Islington interviewer, Nicola Baird, talks about her experience running a local history chat at the Duke of Cambridge pub.
The History Group meets at the Duke of Cambridge pub on Monday lunchtimes. On the day that I’ve been invited to speak it feels strange having to knock on a pub door to see if I can sneak in before noon to set up. It’s certainly an ice-breaker laughing about what the passers-by must think of this eager posse of pensioners waiting to hit the bar. Except we’re not. We’re here for a history talk about people who live and work in Islington…
To help words fly the Duke of Cambridge staff bring coffee and pots of tea (but if you want a pint of beer it’s there to be bought). Soon there are nearly 20 of us sitting around two long wooden tables, and after friends catch up the talk proper starts.
As the main writer on Islington Faces – a place were there are now 200+ interviews with people who live or work in Islington – it’s fun to share favourite interviews, such as Ron the horseman and pigeon fancier, the flower seller who found a mummified cat in his shop’s walls and the man who plans to put the signature of every person who has lived in his house on the wall of its entrance hall.
Then I ask my audience to do the work and share with their neighbour: “What’s your first Islington memory?” Or: “What’s your best Islington memory?”
Memories are as likely to be comforting as sad – which is why the snippets of animated conversation now include tales of a pram being pushed up Chapel Market; cheeky scrap totters; meals at Alfredo’s Café, favourite moments at the Electric Cinema and rides on the Holloway Road trams. Music is clearly a huge part of everyone’s story from Vera Lynn to Pink Floyd’s Another Brick In The Wall filmed at Islington Green School.
This is most definitely living history. As a bonus for Islington Faces most of the group claim they might be willing to be interviewed separately so they can share more stories about the places they’ve lived and loved in Islington. Nice for me, but also plenty of good reasons why Get Together readers should follow www.islingtonfacesblog.com.
Come along to A Cuppa and a Chat with Guest Speakers at the Duke of Cambridge, 12noon-2pm every Monday. If you have a story you could share with the group we’d love to hear from you – call 020 7281 6018.
We caught up with two ‘tea-total’ attendees at Nicola’s recent group and asked them a little about their personal history.
Q. Have you attended a Get Together at the Duke of Cambridge before?
Isaac: I’m not a pub goer but it’s open, and as most senior citizens don’t go out at night I think it’s a good idea. I have tea, but you can always have a drink after the Get Together, before going home.
Joe: I used to be quite a drinker but I gave it up 18 years ago. I still go into pubs and get a cup of tea or a soft drink.
Q. Nicola has interviewed over 200 people in Islington – have you ever tried to track your memories in anyway (writing, photography etc.)
Isaac: Bamgbose Street is the longest road in Lagos – my family came from there. My ex-wife was interested in family history and introduced me to tracing ancestors on the computer. We went to a place near Kew Gardens (National Archives) to look at my family history from Nigeria’s colonial days. Anyone who came by boat has their name listed, and the boat’s. I found my uncle’s name.
Joe: In summer 2015 I heard on TV’s Crimewatch that Compton Hospice in Wolverhampton was robbed. I felt sad that they’ve got the big C and had their ambulances smashed up, so I got a donation and took it to them (135 miles by train). They called me London Joe, clapped me and put the story on Facebook. It got more than 1,500 messages. Within 24 hours newspapers were sharing the story online and more than 1 million people saw what I’d done. Even people from Australia were saying ‘Good on you’. I’d sooner give than receive, but I was very impressed when the hospice sent me a book with all the messages. Those comments mean more than anything.
Q. What did you most enjoy about this event?
Isaac: I like talking about the past and the history of London. I’ve been to the Museum of London many times as I’m really interested in the construction of the first London Bridge, and also the history of Olaudah Equiano (1745-1797) who wrote and campaigned about slavery.
Joe: I live with old people (in sheltered housing) but the people I meet at Get Togethers I know as friends. People don’t moan here.