Born and Bred: Stories of Holloway Road

About seven years ago, I spent a month volunteering at the local history museum in my hometown, North Tonawanda, New York. During that time, I was involved in an oral history project and interviewed Lt. William S. Strapko, a WWII pilot. He was married for 70 years before his wife Irene passed away last year. As you can imagine, he had a lot of stories to tell. We captured William and Irene on video and it is now resting in the archives. I learned that there is a great value in preserving memories for future generations. And in a certain way, blogging does the same.

Islington based charity Rowan Arts spent the last year working on an oral history of the diverse area of North London that is the Holloway Road. Last week, they launched a book – Born and Bred: Stories of Holloway Road at the exhibition opening (Old Fire Station, 84 Mayton Street, N7 6QT). Holloway Road starts in Archway and carries on to Whittington Park passing London Metropolitan University’s north Campus. For the project, 38 volunteers and staff worked on the project and interviewed 51 people who live and work along the road – between the ages of 11-86. I always love a bit of insight into the lives of Londoners and these photos are great too.

Here are a few highlights in the form of quotes and photos sent to LLO by the project team:

Photo: Samir Singh by Conrad Williams

Samir Singh was born in 1981 in Highbury, to parents who came over from East Africa in the 1970s. Since 2005 he has worked for Arsenal Football Club, where he helped set up the Club museum as Curator and is Education Assistant for Arsenal in the Community, which involves delivering projects to local schools, libraries and estates.

“I remember one day back in 2005 or 2006 cycling all the way up and down Holloway Road taking pictures of ghost signs – old Victorian painted advertising signs. Half of them have gone now in the intervening 5 or 6 years.”

“Local shops still do well despite the presence of a big Morrison’s supermarket and a big independent department store, Selby’s. The market in the school seems to be very busy and the local Turkish late night shops seem to do well.”

“Looking at old maps of Holloway, the present location of the Nag’s Head Market used to be an apple orchard. They still sell fruit and veg today.”

Mathew Dickinson by Teresa Eng

Mathew Dickinson was born in 1967 in Barnet and set up Mathew Dickinson Flowers, based in the Clarendon Buildings in Archway in 2002.  Mathew’s business has provided flowers for some of the biggest names in London, which have included shops such as Selfridges and Harrods, Downing Street and Buckingham Palace.

“[My mum’s] a very keen gardener and that’s how I really started growing flowers.  She gave me a little patch of garden where she used to plant and grow things and it sort of started from there.  Then my father lost the use of his legs so I then took over the mowing and the weeding.  I turned it over and I built myself a greenhouse out of bits of wood and plastic and I started producing some better plants to sell.  When I was about 17 I was producing about 5000 a year out of this little greenhouse… my love of plants was started back then.”

“We do a few businesses where we provide flowers for them… We do a lot of Christmas windows… We’ll do something unusual like snowballs hanging with ultraviolet light with snow on the window, stars, candle trees, we had cupcakes this year.  It’s just always very different.  One lady cycled past, looked in the window and she fell off her bicycle.  People just come and see the lights.  It’s great fun… We do about 80 Christmas trees, which take about 4 hours each so we’re very busy over the Christmas period… We do lots of banks in the city, we do the Institute of Civil Engineers on Parliament Square, we do Southebys and then we do a Royal and Parliamentary ones as well.  We’ve done Selfridges, we do stuff in Harrods, we do stuff everywhere really.”

Ellie Rowsell and Sadie Cleary by Isabelle Gressel

Ellie Rowsell was born July 1992 at Whittington Hospital and has lived on Tollington Way, near Holloway Road her whole life. Sadie Cleary was born November 1992 and grew up just off Holloway Road. Sadie is currently studying nursing in Oxford but returns to Holloway regularly. Ellie and Sadie met each other whilst attending Mitford Nursery when they were three years old and have remained friends ever since. They are currently in a band together called ‘Wolf Alice’ and play regularly at The Florin pub by Whittington Park. ‘Wolf Alice’ was formed when Ellie won the Holloway Arts Festival Singer Songwriter Competition in 2010.

Ellie: “We do draw a lot of influence from Holloway in our songs I think, in the sense that we’re quite down to earth and genuine about what we write about our lives. Obviously living here all of our lives is going to have some sort of impact and so I think that’s quite a big reflection on our music really.

Sadie: “You walk down Holloway Road and without a doubt you bump into someone you know or recognise. Like Elvis, the famous Elvis of Holloway Road. He’s this Elvis impersonator who lives around Holloway Road. He’s really good actually.”

Laurence Evans by Dylan Collard

Laurence Evans was born in Whittington Hospital in 1952. He lived first in Poynings Road and then moved to Caledonian Road where he has lived since 1962. He has volunteered at Second Chance charity shop at 7-9 St John’s Way, in the middle of Archway roundabout, since 2008.

“We’ve got a couple of customers, like a lady called Jenny who comes in and has a cup of tea or coffee and a couple of biscuits, she comes maybe three times a week and there’s a couple of other people who just come in for a cup of tea and they just like the atmosphere and the service.”

“Barry [the manager] and one of our volunteers Basil, they do all of the window displays and a lot of people have commented that the windows are very nice, and ask ‘do you have a professional come in?’ and no it’s just done by volunteers who have a knack for doing window displays. I don’t think I could do that. After Christmas we just did a purely black and white window and people commented that it was a very nice difference. A lot of people say ‘Oh I like that in the window, is it for sale? We don’t want to disturb your window display’ and I say ‘No, everything in the window is for sale’. So you have to take it out of the window and sell it to the customer and then try and find something to replace it.”

