Day 51 (Part 2) – Victoria Embankment – Whitehall – Horse Guards Road

Second leg of this one resumes outside New (Old New) Scotland Yard on the Victoria Embankment, proceeds down to Westminster tube, goes up Parliament Street and Whitehall past Downing Street and cuts through Horse Guards Parade before finishing at the Mall.

Day 51 Route

I had hoped to take a look at the Crime Museum (aka The Black Museum) attached to New Scotland Yard but it turns out it’s only accessible to serving police officers. So with the river on my left I walk down the Victoria Embankment to Westminster Tube and then turn right up Westminster Bridge Road towards Parliament Square. Heading away from the square north up Parliament Street on its west side the next major government building that comes our way is HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs). This stands back to back with HM Treasury (of which more later) as part of a complex of government buildings developed between 1908 and 1917, originally called the New Public Offices but later referred to as GOGGS (Government Offices Great George Street). Great George Street flanks the southern side of the buildings.

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Across the road is the Red Lion pub which is the closest hostelry to Downing Street, though the last sitting Prime Minister to pop in for a drink apparently was Edward Heath. Less surprising is the fact that Charles Dickens was a regular back in the day (since just about every pub in central London claims the old literary boozehound as a one-time habitué).

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The next block up, standing to the west of the cenotaph where Parliament Street changes into Whitehall, is home to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. This was completed in 1868 and was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811 – 1878) who was later responsible for the Midland Hotel at St Pancras (see Day 9).  Scott designed the new Foreign Office as ‘a kind of national palace or drawing room for the nation’ with the use of rich decoration to impress foreign visitors. The building is adorned with a series of sculptural reliefs which, in typical Victorian fashion, take the form of a woman with her top at least half off accessorised to represent either a geographic area or a high concept. So in these creations of H.H Armistead and J. Birnie Philip we have Australia, Africa, America, Asia and Europe (more modestly depicted than the others of course) along with Education, Government, Law, Literature, Agriculture, Manufacture and Commerce. And I didn’t choose this one so I could make some cheap jug-based quip – it just happened to be the easiest to photograph.

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Which brings us to Downing Street and something of a breakdown in the mission because, since 1989, access to the street has been blocked by a security checkpoint and it has been patrolled by armed police since the IRA mortar bomb attack of 1991. The street is named after the diplomat George Downing (1624 – 1684) who had the street and its houses built in the 1680’s. Described by the official Government website as unpleasant, miserly and brutal, Downing came to prominence under Cromwell and then switched allegiance with alacrity when the Restoration became inevitable. For his assistance in purging many of his former Parliamentarian allies he was knighted by Charles II in 1660. The first Prime Minister to take up residence at no. 10 was Sir Robert Walpole in 1735, it having been presented to him by King George II. It was used on and off by subsequent 18th century Prime Ministers more as an office than as a home. Viscount Goderich engaged Sir John Soane to do a makeover on the house in the 1820’s but this didn’t tempt any of his immediate successors to move in. And although no.11 was made the official residence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1828 the surrounding area became increasingly seedy and demolition looked a real possibility. However during the era when Disraeli and Gladstone traded the premiership the house was refurbished and modernised several times. It was later fully renovated during the 1950’s and again in the Thatcher and Blair years. The IRA mortar bomb mentioned above was fired from a white transit van in Whitehall and exploded in the garden of Number 10, only a few metres away from where then PM John Major was chairing a Cabinet meeting to discuss the Gulf War.

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We’ve passed over many of the statues and memorials on Whitehall but I quite admire this equestrian bronze of Field Marshal Earl Haig (1861 – 1928), a 1936 work of Alfred Hardiman. At the time, however, it aroused considerable controversy on account of the riding position and the stance of the horse. Earl Haig commanded the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front during WW1 including during the Battle of the Somme which saw the highest number of casualties in British military history. Although treated as a national hero in the aftermath of the war subsequent reappraisals of his wartime strategies have earned him the soubriquet “Butcher of the Somme”. Bizarrely there is a football club in Argentina named after him. Club Atletico Douglas Haig was founded in 1918 and currently plays in the second tier of Argentinian football.

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We continue a short way further up Whitehall and turn left to pass through the central arch of the Horse Guards building to get to Horse Guards Parade. The first building on the site was commissioned by Charles II in 1663 but the current one dates from the reign of George II. The originally commissioned architect for the new building, William Kent, more or less retained the plan of the original with its clocktower, courtyard and two oversize sentry boxes but utilised the then fashionable Palladian style of architecture. The Duke of Wellington was based here while Commander in Chief of the British Army. The building is still in use by the military and also houses the Household Cavalry Museum (gave that one a miss). There are a lot of jobs I don’t envy people having to do but standing for hours in full military regalia while gurning tourists act the prat in front of you must be high up on the list.

Horse Guards Parade occupies the site of the old Palace of Whitehall’s tiltyard where jousting tournaments were held in the time of Henry VIII. For much of the 20th century is was used as a car park for civil servants but following that mortar attack a review of security arrangements recommended that it be restored to public use. So in 1996 it was resurfaced and a year later car parking banned (apart from tourist coaches apparently). Horse Guards Parade notoriously hosted the beach volleyball tournament during the London 2012 Olympics.

