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

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

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

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)

Categories
Meet Me At The Aggie

Meet Me At The Aggie

Agricultural Hall World's Fair poster Website poster
The World’s Fair at the (Royal) Agricultural Hall, Islington. Opened 23 December 1882

Meet Me At The Aggie showcases Islington Local History Centre’s collection of Royal Agricultural Hall posters, promoting the amusement fairs held in the 1870s and 1880s. The once World-famous hall is now the Business Design Centre on Upper Street, Islington.

These fairs were aimed at a growing middle class who enjoyed increased amounts of leisure time and disposable income. From the 1860s, the pictorial poster became an artistic form in its own right as the development of affordable colour lithography became increasingly widespread.

While posters for legitimate theatre remained text based, circus, burlesque and pantomime featured all manner of flamboyant imagery in order to convey excitement and novelty. As this online presentation shows, the posters selected set high expectations in their promotion of events, providing a raucous yet respectable experience filled with multi-sensory thrills for the entire family, and especially at Christmas! Find out more about Islington’s Christmas in our seasonal blog: Pantos, Pageants and Puddings: Islington’s Christmas Past

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

Learn more about the Royal Agricultural Hall (now the Business Design Centre), Islington:

Further reading

The building that lived twice by Alec Forshaw (Business Design Centre, 2011)

The building that would not go away by Tadeusz Grajewski (Royal Agricultural Hall Ltd, 1989)

Consuming Pleasures: Leisure and Pleasure in Victorian Britain by Judith Flanders (Harper
Perennial, 2009)

Fun Without Vulgarity: Victorian and Edwardian Popular Entertainment Posters by Catherine Haill
(The Stationery Office/Public Record Office, 1996)

Palaces of Pleasure: From Music Halls to the Seaside, How the Victorians Invented Mass
Entertainment by Lee Jackson (Yale University Press, 2019)

The Wonders: Lifting the Curtain on the Freak Show, Circus and Victorian Age by John Woolf
(Michael O’Mara Books, 2019)

Archives and online sources

British Newspaper Archive (acc. Dec. 2020)

Business Design Centre (formerly the Royal Agricultural Hall) website: A brief history (acc. Dec.
2020)

Royal Agricultural Hall Ltd Archive at Islington Local History Centre (acc. Dec. 2020)

Royal Agricultural Hall during the First World War: The British Postal Museum & Archive blog (acc.
Dec. 2020)

Categories
Trade

Trade – often copied, never equalled

Thirty years ago, in October 1990, an idea was born that changed the face of night clubbing forever!


03. Trade night club, early 2000s WP
          Trade night club, early 2000s


The 1980s’ London gay-club scene was already thriving, playing disco, alternative electronic and early house music in venues such as Heaven, the gay ‘superclub’ in Charing Cross. Then the arrival of dance music and a new drug, ecstasy, in the late 1980s changed the face of clubbing forever. Trade, the capital’s first legal after-hours dance club, was to take it to yet another level.

All-night bender
Advertised as ‘the original all-night bender’, Trade was launched in Islington by Irish-born Laurence Malice on 29 October 1990 at Turnmills, 63b Clerkenwell Road, EC1, near Farringdon Station. Laurence’s aim was to create a safe haven where people could be themselves and to help stop the risks gay men faced after clubs closed, such as ‘queer-bashing’ or arrest from cruising. Above all, he wanted it to be a place where clubbers could escape the fear and homophobic backlash that the AIDS crisis brought during the 1980s. Trade also had the unusual opening times of 3am and 5am (until 1pm) on Sunday mornings! This set it apart from other clubs and it soon became ‘the’ place to be. Its exclusivity further fuelled the desire to be a part of what Trade had to offer.


01. The first flyer for Trade nightclub, EC1, 29 October 1990

First flyer for Trade nightclub, EC1, 29 October 1990


Spiritual home
Clerkenwell itself was to become a spiritual home for the followers of Trade. For centuries the area had a history of being a sanctuary for those not wishing to conform to conventional living. Initially, the area seemed an unlikely place to go weekend clubbing; city workers frequented the district during the week, while the weekends were quiet with little passing business. The arrival, however, of Trade dramatically altered the situation.

