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Blog Post Bunhill Fields 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
2021 Redevelopment Projects

Islington Museum is getting a new look…

This year, Islington Museum is redeveloping its permanent gallery and facilities. The museum was originally founded by a group of volunteers in Islington Town Hall in 1988, moved to its current location in 2008. Since then, the permanent gallery has not been updated.

So we’ve made this post to answer some FAQs about what exactly ‘redeveloping’ means!

Why are we redeveloping?

  • To update our galleries – this means everything from the layout to the contents!
  • While the gallery shares many interesting stories and objects, it needs refreshing to better reflect and serve our audiences in modern Islington
  • To make our space easier to find, use, and enjoy

When are we redeveloping?

The redevelopment has officially begun! The project will continue throughout 2021 and 2022.

Will the museum close?

Yes! The museum will close in Spring 2022 and will reopen with the launch of the new museum. Once specific dates have been determined they’ll be updated on the Islington Museum twitter account (@IslingtonMuseum) and through posts on our redevelopment project page.

Why does the museum have to close?

  • So we can do lots of workshops and activities with different community groups to find out what people think and what needs to change
  • So that we can safely remove objects from display
  • So that key works can be done to redesign the space

Who is paying for it?

This project is primarily being funded by Islington Council.

Will there still be toys and places for kids to play in the new museum?

Yes! We want the new museum to be a space for everybody, including kids and families. The play spaces will be updated, and we want your feedback on how we can make the most out of our children’s areas.

How can I get involved?

I’m so glad you asked! There are lots of ways for you to get involved.

  • In the museum:
    • Fill in a questionnaire and get a chocolate!
    • Answer the key questions on display boards by the information desk
    • Respond to the objects in our rotating welcome display
    • Fill in a comment card
  • Online:

Are you part of an Islington-based community group? Get in touch with the museum directly to find out other ways you and your organisation can get involved: Islington.museum@islington.gov.uk

Categories
Blog Post Bunhill Fields 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
International Women's Day 2021

Choosing to Challenge: Islington Women and Politics

International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8 is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.

The theme of IWD 2021 is ‘Choosing to Challenge’. We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality, and can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. From challenge comes change, so let’s all choose to challenge.

We pay tribute to and celebrate inspirational Islington women who, over many centuries and across a variety of professions, have ‘Chosen to Challenge’. The contribution from Islington women to gain the vote and many other political advancements has been immense. From Ethel Bentham to Valda James, each has accelerated women’s equality and helped towards creating a better and inclusive world.

[Part 5 of 5 of Choosing to Challenge: Islington’s Inspirational Women]


Ethel Bentham (1861-1931)

Physician and Islington’s first female Member of Parliament

Ethel BenthamEthel Bentham was born in the City of London in 1861. She was raised in Dublin where her father, William, was a Justice of the Peace. As a young girl Ethel visited the Dublin slums with her mother, which inspired her to become a doctor. For three years, she trained at the London School of Medicine for Women gaining a certificate in medicine in 1893 and, the following year, Ethel became a qualified midwife in Dublin.  She received an M.D. in 1895, after training in hospitals in Paris and Brussels.

She initially worked in London hospitals before entering general practice in Newcastle, with Dr Ethel Williams, the first female doctor in the city, and a suffragist. Ethel Bentham became a member of the executive committee of the Newcastle branch of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) in 1900, and joined the Labour Party in 1902, the Fabian Society in 1907, and the Fabian Women’s Group in 1908.

In 1907, she unsuccessfully stood as the Labour Party candidate in a by-election in the Westgate South ward of Newcastle. Back in London in 1909, Ethel established a practice in North Kensington and, two years later, was behind the establishment of a mother and baby clinic in the area. The clinic was the first in Britain to provide medical treatment alongside advice. She served as its chief medical officer, and benefactor, and underwrote the clinic’s expenses.

Ethel’s political career ran parallel to her medical work. She stood unsuccessfully as the Labour candidate for Kensington Borough Council in 1909, and the London County Council in 1910, but was eventually elected a member of Kensington Borough Council in 1912, a position she held for 13 years. Following the First World War, Ethel was appointed as one of the first women magistrates, working in the children’s courts and on the Metropolitan Asylums Board. From 1918 to 1931, she sat on the Labour Party National Executive Committee, while also serving on the Standing Joint Committee of Industrial Women’s Organisations.

Ethel stood unsuccessfully as the Labour Party candidate for Islington East in the General Elections of 1922 and 1923. However, she finally succeeded and became Member of Parliament for Islington East in 1929 – Islington’s first female MP. She was also the first ever woman Quaker and doctor, as well as he oldest woman at 68 years of age, to be elected to Parliament. Ethel served in only the second ever Labour Government, headed by Ramsay MacDonald. She spoke infrequently in the House of Commons in her two years in Parliament. One of her most memorable speeches was during debate on the Mental Treatment Bill.

Ethel died on 19 January 1931, at her flat in Chelsea, just after her 70th birthday, due to heart failure following influenza. Her death triggered a by-election, held on 19 February in which the Labour candidate, Leah Manning, was elected to succeed her as MP for Islington East.


Edith Garrud (1872-1971)

Suffragette and martial-arts specialist 

Edith GarrudEdith Garrud (née Williams) was born in Bath in 1872. As a child she moved to London to live with her uncle, Henry Williams, at 60 Thornhill Square, Islington. In 1893 she married William Garrud at Holy Trinity Church in nearby Cloudesley Square.

In 1899 Edith and William attended a show of ‘wrestling’ by Edward Barton-Wright at the Alhambra Theatre, Leicester Square. This ‘wrestling’ turned out to be a martial art Barton-Wright had learnt in Japan called ‘jiu-jitsu’. So impressed was Garrud with the art, which allowed someone as diminutive as herself (she was four foot nine) to overpower larger opponents, that she joined Barton-Wright’s school.

Garrud was soon running two dojos (training schools), one in Argyll Street, off Oxford Circus, and one on Seven Sisters Road. Originally Edith would put on jiu-jitsu shows whilst her husband explained the art, but suffragette leader Emily Pankhurst encouraged her to speak for herself. In these exhibitions Garrud would welcome a burly policeman to the stage and encourage him to attack her so she could show the advantages of jiu-jitsu by defeating him. The bobby was, of course, a fellow martial artist sympathetic to the suffrage movement, but the demonstration still got wholehearted cheers!

In 1907 Garrud starred in a film directed by one of Britain’s first film directors Alf Collins, who specialised in chase scenes. Jiu-jitsu Downs the Footpads depicts Garrud being attacked by two muggers and successfully fighting them off.

Suffragette PunchIn 1908 Garrud joined the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). She offered self-defence courses for fellow suffragettes and wrote articles explaining basic jiu-jitsu positions in the suffragette newspaper Votes for Women. Her notoriety was such that the popular magazine Health and Strength published an article entitled ‘Jui-jutsuffragettes: A New Terror for the London Police’. The nickname was no doubt meant to be a little tongue-in-cheek, but Garrud approved of it! Punch magazine also published a cartoon of Garrud standing alone against a group of policemen with the strapline The suffragette that knew jiu-jitsu (see above right image).

