Amwell Street is quite a long street, going all the way down from Pentonville Road to Rosebury Avenue (where, incidentally, the Sadler’s Wells ballet theatre is situated) but if you enter from the top end, at Pentonville Road, and walk down it has something of the feeling of a village high street.
Amwell Street consists of Victorian and Georgian terrace houses interspersed with shops, some of whose shop fronts are self-consciously – but prettily – old-fashioned. I don’t think I have ever seen this antiques shop open. Maybe it isn’t a shop but a hobbyist’s display cabinet. Across the road from here is Filthy McNasty’s “whiskey cafe” which I am told is better than it sounds (yes, a pun).
The Street, which has its own Amwell Society, has suffered problems which, if they didn’t destroy the Street, at least changed its character. As I understand it, Islington Council wanted to sell off the commercial properties, threatening the livelihoods of the occupants – and their homes as well, in the case of those who lived on the premises.
If the sale had gone through, the very least the occupants faced was a huge hike in rents imposed by the new owner. They could also have been evicted and the properties rented to the highest bidder.
The Council was eventually prevailed upon to allow those shopkeepers who could find the necessary money to buy their premises. Most were able to do so but some only by dint of selling up immediately afterwards. Once again we see how capitalist greed is allowed to put livelihood, amenity, social stability and the simple beauty of places like Amwell Street, in jeopardy.
Amwell Street shares problems with other small centres. For one thing, the Post Office was closed down, not only removing an important facility but also encouraging a drift of clientele outwards to the main shopping areas in Islington. For another, in common with smaller, specialized shops in general, those here find it hard to make ends meet.
For now, Amwell Street is still a pleasant place to go, whether to pick up a prescription from the chemist, buy a paper at the newsagent’s or have coffee in the sun outside Myddleton’s deli, but Amwell Street is a living reminder of the adage that if you have something good and want to keep it, then you must not only treasure it but also look after it. Blink and you will lose it.