Avril Nanton has a passion for Black History in Tottenham, as well as the history across London. Having spent time living in Tottenham, she has an amazing knowledge of the area from a black cultural perspective. Avril has turned this passion into a career by becoming one of London's few Black Female Professional Guides and starting her own tour company "Avril's Walks & Talks". Rachel Ho caught up with Avril to find out more of the story.
Photo from https://www.facebook.com/avrilswalksandtalks: Avril Nanton posing in front of
one of Carleen de Sozer's pieces in Tottenham.
Where did you grow up and what did your parents do?
I was born in Dominica in the Caribbean. Not the Dominican Republic; everyone always gets them mixed up! I came to London when I was seven years old and we lived on the borders of Islington and Hackney. It’s where I grew up. My mother, who lived in London, was a cleaner. My father, who lived in Dominica all his life, was a Stevedore (a person who loads and unloads ships).
Describe your relationship to Tottenham.
My relationship with Tottenham began way back in the 1970s when I met my best friend, Veronica, and she lived in Tottenham. We did everything together and her father owned the now closed down Shady Grove Club in Bruce Grove. I used to live in Kilburn and West Hampstead but when the landlord chucked everyone out to turn the property into flats, I had to find somewhere else to live and came to live in Tottenham so I could be close to my mate Veronica. Her dad offered me a job at the Shady Grove club and I worked there for about ten years, doing every job there was to do. I even ran the first comedy club in Tottenham which catered to Black people. It was called It’s No Trouble to G-R-I-N which was a name that Veronica’s dad, Eddie, came up with. We had all the top black comedians of the time including Felix Dexter, Eddie Nestor and Robbie Gee (Eddie and Robbie), Curtis Walker, Rudi Lickwood etc. It was a brilliant time in Tottenham. Veronica knew everyone and I followed in her coat tails until I too got to know everyone! Tottenham in the 80s was brilliant!
What led you to become a professional tour guide?
I was made redundant in my 50’s and I thought that having all this experience behind me as a Facilities Manager, it wouldn’t be too hard to find a job. I went for lots of interviews but nothing came of them.
Photo supplied: Avril with a walking group.
One day I went down to the National Archives in Kew Gardens to listen to a talk on black history which is something I’m deeply interested in. Whilst there I met a girl called Angela and we got talking. She was a blue badge guide which I had looked into doing previously but it cost a lot of money and because I was unemployed I didn’t have the money to spend. So I listened to her telling me all about her life as a tour guide and I loved the sound of it. That’s when she told me that there were other ways to become a tour guide other than blue badge. So I enrolled at Westminster University where they do courses on how to become a tour guide – I hadn’t know about this until Angela told me – and I studied the history of Clerkenwell and Islington after which I took all my exams and passed. I was raring to go and before I’d even finished the course I had put a tour together called The Black Statues of Westminster which I started giving before I’d finished the course. By the time I’d finished and passed the course I already had two tours under my belt and it wasn’t long before I started looking around and spotted that no one was doing a history of Tottenham that told tales from the Black/Caribbean angle. So I started one.
Photo supplied: Avril with a walking group in front of an art piece on Tottenham High Road.
How did Avril's Walks & Talks come together?
Avril’s Walks and Talks has now been going for about 3 years and it is bloody hard work! I enjoy doing the research as it enables me to walk around London and spot things I hadn’t noticed before. But before all that happens you need to have an idea as to what you’re going to talk about and where the walk will lead. Some walks are circular and start and end at the same place; most of my walks start at one point and finish somewhere completely different. Without the support of my husband I would not be able to do this job as it is a seasonal job – no one wants to do walks in the winter! So I generally work between April and October and squash in as many walks as I can.
Why is Tottenham such a prominent area for black history in London?
With all the events that have taken place in Tottenham, as well as some of the people that have lived in the area, it’s no wonder Tottenham has a fascinating history.
I love the fact that I lived in Tottenham when Bernie Grant was alive and in charge. He was a man of the people and everyone knew him and he knew everyone. I met him only once in person but it was a quick hand shake and he moved on.
Photo supplied: Bernie Grant.
The Bernie Grant arts Centre was something that he started but never finished and it’s great that Sharon, his wife, had the vision to finish it after he passed.
Of course Tottenham is famous for the riots, or uprisings as some people call them, but it’s also got some great history going way back to the 1600’s when there were many black people in the borough, including those that are buried in All Hallows church.
You even had people like the Moors who came here with King Phillip of Spain and who helped to build up Tottenham by be-questing money to the borough to build almshouses. Most people don’t know that secret history of Tottenham. Also, consider the amount of hairdressers there are in Tottenham; that’s black history in itself!! Nearly every other shop is a black hairdressers (joke!). But seriously, the people that have lived in, and are still living in Tottenham today, have made it what it is.
As a woman, how do you think Tottenham has changed? What would you like to see change?
Tottenham has changed in that it’s become a lot more diverse. When I lived in Tottenham every shop in West Green road was black owned. Nowadays it’s much more mixed/diverse. The High Road around Seven Sisters is mainly Colombian, along with the Asians who have taken over West Green Road and the Turks and Polish are coming in from all sides. That’s not to say that’s a bad thing because every time new people come into an area they bring new ideas and different things.
The area is changing all around as they build new housing, restaurants, clubs etc. All of these things will change the area, hopefully for the better, but I think the thing that will change the area the most will be the regeneration that is going on in all parts of the area. There was talk of selling Broadwater Farm – let’s see what happens there!
The thing that I think is missed in the area is Body Music, the record shop. It used to be on the corner where Costa Coffee is right now and it had the entire corner so all the shops that are there now were one shop. Everyone used to go in there to get the latest hits and Fitz, the owner, knew everyone. Everybody that was famous went into that shop and Fitz’s love of cricket meant that all the famous cricketers went there too! They even had a recording studio in the back where they did many recordings of reggae stars. I miss that shop but with the advent of downloading, CDs, DVDs etc the shop couldn’t keep up. It’s a real shame.
Favourite thing to do in Tottenham?
My favourite thing used to be to visit Fitz in Body Music Records, but of course that’s no longer available. I love visiting Bruce Castle Museum. It’s a fascinating place with lots of historical information. They put on some very interesting exhibitions there and have some really interesting talks.
More than anything though, I really enjoy doing the tours around Tottenham. Last year in 2018 I arranged for an actor to come along whilst I was doing the tour talking about the Windrush issue and he came along and pretended to be someone who had been on the Windrush. It went down very well with the clients as they all thought it was a coincidence that he was walking by. They couldn’t believe it! That’s the sort of thing I like to do on my walks – get someone who knows a bit more than me about something and come along and talk about it. It makes the walk a lot more interesting for those attending and it takes it to another level.
Anything you would like to add?
I do walks around London, not just Tottenham. If anyone would like to come on one of my black historical walks around London then they can check out my website www.avrilswalksandtalks.co.uk to get further information. My walks are usually at weekends. I also do private walks so if anyone wants to contact me for a private walk then call 07984 759506 or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org People can also follow me on Instagram and Twitter - @avrilswalksandtalks
Photo supplied: Avril with a walking group member at Bruce Castle Museum.