Trade changed club culture through the people that it brought together. While the club night was perceived to cater for the LGBTQ+ community, as long as an individual had the right attitude they were welcome at Trade. The freedom to self-express through art, music and fashion saw this unique after-hours experience become a haven for creativity.


02. Entrance to Trade nightclub at Turnmills, 63b Clerkenwell Road, early 1990s WP
Entrance to Trade nightclub at Turnmills,
63b Clerkenwell Road, early 1990s


Turnmills
The host location, Turnmills, quickly became one of the UK’s most renowned and state-of-the-art night clubs presenting other famous events such as The Gallery, Heavenly Social (featuring The Chemical Brothers) and Smartie Party. On special events, such as Trade ‘birthdays’, the rear-located gym and other rooms were opened to cope with demand; club capacity could reach over 1000 people. It was Trade, however, that was most admired and the club’s motto quickly became “often copied, never equalled.”

Trade would regularly employ go-go dancers and drag queens and, on special occasions, such as its birthdays and themed nights, extra performers and singers were hired to intensify the production. Staff also enjoyed running other special Trade events. These included Pride, London’s annual LGBTQ+ march and festival, and Christmas Day when 10pm was the opening time and the atmosphere totally different; it felt even more decadent to be partying that particular night!


04. Poster for Trade’s 12th Birthday, 26 October 2002 WP
‘Trans Europe Excess!’ Poster for Trade’s 12th Birthday, 26 October 2002


Journey through sound
The music at Trade was innovative. It was first to offer club goers the concept of a journey through sound. Hard-edged Techno music intensified the whole experience. Due to the creativity of Trade’s DJs, who included Malcolm Duffy, Tony De Vit, Ian M and Pete Wardman, it became the birthplace of Hard House. As a result, albums were released and tours outside London were undertaken, boldly taking Trade’s distinctive sound to a mainstream audience. Gender at Trade was never an issue either. Among the sought-after female DJs brought in by Laurence were Smokin’Jo, Sister Bliss, Queen Maxine, Vicki Red, EJ Doubell and Rachel Auburn.

Trade went on to have a hugely influential and profound effect on the British and international club scene, as well as to all those who stepped onto its dance floors. The club didn’t restrict itself to just Clerkenwell. It often toured with its resident DJs, taking Trade music and the experience to new clubbers. From its base in EC1, Trade visited most of the UK’s major cities and it enjoyed its own arena at Creamfields dance music festival.

Trade across the world
Trade was also a brand whose name and music reputation was to spread across the world, with events in Amsterdam, Barcelona, Dublin, Johannesburg, Kuala Lumpur, Miami, Rio, Sydney, Tel Aviv and many more international locations. Trade enjoyed residencies in Ibiza, Los Angeles, New York, Paris and even Moscow. It made appearances on TV, most notably in 1998 with the Channel 4 documentary Trade: The All-Night Bender.

Last dance
Sadly, due to the closure of Turnmills as a clubbing venue,  Trade’s final club night in EC1 was Sunday 16 March 2008. The club opened its doors at 05:00, finishing over 12 hours later! During the event, Laurence Malice thanked clubbers and associates for their support and requested that everyone “really go for it!” Trade DJs past and present, including Malcolm Duffy, Ian M, Steve Thomas, Daz Saund and Pete Wardman, all performed to a sell-out crowd, and it fell to Wardman to play the last set – the final record being Schöneberg by Marmion.


05. Turnmill, 63 Clerkenwell Road, EC1, August 2020 WP
Turnmill, 63 Clerkenwell Road, EC1, August 2020. This six-storey
office building replaced the former club venue in 2015.


