London was in a revolutionary ferment in the years before World War One. Anarchists in exile from France, Germany, Russia and Italy eked out a precarious existence in the streets of Fitzrovia, east of Tottenham Court Road, spied on by their various authoritarian governments. Lenin visited London six times before the Russian Revolution, describing the reference services at the nearby British Library as the best in the world. A generation before Marx had studied at the same Library and wrote his Communist Manifesto for a club which met in Fitzrovia.
The explosion at Greenwich Observatory in 1894, where a French anarchist blew himself up brought Special Branch attention to the Autonomie Club in Great Windmill Street, but overall the British state remained splendidly unconcerned about the revolutionaries in its midst, until the Sidney Street siege of 1911. Visit key sites of anarchist and communist London, as we take you back to the dreams of revolutionaries of a different, better world.
The walk begins at Goodge Street Station and ends near Oxford Circus.
Archway Tower looks a bit better these days, but it’s still a very busy corner that you try to avoid if you can. It replaced amongst other things, the Chivers jam factory. These days we find it quite surprising that there was a factory in the heart of a residential area.
However in the days before planning legislation, a factory was in some ways quite welcome here. It was a short journey to work for the employees, particularly important for the many women with part time roles here. With the redevelopment also went the 1930’s station and all the shops and cinemas that were the heart of the area.
Go back even further to the 19th century and this was a quiet rural area on the outskirts of London. In 1860 Benjamin Samuel Williams cultivated rare and exotic orchids at the Victoria and Paradise Nurseries and his works now change hands for thousands of pounds at auction.
Meet at Junction Road exit of Archway Underground Station at 1.30pm
The loss of the Green Man pub in Muswell Hill, at first sight is not such a big deal. After all it was just an old pub that changed hands quite frequently, and if no one wants to drink there then shouldn’t the space go to some better use? In fact once the pub has disappeared it is a really important link with the past gone too.
Before the Great North Road was the major route out of London (or the A1 as we now know it) the way to the north was through Muswell Hill. We’re talking as far back as the 14th century. The road turned right where Holloway Road station now is, and then followed Hornsey Road through Crouch End, up the hill and then through Friern Barnet to Finchley and beyond.
As you can imagine getting up the hill was thirsty work and it was common practice to have a drink once you got to the top and enjoy the views too.
So the Green Man is the last in a long line of inns or pubs to sustain travellers after their trek up the hill.
Next time you pass the site, think of all those who rested here a while over hundreds of years, before the next stage of their journey.
Update July 2016. All signs of the pub are gone. That’s sad.
The reservoir in Islington’s Claremont Square has railings round three sides, but a brick wall on the fourth.
Back in the 1820s the New River Company decided to encircle the then uncovered pond with a fence for safety reasons. When the job was finished, they passed the bill on to the residents of the square. Those living on the north side claimed that they lived in Pentonville Road and not the sqaure. Therefore they would not be contributing, as their road had been up and running as London’s first M25 for about 70 years.
The New River Company got them back though, by replacing the fence with a stark and grim brick wall which remains to this day.
When people first saw the tower going up, they thought a jam factory was being built here. Not so silly though, when you know that the Chivers’ factory was where Archway Tower is now. Others saw it as a useless appendage.
In fact it has a very real and important purpose. As the architect started to run out of space in the building, so he stored all the essential electrical equipment in here. Or maybe he was making a statement similar to the architects in medieval Italy.