Monday, January 30th. 2012
Having an errand to run this morning, I found myself walking along Naoroji Street. I have been aware of this street, with it unusual name, ever since I moved to Islington and have often thought about checking to see where the name came from but without ever following up the intention.
Naoroji Street is an unassuming little street with modern office buildings on one side and older buildings on the other. These were perhaps once dwellings but are now also offices. The feature that provoked my renewed interest was the plaque that I spotted this morning at the top end of the street.
I ought perhaps to have noticed the plaque sooner as it purports to have been in place since 2009 but, then again, I rarely venture to that end of the street which is almost, though not quite, a cul de sac. The reason for installing the plaque in this somewhat obscure position is that during his stay in London, Dadabhai Naoroji taught in the school that is still to be found there.
Dadabhai Naoroji (1825-1917) was, as the plaque states, Britain’s first Asian MP, elected in 1892. Although that is an achievement in itself, he was much more than that. Of Parsi (Zoroastrian) origins, and a priest of the religion, he was by occupation a cotton trader but he was also a scholar and a teacher, holding important university posts, and active in Indian and, later British, politics.
A member of the Indian National Association, Dadabhai Naoroji was in 1886 elected president of the Indian National Congress with which the Association had by then merged. While he was in Britain, one of his associates was Muhammed Ali Jinnah, later the founder of the Muslim state of Pakistan. This cooperation is reflected in the fact that there are streets named after him in both India and Pakistan.
As an MP, Dadabhai Naoroji worked for his constituents but he naturally also concerned himself with the welfare of his fellow Asians living in the UK as well as supporting Irish Home Rule. A rather impressive figure, Dadabhai Naoroji is also celebrated by a green “Historic Site” plaque on the old Finsbury Town Hall (see above), placed here to remind us that he was MP for Central Finsbury. Curiously, according to Islington Council’s plaques department, this plaque is “of unknown origin”. Perhaps it was placed by the now defunct Finsbury Council.
This particular plaque was installed by the Amwell Society. Taking its name from Amwell Street, our local “village high street” (and, ultimately, from the village of that name in Hertfordshire whose spring was one of the sources of Hugh Myddelton’s New River), the Society embraces the relatively small but historically interesting area bounded by Pentonville Road, Penton Rise, Kings Cross Road, Farringdon Road, Rosebery Avenue and St John Street.
Amwell Street is actually quite a long street, running from Rosebery Avenue at the southern end to Pentonville Road at the top. It is the upper part, with its mainly Georgian houses that gives you the village feel. Some of the shop frontages are also quite old, though probably Victorian or Edwardian rather than Georgian, adding to the street’s special character.
I also passed through the elegant and peaceful Wilmington Square which has a pleasant garden at its centre. The strangely large shelter always gives me pause for thought: who built it this big and why? Note the two drinking fountains from two different epochs.
I previously wrote about a visit to Wilmington Square and the Gardens (see A look at Wilmington Square) and recounted there the story I had read that, on the fourth side of the square, the road was omitted, or demoted to a pedestrian walkway, because the developers were running out of money. If that is true, then I think their problem has been charmingly turned into a desirable feature, though I do not know whether the residents agree with that judgement.
Just for the Victorianists among you, I thought I would throw in this rather nice pub with a turretted corner window and green glazed tiling. In style it is somewhat restrained in the later Victorian manner (built around 1880 I think) but handsome nonetheless, and sits comfortably on the corner of Easton Street and Attneave Street, just within sight of Wilmington Square. It was previously known as the Queen’s Head but the current owners have rebadged it as The Easton. I do deplore this habit of removing a perfectly good and characterful name and replacing it with something boring and tasteless, a trend, sadly, that is all too common these days when imagination and creativity come a poor second to pecuniary ambition.