The Cat and Mouse Act, where suffragette hunger-strikers would be released from prison in order to recoup their strength and then rearrested, came into effect in 1913. To protect these women Garrud formed ‘The Bodyguard’, a 30 strong all-female suffragette defence force. They were trained in jiu-jitsu and would hide clubs and stones up their dresses. However, Garrud rarely fought at the front line as the suffragettes were careful not to lose their self-defence guru to imprisonment.

After the War Garrud, who had lost one of her sons in the trenches, continued as a jiu-jitsu teacher eventually selling her dojos in 1925. She died in Bromley, Kent, in 1971 aged 99.


Catherine Griffiths (1885-1988)

Local politician, nurse and suffragette

Catherine GriffifthsCatherine Griffiths was born in Glamorgan, South Wales, and was one of a family of five children. She left home when she was 17 years old and went to Cardiff to train as a State Registered Nurse at City Hospital. Soon after qualifying as a SRN she met her future husband, James, a Civil and Mining Engineer.

In the 1900s, Catherine joined the suffragette movement and the Votes for Women campaign. In protest against inequality, she smashed windows and was arrested for placing tacks on the seat of Chancellor of the Exchequer , David Lloyd George, in the House of Commons at Westminster. Found guilty, she served a short prison sentence, possibly at Holloway Prison.

At the outbreak of the First World War, as a trained nurse, Catherine went to serve in France. Afterwards, Catherine, her husband and two children settled in Finsbury (now Islington), where she became involved in local politics. By 1922 Catherine was one of the original members of the Women’s Committee of the Labour Party in Finsbury, based at the Peel Institute. From 1937 until 1965, Catherine was a labour councillor, becoming Mayor of Finsbury in 1960-61. She was particularly active in the areas of health, maternity and child welfare, housing, cleansing, libraries, and civil defence. During the whole of her service on Finsbury Council, Catherine continued to carry out her full-time duties as a State Registered Nurse. During the Second World War she served as Commandant at the Moorfields Eye Hospital in City Road, London.

In addition, Catherine served as a governor of Compton, Hugh Myddelton and Prior Weston Primary Schools and as an estate governor of Alleyn’s College at Dulwich. She also found time to take part in local Welsh affairs, and was a lifelong member of the King’s Cross Welsh Chapel, as well as being an active participant of the Glamorgan Society. In 1983, she was awarded the Freedom of the Borough (of Islington) as a mark of esteem and in recognition of over 46 years of public service.

In 1988, Catherine was guest of honour at the House of Commons for the 70th anniversary commemorations for women gaining the parliamentary vote, or universal suffrage, in 1918. Newspaper headlines dubbed her ‘the last of the suffragettes’.  A few months after her visit to Westminster, Catherine passed away, aged 102 years. Catherine Griffiths Court, residential housing in Pine Street, Clerkenwell, is named in her memory.


Valda James (1928 – )

First black woman elected to Islington Council and the borough’s first black mayor

Valda JamesValda James was born in Saint Thomas Parish, Jamaica, in 1928. She came to England in 1961, as part of the Windrush generation. After her marriage ended, Valda raised her children as a single parent, working in catering and dressmaking before becoming a British Red Cross nurse for eight years.

In 1986 she became the first black woman to be elected to Islington Council and bringing up a family as a lone parent informed her work as a councillor on the borough’s Social Services committee. She became deputy mayor of the borough and, in 1988, Valda was appointed  Islington’s first black mayor

To fulfill her role as mayor, Valda took early retirement from her regular job but this affected her pension. She was also unable to claim councillors’ attendance allowances, as mayoral duties did not give sufficient time for her to carry out the duties required of a councillor. As a result, and due to a lack of income, Valda worked as a cleaning supervisor, with a start time of 5.30am, before beginning her working day as Mayor.

In 1989, while still undertaking mayoral duties, she founded a Sickle Cell Support Group in Camden. This was set up as a forum for people with sickle cell and thalassaemia diseases to meet, discuss and support each other.

In 2018, a photograph of Valda by her granddaughter, artist Phoebe Collings-James, was exhibited on an external wall of  The Peel Institute, Clerkenwell. The photograph commemorates the cultural impact left by Valda on Islington, and was part of the LDN WMN initiative celebrating 100 years since the first women gained the parliamentary vote in Britain. It also displayed close to  where she has lived all her life.


Choosing to Challenge: Islington’s Inspirational Women 

Back to Choosing to Challenge: Islington’s Inspirational Women


Compiled by the Friends of Islington Museum / Islington Heritage Service (March 2021)

Categories
International Women's Day 2021

Choosing to Challenge: Islington Women and Arts and Entertainment

International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8 is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.

The theme of IWD 2021 is ‘Choosing to Challenge’. We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality, and can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. From challenge comes change, so let’s all choose to challenge.

We pay tribute to and celebrate inspirational Islington Women who, over many centuries and across a variety of professions, have ‘Chosen to Challenge’. The contribution from Islington women in  Arts and Entertainment has been immense. From Kate Greenaway to Andrea Levy, each has accelerated women’s equality and helped towards creating a better and inclusive world.

[Part 1 of 5 of Choosing to Challenge: Islington’s Inspirational Women (1547-2021)]


Kate Greenaway (1846-1901)

Book illustrator

Kate GreenawayHoxton-born children’s illustrator Kate (Catherine) Greenaway and her family moved to 147 Upper Street in 1852, Islington where her mother opened a hat shop.  Kate lived here for 21 years. She later resided at Pemberton Gardens, Holloway. As a child, she attended her first art class at Finsbury School of Art in William Street, Clerkenwell. Kate was soon promoted from this evening class to the day class at the art school at Canonbury House. 

Kate Greenaway had a prolific career as an illustrator for children’s books, designer and verse writer. Her earliest work appeared in Little Folks (1873), a widely known and very popular children’s weekly magazine. The same year saw the first of her Christmas cards produced for Marcus Ward. Her best-known books include Under the Window (1879) and Kate Greenaway’s Birthday Book (1880). Kate’s last work, The April Baby’s Book of Tunes appeared in 1901.

In 1890 she became a member of the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours, and exhibited several times. She is still celebrated through the annual Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration of children’s literature.

  • An Islington Heritage plaque to Kate Greenaway can be seen outside her former Upper Street home.

Marie Lloyd (1870-1922)

Music-hall artist

Marie LloydMary Lloyd was known as the ‘Queen of the Music Hall’. Born Matilda Wood in Hoxton, London, her career spanned 40 years. As Bella Delamare, she made her debut at 15-years-old at the Eagle Tavern, off City Road. By 1885 she had become Marie Lloyd, with her hit song ‘The boy up in the gallery’; this was originally written for Islington music-hall star Nellie Power. Marie became a huge success and topped the bill at all the West End and major music halls.

