Pictured below is Myddelton Passage, a quiet road which pops out behind Sadler’s Wells Theatre.
Initially a narrow footpath, the street was widened in the early 19th century as an estate of homes developed around nearby Myddelton Square, Claremont Square and Amwell Street.
Despite the expansion Myddelton Passage was considered to be a dark and dangerous alley throughout the Victorian era; a reputation making it notorious enough to feature in George Gissing’s 1889 novel, The Nether World as the setting for a violent assault on a character named Pennyloaf Candy:
“Pennyloaf…turned into Myddelton Passage. It is a narrow paved walk between brick walls seven feet high…the branches of a few trees hang over; there are doors seemingly never opened, belonging one to each garden; a couple of gas-lamps shed feeble light…
“There came running from the other end of the Passage a girl whom Pennyloaf at once recognised. It was Clem Peckover…who was now springing out of ambush. She rushed upon Pennyloaf who for very alarm could not flee, and attacked her with clenched fists.
Pennyloaf could not even ward off the blows that descended upon her head; she was pinned against the wall, her hat was torn away, her hair began to fly in disorder…Pennyloaf’s hysterical cries and the frantic invectives of her assailant made the Passage ring.”
Today, Myddelton Passage has cleaned up its act; you can certainly walk along it of an evening without fear of attack.
However, look closely at the wall running along its southern perimeter and you’ll discover a secretive hint of its shadier Victorian past…
This large collection of seemingly random numbers were mostly carved around the mid to late 19th century by an array of police officers– with each set of digits representing the respective bobby’s collar number.
Most of the numbers feature a ‘G’ linking them to ‘Finsbury Division’; the team who operated out of the former King’s Cross police station.
Quite why so many Victorian coppers chose to create this swathe of graffiti in this particular location remains something of a mystery…
Finsbury War Monument
Spa Green, Rosebery Avenue
Just across the road from Saddler’s Wells Theatre on Rosebery Avenue is a small, pleasant park called Spa Green, a major feature of which is the Finsbury War Monument.
Unveiled on the 15th September 1921 and costing £3,000 (approximately £88,000 in today’s money), the memorial was funded by donations from local residents to commemorate the men of the Metropolitan Borough of Finsbury who had fought and died in the Great War (Finsbury was abolished as administrative district in 1965 and now comes under the London Borough of Islington).
Because it is representative at a distinctly local level, the monument is unusual in that it commemorates all three branches of the armed forces as well as specific battles in which they fought.
The north-west side is dedicated to the Finsbury Rifles (the 11th London Regiment) who fought in France, Belgium, Gallipoli, Egypt, Palestine and Syria. A bronze plaque depicts their part in the Second Battle of Gaza which raged against the Ottoman Army for several days in April 1917.
Originally there were two other bronze reliefs depicting other battles attached to the plinth. Sadly, they were stolen many years ago and have been replaced with granite inscriptions.
On the north-east side, the navy are commemorated; “These are they that went down to the sea in ships and did business in great waters…”
More specifically, the Zeebrugge Raid of April 23rd 1918, in which the Royal Navy attempted to block German access to the Belgian port, is commemorated. The raid resulted in the loss of 200 lives and saw 8 Victoria Crosses awarded.
The south-east side of the memorial is dedicated to those who flew, fought and died in the Royal Flying Corps throughout the duration of the war. The granite plaque is aptly adorned with a little propeller set against a blue background.
Also commemorated on the south side are those of the Honourable Artillery Company who fought in Egypt, Palestine, Italy, Belgium, Aden and Syria. A third, smaller plaque was added at a later date in memory of those who died in WWII.
The large statue on top of the plinth is a representation of the Roman goddess, Victory and was sculpted by Thomas Rudge at his studio on Bolingbroke Grove, Wandsworth.
Today, Rudge’s sculpture appears to be a very popular spot for London’s pigeons whose gentle flapping and cooing is often the only sound to be heard in this solemn, peaceful place.
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