Home means so many different things to us all. It can be a place of safety or even a fuzzy childhood memory. The strangest triggers can bring memories of our first homes flooding back. Here Islington residents talk about settling down.
ALL ROADS LEAD TO ISLINGTON
Scottish independence. The Great British Brexit debate. It seems that national identity, multiculturalism, belonging and what it means to be British has never drawn more media attention. With many of the current issues surrounding our position in the European Union putting the yay and nay camps at loggerheads, we asked a cross-section of Islington residents about their experiences. Whether immigrating from abroad or relocating to the borough – arriving from across the ocean by boat or a quick jaunt up the A3 in a removal van… If all roads lead to Islington, was it a trip they were glad that they’d made for themselves and for their families?
Born: India (in a village)
Arrived in London in August 1958, aged 28
“My husband was in the plastic toy business. We came for the World Fair in Italy and then went to London. I wasn’t good at geography or politics at school, and I didn’t know English, but I asked him if we could stay. He said ‘Yes, because we are from a Commonwealth country we can stay as long as we like’.”
“London was a bit strange – so different to India. At first we stayed opposite Selfridges, paying seven guineas a week. I took up a job. I saw an advert in the Evening Standard but I couldn’t read English well so didn’t know what it meant by “no coloured” and got the job! It only lasted a week and then I got a job with the Indian High Commission where a friend was paying £1.10 to rent above Boots the Chemist in Upper Street. He said seven guineas was too much so we moved to a double room in his building, which had a Polish landlord. We paid £2.50 a week rent.”
“I learnt BBC English at classes. I live in an old people’s home now and I think we made a mistake not going home. My younger son was born here and we didn’t want to disturb his education. You only have a short time for education so I took three jobs and my husband worked two jobs and we sent him to private school. I remember when he was little I took him to 10 Downing Street, when it was open to the public, and he said he’d like to work there. He went on to do a law degree and is now a public prosecutor living in Scotland with my two grandchildren.”
Grew up: Surrey
Moved to Islington in the 1970s
“I do value living in such a culturally mixed place as London. I’d hate to feel Britain had become one of those places where we didn’t want that mix because as I see it, it’s essential if the world is to be a happier place,” she says. “When we first came to Islington in the 1970s people said ‘you don’t want to live there’, but Islington is a very fine example of a successful melting pot.”
“We live near Angel in an enclave where we know a lot of people and they look out for each other. It’s a community that feels at ease with itself. It doesn’t always of course and I know terrible things happen. Obviously it helps to have a nice family and a nice home – it’s like being in a village. And I like bumping into people, up to a point.”
Angela Neustatter was fashion editor at the Guardian and has written for all the broadsheets. Her most recent book is The Lifestyle Entrepreneur (Gibson Square, 2015) which she wrote with her son, Cato Hoeben.
Arrived in London in 1958, aged 29
“I came by boat. My cousin lived with us. When he grew up he went to America and then London. He asked if me, or my sister, would come here to help him. My sister said she had children and was not coming. I had a little boy and I left him with my mum. I tried to send for him when he was at school, but he wouldn’t come. So, he and my grandchildren are in Barbados.”
“My cousin worked for London Transport and was living in Brixton. I found a job quite easily. You just asked. One of my aunts had taught me dressmaking but I learnt to do leather handbags. It’s one of the easiest jobs you can get. I worked in many different places – sometimes the bosses gave you a bag. I’ve still got a lot I need to give away.”
“I moved to Archway and then Finsbury Park. Islington is alright – the thing I hate is the cold weather. But you can buy everything here. I still cook fish the Barbados way, steam it and eat with our special dish, cou cou (cornmeal and okra).”
Born: Karnatka, India
Arrived in London in 1987, in her early 20s
“I knew some English (Florine speaks seven languages) and soon I met the guy. He married me and we rented a beautiful two bed flat in Islington with a nice garden. My job was in Acton. I worked as a warehouse assistant, paid £500 a month. We saved up and bought a flat.”
“There are good people in London and the shopping is good. I go to the Nag’s Head and Dalston. I find there are too many crowds in Bombay now, but in London there are beautiful new buildings. King’s Cross is my favourite area and Tufnell Park has some beautiful buildings too.”
Born: St Kitts
Arrived in London in 1961, aged 25.
“We heard they wanted maids in England to work in hospitals and old people’s homes. My family said go and try it. I’d been working in shops and other domestic work since I was about 16.”
“I had a female cousin in Archway. I came on the SS Montserrat. It was fun and frightening. We docked in Southampton and I took my first train ever to Waterloo where my cousin’s friend met me. Not long after I was walking along the street in Islington and saw a big home. I went and knocked on the door and asked for a job cleaning. I got it. It was easy to get jobs then.”
“I don’t think I was homesick, though the weather was very cold. I’m still glad and happy to see people from St Kitts. We’ll get together and eat rice, peas and goat meat which I get from Stroud Green Road.”
Born: Roscrea, Tipperary
Arrived in London: 1961, aged 12
“Things were dire financially in Tipperary so my family – all four of my uncles and mother’s sister (aunt) were already in the UK, and all but one in London – thought it would be better for all of us to be in London. And it has been much better.”
“My memory isn’t that good generally, but arriving at 6am on 25 October 1961 is imprinted on my mind. We were four miles from a major town so coming to London was a major event. I travelled with my grandmother, my cousin Tess, who was 22, and her baby son. I was very glad to be here. I felt at home right away. My mother was here already and we moved into a big flat rented on the first floor of 247 Camden Road. It’s now demolished and been replaced by an elderly person’s centre.”
“I’ve recently joined an Irish singing group at the Old Fire Station, Nag’s Head. It’ll be a special to do next time I go as it’s St Patrick’s Day.”