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Blog Post Bunhill Heritage Education Local History Projects

Bunhill Heritage, 1 Year On: A Preview of Coming Attractions

In 2022, Islington Heritage Service appointment printmaker Georgie Fay as the first Artist-Educator-in-Residence for Bunhill Heritage, a three-year community project that will see three different artists explore the rich history south Islington. Thanks to our local partner, St Luke’s Community Centre, each artist receives a studio space for one year where they can focus on their own practice as well as their development of the project.

St Luke’s Community Centre is a hub for all walks of life in south Islington with a very active range of older service users and a thriving number of families who regularly attend. Fascinated by this age spectrum, Georgie chose to explore the heritage of Bunhill with older residents and primary aged children, as well as forging great bonds with the Women’s Multicultural Group. Georgie visited St Luke’s C of E Primary School and City of London Primary Academy Islington (COLPAI) to deliver a series of workshops encouraging Year 4 pupils to explore community heritage through art and creativity. Each school visited Bunhill Fields and learned more about the many hundreds of years of history on their doorsteps. Pupils even got to use a real-life printing press, as printmaking is a large part of Bunhill’s heritage. De La Rue printers, famous for printing bank notes, once had their offices on Bunhill Row.

Georgie’s workshops were supported by a variety of engagement activities such as walks, talks, craft workshops and family activities which were open to all. Georgie gave six hours per month to the St Luke’s Centre, where she got to know more of the staff and service users. In the past year, Bunhill Heritage has engaged with over 1,000 local people.

Throughout this time, Georgie has been working on her main goal: to create a work of public art that reflects the heritage of Bunhill. She did this with contributions and inspiration from the residents she worked with. Early in 2023, Islington Heritage will unveil Georgie’s work in Bunhill Fields, supported by our partners at the City of London who own and manage the site. We are pleased to provide a preview of in-progress designs by Georgie.

Inspired by the many historic industries that once existed in this part of Islington, Georgie’s artwork consists of printed banners of original artwork, suspended above ground in Bunhill Fields. The banners will hang from a metal ring reminiscent of a printing press wheel, suspended by ropes attached to the trees. Printmaking, ironmongery, and rope making were all industries in Bunhill between the 18th and 20th centuries.

The work of art will refer to more than just these three aspects of heritage, but we are pleased that these will feature prominently in the completed design. We look forward to unveiling the finished design early this year.

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Blog Post Bunhill Heritage Projects

Bunhill Heritage Year 3: Opportunity for Artist-Educator-in-Residence

Bunhill Heritage: Brief for Artist-Educator-in-Residence

Islington Heritage Service seek an artist for the third year of the Bunhill Heritage project, following on from artists Georgie Fay (2022-23) and Jacky Oliver (2023-24).

Background

Bunhill is a ward in the southernmost part of the London Borough of Islington, bordering Hackney and the City of London. It is an area with a unique history, where nestled amongst new high-rise developments are historic buildings, cultural community hubs and a significant amount of private and social housing. The name Bunhill comes from a derivation of ‘Bone Hill’, referring to Bunhill Fields, a burial ground in the ward. Bunhill Fields is a historic burial ground for religious non-conformists, dissenters and intellectuals. The name ‘Bone Hill’ indicates the site’s use as a depository for dried human bone from the charnel house in St Paul’s Cathedral in the 16th century. In 1665, the City of London prepared the field as a burial ground for plague victims but it was never consecrated nor used for this purpose. It subsequently became the main burial ground for non-comformists in London.

Bunhill Fields was in use from 1665 – 1854, at which point it became a public garden. It is the resting place for over 120,000 people, including many radical and dissenting figures such as artist William Blake, writer Daniel Defoe, writer and preacher John Bunyan, and many others such as Susanna Wesley, known for being the ‘Mother of Methodism.’ Following WWII, the site was redesigned as a modern park, with the surviving tombstones protected behind high railings. Behind the railings the grass has been allowed to grow naturally, creating an area of biodiversity. Bunhill Fields, while located in Islington, is owned and managed by the City of London.

Bunhill (the ward) is now a densely populated area of South Islington, with a mix of public and private homes. Within the ward is a large number of new developments, stretching into the City of London. At one point in Bunhill’s history, prior to WWII, it was the most densely populated area anywhere in the UK, along with neighbouring Clerkenwell. While the population has increased significantly, it remains less populated than it was at other points in its history. Bunhill is an area of South Islington with its own rich history including many historic industries including printmaking and clock-making.

Project Overview

Bunhill Heritage is a community development project. Islington Heritage Service works to support the lives of residents, creating opportunities for inclusion and development, while improving wellbeing and reducing social isolation. We work with demographics such as families and under-5s, young people, over-55s as well as the general community in Islington.

The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have brought home the need for the local authority to help residents safely access community services and outdoor green spaces.

Using the history of Bunhill Fields as an anchor, Islington Heritage Service’s new heritage project encompasses the history of the whole ward of Bunhill. We will do this in part by partnering with the St. Luke’s Community Centre, Central Street.

Bunhill (and neighbouring Clerkenwell) have a unique radical and non-conformist history. Many of the people interred in Bunhill had radical ideas which were often not well received during their lifetimes. For example, John Bunyan wrote much of The Pilgrim’s Progress in prison, as he faced religious intolerance throughout his life for his non-conformist views.

Amongst the many thousands of people interred at Bunhill Fields include notable preachers, clergy, writers, theologians, engravers and artists. Hynmist Issac Watts, writer of “Joy to the World”, is buried in Bunhill Fields.

