This morning I had to go to the surgery to have my blocked ear syringed, a frequent problem of mine. You probably didn’t want to know that but I add it as a personal touch. Afterwards, even though it was bitterly cold out and I didn’t feel like dawdling, I took my camera for a little walk down to Wilmington Square, which has in the centre a public garden or park.
I have been there before in my rambles but there was a stronger motive for my visit this time. You may recall that in a recent article (Around Clerkenwell) I wrote about Northampton Square and said that the philanthropist, Charles Clement Walker, who paid for the central garden to be laid out for public use was similarly responsible for the public garden in Wilmington Square. I decided to follow that up with a visit.
Commemorative drinking fountain
Wilmington Square, then, is Walker’s “other garden”, though today it is owned and maintained by Islington Council. Like the garden in Northampton Square, this one has a commemorative drinking fountain of much the same design. Unfortunately, it is in a worse condition than its opposite number. There is no tap and no water and almost all the lettering has fallen off.
The inscription is now illegible
Sadly, the inscription is now illegible, though I can just about make out the name “Charles Clement Walker” – because I know that it’s there – the rest is indecipherable.
Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association’s
gift to the garden
There is also a later drinking fountain (non-functioning, alas) installed by the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association, the charitable organization founded in 1859 that was responsible for bringing clean drinking water to the public and for placing drinking troughs at strategic places in town for thirsty cattle being driven into London and for the horses which then powered all vehicular road traffic. This historic and noble society still exists today under the slightly different name of The Drinking Fountain Association.
The garden is smaller than that in Northampton Square but nonetheless offers the pleasures of strolling or sitting in a green setting with flowers and ancient trees. Instead of a bandstand, Wilmington Square boasts a shelter with a long bench running along either wall inside. This structure dates from the 19th century but I am not sure whether it was present when the gardens opened or is a later addition.
The garden provides a home to a flock of pigeons and some squirrels. As I arrived, an elderly gent who had obviously been feeding the animals, as witness a flock of busy pigeons around a bench, quickly left the park without making eye-contact. He was not to know that I would not have have complained or blamed him. While I was taking photos, this squirrel came up close to see what I had to offer. Unfortunately, I had nothing with me.
Houses are separated from the garden by a road
The square itself was built in the 1820s by a builder called John Wilson, on land originally owned by the Marquess of Northampton (spot the connection). It has houses on all four sides and on three sides, a road separates the houses from the garden.
Houses with pedestrian walkway
Not so on the north-west side, however. Wilson ran out of money and needed to complete the project quickly and cheaply, so on this side there is only an elevated walkway between the front doors and the iron railings of the garden. Though this may be a disadvantage if you own a car, if you do not then the proximity of the park is an agreeable feature.
When first built, these houses would each have been occupied by a single family with servants. Today most have been divided into flats, the greater number owned and rented out by Islington Council. As I walked along here, I spotted another kind of multi-occupancy home: a “bug hotel”, no doubt built by the gardeners to encourage the smaller members of the environment.
In kinder weather I might have wandered further afield but it was so cold that I preferred now to go home.
I passed along Amwell Street where I spotted a plaque on a house. This one tells us that George Cruikshank lived here during the years 1824 to 1829. The house has an intricately worked balcony railway of wrought iron (see below) while a nearby road has been named after the illustrious artist.
Cruikshank was an early illustrator of Charles Dickens’s work, notably Oliver Twist in 1838. It is interesting to think of him living in this very house while carrying out that work.
Like most houses in this area, what was once George Cruikshanks’s residence is today divided into flats. I wonder whether any traces of the great illustrator remain hidden and as yet to be discovered.
Cruikshank Street looks somewhat unprepossessing seen from here and I ought perhaps to have photographed it from farther down where the terrace houses give it a pleasanter look but I was cold and in a hurry to get home!
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A blocked ear does not sound fun at all. I have never suffered through one of those, though my sinuses get stopped up all the time and if I don’t take some sort of desnoterizer then it gets infected and I end up on antibiotics.
Such fancy water fountains! It’s too bad they’re not working.
Blocked ears, yes, an ongoing problem of mine, made worse by wearing hearing aids.
I believe drinking fountains were established mainly during the Victorian period to provide clean water for people to drink as other sources were likely to be dirty and contaminated. As a result, many were financed by public benefactors or set up as memorials to the great and good or to deceased loved ones.
I read recently that the local authority in Westminster is thinking of reintroducing drinking fountains in order to reduce the litter of discarded plastic water bottles.
I can’t get over how your UK grass stays green all year. The grass we have in my “growing zone” (“Bermuda” grass) dies back down to the roots in the fall. Lovely wrought iron balcony railings on Cruikshank’s house. Now and again, you can find a “facsimile” copy of a Dickens book as it was originally published, with the Cruikshank illustrations, but they seem to be few and very far between. Lovely little building in the park where people can “take the air” (or take babies for an “airing”) even when it’s raining!
With regard to streets changing names, I noticed that it is often the case in Europe that when a town grows out and begins to engulf the villages around it, the streets in the villages keep their original names, even after they have been “grafted” onto streets from the town and the villages have been totally engulfed. Even the village names tend to be perpetuated as the name of that “district” of the city, so that maps become a kind of graph of the city’s history. Place names tend to be very conservative — witness all the place names that derive from the language of a people who have been conquered/assimilated by another people who speak a different language. The original place names often persist even when the language they are derived from is no longer spoken in the area.
There was a street in Berlin we used to travel on to get to work — all one continuous street, but it changed names 4 times between where I lived and where I worked, — only a 20 minute journey by bus. Each name change represented a small outlying village that had been engulfed by the city. I expect that’s the story in London, too.
Our grass is green because of all that lovely rain we get.
