Remnant of Penny’s Folly

This is the possible site of Penny’s Folly or Busby’s Folly, one of Islington’s many pleasure gardens. It is now Risinghill Street. I thought this a strange name for a street 20 yards long. The etymology suggests a site of pagan worship. It sits just off Penton Street. ‘Pen’ is Celtic for hill, and ‘ton’ means spring or rising ground.
Peter Ackroyd has a hypothesis that the London mounds such as Penton Hill are the holy sites of Druid Ritual.
The presence of St Silas’ Church in the street almost confirms this hypothesis as the christ cult had a habit of appropriating Pagan sites.

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Friday Night

Light on at the top of the Unity Church Hall. Fire engines at rest in the garage. Geezers shirts out for a big night. Florence Street ends. Zebra crossing on Upper Street seems to be invisible. Lovers, women, lads. Routemasters diverted into Theberton Street. Flowers for Sunny Cracknell. Streams of people like the West End.

Settled in The Crown. It’s 10pm, so noisy after the soft cold night air. Couldn’t have taken this 40 minutes ago. It’s what fuelled my circuit. Every pub packed to the rafters, sweaty digusting vulgar. My loop brought me back to Sainsbury’s at which point it was here or nowhere. Friday nights are desperate, violent affairs. Everyone angry, letting off steam.
My table in the pub is in fact a desk, has drawers with brass handles. Writing in my notebook I’m like a schoolboy doing homework. The swot surrounded by the naughty kids. I finish my pint of Jack Frost and go home, my book – Q – the quest for spiritual purity of the reformation in Germany and the violence it inspired too relevant to my surroundings.

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The Historic Symmetry of Caledonian Park

clocktower, Caledonian Park

In the days of the Friday pedlars market, the Clock Tower bell tolled at 10am and let the traders in. In its day the Caledonian Market was one of the wonders of London right up till 1939. Stories abounded of punters picking up priceless treasure for a few shillings amongst the old eggcups, odd shoes, false teeth and pieces of rusty iron. A famous racing tipster called Ras Prince Monolulu dished out winners for a price. HV Morton describes the scene in ‘The Heart of London’ and tells of a friend who picks up an Egyptian Mummy for 10 shillings.

The painter Walter Sickert, who lived nearby, haunted the market and proclaimed that it was his idea of heaven.

Metropolitan Cattle Market

Metropolitan Cattle Market

Sex Workers use the park and accost people on Market Road”, warns the bulletin put out by The Friends of Caledonian Park. The working girls have been pushed north by the development of Kings Cross. It’s a different kind of meat market now. Pimps, prostitutes, kerb crawlers, undercover police surveillance twitching in the bushes, men reading their papers on the park benches get approached for business. The girls have the faces of ghosts, the spirit having departed the body for protection. The Gazette carries the gruesome story of a prostitute picked up in Market Road then pushed out of the seven and a half tonne lorry after rowing about the cost of oral sex and crushed to death under its back wheels.

When HV Morton visited the market in 1926 he was offered a skeleton for sale. Down the road a woman’s mutilated body was fished out of the Regent’s Canal by a group of kids. “Ripper Killing Horror” screams the Islington Gazette. She was a prostitute, probably from the Market Road meat-rack, chopped up in a crack den round the corner on Conistone Way, an area that once housed abattoirs and horse slaughterers. Some believe that Walter Sickert was the real Jack The Ripper, his paintings depicting his victims’ anguished faces. The girls I see working the park gates have something of the Victorian about them. Dr Crippin murdered his wife not far away in Hilldrop Crescent and was hung in Pentonville Prison down the road. Is this another case of historic symmetry.


clocktower from market estate
Originally uploaded by soapbox.

The clocktower is framed by the notorious Market Estate, “hell” to its residents. Collapsed ceilings, exposed wires, boarded-up windows, doors off their hinges. One such heavily reinforced door fell on a 12 year-old boy and killed him. Hands have been washed of the affair at the Town Hall. The housing association has handed it back to the council and now they’re knocking the lot down.

The arches of the Clock Tower cast shadows that create a scene like a De Chirico painting. It’s deathly quiet and I have the odd sensation of being in an Italian piazza del duomo at lunchtime. The burnt out post box, CCTV and sudden burst of violent language pull me back to the reality of a condemned GLC Housing Scheme. Groups of teens in sportswear with a gangsta rap blaring ghetto blaster stand on a white petal-strewn path. It brings out the romantic in me, the one that ignores the smashed in windows of the Islington Scouts blue minibus.

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The park has been marked for regeneration. There’s talk of restoring “the historic symmetry of the site”, reopening the north-south axis. This was once one of London’s most famous pleasure gardens. Opened in the 1620’s, city folk escaped out here to the inn of Copenhagen House to take tea in the gardens, play skittles and fives, watch the boxing, shoot a few pigeons. The descriptions of it paint a Constable-like rustic idyll.

It was also a nest of radicalism almost as significant as Clerkenwell Green. The Gordon Rioters passed through on their way to burn the mansion at Ken Wood. One landlord of the inn was a member of The London Corresponding Society and held huge meetings here to put forward their Chartist aims and extol the virtues of The French Revolution. And in 1834 100,000 trade unionists gathered in support of The Tollpuddle Martyrs.

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