Tag Archives: London

Islington, London…..Then and Now….

14 Jul

DSCF7253 I first discovered Islington in 2010 when I went to London with the London Trippers, a group of diehard Family Historians, who think spending the day in the depths of the Archives is the only way to go. We were staying at Rosebery Hall, one of the Residences belonging to the London School of Economics. Many of the archives were within walking distance, which was why earlier groups recommended this as the place to stay.

London Metropolitan Archives

London Metropolitan Archives


Room at Rosebery Hall

Also, even though it was not always clean and things didn’t always work, it was cheap and offered a Full English Breakfast and if you took a baggie, you would have enough food for lunch.

Food at Rosebery

Breakfast in the Cafeteria at Rosebery Hall

This spring was my 5th visit since 2010 and I think of the Hall as my London home away from home. The price was up to 45 Pounds a night, but it is still a steal in London. Until my visit in 2013, I wasn’t aware that Islington had been home to some of my Ancestors who, I thought, lived and died in Warwickshire. Since then I have learned otherwise…people MOVE…they have always MOVED and in 1776, they were no different. In 1965, the Borough of Islington was created by incorporating some of the old parishes where my Mason Family once lived. It now takes in Clerkenwell, St. Luke’s, Canonbury and Pentonville as well as others.


St. Luke’s today

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St Luke’s Parish Church

If you begin your walk on Old Street, just a few steps from the SOG..Society of Genealogists, one of the other spots I hang out, you come across St. Luke’s Church. It has been decommissioned…and is used by the London Symphony Orchestra for their community and music education programs. In the late 1700’s,  Spencer and Martha Mason from Warwickshire had 10 children baptised there between 1777 and 1795.  The first was John,  christened in 1777 and the last Eliza, christened in 1795. The child that I have been able to trace is Daniel Spencer Mason, christened in 1793. Spencer Mason was a Baker, and as such was a member of the Mercer’s Guild. It was this organization that provided the funds for his youngest son, Daniel Spencer Mason, to attend St. Paul’s School.

Full text of “Admission registers of St. Paul’s school, from 1748 to 1876”……Daniel Spencer Mason, aged 11, son of the late Spencer M., baker, Old Street ….18o4] SCHOLARS OF ST. PAUL’S SCHOOL. 229

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Old Street today where Spencer Mason once had his bakery.

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Spencer Mason (1802) and his son Daniel Spencer Mason (1846) are buried here

Bunhill Fields Cemetery

Spencer died when Daniel was only 9.  He was  buried in the Bunhill Fields Cemetery on Dec 16, 1802…Piece 3989: Bunhill Fields Burial Ground, City Road. Bunhill was in use as a burial ground from 1665 until 1854, by which date approximately 123,000 interments were estimated to have taken place. Over 2,000 monuments remain. It was particularly favoured by Nonconformists and contains the graves of such notables as John Bunyan, Daniel Dafoe, William Blake  and Isaac Watts. Just across the street is John Wesley’s Chapel.


John Wesley’s Chapel

St Mary's church

Rebuilt St. Mary’s Church

Daniel Spencer Mason went on to become a Draper and had a shop at #107 Shoreditch High Street. According to the 1841 Census he had a house he shared with his sisters Mary Ann Finch (widow) and Ann Mason at New Norfolk Street not far from St. Mary’s Parish Church in Islington. This area was destroyed by bombs in WW2 and the house is no longer standing. Islington is mentioned in an early Anglo-Saxon charter and was originally named Giseldone, then Gislandune. The name means ‘Gisla’s hill’ from an old Saxon personal name Gisla and dun meaning ‘hill’. According to one early writer, it was a savage place, a forest “full of the lairs of wild beasts”, where bears and wild bulls roamed. On the edges of the forest was a pasture for hogs. In The Domesday Book of 1086 the name had mutated to Isendone, and then Iseldone, which remained in use until the 17th century when it was replaced by the modern form.


Poster is in St. Mary’s Church

In the Middle Ages, most of the land belonged to religious institutions. After the dissolution of the monasteries (1536-1540), much of it was given to aristocratic families, often the friends of the Tudor monarchs. By the 17th century, Islington had grown from a hamlet into a village, spreading along Upper Street and Lower Road, which later became Essex Road; by the 18th century, the area had become became famous for its dairy herds, which supplied London with butter, cream and milk.