Glorious celebration
Trade continued having one-off events in venues around London before settling at Egg on York Way, Islington, and then only celebrating its birthday each year. It was decided that Trade’s 25th birthday event at Egg in October 2015 would be its last, ending in a glorious celebration of Trade history. The sheer drive and creativity of Trade saw it become the first gay super-club night, an innovator in music and fashion and a unique brand, promoting for many, a unique way of life. And, it all began 30 years ago in EC1!

Mark Aston
Islington Museum | Islington Local History Centre, 2020


Article first appeared in the EC1 Echo, No. 6, October/November 2020. Reproduced with thanks.

Images reproduced courtesy of Islington’s Pride Archive (at Islington Local History Centre), collecting and celebrating Islington’s LGBTQ+ Heritage.


Visit Islington Museum’s 2015 exhibition celebrating the 25th anniversary of Trade: Trade – often copied, never equalled

Categories
Blog Post Local History

Hitler’s Guy Fawkes Day Surprise: The Archway V2 Rocket Attack 1944

Where three residential roads in Archway, Islington, north London, meet is the site of a tragic loss of civilian life during the Second World War (1939-45).  A plaque commemorating the event can be seen at Giesbach Road Open Space, Giesbach Road, Islington N19 3EH. 


Scene at Holloway after a German V2 rocket fell in the evening destroying 18 houses and causing several deaths during the Second World War. ;Rescue workers search for surviviors amongst the rubble ;November 1944

The aftermath of the V2 Rocket attack in Archway, Islington,
5 November 1944. (Image: Mirrorpix)


Wartime strike
A little after 5pm on Sunday 5 November 1944, a V2 rocket was launched from its site in the Hague, Netherlands – its target was London. Just  minutes later, at 5.13pm, it exploded at the junction of Boothby, Giesbach and Grovedale Roads; nearby St John’s Way was also caught in the strike. This was the first enemy long-range V2 rocket to hit Islington.

Over 250 people were casualties of this wartime attack, which included 35 deaths and 219 suffering from injuries. The oldest person to die as a result of the explosion was aged 92 years, who passed away four months later, and the youngest was just five months old. Many houses were also destroyed or damaged beyond repair.

Vergeltungswaffe 2
The V2 (German: Vergeltungswaffe 2 or ‘Retribution Weapon 2’) was a long-range single stage missile or rocket, which used advanced technology to cause destruction and devastation. Standing at 14 metres on end, with a 1-ton warhead of high explosive, it travelled at 3,500 mph and could reach an altitude of 50-60 miles before arcing in a 120-mile trajectory. The V2 had a flying time of 10-30 minutes before crashing, exploding and usually causing a large crater. There was no indication or noise of its approach, as it could travel at supersonic speed at over six times the speed of sound.

The first V2 Rocket to hit London , causing three deaths, occurred on Friday 8 September 1944, falling on Staveley Road, Chiswick. This was the first of over 500 V2 rockets to strike the capital between September 1944 and March 1945.


V2 Rocket in the Peenemünde Museum, Germany 2005 LR

V2 Rocket in the Peenemünde Museum, Germany, 2005.
(Image: Creative Commons)


Diabolical weapon
In his unique and fascinating account of Islington during the Second World War, Civil Defence in Islington 1938 – 1945: an account of passive defence and certain aspects of the war as it affected the borough (1946), Islington Town Clerk and ARP Controller W. Eric Adams recalls the attack:

The enemy had in preparation an even more fearsome weapon in the shape of the long-range rocket. The first two of these heard in Islington was on the 8th September 1944. Although they fell at Chiswick and North Weald respectively, they sounded quite near. They were kept very hush hush and were facetiously referred to as “exploding gas mains”. The explosions were never acknowledged throughout the attack, as to do so would have given valuable information to the enemy for use at the launching sites in Holland. In sharp contrast to normal high explosive and [V1] Flying Bombs no warning at all was possible with rockets, in consequence of which the difficulties of the Rescue Service were greatly increased.

