Archway Road - aka the A1 - is a busy arterial road not noted for its architecture. Although there are clusters of shops, it doesn't really have a centre ... I was going to say a heart. The closure of that remarkable gin palace the Winchester Tavern hasn't helped - on the other hand, the Murugan temple, the Tamil Hindu mandir, has brought a bit of life to this rather barren road.
But some renovation work has revealed just how imposing one of the buildings fronting Archway Road once was. This is at the junction with Cholmeley Park. Now that the rather overgrown garden - including several mature trees obscuring the frontage - has been cleared, you can see how grand this mansion was.
This wonderful late Victorian pile, 225 Archway Road, has a colonnaded porch, it's double fronted and has a matching wing alongside the main frontage.
It's a Grade II listed 'villa' from the 1880s. But it's all set to change. The building will be renovated and extended to allow - as I understand it from the planning application, (though this dates from 2011 and may have been superseded) - four flats, and there will be some building work in the grounds. Here's the developer's version of the plans.
So enjoy this touch of North London style before it gets restyled!
No, this isn't India House on Aldwych - completed in 1930 and from 1947 the Indian government's High Commission in London. This is a smaller, older, more anonymous building on Cromwell Avenue in north London, in that limbo land between Archway and Highgate.
The building bears a rather generously worded GLC blue plaque for Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. He was a founding ideologue of Hindutva or Hindu nationalism and is something of an intellectual hero to the more cerebral supporters of Narendra Modi's BJP.
Savarkar was and remains a deeply controversial figure. He was tried as a co-conspirator in the Gandhi murder trial and was acquitted. In the photo below of the accused, he's the older man with glasses on the front row. To his right as we are looking at the photo is Nathuram Godse who fired the shots that killed Gandhi and who was executed for his murder in November 1949.
Savarkar had another brush with the law - again alleged complicity in a political assassination - during his sojourn on Cromwell Avenue forty years earlier. We'll get to that in a moment. But this building was much more than Savarkar's temporary home.
65 Cromwell Avenue became, in 1905, a hostel for Indian students in London, taking the name India House. It was more than simply a place to live. There was a political purpose to India House. It was intended to be a nurturing place for a new and more assertive generation of Indian nationalists. It certainly was where Indian revolutionaries of different hues got to meet and organise. Ironically, perhaps, Gandhi visited here while in London in 1906.
India House was opened on 1 July 1905 by H.M. Hyndman, a veteran socialist (and founder in the 1880s of the SDF) with a longstanding interest in India. Also present at the opening ceremony were Dadabhai Naoroji, who a decade earlier had been the first Indian elected to the House of Commons, a radical Liberal and constitutional nationalist, and two much more revolutionary-minded women activists, Charlotte Despard, suffragist and Irish republican, and Madame Cama, a Paris-based Parsee who was at the centre of the web of militant Indian nationalists and socialists in Europe.
The founder of India House was Shyamji Krishna Varma, a scholar and barrister who founded the India Home Rule Society. He published the curiously named Indian Sociologist - and fled London for Paris in 1907 after some of his more intemperate remarks and articles attracted official attention. The journal continued to appear - the maverick anarchist Guy Aldred took over as publisher and was sentenced at the Old Bailey to twelve months hard labour for his troubles.
India House provided a base for an array of political activists of different hues. The communist and anarchist M.P.T. Acharya was among those associated with the building on Cromwell Avenue. So too was Madan Lal Dhingra, who came to London from Punjab to study mechanical engineering at University College.
On 1 July 1909, Dhingra fired seven shots at Sir William Curzon Wyllie, the political aide-de-camp of the British government's Secretary of State for India (at that time John Morley), on the steps of the Imperial Institute in London. Wyllie was killed, as was a Parsee doctor, Cawas Lalcaca, who sought to come to his aid. It was one of the most renowned political assassinations in London of agents of British rule in India - the most notorious being Udham Singh's killing of Sir Michael O'Dwyer more than thirty years later.
Dhingra was tried at the Old Bailey and, within seven weeks of the killing, was hanged in the grounds of Pentonville jail. A memorial tablet for Wyllie stands in the crypt of St Paul's cathedral.
There were suggestions that Savarkar had supplied Dhingra with the gun used in the killing and he certainly declined to criticise the assassination. Savarkar was eventually arrested and it was decided that he should stand trial in India.
