17 September, 2008

JMK185G

My friends and I happen to be in the Angel area; we have returned from a walk down the canal from London Fields. At a loose end, I suggest showing them the New River Head, and so in a typically British greyed daylight we head down to Rosebery Avenue to gaze at those glorious edifices. I am still irritated by a mix-up over Belgian beers in a dark pub up Hackney way. We bloody bourgeois, eh? Still, it is hard to remain too endudgeoned when out and about in North London. Round the back of the New River Head I deliver my spiel about the Great Seal and Plui super unam civitatem and the rest of it. A local fellow suddenly appears, just as the sun ceases to be occlouded, and draws our attention to the brick wall encompassing the grounds.


The wall is dotted and scored all over with numbers, letters, codes. What could they mean? You see, said our new interlocutor, there was once a prison near here, and the prisoners, when they were in the exercise yard, would carve their numbers on the bricks. Then the prison was demolished, and the bricks were reused in this wall here. The wall must have gone up in the 1930s with the rest of the Board buildings; the numbers date back to the nineteenth century. We are all delighted by this quiet little effusion of the criminal voice, marring or at least glossing the elegant lines of the chi-chi apartments and gardens beyond.

[15.11.08 update: Upon re-perusing Ulysses, I discover a mention of the gaol in question, in relation to its Fenian spring in 1868, from 'Proteus': "Lover, for her love he prowled with colonel Richard Burke, tanist of his sept, under the walls of Clerkenwell and, crouching, saw a flame of vengeance hurl them upward in the fog. Shattered glass and toppling masonry."]

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

A "JV24601" might have been of interest.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful. I love subversive survivals.

--LH (Google seems to have forgotten me again)

Crown, A.J.P. said...

Which prison, do you know?

crown, A.J.P. said...

They did a very good job with the serifs, I don't think they were Bill Sykes types. Perhaps it was a debtors' prison.

Conrad H. Roth said...

Anon: Yes, good point.

LH: You can at least use the NAME / URL field!

Arthur: Coldbath Fields Prison. I was admiring the serifs too. (And yes, it was a debtors' prison: well guessed!)

languagehat said...

I'll be damned, I never noticed that field before.

Arthur Crown said...

I'd never heard of Coldbath Fields Prison, but from what Wiki says it sounds like it was a cold bath sort of a place -- and it stood on the site of Mount Pleasant, a name I have always loved (so inappropriate for a postal sorting office and therefore all the better).