JK: from Accra to Archway

Estimated reading time:4 minutes, 49 seconds

Everyone has a story on the Islington Faces Blog.  JK spent his very early years in Ghana but came “very excitedly” to Islington aged seven and a half. Here he shares a little of what it was like growing up around Archway in the 1970s.  Interview by Nicola Baird.

JK: came to Islington aged seven and a half. He's still here.

JK: came to Islington aged seven and a half. He’s still here.

“I was seven and a half when I came to Islington. I was very excited to come to the West with my brother (two and a half years older) and my half-sister (eight years older). We’d been living in Ghana with Nana (our granny) about two hours from the capital Accra. We’d been waiting to join our parents. My father came to London five years earlier in 1972, and my mum in 1973. That was 1977. I can’t imagine doing this now to my daughter and son. I’ve become very sentimental and western,” says JK with his characteristic big laugh as he tries to explain what it was like growing up in an immigrant household. He’s talking to me in St Thomas’ Church hall, N4 while our respective children are busy at the chess club.

“In Ghana a number of kids were waiting to join their parents, and in London it wasn’t unusual for people from my home town to stay for three months or even a year before setting themselves up. My Nana visited in 1985 and stayed for a year!

JK’s mum, a caterer for the police, and dad, originally a teacher who then retrained as an accountant (and went on to work for LBI for 10 years), had a flat in Tufnell Park, N7. “There were six of us in two rooms and a very small kitchen.”

He went to Yerbury Primary School for a term and when his parents were rehoused by the council to a house in Archway, N19 where they still live, he moved to Ashmount Primary School. Secondary saw him at Tollington Park School which was renamed George Orwell School four years later (it’s now Islington Arts & Media, IAMS). Sixth form was in Barnett. He then went to Kingston University subsequently specialising in accounting systems.

“I remember going down to Arsenal for the last 25 minutes. You could see about one goal or so and hadn’t spent any money! We got our pocket money on a Sunday so there was usually nothing left by Saturday – it was quite good to do something for free. The friend I went with ended up being on the Arsenal coaching staff: definitely my friend with the best job.”

“My family were Catholic on my dad’s side. It’s not unusual for Ghanians to go to any church, the big difference is between traditional religions, Islam and Christianity. When my dad was a teacher in Ghana it was common to post teachers to different villages for two year stints, so if a village did not have a Catholic church, he’d just go to the church they had. Ghanians tend to be more religious – I put it down to having more variables you can’t control.”

Islington in the 1970s

  • Catholic Italian families, based around Clerkenwell, sent their children to St William of York on York Way. The Irish Catholic boys went to St Aloysius, N6.

  • Pie shops were big – there were at least two at Archway, one at Hornsey and one at Chapel Market. All gone now.

  • Squats – lots along the top of Holloway road and down Marlborough Road, N19.

  • Arsenal tickets were free (for the last half hour).

  • Pricey phone calls “.. a phone call to Ghana cost half a week’s salary… In those days the only phone in the village/town was at the post office. Someone would go and summon my gran (usually) to come and take the important call from London. Nowadays all our relatives in Ghana have mobile phones and have taken to calling us.”

“The big change in Islington is gentrification. It’s happened all over London and the new communities have gone. When I grew up it was mainly Irish, West Indians, Africans and Greek Turkish. The Greeks have gone, the Turks been replaced by the Kurds and the Irish are still here. Most of the white kids were Irish when I was growing up – my best friends were Darragh and O’Neil.

“When I was growing up the racists were in Islington South. The National Front were giving out the Bulldog outside what is now the Angel shopping centre. The Packington estate and Kings Cross were notorious, but Islington North was OK. My growing up years were not marked by racism.”

JK may have spent a few years in Tottenham and other parts of London, but to his surprise he’s ended up back in Islington. First in a small flat opposite his old school at Wray Crescent, N4, and then in Finsbury Park raising a family.

“There was a time when inner cities were not a place to live, but in the last 30 years that’s changed – people with money want to live in inner cities,” he adds. “When I left school if someone had told me what I’d need to spend to buy a house in Finsbury Park I’d have thought they were a madman!”

Over to you
What was your experience of growing up in Islington? Did it make your a Gunners fan too? By the way, if you’d like to feature on this blog, or make a suggestion about anyone who grew up, lives or works in Islington please let me know, via nicolabaird.green@gmail.com. Thank you. And yes, this blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.