diamond geezer

 Monday, June 21, 2004

Random borough 2: Islington

So, yesterday I ended up in northeast London in the randomly selected borough of Islington. I could have ended up somewhere a lot worse, I guess. I gave myself an hour to research the borough on the internet, then spent the afternoon wandering around. And yes, I did get very wet in the process. There was so much to see that I'm splitting my report in half - first part today, the rest tomorrow.

Somewhere special: London Architecture Biennale
London has some fantastic architecture, and this week the streets of Clerkenwell are hosting the very first celebration of London's architectural fantasticness. It's all part of Architecture Week 2004, a national excuse to go out and look at nice buildings. Pictured right is the Farmiloes building, until 5 years ago the headquarters of a Victorian lead & glass merchants but currently headquarters to the ridiculously-named Biennale exhibition. Inside I found a fascinating mix of old and new, including an atmospheric 'collection of splendid artworks' in the company's dark cluttered offices, and details of redevelopment plans for a number of new capital projects. Enough to keep me busy while the rain beat down on the grassy road outside (there's not normally turf in the street but on Saturday they drove a herd of cows down here - it's that sort of festival). There are still another seven days for you to catch the exhibition or one of the many Clerkenwell events, and I'd recommend a visit if you're in the area.
by tube: Farringdon/Barbican

Somewhere famous: 1 Richmond Crescent
Somewhere infamous: 25 Noel Road

Here are two three-storey Islington townhouses each with a very different history. The first is tucked away in a leafy corner of Barnsbury, a prime residential location and once home to our current Prime Minister. Tony Blair moved here with his family back in 1992 when he was a mere shadow Home Secretary, and the Granita restaurant where he thrashed out ambitious leadership plans with Gordon Brown was just down the road. Five years later Tony moved into Downing Street and sold up here making a tidy profit. The house today looks quiet and spacious, although there isn't a plaque on the front because Mr Blair isn't dead yet. Merely wounded. There is a plaque on the second floor of the other house because its most famous occupant is very dead indeed. Joe Orton and his boyfriend Kenneth Halliwell moved here in 1959 and kept themselves busy by defacing the books in the local library. Joe became a really famous playwright in the mid 60s ('Loot', 'Entertaining Mr Sloane', etc) but his success merely caused Halliwell to get jealous and depressed. One morning in August 1967 Ken smashed Joe's skull open with a hammer, like you do, before taking an overdose himself. Joe had kept a candid diary which was later turned into a highly readable book - Prick Up Your Ears - the film of which was shot in this very flat.
by tube: Angel

Somewhere historic: Canonbury Tower
Canonbury Tower was built by William Bolton, a 16th century nutter who believed the world was going to flood and stocked his new tower with enough food to last him two months just in case. I suspect he may have been five centuries too early. In 1616 Sir Francis Bacon moved in, a genius who was definitely Lord Chancellor, probably had a legitimate claim to the throne and possibly wrote the entire works of Shakespeare. Or probably not. Other famous authors to have lodged here include the Irishman Oliver Goldsmith and the American Washington Irving (he wrote Rip Van Winkle, don't you know). 1952 saw the setting-up in the grounds of the Tower Theatre, the only fully licensed non-professional theatre in London, but they moved out last year and the building looks rather rundown already. The main tower building is home today to a Masonic Research Centre and the grassy lawn outside was home yesterday to a rather damp-looking garden party. Hope they rolled their trousers up.
by tube: Highbury & Islington

Somewhere pretty: London Metropolitan University Graduate Centre
The Holloway road is a grim grey artery filled with traffic pollution and lined by non-descript retail outlets. It comes as quite a shock, therefore, to see this startling spiky silver building looming up halfway along the northern side. This is the latest project for architectural megastar Daniel Libeskind, designer of the Jewish Museum in Berlin and the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester, and recent winner of the competition to redesign the World Trade Center site in New York. His 3-month-old Graduate Centre for the London Metropolitan University may not be terribly big on the inside but it's having a great impact on the neighbourhood outside. Anything has to be better than the faceless concrete towers of the original main university buildings, which hopefully nobody will ever notice again now that there's far something better to stare at.
by tube: Holloway Road

Tomorrow: somewhere Big Brother, somewhere retail, somewhere sporty (bet you can guess where) and somewhere random


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