If you think you, or rather I, am getting deja-vu you may not be far out. Two years ago I wrote of meeting friends for a special day that incorporated a trip to the place where I first lived. History was repeating itself as that event is now firmly included in the calendar every April, but the venue yesterday moved a mile or two to another site that sticks firmly in the memory from many moons ago.
Back in the sixties and seventies I would be in the family car as Dad took us back to our roots. Often he would drop Mum off in the West End to mooch around the shops, then we would go to football before we all met up again at my grandparents house, just off the New North Road. Invariably our route to the game would take us past the distinctive railings of the old Caledonian market in London N7.
The glorious Victorian ironwork was past its best even in those days, when in fact they were a bright shade of blue, rather than the black of today. Dad would tell tales of marching down to the place that replaced Smithfield as the livestock market up until the second World War. Thereafter it became home to a market for bric-a-brac and second hand goods until closed down at the end of the fifties.
I think one of the reasons it stayed in my memory was that in the seventies, when the site started to get developed, it was home to the first astroturf football pitch to be installed in the UK. How strange it felt yesterday to be on the third version of that pioneering technology.
The other distinctive feature of the old market site was unquestionably the magnificent Clock Tower that always drew admiring glances from passers by. Much of the original site became part of an estate development that, like the one that replaced my first home, became a problem area, and redevelopment, with a bit of ‘social engineering’, is being attempted to alleviate those problems. Chunks of the original market remain though, in the shape of a park, playground, and sporting facilities. Seeing them again brought the memories flooding back.
Dad will celebrate his eighty-eighth birthday in the coming week. I called him this evening and told him of my excursion yesterday. “I wouldn’t know it now, I expect”, he said. So I told him the Clock Tower and the railings remain, and there was more than a hint of recognition in his response. It was a good venue to share a couple of hours with new friends. I hope the local authority maintain it for future generations.
Positive associations do not always accompany mentions of ‘the Cally’, but it is a special and atmospheric place.