The first rocket to fall in Islington was at Boothby Road on a Sunday afternoon in November 1944. It was a ‘diabolical weapon’. At the moment of impact it was travelling at possibly 3000 miles an hour, which is much faster than the speed of sound; consequently, the first intimation of its arrival was the impact explosion. This was followed sometime after by the characteristic rumbling noise of its passage through the earth’s atmosphere. In some cases the effect was of a double explosion. The rocket, like the fly bomb, carried the high explosive in the nose, the remainder of its 40 ft. length being occupied by means of its propulsion.

Mr Adams continues:

Heavy rain
The Boothby Road incident occurred on a Sunday and the heavy rain which fell rendered the widespread clay, resulting from the explosion, very greasy and difficult to negotiate with casualties and heavy equipment. The work of the services was, however, eased to some extent by the employment for the first time in the Borough of an Army searchlight which proved invaluable. Although this incident which had occurred at 5.30 pm on the 5th, the last casualty was actually recovered on the morning of the 6th, the remaining time being spent in searching for persons whose whereabouts had not until that time been established. During this period the specially trained dogs made available to the Civil Defence Services were used in order to try to locate the persons believed missing.


Scene at Holloway after a German V2 rocket fell in the evening destroying 18 houses and causing several deaths during the Second World War. ;Rescue workers search for surviviors amongst the rubble ;November 1944

The aftermath of the V2 Rocket attack in Archway, Islington, 5 November 1944. This photograph was taken the following morning and shows rescue workers searching for survivors buried in the rubble. Nearby Archway Central Hall was used as a temporary mortuary. (Image: Mirrorpix)


Survivors
W. Eric Adam’s account has, more recently, been supplemented by a number of eyewitness or secondary accounts from those who experienced the attack or who had members of their immediate family recount the incident:

Gillian Joel (née Stephens)

Mrs Joel’s account was published in the Islington Gazette in February 2020. She was six when her mother Sybil and brother James were killed after the rocket hit their home at 32 Grovedale Road, Upper Holloway, in 1944.


Gillian-V2

Mrs Joel in Grovedale Road, c.2019. (Image: Islington Gazette)


Her father, John Stephens, thinking Gillian dead, had gone so far as ordering her a coffin. However, she was in hospital after being saved from the rubble by Islington-based rescuers:

I remember going to the underground when the sirens started, it must have been Archway Underground. There was a green case at the door that dad would pick up. It had an eiderdown blanket in it and I would sleep with another blanket over me. It was our emergency pack, and I remember dad would carry me to the station. I don’t really remember anything from the bomb, except I was playing downstairs with my brother, James. I still have shrapnel and glass in me and only a few years ago a bit of glass came out of my head.

Read the full Islington Gazette interview with Mrs Joel here.

Ray Hardiman

Mr Hardiman recounted his memories of the attack on the excellent Archway Revisited Facebook Group:

I am somewhat familiar with this episode since I lived in one of the houses destroyed by that V2. I was just approaching my ninth birthday (December 44) at the time.

The V2 hit at about 5.30 pm on a Sunday in November 1944 … I do remember my mother saying something about “Hitler’s Guy Fawkes Day surprise” … I was in the Electric cinema at the Archway with my elder brother (aged 10) at the instant the rocket hit. In those days the first film showings on a Sunday was after 4.00pm (mustn’t clash with church going I suppose!). The film was Dive Bomber with Errol Flynn starring; Sundays films were always repeats of earlier releases; this one was first shown in 1942.

… Suddenly there was an almighty thump and dust drifted down from the ceiling. That was close, everybody thought  – the cinema is actually about a half-mile from the impact – and carried on watching the film. A little while later we became aware that the usherette was flashing her torch down the row where we were sitting. “There they are” somebody said, and we were beckoned to come out of our seats … When we got to the foyer we discovered that one of my elder sisters and her boyfriend had come to fetch us. I was amazed to see that they were covered in dust and dirt from head to toe! We were told that our home had been hit by a bomb/rocket and we were then to be taken to the boyfriends (parents) home somewhere not too far away.

