I had the great pleasure a few days ago - courtesy of the St Pancras Cruising Club - of travelling by narrowboat through the two-centuries-old Islington Tunnel. What a thrill!
A cavalcade of three narrowboats set off from close to St Pancras Basin, now the home of the wonderful transplanted Victorian Waterpoint which serves as the clubhouse, and headed east along the Regent's Canal.
The Islington Tunnel opened in 1818 and runs for 960 yards. There's no towpath, so initially boats had to be 'legged' through the tunnel - the boatmen would lie on their backs and use their legs to push against the tunnel walls to propel the barge along. From 1826, a steam tug attached to a chain on the canal bed would heave the barges through.
Nowadays, although there's room in the tunnel for narrow boats to pass, the convention is that it's one direction at a time - the tunnel is absolutely straight so it's easy to see if another boat is heading towards you.
Sometimes kayakers and canoeists use the tunnel too, but that must be really scary. There is no lighting - narrowboats have their own lights, but kayakers head through in complete darkness with just a pinprick of light at the end to offer any orientation.
The tunnel interrupts the towpath walk along the Regent's Canal but there are waymarkers to guide you from one tunnel mouth to the other. So if you are heading east to west you would go along Duncan Street, on to and across Islington High Street, up Liverpool Road, on to Chapel Market, right into Penton Street, left into Maygood Street and along Muriel Street and, hey presto, there's the canal again!
You do wonder whether a ferry service through the tunnel might be a worthwhile venture. Any takers?
A big thank you to Liz, the SPCC's vice-president, whose special invitee I was on this wonderful excursion, and to the skipper of the narrowboat I travelled on, Sally, not forgetting her faithful assistant, Flapjack ...
This is the wonderful inscription in a first edition of Henry Mayers Hyndman's The Historical Basis of Socialism in England, published in 1883. Hyndman - a Tory and a toff by background - was the key figure in the socialist revival in England in the 1880s. He popularised (and bowdlerised) some of Marx's writings and was the swashbuckling key figure in the establishment in 1883 of the Social Democratic Federation.
Hyndman was a flawed and controversial figure - a jingoist (his support for Britain's involvement in the First World War split the party he led, by then renamed the British Socialist Party) and an anti-semite. But he was crucially important in the development of a socialist political party.
One of the SDF's areas of strength was Islington. This book was presented to Hyndman (I assume by 1906 the first edition was difficult to come across) by the SDF's four Islington branches.The inscription was signed on the branches' behalf by A.P. Hazell, a printer who joined the SDF in the mid-1880s and who sometimes signed letters in the party press as ''summat stronger of Clerkenwell".
A few years later, Hyndman gave the book to his wife, with the fond inscription you can see above.
Perhaps that's why on the Brecknock Road estate in north Isington there is, to this day, a Hyndman House -
Indeed, the names of the blocks on the estate offer homage to socialists of ages past - with buildings named after Hyndman's onetime colleagues in the SDF, H.W. Lee and Harry Quelch (or perhaps his son Tom), as well as such prominent figures in the progressive pantheon as William Morris, Edward Carpenter, William Cobbett, William Blake, Henry Hetherington, Thomas Paterson and Beatrice Potter (or perhaps the trade unionist George Potter), along with some whose names I don't recognise.
And happily, the Hyndman first edition presented to the author by the Islington branches of the SDF is once more back in Islington - where I live.
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