Community Engagement – Artist-Educator-in-Residence

Islington Heritage Service wish to engage a local artist-educator to work with the community in order to create a work of public art, exploring the radical history of Bunhill as the inspiration for the artwork.

All three completed artworks are intended to be on display in in the ward of Bunhill for one year, which includes, but is not exclusive to, Bunhill Fields Burial Ground.

Each work of art will be created by an artist-educator: an artist with the ability to lead a number of workshops with different community groups.  The outcomes of those creative workshops will help inspire the creation of a work of public art. The art will draw on the history of Bunhill, the ward and the burial ground, with focus on some of the notable figures interred at Bunhill Fields or who have a connection to Bunhill/Finsbury/South Islington.

There will be three artist residencies during the project. Each residency will last 1 year.

  • Residency 1: January 2022 – January 2023 (Printmaker Georgie Fay)
  • Residency 2: January 2023 – January 2024 (Metalworker Jacky Oliver)
  • Residency 3: January 2024 – January 2025 (Artist TBD)

Artists will be contracted and paid a set fee of £10,000, to be paid at set points throughout the year.

As part of the agreement, each artist-educator will:

  • Receive access to a 24-hour studio based at the St. Luke’s Centre, Central Street, EC1 where they can undertake their own work as well as work related to the project
  • Receive the costs of materials used to create the main artwork
  • Receive appropriate guidance to effectively lead activities with different community groups
  • Lead approximately 10 workshops with different key demographics of the community (families, over 55s, schools, mixed age groups)
  • Agree to contribute 6 hours per month of ad hoc support at the St. Luke’s Centre
  • Agree to be responsible for the care and maintenance of their studio space and to tidy and repaint the studio at the end of the year
  • Explore the history of Bunhill as the inspiration for the artwork

The artist-educators will work closely with the Bunhill Heritage Project Manager, supported by the Heritage Learning Manager.

Candidates:

  • We seek applications from art practitioners who are experienced in leading workshops and educational activities with a range of different community groups. Candidates will gain support and guidance in the methodologies, but it is essential that candidates have some experience in leading workshops/classes
  • Artists from a range of creative disciplines are encouraged to apply
  • It is desirable that candidates with a connection to Bunhill and/or Islington apply

We look forward to receiving applications from all candidates who feel they fit the requirements, and encourage candidates from diverse backgrounds (race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality, class background) to apply, as well as a variety of art practises.

To Apply:

Applicants should send the following:

(1) An up-to-date CV (2) a project proposal and (3) select examples of previous work to BunhillHeritage@islington.gov.uk

In your proposal, please include the following:

  • Details of your preferred art form and why this would work for this heritage project
  • An aspect of the heritage of Bunhill and how you would use this as an inspiration for a work of public art
  • An outline of a proposed workshop with one of the following groups (over-55s, children and families, primary or secondary age school children, mixed adults including young people aged 16+)

Dates:

Applications close at midnight on Sunday 4 December 2022. Interviews will take place during the week commencing 12 December. The duration of the appointment will run from the end of January 2024 to the end of January 2025.

For more information on the project, please contact:

Seán McGovern, Bunhill Heritage Project Manager, sean.mcgovern@islington.gov.uk

Categories
Blog Post Education Local History Projects

Opportunity for Mosaic Artist for new Navigator Square public art

Artist Brief

Background

In 2022, Islington Heritage Service partnered with the London Irish Centre to create the first Islington Irish Month. This month-long programme of heritage activities included schools workshops, trad music sessions, heritage walks, a charity céilí and open air concert in Navigator Square, Archway. The month celebrated the impact the Irish community has had on the London Borough of Islington and beyond. The month coincided with the appointment of the first Irish-born Mayor of Islington, Cllr Troy Gallagher.

Navigator Square in Archway (located on the border of Junction and Hillrise wards) is an area of significant Irish heritage. Navigator Square (known as Archway Close until 2018) is named after the predominantly Irish builders, known as ‘navvies.’ St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School, the Whittington Hospital and several contemporary and historical pubs also have connections to the Irish community.  In 2022, this area of Islington was marked with a free Family Day with music and performers, part of the first Islington Irish Month.

According to most recent census data, Islington has one of the highest levels of people who identify as Irish, along with Camden and Brent. In the years following the Brexit Referendum, applications for Irish passports have surged. From 2016-2018, the Irish Embassy in London issued 176,000 passports, and the 2018 record was broken once again in 2019. Many people in Islington now identify as second or third generation Irish, and the surge in passport applications reflects an acknowledgement of this generational trend.

Project Overview

The Archway Mosaic is a legacy project of Islington Irish Month, to be completed and installed at Navigator Square in March 2023.

Islington Heritage Service undertakes community development projects to support the lives of residents, creating opportunities for inclusion and development, while improving wellbeing and reducing social isolation. We work with demographics such as families and under-5s, young people, over-55s as well as the general community in Islington.

The Heritage Team are working with colleagues in Local Economy to produce this mosaic. The artwork is part of the wider community development plan of Archway’s local economy. The aims include promoting Archway as a desirable place to visit; to support the local economy and increase footfall; to provide a sense of placemaking, and for residents to feel that their heritage is recognised and celebrated.

Community Engagement – Mosaic Artist

The wall space is approximately 14m of this 18m wall, avoiding the electrical box. The Mosaic itself will not be 14m long but could consist of 4 boards, representing to work or influence of each school. For example, these could be 1.5m x 1m and spread out.