Marie had many associations with Islington, both as resident and performer. As a girl she lived in Bath Place, Finsbury, and attended school in nearby Bath Street. She became a regular performer at Collins’ Music Hall on Islington Green (now Waterstones bookshop), the Grand Theatre at Angel (demolished) and the Finsbury Park Empire (now Vaudeville Court).

Marie was actively involved in the 1907 London and suburban music-hall strike organised by the Variety Artistes’ Federation. It campaigned against management contracts which stopped performers from working in any other local hall within a year of their current contract, irrespective of contract length. Well-paid stars such as Marie and ‘Little Tich’ stood alongside lesser names and refused to perform, often picketing outside theatres. Eventually the various managements were forced to give in and agreed to change the contracts.

Marie Lloyd continued performing until a few days before her death at the age of 52. More than 50,000 people turned out to pay their respects at her funeral at Hampstead Cemetery in 1922.


Lilian Baylis (1874-1937)

Theatrical producer and manager

Lilian BaylisThe eldest of six children, Lilian Baylis was born in Marylebone, London, and grew up surrounded by music and performance. Her mother was a successful singer and pianist, and Lilian’s education was grounded in the arts.

Lilian was the manager of The Old Vic theatre when she began a national campaign to save Sadler’s Wells, Rosebery Avenue, Islington in 1925..

The Sadler’s Wells site had been the home to theatre and entertainment since 1683 but, by 1925, and several buildings later, the playhouse was derelict. Lilian launched a public appeal for funds to rebuild the theatre for the nation. Building work finally began in 1930 and the fifth Sadler’s Wells Theatre opened in 6 January 1931 with a production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

After a long illness, Lilian died of a heart attack in November 1937, aged 63 in Lambeth, South London, the night before The Old Vic was to open a production of Macbeth starring Laurence Olivier and Judith Anderson.

A new Sadler’s Wells Theatre opened in 1998 and Lilian is commemorated in a performance space named the Lilian Baylis Studio.


Dame Gracie Fields (1898-1979)

Singer and actor

Gracie FieldsDame Gracie Fields (née Stansfield) was born in Rochdale, Lancashire. She was a highly successful singer, comedian and actress, becoming a towering star of both music hall and cinema. 

Gracie made her London stage debut at Collins’ Music Hall, Islington Green, on 25 June 1915 as a singer in a revue. She later made Islington her home. From 1926 until 1929 Gracie lived close to Collins’ at 72A Upper Street. She was most famous for her song Sally (1931) and the film Sally in our Alley (1931). She was the highest paid film star in the world in 1937.

Gracie played the Finsbury Park Empire on a number of occasions in the 1920s and early 1930s. In the 1930s, when her popularity was at its peak, she was given many honours: she became an Officer of the Venerable Order of St John (OStJ) for her charity work, and a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for her services to entertainment in the 1938 New Year Honours. 

Gracie had to wait another 40 years until she was invested as a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) by Queen Elizabeth II, just seven months before her death in Capri in 1979, aged 81 years.

  • An English Heritage blue plaque to Gracie Fields can be seen outside her former Upper Street home.

Nina Bawden (1925-2012)

Author and railway safety campaigner

Nina BawdenNina Bawden CBE was born and raised in Ilford, Essex. She lived at 22 Noel Road, Islington, from 1976 until her death in 2012.

She was the author of many books for adults and children, including Carrie’s War (1973) and The Peppermint Pig (1975). For the latter she won the 1976 Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, a once-in-a-lifetime book award judged by a panel of British children’s writers. Some of her writing drew on her life in Islington.

Nina was seriously injured in the Potters Bar train crash in 2002 in which her husband, Austen Kark, and six other people were killed. With others she successfully campaigned to make the railways safer and to hold those responsible for the accident to account.

  • An Islington Heritage plaque to Nina Bawden can be seen outside her former Noel Road home.

Andrea Levy (1956-2019)

Novelist and chronicler of the British Caribbean experience

Andrea LevyNovelist and chronicler of the British Caribbean experience, Andrea Levy was born at the Whittington Hospital, Islington, on 7 March 1956. Her father Winston travelled to England on the HMT Empire Windrush in 1948, with his wife Amy following some months later. Both her parents were Jamaican-born of mixed descent, becoming part of the boom in immigration that shaped post-war Britain.

The family home was a council flat at 105 Twyford House, Elwood Street, close to Arsenal FC’s Highbury Stadium. Andrea was youngest of four children, growing up at a time when the idea of living in multi-cultural society had yet to be accepted. She passed the 11-plus examination and, in 1968, attended the prestigious Highbury Hill Grammar School (now Highbury Fields School). 

Andrea began writing novels and her first three works drew on her own experiences of growing up black in a majority white society. These were set largely in the north London of her early years and, although sales were modest, the books were critically well received. In 2004 she had her breakthrough with her fourth novel Small Island, which dealt with the post-Second World War immigration experience of her parents’ generation. That year the book won the Orange Prize for Fiction and the Whitbread Book of the Year and, in 2005, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize.

Andrea’s final novel The Long Song took the British Caribbean experience back to its uncomfortable origins in the plantation slavery of the early-19th Century. The book was shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2010 and won the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction 2011.

Andrea died on 14 February 2019, aged 62, after living with breast cancer for 15 years.

  • An Islington Heritage plaque to Andrea Levy can be seen outside her former childhood home in Elwood Street
  • Learn more about Andrea in our special Islington Histories Andrea Levy Learning Pack

Choosing to Challenge: Islington’s Inspirational Women (1547-2021) 

Back to Choosing to Challenge: Islington’s Inspirational Women (1547-2021) main page


Compiled by the Friends of Islington Museum / Islington Heritage Service (March 2021)

Categories
International Women's Day 2021

Choosing to Challenge: Islington Women and Health Care

International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8 is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.

The theme of IWD 2021 is ‘Choosing to Challenge’. We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality, and can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. From challenge comes change, so let’s all choose to challenge.

We pay tribute to and celebrate inspirational Islington women who, over many centuries and across a variety of professionals, have ‘Chosen to Challenge’. The contribution from Islington Women in Health Care has been immense. From Florence Keen to marie Stopes, each has accelerated women’s equality and helped towards creating a better and inclusive world.

[Part 3 of 5 of Choosing to Challenge: Islington Inspirational Women (1547-2021)]


Florence Keen (1868 – 1942)

Founder of the North Islington Welfare Centre

Florence KeenMrs Florence Keen founded the North Islington Welfare Centre and School for Mothers in Holloway, Islington in 1913.

Florence Keen (née Hield) was born in Leeds, Yorkshire and, later, was a resident of Highgate, London. She married William Brock Keen, an Islington-born accountant, in the borough in 1887. The North Islington Infant Welfare Centre and School for Mothers was founded in 1913 by Florence and other local women at a time when the infant mortality rate in the borough was 110 per 1000 births. It was intended to be a ‘school for mothers’, offering help and advice on the correct methods of childcare to less privileged mothers.

With Florence acting as Honorary Secretary and Treasurer, the Centre first opened at the Presbyterian mission hall in Elthorne Road, Holloway in 1913, with a voluntary doctor and a nurse weighing and examining 12-15 babies one afternoon a week.

