Percy Circus

Percy CircusVladimir Ilyich Ulyanov Lenin, 1870 – 1924, founder of the USSR, stayed in 1905 at 16 Percy Circus which stood on this site. The plaque was initially erected in 1962 on the original building which was demolished in 1968. It was erected on the new building in 1972.

This fake facade is the rear of the hotel on King’s Cross Road. In 1969 the authentic Victorian houses were demolished to make way for the hotel and this was the best the local people could wrest from the developers.

In 1902 Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin) and his wife, Nadezhda Konstantinovna Krupskaya, came to London, aiming to evade persecution, to publish Iskra, the Russian Marxist newspaper. They stayed in a two-room first-floor flat at No. 30 Holford Square from April 1902 to May 1903. Two years later they returned to the area to lodge at No. 16 Percy Circus, from 25 April to 10 May 1905, when Lenin was one of 38 delegates to the Third Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, held by the Bolsheviks, ‘mostly in the backroom of some pub or restaurant’, as he later recalled, to hammer out a strategy for the Russian revolution of that year. Other delegates were put up at Nos 9 and 23 Percy Circus.

Thirty-seven eventful years later Lenin’s residence at No. 30 Holford Square was commemorated by a London County Council tablet (not a blue plaque) and a freestanding borough council monument incorporating a portrait bust. The Finsbury Communist Party first proposed a plaque to Lenin in 1939, but the LCC rejected the suggestion as he would not qualify for a blue plaque until 1944, twenty years after his death. Following the Soviet Union’s entry into the war in 1941 Alderman Harold Riley and the Finsbury Anglo-Soviet Committee revived the idea, with support from Ivan Maisky, the Soviet Ambassador to Britain. In the new political climate the 20-year rule was overlooked. Unveiled in March 1942, the tablet was placed in a section of rusticated ground-floor wall, all which remained of the recently bombed house at No. 30 (Ill. 300). Maisky stated, wrongly and perhaps opportunistically, that Lenin had stayed on the ground floor, but historical accuracy was of secondary importance to his main theme, that the ceremony ‘now would have in it a certain dramatic appeal to public opinion in this country and in mine”

Riley and Finsbury Borough Council had wanted something more permanent, and so commissioned Berthold Lubetkin to design the portrait-bust monument. Unveiled a month later, on Lenin’s birthday, 22 April, this stood opposite the remains of No. 30 in a gap in the square’s railings. It was constructed of concrete, marble and granite, with a coloured-glass panel to bathe the head of Lenin in red light, and a broken chain at its base. Within a year the bust had to be replaced, having been defaced by fascist protesters. A police guard was mounted, but when Riley lost control of the council in 1946 it was withdrawn and further attacks were made. Holford Square was cleared in 1948, and in 1951, with the Cold War underway, the tablet and bust were removed to Finsbury Town Hall for storage; the casing of the memorial was consigned to oblivion by its designer in the foundations of Bevin Court, centrepiece of the housing project which was to have been named after Lenin.

Holford Square and Lenin’s memorials there had long been erased when, in 1960, the Finsbury Communist Party again approached the LCC, this time suggesting that there should be a blue plaque on No. 16 Percy Circus. This was agreed and the plaque was mounted in 1962, despite much critical press comment and the New River Company’s insistence on an indemnity against consequent damage. This memorial too was short-lived. In August 1968 Nos 16–18 were demolished for redevelopment. The Greater London Council, in keeping with its rules, would not allow the plaque to be installed on the new building, and it was given to the mayor of Moscow. However, the developer of the site, Trevor Burfield of Centremoor Ltd, saw to it that a privately made replacement plaque was incorporated into the new hotel’s elevation to Percy Circus. Unveiled in August 1972, in the face of anti-Soviet demonstrations, by the Soviet Ambassador, Mikhail Smirnovsky, standing alongside Burfield, it was immediately covered over again for fear of provoking further trouble.

When Lenin and his wife got hungry and could afford it, they ate in cheap restaurants and came to like fish and chips from the Little Inn or Adam’s Chop House on Gray’s Inn Road. Recently Star Fish shop.

Steve Welsh


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