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The London haunts of VI Lenin

Lenin memorial in Islington, 1942 (pictuer courtesy of Islington Museum)
Lenin's memorial in Islington attracted both pilgrims and antipathists

One hundred and forty years since the birth of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, Darina Kucheruk of BBCRussian.com retraces the revolutionary's steps through London.

Few people know that a housing project named after Lenin was commissioned in London in the early 1940s. Designed by a Russian emigre architect, Berthold Lubetkin, who is now considered one of the giants of constructivism, it was to be called Lenin Court.

But by the early 1950s, when the project was completed, the Cold War was in full flow. As a result, the building was renamed Bevin Court, honouring Britain's firmly anti-communist Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin.

"I still write my address as Lenin Court instead of Bevin Court. Letters are delivered anyway because of the postcode," says local resident Craig Ford.

An avowed left-winger, Mr Ford has repeatedly proposed that the building be renamed after Lenin, and that a Lenin memorial built in a square nearby be reinstalled.

The memorial, also designed by Lubetkin, marked the site of Lenin's lodgings at Holford Square and was erected in 1942.

Craig Ford in Lenin Court/ Bevin Court
For Craig Ford Bevin Court will always be Lenin Court

It became a focus of pilgrimage for British communists - but was also regularly vandalised and eventually needed a 24-hour police guard.

After the outbreak of the Cold War the memorial was closed and Lenin's bust removed. Lubetkin managed to bury the memorial plaque surreptitiously.

"During the last stage of the construction of Bevin Court, Lubetkin hired a crane and brought the memorial here to bury it in a basement of the building," explains Mr Ford.

Despite Lubetkin's fears, Lenin's bust itself has survived. For many years it gathered dust in storage at the mayor's office in Islington. Now the bust is part of the collection of Islington Museum.

"After the memorial was vandalised many times, Lubetkin made a few copies of the bust. For a long time we were certain that here, in the museum, we had one of the copies. But later it turned out to be the original," says Alex Smith, who works in the museum.

Today, a small memorial board near Holford Square reminds passers by that the leader of the world's proletariat lived there, in 1905.

Capitalists buried

Lenin came to London six times, spending a lot of time at the British Library, where for the first time he got access to Karl Marx's works.

"Many people at the library remembered Lenin as a short, hard-working man who read avidly. He always ordered huge amounts of books and read them amazingly fast, with astonishing energy and drive," says historian Helen Rappoport.

Moreover, according to her, London became for Lenin a symbol of the evil he wanted to destroy. He often invited friends to walk through the East End, to show the gap between the classes.

"It's quite ironic that a capitalist state like Britain gave Lenin access to books, freedom of action, financial aid. And precisely here, in London, Lenin wrote his books about destroying world capitalism," smiles Ms Rappoport.

Mural at Marx Memorial Library in London
A communist hero is shown destroying capitalist London

In the Marx Memorial Library in London there is a mural, made in 1935. It shows a bare-chested worker surrounded by a blue-eyed Lenin, Marx and Engels. The worker is breaking the chains and shaking the whole world. Big Ben is falling down, burying the capitalists.

"You can see that the painter copied Lenin from black and white photography. Remarkably this mural survived World War II, when a bomb fell on the roof of our building," says director of archives John Callow.

The library also contains a room where, in 1902-1903, the Russian revolutionary edited and printed the Iskra newspaper.

The room houses several busts of Lenin, brought here by numerous delegations from the Soviet Union. Mikhail Gorbachev, Nikita Khruschev and other politicians also visited this room during their visits to London.

"You can either love or hate Lenin, but he's part of history without which the world wouldn't be the same," says Mr Callow.

Historic meeting

One theory is that Lenin met Stalin for the first time in London, in 1905.

Crown Tavern in Clerkenwell
Local legend holds that Lenin first met Stalin at the Crown Tavern

At least that is what the staff at the Crown Tavern in Clerkenwell say. It is here that the historic meeting allegedly took place.

"I know that Lenin often came to our pub. It's even mentioned in our book. According to archives, Lenin held a meeting with Stalin here in 1905," says manager Jason Robinson.

"This meeting took place more than 100 years ago but people still come to our pub and are interested in its history," he says.

For some, Lenin's important years in London are still very relevant today.



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