In 1915 the Welfare Centre moved to more suitable premises at 9 Manor Gardens. The following year the adjoining house at number 8 was also leased. The Centre offered dental and eye clinics, massage, ‘artificial sunlight’ treatment for rickets, training for infant welfare students and the provision of home helps.

Florence Keen said in 1917 that “the school [Centre] in so far as it was concerned with the wives and children of soldiers was definitely involved in war work.” During the conflict the Centre began to receive letters from husbands at the front expressing their appreciation for the care offered by the Centre for their families. Sadly, Florence Keen’s two elder sons, both captains in the 1/7 Middlesex Regiment, were killed in the war: Arthur in 1917 and William in 1918. They had both been subscribers to the Centre.

Florence died in Oxted, Surrey in 1942 aged 73 years.

The organisation, now known as the Manor Gardens Welfare Trust, continues to provide community healthcare in Islington.

  • An Islington Heritage plaque to Florence Keen can be seen outside the former North Islington Welfare Centre at 6-9 Manor Gardens, Holloway.

Lilian Lindsay (1871-1960)

The first qualified female dentist in Britain and the first female president of the British Dental Association

Lilian Lindsay
    (Image: British Dental Association)

Lilian Lindsay was born Lilian Murray in Hungerford Road, Holloway, London  in 1871. She was the daughter of a musician, and the third of eleven children. She was educated at Camden School for Girls, and won a scholarship to the North London Collegiate School.

Against advice, Lilian decided upon a career in dentistry. However, the Royal College of Surgeons refused to admit women to its medical courses, and when she applied to study at the National Dental Hospital in London, she was interviewed unsuccessfully on the pavement outside; women were not allowed in the building!

She left England in 1892 to study at Edinburgh Dental Hospital and School, where she qualified with honours in 1895 and where she met her future husband and fellow student. Robert Lindsay. She returned to Islington to set up a successful dental practice at 69 Hornsey Rise, Upper Holloway. After she and Robert were married in 1905 at St Luke’s Church in Hillmarton Road, the couple relocated to Edinburgh to set up a practice with her husband. In 1920 the Lindsays retired from dental practice and moved back to London. They moved into a flat above the headquarters of British Dental Association (BDA) at 23 Russell Square for the next 15 years. Lilian took a new role as Honorary Librarian at the BDA and curated the country’s first dental library. It became a resource for students and practitioners, containing over 10,000 volumes.

Lilian also took a serious interest in the history of dentistry, writing A Short History of Dentistry (1933) and over 50 journal articles. She remained in London during the Blitz, stating that she could not work away from the library.

Lindsay became the first female President of the BDA in 1946, and in the same year was awarded an OBE. She spent her final years in Oxford, Suffolk, and died in 1960 at the age of 88.

  • An English Heritage plaque to Lilian Lindsay can be seen outside the former Russell Square home. The plaque was originally installed at her Islington birthplace (now demolished) in Hungerford Road.

Marie Stopes (1880-1958)

Pioneer of sex education and birth control

Marie StopesMarie Charlotte Carmichael Stopes was born in Edinburgh in 1880. When she was six weeks old her family moved from Scotland to London.

Marie trained as a scientist at University College London but the failure of her first marriage led her to study sex education and contraception.

In 1918 she published a controversial but popular book, ‘Married Love’, and in 1921, she opened the first birth control clinic in Britain in Marlborough Road, Holloway. The clinic, which remained there until 1925, offered free services and advice to married women. Marie Stopes International now operates in more than 30 countries.


Choosing to Challenge: Islington’s Inspirational Women (1547-2021) 

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International Women's Day 2021

Choosing to Challenge: Islington Women and Education

International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8 is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.

The theme of IWD 2021 is ‘Choosing to Challenge’. We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality, and can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. From challenge comes change, so let’s all choose to challenge.

We pay tribute to and celebrate inspirational Islington women who, over many centuries and across a variety of professions, have ‘Chosen to Challenge’. The contribution from Islington women in education has been immense. From Dame Alice Owen to Yvonne Conolly, each has accelerated women’s equality and helped towards creating a better and inclusive world.

[Part 2 of 5 of Choosing to Challenge: Islington’s Inspirational Women (1547-2021)]


Dame Alice Owen (1547-1613)

Philanthropist

British (English) School; Dame Alice Owen (1547-1613)
(Image: Dame Alice Owen School)

Dame Alice Owen was the daughter of a rich Islington landowner, who inherited further wealth through the deaths of three husbands.

As a child, Dame Alice narrowly escaped death from an archer’s arrow and vowed to show her gratitude for her survival.

Her most lasting work was setting up a foundation in 1613 to provide almshouses for 10 poor women and a free school for 30 boys in Islington and Clerkenwell. The Dame Alice Owen Foundation continued after her death, establishing a girls’ school in 1886.

The Dame Alice Owen School is now a co-educational school in Hertfordshire and the foundation still supports educational projects in Islington.


Mary Wollstonecraft (1759 – 1797)

Writer, teacher and advocate of women’s rights

Mary_Wollstonecraft_by_John_Opie_(c._1797) NPG
(Image: National Portrait Gallery)

Mary Wollstonecraft, one of the earliest advocates of women’s rights, lived for several years at Newington Green, Islington.

Although she had little formal education, Mary needed to earn a living and she established a school for girls at Newington Green in 1784. She wrote her first book, Thoughts on the education of Daughters (1786) based on this experience. She became known across Europe for her radical and controversial views on gender equality. Her best known work is A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792).

  • An Islington Heritage plaque to Mary Wollstonecraft can be seen outside Newington Green Primary School, and a  controversial sculpture for Mary Wollstonecraft, by artist Maggi Hambling, went on display in Newington Green Open Space in November 2020.

Matilda Sharpe (1830 – 1916)

Teacher, philanthropist and painter

Matilda SharpeMatilda Sharpe was born at 38 Canonbury Place, Islington, the second of six children of Samuel Sharpe, a successful banker, Egyptologist and biblical scholar, and Sarah Sharpe, an artist of considerable talent. In 1840 the family moved to nearby 32 Highbury Place, where she was to reside until her death 56 years later.

Matilda devoted much of her life to education, starting at Newington Green Chapel Sunday School, where she taught painting and languages to working-class students. In 1885, with support from Robert Spears, a Unitarian minister, Matilda and her sister Emily established Channing School in Highgate. A school for the daughters of Unitarian ministers, their key aim was to educate girls. They wished Channing to provide the best education possible at the lowest possible cost, enabling its pupils to go on to university or any of the professions open to women. Today, Matilda and Emily Sharpe’s motto, ‘Never forget: life is expecting much of you and me’, is still very much advocated by the school.

Matilda was also a talented painter and she exhibited at the Royal Academy. One of her oil paintings, a portrait of her father dated 1868, is held at the National Portrait Gallery.  Matilda painted views from her house and her back garden, as well as Highbury Fields.  As a writer, she wrote four books of moral maxims and poetical comments on modern times, emphasizing her love of learning and travel, her dislike of smoking, alcohol, and fripperies, and her support for education for all.

