Estimated reading time:9 minutes, 19 seconds
Everyone has a story. A corner of Finsbury Park, just off Blackstock Road boasts roads named after Victorian social reformers* such as Wilberforce, Romilly and Plimsoll. But itâs Plimsoll who has been a surprising inspiration for journalist Nicolette Jones. Now sheâs on a mission to get homes all along Plimsoll Road advertising Plimsolls For Plimsoll Day in an RNLI fundraiser for 10 February. Interview by Nicola Baird
When journalist Nicolette Jones wrote about Samuel Plimsollâs campaign to save lives at sea she didnât expect to spend some of the next 10 years caught up in a Plimsoll remembrance campaign â including reawakening the notion of a Plimsoll Day – or fundraising for the RNLI.
âBecause of my book I feel an extra connection to Plimsoll Road, where I live, but I did wonder if it got bad reviews Iâd be so embarrassed Iâd have to move,â says Nicolette in her sitting room. Sheâs taking a break between work and community activities, such as a regular email newsletter to 700+ households and work to brighten front gardens and tree pits with the Blackstock Triangle gardeners.
Luckily The Plimsoll Sensation was an award-winning success, which she celebrated by printing Plimsollâs distinctive looped signature on to a pair of trainers that she wears at the Plimsoll Road street party in July and in February on Plimsoll Day.
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Even now many people associate Samuel Plimsollâs name with a slip-on trainer rather than the Plimsoll line on ships. Indeed it was the crude sticker of a red trainer on the pub sign nearest her home that started Nicoletteâs interest in the man Plimsoll. It all began when she gave a new home to the unwanted pub sign, after The Plimsoll was renamed The Auld Triangle. By 2006 sheâd published the biography.
But instead of momentum slacking off, it grew. In 2013 Nicolette helped establish the Plimsoll Memorial Lecture at St Martinâs Church, Cheriton, near Folkestone, where the great man is buried.
Now 10 years from publication date â and nearly 30 since she first moved to Highbury Grove and subsequently Plimsoll Road â sheâs organising a fourth Plimsoll Day.
âPlimsoll Day was in British calendars for decades after Plimsollâs death, marked on his birthday, 10 February. But then it dropped out of fashion, so Iâve reinvented it and hope on 10 February 2016 people will wear plimsolls to school, work or home and donate ÂŁ1 to RNLI (and possibly tweet their feet),â she explains.
Sheâs also co-operated with estate agent Hotblack Desiato which will sponsor boards in front gardens around Plimsoll Road. âThere are already 10 offers and I hope to have many more. Just tweet me at @nicolettejones if you live nearby and would like a board,â she says.
âPlimsollâs story covers a very interesting slice of Victorian history. Plimsoll gave his name to the load line that marks how deeply a merchant ship can be safely loaded â the Plimsoll line. But it took a long time to achieve, after opposition from shipowners who wanted to load as deeply as possible in order to make as much profit as possible – while sailors drowned. His story is Erin Brockovich in frock coats. A story of social justice and one man taking on the fat cats. Or an individual, and his wife, trying to change the world for a better place. People involved ranged from humble sailorsâ widows to aristocrats who supported the cause. It felt like a campaign involving a cross-section of all classes,â says Nicolette, adding that, âPlimsoll wouldnât be short of causes if he was active today. Still, people who make the profit are not always the people who have to take the risk â just think of todayâs sweatshops, cockle pickers or even rail safety.â
Nicolette Jones uncovers Samuel Plimsollâs connections with Islington
- Plimsoll Road used to be called Templeton Street. It was renamed in his honour in 1886 â while he was in Romania. He may have visited Plimsoll Road as years earlier when he first came to London he worked for his brotherâs coal business on Upper Street.
- HisÂ brotherâs coal office was where Vintage Salt restaurant now is (formerly Maghreb restaurant), at 189 Upper Street.
- The Auld Triangle pub, on the corner of Plimsoll Road and St Thomasâ was originally known as The Plimsoll [or The Plimsoll Arms].
- The music hall song, A Cheer for Plimsoll, written by Fred Albert at the height of Plimsollâs fame in 1876, is sung annually at the Plimsoll Road street party.
