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Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog about family travel around the world, without leaving the UK.
I love travel adventures, but to save cash and keep my family's carbon footprint lower, I dreamt up a unique stay-at-home travel experience. So far I've visited 110 countries... without leaving the UK. Join me exploring the next 86! Or have a look at the "countries" you can discover within the UK by scrolling the labels (below right). Here's to happy travel from our doorsteps. See www.nicolabaird.com for info about the seven books I've written, a link to my other blog on thrifty, creative childcare (homemadekids.wordpress.com) or to contact me.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

New thinking for new year's day - Clerkenwell history

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK in order to reduce our impact on climate change. All is quiet on New Year's Day, so it was fun to go on a rebel footprint tour around Clerkenwell and see the exact spots that social justice was challenged and changed thanks to people from Italy, India, German, Soviet Union etc. Words by Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

Walking a chapter in Rebel Footprints by David Rosenberg was an interesting way to spend New Year’s Day. When the big blockbuster shows are on in London covering revolutionary art and ideas there’s a tendency to focus on the Soviet Union and France. But Rebel Footprints offers a guide to “uncovering London’s radical history”. Turns out London is packed with historic incident plus the places – often coffee houses, but pubs too – where these events were planned.

As I live in Islington it’s always fun to learn more about the area (see the 260+ interviews on https://islingtonfacesblog.com ) so instead of a cobweb-blowing New Year’s Day walk along a cliff edge we picked a guided tour (reachable by local bus) of the trailblazers for democracy who lived, worked and plotted around Clerkenwell, EC1. This is a short walk – 7,000 paces for those of you living by fitbits. For me it was very familiar so a chance to look again at places and consider the power of politics. Here’s what I found most interesting:

Spa Fields (a paved green space) looks a bit sad in winter, but it was a huge area bordering Exmouth Market and ideal for rallies. It was the centrepoint for bread riots that broke out in London in 1800-01 which the authorities blamed on Newcastle-born Thomas Spence who was a shoemaker and radical teacher who wanted egalitarianism, land nationalisation and universal suffrage. His followers were known as Spenceans.

Plaque marks the UK's first black MP - who won his seat in 1982.
The Old Town Hall on Rosebery Avenue, opened in 1895, used to be where Islingtonians registered births, marriages and deaths in ink. I have two millennial daughters – one was registered with an ink pen, the other in a more high-tech environment using new technology. The Old Town Hall is now a dance studio for 16-21 year olds, Urdang Academy. Here we spotted a plaque commemorating the first black (and first Asian) MP, Dadabhai Naoroji, who was elected as a liberal MP for Finsbury Central in 1892. He won by just three votes! This is a good place to people watch: in just five minutes we jam-packed history and spotted a policeman on a skittish horse; a woman dressed as a suffragette and an ambulance responder on a bike. Often you can see queues for Urdang auditions which makes me think of the 1983 movie set in the thriving industrial steel town of Philadelphia, Flashdance – best songs What a feeling and Maniac.

Italian family and home of Joey Grimaldi, London's most famous clown
Exmouth Market was the home of Joey Grimaldi, the famous clown. He was the son of Italian immigrants and went to work as a dancer, on stage at Sadler’s Wells from just three years old.

On the site of a prison...
Mount Pleasant – now a reduced Royal Mail operation although it does have a postal museum and underground postal train to try – was the Middlesex House of Correction, also known as Coldbath Fields Prison. 

The Italian church is still busy.
Clerkenwell Road is where you can find St Peter’s Italian church, built in 1863. It still holds joint Italian and English Sunday mass and is the place to go for an Italian experience in London (especially if you go for coffee or pasta before or afterwards). Back in the mid 19th century the church doubled as a labour exchange and the area was dubbed ‘Little Italy”. Since the 1880s there’s been an annual Italian parade around Clerkenwell – known as Our Lady of Mount Carmel. In 2018 the parade and carnival will probably be Sunday 22 July (please check date before you go!).

From this building, now the Marx Memorial Library, the first red
flag was flown during a rally
Clerkenwell Green is the hotspot for radical explorers. Here you can find the Marx Memorial Library, which is in the building where the first red flag was flown in London, hoisted at a rally in 1871 in sympathy with the Paris Communards. It used to be a radical printing workshops where Lenin worked... Here's a fascinating film about the building's history.




Under the clock

The Crown Tavern, 43 Clerkenwell Green. At the table under the clock
is where Lenin drank (possibly coffee and not just beer) and planned.
Just over the road, also in Clerkenwell Green, is the pub where Lenin drank – The Crown. Head to the back room and you’ll find the conspirators clock, which is helpfully marked by a plaque.

There are plenty more radical history exploring possibilities – I’d recommend borrowing or buying the book. Do you have any guide books that get you outside and learning about other places or times that you think other readers of this blog would enjoy? If so please let me know. Thanks.


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