Matilda died aged 86, her sister Emily having predeceased her.

  • View Matilda Sharpe’s paintings at ART UK

[This biography is an abridged version of  Matilda Sharpe (1830-1916) written by Evelyn Thomas  / Islington U3A Local History Group, 2018]


Yvonne Conolly (1939-2021)

Teacher and first Black female headteacher in the United Kingdom

Yvonne Conolly (Evening Standard)
(Image: Evening Standard)

Cecile Yvonne Conolly CBE was a Jamaican teacher, who became the United Kingdom’s first female black headteacher in 1969, aged just 29-years-old.

Yvonne arrived in the UK from Jamaica in August 1963, as part of the Windrush generation.  She had trained for three years as a primary school teacher in Jamaica before taking the decision to come to Britain on one of the many ships that brought over thousands of workers from the Caribbean. As a relief teacher, Yvonne was very aware that there were racial tensions in a number of schools where she taught. This was to become even more evident to her as her teaching career progressed. Yvonne was appointed teacher at the George Eliot School in Swiss Cottage, north London. In January 1969, and much to her surprise, she was offered a promotion to become headteacher at Ring Cross Primary School on Eden Grove in Holloway, Islington. At just 29-years of age, Yvonne was the country’s first black female headteacher.

After being appointed to this position, Yvonne received racist abuse and required a bodyguard to accompany her to work. Her appointment to the post attracted much attention from the British media, and she was subjected to repeated attacks in some national newspapers. Yvonne did not let the reaction to her headship prevent her from delivering an effective education service to the children of her school, and much of her experience at Ring Cross was to inform her later career. Carrying the responsibility of being the first-ever female black headteacher in the country, it was the reason she gave for setting up the Caribbean Teachers Association. Yvonne spent nine years as headteacher at Ring Cross and, in 1978, she left to take up a position as a member of the multi-ethnic inspectorate created by the ILEA (Inner London Education Authority). Yvonne formally retired in 2001, after 40-years-of service in education, but remained chair of the Caribbean Teachers’ Association.

Yvonne Conolly (Islington Tribute)
(Image: Islington Tribune)

In October 2020 she was honoured for her services to education with the Honorary Fellow of Education award from the Naz Legacy Foundation. HRH Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, who announced her award, said that she had “character and determination” which helped her break barriers for black educators.

In the Queen’s Birthday Honours the same year, Yvonne was made a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) for services to education. In receiving the award, she said: “I am delighted, and feel profoundly honoured to be receiving a CBE for the recognition of my work in education over many years. I am most grateful to my nominees and to the Honours Committee for this prestigious award which I am proud to share with my community.“

Yvonne died of  an incurable blood cancer she had been fighting for more than 10 years, on Wednesday, 27 January 2021, at the Whittington Hospital, Islington, aged 81 years.

[This biography is an abridged version of  Yvonne Conolly’s entry on Wikipedia, written and submitted by Islington Heritage Service in February 2021]


Choosing to Challenge: Islington’s Inspirational Women (1547-2021) 

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Categories
International Women's Day 2021

Choosing to Challenge: Islington Women and International Influence

International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8 is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.

The theme of IWD 2021 is ‘Choosing to Challenge’. We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality, and can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. From challenge comes change, so let’s all choose to challenge.

We pay tribute to and celebrate inspirational Islington women who, over many centuries and across a variety of professions, have ‘Chosen to Challenge’. The contribution from Islington women in international affairs and influence been immense. From Caroline Chisholm to Zaha Hadid, each has accelerated women’s equality and helped towards creating a better and inclusive world.

[Part 4 of 5 of Choosing to Challenge: Islington’s Inspirational Women (1547-2021)]


Mary Tealby (1801-1865)

Founder of the Home for Lost and Starving Dogs (later Battersea Dogs and Cats Home)

Mary TealbyMary Tealby (née Bates) was born in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire and moved to Hull with her husband Robert after their marriage in 1829. She moved to London to nurse her ill mother in the early 1850s, leaving her husband Robert in Hull, and remained with her father and her brother at 20 Victoria Road (now Chillingworth Street), Holloway, after her mother’s death.
Mary founded the Home for Lost and Starving Dogs after becoming distressed at the number of stray and abandoned dogs in London. The home was located in stables behind 15 and 16 Hollingsworth Street (now occupied by Freightliners Farm and Paradise Park) and was opened on 2 October 1860.

Mary died 3 October 1865 leaving the management of the home to her younger brother Edward, who relocated the home to Battersea, south London in 1871. The home still operates today under the name of Battersea Dogs and Cats Home.

An Islington Heritage plaque to Mary Tealby can be seen at Freightliners Farm in Holloway, the former site of the Home for Lost and Starving Dogs.


Caroline Chisholm (1808-1877)

The ’emigrants’ friend’

Caroline Chisholm (State Library of New South Wales)
(Image: State Library of New South Wales)

Caroline Chisholm (née Jones) was born in 1808 at Wooton, Northamptonshire. Caroline married Captain Archibald Chisholm in 1828 and accompanied him to Madras in India, where she set up a school of industry for the daughters of soldiers.

In 1838, Caroline went to Australia where her concern for the welfare of emigrants was such that she promoted a variety of projects to assist them. These included providing housing for single women who travelled to Australia under the bounty system, as well as lending money to assist in setting up businesses.

Through dedication and persistence she established a hostel in a derelict building provided by the governor of New South Wales. This served as an employment agency as well as being her headquarters. By the time she left Australia in 1846 she is said to have assisted 11,000 emigrants.

Upon her return from Australia, Caroline settled in Islington. Her house at 3 Charlton Crescent, now 32 Charlton Place, became her headquarters in England. She set up the Family Colonisation Loan Society to provide assistance to settlers. The Society’s aim was to support emigration by lending half the cost of the fare (the emigrant to provide the other half). After living two years in Australia, an emigrant would be expected to repay the loan. She also held regular meetings at Charlton Crescent to give practical advice to emigrants. In 1847, she gave evidence to the House of Lords Committee investigating the reform of the emigration systems.

A mother of six children, Caroline was a determined, generous and altruistic woman with insight into the the problems of those around her, and skilled in devising practical solutions. She died in Fulham, London in 1877.

Amelia Edwards (1831-1892)

Egyptologist and writer

Amelia Edwards (NPG)
(Image: National Portrait Gallery)

Amelia Edwards was born in Colebrook Row, Islington, in 1831. She was the only child of Thomas Edwards , an army officer who later worked for the Provincial Bank of Ireland in London, and Alicia Walpole, eldest daughter of Robert Walpole, an Irish barrister.

Amelia was a quiet child who, until eight years old, was educated at home by her mother and then by private tutors. From an early age, she was an avid reader, while writing stories and poems and developing into a proficient artist. By the age of 14 her stories were being published in periodicals. By this time she lived with her family at 19 Wharton Street, Clerkenwell (now Islington). It was here that she wrote Hand and Glove, reckoned the best of her early novels, alongside a concise history of France and short travelogues based on her later visits to the continent.

