John Betjeman was an English poet and broadcaster who was born in London in 1906. He is best known for his love of London and his descriptive poetry about the city. In this blog post, we take a look at one of his favourite spots in London and explore why he loved it so much.
Many of you will have seen the statue of John Betjeman located in London’s St Pancras station. The renowned poet is honoured with a bronze sculpture that was created by Martin Jennings and unveiled in 2009. Betjeman led a campaign to save St. Pancras Station and the Chambers from demolition in the 1960’s. John Betjeman was active in saving a number of buildings, including the Blackfriars pub. His statue is a tribute to his campaigning efforts.
There is, however, no reminder in the oasis of Aberdeen Park in Highbury of its connection with John Betjeman. Aberdeen Park is an unexpected expansive leafy haven in inner London with public access. The residents are responsible for most aspects of Aberdeen Park’s upkeep and this is reflected in its relaxing ambience. Why aren’t more places like this?
There are 341 addresses in Aberdeen park, predominantly domestic architecture covering 150 years.
There are four storey Victorian villas on the South and East perimeter with iconic Italianate towers built in 1850’s for prosperous City merchants and well to do families.
St Saviour’s church is the only Grade I listed building in Islington, converted in 1988 but closed in 1980. Designed by William White, architect noted for his part in C19th Gothic revival and church restoration. After moving to London from Lemington Spa he became an Improver in George Gilbert Scott’s (designer of Albert Memorial, Hyde Park) team for two years. William White worked on five churches in London including Battersea and Wandsworth. He moved to Truro, Cornwall. Most of his work was done in Devon and Cornwall.
John Betjeman, the poet, worshipped at St Saviour’s church as a boy with his family before moving to Highgate. His religious beliefs came through in some of his poems including ‘Christmas’ and his autobiography poem ‘Summoned by Bells’ (1960) in which he remembers childhood visits to Aberdeen Park:
Slow walks we took
On sunny afternoons to great-great-aunts
In tall Italianate Houses: Aberdeen Park,
Hillmarton Road and Upper Pooter-land.
Short gravel drives to steepish flights of steps
And stained-glass windows in a purple hall,
A drawing-room with stands of plotted plants,
Lace curtains screening other plants beyond.
His grandparents married at St Saviour’s in 1870 and his parents Ernest and Mabel married in the same church in 1902 and shares it with us in his poem St Saviour’s, Aberdeen Park, Highbury, London N (1948):
Great red church of my parents, cruciform crossing they knew-
Over these same encaustics they and their parents trod
Bound through a red-brick transept for a once familiar pew
Where the organ set them singing and the sermon let them nod
And up the coloured brickwork the same long shadows grew
As these in the stencilled chancel where I kneel in the presence of God.
John Betjeman is currently rate #344 in the top 500 poets.
Hazel Baker is a qualified CIGA Tour Guide who delivers guided walks and private tours in London. View all of Hazel’s walking tours.