July’s Brew : What You Missed

Hello  – my name is Leena and I’ll be guiding you through this month’s bulletin from the Cauldron’s helm.

The flavour

The Cauldron’s July potion was a yokel one – brewed with all the finaries of a life lived locally!  This month we gathered around the feet of the great Hemingford Arms to hear stories well-told and untold from the Caledonian Road. As thousands pace its pavements every day thinking only of closing the gap between their A and their B, it is easy to see all the functionality of one of London’s longest and oldest roads and miss the summation of its beauty. Deep in the belly of the Cauldron this month we attempt to reclaim some of the history, majesty and mayhem – insisting against its status as a ‘way to’ and promoting its status as a location in itself. The road was built in 1826 as a chalk road  – named after the Royal Caledonian Road asylum built for the children of the Scots killed in the Napoleonic wars in 1815 – and since then it has often been the home of the exile, the ‘in-betweener’, the hyphened spirit.

It’s extraordinary history and a lively present came together on the of 29th July to paint us a beautiful picture of what has gone before and perhaps inspire us to be part of what is to come …

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The Ingredients

1.     John enchants us with William Fox’s ‘La Bagatella’ and details us about Islington’s milkmaids  – who were, he informs us, ‘for centuries, famous for all kinds of things’  – a comment that left in its wake much chortling and lead nicely in to the next act…

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2.     Emmie Ward baptises us in the rich melodies of the past with her rendition of ‘Rolling in the Dew’ … that, we learnt, ‘makes the milkmaids fair’. Her haunting tones brought an unexpected stillness to the room as all settled into the beauty of her voice and indeed, the ancestral voices that seemed to linger behind each chorus. You can listen to her music here.

3.     John shared ‘Now Damsel young …’ by William d’Avenant – with great gesticular enthusiasm, and to much applause.



John then roped in a volunteer to help mix us some syllabub – an ancient drink traditionally traditionally made by the milkmaid emptying a cow directly into a jug of cider. Going out to make syllabub with cow-fresh warm milk in Islington’s pastures was one of the great pleasures of London girls for many centuries – like going for an ice cream on Hampstead Heath except much more so. While the girls and their mums went to Islington for a picnic with a syllabub treat, the men and boys would go duck hunting and for archery, and so on. Our willing volunteer, Emmie, tries to mimic this procedure with a rubber glove – a damn sight messier and more entertaining than first expected! Of course, if you haven’t got access to a dairy cow or a willing rubber glove , you can just beat in 300ml of double cream gently with a whisk until it’s fluffy – but I think all would agree this is much more fun!



The Secret History of Our Streets was revealed to us by Paul Berczeller – which is also the title of the documentary he made in 2012. He explained to us why this inviting tweet about his work …

‘Why the fuck is a yank telling the story of Cally Road #yankgohome’

… lead him to some interesting questions about who’s road ‘The Cally’ is, and who has the authority to tell its story. In researching his documentary he went looking for those he thought did – and gave us a glimpse in to the tapestry of interesting individuals he met along the way.

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6.     Next Judith Paris brought forth a passage from an old favourite, Dombey & Son – for what night of London history can be complete without some reference to the Dickens? Her reading ofThe Coming of the Railways brought with it all the comfort of a Dickens reading while still inspiring in us all the excitement of the industrial revolution and the great progress it brought.


7.     Randal Keynes, Angela and Nigel Bucker came to speak to us about the passion for their local area that lead them to fighting against those who treat King’s Cross ‘only as a place to pass through, rather than a place to live in and to savor’. The book, born of the campaign, King’s Cross: A Sense of Place, of which they are part, looks at the community spirit that peppers the history of the area and is available here.

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8.     Verona Chard drew from the spirit of south end of the Cally where it meets the West End with her rendition of Daddy Wouldn’t Buy Me A Bow Wow – which developed quickly into a spirited sing-a-long.

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9.     Norma Steel, daughter of Cally Legend pub pianist Clara Brown, generously shared her personal memories about her mother and of growing up as the ‘Star Baby’. Norma’s mother started her career playing for silent films in the twenties and entertained the residents of Caledonian Road from the thirties, through the war-riddled forties and into the fifties and sixties. Her stories were received with awe and great warmth.

10.   Verona Chard visited the stage again, this time to treat us to The Last Rose of Summer.

11.  Eliza Shaddad broke our hearts and stirred our souls with her melody to the words of a poem by Allan Cunningham, My Ain Countrie and spoke to us of the duality and unity that comes with her Scottish/Sudanese heritage.

12.   Exile in London – Abdi Cadani, now enjoying a successful career as a camera man for major documentaries and studios, came to share his experiences making a home for himself in London after his arrival here as a young teenager without his family. Humble and from the heart, his sincerity did not fail to touch every heart in the room.

13.   A duo comprised of Frank Biddulph’s arrestingly skilled violin melodies and Beatrice Parvin’s mesmerising movement, Coeur Vagabond  lead us to the eastern spirit of the Cally via Egypt and Turkey – an aromatic blend of beauty and daring, followed by much hankering after an encore (which was generously appeased).

And that concluded our July in the simmering depths of the Cauldron. A night themed around the majestic cartography of the Caledonian Road and made special by the residents who shared their affectionate thoughts with us that evening. Ingredients already so significant alone are shown to illuminate one another when placed end to end in the melting pot that is The Cauldron. By focusing so intently on one geographical location, I was struck by how rich and varied the subject matter became– by way of being absolutely specific, somehow the spirit of this road encompasses all. And so, under the careful and imaginative watch of Rebecca and John, stories that stretch the distance and span the history of the Caledonian gathered around under the roof of The Hemingford Arms like scouts around a campfire  – much to the enchanted delight of all who attended. The Cally, built for exiles and ran by a tapestry of souls, became home that night.

Come and join us on Monday the 16th at the Hemingford Arms for the next installment!  

Signing out,

Leena Normington