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!
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.
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