In the footsteps of Islington’s extraordinary women
Clusters of people are dashing, all in different directions, not considering their surroundings. Around them are the sounds of engines, commuters chattering and footsteps on pavements. It is only appropriate to meet Jen Pedler on her stomping ground of the streets of north London. As a qualified guide for Footprints of London and an associate of the Institute of Tourist Guiding, Jen knows more about these streets and the secrets they treasure than most who walk along them.
“I used to wander around London looking at things and taking photographs and finding out things to show to friends and visitors,” Jen says. Her interest in the historical mysteries of the city gave her the drive to become a legitimate guide. She is qualified to give tours in the City of Westminster, Clerkenwell and Islington, and, since last year, the City of London guide.
Jen has lived in London since the 1970s, moving between Crouch End and Archway. She discovered the city’s hidden stories by “walking around the area, looking at things, thinking about things and wondering about them, and then finding out more”.
Take Edith Garrud, Islington’s famous suffragette. “She was only 4-foot-11 so a very small woman but she was one of the first martial arts teachers in the Western world,” says Jen. “She realised that self-defence was a really useful skill for the suffragettes, so she taught them jujutsu to protect themselves from the police.”
Jen has a wide knowledge of influential women who have lived in north London and who have often been ignored by history.
She goes further to explain that Caroline Chisholm was a woman who helped people emigrate to Australia and “has largely been forgotten”. However, in the 1800s, Chisholm was so famous that people would address a letter to “Caroline Chisholm, London” and it would arrive. Crystal Hale, founder of the founded Islington Boat Club, also became an important figure in Islington when she saved the historical City Road Basin in the 1980s from plans to fill the basin and build on it. Thanks to her the basin survives to this day.
With the centenary of the 1918 Representation of the People Act which gave some women the right to vote, and International Women’s Day, Jen’s expertise is especially relevant. “I think International Women’s Day and the anniversary of women getting the vote brings a focus on women in March and this whole year,” Jen says. She has dedicated guided walks to the untold women of Islington, which she will be conducting throughout the month.
“Whatever walk I’m doing at the time always seems to be my favourite really,” Jen says.
She is still eager to find out more about the histories that flow through the streets of London. To quote Sherlock Holmes, a character featured in Jen’s literary walks: “The world is full of ordinary things which no-one by any chance ever observes.”