The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Until a year ago, we lived in what is now part of the Local Authority of Islington. Claremont Square is a unassuming Georgian place, somewhat grimy, somewhat filmi1, occupied mainly by the working class but still hosting the occasional upwardly mobile and money-obsessed City worker. It is not a particularly beautiful square. As squares go, it is decidedly, well, edgy. Myddelton Square, though, situated right behind it is a lovely square. Enveloping the pretty church of St Mark, visible from our living room window, it is better maintained, leafier, nicer, and even the squalling teenagers that congregate there, chavvy and inarticulate white kids, overbearing and loud black kids, and mincing and well-slicked Bangladeshi kids, seem to be that much more decorous in Myddelton Square.

London is a city of long memory. It gentrifies but slowly. During the salad days of Victorian England, Claremont Square fell on the border of the parish of Clerkenwell and the borough of Finsbury. The former borough was the more impoverished, the latter middle-class. These divisions have lingered for over a hundred years.

Heading west on Pentonville Road brings one to King's Cross and St. Pancras railway stations, not the most salubrious parts of Central London. Early mornings, on my way to work, I used to be accosted by exhausted and dried up women asking if I wanted any service, love? The area till recently was a hotbed of vice, drugs and tawdry night-clubs. With the regeneration caused by the large Regent Quarter development, the local pushers and whores have found themselves thrust farther west, to Euston station.

Meanwhile, a mile north of Claremont Square are the Victorian gaols of Holloway and Pentonville. Getting out of the Piccadilly Line at the nearby Caledonian Road station is not the happiest way to spend one's time - even today. Small wonder, then, that Chris Wooding set this area as the beginning of the dominion of evil in his book The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray. The delicately nurtured soul needs to turn south and southwest, to the beautifully laid out terraces of Granville Square and Lloyd Baker Street, to soothe himself.

In the late 19th century, Charles Booth conducted a widespread and deeply detailed demographic survey of London. He constructed a Poverty Map of the city and marked out areas that were wealthy, or middle class, or predominantly poor. In keeping with the bluntness of the times, he ascribed the most indigent areas to the lowest class: vicious, semi-criminal. The London School of Economics maintains the online archives of this man's achievements, and it is fascinating to see how little the economic situation of many parts of the city hasn't changed over the decades. In particular, in Booth's survey, which started in 1886 and ended in 1903, the areas immediately to the north and west of Pentonville were marked blue, for poor and very poor, chronic want. Claremont Square was pink, for fairly comfortable, perhaps lower middle-class. Myddelton Square, almost exactly as today, was firmly red, well-to-do.


[1] Believe it or not, but the location agents for the film Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix came to Claremont Square around the end of 2005, asking the local residents for permission to film the Grimmauld Square scene in the area. The wife was very excited about this, especially when we were told that our flat might be used for props. Even the fact that J.K.Rowling describes Grimmauld Square as grimy and run down didn't dampen her spirits. In the event, the filming was done after we moved out, and the wife (barely able to contain her excitement) was only able to see the results when we went to the cinema in July to watch the film.


CHAS said...

Dear Fëanor;

Mae govannen, mellon nin!

Plz Email me. I am writing Harry Potter Places, a travel guidebook for Potterites. You are my only hope of gaining answers to a couple questions I have about Claremont Square.

(Ms. Charly D. Miller)

Charly D Miller said...

Dear Fëanor;

Me again!

Plz, plz, PLZ Email me. Because I live in Lincoln, Nebraska (USA), you are my only hope of gaining answers to questions I have about Claremont Square … Such as (but not limited to), “Is the park locked, and public access denied?”

Elen sila lumen omentielvo!

(Ms. Charly D. Miller)

Fëanor said...

Hiya, and welcome to the blog. Sure, please do shoot across those queries, and I'll answer them if I can.

CHAS said...

There you are!
Plz forgive me for being impatient.

My questions are based on a desire to help Potterites reproduce the screenshots associated with Grimmauld Place. All but one of them can be taken from the street. A SINGLE screenshot requires entry into the park.
I’ve posted it on a Photobucket, so you can see it:
[The other photo shows the SET they built based on Claremont Square. This set also was used for “Baker Street” in the 2009 Sherlock Holmes movie!]

Here are the Questions I have:

Is the park locked, and public access denied???!!!

Using the Google UK Street View, I could see only two gates:
One at the northeast corner of the park … and one just east of the southwest corner.
Are there more gates than that?

Approximately how TALL is that fence on the SOUTH SIDE of the park, at the GATE?
(It looks to be only about 4 feet tall!)

If someone were to risk their crotch and discretely climb over the fence to take a couple pix, do you think anyone would complain?

Lastly! Do you mind that I’m referring to your BLOG as being a confirmation of Claremont Square being the real Grimmauld Place??? LOL

Thank you so much for your help!


Fëanor said...

It's not a park in the middle of Claremont Square, but a water reservoir built 300 years ago by the New River water company. It's overgrown with grass and there are trees around it, and from the street it appears like a mound. . The metal grill fencing is about 10ft tall, and there is no public access. Clearly some CGI wizardry was used to create the view of Grimmauld Sq from inside the 'park' in the film.

I have only ever seen the gate open when some workmen were around. If you tried shimmying over the fence, you would be trespassing.

I have no real evidence that Grimmauld Sq is Claremont Sq, except for what the location scouts told us when they dropped by to get our permission to film. I've read somewhere else that the New River Company (or Thames Water, whoever is the owner now) refused to let the filmmakers entry into the reservoir so they had to use CGI. Again, I'm not sure if this is true either.

But I like to think that my old haunts are part of cinematic history! :-)

CHAS said...

Dear Fëanor!

BLESS YOU for answering my questions!

Between your BLOG entry regarding the Order of the Phoenix Grimmauld Place location scouts, and the Leavesden Studio Grimmauld Place Street SET pix found in the FOCUS POINTS of the Half-Blood Prince Blu-Ray DVD, I can confirm -- without a single doubt -- that the Grimmauld Place SET began as an EXACT REPRODUCTION of the southern Claremont Square street.

You also are correct that “inside the park” OOTP Grimmauld Place scenes were NOT shot at Claremont Square! They were either shot on the Grimmauld Place SET, or they were shot on the west side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields’ park, with a BACKGROUND PLATE of either Claremont Square or the Grimmauld Place SET magically stuck in across from the park.

I would very much like to add you to my “PEOPLE TO THANK” file; the list of people I plan to send a FREE COPY of Harry Potter Places TO (once it is finished). But, to do that, I need you to send me your Email address.


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