A Straight Line Walk Across London

by Paul K Lyons

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64 - Of Hungerford and Pratt, plus St Mungo's homeless and Holloway's condemned

There are two schools near the north end of York Way, a Camden primary school called Brecknock, on the west side, and an Islington primary school called Hungerford on the east side. Brecknock, named after the family seat of Lord Camden, opened in 1881. It was typical of Board schools (i.e. those set up by the London School Board under the 1870 Education Act requiring all children to be educated until they were 13) in that it had separate parts for boys, girls and mixed infants. Unusually, though, Brecknock also catered for blind children. Originally, a large building ran parallel to what is now York Way, and overlooked a terrace of houses opposite, behind which was the cattle market. It was replaced between the wars by the present building. During World War Two, the school was used as a fire station. The one-storey Hungerford infant school, on the east side of York Way, set among an area of grass humps, is modern. Round the corner, though, on my route along Hungerford Road, are the original buildings of the Hungerford Board School opened in 1896. Some pupils at the school in the early 1950s remember 'adopting' a merchant navy oil tanker San Demitrio; others recall the stench of the meat market on hot summer days. More recently, both the artist Sarah Lucas and the actor Tom Watt (Lofty in 'Eastenders') were pupils here.

Both the road and school were named after Sir Edward Hungerford who married into the Halliday family which owned the land in the 17th century. Hungerford was said to be an extravagant courtier. When his house, near the Thames, burnt down, he constructed a market, in competition to the nearby Covent Garden. It never did as well as its rival, but, nevertheless, was rebuilt in the 1830s. A few years later, Brunel constructed the Hungerford Bridge to provide a link between Lambeth and the market. Both the market and the bridge were demolished in the 1860s to make way for Charing Cross Station and a new railway crossing.

Opposite the Victorian school building, I cut through into Rowstock Gardens, a Camden estate with several four-storey blocks, and two eleven-storey high-rises. The maisonette blocks, with their concrete framed cubicles, remind me of the Maiden Lane estate. Until spring 2001, local residents were regularly complaining about one of the properties being used as a squat. In April that year, 30 officers swooped on the property. They arrested five people on suspicion of drugs offenses and handling stolen goods. One of the policemen involved in the raid was quoted as saying the operation was 'very visible evidence of our new partnership with Islington Council'. Rowstock Gardens leads me to a t-junction with Middleton Grove, a short road which, before 1938, was 'Middleton Row' and, before 1855, 'Middleton Street'. In the 1860s, George Truefitt lived at 1 Middleton Row. He was the surveyor for Tufnell Estates and designed many of the houses in the area, including two in Middleton Row.

Middleton Grove leads me across Camden Road into Hilldrop Road and the Hilldrop Estate which replaced many Tufnell Park villas between the wars. One of St Mungo's properties stands on the corner here. Once it was a church (Camden Road Baptist dating from 1854), now it serves as a high-care hostel for homeless single men with alcohol or mental problems. St Mungo's operates as both a homelessness agency and a housing association. It began in 1969 with one house and a soup kitchen, and now offers support and care for over 1,000 vulnerable people in over 60 housing projects across London. This one here, the Hilldrop Centre, was the focus of a publicity event in 2003: Jeremy Corbyn MP took part in the first day of a new programme of alternative therapies (such as yoga, tai chi, reflexology and gardening) being offered to its residents. St Mungo's said at the time that the Centre houses 'some of the most isolated and complex people in the community and these courses really work to improve their quality of life'.

Camden Road (the A503) is a busy thoroughfare linking Camden Town with Holloway. It's lined with many large early Victorian villas, well set back from the road, most of which have been converted into flats. It was named, like Camden Town, after the distinguished jurist Sir Charles Pratt, the first Earl of Camden, who, by his marriage to Elizabeth Jeffereys, acquired much land and property in the area. As chief justice of the Court of Common Pleas, Pratt refused to enforce general warrants, and, as Lord Chancellor in the 1760s, he opposed the government's policy of taxation without parliamentary representation in North America, a position which led to his dismissal. On Camden Road, just a few yards to the east of the 300 easting, I find Islington's John Barnes Library (named after a local councillor and member of the Islington Labour Party for 50 years). And, inside, I discover a marvellous book - for my purposes at least - written by Eric Willets: 'The Book of Islington: Streets with a Story'.

Holloway Prison is next door to the library. A prison - the City of London House of Correction - was first built here in the middle of the 19th century on land purchased for use as a cemetery. It was noted for having a central tower, copied from one at Warwick castle. Oscar Wilde was locked up here while on remand, and, after it was refurbished and redesignated as a women's prison in 1902-03, so were suffragettes such as Emily Pankhurst. Also housed here were many women sentenced to death. According to Richard Clark (whose Capital Punishment U.K. website has a wealth of detail about capital punishment) 47 women spent time in Holloway's condemned cell. Of these 40 were reprieved, one case was quashed on appeal, and one woman was judged insane and sent to Broadmoor. Five women were put to death here between 1903 and 1957 (when hanging was outlawed). Famously, the last of these was Ruth Ellis who was hung in 1955 for the murder of her boyfriend David Blakely.

The imposing and extravagant-looking building was knocked down in the 1970s and replaced by a more diffident modern establishment. It's surrounded by a tall bland red-brick wall, not so far different from those of the British Library. The new prison can house around 530 convicted and remand prisoners. Remand prisoners are entitled to one visit a day except Sundays, while convicted prisoners can receive one visit per fortnight. Since the mid-1990s, there has been concern about poor conditions in the prison, and about bullying by female officers. Rose West was a prisoner here, as was Maxine Carr, the girlfriend of the Soham murderer.

 A Straight Line Walk Across London - along the 300 easting

by Paul K Lyons
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