For this latest outing we move from one extreme to another both geographically and culturally; from Mayfair with its embassies and swanky hotels in the south-west to the Shoreditch/Hackney gentrification frontline in the north east. Today’s walk is another meandering affair covering a broad but narrow stretch of territory demarcated by City Road, Old Street, Hackney Road and the northern perimeter of our designated target area. Distinct lack of blue plaques to distract us on this occasion you may be relieved to hear.
Starting point for today is the southern end of City Road from where we head up Westland Place past Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurant and into Nile Street. A quick circuit of Underwood Street, Underwood Row, Britannia Walk and Ebenezer Street gets us back to City Road without troubling the photographer. At the junction with Provost Street there is another phase of the new developments we looked at last time we were around this area.
Provost Street splits into itself and Vestry Street with those two forks joined by a bit more of Nile Street that has offshoots in Custance Street and Allerton Street which must be among the most truncated thoroughfares in the capital. Continue further north on East Road just beyond the boundary of the prescribed target area where the Hackney estates dominate.
Get back on piste via New North Road which takes us as far as the splendid St John the Baptist Church, Hoxton. The church was built in 1826 but the impressive painted ceiling was created in the early 20th century by the architect Joseph Arthur Reeve. The parish has had continuous patronage from the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers (another of the City of London’s twelve Great Livery Companies. The stained glass window shown in the selection below is one of my favourites so far on these travels and was installed in commemoration of George Purves Pownall who was the first dean of Perth Cathedral (the one in Australia) before becoming vicar of this parish after returning to England.
From the church we head west again along Bevenden Street back to East Road and then double back along Haberdasher Street, named in honour of merchant and City of London Alderman Robert Aske (1619 – 1689) a prominent member of the aforementioned Livery Company. And turning right onto Pitfield Street takes us down to another memorial to the 17th century local benefactor in Aske Gardens. The gardens are bounded to the north by Buttesland Street, the south by Chart Street and west by Hoffman Square. The latter was built as almshouses by the WC of H in 1825-27, designed in a proud Greek Revival style by D R Roper. The building has undergone several enlargements and modifications since and for a century or so it functioned as a furniture design college. (I think we all know what’s coming next don’t we). In the late nineties the Grade II listed building was converted into a gated apartment development.
Across the road on Pitfield Street stands one of the free libraries created by the journalist, newspaper owner and philanthropist John Passmore Edwards (1823 – 1911). The building is now home to the Courtyard Theatre.
Westward again on Chart Street back to East Road then south to where this merges into City Road and there’s further stark evidence of the changing nature of the area with one of those luxury blocks dwarfing Moorfields Eye Hospital in the background.
Turn off down Cranwood Street then hook a right into Vince Street (got to write a script about a failed 1956’s pop star so I can nick that name). Not entirely sure what this is but it appears to be London’s smallest tower block.
Back on Old Street now and a right turn takes us down to the tube station and the so-called Silicon Roundabout, the centre of which, it has to be said, is a right old tip.
Across the other side of City Road, as we head back up it, is the Imperial Hall (see left hand picture above). This was originally the home of the Leysian Mission which moved here in 1904, having been founded in 1886 by the Methodist Church as a welfare centre for the East End poor (one of around a hundred in industrial cities around the country). Four years earlier the building next door was built to the order of tea magnate and philanthropist, Thomas Lipton (1848 – 1931) and opened as the Alexandra Hall Dining Trust which provided affordable hot meals to the poor. Spread over three floors, some 100 waitresses could serve up to 12,000 meals per day. This building is unused today. The Leysian Mission wound itself up in 1989 and its building, which had been granted Grade-II listed status two years earlier, was (surprise, surprise) converted into loft apartments and retail units in 1998 (and renamed Imperial Hall).
Turn right in to Brunswick Place then fork left into Corsham Street and hang right down Bache’s Street to get to Charles Square. This small square was completed in the 1770’s and unfortunately only one of the original Georgian houses has survived, no.16, which is sadly hemmed in by some particularly unlovely 1950’s flats.
Leave the square via the south side in order to return to Old Street with the first example of the graffiti that is going to become something of a signature of this post and the next.
Move northward again on Pitfield Street passing another of those distinctive green-tiled Truman’s pubs that is being put out to pasture – by the look of it.
Ashford Street on the right just heads into the estate of the same name so that’s a quick shuffle back and forth and we then turn right proper down Fanshaw Street. Bi-secting Aske Street (him again) this emerges into Hoxton Street. Turning southward the view brings the proximity to the City of London into sharp relief.
Route into Hoxton Square is via Mundy Street with some graffiti of a more intricate persuasion en route.
Hoxton Square is one of London’s earliest garden squares, details of which can be traced back to 1709. From the 1990’s onwards it was the epicentre of an eastward shift in London’s arts, media and clubbing scene but in the last few years it has lost most of its edge. The White Cube gallery decamped in 2012 and the hipster fraternity has largely moved on. St Monica’s Roman Catholic Church has occupied no.19 on the north side of the square since 1866. Major restoration work has only recently been completed.
After a quick up and down Rufus Street on the south side we leave the square via the north-west corner along Bowling Green Walk. After a brief revisit of Pitfield Street return towards the square along Coronet Street. Here we find the former Shoreditch Electric Light Station, an electricity generating station established in 1896. These days it’s the National Centre for Circus Arts.
Coronet Street forms the northern edge of Hoxton Market. At no.13 Hoxton Market (aka Shaftesbury House) is a plaque commemorating its original incarnation as a Victorian Christian Mission. Nowadays this former life is echoed in the name of the restaurant/bar which currently occupies the premises – Meatmission.
Boot Street runs the southern end of Hoxton Market and this joins up with Coronet Street again to the east. This is the home of the Standpoint Gallery (one of the few that haven’t been priced out of this area). You have until 04/06/2016 to catch the current show, Megan Broadmeadow’s A Corruption of Mass.
(Did you spot the extremely subtle selfie of the day).
Follow Old Street round to Hoxton Street again where there is this increasingly rare reminder of the old East End.
Turn right down Drysdale Street and stop at today’s Café of the Day (like to ring the changes occasionally), the highly recommended Enjoy Café where I did just that in relation to a massive plate of grilled chicken, chips and salad for a measly £5.50.
Drysdale Street runs straight across to Kingsland Road where we head north as far as Cremer Street then turn briefly eastward before veering south down Nazrul Street. I am going to take a punt and say this is named after the Bengali poet, writer, musician and revolutionary Kazi Nazrul Ismal (1899 – 1976). This enclave that we’re entering now, between Kingsland Road and Hackney Road, and intersecting by the mainline railway is one of the few semi-derelict areas encountered on my travels and none the worse for it. Nor surprisingly it is also home to a collection of quite vibrant graffiti. So before we get out onto the Hackney Road we navigate through Union Walk, Waterston Street, Long Street, Gorsuch Street and Gorsuch Place.
There’s just the very north-eastern apex of our designated area to go now which involves crossing over Hackney Road to Diss Street then heading south down Pelter Street past Strouts Place as far as Columbia Road.
It then only remains to return to the junction of Hackney Road and Kingsland Road which is the site of the original Shoreditch Railway Station that was a stop on the old North London Railway from 1865 to 1940. It is now a coffee-shop cum wine and whiskey bar alongside pop-up retail space and you can’t get any more Shoreditch than that in the 21st century.
Though not every drinking and dining concept manages to thrive here…