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extended to allow - as I understand it from the planning application, (though this dates from 2011 and may have been superseded) - four flats, and there will be some building work in the grounds.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!
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.
If you haven't raised a glass to Charlotte Despard in the Islington pub that bears her name, you've missed your chance. It's closed! Part of the winnowing out of London's pubs. A pity to lose it - not least because there aren't many pubs named after women suffragists, communists and republicans (not even in Islington).
The pub was on Archway Road, not all that far from the Whittington hospital and from Archway tube station. Its website gives the impression of business as usual - but I guess it shut quite a while ago. It looks as if (I hope I'm wrong here) a row of properties are destined for the bulldozer.
Charlotte French, born in 1844, married a wealthy Anglo-Irish banker, Maximilian Despard, who died at sea in 1890. It was only when a widow that Charlotte Despard got involved in politics.
She was an active opponent of the Boer War and at various times supported the Social Democratic Federation, the Independent Labour Party, the Women's Social and Political Union, the Women's Freedom League, Sinn Fein, the Labour Party and the Communist Party of Great Britain.
She was a prominent suffragist and pacifist and remained active into her nineties. She died in 1939.
There are two London streets named after Despard - one in Battersea, and the other adjoining the Despard Arms in Archway. So it's reasonable to assume that the pub took its name from the street. Though it's just possible that the pub is a direct successor to the (alcohol free) Despard Arms in Cumberland Market, set up during the First World War in the building which had housed Mary Neal's Esperance Club (more details in Curious Camden Town).
The pub signboard captures something - something - of Charlotte Despard's toughness, though even by the modest standards of this art form, it's not exactly stand-out. Still, for a while at least she still gazes out onto Jeremy Corbyn's backyard.
The new coffee shop at Crick's Corner - here's the back story - it still in its first week. And I reckon it's cracked it. We went along for a snack lunch today - good coffee, nice sandwich (a pulled pork cabanos, if you want to know), great cake (my son went for the strawberry sponge cake), friendly service and - helped by the streaming sunshine - a really nice place to chill.
And where is Crick's Corner? It's on Dartmouth Park Hill at the corner of Bickerton Street, so just to the north of the covered reservoir (aka Dartmouth Park), about five minutes walk from the Whittington hospital.
The cafe is much more spacious than I expected. The main cafe area is small but sufficient - with some nice snacks and brownies, and bread you can take home. What used to be the Patels' back room with sofa and TV set is now a light, bright additional room of seating. The decor is stylish - my my, N19 is starting to go places - and early this afternoon there was a steady stream of customers.
And in a very nice touch, certainly for this blogger, there was a copy of Curious Kentish Town for the curious to consult. Good on yer!
Crick's Corner is making a comeback - the shop on Dartmouth Park Hill (on the junction with Bickerton Road) is reopening on Monday as a coffee and cake place. Hallelujah!
The Patels - who ran a newsagent and small corner store - moved out well over two years ago. And ever since, except for one brief spell, it's been empty. I walked past this morning, and Simon (he'll be running the cafe with Kelly) had his paintbrush out getting the signage sorted.
"I've never done anything like this before", Simon said - I think he was talking about running a cafe, but perhaps painting a shop sign too.
One really heartening aspect of the new business is that they have latched on to the old name.
I've blogged about Crick's Corner and its history before - between the wars, it was a newsagent's and cheap subscription library. And an old ghost sign reading "Crick's Corner" is still visible on the Bickerton Road side - I played a modest role in saving it a couple of years back when some workers seemed intent on painting it over.
It's not going to be easy to make a go of the business - there are no other shops immediately adjoining, and not a lot of people walk past. But it deserves support, and I'll be there next week trying it out. I'll let you know what I make of the place.
Ever since my old 'local' in Chester Road was knocked down, I've been looking for a really good fish and chip shop within a mile or two of home.
I've tried quite a few, and some aren't bad - but this one is the best.
'Fish Fish' on Archway Road - more-or-less opposite the Winchester - is Georgian-run (think Tbilisi not Atlanta), and it's a sit-down fish restaurant. But it does excellent, freshly cooked, reasonably price takeways as well.
I can't stand cod or rock - I always go for haddock. And I haven't been disappointed yet at 'Fish Fish'.
A bright, sunny New Year's day - and I'm on my way. Hightailing through Dartmouth Park (not the posh conservation area, but the distinctly unposh space surrounding the covered reservoir on the east side of Dartmouth Park Road) - trying not to notice the overpowering whiff of dope surrounding the only guy on the benches at the highest point - and marvelling in this little known vantage point looking out to Canary Wharf, the Gherkin and the Shard.
A little further east along Junction Road towards Archway, there's one of the most elegant buildings in this part of north London - now a great gastro pub, the mid-Victorian St John's Tavern.
The building dates from the 1860s, and was recently renovated with support from English Heritage and Islington council - there's more about that on this council site, from which I have taken the wonderful photo of the pub more than a century ago in 1904:
Then past the distinctly inelegant Archway, along St John's Way, and pushing over to the north end of Hornsey Road - a fairly anonymous area, though with lots of patches of open space, which I suspect reflects how badly it suffered in the blitz.
'The Shaftesbury' was shut - it seems to be one of those great local pubs which has closed and, happily, been reborn. Nearby there's a Shaftesbury Road and an Ashley Road - Ashley was the family name of the great social reformer the Earl of Shaftesbury (his big issue was improving working conditions in factories). I suspect the pub dates from the time of his death in the 1880s.
Along Hanley Road are a couple of buildings, council flats by the look of them, which have a crest with the motto: 'Deus per Omnia'. This translates as 'God through all things', or more colloquially 'in God we trust'.
No coincidence surely that this is also the motto on Arsenal's crest - their ground isn't all that far away.
