Dear Readers, some of the most magnificent London Plane trees in the Capital line the central avenue on Islington Green. This isn’t a village green, but is instead part of the common land that used to exist here, where tenants and ‘commoners’ had the right to graze their sheep and cattle. Latterly, it was a place where dung was dumped, it’sThese days it’s completely hemmed in by roads, with Upper Street on one side and Essex Road on the other, but it still serves as an oasis of (relative) calm in this lively area.
In 1885 it was described by one Henry Vigar-Harries as a spot where
” the young love to skip in buoyant glee when the summer sun gladdens the air“.
He also describes how “within a mile and a half from this spot there are 1,030 public houses and beer shops” and if you included restaurants, cafés and coffee shops in that number you wouldn’t be far wrong now.
According to the Hidden London blog, the trees here were planted in 1808. They are mostly plane trees, but along the edge opposite where Waterstones is now (and where Collins Music Hall stood until it burned down in 1897) there’s a row of very fine lime trees. Grey squirrels and parakeets seem to enjoy them immensely, as does the enormous flock of pigeons that lives here.
The War Memorial, created by John Maine, was designed to resemble a twisted wreath and was inaugurated in 2007. Six years later the foundations needed to be dug again because they were inadequate for the weight of the stone, all eight tonnes of it – the memorial is made from stone quarried in Fujian, China, which is also where the carving took place.
There are no names on the memorial itself, but there are plaques commemorating those who received the Victoria Cross, the highest medal for gallantry awarded in the UK. Frederick Parslow was serving on a merchant ship carrying over a thousand horses for the war effort when it was attacked by a U-Boat. Parslow gave the order to abandon ship, but then received a message from a Royal Navy destroyer to hang on as long as possible. He remained on the bridge, completely unprotected, while the U-Boat concentrated fire on the section, and he was killed. His son, also called Frederick Parslow, was the Chief Officer, and managed to hold out until the destroyer arrived. 20 men were killed, but the horses were saved.
Frederick Booth was awarded the Victoria Cross for rescuing an injured soldier alone, under heavy fire from the Germans, in what is now Tanzania.
Both men came originally from the Islington area, Booth from Holloway and Parslow from the Balls Pond Road.
There is another memorial here too, and I always visit it if I have time when I’m in Islington. This is in memory of Bob the Street Cat, who was the long-time companion of James Bowen, a Big Issue seller who used have a pitch outside Angel Station. Bowen found Bob as an injured young cat, and the two soon became inseparable. Bob passed away a few years ago, but fans of James and Bob (immortalised not only in bronze by sculptor Tanya Russell but in a book by Bowen called ‘A Street Cat Named Bob’ and in a film) raised money for the seat. I love that Bob is always dressed according to the season, and for autumn he is wearing a very natty scarf.
I was lucky to find the benches empty – there are normally people sitting here, under the trees, enjoying the bird song and some early morning sunshine. But today, for a few brief minutes, the messages on the two adjoining benches are clear as day. We are, indeed, stronger together, and there is no doubt that so many people deserve a second chance.