44 Stoke Newington
This begins with a warning. I am obliged to be personal. Last summer my daughter was married in Stoke Newington Town Hall. I sat on the aisle seat in the first row on the right. The seating arrangements are in the picture above. Britney Spears filmed a pop video in Stoke Newington Town Hall but somehow she missed me. I once lived in the Amhurst Road flat that was used by the Angry Brigade. I was not a resident at the time, so, like Britney, the Brigade missed me, too. The police discovered weapons and bombs inside the flat. The house in Amhurst Road where the Angry Brigade lived in the basement flat has been refurbished. Today the properties are expensive and desirable.
Muktar Said Abrahim liked to set off bombs on London Transport. No Boris Johnson sentiment about the red bus for Muktar. The terrorist was convicted in 2007 and sentenced to a minimum of forty years in prison. Angry Brigade members were sentenced to ten years. Abrahim worked in an off-licence in Amhurst Road and would have sold alcohol to what are now the affluent residents.
Apart from its political and violent reputation Stoke Newington has good literary connections. Anarchist spotter Joseph Conrad was a resident. He may have pictured a drawing room in Stoke Newington for the final scene in Heart Of Darkness, when he wrote his criticism of middle class propriety and insularity. Daniel Defoe lived in Church Street. Edgar Allan Poe attended Manor School in 1820. None of these writers found civilisation to be secure and reassuring and, when I lived in Stoke Newington, neither did I. Maybe it was the five miles distance from London and the lack of an Underground link that inspired complex thoughts about the remote. Now my old local, the Rose and Crown, has become trendy and there are as many Turkish restaurants as in Istanbul. Stoke Newington has an annual literary festival and after Conrad, Defoe and Poe it must feel entitled. More original is the Ghostsign Tour that visits old faded advertisements on walls and explains the history of the area and local commerce.
Before the gentrification Stoke Newington was mentioned in the Domesday Book and before that it progressed from a Neolithic community to a Saxon settlement. The mix of residential clusters and common land had appeal but London expanded and the land was parcelled off to those who wanted to make money. Clissold Park, though, is a pleasant place to walk. West Reservoir is big enough for small boats and murder victims.
On New Year’s Eve 1883, nineteen year old John Broom Tower was dumped into the reservoir after being murdered. The case shocked and intrigued not just North London but the whole country. Tower was respectable, and, although it may be unthinkable to teenagers today, he had just celebrated without alcohol the New Year. The assassin of Tower remains unknown. A ludicrous confession only strengthened the drama and mystery. Four years later, though, Jack the Ripper, gave everybody a sense of perspective. George Bernard Shaw described that multi-skilled assassin as a demented genius. Not sure what he would have said about Britney.
Next week, mountains and a mad Chelsea fan, Ullapool
Howard Jackson has had four books published by Red Rattle Books. His 11,000 mile journey around Brazil is described in Innocent Mosquitoes. His latest book and compilation of horror stories is called Nightmares Ahead. Published by Red Rattle Books and praised by critics, it is available here.
If you want to read more about his travels click here.