It's back! Difficult to believe, but after years of barren, shuttered decay, the Archway Tavern got back in business this weekend.
It's five years at least since anyone popped in here for a pint. Great to have you back!
The building dates from 1888. An imposing edifice in what became the blighted island in the middle of the Archway gyratory system. Now, you don't have to cross the road to get from Archway tube to the Tavern. The area is slowly, slowly on the up. There's even an M&S food store nearby!
The Tavern used to be a big Guinness pub. This was a very Irish corner of North London. It still is - you can buy all the Irish county weeklies at the newsagents nearby. And that Guinness legacy is evident both in the tiles at the entrance (the toucan featured for decades in Guinness ads and promotions) and in the rather decrepit clock on the outside ... it would be so nice if they could restore the clock to its original splendour.
The Tavern has a great location, but it needs a touch more character and charm. And perhaps a few pence off the price of a pint.
For a pub of such size and vintage it would be nice to say a little more about its history, But to be honest I'm not quite sure what there is to say.
The Tavern's main claim to fame is featuring on the cover of the Kinks' album "Muswell Hillbillies" - even though the Kinks' stamping ground of Muswell Hill is a mile or two further out.
All the same, it's good to have one of North London's grand old drinking spots back - not many arise Lazarus-like from the dead in the way that the Archway Tavern has done. Now it's a matter of ... Stayin' Alive!
It's not quite what you expect in the Regent's Canal as you wend your way past disused wharfs and spruced up warehouses. But as you head through Haggerston, across from the tow path there's a shiver (yes, that really is the collective noun!) of sharks. Fibreglass and polystyrene sharks.
I chanced on this curious scene when strolling from Hackney Broadway towards The Angel. A web search reveals that this is an art installation. There will eventually be five sharks, capable of blowing bubbles, singing and making expositions on contemporary architecture.
It's all a little jaw-dropping I know ... it seems the artist, Jaimie Shorten, won a £25,000 prize for an installation to liven up this rather barren stretch of the canal.
The canal's long-term residents - coots, swans and the like - seem to be taking the new arrivals in their, er, paddle.
61 Marlborough Road was where the birth control pioneer Marie Stopes opened her first clinic a little over a century ago. And so it has a place - an important place - in medical, social and feminist history.
Marie Stopes is most famous for Married Love published in 1918 - which was a sex manual and a guide to a good marriage and included advocacy of birth control. The book was a huge success. A few months later, she opened her first clinic - the Mothers' Clinic - in part influenced by a similar endeavour in New York undertaken by Margaret Sanger.
The clinic was run by midwives, with some support from doctors. It was free and open to all married women and offered birth control advice and dispensed cervical caps.
In 1921 the clinic moved from Holloway to near Tottenham Court Road, so this building's pioneering role in women's control of their own fertility was brief - but important all the same as Britain's first family planning clinic.
Stopes's reputation is under a cloud because of her advocacy of eugenics and a biographer, June Rose, has argued that Stopes was 'an elitist, an idealist, interested in creating a society in which only the best and beautiful should survive', and that - at least in part - explains her interest in birth control.
I only came across the place and the plaque because I was cycling around as part of my pandemic 'keep fit' regime - there really is a world out there!
Lavenham is sensational! It's a tiny town in Suffolk - close to Sudbury and to Bury St Edmunds - once made wealthy by the wool trade. And it boasts of the finest array of half-timbered medieval buildings in the country.
All told, Lavenham has 300 listed buildings. Not bad considering that its population is well under 2,000.
The market place alone has a Guildhall built about 1530 ... the ochre-coloured Little Hall dating from 1390 ... a market cross with an original base from 1500 ... you get the picture. If not, take a look -
And the parish church of St Peter and St Paul - parts of which date from the fourteenth century - is bigger than some cathedrals.
Everywhere you turn, there's another exceptional medieval building -
If you have never been to Lavenham - and we hadn't until now - give it a go!
Major John Cartwright (1740-1824) was one of the most prominent and persistent advocates of Parliamentary Reform in the late eighteenth century and through to the Regency era. This pamphlet was published two years before the Peterloo massacre - Cartwright had been expected to attend that Reform gathering in Manchester but in the end didn't.
Cartwright was born into privilege and was eccentric and unbiddable as well as deeply principled. He was a very early British advocate of American independence, and that's - as well as his advocacy of Reform - is what he's celebrated for in the statue of in Cartwright Gardens (he lived and died nearby on what was then Burton Crescent) in Bloomsbury.
In this pamphlet, Cartwright advocates universal male suffrage, equal electoral districts and annual Parliaments and secret polling (though not the use of a paper ballot).
It's a very detailed and prescriptive proposal, and he goes so far as to sketch the lay-out of a polling station (quite a change from the open hustings then common in Parliamentary elections).
If you want to know more about the nature of the Reform Cartwright had in mind, here's the abstract he provided:
It looks like a rural idyll. But this is London - and fairly central too.
The New River opened in 1613 to bring drinking water from Hertfordshire to the growing city - it ended at New River Head near Sadlers Wells in Clerkenwell. The 'river' doesn't now extend beyond Stoke Newington, though you can follow the path it once took through Islington.