During the 1850s and 1860s Amelia travelled extensively throughout Europe, published many accounts of her journeys, as well as several novels and journal articles. She was fluent in French and Italian and described herself as ‘an insatiable traveller’. In 1873,  disappointed with the weather in central France, Amelia set off for Egypt. It was a journey that changed the course of her life. She became fascinated with Egypt and this was to dominate her work for the next two decades.

Travelling up the Nile from Cairo to Abu Simbel, she was appalled by the increasing threat directed towards the ancient monuments and artifacts by tourism and modern development. So much so that Amelia became a tireless campaigner for both the preservation and research of ancient Egypt.

She was co-founder of the influential Egypt Exploration Fund (later Egypt Exploration Society). She worked tirelessly for the society, raising funds, lecturing throughout England, and writing about the progress of the fund’s work. She raised sponsorship for the Egyptologist Francis Llewellyn Griffith to join Archaeologist Flinders Petrie in Egypt. The American branch of the Egypt Exploration Society gained momentum and, in 1886, Smith College in Massachusetts awarded Amelia an honorary LLD, ‘the first distinction of the kind ever bestowed on a woman. Amelia was also active in other areas of both classical and biblical study, and was vice-president of the Society for the Promotion of Women’s Suffrage.

In 1891, while overseeing antiquities arriving at London docks, she developed a lung infection which led to her death.  Amelia died six-months later in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, aged 60, and was buried at Henbury, near Bristol. Her grave is marked by an obelisk.

Mary Kingsley (1862-1900)

Ethnologist and writer

Mary Kinsgley
(Image: Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine)

Mary Kingsley was born in Tavistock Terrace, Upper Holloway, Islington in 1862. She was the eldest child of George Kingsley, a physician and traveller, and his wife Mary Bailey. The novelists Charles Kingsley and Henry Kingsley were her uncles.

As a young woman she supported her mother in household duties and assisted in her father’s anthropological work, for which she learned German. She did not attend school and read voraciously, creating her own world among the travel, natural history, and science books from her father’s library.

Despite managing to occasionally travel to Europe, Mary spend much of her early adult years nursing her sick parents. Mary was 30-years-old when both parents died and this gave her the release to see the world. Following a trip to the Canary Islands, she decided upon exploration of West Africa to further enhance her own anthropological studies. Mary reached Freetown, Sierra Leone in August 1893.

After fours months of exploration and collecting specimens, she returned to England. The following year, she sailed again to West Africa. In order to pay her way and make contact with African people, Mary learned to trade in rubber, ivory, tobacco, and other goods. She brought home a collection of insects, shells, and plants, including 18 species of reptiles and 65 species of fish, of which three were entirely new and named after her. Mary’s experiences were to inform her lectures, articles and books;  Mary’s first book, Travels in West Africa, Congo Français, Corisco and Cameroons was published in 1897.

For the next two years Mary and her work were in much demand until, in 1899, the South African War (Second |Boer War) thoughts turned again to the Continent. On one last voyage, she arrived in Cape Town in 1900 where she offered her services as a nurse. She was sent to a hospital to look after Boer prisoners of war. Sadly, she contracted the typhoid that was killing her patients and, on 3 June, she died. Mary was buried at sea, in keeping with her wishes. Her coffin was conveyed from Simon’s Town harbour on a torpedo boat with full military honours.


Dorothy Lawrence (1896-1964)

English journalist (and ‘male’ soldier)

Dorothy LawrenceDorothy Lawrence was born in Hendon, London and was of unknown parentage. A budding journalist in her late teens, and with a few published articles in The Times, at the outbreak of the First World War she had hoped to be able to report for the Front Line. Dorothy was unsuccessful in obtaining an assignment but, undeterred, she travelled to France as a freelance war correspondent but was arrested by French Police near the Front Line and left for Paris.

Dorothy concluded that only in disguise could she get the story that she wanted to write, and persuaded two British Army soldiers that she met in a Parisian café to help her acquire a uniform and equipment, after which she began to transform herself into a male soldier. She changed her physical appearance by cutting her long hair, wearing a corset and darkening her face. Dorothy then learnt how to drill and march. Lastly, she obtained false identity papers and, becoming Private Denis Smith of the 1st Bn, Leicestershire Regiment, headed for the front lines.

She was befriended by coalminer-turned-soldier Tom Dunn who, with army colleagues, took her under his wing for protection and rations. In her book, she writes that Dunn found her work as a sapper with the 179 Tunnelling Company, 51st Division, Royal Engineers, specialist mine-layers involved in the digging of tunnels. However, evidence suggests that she did not undertake digging work but was free to work within the trenches.

Unfortunately, the rigours of the job and the Front Line caused Dorothy’s health to suffer. She worried that if she needed medical attention her true identity would be discovered and her colleagues would be in danger. So, after 10 days of service, she presented herself to the commanding sergeant, who placed her under military arrest. Initially, Dorothy was interrogated as a spy and declared a prisoner of war. The Army was embarrassed that a woman had breached security and, if her story was revealed, was fearful of more women taking on male roles during the war. Swearing not to write about her experiences or risk imprisonment, Dorothy sailed from Calais back to England. She took the same ferry as Emmeline Pankhurst, who asked her to speak at a suffragette meeting. Dorothy attempted to write articles about her experience but fell foul of the 1914 Defence of the Realm Act (1914), which could be used against her for treason.

In 1919, Dorothy moved to Canonbury, Islington, and finally published her story, Sapper Dorothy Lawrence: The Only English Woman Soldier. Although, heavily censored by the War Office, it was generally well received but, sadly, not the commercial success she had hoped. Her writing career was effectively over and, by 1925, her increasingly erratic behaviour was brought to the attention of the authorities. Upon examination, and with no family to look after her, she was taken into care and later deemed insane.

Dorothy was institutionalised at the Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum (later Friern Hospital) in north London, where she died nearly forty years later. She was buried in a pauper’s grave in New Southgate Cemetery.

Many years later her story was featured in an exhibition at the Imperial War Museum on women at war, and famous for being the only known English woman soldier on the Front Line during the First World War.


Zaha Hadid (1950-2016)

Architect

Zaha Hadid was born in 1950 in Baghdad, Iraq. Her father, Muhammad al-Hajj Husayn Hadid, was a wealthy industrialist and liberal politician from Mosul, and her mother was an artist also from Mosul. In the 1960s Zaha attended boarding schools in England and Switzerland. She later gained a maths degree at the American University of Beirut and, then in 1972, more importantly, studied at the Architectural Association school in London, going on to become recognised as a major figure in architecture of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Zaha first opened her own office in a small room in a former Victorian school at 10 Bowling Green Lane in Clerkenwell, Islington. With her architectural partner Patrik Schumacher, she eventually built a practice of 400 staff, taking over the entire school building, as well as spreading into a second building. It was to become one of the world’s most important architectural practices. Zaha also made Clerkenwell her home, living in a penthouse apartment in Dallington Street.

