The philanthropist, the hole in the wall and the cat walker

Here are just a few curiosities from around Islington, collected yesterday and today.

Experimental grass for the sparrows

Yesterday evening we passed by Laycock Green where this little notice board stands amid a stretch of greenery.

Sparrow notice

It tells us that this area of the Green has been sown with a variety of grasses and wild flowers as part of the project (in cooperation with the RSPB) to find out ways of encouraging house sparrows in the hope of halting the decline in their population. Underneath, an anonymous annotator has added the comment “excellent for BEES”.

Samuel Lewis Building
Samuel Lewis Building

My eye was then caught by these apartment blocks. Intended for people of modest means, they are unusually handsome and stylish. There are several similar blocks on this estate.

Window bearing Samuel Lewis's name
Window bearing Samuel Lewis’s name

Inscriptions over the windows facing the main road give a clue the the origin of the estate. It was built in 1910, financed by a trust set up in the will of Samuel Lewis. Lewis’s life corresponds exactly with the Victorian age for he was born in 1837 and died in 1901.

Born in Birmingham, Lewis started out selling steel pens, later opened a jeweller’s shop and eventually became a financier and, ultimately, a philanthropist. As a millionaire he was able to dedicate what was for the time a huge sum of money for the building housing for the poor. He might have been proud to know that this, his first building, is now Grade II Listed.

G.E. Adams, dairy and provisions
G.E. Adams, dairy and provision merchant

This morning I went off to Almeida Street, as I shall explain, and on the way saw this old shop in Theberton Street. Once a dairy and provisions shop, it seems to be a dwelling today, the original name sign protected by a thick layer of varnish.

pilaster lionface

At either side of the shop is a pair of pretty pilasters with a handsome lion’s face at the top. Note also the aeration grill running across the top of the window.

Almeida Passage Hole in the wall

Almeida Street is a cul de sac for traffic though not for pedestrians. Walk down to the end and you find this narrow walkway called Almeida Passage. At first out in the open, it then runs through the buildings, a fact that has gained it the popular local name of “the hole in the wall”. Inside the “hole”, the walls are painted black but the paint is very patchy. I suspect this is the result of painting over repeated graffiti.

Milner Square
Milner Square

The hole in the wall takes you into Milner Square. Like many Georgian squares, this one has a central garden surrounded on four sides by terraces of houses. These are unusually tall and imposing, in contrast to the garden which is dominated by a tennis court and is rather plain.

I was given to understand that this once upper crust neighbourhood had “gone down” and had become a dodgy area where disaffected youth lurked. I didn’t see anything of this during my visit but I did notice that every front door had at least two locks and usually three.

Gibson Square
Gibson Square

Next to Milner Square is Gibson Square. The garden is prettier and better tended than Milner Square’s but at the moment part of it is screened off by works whose nature I didn’t stop to find out.

While I was taking photographs, I noticed a lady sitting on a bench. Beside her was a long-haired cat and a few feet away, another similarly long-haired feline was grooming. Having given me the hard stare as cats are wont to do, they took no further notice of me and I did not intrude on their privacy either.

Walking the cat
Walking the cat

After a while, the lady got up from the bench and walked towards the gate. The cat followed along and it was obvious from the way that the human waited when the cat paused in its progress, that they were together. I thought how nice it was to be able to go for a walk in the park with your cat!

The Rainbow
The Rainbow

My last photo of the walk was this old pub, The Rainbow, dating from 1879. It stands on the corner of Liverpool Road and Barnsbury Street. No longer a pub, it has served as offices but I am not sure what it is used for at the moment. The pub, and the people who have worked or drunk in it, must collectively have lived through some momentous times. Will it ever become a pub again? On current showing, what with the decline in the industry, that seems unlikely.

Update July 6th 2015

In a comment today, Julie Elizabeth asks “There seems to be some kind of plaque overhead in the hole in the wall, when walking from almedia street into the square. I can make out the word immigration or immigrants and 24 June 1964. Cannot find any details about this – any ideas?”

When I took the photo, I didn’t notice the ‘plaque’ but Julie’s question intrigued me enough to persuade me to go and take a look. Here is a larger view of it.

Immigration plaque

We can see that it isn’t a plaque at all but an image impressed on a board set in the frame of what was once a window. It is rather dirty but that’s not the reason why it is hard to read. The image itself is far from sharp. So what is it?

At the top we can see the word IMMIGRATION and, at the bottom, AUSTRALIA. The text seems to read as follows

24 JUN 1964

I can’t read the number or word or code below ‘Sydney Airport’. Maybe it is the code for that immigration office.

The answer to the above question, then, seems to be that this is an enlarged picture of the stamp placed in someone’s passport on his/her arrival in Australia on the stated date. Why anyone would take the trouble to create this memorial, I do not know. Your guess is as good as mine.

