On Saturday 8th September 2012 Angela Inglis was joined by Norma Steel, Malcolm Tucker, Andrew Bosi, Bob Stuckey, Alec Forshaw and Nigel Buckner to give a talk on “King’s Cross: A Sense of Place” at Housmans Bookshop, Caledonian Road.
Angela gave a short introduction saying how she came to put this book together. Her main aim, she said, was to make a photographic record of how the plan to build an international station at King’s Cross was thrown out in favour of St Pancras.
She said that it had occurred to her since publishing Railway Lands, a book mainly about St Pancras, that the local people’s campaigns against the previous proposal at King’s Cross was something to be investigated. She told how on 4th June, 2010, Diana Shelley, a veteran Islington campaigner, had introduced her to Norma Steel, Randal Keynes and Aron Cronin in Battlebridge Communal Gardens, gardens which Norma and her friends, in the early eighties, with the help of Islington Council, had created from an old car park. Mary Henkel, a former neighbour of Norma, who has access to these gardens (and who was at Housmans for the talk that evening), arranged the event. Bob Stuckey also joined them as his father, Derek Stuckey, had been a campaigner to save the South Cally.
On meeting these campaigners Angela realised that – in addition to the fight to stop the International Station at King’s Cross due to the proposed destruction of Caledonian Road and 150 buildings – Norma Steel had her own story to tell. Thus began a completely different book from the one she had set out to create. It became an account of three successful campaigns, starting in 1973 with Norma, continuing with the fight to stop British Rail destroying a whole neighbourhood in order to build an international station and finally a campaign to save the industrial heritage. All these areas were close together. Angela then asked Norma to speak about her campaigning, initially to save her family home.
Norma Steel described her experience in Balfe Street from 1973 to the early eighties and how she was able to save the houses from the bulldozer. She told how she was helped by Martin Lipson, Paul Lowenberg , Leslie Pritchard with Margaret Hodge at Islington Council, Chris Smith, now Lord Chris Smith, her local MP and her family and neighbours. Her daughter, Sally, and her granddaughter, Amelia, were with her. (Sally and her husband, Peter, had both worked hard with Norma and her neighbours on the campaign to save their neighbourhood.)
There has been a great deal of interest in Norma since she appeared in the BBC film ‘The Secret History of Our Streets’, Caledonian Road, on 20th June 2012. However, the film only gave a snippet of her experience whereas, as she says, the book gives the full story. Norma led the way due to her love of family and their neighbourhood and her determination, with the help of others, to save it.
Alec Forshaw spoke about the saving of the Industrial Heritage, some of which can be seen on the cover of the book. And he told how he as the Conservation Office of Islington Council, with the help of Mike Bruce, improved the appearance and structure of many of the buildings in the Caledonian Road for which there was a substantial grant. There had been competitions each year for improving shop fronts and other premises. He pointed out Val and Tony Rees who had won a prize for the improvement of their pottery shop. This pottery shop is still there today.
Andrew Bosi explained the importance of Lisa Pontecorvo in Islington in helping to preserve the heritage and for whom he had written a tribute. Bob Stuckey described his father’s involvement in the South Cally area and in the fight against British Rail. His father, Derek Stuckey, a property owner, was well known and had been instrumental in keeping the rents low in shops serving the people who lived there. He described how the buildings in his father’s terrace opposite Housmans were now being repaired. All these buildings would have been lost if the international station had been built at King’s Cross.
Finally Nigel Buckner gave a short talk on the design of the book which was welcomed by all.
It was a delightful evening and everyone there thought it very worthwhile.