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A Straight Line Walk Across London
by Paul K Lyons
65 - Tufnell, Truefitt, and Murcell's Theatre (not to mention the Year of the Sex Olympics)
I back track a few steps from the library to the Copenhagen Pub, and turn into Dalmeny Avenue named after Archibald John Primrose, the fourth Earl of Roseberry and Lord Dalmeny (Dalmeny Park being in Scotland). His eldest daughter, Lady Ann Primrose married Henry Tufnell MP. There are housing blocks on both sides of the avenue, dating from the 1950-60s on the right, and the 1940s on the left (such as Buckhurst House with its long balconies curving round the block's corners). Behind the much more modern Travers House is Holloway School. I cut through Trecastle Way, past cream-painted town houses, with parking bays in front, into the older and more traditional Carleton Road. This is yet another road named after a member of the Tufnell family, this one being Edward Carleton Tufnell (1806-1886).
There's a mixed bag of housing along the east side of Carleton Road, such as the 1960s Dolphin Court. Next to it is an entrance to Penderynn Way, another road of maisonette infilling, like Trecastle Way, with tarmac parking slots. On the west side Carleton Road there are large properties dating from the early Victorian period, many with mature trees in their front gardens. The garden of number 77 is so completely overgrown that access to the front door looks impossible without a hatchet. The Tufnell surveyor Truefitt, after leaving Middleton Row, lived for much of his life here in Carleton Road, in a house called Fernbank, but it no longer exists. Further along, on the corner of Crayford Road (and opposite St George's Avenue), stands the new St George's Church. Designed by Clive Alexander, it dates from the 1970s - and looks it! Heavily flat-topped and recognisable as a church only by the large wooden cross that stands facing Crayford Road, there is nothing welcoming about this building at all. In fact, it almost looks like an exercise in creating something as different from the old St George's as possible.
The old St George's is still extant a few yards to the north and sited on an angled corner plot exactly by the 300 easting. This church was designed by Truefitt and built in the 1860s as a free church for those dis-satisfied with the Anglican church. It's peculiar because of the external circular shape, said to have been modelled on the Knights Templars' buildings, and octagonal internal structure. There's also a bell-tower, long since derelict, which was added in 1875. Today the building stands boarded up and empty. A closed gate carries this notice: 'This car park is in constant use - no parking.' But the car park is full of litter and leaves and clearly hasn't been in constant use for some time. Bright yellow signs warn that the premises are protected by security officers with patrol dogs. At the eastern end of the church, several wooden extensions have been added, apparently on top of each other, filling out the angle of the corner between Carleton Road and Tufnell Park Road.
The church fell into disuse in the early 1960s, but, because of its circular
core, it found a new congregation. After campaigning for several years,
the actor George Murcell was able to buy the property and, in the 1970s,
open St. George's Elizabethan Theatre. Murcell aimed to present Shakespeare's
plays in the round, as they were produced in the 16th century, and to give
young actors a classical training. The venture was never wholly successful,
with funding always a problem. By the late 1980s it had fallen dark. Since
then, there have been various attempts to revive the venue - theatre events
and Sunday jazz, for example, were on offer in 2001. Clearly, though, the
Grade II listed building is now in trouble and sorely in need of investment.
The owners have attempted to sell it on several occasions, so far without
success. Meanwhile, the Save London Theatres Campaign has being lobbying
Islington councillors (to oppose 'change-of-use' planning applications),
and a theatre development trust has been established. Murcell died in 1998
after a long and varied career working - often as a villain - in films and
TV dramas. As an example of the former, he was a spymaster in the 1988 'Pascali's
Island'; and, as an example of the latter, in 1968 he played Grels in 'The
Year of the Sex Olympics' which starred Leonard Rossiter as Ugo Priest.
A Straight Line Walk Across London - along the 300 easting
by Paul K Lyons
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