarkable bookplate! It graces a book I've just bought, and there's quite a story behind it.
The bookplate was designed by Walter Crane - a socialist and talented designer and graphic artist - and engraved by W.H. Hooper. The branch referred to is the Hammersmith branch of the Socialist League - hence the initials HSL in the design. And the flower - whose likeness appears at the heart of the bloom - is May Morris, a prominent member of the branch. May was the daughter of the renowned writer and activist William Morris - the leading figure in the Socialist League and in its Hammersmith branch. And the bookplate was to mark her marriage to a fellow socialist - indeed a leading figure in the League - Henry Halliday Sparling.
It's been argued, with some justice I think, that Crane's celebration of Morris for her ornamental quality reflects the personal and professional challenges she faced.
The bookplate appears in a copy of Wllliam Morris's lectures, Hopes and Fears for Art, published in 1882. And a printed letter tipped in to the book makes clear that this was one of several volumes presented by the branch to May Morris as a wedding present.
The letter reads:
We, the undersigned, fellow members with you of the Hammersmith Branch of the Socialist League, ask you to accept this gift of books, and with it the heartiest assurance of our love.
You have lived among us, and are endeared to us; you have worked for us with your best strength. Happily you do not leave us now. We feel nevertheless, looking forward to the near day of your marriage, that there comes a time in which a full word of goodwill may be spoken, and which indeed in brotherhood that holds you among its sisters, may hardly be repressed.
We wish you and your husband good health and long life and all that men wish each other. We wish for ourselves that you and he may dwell long in the Fraternity of the League.
TO MAY MORRIS
A note underneath in pencil reads: 'This book label + letter were given to me by Mrs Lang a friend + neighbour of Wm Morris'. This may be a reference to the writer Nora Lang, whose husband Andrew was also a writer and an early admirer and critic of William Morris's writing.
The original of the letter - signed by sixty-four members of the Hammersmith branch - is still extant, and has been reproduced in a recent issue of the journal of the William Morris Society in the US
By the time Morris and Sparling got married, the Socialist League was close to a crisis - the anarchist element within its ranks gained the upper hand and many of what became the minority faction, including William Morris and his son-in-law, withdrew from the organisation. May Morris's marriage wasn't a success and the couple divorced after a few years.
The Hammersmith branch - and in its later incarnation the Hammersmith Socialist Society - enjoyed a rare privilege for left-wing organisations of that time ... a group photo. Indeed there were a couple down the years - there are details here in this article by Nigel Stott.
It must be almost a decade since I popped into a bookshop in Cromer, on the north Norfolk coast, and came out with an assortment of goodies. The stuff that makes the rest of my household despair, but I really love ... like an assortment of old copies of Socialist Standard and pamphlets from the left libertarian group Solidarity.
I've been meaning to go back - and in the past week I managed it.
And the good news is that Andy and Susan Slovak's shop, Much Binding (as in 'in the Marsh'), is not only still going but still awash with pamphlets, ephemera and all the sort of stuff that makes a second-hand bookshop special.
So what did I come away with? Well, a couple of 1930s copies of the Daily Worker, and of the New Clarion of similar vintage complete with details of the Clarion cycling clubs which were once such an important aspect of socialist culture (the National Clarion Cycling Club is still going, by the way).
And there was this choice piece of political ephemera - the Blastfurnacemen's ball (it sounds a bit like 'I'm Sorry I Don't Have a Clue', doesn't it!), at the Beehive Hall in - as far as I can make out - Workington in Cumbria.
And here's an election canvassing card from ninety years ago - William Preston, by the way, was a Tory and in 1929 he lost Walsall to Labour.
And then there are the pieces of ephemera which offer just a glimpse of a personal story - like this 1946 recruitment leaflet for the police force in Palestine. It seems to have been an option for those required to do National Service -
And on the back, there's this handwritten note -
'I applied in march 1947. But dad would not sign the papers.' Given what was happening in mandated Palestine in the run up to the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, I think Dad made a wise decision!
If this sort of thing appeals as much to you as to me, make haste to Much Binding.
St Mary's at Haddiscoe on the Norfolk-Suffolk border is one of East Anglia's most bewitching roundtower churches. Parts of the structure are eleventh century - and much of the construction is fifteenth century, including the distinctively patterned battlements at the top of the tower.
In the main aisle, there are several memorials - couple with slightly macabre skull-like markings -
- and there's a remnant of a fourteenth century wall painting of St Christopher with baby Jesus.
Just a mile away there's another charming round tower church - St Matthias at Thorpe. It's also still in use and has a tower which is, in part, late Saxon ...
... and St Matthias has the rare bonus, for a church, of a thatched roof!
Paris? Not quite! This remarkable late Victorian pile overlooks not the Seine but the North Sea. And it's known by locals as the Hotel de Paris, rhyming wiith Harris not Marie.
The building doesn't exactly shout Parisian gaiety - it's a touch dour, though with some nice design flourishes such as the mosaic tiles in the entrance.
The current hotel dates from the 1890s and replaced an earlier building of the same name. It stands above the pier at Cromer on the north Norfolk coast - a town which has a lot going for it, not least its very tasty crabs, but isn't anything like as fashionable as it was when the hotel came up.
The hotel currently has 61 rooms, is three star and has 'free WiFi in public areas' - I think you get the picture. It's a listed building and deservedly so - a touch of faded elegance on the North Sea coast.
These charming churches with round towers are a hallmark of East Anglia. There are 160 or so still standing - the greater number in Norfolk ... and only a handful in other parts of England. It seems that East Anglia was short of the sort of stone that could form a substantial corner stone, so developed an architectural style which surmounted that limitation.
This one is at Burgh Castle - it's pronounced 'borough' as in Edinburgh - in Norfolk, overlooking the river Waveney and close to the spot where it joins the Yare.
The lower part of the tower is late Saxon or early Norman - much of the rest is from the twelfth century onwards, except part of the nave which is nineteenth century.
The church - dedicated to St Peter and St Paul - still has services every Sunday. I asked how big the congregation is. "Oh, we get in double figures - just."
The church has some nice stained glass - the most curious being fairly modern, and about as wonky historically as you can get -
Never mind the 'best monarchs of Britain' business - that's just sentimental pap.
More grievous is the suggestion that Alfred was a king of Britain ... the implication that there was a direct royal lineage between Alfred and Victoria ... and then there's that wonderful doctoring of the historical record to give Alfred's date of death two years later than generally accepted because it makes a round thousand years between the demise of these two best-of-the-best.
Almost adjoining the church is one of the most remarkable Roman monuments I have ever come across - and open to the public without cost or restriction. It's a third century Roman fort set up on the Saxon shore to keep a look-out for raiding parties - and three of the walls still stand to more-or-less their original height. (The fourth wall has fallen into the marshes).
This may have been the fortress of Gariannonum. It's on raised land looking out over a wide expanse of marshes - what an impression it must have given of solidity and substance.
Eventually, of course, the Anglo-Saxons prevailed. After the Romans left, a corner of the fort was taken over in the seventh century as a religious settlement, established by an Irish holy man, St Fursey. He became so alarmed by the continuing raids from the sea that he eventually moved to France and established a monastery there.
I'm so glad I chanced across Burgh Castle!
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