One of London’s best features is the large number of green open spaces that it possesses. Sitting in the park in fine weather is a well established custom. On sunny days, semi naked office workers broil themselves on the grass. (The British always go a little mad when the sun shines.)
There are all sorts of reasons for changes to street names but accretion of villages by a spreading metropolis is certainly one of them. Many, however, are not changed, leading to possible confusion. For example, Station Road is a very common street name all over London and tends to persist even when the station in question has disappeared!
A site here http://wilmingtonsquarefeatheredfriends.blogspot.com/2009/11/fountain.html has the drinking fountain inscription.
Just out of interest looked up Wilmington Square where I lived in a third floor studio of the first house from the right. Next door was a button factory in the downstairs rooms (yes, believe it or not !) I am talking about 1967 – I was working in Lincoln’s Inn so and the studio was really convenient as I could walk to work every day past Mount Pleasant Sorting Office, on to Holborn down a small alley and into Lincoln’s Inn Fields ! I have been trying to remember the name of the square for ages – so I looked up ‘Exmouth market’ where I used to shop on a Sunday morning and found it !
Long time ago – amazed to see the houses still look the same ! I remember when I was there I used to pass a Cypriot greengrocer just before turning into the street – and often used to buy the most amazingly large black grapes I had ever seen ! Memories !
I’m glad my post enabled you to revive some old – and, I hope, happy – memories.
Just found out that my great-great and great-grandfather lived and/or worked at 18 and 19 Wilmington Square in the 1880s–1890s. George Oram and Son watchmakers. My grandmother, Elizabeth Oram, was born in 1894 in Clerkenwell…emigrated to the United States in 1907. We have always been in touch with our relatives–knew the Orams were jewelers and watchmakers in Clerkenwell, but have only recently found out more details through our English relatives. Thank you very much for the pictures.
Thanks for this information which adds an historical detail to the Square. I’m interested that your forebears were watchmakers as this area was at one time known for this trade. There still exist a small number of clock and watch shops here.
Hi Elizabeth, George Oram is one of my 3x great grandfathers too. I visited Wilmington Square this summer, it’s very pretty. Much more family research to do, but I have bought a few of George’s watches which I am trying to repair. I figured if he could make them I could at least repair one to keep in the family, Kind Regards David Oram
Hi David–I’m keeping a lookout for an Oram watch. At least one of my cousins in England has one. I did purchase the print of the watch from the Royal Maritime Museum at Greenwich–a nice and fairly economical family memento to display on the wall here in our American home.
We are related, Elizabeth (aunt Beth) was my great great aunt ( I think)
Her sister Emily was my great grandmother…her daughter Gladys was my great grandmother and she married James (Jim) Terry. So I am assuming that George or Helen were your Grandparents?
Hi Louise–Yes, we are cousins. My grandmother, Elizabeth Oram Holleron, was a sister of Aunt Daisy, whom I remember well. Aunt Daisy and Aunt Elsie came to visit us in the States more than once, and I saw a great deal of the family when I was lucky enough to come over to England–the longest visit, when I was ten, was in 1960. We stayed for three months. I knew Jim and Gladys, their children John and Margaret, and of course Brenda, whom I played with quite a bit. We were so devastated when she died. We used to go down to Southend-on-Sea and see Aunt Daisy. I particularly remember swimming in the ocean down there. I remember Ivy and John Roughneen very well, and their children Eileen, Kathleen, Patricia, Susan, and Shawn. (Some sadly gone now.) I also remember Elsie and Frank Hawker (he was sadly killed in a traffic accident), and of course Jean and Kenny. I can’t remember if Aunt Daisy had any other children–Gladys, Ivy, and Elsie…now am I forgetting anyone? My grandmother came to the U.S. in 1907 at the age of 13, accompanied by older brother Wally who was 21. She ended up meeting my grandfather George Holleron at the home of mutual friends, and they married when she was 19. They had four children: George Washington Holleron Jr., Walter Oram Holleron (named for my grandmother’s father), Ebert Frank Holleron (sadly died tragically age eight), and the youngest, my mother, Helen Margaret Holleron, 1927–2014. She was named for my grandmother’s mother, Helen Lake Oram, and also for a dear family friend, another Helen. There is so much more I could add–a million stories. Nice to hear from you though–do stay in touch when you get a chance.
Hi Elizabeth, it’s wonderful to hear back from you ! My Grandad is John , and I speak almost daily to Margaret. Jim and Gladys had a daughter after Brenda (Lorraine) who they had adopted and last year she made contact with us which was amazing ! I have been building a family tree on Ancestry which has been so interesting…my grandad married Jackie Rowe and they went on to have 3 children Gary, Anthony and Deborah…unfortunately we unexpectedly lost my dad (Anthony) last year but Gary and Deborah are alive and Deb has been living in Barbados for almost 40 years.
My email is email@example.com
It would be great to hear from you and I can send you the link to the family tree that has lots of people on and photos.
Hi David, Elizabeth is my cousin..my nan Emily Daisy Oram was born in Wilmington square.
Susan, we really have to stop meeting like this! Orams forever! I do enjoy “visiting” Wilmington Square, if only via the computer.
Sue…Emily Daisy Oram was my great great grandmother..she married Albert Foster and they had my great grandmother Gladys Evelyn Foster who married James Terry.
Sadly number 12 Wilmington square was demolished for the ajoing office block my great grandparents lived there in the 1920’s does anyone know where i would be able to get more info on the house?
I think that if the house has been demolished there is little chance of finding any information about it unless a history or report about the area has been published in the past.
I suggest you get in touch with the Islington Local History Centre. If there is any information on the square, they probably have a copy of it and I have found them helpful in the past.