Canonbury Square

London grew rapidly in the 19th century and brick terraced houses began to take over the agricultural land. Local farmers turned to manufacturing bricks and developing property. Canonbury Square  is an attractive square, developed between 1805 and 1830 and included a variety of distinct styles. In 1812, when few properties had been built, the New North Road turnpike, now known as Canonbury Road, was constructed and bisects the square. Many significant figures from the arts and literary worlds have lived on the square, including George Orwell (1944) and  Evelyn Waugh (1928). The Mason Family lived at New Norfolk Terrace, not from here.

Islington map

Mason House on Norfolk Street/New Norfolk Street near New North Road


Finsbury Estate

With the advent of the railways came industrial development and corresponding social decline. Eventually, many big houses and once elegant squares fell into disrepair. For much of the 20th century, Islington was a poor, down-at-heel area. However, post-Second World War rebuilding and later gentrification improved both housing standards and the appearance of local streets. In recent decades, although some significant social problems remain, Islington has become a desirable residential area, as well as a place to head for leisure and entertainment. Run-down establishments have given way to smart restaurants, local theatres, galleries and shops, whilst new shopping centres have grown up at Angel and Nag’s Head. Properties now range in the 700,000 to 5.5 million pounds if they have been restored.

Finsbury Estate, one of a number of  large Public Housing Estates,  is next door to Rosebery Hall. When I first visited in 2010, I was kept up at night with noise made by the local teenage residents, gathered on the street corner under my window. Drug deals and fights went on all night. The area has been cleaned up in recent years with surveillance cameras and police patrols.  The development includes a library and the Islington Museum which opened in 2008 below the library.

Bob...The Street Cat who along with his owner James, Busked outside the Angel Station.

Bob…The Street Cat who along with his owner James, Busked outside the Angel Station.

Islington has had a host of noteworthy characters over the years. Bob and James, a man and his cat are only some of the latest. They became famous worldwide after their books “A Street Cat named Bob” and “The World  According to Bob” were published. Instead of keeping warm in Waterstone’s Book Store at the north end of Islington Green, they came to sign their books.  If you are not familiar with their story…it is one of love and how one stray cat helped a man who had spent 10 years on the London streets as an addict, begin a new life. James in  turn, had rescued Bob after he wandered into his flat, sick and worn.

The Sadler Wells Theatre is also a neighbour of Rosebery Hall. It is a performing arts venue and the 6th on the site since 1683. Patrons were gathered outside one April evening as I returned home, enjoying their drinks in the warm spring London weather. I laughed when I saw some patrons arriving on their bikes which they locked up against the lamp poles. This is not something that happens at such venues back home.

Exmouth Market with outside seating for nearly every pub and restaurant

Exmouth Market with outside seating for nearly every pub and restaurant

Not far from Rosebery Hall is Exmouth Market..a pedestrian friendly street with Shops, Cafes, Restaurants and Pubs. On a Friday night it gets very busy as the young people come out to celebrate the end of another work week.  My favorite Cafe is Cafe Nero at the end of the street. It is here I usually have my final coffee as I head to catch the #63 bus which will take me to Kings Cross to begin my long journey back to Canada. I keep the Coffee Card in my wallet as I know it will be only a matter of time before I am there once again. 2013-09-09 16.52.55

Edgar Gorer: London Antique Dealer…Death on the Lusitania

26 Jun
Sinking of the Lusitania on May 7, 1915

Sinking of the Lusitania on May 7, 1915

He was Edgar Gorer and his First Class Ticket was number 46057 and his Saloon Cabin was number B73. He was making the return trip from New York to his home in  London aboard  the Lusitania. He had come over in January to arrange for an exhibit of the Henry Sampson Collection at Dreicer’s on Fifth Avenue. He sailed May 1 but  never made it home. He died when the Lusitania was torpedoed by a German U-boat 11 miles off  the south-eastern coast of Ireland on May 7, 1915.  It was reported that, although at one point he was in possession of a lifebelt, he gave it away. The only member of his party of nine to survive was Frank Partridge.    


FIFTY NEW YORKERS LOST IN FIRST CABIN; Hope Abandoned for Justus Miles Forman, Edgar Gorer, and Dr. Fred Stark Pearson




To understand the full story of how Edgar Gorer became a well-known and respected Antique  Dealer, we must go back to the arrival in England, in the early 1800’s, of his grandfather Lewis Gorer. Lewis was from Prussia and was likely part of the early wave of Jewish immigration in the 19th century. Many of these immigrants settled in the seaside ports, including Brighton, where in 1839, Lewis married Hannah  Abraham Cohen. By 1851, according to the census, he had moved and was living at #7 North Street in Stepney, London. He was listed as a General Dealer. His 4 children were Solomon (10),  Adelaide (9), Barnet (6), and Esther (3). By the 1871 Census, Lewis had died and Hannah was living with her son, Solomon (29), his wife Helen (vanGoor) and their children, Lewis(2) and Annie (infant))   in High Street, Kensington. Solomon was listed as  a Tobacconist.