From her Clerkenwell base, Zaha built an extraordinary range and scope of buildings. These included the Olympic Aquatics Centre in London, the Maxxi art museum in Rome (the RIBA Stirling prize winner in 2010), a car factory for BMW in Leipzig, Germany, a skyscraper complex in Beijing, an opera house in Guangzhou, and an exhibition centre in the middle of Seoul.

In 2004 Zaha became the first woman to win the Pritzker prize for architecture and this year the first to be awarded the RIBA royal gold medal in her own right. She was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2002 and, in 2012, she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE).  At the time of her death, several of Zaha’s buildings were still under construction, such as the Daxing International Airport in Beijing, and the Al Wakrah Stadium in Qatar, a venue for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. She was also was working in China, the Middle East, America and Russia.

An extraordinary architect, Zaha was described by the Guardian newspaper (26 November 2016) as the ‘Queen of the curve’, who “liberated architectural geometry, giving it a whole new expressive identity.”


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Categories
Barging Through Islington

Hollywood by the Canal: A brief history of Islington and Gainsborough Studios

One hundred years ago, in November 1920, Islington film studios trade-screened its first movie, The Great Day. While the film was not a critical success, it marked the beginning of a distinguished 30-year production run. For those three decades Islington Studios, and then as Gainsborough Studios, produced some of Britain’s best-known early films, such as The Lady Vanishes (1938), The Man in Grey (1943) and Fanny by Gaslight (1944), as well as launching the careers of the many of the country’s cinema stars. Above all, one of the world’s greatest film directors learned his trade at the studios, east London-born Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980).  

‘Hollywood by the canal’. Islington Studios, Poole Street N1, 1920s.
Famous Players-Lasky

Islington Studios opened in 1919, converted from an old railway power station on Poole Street, a quiet road on the border between Islington and Shoreditch (now Hackney), on the south side of the Regent’s Canal. The building became the home of American film company the Famous Players-Lasky and was hailed as the biggest, most technically advanced film studios in the country. It boasted three stages, workshops and offices, as well as a sunken concrete tank with windows for water scenes. Poole Street was now rising from obscurity to become known as ‘Hollywood by the Canal’!

Architectural section of Islington / Gainsborough Film Studios, 1920s.

Most local people welcomed the opening of the studios and the accompanying glamour. They often looked out for the arrival of the film stars in their chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce’s and limousines. However, the young of the area missed the old power station. It poured hot water into the canal and had provided them with a free, heated swimming pool!

Gainsborough Pictures

Between 1920 and 1922 Famous Players made 11 films but none were judged a success by the critics or the public so, instead, studio space was hired to other production companies.  By January 1924 Players decided to call it a day and return home to the States. Some of the independent films made enjoyed some success, including Flames of Passion (1922) and Paddy-the Next-Big Thing (1923), both under the direction of Graham Cutts and producer Michael Balcon. The two film makers set up their own production company, whose name was to become synonymous with Islington Studios, namely Gainsborough Pictures with its well-known introductory sequence.

Studio no. 2 at Gainsborough Studios, 1920s.
The Rat

Gainsborough Pictures acquired Islington Studios for the much-reduced price of £14,000 and this to be paid in instalments. The first Gainsborough film was The Passionate Adventure (1924) but it was with its second film, The Rat (1925), that the company was to enjoy huge success. Written by and starring Ivor Novello, The Rat was a romance feature set in the Paris underworld. Gainsborough placed Novello under contract and he proved a key figure in establishing the its reputation with two more ‘Rats’ (Triumph and Return) and other various dramas and romances.

Alfred Hitchcock

In 1919 a young man who was passionate about films, replied to an advertisement placed by Famous Players to design and write subtitles for silent films. In 1924, when the studios changed hands, he stayed on to work for Gainsborough, keen to learn all aspects of the business. He was soon given the opportunity to work with Graham Cutts as assistant director. After working on a couple of ordinary pictures, the young man was allowed to direct a subject of his own choosing. The Lodger: A story of the London fog (1927), a disturbing adaptation of the Jack the Ripper story and starring Ivor Novello, was acclaimed by audiences and critics alike. The young Alfred Hitchcock had arrived!

Local residents and scenes

In the film’s final scene, the titular character is pursued by a violent mob of Poole Street residents, who each received half-a-crown (12.5p) for 30 minutes filming. In fact, local people made up most of the studio’s workforce of extras, carpenters, plasterers, labourers and secretaries. It took a lot of skill to transform a disused power station into a royal palace, an alpine village or a desert island! On occasion, films were made using the canal with, for example, ordinary rowing boats altered to look like gondolas. Unfortunately, in January 1930 while shooting a film called Balaclava, the studios caught fire. Some melted wax ignited the highly inflammable wooden studio walls, resulting in sixty-foot high flames engulfing the building. One person died in the fire, which also caused the closure of the studios for almost 12 months.

On set filming of Good Morning Boys (1937) starring Will Hay.
The Lady Vanishes

Now under the control of the Gaumont British Group, film production continued throughout the 1930s. Gainsborough Pictures was now concentrating on producing films for the home market rather than trying to break into America. A variety of film genres were tackled, including comedies, musicals and thrillers. Popular comedians such as Will Hay, Arthur Askey, and the Crazy Gang, and singers including Gracie Fields and Jessie Matthews all appeared in successful productions. However, the biggest success came with Alfred Hitchcock’s mystery thriller The Lady Vanishes in 1938. The story follows the disappearance of an elderly woman from a train – a passenger that everyone denies ever having seen. The plot thickens as the travellers speed their way across Europe, although in reality the whole film was shot at Gainsborough Studios.

The war years

The following year, when war broke out in September 1939, there was a fear that enemy air raids could halt production, with exploding bombs potentially causing the building’s chimney – the third tallest in London – to collapse and fall through the roof. The studios did close temporarily but, in the event, neither happened and production restarted. The Rank Organisation bought Gainsborough in 1941 and an output of period melodramas followed, bringing some welcome box-office success. Films such as The Man in Grey (1943), Fanny by Gaslight (1944) and Madonna of the Seven Moons (1945) all served to provide escapism from the rigours of life on the Home Front. Other notable releases, a mix of comedies and war films,  included Shipyard Sally (1939), They Came by Night (1940), It’s That Man Again (1943), We Dive at Dawn (1943),and Waterloo Road (1945). It had been assumed that The Wicked Lady (1945) was also produced ‘by the canal’ but it was, in fact, filmed at Gainsborough Picture’s Lime Grove Studios in Shepherd’s Bush.

Closure and rebirth

Despite the studio’s success in the 1940s, cinema audiences began to decline and film studios became expensive to run. After nearly 170 films, the final production at Gainsborough was Here Come the Huggetts (1948), a light-hearted drama centred around a family obtaining its first telephone. In January 1949 the closure of Islington Studios was announced. In October that year all the equipment and props were auctioned and the building put up for sale. It was bought in 1951 by James Buchanan and Co., Scotch whisky distillers for warehouse storage and, later, it was acquired by Kelaty Ltd as a store for oriental carpets, with no reminder that it was once the country’s biggest film studio.


