Vladimir Ilyich Lenin might not be the first name that pops into your head when you think about the area now home to Bevin Court, but in fact Lenin made this area his base on two of his visits to London during the early 1900s. This page can not tell the full story of these visits, but we’ve got some interesting articles, so click through and explore the links between Lenin and Bevin Court.
In 1902 and 1903 Lenin and his wife, Krupskaya, lived in 30 Holford Square. They had left Germany due to police hostility and, being exiled from Russia, came to London.
With them moved the editing and printing of Iskra, translated as ‘The Spark’, the newspaper of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. Lenin found a base for printing Iskra with the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) and their printing press, the Twentieth Century Press, located on Clerkenwell Green (now the Marx Memorial Library).
Harry Queltch, editor of the SDF’s journal Justice, shared his first floor office with Lenin so that he could work on Iskra. The tiny office accommodated both men and it was said to be a squeeze by Queltch. Visit the Marx Memorial Library and you can see the office in which they worked, it is a tiny space! In 1903 Iskra was moved for publishing to Geneva and Lenin moved with it.
Lenin was to return to this area during his third visit to London for the Third Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party in 1905. During this visit the couple stayed around the corner from Holford Square in 16 Percy Circus. Later Krupskaya reminisced of their time in the capital: “Ilyich studied living London. He liked taking long rides through the town on top of the bus. He liked the busy traffic of that vast commercial city. There were other places too – mean little streets tenanted by London’s work people, with clothes lines stretched across the road and anaemic children playing on the doorsteps… Ilyich would mutter in English through clenched teeth: ‘Two nations!”
Although the New River development, of which Percy Circus and Holford Square were a part, had in the past century enjoyed a high status and been a desirable area to live by the time Lenin visited many of the houses were multi occupancy and the character has a slightly less polished veneer. However, it was by no means the mean little streets that Krupshaya mentions, though you would not have to walk far to reach these slum areas.
During all his 6 visits to London he stayed in and on the borders of the Bloomsbury area. The main reason for this would appear to be his commitment to visiting the reading room at the British Museum. One of the first things that Lenin did upon arriving in London on his 1902-3 trip was to be issued with a reading ticket under the name Dr Jacob Richter, to avoid arousing suspicion. He visited most days, arriving shortly after opening time and working calmly until lunch.
You can read about the history of both Percy Circus and Holford Square by clicking through to the links. Both of the sites that Lenin lived in around Bevin Court have inspired memorials. There is the intriguing story of the two plaques to Lenin on the site of 16 Percy Circus and the two memorials to Lenin in Holford Square. For more about Clerkenwell’s radical roots take a look at Islington Heritage’s Radical Clerkenwell.