While on board ship moored near Marseilles, Savarkar escaped - which doesn't say much for the competence of the Imperial authorities. When he eventually turned up in Bombay he was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment. He spent ten years in the cellular jail on the Andaman islands and many subsequent years in prison and internment.
By the time Savarkar was released in 1937, he had written his commanding work, Hindutva: what is a Hindu? He became the head of the right-wing Hindu Mahasabha and died in Bombay in 1966.
And what of India House? Well, after Wyllie's assassination the hostel was closed and the property sold. 65 Cromwell Avenue reverted to being an ordinary suburban home - but what a back story it has!
The plaque to Savarkar was unveiled by the Labour left-winger Fenner Brockway in 1985 - a staunch opponent of Empire and advocate of colonial freedom.
Ten years ago came a remarkable footnote to the India House story. A full-size replica of 65 Cromwell Avenue was built in the town of Mandvi in Gujarat, the birthplace of Shyamji Krishna Varma, as a memorial to the man who established the students' hostel. A little bit of Highgate in western India!
It feels a little strange, inappropriate almost, to buy from a second-hand bookshop copies of political papers that I would have bought at the time for a few pence. I suppose it's almost a way of communing with my own past.
Anyway, while sifting around in a cardboard box marked 'Anarchy' at Black Gull Books in East Finchley at the weekend, I came across complete (I think) runs of two of the most innovative anarchist monthlies of the 1970s. Wildcat got going in September 1974 and ran for ten issues; Zero, put out by much the same bunch of people, I think, though with more emphasis on feminism, started publication in June 1977 and persisted - with increasing irregularity - for seven issues.
Strange to say, I still have the odd copy of these titles that I bought back in the day - though most of what I picked up ended up deposited at the Modern Records Centre at the University of Warwick, including six issues of Wildcat and five of Zero.
So most of what I've just bought I once had - and I guess my latest purchase will, I trust many years hence, end up in a library or archive somewhere.
Having said all that, I am very happy to have a complete set, in great condition, of these really rather stylish and important papers, in design influenced by the alternative press and in agenda by the libertarian left - notable too for their keen sense of, and engagement with, the past.
Harry Pollitt epitomised British Communism. He was a boilermaker from Lancashire, a working class audo-didact, who led the Communist Party of Great Britain through its glory years - from 1929 to May 1956, the year that saw the double blows to its credibility of Khruschev's 'secret speech' denouncing Stalin's cult of personality and a few months later the Soviet-led invasion of Hungary.
There was a break in Pollitt's leadership, which speaks well of the man and his politics. In October 1939 he stood down as general secretary because of his unease at the Communist 'about-turn' following the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact which obliged Communists to oppose the Second World War as an imperialist war. He returned to the post in June 1941 when Hitler's attack on the Soviet Union led to a reversal of the Communist line on the war.
I've just come across - indeed been given (many thanks to the excellent Black Gull Books in East Finchley - if you are worried about their business model, don't be alarmed, I'd bought quite a bit of other stuff) - a copy of the order of service for Pollitt's funeral ceremony at Golders Green in July 1960. Paul Robeson gave a rendition of 'Joe Hill' and 'England Arise; and those attending were asked to join in the singing of 'The Red Flag' and 'The Internationale'. There's a small plaque to Pollitt's memory in what's colloquially known as the Communist corner at Golders Green crematorium.
There's some mute footage of Pollitt's funeral cortege on YouTube - and you can spot Robeson and also some of Pollitt's fellow leaders of the British CP, including John Gollan. George Matthews and Rajani Palme Dutt.
Harry has to take much of the blame for the British party's abject subservience to Moscow, and the failure to denounce Stalin's purges even when one of his own friends, Rose Cohen, fell victim. But he was popular within the British party - avuncular, unpompous, and a good orator (a recording of a wartime address is available here).
He also prompted the song 'The Ballad of Harry Pollitt' - better known to many as 'Harry was a Bolshie' - which, this blog teasingly suggests, has a tenuous connection to the Grateful Dead.
Of all the tributes, the one that does least service to Harry Pollitt's memory is this stamp issued by the Soviet Union after his death.