Solomon quickly established himself in London, as by the 1881 Census, he was living at 32 Delamere Crescent in Paddington and was listed as a Silversmith. His third child Edgar had been born and was 8 years old at this time. By 1891, Solomon had moved to 113 Edgeware Road and was a Gold and Silversmith. Edgar appears to have moved out, though the two older children were still living at home. In 1901, the family was back together again in a new home in Hampstead at #16 Greville Road.

Solomon had been busy expanding his business and by 1886, had additional premises on the Strand at #433. This was a fancy jeweller’s shop which specialized in artificial diamonds. In 1896, Solomon relocated this business to 59 New Bond Street next door to his son Edgar. He operated as a Silversmith, while Edgar, who had considerable business acumen, was a dealer in Oriental works of art. The final move of both stores was to 170 New Bond Street in 1899. By 1900, the two businesses had become S. Gorer and Son, interior decorators and the Indo China Trading Company which was run by Edgar. Solomon died in 1907 in retirement at Eastbourne.

Edgar was really the shining star in the family. He had married Rachel Alice Cohen at the Hampstead Synagogue in 1902. Ree as she was called, was a sculptor who had attended the Slade school of Art and who was a friend of the poet and writer Edith Sitwell, the eldest of the three Sitwell siblings, Osbert, Edith and Sacheverell, who created so much of a stir in English artistic circles between the wars. The Gorer’s had three sons,Geoffrey, Peter and Richard.  On the 1911 census, Edgar and his family were living at #45 Netherhall Gardens, Hampstead.  Geoffrey was 6 and Alfred Mace was 3,( possibly Peter Alfred).  The third son Richard was not  born until 1913.

#45 Netherhall Gardens looks new so original house may have been torn down as #47 is the older home at the end of the drive

Edgar Gorer, his wife Rachel. mother Hannah and sister Annue

Edgar Gorer, his wife Rachel. mother Hannah and sister Annie


Edgar continued to grow his business and opened up a store in New York on Fifth Avenue. Michael Dreicer was the sole agent for Edgar in the US and Canada. Gorer, as the business  became known, moved Edgar into the realm of an international dealer in Chinese Art, especially Chinese Ceramics,  boasting major clients in Britain and across the Atlantic. Edgar  gained a reputation for buying up important collections, such as that formed by Richard Bennett, Sir William Bennett, George R. Davies and Alfred Trapnell, and promoting them through exhibition and privately printed catalogues.



Old Chinese porcelain and works of art

Sole agents for the United States and Canada,

Dreicer and Co., (Jewels) 560 Fifth Avenue, New York.
Gorer, 170 New Bond Street, London, W



Edgar entered into two lawsuits as a result of his high-profile activities, one with William Hesketh Lever over the purchase of the Richard Bennett Collection and Duveen over a Kangxi vase, which Gorer had offered to Frick but which Duveen had claimed was a fake. The latter lawsuit, launched to save his reputation, was never heard in court, as on the day of its announcement, 7th May 1915, Gorer was crossing the Atlantic on the Lusitania which was torpedoed and he lost his life. When Edgar died in 1915, he left an estate of 53,ooo uk pounds to his wife Rachel, who died in 1954.

RIVAL SUES DUVEENS ASKS FOR $575,000; Gorer Says Art Dealers Called His Wares “Fakes” and Spoiled Sale to H. C. Frick. DENIED HE WAS AN EXPERT And Declared They Were the Real Judges of Art, the Complaint Sets Forth.


Edgar’s three sons went on to distinguish themselves in various fields. Geoffrey (1905 – 1985) became a writer and Social Anthropologist and was a colleague of  the American Cultural Anthropologist Margaret Mead. Peter Alfred (1907 – 1961) became an immunologist and pioneered transplant immunology in London and, had he not died an early death from cancer, would likely have received the Nobel Prize.  Richard (1913 – 1994) became a Horticulturist. He wrote a number of books and  also edited Edith Holden’s hand-written diary about wild flowers in the countryside near her home, which she illustrated  with water-colour sketches. This work, published as The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, became very successful. More people know of Richard Gorer because of this book than from any of his other writings.

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