- Samuel Plimsoll owned land behind Kingâs Cross, including the Plimsoll Viaduct which he had built. He transported coal from South Yorkshire to Kingâs Cross on the Great Northern Railway. Before that coal would come by sea. He also devised a special sliding grill to unload coal that filtered the dust and made his bags of coal better value than othersâ.
- The Plimsoll Building N1C contains apartments and two state primary schools: the Kingâs Cross Academy and the Frank Barnes School for Deaf Children.
- The Plimsoll Mark inspired the logo of London Underground. Charles Pick, who designed it, acknowledged this. (Its history meant it represented safety, democracy and integrity.) It is now ubiquitous for TfL tube stations. Islington has numerous tubes including Archway, Tufnell Park, Finsbury Park, Caledonian Road, Holloway Road, Angel, Highbury & Islington.
Nicolette grew up in Leeds and was a teenager at the height of the Yorkshire Ripper murders. âWe lived in Headingley. And because of the Yorkshire Ripper, everyone was afraid. I can remember in the shopping precincts this awful booming Geordie voice. It was a recording of a man taunting the police inspector leading the case,â says Nicolette, mimicking the words âhello, Georgeâ which they played in case anyone recognised the voice. âIt was very frightening and turned out to be a hoax. It wasnât Peter Sutcliffe.â
Nicolette is expert at finding happy twists to her stories, perhaps thanks to bringing up two daughters and more than 20 years as childrenâs book reviewer for the Sunday Times. âSome years ago Headingley was identified as a particularly disconnected neighbourhood, but locals changed that: now they have a chat network, an arts centre, and a literary festival. It has become a very lively community,â she explains. âMy mother, who is British-born but grew up in Argentina, was good at connecting people with people and making that link between one personâs need and another personâs capacity to supply. The Neighboursâ News (a regular email newsletter created and shared by Nicolette) echoes that.â
How 19 out of 20 matters
In contrast Finsbury Park was dubbed the 19th friendliest neighbourhood in the UK in a 2014Â Telegraph survey. âThey said the area has a street party, a joint gardening project, a little free library and an email newsletter,â says Nicolette who had a hand in all these projects. âYou can make a place more connected by small things. Thatâs why I say âcommunity begins at homeâ.â
Nicoletteâs love of gardening â working with her friend and neighbour Naomi Schillinger – hasnât just helped green this little corner of N4, itâs also got strangers talking to each other. âThe Blackstock Triangle Gardenersâ principle is that gardening in the back is for yourself but gardening in the front is for everybody. And people talk to you as they go past â itâs very community-building. Soon youâve improved the street scape and you have flowers in tree pits and window boxes that benefit everybody and you have a connection with other people.â
No wonder that Nicolette says âI love the way this area is a microcosm of a perfect world where people get along with each other despite different economic levels, races, creeds, sexuality, language and culture. Long may it last! I canât imagine leaving. I think Nick [her husband Nicholas Clee] and I will become the oldest inhabitants.â
- More info about Nicolette Jones including events she chairs, talks etc on her website.Â SeeÂ www.nicolettejones.com/scheduleÂ for upcoming events.Â @NicoletteJones
- Read Plimsoll Sensation: The Great Campaign to Save Lives at Sea by Nicolette Jones (Abacus 2007) paperback and ebook.
- Plimsoll Day 2016 is Wednesday 10 February. Please support by donating at https://www.justgiving.com/Nicolette-Jones/
- Plimsoll Memorial Lecture 2016 is on Saturday 13 February, St Martinâs Church, Horn St, Cheriton, Kent. Service at 2.30pm, wreath-laying and lecture by maritime historian Richard Woodman at 3pm followed by tea and cakes. Anyone welcome.
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- Wilberforce helped end the slave trade. Romilly campaigned for criminal law reforms including the abolishment in 1814 of death by hanging, drawing and quartering. In 1813 he removed the death penalty for all crimes except treason and murder.
- Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) helps save lives at sea. A former RNLI lifeboat (working from Whitby in the 1970s) has been turned into a playground boat for the enjoyment of children at Drayton Park Primary School.
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