We wish to engage a local mosaic artist to work with the 4 schools in the area to create a work of public art, a mural depicting the legacy of the Irish community in Islington.

The completed artwork will be installed on a wall at Navigator Square, which has been earmarked for the mosaic. The wall has 14m of space available, but the mosaic does not need to be this size. The mosaic could consist of 4 boards, representing the work or influence of each school, as well as work from the artist. For example, these could be 1.5m x 1m and spread out. The colourful mosaic will serve as a tribute to the Irish community in Islington. The mosaic will also include aspect of wayfinding for residents and those visiting Archway, to direct them to key locations such as Archway Station, Whittington Hospital and Archway Library.

Prior to the creation of the artwork, the artist will undertake art workshops at 4 local schools in the area and the outcomes of those workshops will help inspire the creation of a work of public art. The art will draw on the Irish heritage of Archway and Islington, exploring both traditional and contemporary depictions of Irish culture and the legacy of that community in Islington.

The artist will be paid a set fee of £5,000 for the creation of the mosaic and £200 per session in each school (12 sessions, 3 at each school, a combined total of £2,400).

As part of the agreement, the artist will:

  • Receive the costs of materials used to create the main artwork
  • Receive appropriate guidance to effectively lead activities with school groups
  • Lead approximately 12 workshops at 4 schools
  • Explore the history of the Irish community in Islington and undertake appropriate research for inspiration

The artist will work closely with Islington Heritage Service, with support from the Heritage Learning Manager as needed.

Candidates:

  • We seek an artist with experience in creating mosaics who is experienced in leading workshops and educational activities. The successful candidate will gain support and guidance in the methodologies, but it is essential that candidates have some experience in leading workshops/classes
  • It is desirable that candidates with a connection to Archway and/or Islington apply

We look forward to receiving applications from candidates who feel they fit the requirements, and encourage candidates from diverse backgrounds (race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality, class background) to apply.

To Apply:

Applicants should send the following:

(a) An up-to-date CV (b) a project proposal and (c) select examples of previous work to sean.mcgovern@islington.gov.uk

In your proposal, please include the following:

  • Details of your previous experience with mosaics and examples
  • Demonstrate your understanding of Irish heritage in Islington and/or London
  • An outline of a proposed workshop suitable for primary school aged children

Dates:

Applications close at midnight on Sunday 31 July. Interviews will take place during the week commencing Monday 15 August. The duration of the appointment will run from September 2023 to March 2023.

For more information on the project, please contact:

Seán McGovern, Heritage Project Manager, sean.mcgovern@islington.gov.uk

Categories
Blog Post

Erin’s Blog Post

Hi, I’m Erin! I am 14 and am participating in the bronze award for Duke of Edinburgh. This means for the past few months I have been volunteering at the museum and it has been amazing! I have had many new experiences and during this time I have participated in a number of tasks:

  • I first learnt how to handle objects in the collection and then I began a project looking into different badges in the collection and what they were trying to promote. Using this information, I created a display case with badges of my choosing. I also wrote the captions for them and realised the amount of hard work that went into designing a display case to maximise interest and enjoyment.
Erin’s display in the entrance to the Museum
  • After this was accessioning. I learnt how to use ADLIB which is an incredibly useful website.  I started to catalogue objects, writing about small details such as the material they were made of and if they had any obvious cracks. I also did this inside one of the museum’s accessioning registers. It had objects detailed back nearly fifty years which was fascinating to read.
  • Finally, I moved onto the learning side of the museum. At first it did not occur to me that it was such a vital part of the museum, however it soon became a very enjoyable topic. I learnt about accessibility and the needs that viewers may have. I also learnt more about the redevelopment and accessories that you could include to make the museum feel as welcoming as possible.

Overall, I have truly loved every part of this incredible opportunity and I am so excited to see the museum after its redevelopment!  I am so grateful for all of the people here as they were so welcoming and made it such a fun environment to be in.

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Archive Blog Post Collections Local History

Islington’s Christmas Past: Part II

Once again we find ourselves in a festive season in strange times. Last year, as a bit of a diversion, we took a brief look at some of the Christmas ‘goings-on’ of Islington past in Pantos, Pageants and Puddings and we thought we’d take another dive into the Islington Local History Centre collection to find out more about Islington’s Christmas Past.

Rowntrees Chocolates advert in the Islington Gazette, December 1921. (Islington Local History Centre)

The First Christmas Card

Christmas cards are a great way to send a little Christmas cheer. Did you know that Islington has a connection to what is thought to be the first Christmas card? In 1843 John Calcott Horsley, at the behest of Henry Cole, designed the first Christmas card which featured a family at the centre raising a toast. One of these cards was sent by a “John Washbourn and his wife” of 22, Theberton Street, Islington.

Reproduction of the original card sent by John Washbourn and his wife that was donated to the Islington Libraries in 1955. (Islington Local History Centre)

The World’s Fair at the Royal Agricultural Hall

100 years ago on Friday 23rd December 1921 the Royal Agricultural Hall in Islington held its 41st season of the World’s Fair. The Royal Agricultural Hall, affectionately known as the Aggie, opened in 1862 and for many years was host to a variety of events. The Aggie’s annual World’s Fair would open during the festive period with rave reviews in the Islington Gazette. “In this gigantic show of shows our borough once more lives up to its ancient title, “Merrie Islington.” and the villagers can enjoy skating and dancing, feasting and frivolity, innocent fun and care-free laughter to their hearts’ content.” (Islington Gazette, December 24, 1921)

Poster for the Royal Agricultural Hall World’s Fair, 1885. (Islington Local History Centre)

Find out more about the Aggie in our online presentation “Meet Me at the Aggie”


A Christmas Ghost Story

On Christmas night 1898 the Islingtonian James Chant claimed to have encountered a figure in white at St Mary’s churchyard. He, along with another person who he bumped into who had also come across the ghost, attempted to chase the figure to no avail. However, not disheartened, he declared he had every intention of returning to resume the hunt. His letter, sent to the Islington Gazette on 30th December 1898, was published in the daily edition on the 3rd January 1899.

