Janet Foster, RSS archives and records management consultant, conducted a tour on 8 July 2019.
Errol Street was laid out in 1883 by the charitable Peabody Trust, set up in 1862 by an American financier to improve conditions in London. The RSS building at no 12 was originally commissioned by Old Leysians (ex-pupils of The Leys School, Cambridge) for the Leysian Mission.
Opened in 1886 to provide accommodation for the London poor, it was run with an emphasis on temperance and prayer; paradoxically, the area was known for gin production because of the high quality of local water. The building proved too small and in 1904 the Mission moved to City Road.
There is little information about later occupants. The building was a radio store in 1947 and housed the Arts Education Foundation in 1986. The RSS acquired it in 1993, refurbished it and moved in in 1995.
Whitecross Street at the opposite end of Errol Street is named for the white cross which marked the border between the lands of the Templars and those of the Hospitallers. Now, part of the street forms the boundary between the City and Islington; its market is one of the oldest in the UK. Shrewsbury Court is a narrow passageway leading to Fortune Street where a blue plaque marks the site of the Fortune Theatre, which moved here from the South Bank in 1600 because of competition from the Globe Theatre and Shakespeare.
The next stop was Dufferin Court on the estate built for the Peabody Trust. There were strict rules: residents were to be chosen from the 'honest and industrious poor'.
The next stop was the Quaker burial ground ('Quaker Gardens') alongside Banner Street, where we saw a stone tablet marking the grave of George Fox, founder of the Quaker faith.
Close by was Bunhill Fields ('Bone-Hill Fields'), a dissenters’ graveyard where about 120,000 people are thought to have been buried; John Bunyan’s tomb is marked by a monument. Squirrels in the graveyard are very tame and approach people expecting to be fed. Nearby is the tomb of Daniel Defoe, and also that of William Blake and his wife. There is a custom of putting coins on the top of their tombstone.
Of particular interest to RSS members is the tomb of Thomas Bayes, founder of the Bayesian approach to statistical inference. There is also a monument to Dame Mary Page, who died in 1728 suffering from extreme dropsy (fluid retention); 240 pints of liquid were drained from her chest on 67 separate occasions, and she didn’t complain at all!
The tour finished at the Artillery Arms pub, previously the Blue Anchor Tavern but now named after the Honourable Artillery Company which has its exercise ground nearby. At one time the pub was famous for 'Tiny the Wonder Dog', a Manchester terrier which could catch 200 rats in an hour in the rat pits under the pub.