At that time we had no idea whether any of the rest of our family were alive or dead … Eventually we discovered that all the family had survived although my parents had been cut about by flying glass. My baby sister was asleep in her pram in the front room of the house, and a tiny splinter of glass landed in the middle of one of her cheeks! Thankfully it never affected her eye but left her with a small scar . Not so fortunate was one of my playmates and his younger sister and parents. They lived in the house whose rear garden was the point of impact of the rocket.


V2 Archway image (ILHC) 02
The corner of Giesbach Road and Boothby Road, Archway, after the V2 rocket attack. The corner and destroyed houses are now covered by Giesbach Road Open Space. (Image: Islington Local History Centre)


We lived in number 38 Giesbach Rd, which is the second house from the end on the south side [now gone, replaced with Giesbach Road Open Space]. The family who died (whose name unfortunately I have forgotten) lived in the corner house on the north side of Grovedale Rd. I am fairly certain that the rocket impacted in the rear garden of their house. Thus this house took the brunt of the blast as well as the back of the house in St John’s Way and the sides of the end houses on both sides of Giesbach Road. All adjacent house were also heavily damaged of course. Our house being the second from the corner was a little protected, and also the blast must have dissipated to some extent up the middle of Giesbach Rd and across the front of our house rather than directly at it.

We obviously never went back to the house which was pulled down along with many of the other houses round about. Eventually new blocks of flats were built over the site of the bomb damage and also the top half of Boothby Rd so that it no longer intersects with St Johns Way. I never got to see the conclusion of the film Dive Bomber until about thirty years later when it turned up on television!

Read the full Archway Revisited posting with Ray Hardiman here.

Islington V2 rocket attacks
There was a lull of 11 days before the second V2 landed in Islington at 2.46am on Thursday 16 November at Mayville Road, killing seven and injuring 53 people.  During this second stage of the Third Reich’s V-rocket campaign, nine V2 rockets exploded in the borough killing 288 and injuring over 1000 people. The worst of these attacks were Mackenzie Road (26 December 1944) and Smithfield Market (8 March 1945) which, combined, witnessed 183 deaths.

The devastation to buildings in Islington (not including Finsbury) due to the V2 rocket explosions was immense. Serious damage, sometimes beyond repair, was caused to 18,000 houses, 72 public houses, 55 factories, 28 churches and 10 schools.

Islington remembers
Islington remembers all those who suffered in the tragic Archway incident, as well as everyone who died and were injured in countless other V rocket attacks and enemy air raids across Islington and beyond during the Second World War.  They will not be forgotten.


V2 Plaque roll of honour


Islington Civilian War Dead Memorial Islington & Camden Cemetery East Finchley (24 Jan 2018) (3)

Memorial to the civilian dead of Islington (1939-1945), Islington and Camden Cemetery, East Finchley, 2018: “This memorial has been erected to perpetuate the memory of those citizens who lost their lives as a result of enemy action during the Second World War, and whose remains lie buried in this cemetery.”


V2 plaque image

Islington Memorial Plaque unveiling on 23 July 2021 to commemorate the loss of lives and those injured in the first V2 rocket attack on Islington,
5 November 1944. L-R: Revd Nigel Williams, Islington Mayor Troy Gallagher, John Williams (whose lost his first family in the blast),
Jeremy Corbyn MP, Cllr Janet Burgess.
(Photograph: Copyright Em Fitzgerald Photography)


Mark Aston
Islington Museum | Islington Local History Centre
October 2020, revised July 2021

Related sources and links

V2 Rockets:

Islington and the Second World War:

Categories
Blog Post Local History

Blitzed Islington: Islington and the London Blitz (1940-41)

The 80th anniversary of the start of the London Blitz (7 September 1940 – 10/11 May 1941), during the Second World War, is being remembered nationally from Monday 7 September 2020.