One of the most charming and characterful houses in Tufnell Park is in danger of demolition. 156 Junction Road is beside the rail tracks close to the junction with Wyndham Crescent. It's the one with a small monkey puzzle-type tree amid the dense foliage fronting Junction Road..
It's a lovely detached Victorian property in an area where all three attributes are not exactly common.
The house has been on the market recently for a million. The Zoopla details speak of a detached property with three double bedrooms and 'very spacious front and rear gardens'. But there's a note of caution too: 'Cash buyers only! A truly unique double fronted detached Victorian house requiring extensive modernisation and extensive remedial work due to subsidence.'
These two images are courtesy of the Zoopla site:
According to the Islington Gazette - and God bless local papers! - a property investment firm has lodged an application with Islington Council to demolish the building. The firm says that the building has 'serious structural issues' and they want to rebuild in a fashion that provides housing for more than 'a single wealthy family' - hmmm!
Happily, both the Islington Society and the Better Archway Forum are taking up cudgels against the demolition. What makes the fate of the building of still greater interest is the suggestion that it was linked to one of London's 'lost' rail stations, and may even have been the station master's house.
This 1912 Ordnance Survey map shows the old station - Junction Road Station - though it doesn't categorically demonstrate that 156 Junction Road was part of the station estate.
Junction Road railway station (originally Junction Road for Tufnell Park) opened in 1872, just as this area was starting to get built-up. Station Road on the east side of Junction Road was laid out to give access to the station. According to the Wikipedia entry, there were two wooden platforms with footbridge and stairs, which also served the Tufnell Park goods depot nearby.
When Tufnell Park tube station opened in 1907, the number of passengers using Junction Road station plummeted. John Betjeman wrote a (not very good) poem which referred to Junction Road as 'this lonely station'. It closed in 1943 and was demolished in the early 1950s.
Junction Road station was in between Gospel Oak and Upper Holloway - that's quite a stretch. There's been talk from time-to-time of reopening it but it is just talk. There's nothing left at all of the station structure. Gone!
I had always imagined that two of the buildings at the top of Huddleston Road, now flanking the entrance road to the student halls of residence, were station related. They are certainly in a different style from the neighbouring houses, and they must have had some sort of public purpose.
And the house on Junction Road - whether or not it was the station master's house I do hope it can be saved.
If you want to comment on the planning application. here's the link.
This small building stands aloof adjoining the Sainsbury's car park just off Hornsey High Street. I suppose we should be grateful it has survived at all. But what was it? I'm not at all sure. A watch room? The lobby to a larger building?
You can see the coat of arms. These were the arms of the Borough of Hornsey granted in 1904 - two oak trees representing the woods which once extended across the area, and crossed swords borrowed from the arms of the Diocese of London. The Latin motto translates as; 'the better prepared, the stronger'.
The borough disappeared in 1965, amalgamated into the new London Borough of Haringey - one of the more unfortunate names bestowed on the new outer London boroughs. If you want to get a sense of the area the borough covered - though beware, the boundaries did change from time-to-time - this map will help:
This was taken from an early municipal publication, Healthy Hornsey. The area prided itself on being part of the northern heights of London and so healthier than the lower-lying (and poorer and more crowded) area to its south. As you can see, the coat of arms features in this publication -
The coat of arms also appears on the plaque on the side of Hornsey Library - the last building to be commissioned by Hornsey Borough before it disappeared beneath the waves of municipal progress. The plaque is in the shape of the old borough, which is a nice design touch.
But that brings me back to where I started. What was that building in Sainsbury's car park?
There is something magical about pamphlets and political ephemera from the era of the English Civil War. This is a really wonderful six-page tract from the run-up to the breach between King and Parliament which led to war and eventually the execution of Charles I in 1649.
John Pym was a champion of the Parliamentary cause and an opponent or arbitrary rule. He was one of the five MPs whose attempted arrest in Parliament in 1642 led directly to civil war. As you can see, this pamphlet is from the previous year - June 1641 to be precise.
Pym here addresses his demands to Charles, calling for the King to disband his army, give his assent to disputed bills and to remove Catholics from the queen's retinue. It also calls for the king to guarantee the safety of Pym and his family.
John Pym died in 1643, probably from cancer, and didn't see the full depths of the turmoil into which the nation plunged.
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