Renowned sibling writers Charles and Mary Lamb lived in a property at 64 Duncan Terrace in Islington from 1823-27 and, their visitors there apparently included Mary Shelley.

Shelley had returned to London in 1823 after the death of her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley who had drowned along with two other men off the coast of Italy in July the previous year.

Back in London, Shelley lived in various properties as far afield as Kentish Town – many of which are no longer extant. But one home she was known to have visited after her return (which is still standing) was that of the Lambs.

Charles, part of the literary circle which included Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth, described the property – Colebrook Cottage – as a “white house with six good rooms”. Now Grade II-listed, it dates from the 18th century.

The New River once ran close by  – so close, in fact, that one guest, believed to be the blind poet George Dyer, walked into the river after leaving the house and had to be rescued by Lamb. The river is now covered.

The property features an English Heritage Blue Plaque (although in this case, it’s actually brown), commemorating Lamb’s stay here.

PICTURE: Spudgun67 (licensed under CC BY 2.0).

 

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New-River

Taken along New River Walk which follows the course of the “New River” in Islington. The New River, completed in 1613, was a man-made canal which brought water from Hertfordshire to New River Head in Clerkenwell (it now takes water to reservoirs in Stoke Newington). PICTURE: David Adams.

The Welsh-born “merchant adventurer” Sir Hugh Myddelton (also spelt Myddleton or Middleton) is best remembered in London for the construction of the New River, a water engineering project which still provides some of city’s water.

Sir-Hugh-MyddeltonBorn about 1560, the sixth son (and one of 16 children) of Richard Myddelton, governor of Denbigh Castle in Wales, Hugh Myddelton travelled to London to seek his fortune and there became apprenticed to a goldsmith before himself becoming a member of the Goldsmith’s Company in 1592 (he later became warden of the company).

Operating out of premises in Bassishaw (now Basinghall Street), he gained a reputation among the wealthy and nobility for his work and was appointed Royal Jeweller to King James I (he had apparently also supplied jewellery to Queen Elizabeth I).

Myddelton became a wealthy merchant and banker, and, in 1603, he also succeeded his father as MP for Denbigh Borough, a post he held repeatedly until 1628.

Sir Hugh became one of the driving forces behind the New River project which aimed to address the strain on London’s water sources by bringing clean water from the River Lea in Hertfordshire via a 39 mile-long canal to New River Head in London.

After an aborted earlier attempt to build a canal from Hertfordshire to London (which had run into financial difficulties), Sir Hugh was granted authority to carry out the works for the New River in 1609 and employed mathematicians like Edward Pond and Edward Wright to direct the course with the man behind the earlier attempt, Edmund Colthurst, overseeing the works.

By 1611 it became clear to Myddelton that he wouldn’t have the necessary funds to complete the works so he obtained the financial aid of the king (in return the king was to get half of all profits).

The project was eventually completed in 1613 and a ceremony was held at the New River Head in Islington where the canal then terminated (just south of where Sadler’s Wells Theatre now stands).

Myddelton, who continued to diversify in business and made considerable sums from his ownership of lead and silver mines in Wales as well as from a land reclamation project on the Isle of Wight, became the first governor of the New River Company when it was created by royal charter in 1619 and remained a key figure in it until his death. He was created a baronet in 1622.

Myddelton, who married twice, had 15 or more children to his second wife – only about half of whom survived him. He died on 7th December, 1631, and was buried in the now demolished St Matthew Friday Street where he had been a church warden (some of his children were buried there as well). One of his brothers, Sir Thomas Myddelton, was a Lord Mayor of London.

Among memorials to Sir Hugh in London is a statue of him on Islington Green which was unveiled in 1872 by William Gladstone, later PM. There is also a statue of him on the Royal Exchange (pictured) and a number of Islington streets have been named for him.

For more on London’s historic water sources, see London’s Lost Rivers: A Walker’s Guide.