An open day for local residents today at Highgate East cemetery - that's the 'newer' of the two wings of this wonderful valhalla. It's where Marx and George Eliot are buried, and it's still open for interments.
The chunky Grade 1 listed Marx memorial dates from the 1950s - he was moved from a more hidden away spot where the stone appears to have been vandalised. Among those who followed in his footsteps, Eric Hobsbawm, Raph Samuel and Paul Foot are buried nearby. As, by chance, is George Jacob Holyoake, the cooperator and freethinker, whose grave is adorned by a bust - that's him with the stylishly long hair and beard.
And there is of course the charm of the remarkable, the outlandish and the unexpected.
While walking through the Pear Tree and Normanton areas of Derby the other day, I was engrossed by the names given by some late Victorian or Edwardian property developer to fairly ordinary terraced houses. They were all 'villas' - I thought that meant something a bit more grand - and were named after places, beauty spots, statesmen ...
And then I came across 'Chillo Villa'.
I don't know what lay behind this name. There's nothing on the web to help: there's no place called Chillo - it's not a surname - the word doesn't seem to have had any particular meaning, at least not at that time (it has been used for various commercial products, all of fairly modern vintage).
So, here's a guess - that this was an echo of the Raj, perhaps named for an India-returned soldier or official ... and I wonder if the developer allowed those who were buying 'off plan' to chose the name of their villa. Perhaps this was a corruption of Chalo Villa - chalo being the much used Hindi term meaning 'let's go' and a hundred close variants. Any Raj-returned Brit of those days would know the word 'chalo' - it's almost as universal as 'namaste'.
The house may now be used as a small madrasa or masjid.
Strolling around Littleover in Derby the other day, I chanced across one of the few remaining Swedenborg churches. A welcome surprise.
Emmanuel Swedenborg was a Swedish eighteenth century Christian mystic - do stay awake at the back! - who had quite a following in England in the nineteenth century. The Swedenborg Society still has a bookshop and splendid hall in Bloomsbury. But this radical strand within Christianity, which once attracted the attention of William Blake, has now almost faded away. Nice that the church, and the tradition, survives in Derby - which has such a strong, radical and non-conformist tradition.
If you've never heard of Fortis Green, never mind, There's not much there. And that's being generous.
Fortis Green is the nether world between Muswell Hill and East Finchley - it's both street name and district. There are a few early and mid-Victorian properties, some small terraces which might merit further delving - but broadly this is late Victorian and Edwardian suburbia, with a few slightly later mansion blocks on the main road.
If you have heard of Fortis Green, it's probably because this is where that quintessentially north London band the Kinks came from - and escaped from. Ray and Dave Davies were brought up at 6 Denmark Terrace, bang opposite the Clissold Arms, a pub which has been trading on the Kinks brand name with a determination which smacks of desperation. Though in this part of London, any USP is a USP.
Fortis Green has another claim to musical fame - Simon Nicol's Dad was a GP with a surgery in a local mansion black on Fortis Green (now apparently demolished) called 'Fairport'. Yes, the 'Fairport' of Fairport Convention, This wasn't where the totemic cover of 'Unhalfbricking' was shot - that was at Sandy Denny's parents' place in Wimbledon. And this isn't where Fairport played its first gig - that was, Alan Dein tells me, at a church hall in Golders Green. But this patch is more than a footnote in the story of Britain's best folk rock band. Respect!
Yet, look around the place - and the imposing police station is empty and semi-derelict ... just opposite, the street's oldest pub, the Alexandra, is closed and apparently squatted by some sort of Frankenstein fan club. What is happening to Fortis Green!
But as so often - if you wander around the back streets, there are delights to stumble upon. Even in forsaken Fortis Green.
Take a look at Keynes Close - a wonderful assemblage of thirty-four single storey, one bedroom cottages laid out as a mini-estate. These were built as homes for the elderly by the local authority back in 1947 - and seventy years later they are still being used for that purpose.
This lurid article about the dangers of romances with suave Indian students at British universities appeared in the magazine 'Answers' in December 1936. You can see from the close-up below the tone of the article. 'The man was a particularly handsome, velvet-eyed Indian, with that melodious, high bred speaking voice which is peculiar to better-class Hindus. ...'
The cutting is in the Indian Office Records at the British Library. The paragraph marked in heavy blue crayon mentions a department in the India Office 'only too anxious to be of service to you of you wish to make inquiries about your prospective [Indian] son-in-law'.
The India Office did indeed get a steady trickle of letters from English women who had married Indian students in the UK and been deserted - or some canny ones wanting to understand what would be the legal status of their marriage in India - and a few from family members, or lawyers, making enquiries.
English brides, once in India, could find that their marriage was not recognised - and that under Hindu or Muslim personal law, their husbands had already married or could take additional wives. And if they were deserted in the UK - waiting for the money to pay their passage out which somehow never came - it was very difficult to get a divorce.
One of those on whose behalf an enquiry was made had given birth to a boy in Leeds, apparently fathered by a student who was a member of the Hyderabad royal family
The Lord Chancellor's office proposed setting up what was called a 'polygamy committee' to deal with the issue. By the mid-1930s there were well over a thousand Indians studying in Britain - almost all of them men, and more than two-thirds in London. It's difficult to know how many married while they were here - but certainly a significant number.
Some wit at the Indian Office wrote on this file that Jane Doe, the pseudonymous author of this alarmist and thoroughly disreputable piece of journalism, 'seems to be an admirable person!' It would be nice to think he was joking.
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