Exploring 53 Cross Street

By Martin King, Islington Museum Volunteer

53crossI lived in 53 Cross Street from 1989 to 2003 as a member of Black Sheep Housing Cooperative. The house was built in 1785 and there was evidence of subsequent occupation ranging from the remains of a brass engraver’s studio in the backyard to the 1960s modernisation. This had covered up much of the original fabric of the house with hardboard and woodchip paper. I became intrigued by what lay behind the walls, behind shutters and under the floor boards.
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Behind the shutters I found a pair of 18th century working men’s stockings together with a piece of wood inscribed in pencil ‘George Shaw when to Aameica March 1785’. He was probably a carpenter who worked on the house and left these objects as a kind of time capsule. Under the floor boards I found late 19th century brass engravings from when the house was occupied by John and Eliza Tiley and their eleven children

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In the backyard I dug through the earth and found many pottery fragments, clay pipes and a shoe. Behind the air raid shelter I found the remains of a Second World War gas mask.

With my fellow house-mate Mark McAuley I removed the 1960s hardboard in the house and underneath found fragments of wallpaper from the whole life of the house. In the hall, under the wallpaper I found a 1785 painted stencil in the gothic style.

Most of the objects I found were quite humble, everyday objects, but together they tell the story of the house over the last 230 years. The only objects I added to the collection were a plastic Millennium bug chewing a computer and two badges, one of them with the message “Think for yourself”.

Visit Islington Museum to see the 53 Cross Street objects