On ‘Black Saturday’ 7 September 1940, at around 4pm, and lasting for two hours, nearly 1000 German bombers and fighter escorts of Hitler’s Luftwaffe were seen attacking from the skies over London. Two hours later, guided by the fires set by the first assault, a second group of raiders commenced another attack that lasted until 4:30 the following morning. On this first day, 430 were killed and 1,600 injured in the capital. This was the start of what became known as the ‘Blitz’ (‘Lightning’ in German), a term was first used by the British press. The enemy’s intense bombing campaign of London and other cities continued until the following May and, for the next consecutive 57 days, the capital was bombed each day or night.

London was bombed significantly at night, but daytime attacks were frequent too. In October 1940, Islington’s rescue service attended 131 incidents, the most in one night being 32. Records show that 206 people were recovered alive, with 83 deceased. Rescue operations to retrieve casualties could take several hours or even days to complete and were sometimes performed whilst raids were still in progress.

Battle of Britain
During the previous two months, the Battle of Britain had taken place in a fight for daylight air superiority between the Luftwaffe and the Royal Air Force (RAF) over the United Kingdom. The Luftwaffe had attempted to destroy RAF airfields and radar stations in preparation for German invasion. This campaign had failed and, instead, Hitler turned his attention to destroying London in an attempt to demoralise and destabilise the population and force the British to come to terms.

While Londoners, including the residents of Islington and Finsbury, had experienced German aerial bombardment during the First World World, nothing had prepared them for the sheer devastation that was to come. Fires from incendiary bombs consumed many portions of the city. Residents and workers sought shelter in many places, including their own back-garden ‘Andersen’ shelters, communal shelters, underground stations, school basements and church crypts.

Under seige
Nearly 30,000 London civilians were killed in the Blitz and later raids during the Second World War; nearly two-thirds of this figure during the London Blitz.  From 7 September 1940 onwards, businesses, churches, public houses, schools, housing estates and residences were reduced to rubble. The blackout cast well-lit streets into darkness, and local anti-aircraft guns and searchlights brought the war firmly home to the capital’s citizens. As the Luftwaffe’s Blitz raids of 1940 spread to other cities, including Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Coventry, Glasgow, Hull, Liverpool and Southampton, the civilian population of Britain found itself under siege as never before. In just nine months they, along with Londoners, witnessed the landscape and the character of their cities change beyond all recognition. 

A few weeks before the official start of the Blitz, Islington had, in fact, witnessed a random air attack when bombs fell on Canonbury Park North and vicinity during the late evening of Saturday 24 August 1940. Fortunately, only one casualty was reported, a Warden who was wounded by bomb fragments in the left shoulder. Another bomb fell at the rear of the house at the corner of Willowbridge Road but without much effect. In opposition, the first raid by the RAF on Berlin took place the following night. However, from September onwards, the Blitz was to turn the Islington and Finsbury Home Front into a battlefield. 

Shelters

Preparations for likely air bombardment began prior to the Second World War, with the British government providing air-raid shelters to families for free or for a small fee, depending on their income. Over the course of the war, shelters would take a number of forms and provide security for the citizens of Islington and Finsbury. Read more …

Bomb damage and destruction

The Second World War turned the home front into a battlefront. On 7 September 1940, Dornier and Heinkel bombers, escorted by Messerschmidt fighter planes, began bombarding London. Islington and Finsbury would come under fire … Read more

Islington and Finsbury swing into action

As part of war preparations, volunteers were trained in civil defence duties to warn or respond to attacks. Many Islington and Finsbury civilians became members of the Heavy Rescue Service, Air Raid Wardens, Home Guard members, firefighters, first-aiders and ambulance drivers, who would provide invaluable assistance to their community once war began. Read more

Finsbury Under Attack (1939-45)

Like many parts of inner London, Finsbury suffered badly from bombings during the Blitz (1940-41) and, again later, as part of the V1 and V2 rocket attacks on the capital from the summer of 1944 onwards. Given its proximity to the City of London, Finsbury’s residents lived with the threat of bombing and untimely death. However, in spite of fatalities, an uncertain future and much hardship, Finsburyites kept calm and carried on. The constant bombings were designed to break morale but conversely brought people together. Read more …