Article in the Islington Gazette, January 3, 1899. (Islington Local History Centre)

…A Christmas Hoax

The ghost sighting at St Mary’s caused a bit of a stir with someone writing to the Islington Gazette to assert that the ghost sighting was merely a prank played by someone running around the churchyard wearing white. The ghost sighting went on to become even more controversial as the story began to circulate and the Islington Gazette reported that a “disorderly crowd” began to gather on the Tuesday evening into the early hours of the following morning outside St Mary’s Parish Church. However, when a reporter attempted to find the originator of the ghost sighting at the given address, there appeared to be no one by the name of James Chant in residence.

Article in the Islington Gazette, January 5, 1899. (Islington Local History Centre)

Joseph Grimaldi and Mother Goose

Joseph Grimaldi (1778-1837) was an actor, pantomimist and clown. His style of clowning, including face make-up and colourful dress, is now what we associate with the image of a clown. He performed in many pantomimes all year round but one of his greatest successes was his performance in Harlequin and Mother Goose (or The Golden Egg), a Christmas pantomime written by Thomas Dibdin, brother of Charles Dibdin, and performed at the Theatre Royal (later Royal Opera House), Covent Garden, in 1806.

Joseph Grimaldi as Clown in the pantomime Mother Goose, published 1846. (Islington Local History Centre)

Find out more about Joseph ‘Joe’ Grimaldi


Christmas Shows

Islington has been home to a number of venues from music halls to theatres and pub theatres and we’re lucky that there are still many around today. Here’s some posters and programmes of Christmas shows of times gone by.


The Barry Manilow Christmas Tree

And to finish off this festive journey through the past here’s some photos of the “Barry Manilow Christmas Tree” that was a feature at the Lewis Carroll Library. Created by one of the librarians who obviously like him a great deal.

Islington Local History Centre and Museum wish you a safe and peaceful festive season and a happy New Year!

Researched and written by Marlin Khondoker
Islington Local History Centre (December 2021)

Sources

Islington Museum and Islington Local History Centre Collections

The Victoria and Albert Museum

Categories
Blog Post Bunhill Heritage Projects

Bunhill Heritage: Brief for Artist-Educator-in-Residence

A unique opportunity for artists in Islington

Background

Bunhill is a ward in the southernmost part of the London Borough of Islington, bordering Hackney and the City of London. It is an area with a unique history, where nestled amongst new high-rise developments are historic buildings, cultural community hubs and a significant amount of private and social housing. The name Bunhill comes from a derivation of ‘Bone Hill’, referring to Bunhill Fields, a burial ground in the ward. Bunhill Fields is a historic burial ground for religious non-conformists, dissenters and intellectuals. The name ‘Bone Hill’ indicates the site’s use as a depository for dried human bone from the charnel house in St Paul’s Cathedral in the 16th century. In 1665, the City of London prepared the field as a burial ground for plague victims but it was never consecrated nor used for this purpose. It subsequently became the main burial ground for non-comformists in London.

Bunhill Fields was in use from 1665 – 1854, at which point it became a public garden. It is the resting place for over 120,000 people, including many radical and dissenting figures such as artist William Blake, writer Daniel Defoe, writer and preacher John Bunyan, sculptor and businesswoman Eleanor Coade, and many others such as Susanna Wesley, known for being the ‘Mother of Methodism.’ Following WWII, the site was redesigned as a modern park, with the surviving tombstones protected behind high railings. Behind the railings the grass has been allowed to grow naturally, creating an area of biodiversity. Bunhill Fields is one of only a few large green spaces in the ward, but is underused by its residents.

Bunhill (the ward) is now a densely populated area of South Islington, with a mix of public and private homes. Within the ward is a large number of new developments, stretching into the City of London. At one point in Bunhill’s history, prior to WWII, it was the most densely populated area anywhere in the UK, along with neighbouring Clerkenwell. While the population has increased significantly, it remains less populated than it was at other points in its history.

Bunhill Fields, while located in Islington, is owned and managed by the City of London.

Project Overview

Bunhill Heritage is a community development project. Islington Heritage Service works to support the lives of residents, creating opportunities for inclusion and development, while improving wellbeing and reducing social isolation. We work with demographics such as families and under-5s, young people, over-55s as well as the general community in Islington.

The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have brought home the need for the local authority to help residents safely access community services and outdoor green spaces.

Using the history of Bunhill Fields as an anchor, Islington Heritage Service’s new heritage project encompasses the history of the whole ward of Bunhill. We will do this in part by partnering with the St. Luke’s Community Centre, Central Street.

Bunhill (and neighbouring Clerkenwell) have a unique radical and non-conformist history. Many of the people interred in Bunhill had radical ideas which were often not well received during their lifetimes. For example, John Bunyan wrote much of The Pilgrim’s Progress in prison, as he faced religious intolerance throughout his life for his non-conformist views.