Some stretches of the New River are now walkable - and this is a particularly lovely stroll, accessing the New River at Green Lanes, opposite Finsbury Park, and walking alongside (apart from a fairly run-for-your-life crossing of Seven Sisters Road) as it enters the East Reservoir which is now the wonderful Woodberry Wetlands.
The New River is shallow and doesn't have much of a flow, but it is a haven for wildlife. Above all, coots - and my, baby coots make quite a racket ...
There are heron and grebe at the Wetlands, and along the New River I came across this cormorant, perhaps a juvenile, who was entirely undisturbed by the procession of pedestrians on the other side of the waterway. And then there are the swans -
The Woodberry Wetlands were opened to the public in 2016. It covers eleven acres, including the more easterly of two reservoirs constructed in 1833 to store water brought in to London by the New River.
As well as gorgeous views over the water and reed beds, there's also a cafe open seven days a week which does good sandwiches and snacks, which you can eat on the banks of the water.
From these wetlands, you can continue along the New River, skirting the West reservoir - now for water spots - coming back out on Green Lanes by the Stoke Newington Pumping Station, built in the 1850s in the style of a medieval castle and now a climbing centre. But that's for another post ...
Yes, there are catacombs in Highgate cemetery - and these are one of the very few catacombs in Britain that are open to the public. This is the 'West' cemetery - the older part. The catacombs date from the original lay-out of in the late 1830s. They are on just about the highest spot - the terrace above them backs on to St Michael's, Highgate's parish church.
The catacombs are airy and fairly well lit. They are not subterranean so are neither musty nor excessively spooky. But it is a little unnerving to see coffins on display. These would be three-ply: a hardwood initial lining, in turn sealed in a lead coffin, with the decorated wood outer layer that can be glimpsed here.
A little downhill from the catacombs is the Egyptian avenue leading to the Circle of Lebanon, a full circle of burial vaults with - until last year - a Lebanese cedar in the middle. The tree had to be removed last year - it was decaying and posing a threat to both the vaults and visitors. A new cedar has been planted - but it will be some decades before it gains anything like the girth and splendour of the original.
One of the vaults is the burial place of the novelist Radclyffe Hall, author of The Well of Loneliness. She shares the vault with her lover, Mabel Batten.
The west cemetery is still occasionally used for interments. George Michael is buried here - though that grave is off-limits to visitors - and so too is Alexander Litvinenko, the Russian defector who was killed by radiation poisoning in 2006.
Highgate's west cemetery is open only for booked and guided tours - it's well worth it!
I went in search yesterday of William John Pinks. It's strange to set off in pursuit of someone who died 160 years ago. But, after a fashion, I found him.
So, who was he? Well, he was among the best - and most productive - of the battalion of antiquarians and local historians of Victorian London. Some years ago, in a review of the Survey of London volumes about Clerkenwell, I paid a tribute to this rather tragic figure:
William John Pinks had been buried for five years in Highgate cemetery when his huge and ambitious History of Clerkenwell first appeared in book form. It is among the most impressive London parish histories of the Victorian era. The antiquarianism is tempered by contemporary anecdote and a keen social eye, and its 800 pages are enlivened by scores of engravings – among them one depicting the author’s grave. Pinks was himself a Clerkenwellian, apprenticed as a bookbinder, and later a full-time contributor to the ‘Clerkenwell News’, the first and most successful of London’s district papers. He died from TB at the age of thirty-one.
When J.T. Pickburn, the proprietor of the ‘Clerkenwell News’, published Pinks’s local history in 1865, it was the high water mark of prosperous, industrious Clerkenwell. A second edition, in essence unchanged, appeared in 1880 – the format of the book, reflecting Clerkenwell’s fortunes, a little more cramped and pinched in appearance. The ‘Clerkenwell News’ had by then metamorphosed into the much grander ‘Daily Chronicle’ which, as the ‘News Chronicle’, remained a leading national daily until 1960.
So it was of course William John Pinks's grave that I was seeking yesterday, in the older west section of Highgate Cemetery. And with the help of a guide, Charles, I found it - though as it was some distance away from any of the paths, I couldn't venture there myself (health and safety etc).
Charles did, for which many thanks - and while from the plan he had of the cemetery this is certainly Pink's grave and tombstone, he couldn't immediately make out any of the inscription.
Pinks's magnum opus, The History of Clerkenwell, provides us with the text of the inscription -
It's worth including here the account of Pinks which appeared in the volume he wrote, which was first published towards the end of 1865 -
The history was a stupendous achievement - of both author and of the editor, Edward J. Wood. It is certainly antiquarian, but Pinks also knew well the streets he wrote about and every now-and-again he gives a sense of the Clerkenwell of his day as well as earlier days. There is an account, for example, of the arrival of the Metropolitan Railway and the building of Farringdon station - events he would have witnessed as a teenager.
Pinks's History appeared in a second edition in 1880. And rather marvellously it was republished in a facsimile edition in 2001 - an edition which sold out. Not many local histories have such a long life.
And if you don't know where Clerkenwell is, perhaps the folding map included in the History may help!
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