If anyone reading this knows the answer, do please get in touch!

Copyright © 2011 SilverTiger,, All rights reserved.


About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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8 Responses to The philanthropist, the hole in the wall and the cat walker

  1. WOL says:

    Jackie Morris’ cats follow her out for walks — or at least the one(s) who are not too elderly to do so. However, she lives in rural Wales, and most of where she walks is over fields. Different story in the city. However, I have heard of owners who train their cats to walk on a leash/lead like a dog. I’m sure once they got the idea, the cats would enjoy it. Mine tend to follow me from room to room (I’m the best show in the house!). If the inside of Samuel Lewis’ buildings are as nice as the outside, they must be pleasant places to live. The Adams dairy might be a pleasant place to live, although I’d want some “glass curtains” (“sheers”) in my front window if I lived there (they let in light but you can’t see through them). The shop window would be a great place for plants. I see places like that, I wonder what they’re like inside — how they’re laid out.

    • SilverTiger says:

      Siamese breeds and some others are regarded as intelligent enough to be taken out on a lead or to go on holiday with their owners without risk of getting frightened and running away. I have seen other breeds of cats taken out on a lead. Some take to it; some do not.

      I tried this with my first cat when she was a kitten but she never got the hang of it and I gave up in the end. Not that she was stupid: she was in fact the brightest cat I have so far met but just not disposed to play along with humans.

      Gibson Square is a fairly quiet place and the owner probably lets the cat out by itself so it would not be troubled by being out with her.

      I don’t know what the Samuel Lewis buildings are like inside. They have no doubt been modernized over the years because even if they were ahead of their time when they were built – 1910 – that would be considered below standard today.

      I assume the shop too is a listed building and that that is the reason why it has remained unaltered despite being converted to a dwelling. The large shop window must certainly pose problems for the inhabitants who will need plenty of curtain material!


      Further investigation seems to indicate that the shop is not listed even though considerable sections of the street are.

      Google Street View shows the shop painted white all over, so the name sign must have been restored fairly recently.

      The premises, 89 Theberton Street, are listed as the address of a small publishing or distribution company called Words Etc.

  2. AEJ says:

    I’ve never heard of anyone being able to “walk” a cat. All the cats we ever had were “outdoor” cats, which means that they slept all day inside and then at night would cry to go out and then five minutes later scratch to come in, and that’s how they spent every night. In and out, in and out, all night long. I have heard of people training their cats to use the toilet, though. Ours were never that smart.

    • SilverTiger says:

      That’s why this case attracted me: because it was unusual.

      My previous cat used to like to go for a walk around our area with me too. The trouble was that she would embarrass me by going into people’s front gardens and perpetrating actions that caused me to pretend I wasn’t with her…

  3. KEA says:

    Re the shopfront at 89 Theberton Street, the property became residential in 1980, and before that, was described to us as an antiquarian booksellers (from which “Words Press”/”Words etcetera” operated). Neighbours remember going to poetry readings in a very damp basement. There is what’s left of the bread oven – if you lean over the front railings and look down you can just see the oven door (which we set back into the new wall after we put in the railings and dug out the front to protect the shopfront window in 1994/5). The sign is what we uncovered when we started work on the exterior paintwork in 2008. It isn’t the very bottom layer: we guesstimate 2 – 4 other signs underneath. The house isn’t listed but is a conservation area and yes, much curtain material required.

    We do sometimes take one of our cats to Gibson Square, but it wasn’t us you saw.

    The works in Gibson Square were to refurb the ventilation shaft for the new Victoria Line, which is disguised in a simulated classical temple with a domed roof built in the ’70s (instead of the 50ft tower originally opposed by residents in the ’60s).

    • SilverTiger says:

      Thank you very much for this interesting background information on 89 Theberton Street. I am glad to know that the shop front is being treated with the respect it deserves and I shall certainly look out for the bread oven next time I pass that way.

      Thanks also for the explanation of the works in the square. I am very glad the residents protested against the tower and got something more fitting. I’ll have to come back and take a look at that as well!

      Maybe if I’m lucky I’ll catch sight of you and your cat!

  4. Julie Elizabeth says:

    There seems to be some kind of plaque overhead in the hole in the wall, when walking from almedia street into the square. I can make out the word immigration or immigrants and 24 June 1964. Cannot find any details about this – any ideas?

    • SilverTiger says:

      Thanks for raising this interesting question. I was intrigued enough to go and take a look. I have reported my findings in an update at the end of the post.

      You must have sharp eyes to have deciphered the ‘plaque’. I wasn’t able to from the original photo, even by enlarging it up.

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