Amongst the many thousands of people interred at Bunhill Fields include notable preachers, clergy, writers, theologians, engravers and artists. Hynmist Issac Watts, writer of “Joy to the World”, is buried in Bunhill Fields.

Community Engagement – Artist-Educator-in-Residence

Islington Heritage Service wish to engage 3 local artist-educators to work with the community in order to create 3 works of public art, exploring the radical history of Bunhill as the inspiration for the artwork.

All three completed artworks are intended to be on display in Bunhill Fields for one year of the project, with the agreement and cooperation of the City of London.

Each work of art will be created by an artist-educator: an artist with the ability to lead a number of workshops with different community groups.  The outcomes of those creative workshops will help inspire the creation of a work of public art. The art will draw on the history of Bunhill, the ward and the burial ground, with focus on some of the notable figures interred at Bunhill Fields, for example, the life and work of William Blake.

There will be three artist residencies during the project. Each residency will last 1 year.

  • Residency 1: January 2022 – January 2023
  • Residency 2: January 2023 – January 2024
  • Residency 3: January 2024 – January 2025

Artists will be contracted and paid a set fee of £10,000, to be paid at set points throughout the year.

As part of the agreement, each artist-educator will:

  • Receive access to a 24-hour studio based at the St. Luke’s Centre, Central Street, EC1 where they can undertake their own work as well as work related to the project
  • Receive the costs of materials used to create the main artwork
  • Receive appropriate guidance to effectively lead activities with different community groups
  • Lead approximately 10 workshops with different key demographics of the community (families, over 55s, mixed age groups)
  • Agree to contribute 6 hours per month of ad hoc support at the St. Luke’s Centre
  • Agree to be responsible for the care and maintenance of their studio space and to tidy and repaint the studio at the end of the year
  • Explore the history of Bunhill as the inspiration for the artwork

The artist-educators will work closely with the Bunhill Heritage Project Manager, supported by the Heritage Learning Manager.

Candidates:

  • We seek applications from art practitioners who are experienced in leading workshops and educational activities with a range of different community groups. Candidates will gain support and guidance in the methodologies, but it is essential that candidates have some experience in leading workshops/classes
  • Artists  from a range of creative disciplines are encouraged to apply
  • It is desirable that candidates with a connection to Bunhill and/or Islington apply

We look forward to receiving applications from all candidates who feel they fit the requirements, and encourage candidates from diverse backgrounds (race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality, class background) to apply, as well as a variety of art practises.

To Apply:

Applicants should send the following:

(1) An up-to-date CV (2) a project proposal and (3) select examples of previous work to BunhillHeritage@islington.gov.uk

In your proposal, please include the following:

  • Details of your preferred art form and why this would work for this heritage project
  • An aspect of the heritage of Bunhill and how you would use this as an inspiration for a work of public art
  • An outline of a proposed workshop with one of the following groups (over-55s, children and families, mixed adults including young people aged 16+)

We are recruiting 3 artist-educators over 3 years. If you are unsuccessful this time, we encourage you to reapply when applications open the following year.

Dates:

Applications close at midnight on Sunday 5 December. Interviews will take place during the week commencing 13 December. The duration of the appointment will run from the end of January 2022 to the end of January 2023.

For more information on the project, please contact:

Seán McGovern, Bunhill Heritage Project Manager, sean.mcgovern@islington.gov.uk

Download the full project brief

Categories
Blog Post Bunhill Heritage Projects

An introduction to the Bunhill project

The ward of Bunhill, located in South Islington, is an area of London full of the most fascinating history. Just outside the City Walls, this part of Finsbury was once an area for the ill and destitute. Long gone is St. Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics and instead exists a thriving ward full of shops, restaurants, businesses, schools, community hubs and housing in this populated part of Islington.  

Nestled within the ward is Bunhill Fields, a Nonconformist burial ground opened in 1665, the final resting place of William Blake, John Bunyan, Susanna Wesley, Eleanor Coade and Daniel Defoe among its more than 120,000 inhabitants. Bunhill Fields houses the graves of radical figures with pioneering minds.

The history of Bunhill is being explored in a new community heritage project from Islington Council. Partnering with the St. Luke’s Centre, we’re celebrating the many aspects of Bunhill that make it a unique part of London. We will do this in the form of a community-led public art project.

Over three years, Islington Heritage Services will commission three artists to work with community members, residents and service users of the St. Luke’s Centre to create a unique work of public art that represents the heritage of Bunhill. Artists will receive a fee, and in the process will receive their own studio in the St. Luke’s Centre for a whole year, free of charge. This studio will be a place where artists can also work on their own practice, with Islington Council supporting the skills of local artists, and help further opportunities in the future.

More information including the Artist-Educator Brief and how to apply will be live in November 2021, with interviews to take place in January 2022.

For more information on the project or to get involved, please email BunhillHeritage@islington.gov.uk

Stay up to date by following Friends of Islington Museum and Islington Museum and Bunhill Heritage on Twitter @BunhillHeritage, @IslingtonMuseum.

Categories
Archive Blog Post Local History

Streets with a Story: The Book of Islington

Angel, Islington, 1920sFirst published in 1986, Streets with a Story: The Book of Islington, is an A-Z of Islington and Finsbury’s roads, streets, buildings and open spaces – both old and new. (Above: Angel and Islington High Street, 1920s).


Eric A Willats, 1987An invaluable resource for all those discovering and researching the fascinating history of Islington’s past, it was researched and complied by former Islington librarian, the late Eric A Willats (left, 1987).