This, however, was to change when the former power station and studios were to be incorporated and converted into waterside apartments, penthouses, workspaces and shops. Developed by Lincoln Holdings PLC, and designed by Munkenbeck and Marshall architects, the scheme was once more to be called Gainsborough Studios and, in April 2000, sales commenced. The new complex was completed in 2004.

Sales flyer for the ‘new’ Gainsborough Studios complex, 2000.

As a last homage to the location, two Shakespearean productions by the Almeida Theatre Company were presented in the Spring and Summer of 2000, directed by Jonathan Kent and starring Ralph Fiennes A final closing Hitchcock season took place in October 2003.

Hitchcock’s head

The chimney has now gone but the surviving redbrick frontage on Poole Street and adjoining Imber Street remains. Further reminders of its cinematic past are also present at the site in the forms of a sculpture and a plaque. The building’s courtyard features a large sculpture of Alfred Hitchcock’s head by Antony Donaldson, which was installed in 2003. And, a plaque commemorating Gainsborough Studios was unveiled a few years ago on the Poole Street façade by Hackney Council.

Celebrating the bi-centenary of its opening in 2020, Regent’s Canal has witnessed many and varied businesses and trades operate along is waterside. Perhaps, though, the most unique and historic of all these was the Islington/Gainsborough Studios and, although production has long since finished and the ‘lady now vanished’, the location will always be remembered as ‘Hollywood by the canal’!


Article title and source information taken, with grateful thanks, from Chris Draper’s Islington’s cinemas and film studios (1990)

Further reading
  • Chapman, Gary. London’s Hollywood: the Gainsborough Studios in the silent years. Edditt Publishing, 2014
  • Draper, Chris. Islington’s cinemas and film studios.  Islington Libraries / London Borough of Islington, 1990

Article by Mark Aston, from Barging Through Islington: 200 Years of the Regent’s Canal, an exhibition exploring the two century history of the Regent’s Canal.

Categories
Barging Through Islington

Engineering Islington Tunnel

The Islington Tunnel, arguably the main architectural and engineering feature of the Regent’s Canal, was designed and engineered by James Morgan. Morgan was born on 9 March 1774 in Wales and was employed in his early 20’s as an assistant to the famous Regency architect John Nash.

In 1806 Nash and Morgan were appointed as architects to the Department of Woods and Forests and they moved to London in 1811. The Department’s Commissioner requested that Nash and Morgan draft a plan for the development of Marylebone Farm on the Crown Estate. It was a plan for a new park for the London elite, redesigning part of central London including a route from the park to Westminster. This project would later become Regent’s Park. Morgan supervised the work of planting, road making and laying out of the park, including the lake, under the direction of Nash.

Since 1802, Thomas Homer, a businessman and merchant, had been promoting the idea for a ‘London Canal’ joining the Paddington section of the Grand Junction Canal with the River Thames at Limehouse. In 1811 he contacted Nash and Morgan who reviewed the route. This led to Nash becoming a driving force in the promotion of the canal, using his association with the Prince Regent (later George IV) to help influence the project. Morgan drew up plans for the canal which, with the consent of the Prince Regent, became the Regent’s Canal. The Regent’s Canal Act, based upon these plans, was passed in Parliament in July 1812.

Regent’s Canal Act, 1812.

Morgan was appointed as the canal company’s engineer even though he had no experience in canal building. His appointment was possibly assisted by the fact Nash had become a large shareholder in the company. A competition to design the Islington Tunnel was launched in August 1812 to little response. Three eminent engineers of the time, Nicholson, Walker and Jessop were the judges and the ideas received were mostly unsuitable. The ‘winning’ entry, receiving the prize of 100 guineas, was found to be a copy of a Jessop design. The committee instead commissioned Morgan to design the tunnel. He went about building the 249 metre long Maida Hill Tunnel before tackling the much longer Islington Tunnel. Delays and unexpected problems were caused due to ingress of water in the Maida Hill Tunnel and several workers lost their lives in its construction.

The project was continually beset with financial problems. In 1815 William Agar, a landowner and King’s Council issued a writ against Morgan and others as part of a long running legal battle he’d waged against the canal. He was awarded £500 in damages. Only a month previously in May, Thomas Homer, the secretary of the Regent’s Canal Company, had been sent to debtors’ prison for embezzling an unknown amount of the company’s funds. He was tried and sentenced to 7 years transportation to Australia although he was never sent.

Constructing Islington Tunnel, 1819.

By the time the Paddington to Camden stretch started to open on 12 August 1816, the Islington Tunnel had been started, but construction was forced to stop as money ran out. Only £254,100 of the estimated project cost of £400,000 had been raised and it had become obvious that more would be needed as time went on. An Act of Parliament increased the capital to £600,000 but the company couldn’t raise any more. Discussions with the Government led to the funding of the project with further loans in return for providing employment for the poor. Thomas Telford was tasked with surveying the unfinished canal and tunnel for the commissioners and an initial loan of £200,000 was promised provided the company could raise £100,000. They succeeded and work resumed in December 1817.

Islington Tunnel interior, 1987.

The tunnel was built through Islington Hill under what is now the Angel area of Islington by the experienced contractor Daniel Pritchard. It was 878 metres (960 yards) long and was excavated using explosives, wheelbarrows, horses and manual labour and brick lined throughout. On its completion in 1818 Thomas Telford was asked to report on the tunnel and remarked “materials and workmanship excellent and it’s direction perfectly straight”.

The canal opened on 1 August 1820. Morgan travelled on the lead barge of a grand procession from St Pancras to the Thames. At the Islington Tunnel bands played and the boats were met with a salute of cannon fire as they emerged at the eastern end. James Morgan remained as engineer to the canal until 1835 when he retired.

West portal of Islington Tunnel, circa 1830.

Originally, canal boats got through the tunnel by ‘legging’ as there were no towpaths on either side to allow horses to draw the vessels through. Men lay on planks on the boat and walked the vessel through the tunnel using the side walls. This was slow, hard work and caused major delays. In 1826 a steam chain tug was introduced and was one of the earliest uses of steam power on the canals. It was attached to a continuous chain on the canal floor and pulled the boats through. In 1880 it caught fire and sank, however, this system remained in place until the 1930’s. It was subsequently replaced with a diesel engine, which, itself, is no longer in use.

The Islington Tunnel is Grade-II listed and its most striking feature is the western portal. This was attributed to John Nash and was constructed of red stock bricks set in English bond with gold stock brick and stone dressings. The inner skin brickwork had started to break away in recent years and the whole tunnel was restored in 2000.

West portal of Islington Tunnel, 2020.

Article by Islington Museum volunteer Johnny Baird, from Barging Through Islington: 200 Years of the Regent’s Canal, an exhibition exploring the two century history of the Regent’s Canal.

All images courtesy of Islington Local History Centre.