Just weeks after the start of the Blitz, a captured Messerschmitt Bf 110, shot down by a RAF Hurricane fighter during the Battle of Britain, was displayed outside Finsbury Town Hall, Garnault Place, in October 1940. It became the most photographed Luftwaffe plane of WW2. Read more …

While London was regularly attacked, the ferocity of some raids far exceeded others. On the night of 10/11 May 1941, London was hit by the most devastating and largest raid on London during the Blitz. In total, 711 tons of high explosive, along with 2,393 incendiary bombs, were dropped on the city, with 1,436 civilians losing their lives in that one raid alone.

Blitzed Islington

Categories
Blog Post Local History

Islington and the Last Night of The Blitz (10/11 May 1941)

On 11 May 1941, after eight months and five days of constant threat and terror, the nationwide Blitz came to an end.

Up to this point, approximately 41,000 tons of bombs had been dropped in total, with 18,291 tons falling on London alone. Around 41,000 people had been killed, 21,500 of whom were Londoners. 139,000 people had been injured and around two million homes destroyed, 60% of which were in London.


SF Chronicle 12 May 1941
News of the ‘Hardest Night’ spread across the Atlantic, as can be seen in the front-page headline in the San Francisco Chronicle, 12 May 1941. [Image: Public Domain]


The Hardest Night
The night of 10/11 May became known as the ‘Hardest Night’ and was to be the last major raid on London for over a year; a major raid was defined as one where over 100 tons of bombs were dropped. It was to be one of the most ferocious and devastating of the entire nine-month German bombing campaign The raid on the city, carried out between 11.02pm and 5.57am, came a night illuminated by a full or ‘bombers’ moon, when the River Thames was at low-ebb tide. The low water level played havoc with the ability of firefighters to use water from the Thames to counter fires from incendiaries.

Statistics
During the seven-hour raid, more than 700 tonnes of high-explosive and 100,000 incendiary bombs were dropped by around 550 German aircraft. These undertook 571 sorties with some crews flying two and three missions in order to maintain numbers required to sustain the attack. Luftwaffe numbers were, by this time, depleted as many had been lost over Britain during the Blitz and other units had been moved east in preparation for the assault on Russia.


Last night of the Blitz EC4
Firefighters tackling a blaze in the City of London on the last night of the Blitz, 10/11 May 1941. (Image: IWM HU 1129)


Fire
Of the high explosive dropped, 167 tons were recorded as unexploded the following day, along with 86,173 incendiaries. The London Fire Brigade reported 2,136 fires. Of these, nine were conflagration level, eight ‘major’ outbreaks (requiring 30-plus pumps), 43 serious outbreaks (up to 30 pumps), 280 medium (up to 10 pumps) and at least 1,796 small outbreaks. 1,436 Londoners were killed, with around 1,800 seriously injured. 700 acres of the city was destroyed – double the area lost in The Great Fire of 1666 – causing damage valued at £20 million in 1941.

Anti-aircraft guns fired 4,510 rounds with two bombers claimed destroyed. RAF Fighter Command dispatched a total of 325 aircraft and claimed 28 enemy aircraft in return, although one Hurricane and one Beaufighter were badly damaged. Surprisingly, the Luftwaffe lost only twelve aircraft that night:  ten Heinkel He111s, one Junkers Ju88 and one Messerschmitt Bf110*.

*[This single aircraft crashed at Floors Farm, Bonnyton Moor, Glasgow at 11.05pm. It was flown from Augsburg by Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess on an mis-guided peace mission. Find out more about another Messerschmitt Bf110 that was displayed in Islington during the Blitz: The German Destroyer in Finsbury].

