Rackets in Islington

Found the following quote about the playing of Rackets at pleasure grounds in Islington:
In his Book of Sports and Mirror of Life published by Pierce Egan in 1832, there is a long description of rackets mentioning several open rackets courts other than the King’s Bench and the Fleet. One of these was at the Belvedere Tavern, Pentonville, where most of the Open Court Championships were played, amongst others in London (all public houses); the Eagle Tavern on the City Road, The White Bear Kennington, White Conduit House, the Rosemary Branch Peckham.
They do have table football and salsa lessons at Clockwork, which is what the Belvedere Tavern has become, but you’d struggle to find room for a game of Rackets.
http://www.rackets-online.co.uk/history.asp?keyfld=1

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The White Conduit

White Conduit House

On a whim I popped into the print shop in the antiques arcade in Upper Street. The friendly vaguely Irish fella who owns the place welcomed me in and drew out a selection of prints to peruse. I was looking for one of White Conduit House (now the Penny Farthing and boarded up awaiting its latest incarnation as a Greek Taverna). “Yes and of course there would have been a conduit there” he said.
Islington was famous for its springs, he told me a few houses still have them. A bit of a rummage online confirmed his suspicion about the conduit which apparently fed the Charterhouse down on the edge of Smithfield. “…from 1430 the London Charterhouse had a piped supply from the place in Barnsbury where the White Conduit House became a popular resort, and its aqueduct was mentioned in 1545 and 1553.”
I’m going to retrace the route of the aqueduct with a walk, a smaller version of the yomp I did with Deep Topographer Nick Papadimitriou and photographer Peter Knapp last week along the West Middlesex Drainage Scheme – see Pete’s photos here:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/knapster/sets/632564/

It also confirms that symmetry between the springs as places of pagan worship, their later use as pleasure resorts (which is a modern form of worship in the industrial age), and the resonance which comes down to us through the pubs that still mark many of the springs (I sank 3 pints of Timothy Taylor at the Harlequin with Jacob and some of his mates last night on the site of Sadlers Well).

On an aside, the chap in the print shop showed me a wonderful cartoon of a visit to Middlesex County House of Correction from 1799, which was in Cold Bath Fields just off Rosebery Avenue near the Fire Station.

Dobney’s, Penton Street

Penton Street, N1

“Upon the site of Dobney’s Place, at the back of Penton Street, stood an old house, having a bowling-green, and tea-gardens, with ponds, &c. similar to those at White Conduit House….”
This strip is in the midst of a make-over whilst White Conduit House remains a locked up dodgy boozer.

J. Nelson’s History, Topography, and Antiquities of the Parish of St.Mary Islington in the County of Middlesex, pub 1811 also has a nice note about topographical writing:
“The study of our National Antiquities has called forth the talents of the most eminent scholars; and it is generally admitted, that writings on this subject, combining Historical remark with Topographical illustration, are calculated to convey a knowledge of our domestic concerns in a way the most entertaining and instructive.”

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Liberty lies in your feet

It was Elm Street WC1 that set me free and took me through the square that wasn’t there. Holsworthy Square is merely a block of flats with a courtyard. Holsworthy, a town in north Devon, another link in the Rosebery Avenue connection that includes Exmouth Market, Bideford, Braunton, Dulverton , Dawlish, and Barnstaple Mansions.
The Gunmakers closed its doors as I got there, Duke of Yorks was kari-effing-oke. Disillusioned I wandered into Mount Pleasant, then Elm Street. As I strolled onto Grays Inn Road I sensed a more urban ambience, Bloomsbury’s poor cousin. Endless possibilities open up. Should I finally try the Calthorpe Arms? Nah too snug, a real regular’s pub. Further up the Queen’s Head was geezers playing pool and the Percy Arms remains boarded up.
I end up in the comfortable pseudo-trendy Clockwork atop Pentonville Road full of relaxed vibes for the Blank Generation. There are exactly ten people in the place, maybe it picks up the sad souls who can’t get into Salmon & Compasses and the Elbow Room? Upstairs from 10-3am is Skrew! Nu-Electro Dirty Disco & Sleazy Punk with DJs T-Lady and The Real Joan Collins. Dobney’s Tea Gardens, White Conduit House and Busby’s Folly have been replaced by pubs hastily converted into bop-bars, demi-clubs of the Annam ilk that draw the City clerks north and leave them scattered on early morning puke-and-piss-splattered pavements just as in the days that Victorian inheritances were squandered on gin, races and whores and written about by Oliver Goldsmith.

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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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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.