More than a touch of serendipity about this excursion as a couple of days after the last walk, on Bank Holiday Monday to be precise, I went along to the Secret 7″ sale at Sonos Studios in Shoreditch and therefore found myself only a couple of hundred yards away from the previous finishing point. Before we get into that though here’s another of the periodic updates on overall progress so far.
Back to today’s trip which takes in the western side of the area wedged between Columbia Road and Bethnal Green Road and the streets enclosed within the quadrilateral of Old Street, Shoreditch High Street, Curtain Street and Great Eastern Street.
First up, from Bethnal Green Road we head north up Club Row which is where the Sonos Studios live. Secret 7″ has been running for a few years now but this is the first time at this location. Principle is similar to the RCA’s Secret Postcard fundraiser but this involves record covers designed for one of seven specially chosen tracks and is in aid of Amnesty International. You can get the full lowdown here. Didn’t get there until an hour after the start by which time I would say around 65% of the covers had already been snapped up. Happy enough though with my two acquisitions, which you can see in the selection below. Actual singles were the offerings by The Jam and Tame Impala.
Having bagged my two 45’s continue north up Club Row to Arnold Circus, of which more later. Circle anti-clockwise and exit along Pallissy Street. This leads into Swanfield Street where at no.74 stands an isolated remnant of the past in the last remaining weaver’s house in the area (the East End being a hub of the weaving industry in the 18th and early 19th centuries). These days it’s a foam shop.
At top of Swanfield Street turn right along Virginia Road which emerges onto Columbia Road and then almost immediately double-back down Gascoigne Place. Going westward Virginia Road forks off into Austin Street and at the junction of Boundary Street, which rejoins the two, there is, seemingly, another member of the Dead Pubs’ Society. Some commentators have suggested that the Conqueror is named after William I of that soubriquet but judging from the sign I would be more inclined towards Oliver Cromwell.
Continuing along Austin Street brings us out onto the bottom end of Hackney Road again and a left turn takes us round the corner to the entrance to St Leonards Church. This will of course be familiar to all fans of one of the best sitcoms of recent years, Rev (starring Tom Hollander and Olivia Colman). St Leonard is the patron saint of prisoners and the mentally ill and there is evidence of a church on this site since Anglo-Saxon times though that was demolished by the Normans who built their own replacement. It was the Norman church which became known as the actors’ church. Many of the Elizabethan theatrical fraternity are buried in the remains under the current crypt. This includes three Burbages, James who built the first English theatre (again more of that later), his son Cuthbert who built the Globe theatre and his other son Richard who was the first to play Macbeth, Hamlet, Richard 3rd, Othello and especially Romeo. These associations are commemorated in a stone memorial on a wall inside the present-day church which dates from around 1740. The splendid organ was built by Richard Bridge in 1756 and is one of the few surviving examples of a tracker organ without pedals.
The somewhat macabre monument in white marble with two grinning skeletons tearing into the “tree of life” is in memoriam of one Elizabeth Benson, died 1710, and is the work of Wren’s favourite sculptor, Francis Bird. The final part of the Latin inscription roughly translates as “hale and hearty and regardless of old age she accidentally tripped and fell, alas, at the age of 90 ; and the stem of life was not gently withdrawn but torn asunder.”
There is a very timely exhibition on inside the church at the moment which runs until June 2016. Entitled Development Hell this shines a light on the on-going planning battles concerning a number of areas adjacent to the City of London and Boris Johnson’s role in greenlighting a number of controversial schemes.
Across the road on Shoreditch High Street are a number of fine Victorian buildings including Wells & Company Commercial Ironworks built in 1877 but only retaining its industrial function until 1895.
Back on the east side adjacent to the church (at no 118 and 1/2) is the Clerk’s House. This dates from 1735 and so is a couple of years older than the church itself. Current occupancy is by a fashion boutique.
On the corner with Calvert Avenue you’ll find Syd’s Coffee Stall. Named after its first proprietor, Sydney Edward Tothill, who set up the business just after the First World War financed with his invalidity pension. The stall’s not open today as it’s a Bank Holiday but this is more than compensated by the resplendent blossom on the tree behind.
Calvert Avenue links back with Virginia Road and then Hocker Street returns us to Arnold Circus with its bandstand and gardens which sits as the hub in the wheel of the Boundary Estate. Cited as the world’s oldest social housing project, Boundary Estate was developed between 1890 and 1900 on the site of the Old Nichol Rookery slum. The redbrick tenements are all now Grade II listed and although around of the 500-odd flats are now in private hands the rest are still under the control of Tower Hamlets council. The separate tenement buildings are all named after towns or villages on the River Thames such as Sunbury, Chertsey & Hurley.
Leave the circus this time via the 4 o’clock spoke which is Rochelle Street and then head south back toward the Bethnal Green Road down Montclair Street. This bit of Shoreditch is the home of (mostly) officially sanctioned graffiti art and, regardless of whether or not you consider these to be sanitised hipster versions of the original ‘street’ art form, they undoubtedly make for an arresting sight.
So the above examples can all be found on the route back up to Arnold Circus that takes in Turville Street, Redchurch Street, Whitby Street, Chance Street and Camlet Street. This route also includes another turn down Club Row where we pass this singular three-dimensional piece by the artist, Cityzen Kane, which takes inspiration from African art and the late eighties rave scene.
Finishing off this section to the east of Shoreditch High Street we visit Navarre Street, Ligonier Street, Old Nichol Street, another stretch of Boundary Street, Redchurch Street again and finally Ebor Street. And here’s another selection of graffiti art encountered along the way – taking us from Marvel’s Avengers to Winston Churchill via the Cycle of Futility.
Back on Shoreditch High Street we cross over by the old garage which is now home to a pop-up food festival (says it all really) and head south to the junction with Great Eastern Street.
Right on that junction (and purportedly still open for business appearances to the contrary) is Chariots Roman Spa – self proclaimed as England’s biggest at best men’s health spa. Which makes you hope that you never find yourself in the worst.
The graffiti is a little bit more anarchic in the enclave between Curtain Road and Shoreditch High Street which is crossed initially by Fairchild Street and Holywell Lane. The latter is also home to music venue, Village Underground, which sits beneath the railway arches. Have only been here once and wouldn’t rate it as one of my favourite concert venues mainly because the auditorium is far too narrow.
Next up is King John Court which adjoins with New Inn Yard at its north end. This is reliably believed to be the site of the first permanent theatre built in England (as mentioned earlier) courtesy of James Burbage. Known simply as The Theatre it opened in 1576. Some of Shakespeare’s early works were performed here as well as plays by Marlowe and Thomas Kyd. From 1594 it was home to the famous players known as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (after their patron Henry Carey who fulfilled that office at the time). However the theatre only lasted for four further years until after a series of disputes between the Burbages, Shakespeare and the Lord Chamberlain’s Men the former had the playhouse taken down and rebuilt as the first Globe Theatre across the river. All of this is, I think it is fair to say, commemorated in a somewhat low-key style.
Northward on New Inn Street takes us past the back entrance to the old Curtain Road primary school.
Then it’s on to Bateman’s Row where there is a sign of encouragement (but not perhaps genuine insight).
South on Anning Street then back up along Shoreditch High Street past French Place to get to Rivington Street, which is the final call for today. This is the location for a couple of Shoreditch institutions; after-hours club Cargo and the Rivington Place Gallery. The former no longer at the cutting edge of club culture by all accounts. The latter we shall return to on another visit.
And once again that’s all folks !