There are three locations in West Kentish Town with stories to tell about our most famous inhabitant. And no, we don’t mean her from 80s girl band Bananarama.
This inviting red door is 46 Grafton Terrace (formerly no.9), part of a stretch of ten houses with interesting curved steps and arched upper windows, originally called Fitzroy Road. As so often in Kentish Town, by the turn of the 20th Century it was considered ‘rough’, due to the ‘many disturbances in the street’.
Marx, his wife Jenny and their daughters, all delightfully called Jenny too, moved to No.46 from Soho in 1855. (You may recall they had fled to London in 1849, after the publication of The Communist Manifesto.) Somewhat impoverished, Karl was forced to slum it as European correspondent for the New York Daily Tribune, and so they relied on wealthy pal (and co-author of The Communist Manifesto) Friedrich Engels for a bit of moolah. Well, he did live in Primrose Hill after all.
But no.46 was, at least, a bargain: only £36 to rent per annum, with the downside that it was ‘not easy to get to…[with] building going on all around…and it was dark in those wild districts.’
Things improved for the Marxes in 1864. After an inheritance, the family moved upmarket to No.1 Maitland Park Road (rebuilt in 1900 as imposing red-brick mansion block The Grange). With more cash and a bit of flexitime, Karl could now trot off to the British Museum every morning to do a 12 hour stint on Das Kapital, the first volume of which was published when they lived here. Meanwhile, his daughters were causing something of a stir themselves, once throwing a party for 50 guests until 4am. Not appropriate behaviour, apparently, for the edge of Haverstock Hill. And where for heaven’s sake was their mother?
If you might be wondering if all this stinks rather of capitalism, you’ll be pleased to hear that Marx and co agreed. Well, kind of. The house was, according to one sister Jenny, a ‘veritable palace,’ and by 1875 the penny had finally dropped: the family were all living way beyond their means. Yes, there are probably ironies there.
Forced to downsize again, the Marxes moved back into deepest West Kentish Town: No.41 Maitland Park Road, a porcelain doll’s throw from their first gaff in Grafton Terrace.
It wasn’t a council estate then, silly, although the spot is commemorated by a brown plaque from Camden Council (the owner of No.46 won’t let them put one up, apparently).
Here the story ends. Karl’s wife Jenny died of liver cancer in 1881, and the bearded one followed two years later, apparently slipping away in his favourite easy chair.
Only eleven mourners accompanied his coffin, the death of the father of revolutionary socialism, in England at least, going largely unnoticed. Until the erection of his tomb, of course. But let’s save that yarn for another day.