Islington and the Last Day of The Blitz
While enemy bombers concentrated on attacking the docks and East End, many other parts of the capital were to receive the full force of the Luftwaffe, including Islington and Finsbury. In Islington, the night found the rescue services once again fully extended, with the boroughs’ rescue services operating at several major incidents. Islington was hit by 38 high-explosive bombs, of which three did not explode, and 16 incendiary devices.


WW2 Bomb Damage Map (Barnsbury)
Section from London County Council Bomb Damage Map, 1946, showing damage to the Pentonville Prison area.  The map is coloured coded – the darker the colour, the worse the damage. The houses to the east of the prison were later swept away as part of  Islington’s post-war redevelopment. [Image: courtesy London Metropolitan 
Archives]


On Saturday 10 May, 24 people were killed when bombs hit Corsica Street, Elia Street, Liverpool Road, Errol Street and Roman Way. An 18-month-old boy, Ronald Kenkerdine, was one of the six people killed at Liverpool Road, and three teenage sisters from the Smith family were among ten killed in Roman Way.

Sunday 11 May brought 62 further deaths. The victims came from Barbara Street, Charlotte Terrace, Essex Road, Gerrard Road, Halton Mansions, HMP Pentonville, Hanley Road, Holford Square, Old Street, Percy Circus and Whitecross Street. Ernest and Robert Westbrook, 11-year-old twin brothers, were two of the 18 people killed at Holford Square in King’s Cross and, nearby, three-month-old baby girl Mary Coyne was one of eight victims at Percy Circus.


Halton Mansions, 66-79.tif
66-79 Halton Mansions, Islington, following the raid on 10/11 May 1941. Nine residents, aged between 15 and 63 years, were killed in the attack, with many from the same families.


Pentonville Prison
Of the nine major incidents covered that night by Islington’s rescue services, the bombing of HMP Pentonville Prison in Caledonian Road was one of the largest. C-Wing of the prison was hit by a string of high-explosive bombs that reduced the four-storey building to rubble, killing 13 people. It was closed after the bombing and didn’t reopen until 1946; the wing was eventually rebuilt to three storeys in 1958 becoming the prison’s education block.


ww2-image-038colour
HMP Pentonville Prison, Islington post-bombing 11 May 1941. C-Wing was destroyed and later rebuilt.


Casualties
Total London casualties for the raid on 10/11 May were the highest for any night of the Blitz: 1,436 people died and 1792 were seriously injured. More than 5,000 houses were destroyed, making approximately 12,000 people homeless. Many famous and public buildings suffered damage, including the Houses of Parliament and the British Museum where 250,000 books were ruined.

Blitz Spirit
The capital, including Islington and Finsbury, would continue to suffer sporadic bombing raids and through the use of the V-weapons. Other cities and regions of England would also continue to suffer. The smaller ‘Baedeker Blitz’, which targeted historic/tourist locations, Exeter, Bath and Norwich and the Steinbock or ‘Baby Blitz’ affected southern England from January through to May 1944.

However, Hitler and the German Third Reich’s initial, great strategic bombing campaign to crush the British war industries and civilian morale was ultimately a failure. A combination of the Luftwaffe’s inability to agree on tactics, the British ‘Blitz Spirit’ reaction and the need for Hitler to divert resources for Operation Barbarossa against the Soviet Union brought the Blitz to a close.

Article written by Johnny Baird, Islington Museum volunteer

[All images Islington Local History Centre, except where stated]

Sources

  1. ‘The Blitz – The Hardest Night’, History of the Battle of Britain Online Exhibition, https://www.rafmuseum.org.uk
  2. The Blitz – Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Blitz#Final_attacks
  3. islington.org.uk
  4. WW2 Civil Defence (1938-1945) Draft Transcript v1
  5. Islington & Finsbury WW2 incidents 10-11 May 1941
  6. Pentonville Prison, A, B, C and D Wings and Chapel Wing https://www.historicengland.org.uk

Further reading

 

Islington Local History Centre | Islington Museum
Islington Heritage Service
September 2020