Jeremy Deller by Isabelle Gressel

Jeremy Deller was born in 1966 in Southwark. He studied Art History at the Courtauld Institute of Art. He moved to Holloway Road in 2003 and won the Turner Prize in 2004 for his installation “Memory Bucket”, a documentary about Crawford, Texas, the hometown of George W. Bush and the siege in nearby Waco.

“[Holloway Road’s] a proper, functioning street or road and it reminds me of roads, or streets, in California, places like Oakland or LA, it has that kind of feel to it, with all of the small businesses and the amount of traffic. It’s more like somewhere in California than in London.”

“I’ve lived in East London. I lived in Shoreditch. You have to live in Shoreditch if you’re an artist at some point but that was just annoying, because it’s just full of people like yourself, or you’re just bumping into people you know all of the time. Whereas this is a lot more private, because you don’t know everyone, necessarily, around here. It’s busier so more private. I’m not looking for a community of artists. I mean, I’ve done that before. I lived in Shoreditch and it was full of people I knew, so I’m not looking for that. It’ll ruin it, let them all stay in East London.”

George Bartlett by Tim Mitchell

George Bartlett was born in Dalston in 1946.  Up until his recent death in June 2012, he owned Bartlett’s Hi-Fi at 175-177 Holloway Road which was opened by his father in 1958. The shop continues to run as he would have wanted. George joined the company in the early 1960s. George sang at the Royal Opera House as a soprano until he was fourteen years old. Sadly, George died shortly after being interviewed.

“I was fortunate that my school supplied the urchins (because that’s what you’re called in operas). The first opera I went into was La Boheme. I was chosen to speak on stage at Covent Garden. I’ve sung in all different languages which is what opera is all about. I sang in front of the Queen at Covent Garden which was really good. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m so proud of myself because of what I learnt and saw. Now I can appreciate anything that’s going on musically.”

“The thing I can remember on Holloway Road is that I met John Lennon. He came up to have his haircut. It was quite interesting because all of a sudden I saw this white Rolls Royce across the road and, being quite young, I dived over there to see who it was because in those days it was not common, so you knew it was someone famous. All of a sudden John Lennon came out after having his hair cut and said hello to me. I was quite chuffed as I’d always admired him.”

“The parade we’re on used to be a market. I can remember when I was twelve or thirteen years old you’d come down and it would be packed with stalls, packed with people… It used to be very vibrant.”

Listen to the interviews at

Do you have any memories of Holloway Road?
If so, leave a comment and let us know!


8 comments on “Born and Bred: Stories of Holloway Road

  1. Although I was born in France where I lived until I was 22, as I made the move over the Channel, Holloway is we’re I landed as I arrived in September 1997 to start my Erasmus year at what was at the time North London University. And what was supposed to be a 9-month adventure turned up to a 15 years
    Love Story with London and especially Holloway Road where I lived for 9 years. And even after moving West (the things you do for love!), I somehow managed to find a job 18 months ago in a charity based just here, on the one and only Holloway! And in between I studied my Master at what is now London Met. And as I walk up and do the Road every day, the story of my London life and its many mostly vey happy memories accompany me and give me this homey feeling that no other side of London ever gave me. Bias, I am, there is no doubt! But with Highgate Cemetary on one end (one of my all time favourite place in London) and buzzing fancy Upper Street on the other end, with the lovely Highbury Fields and the shiny Emirates (aka the Mother Ship for us, the Gunners Fans) in the middle, why look anywhere else really?!
    Yes, a pad around the Holloway is on my Christmas list! 😉

  2. It’s funny that I’ve been commenting here the past few days about my life as an expatriate (from NY) in London in the 70’s. And now to find this post about Holloway Road. That’s where I lived. I know I walked along it often but time has dulled my knowledge of exactly which street it was. I lived on Wray Crescent which I believe met demolition due to urban renewal shortly after I left.
    I can, kind of, sort of, place Seven Sisters Road and Hornsey Road and Finsbury Park, but Holloway? Does it lead to Highgate?

  3. I left England in 1957 for the US. Am living in Florida. I can remember
    holloway road as it was back then, walking toward. Hornsby rise and on to Tollington
    park to go to school.
    Shirley Tythe Dollar

  4. I lived on the corner of Ashbrook Road and Elthorne road in the 1960 until 1969 cannot find any old pictures of ashbrook road or eltherone road does any one have any pictures would love to see them.

    • If you go onto Facebook Fraces, look up “I grew up in N19/N4” I’ve put some on there. Gerrards Greengrocers, Rainbow cafe to name but a few. Also a full page Islington Gazette cutting about all the shops in Ashbrook Rd. There are also some of Ashbrook that a chap called Ray Smith put on. Enjoy.

      • Hi Martin I did not see this message at the time that I put it on just saw it is it still on face book for me to look at I know I am a few years late sorry when you went to the trouble to answer me thanks from Frances

  5. I was born in 1949 just off Holloway Rd N19 A road called Comus Rd (formerly Milton Grove) I lived there till 1969 when the council compulsory purchased our house from our landlord , So we moved to Bellingham SE6 , I was 19 at the time but I can remember lots of the places that existed in those days, I also recorded at Joe Meek’s Studio at 304 Holloway Rd N7 in 1965-66, My how time flies .

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