Set out in alphabetical order under the name of a street, square, place, terrace, block of flats or tenement, followed by the date of first occupancy, if known, Streets with a Story was dated using rate books and other items in the local history collections now found at Islington Local History Centre.

Not only have present day streets been included, but also the courts, alleyways, terraces, and vanished backwaters of the past – some with intriguing names like Frog Lane, The Land of Nod and Cupid’s Alley.Streets with a Story

Architectural features, buildings of interest, and residents worthy of mention in that street also feature, so that an overview of the street is ‘at a glance’. (Right: Streets with a Story, original cover).


Categories
Blog Post Local History

The Clerkenwell King of Clowns: Joseph Grimaldi (1778-1837)

Joseph Grimaldi, the Clerkenwell king of clowns and the father of modern clowning, is remembered in an annual memorial service on the first Sunday in February at Holy Trinity Church (and, more recently, All Saints Church) in Hackney. The service, which has been held since 1946, attracts hundreds of clown performers from across the world. They attend the service in full clown costume, all paying their respects to this ‘King of clowns’. We too pay our tribute to Grimaldi, one of Islington’s most famous residents.

1 & 2 Grimaldi panel motif
Joseph Grimaldi (1778-1837)

Birth of the circus

In 1768, on land near London’s Waterloo, Philip Astley created a 42-ft diameter circle in the ground and filled it with astounding equestrian feats of entertainment. This spectacle was the world’s very first ‘circus’, a Latin word originating from the ancient Greek-word ‘kirkos’ meaning circular.

Astley went on to develop his shows to include jugglers, acrobats, trapeze artistes, strong men and clowns. A decade later Britain’s first modern and, perhaps, greatest clown was born.

Joseph ‘Joe’ Grimaldi

Actor, pantomimist and clown Joseph ‘Joe’ Grimaldi was born on 18 December 1778 in London, near to present-day Aldwych, into a family of dancers and clowns. His style of clowning had its origins in the Italian ‘commedia dell’arte’ of the 16th Century but, in the popular Harlequinades of the early-19th Century, he emerged as the founding father of modern-day clowns.

Grimaldi portrait lithograph (1800s)
Joseph Grimaldi by H Brown, early-1800s, lithograph. (Islington Local History Centre)

His Italian father, Giuseppe Grimaldi (d.1788), a ballet-master, dancer and pantaloon, first appeared in London at the King’s Theatre (now Her Majesty’s Theatre) in the Haymarket. Grimaldi’s mother, Rebecca Brooker, danced and played bit parts at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and at Sadler’s Wells theatre in Clerkenwell.

Debut at Sadler’s Wells

Joseph Grimaldi’s first appearance, as a child dancer at three-years-old, was in the pantomime Pandora’s Box at Sadler’s Wells with his father on 16 April 1781. Young Joe regularly performed at the Wells; in 1794 he played the dwarf in Valentine and Orson, as well as appearing in various French-revolutionary dramas then drawing large crowds to the theatre.

1 Grimaldi's first performance (1781)
George Cruikshank’s illustration  for Charles Dickens’s Memoirs of Grimaldi (1837). Young Joseph Grimaldi’s first performance aged three years as a ‘flying’ monkey in Pandora’s Box at Sadler’s Wells theatre in 1781. (Islington Local History Centre)

Guzzle the Drinking Clown

Grimaldi’s first performance as a clown took place at Sadler’s Wells in 1800. He played ‘Guzzle the Drinking Clown’ in an innovative pantomime called Peter Wilkins (or Harlequin in the Flying World) written by dramatist and theatre proprietor Charles Dibdin (the younger). Joseph or ‘Joey’ was dressed in an extravagant, multi-coloured costume and his make-up featured a white face, decorated by two red half-moons on each cheek rather than the traditional ruddy complexions of 18th-century clowns. Grimaldi became so popular in the harlequinade that the name ‘Joey’ has passed into the English language to mean clown.

Joseph 'Joey' Grimaldi as 'Clown' by 'Dyer'
Joseph ‘Joey’ Grimaldi as ‘Clown’, early-1800s. Published by Dyer, Finsbury. (Islington Local History Centre)

King of Clowns

Grimaldi rapidly began to be celebrated as the unchallenged king of clowns. In the years that followed he played assorted comic and tragi-comedic parts. These included more performances at Sadler’s Wells, including ‘Friday’ in Robinson Crusoe (1802) and, famously, the ‘Wild Man’ in Charles Dibdin’s aqua-drama The Wild Man (or Water Pageant, 1809), written especially for him.

Sadler's Wells Aquatic-theatre, 1809
Sadler’s Wells Aquatic-theatre, 1809, engraving. The same year, Grimaldi played the ‘Wild Man’ in Charles Dibdin’s aqua-drama The Wild Man. (Islington Local History Centre)

He was to transform the clown from a rustic fool into the star of metropolitan pantomime. To the delight of audiences, his clown possessed no respect for property, propriety or authority. He was high-spirited, mischievous and amoral, satirising contemporary British society and ridiculing the Regency period.

Sadler's Wells aquatic theatre, 1809. (Islington Local History Centre)
Sadler’s Wells aquatic theatre, 1809. (Islington Local History Centre)

Mother Goose

One of Joseph Grimaldi’s greatest successes was his performance in Harlequin and Mother Goose (or The Golden Egg) a Christmas pantomime written by Thomas Dibdin, brother of Charles Dibdin, and performed at the Theatre Royal (later Royal Opera House), Covent Garden, in 1806. The piece became the most successful pantomime ever staged at the theatre. In the years to follow, Grimaldi built on his success with further characterisations at both Covent Garden and Sadler’s Wells. Critics often remarked on the almost demonic quality of Grimaldi’s mime and the expressiveness of his face and gestures.

