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‘Islington is where my heart is’: Black history tours with Avril Nanton

PUBLISHED: 16:05 25 October 2017 | UPDATED: 17:33 25 October 2017

Black history tour guide Avril Nanton. Picture: Polly Hancock

Black history tour guide Avril Nanton. Picture: Polly Hancock

Archant

As Black History Month draws to a close, the Gazette chats to Avril Nanton – who runs African Caribbean tour guides – about the spirit of Islington.

A plaque on the site of 28 Penton Street, the London headquarters of the African National Congress from 1978 to 1994. Picture: Polly Hancock A plaque on the site of 28 Penton Street, the London headquarters of the African National Congress from 1978 to 1994. Picture: Polly Hancock

Most people think of little more than shops and bars when they walk around the centre of Islington, by Angel station. Few realise it has such important African Caribbean heritage.

The London office of the African National Congress, for example, used to be in Penton Street. It was bombed in 1982, seriously injuring a caretaker and shattering windows 400 yards away. The Eritrean Embassy, meanwhile, is in White Lion Street.

One person who knows all about this is Avril Nanton. She leads black history tours across London. And, having grown up in the borough, Islington is one of her specialties – and passions.

Avril, 59, was born in the Caribbean island of Dominica. Her family moved to Islington in the late 1960s, living in Ockendon Road and later in Murray Grove and Hornsey Road.

“As a child, Islington was fabulous,” she recalls. “We knew every single person in Ockendon Road. I played with all the kids throughout the summer. There was a huge mix: Turkish, Greeks, English, Italians.

“We lived in a house that had five families on five different floors. All of those families shared one bathroom, which wasn’t fun. It also meant there was no privacy, as such. You could hear everybody else’s business.

“My mother was quite strict as a parent. Whenever my mum would hit me, I’d hear the people underneath us running up the stairs screaming ‘leave her alone’. But a lot of black parents were strict in the ‘60s and ‘70s. We weren’t backed into the corner and kicked to death, but it was quite normal to be given a smack if you misbehaved.”

Now of Enfield, she moved out of Hornsey Road in the early 1980s. But she is clear: “Islington is where my heart is.”

Avril started tour guiding two years ago. When on a bus tour with her husband she realised: “I know a lot about London!”

She continues: “I did informal tours for friends and they said I should take it up. I then met a professional guide who advised me to do the same thing.

“So I took a tour guiding course at the University of Westminster. Ideally enough, the area they chose to cover as part of the course was the south of Islington.”

She launched her company, Avril’s Walks and Talks, a year ago, and now wants to develop her Islington tour to include the borough’s north: “The information is scarce. It isn’t as readily available as in the south. But it has to be somewhere, as I grew up there – and I know there were definitely black people around!”

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