Kropotkin for Christmas
I've bought myself a Christmas present. I am perfectly content with those I've been given by family - but I've topped these up with something which appeals to my idiosyncratic interests.
It's an original Kropotkin - at least, a letter written in the hand of, and signed by, Peter Kropotkion. That's him with the extravagantly bushy beard - a Russian aristocrat, geographer, political scientist and campaigner who is the most revered of anarchists.
The letter was written in October 1890, when Kropotkin was in exile and living in Harrow (he later moved to Brighton). It's to Sydney Gimson, the secretary of the Liecester Secular Society who had clearly invited Kropotkin to deliver a lecture at the Leicester Secular Hall.
The Gimson family were mainstays of the Leicester Secular Society, and Sydney's father bankrolled the building of the Leicester Secular Hall - still standing! - which opened in 1881.
I've not yet managed to work out whether Kropotkin ever got to address Leicester secularists.
So, what's in a Clerkenwell CV?
Here's a mystery in a minor key. This is a path that leads from the hidden-away Spa Fields in Clerkenwell to Exmouth Market. The three silver painted bollards are all embossed 'C.V.'- but what on earth was 'CV'?
It took me a while. But I think I have cracked it. And it is sort of bleedin' obvious.
And the clue is in the rather imposing late Victorian municipal building nearby.
This is the rear view of Finsbury Town Hall, which stands on a peculiarly shaped triangular parcel of land. But it wasn't built by the Borough of Finsbury.
This was constructed in 1894-5 as the Clerkenwell Vestry Hall on ground cleared during the construction of Rosebery Avenue. The vestry was the form of local government in place until 1900 - when Clerkenwell was joined with neighbouring St Luke's in the new Borough of Finsbury (which was in turn subsumed into the London Borough of Islington in the 1960s).
The Clerkenwell Vestry was notorious for guzzling (dining well at ratepayers' expense) and for the house agents who contested elections largely to obstruct the enforcement of sanitary and building regulations.
There was an earlier vestry hall on the same site, which had been built in 1814 as the Spa Fields watch house. This later and clearly ambitious building - its interior is much more grand - was constructed in the closing years of the vestry and was, by their parsimonious standards, an opulent spend.
Strangely, although the back end of the town hall is architecturally impressive it doesn't have an entrance to match. The main entrance is on the Rosebery Avenue side.
So 'C.V.'? It has to stand for Clerkenwell Vestry, doesn't it?
A tourist in Delhi
Delhi is such a glorious city! Yes, it's covered in smog, it's grimy, the traffic is maddening and the urban sprawl hugely excessive. But in the heart of the city, there are places of immense charm and elegance - and buzzing with bird life.
Last week, for the first time in twenty years or more, Anu and I spent a few hours, just the two of us, as tourists in Delhi - a city in which we have lived, in total, for seven years or more.
It's no longer home, but it still has the pull of home.
Lodhi Gardens is one of my favourite places in this world. I just love it. What a privilege to stroll past its fifteenth century tombs and gumbads, across its lawns, and around its lake.
I don't know much about Marie Adelaide Freeman-Thomas, the Marchioness of Willingdon, the wife of the Viceroy in the early 1930s. But this park initially took her name - and you can still see mention of 'Lady Willingdon Gardens' on the gate in the north-east corner.
Good on you, ma'am!
And Lodhi Gardens bird life? Well, the highlight on this visit was a pair of red naped ibis. Spectacular!
When I first got to know Lodhi Gardens almost thirty years ago, you could see the bewitching silhouette of vultures roosting at dusk. They are long gone. And on this trip I didn't see a grey hornbill, which I have caught a glimpse of in the past.
But on the lakeside, there was a real thrill - a white throated kingfisher as bold as brass perched on a low-hanging branch:
Next stop, the exquisite Humayun's Tomb, mid-sixteenth century and the earliest of India's 'garden tombs' (of which the Taj Mahal is the most famous).
Cheel or scavenger kites are common across North India, but here they were majestic as they circled and wheeled overhead:
Then, for the first time, we visited the adjoining Sunder Nursery - ninety acres of monuments, gardens, woodland and water. It's been wonderfully fashioned with support from the Aga Khan Trust.
We saw a black drongo and a family of peacocks - but for me the highlight was spotting my talisman, a group of hoopoes grubbing away. They are not particularly rare in Delhi but there is something special about them - beautiful. elegant, elusive:
This reads a little like a love letter to a city I didn't know I loved.
I certainly loved the alexandrine parakeets which popped over from Lodhi Gardens to perch alongside our sixth-floor breakfast table:
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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