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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!