Thursday, February 23rd 2012
Venturing out on an errand this morning, I dressed myself warmly as I have become accustomed to do during the recent cold weather, only to find that the atmosphere outside was almost balmy. Are we being favoured with an early spring? The sunshine (intermittent though it was) made everything more cheerful and encouraged me to take a few photos as I went. You will have seen many of these views before (if you read my blog regularly) but there may also be a couple of novelties.
Sitting in the centre of Claremont Square on what is the highest point for miles, sits a Victorian reservoir. Still in use (and supplied these days from Thames Water’s ring main), this grassy mound and what it contains together form an historical landmark. It is surprising how few people know of its existence or even notice it when they pass.
Hugh Myddelton’s New River soon struggled to meet its commitments as water usage increased and so the Upper Pond, as it was then called, was built in 1709 to act as a sort of buffer. Its high position was ideal for supplying water by gravity feed to users. In time, supply problems necessitated changes and fears of contamination engendered by cholera epidemics such as that of 1846, led to the 1852 Metropolis Water Act which required all open reservoirs within 8 miles of St Paul’s to be covered. Doubling as a wild life sanctuary, the Upper Pond is still providing the neighbourhood with water as it has done for 300 years.
The sun may be shining and the air may be warm, but the trees are still bare, affording a view of the sunlit tower of St Mark’s Church in Myddelton Square. I am glad to see that the clock is working once more after being out of action again. The trees will wake up soon, screening the church with green.
In Amwell Street, there were customers sitting at tables outside Myddelton’s Deli, enjoying the turn in the weather. Mind you, Amwellites are hardy folk and I have seen them sitting outside even when there was snow on the ground.
In this little garden, belonging to the Clerkenwell Parochial C of E School, these venerable old trees have been supplied with crutches to prevent them collapsing under their own weight. It’s an unusual sight but good that these beautiful trees survive to give shade to the garden and pleasure to passers-by.
For a pub tucked away in a back street, The Whiskey Cafe, aka Filthy MacNasty’s, is unusually well known. This is because it rejoices in a long history as a live music venue where some famous bands and artistes have played. Maybe the broad selection of whiskies has something to do with it too. It is also said that a certain Kate Moss used to pull pints here. In another life, presumably.
A house opposite bears a plaque testifying that George Cruikshank lived in it between 1824 and 1849. A caricaturist and illustrator, Cruikshank worked with, among others, Charles Dickens, providing illustrations for Sketches by Boz and Oliver Twist, becoming so well known – and feared – that he was given a bribe of £100 not to caricature the King, George IV. Later in life, Cruikshank was a supporter of the temperance movement, his own father having died as a result of alcoholism. (He presumably never visited the Whiskey Cafe or its forerunners!)
This bookshop is rarely open when I pass and I imagine that they do most of their business at fairs and online. I did go in for a look around once and another time took them a book to see if they were interested in buying but they were not. Today I noticed something special in the window.
I had on a previous visit played with the tabby, who had fun chasing my finger up and down the glass, but today she perhaps thought she was too old for such kittenish extravagance. This morning both cats steadfastly ignored me.
In the High Street is the modern entrance to the Angel tube station. It’s a little difficult to photograph because the sun never shines on this side of the building. Google, and some other maps, show it in the wrong place: they mark the old entrance in City Road.
The original station had a single island platform serving both the northbound and southbound tracks. As the station became busier and busier, the platform became dangerously overcrowded and there were fears that people would be pushed onto the tracks. The station was enlarged and provided with separate platforms and a new entrance.
To reach the platforms from the street, you need to take rides on two escalators. The top one, travelling a vertical distance of 27.5 m or 90 feet, is the longest on London Underground (longer even than the one at Bank) and the third longest in Europe. Unsurprisingly, then, it attracts the lunatic fringe.
The Business Design Centre always reminds me of those old domed wireless sets from the 1930s and 1940s (for example, see here). It was built in 1986 as a refurbishment of the old Victorian Agricultural Hall, parts of which still remain within, so I hear. It is a modern take on the old Agricultural Hall, providing exhibition and showroom space for companies to display their more modern products.
Further along Upper Street is the Screen on the Green. The first cinema on the site arrived in 1911 when the Pesaresi brothers opened their “picture theatre” here. A larger cinema, called the Empress, succeeded theirs and in the 1950s this was refurbished and reopened as the Rex. Despite the decline in cinema attendance, this one reopened in the 1970s as the Screen on the Green and has become one of London’s best known small cinemas.
And here, opposite the cinema, is the Green, from which is takes its name. Today a pleasant small park or garden, the Green is also the site of the war memorial, a rather controversial piece, which takes the form of a large ring or hoop.
That’s not quite all that there is to this small open space, however, for the piece of land that is today known as Islington Green, a place where office workers eat their lunchtime sandwiches and where parents and au pairs bring small children to play, was one of London’s plague pits. Not that that worries me unduly: I think it rather good that what was once a place of fear and horror should today be a pleasant spot in which to linger on a sunny day.
At the end of the Green, stands a figure who, in a sense brings us back to the beginning of my walk at the reservoir. This is the statue of Sir Hugh Myddelton, bringer of much needed water to the area and creator of the New River. He stands where Essex Road branches off Upper Street, surveying the passing traffic and pedestrians with a benevolent eye, sparkling white in the sunshine.