On to Stroud Green Road, and what I guess I had in mind as the destination of this walk - one of London's most magical buildings. It's now a rambling pub, The Old Dairy, and was built in about 1890 by the Friern Manor Dairy Farm, which had an earlier buidling on this site (which probably explains why the building bears the date 1866).
There's a little about the history of the dairy on this wiki about Stroud Green - but it would be nice to know more about the fantastic, eye catching panelling. There are seven panels in all, in excellent condition - the two below illustrate 'Old Style Delivery' and 'Present Day Delivery' (do remember this was 120+ years ago).
If you have never seen this building, then just get out there and do it - the junction of Hanley Road and Crouch Hill to be precise. You won't be disappointed.
It has some really extraordinary architectural features - among them a couple of stone owls peering down on passers by. Lord knows what that's all about.
It's not quite what you expect in this otherwise rather drab and out-of-the-way corner of north London, but it is a real architectural curiosity and delight. The dairy apparently had quite a few offices and depots across London - but I'm not aware of anything else that quite matches this.
Just a few yards away is Crouch Hill station - and due any minute, a service on what I still call the North London line, which delivers me back to Gospel Oak in less than the time it's taken you to read this blog.
So that's how I spent my New Year's Day. Many more happy wanderings to come, I trust, in the course of 2013.
Towards the end of Zadie Smith's new novel NW, the central character, Natalie/Keisha, walks out of her home near Queen's Park - walks out on her husband, her old life - and makes her way across north London. It's a memorable walk. And today - with the bright winter sun making every aspect of the city sparkle and shine - I retraced Keisha's steps. It took me three hours. Well worthwhile!
You can follow in outline Keisha's walk by the chapter titles: 'Willesden Lane to Kilburn High Road', 'Shoot Up Hill to Fortune Green', 'Hampstead to Archway', 'Hampstead Heath', 'Corner of Hornsey Lane', 'Hornsey Lane'.
Whatever truth you look for from a novelist, it's not cartographic precision. But Zadie Smith maps out her character's route pretty precisely.
The walk emphasises how much the lives of the main characters in NW intersect with the author's own. It walk starts at Keisha's house on the Willesden Lane side of Queen's Park. Within minutes she has passed her friend Leah's house - and the Caldwell estate which plays such a big part in the novel.
This is exactly where Zadie Smith was brought up. She went to Malorees primary school just a stone's throw away. Her mother, it's said, still lives here. So too does Zadie Smith, not now in a council flat but a three-storey Victorian house. It makes you wonder how much of Keisha's story is Zadie Smith's exploration of 'the other path', the way her own life might have worked out.
Where Winchester Avenue meets Willesden Lane, cheek-by-jowl with more gentrified Brondesbury, stands the Fiveways estate. Not quite the model for Caldwell, but with much in common - including the stout boundary wall. Caldwell has five blocks linked by walkways and bridges. 'The smell of weed was everywhere'. On a Sunday morning, Fiveways was quiet, almost sylvan, and entirely odour free.
Keisha at one point ends up in Albert Road - quite a way to the south. She can't get through - there's a police cordon - and has to retrace her steps. The geography doesn't quite add up. But trying to make sense of it, I make the detour. Past the entrance to Paddington cemetery on Willesden Lane - where, as the novel glancingly mentions, Arthur Orton, the Tichborne claimant is buried. Past the basketball court. Along stylish Lonsdale Road - reminding me of Hackney's Broadway Market - and into Salusbury Road with its book shop and library ...
When I reach Albert Road, the other side of the tracks from up-market Queen's Park, I feel that perhaps this is also Caldwell - the estate is an amalgam. The sun is strong, the sky so blue, every vista has an enchantment. But there's also something a little spooky about the estates off Albert Road. For one thing, at midday on a beautiful Sunday, there's no one around. Hardly a soul. And then there's the hardness to the architecture. It's a little forbidding.
If Natalie/Keisha had managed to thread her way through the length of Albert Road and beyond - at least if she was doing it today - just before reaching Kilburn High Road, she would have come across a remarkable sight. Beirut come to north London. A wreck, a ruin, an estate block which looks as if it has been ravaged by a tsunami. Part demolished and - it seems - abandoned. A really unsettling and arresting image.
By the time she hits Kilburn High Road and heads north (as she sets out on her walk, her intention is clear: 'Without looking where she was going, she began climbing the hill that begins in Willesden and ends in Highgate') she has teamed up with Nathan Bogle. He's flying on something or other, and rolling joints. And as they pass Kilburn tube, it also becomes apparent that he's poncing girls.
They head up Shoot Up Hill. The area changes. 'The world of council flats lay far behind them, at the bottom of the hill. Victorian houses began to appear ...'. This is an area Zadie Smith knows with easy familiarity - close by is her old secondary school, Hampstead (though it's not Hampstead - Hampstead cemetery lies here, yes, but this is NW6 not NW3).
Not too far up the hill, however, it crests. If you want to continue going up, you have to turn along Mill Lane, Hillfield Road, Fortune Green Road, and then still more sharply ascending, to Platt's Lane and an outlying section of Hampstead Heath.
This seems to be the route Keisha and Nathan follow - pausing, briefly, on the margins of the Heath for squalid, feral sex.
They stop in the doorway of Jack Straw's Castle, the highest point of the walk - and indeed just about the highest point in London - then head down towards Archway.
The walk ends at suicide bridge on Hornsey Lane, which runs sixty feet above the busy dual carriageway that's Archway Road. She has headed here for a purpose but 'had forgotten that the bridge was not purely functional. She tried her best but could not completely ignore its beauty.' She steps on the ledge, and peers out at London as best the railings allow. She doesn't attempt to jump, but instead abandons Nathan and hurries off after a night bus. The journey is over.
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