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‘You’re only 100 once!’ Islington historian celebrates birthday with trip to Harvey Nicks

Mary Cosh, eminent chronicler of the borough’s past, marks her centenary with a fashionable tea party

22 February, 2019 — By Emily Finch

Mary Cosh: ‘So much has changed in Islington. I would write about King’s Cross and the closure of Holloway prison’

ISLINGTON’S oldest and most treasured historian treated herself to a new dress from Harvey Nichols during a shopping trip to the West End ahead of her 100th birthday party next week.

Mary Cosh, who has called Barnsbury her home for 50 years, lives mostly independently with the help of part-time carers and her lodger Jonathan.

“Well, Jonathan was keen that I celebrate being 100 by buying a really attractive dress. We wanted to go to Harvey Nicks and get the staff to help us. I’ve never done this before,” she said.

She said she invited her “lovely” carer Nubila, who helps her in the mornings, along.

“It was a great amount of fun and an enjoyable outing. They had around 10 dresses hanging up and I tried them all on. I bought one of them. It was very expensive. All of the dresses had something that went with it including a cardigan. But you’re only 100 once,” said Ms Cosh.

Oxford University-educated Ms Cosh, who has published around a dozen books examining the histories of Islington and Scotland, said she still enjoys cooking for herself.

A birthday party will be held in her honour by the Islington Society – a heritage society that she helped found back in 1960 – at Frederick’s Restaurant in Camden Passage next Saturday.

“My actual birthday is on the Sunday and I will have a small tea party. I really enjoy those too. A tea party is so relaxing you don’t have to stand around,” she said.

Asked whether she was excited to reach 100, Ms Cosh said: “Well, it is something to have done.”

The daughter of a farmer’s son from Bristol, Ms Cosh said she wasn’t particularly popular at Clifton High School where sporty pupils took centre-stage.

“It was a keen sporting school with gym, hockey and cricket. They were devoted to sport.” She added: “I was rotten at them so I wasn’t popular. I was interested in work. I made it OK but I wasn’t happy, but maybe all the best people aren’t popular at school,” she said.

She later struggled to become a historian when her father Arthur pushed her towards a more secure career path.

She first joined the civil service in 1937, which she deemed “boring”, but became a telegraphist in Alexandria, Egypt, with the Wrens – the Women’s Royal Naval Service – during the Second World War.

After the war she entered Oxford University where she studied a combination of Philosophy, Economics and English Literature but struggled with the first two subjects.

She said: “I realised it was a mistake. At the end of two years I went to see the principal of the college and asked to go back to reading English.”

Asked how she turned to producing historical works she said: “I’ve always been interested in history and it went along with me.”

She said she still hopes to update her final book called A History of Islington, which was published 15 years ago. I want to write a final chapter.

“So much has changed in Islington. I would write about King’s Cross and the closure of Holloway prison.”

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