A Straight Line Walk Across London

by Paul K Lyons

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Brighton Cross

Kip Fenn
A novel about
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66 - William Miller's story, Ken Livingstone's story, and Dick Whittington's story

Cutting through a patch of grass by the west end of the church, I reach Tufnell Park Road. I must walk directly west for a while along three sides of a rectangle to bring me back to the 300 easting. This road, which is thought to have been part of a Roman street, cuts through the centre of the Tufnell estate. Originally the land was part of the Barnsbury manor, but William Tufnell inherited it from his godfather (apparently on the condition he changed his name to Joliffe). The medieval manor house stood at the east end of Tufnell Park Road, where there's an Odeon cinema today. As I walk west, I pass number 63, the business address (in early 2004) of Adam James, clairvoyant and palmist.

On my right I pass number 90 which is where, one hundred years ago, a man named William George Miller was living when he retired after 25 years in the police force. Miller was born in 1853. He began his working life as a pawnbroker's assistant, and then spent time in Varanasi, a sacred Hindu city in India, with the Baptist Missionary Society. At some point, according to The Miller and Related Families website, William discovered he was illegitimate and left the religious life to become a policeman. He married Emily in 1878 and they had seven children. After retirement from the police, they moved out of Islington. He died in 1931.

At number 155 Tufnell Park Road, there's another St Mungo's hostel. A three story mid-terrace house, with five bedrooms and two receptions rooms, along here costs in the region of £500,000. And, at one of the houses along this road, London's Mayor Ken Livingstone got himself into a spot of bother during 2002. He attended a party hosted by the sister of his partner. The evening ended badly with a man named Robin Hedges falling into a basement well, becoming unconscious and being taken to hospital in an ambulance. London's right wing newspaper the Evening Standard claimed that Hedges' fall was caused by a drunken brawl with Livingstone. In June, Livingstone made a statement about the incident to the London Assembly: 'The Evening Standard has made three allegations which are not about my personal life alone, but could be said to affect my role as Mayor. Each of these is untrue.' He then went on to refute the allegations. A few days later, the Guardian newspaper published a detailed article on the affair, but, nevertheless, concluded: 'Getting to the bottom of that Saturday night-Sunday morning will not be easy, but on it hangs the credibility and the political prospects of Ken Livingstone.'

I turn right into Dalmeny Road (an extension of Dalmeny Avenue), and right again into Mercers Road. This is similar to Tufnell Park Road, although quieter. It was named after the Mercers' Company which owned a small amount of land here. The Mercers, like the Skinners, were one of the Great Twelve livery companies of the city. Although originally a group of textile traders, by the 16th century the company was embracing those in many different trades. Dick Whittington was an early mercer, supplying velvets and damasks to the royal family in the 14th century before becoming Lord Mayor of London. Later mercers included Thomas More and William Caxton.

Yerbury Road and Wedmore Street take me past the southern corner of Whittington Park to Holloway Road. Prior to the 1870s, Yerbury Road was part of Mercers Road, and Wedmore Street was called St John Street. Yerbury, like other street names in the area, have Wiltshire connections. But the quiet and pretty nature of Mercers Road and Yerbury Road breaks down in Wedmore Street which has a mix of houses (old and new), blocks of council flats and business premises (not least Chris Stevens' heavy goods loading bay).

Whittington Park is a 1970s creation, with sports and community centres, and a pub called The Good Intent. Some railway sidings, Hampden Road, Ireton Road, Comus Road and most of Rupert Road were all demolished to provide the green space and facilities. But what one council giveth, another can take away. In 2001, local residents protested about plans to turn part of the park into a car park; and, in 2002, they were up in arms about a giant hoarding that had been placed on the east side of the green facing Holloway Road. The famous Whittington stone, which is supposed to mark the point where Dick Whittington, on his way out of London, heard the sound of bow bells chiming 'turn again' and decided to return to the city, is about half a mile from Whittington Park. Whittington Hospital (which was first erected in the mid-19th century to replace the smallpox hospital demolished to make way for King's Cross Station) is much closer to the stone. Given this local obsession with Whittington, it's worth noting that the turn-again story is almost certainly the product of a playwrite's imagination some 200 years after Whittington actually lived.

 A Straight Line Walk Across London - along the 300 easting

by Paul K Lyons
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