Grimaldi as Mother Goose
Joseph Grimaldi as Clown in the pantomime Mother Goose, published 1846. (Islington Local History Centre)

Exmouth Market

Joseph Grimaldi left Sadler’s Wells in 1816 and went on a very profitable tour of the provinces; he returned to the Wells in 1818 having bought a share in the theatre. The same year Grimaldi moved to nearby 8 Exmouth Street (now 56 Exmouth Market), Clerkenwell, and he lived there for ten years.

Grimaldi's residence at 56 Exmouth Street 2018
The residence of Joseph Grimaldi from 1818 until 1828 at 56 Exmouth Market, Clerkenwell, 2018. (Islington Local History Centre)

The clown’s health had been declining for some time and by the mid-1820s he had become almost completely disabled. By 1828 Grimaldi had become penniless and benefit performances for him were held at Sadler’s Wells and Covent Garden.

Plaque at Grimaldi's House 56 Exmouth Street April 2018
Plaque at Grimaldi’s House 56 Exmouth Street, April 2018. (Islington Local History Centre)

Joseph Grimaldi Park

Grimaldi’s only son, Joseph Samuel William Grimaldi (b.1802), who took over some of his father’s roles and had seemed to be full of promise, had become wild and uncontrollable and drank himself to an early death in December 1832. Grimaldi himself died on 31 May 1837 at 33 Southampton Street (later 22 Calshot Street), Islington, now demolished. He is buried in the nearby graveyard of St James’s Chapel, Pentonville Road.

Grimaldi's grave 2018
The headstone and grave chamber of Joseph Grimaldi, Joseph Grimaldi Park, Collier Street, Islington, 2018. His actual burial site is located several metres away and is unmarked. (Islington Local History Centre)

The burial ground located in Collier Street, in which the clown’s headstone can still be seen, is now called Joseph Grimaldi Park. In 2010 a coffin-shaped musical memorial dedicated to Grimaldi, made of bronze, musical floor tiles, was installed in the park; the tiles are tuned so that when danced upon it is possible to play his famous song Hot Codlins.

The Clowns’ Church, Hackney

Joseph Grimaldi continues to be remembered in an annual memorial service on the first Sunday in February at either Holy Trinity Church (the ‘Clown’s Church’) or All Saints Church in Hackney*. The service, which has been held since the 1940s, attracts hundreds of clown performers from across the world; the vestry of the church is also home to the Clowns Gallery-Museum, which includes the Clown Egg Register. Clowns attend the annual service in full clown costume, all paying their respects to Joseph Grimaldi, the Clerkenwell king of clowns and the father of modern clowning.

*Due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, this year’s service (2021) may be subject to special conditions or possible postponement, so please check with the churches for details.

Mark Aston
Islington Local History Centre | Islington Museum 2021


Further reading and online sources

Dennis Arundell The Story of Sadler’s Wells, 1683–1964 (Newton Abbott: David and Charles, 1978)

Julia Atkinson The Golden Age of Pantomime: Joseph Grimaldi to Dan Leno: from ‘The Era’ and other contemporary newspapers (Julia Diane Atkinson, 2019)

Charles Dickens Memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi (1837)

Richard Findlater Grimaldi King of Clowns (Magibbon & Kee, 1955)

Andrew McConnell Stott The Pantomime Life of Joseph Grimaldi: Laughter, Madness and the Story of Britain’s Greatest Comedian (Canongate Books, 2010)


Arthur Lloyd.co.uk (The Music Hall and Theatre History Site)

Italians in Islington (Islington Life / London Borough of Islington) 

Sadler’s Wells Theatre Archive (Islington Local History Centre)

The Story of circus (Victoria and Albert Museum)


Categories
Archive Blog Post Collections Local History

Pantos, Pageants and Puddings: Islington’s Christmas Past

Image 1 WW1 card
Embroidered card sent by Leonard Mansfield during World War I with the words ‘From Lenn, Wishing you a merry christmas + a prosperous new year’ [Islington Museum: 2003.2]


We’re all witnessing a different kind of Christmas in 2020. One without the usual carol services, Christmas fairs, pantomime outings and no spending ‘real time’ with family and friends. As a diversion, we thought we’d take a brief look at some of the Christmas ‘goings-on’ of Islington past.

Read on with a cup of spiced tea and a mince pie!

Have Yourself an Aggie Little Christmas!

Image 2 Royal Smithfield Show 1908
Cattle for Christmas at the Smithfield Club Show [The Sphere, 12 December 1908]


You can learn all about the Christmas fun fairs filled with pageants, fairground rides, music and wild animals at the Agricultural Hall or ‘Aggie’ in our presentation Meet Me at the Aggie. However, the Smithfield Club Show (first established in 1798) was the most enduring annual event at the Aggie. It took place between 1862 and 1938 and was usually held a week or two before Christmas. The first livestock fair held at the Aggie attracted almost 135,000 visitors. Members of the royal family frequently attended these showcases of Britain as a leading meat-producing nation. The Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII) took a particular interest and regularly entered specimens from the royal farms.

There was no better place to see all the finest varieties of cattle, as well as pigs and sheep. In 1864, the Islington Gazette commented that “We would not want to exaggerate the effect of the Smithfield Show but we do regard it as a triumph of principles that has almost infinite outgoings” and observed that livestock shows were a fitting event for the lead-up to Christmas, traditionally a season of abundance. Press coverage also indicates a habit of complaints about the most recent show not being as good as those in previous years!

