Remembering Arlington Exiles

Arlington House is a large hostel for single men in Camden Town. It has been home to many thousands of workers, poets and visionaries over the 105 years of its long history. Among those who have spent the night under its Victorian gothic roof are George Orwell, Brendan Behan, Ho Chi Min and Patrick Kavanagh the Irish poet who said in his autobiographical book The Green Fool:
‘Many Irish boys made Rowton (Arlington) House, first stop from Mayo…the soft voicesof Mayo and Galway sounding in that gaunt impersonal place fell like warm rain on the arid patches of my imagination.’
These words will be etched onto a memorial stone placed next to a bench at East Finchley cemetery in North London on Friday 11th June at 11.30am to mark the passing over the years of many hundreds of men who had died anonymously in this London hostel far away from home.
These men came from all corners of the earth but Arlington House is particularly remembered as a place where Irish emigrants like Kavanagh found comfort among their country men. Arlington Irish Association has paid for the memorial but it is dedicated to the memory of all the men who died there and were buried in the cemetery in unmarked
Alex McDonnell who was the secretary of the Arlington Irish Association in the 90’s said: ‘When someone died in Arlington House, and it was a regular occurrence, there would be a brooding sadness in the air. Occasionally someone would cry out ‘Last stop Finchley!’ with a bit of bravado but without much conviction. A lot of the men were living under assumed names or lying low simply because they felt ashamed that they hadn’t fulfilled their youthful ambitions. Sometimes we could get word to a family member and they would find out for the first time that their long-lost father, uncle, son or brother had been living in a hostel. They wouldn’t have cared where they ended up but would have preferred to have known them when they were alive. A lot of others ended up in unmarked graves in East Finchley cemetery and now at last there will be a place where families and friends can go to remember their loved ones’.
Arlington House is now managed by One Housing Group who will be launching the new Arlington on 10th June at 9.30am following extensive renovation, with the London mayor Boris Johnson.