The Pleasure of Pantomime and Performance

Babes in the Wood at the Grand Theatre, Islington
Babes in the Wood at the Grand Theatre, Islington High Street, 1904


Christmas really isn’t Christmas without theatre, and especially the tradition of pantomime. We can usually expect delightful and hilarious Christmas shows at Sadler’s Wells, the King’s Head, the Rosemary Branch, the Little Angel and others (do check out what’s available to watch online). Islingtonians of the past would have sought festive entertainments filled with uproarious dames, dashing principal boys and lines of dancing girls at venues including Collins Music Hall, the Finsbury Park Empire and the Grand Theatre, Islington High Street.

A notable figure in the world of Islington pantomime was Geoffrey Thorne, who by day was chief registrar of births and deaths (as Charles Townley) and a contributor to the Islington Gazette and other publications. Thorne was best known for his comic song Who Killed Cock Warren? (satirising the resignation of police chief Sir Charles Warren in 1888 when he failed to catch Jack the Ripper). He was also closely associated with pantomimes at the Grand Theatre (located where the Royal Bank of Scotland building now stands, adjacent to Angel Station). The 1904 production of The Babes in the Wood, penned by Thorne, was praised by the London Daily News for its “transformation scene in which no fewer than three tons of glass featured prominently […] a fitting climax to the performance, and praise is due to the management for its efforts in upholding the reputation for good pantomimes so long enjoyed by the ‘Adelphi of the Suburbs’”. Sounds spectacular indeed!

Christmas Day in Cornwallis Road Workhouse

Image 4 Christmas pudding recipe
Recipe for Christmas pudding, Cornwallis Road Workhouse, 1904 [Islington Museum: 2002.12]


The workhouse system was established in 1834 under the New Poor Law in order to centralise poverty relief, which was previously administered on a case-by-case basis by local parishes, in order to deter all but the most destitute from applying. The harrowing conditions featured in many works of Victorian art and fiction, most notably Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist (1837-9). The campaigning journalist George Robert Sims’ impassioned ballad Christmas Day in the Workhouse was first published in 1877 and became hugely popular and was frequently parodied.

A version of the workhouse system continued into the twentieth century. Cornwallis Road Workhouse, Upper Holloway was established in 1864-5 by the West London Union and by 1882 was taken over by the Board of Guardians of St Mary’s, Islington. The quantities in this recipe for Christmas pudding for the inmates (over 900 of them) of 1904, handwritten by workhouse cook Clara Dyer, certainly are extraordinary. The Islington Gazette depicted the Cornwallis Road Workhouse Christmas as a jolly affair with copious amounts of food and a dining hall decorated with “a fairylike appearance with its embellishment of flowers, greenery, various coloured rosettes and Chinese lanterns”. However, it’s unlikely that the rosy treatment in the press reflected the reality.

A Twixmas* Read

Image 5 The Christmas Egg
The Christmas Egg by Mary Kelly (1958). A great Twixmas read!


If you are a fan of vintage crime fiction, it’s almost certain that you’ll enjoy The Christmas Egg by Mary Kelly (1958), recently reissued as part of the British Library Crime classics series: Shortly before Christmas, White Russian émigré Princess Olga Karukhina is found dead in suspicious circumstances in her seedy bedsit off Islington High Street and her priceless Fabergé egg has been stolen… will the mystery be solved by Christmas Day? Kelly was an amateur opera singer who knew Islington through her visits to Sadler’s Wells and she bestowed her love of music on her sleuth, the aptly named Inspector Nightingale.

The book contains evocative descriptions of Islington High Street in the aftermath of the Second World War:

“[Nightingale] had only seen it before in daylight; by night it appeared to be even more a survival from the past. Its narrow curving course and pavements sloping to a central runnel recalled the village long engulfed by the city. The high, flat-faced buildings crowded on either side, their ground floors of tiny shops bedizened at this time with dusty Christmas decorations, belonged unmistakably to London; but to the last century.”

Quite different to today but the sense of economic depression strikes a chord.

[* Twixmas is the word given to the ‘relaxed’ days (27-30 December) between Christmas and New Year’s Eve]

Walking Islington

Image 6 Canonbury House
Canonbury House, Canonbury Place, Islington (built 1795)


As well as curling up with a good book, such as The Christmas Egg, one activity that we can still indulge in is a good walk. Admittedly, there hasn’t been much else that we can do outside the home since March but Islington has so much handsome architecture and walking around in wintry sunshine is one of the best ways in which to enjoy it. I especially like Canonbury House (built 1795), which must be full of the ghosts of the most gloriously Dickensian Christmas memories. I wish I could have attended a Christmas party there in days gone by!

What do you enjoy most about Christmas in Islington? Do you have any special traditions and what are you doing differently this year?

All at Islington Museum and Local History Centre wish you a safe and peaceful festive season and a happy (and better) New Year!

Researched and written by Julia Rank
Islington Museum | Islington Local History Centre (December 2020)

Sources

Islington Museum and Islington Local History Centre Collections

British Newspaper Archive

Cornwallis Road Workhouse, Islington in Workhouses.org [acc. December 2020]

Workhouses in Islington in Workhouses.org [acc. December 2020]

The Christmas Egg by Mary Kelly (1958, reissued by British Library Publishing in 2019, with an introduction by Martin Edwards)