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Circling around the Parade we arrive on Horse Guards Road to the east of St James’s Park and head north back up to the Mall. We turn right towards Admiralty Arch as far as the bronze statue of Captain James Cook (1728 – 1779), by Thomas Brock and erected in 1914, before doubling back. Cook, born the son of a farm worker, is one of the most remarkable examples of 18th century social mobility. After his success in exploring and mapping the Antipodes, Cook’s luck ran out on his third voyage to the South Pacific when a dispute with Hawaiian islanders escalated to the point where he tried to take a local leader hostage and in the ensuing melee was stabbed and killed.

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Incidentally, the flag on the left there is that of Mozambique, one of the many put up along the Mall for the meeting of the Heads of Commonwealth. As you can see it includes an image of an AK-47 rifle – meant to represent defence and vigilance. It’s one of three national flags to feature a firearm, the others being Guatemala and Luxembourg (only kidding it’s actually Haiti). In 2005 a competition was held to design a new flag; a winner was selected from 119 entries but rejected by the ruling government.

So we head right down to the southern end of Horse Guards Road and HM Treasury which occupies the western side of GOGGS (hopefully you were paying attention earlier) and has been based here since 1940. The royal treasure was originally located in Winchester, and was moved to the Whitehall area following the Norman Conquest. The Treasury then operated from the Exchequer Receipt Office in Westminster Cloisters until the Restoration in 1660. On ascending to the throne Charles II, perhaps wanting to keep a close eye on his finances, allocated it rooms in Whitehall Palace. In 1698 a huge blaze, caused by a servant airing some linen too close to the fire, destroyed all of the Palace but the Banqueting House (see last post) and Cardinal Wolsey’s wine cellar which is now under the Ministry of Defence building. Following the fire, the homeless Treasury moved to Henry VIII’s former Cockpit (near today’s Horse Guards Parade). Then in 1734 a new Treasury was built by William Kent on Horse Guards and this was later joined by an adjacent expansion building designed by John Soane. Both those buildings were severely damaged by bombs in 1940 prompting the move to GOGGS.

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In the north-west corner of GOGGS you can visit Churchill’s Cabinet War Rooms. In the build–up to the Second World War, the government began looking for a strong basement in which a map room and a Cabinet Room could be constructed without major alterations. The basement of GOGGS was chosen, not only because it was convenient for Downing Street, but because its concrete frame 2 would help prevent the collapse of the building if it received a direct hit from a bomb. Initially, only a few rooms were commandeered but when Horse Guards was bombed on October 14, 1940, wrecking parts of 10 Downing Street, all Churchill’s staff moved into GOGGS. After the war the War Rooms were left in aspic, with access restricted to small groups and strictly regulated, until the Imperial War Museum took them over and opened them up to the public in 1984.

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The entrance to the War Rooms is located at the western end of King Charles Street which intersects GOGGS (I may have overdone that particular acronym just a tad) and the Foreign Office. In the middle of the steps leading up to the street stands a statue of Robert Clive (aka Clive of India) (1725 – 1774) by John Tweed which was positioned here in 1916 having been unveiled outside what is now the Welsh Office on Whitehall four years earlier. Clive is indelibly associated with the British East India Company and its excursions into India, laying the foundations for the establishment of the Raj. His finest hour came in 1756 when, having just been appointed as a Lieutenant Colonel and Deputy Governor of Fort St David, he re-took the city of Calcutta from the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj ud Daula, with just 3,000 men against the Nawab’s 68,000-strong French-backed army. This led to release of 23 out of 146 captured Britons held in the so-called “Black Hole of Calcutta”, a cell just 18 feet square. Though that doesn’t necessarily compensate for his overall impact on Anglo-Indian relations.

At the other end of King Charles Street is a triumphal arch connecting the Foreign Office and Treasury buildings erected in 1908 and incorporating a frieze by sculptor Paul Montford of nine figures representing trade and travel by sea.

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And so with just a short stroll back to Westminster tube station to finish that’s Whitehall and its surroundings done and dusted. Next time it’s the turn of Parliament.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 18 – Clerkenwell – Farringdon – Hatton Garden – Holborn

Today’s route is another compact one covering the area bounded by Gray’s Inn Road to the west, St John Street to the east and Holborn to the south. Highlights include a visit to the Museum of the Order of St John (try and contain yourself please) and a stroll around the (in)famous home of the London diamond trade, Hatton Garden.

Day 18 Route

We start in familiar territory and quickly knock off the triangle of streets that are bordered by (and sunken beneath) Rosebery Avenue, Clerkenwell Road and Farringdon Road. Despite some great names: Coldbath Square, Crawford Passage, Bakers Row, Warner Street, Eyre Street Hill, Back Hill, Summers Street, Ray Street and Herbal Hill have only this temporary resident to tempt open the camera lens.

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Like most things though this is a matter of timing. This area of Clerkenwell (and a bit beyond) was once known as “Little Italy” due to the influx of about 2,000 immigrants from that country in the 1850’s. It remains something of a spiritual home to London’s Italian community due to St Peter’s Church (on Clerkenwell Road) which is the force behind the Procession of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Sagra which takes place each July and brings this sunken enclave alive. I was fortunate enough to stumble across the procession, and its accompanying food and drink stalls, some years ago and have been trying to schedule a return visit ever since.

St Peter’s Church opened amid great celebration in 1863 and at the time was the only church in Britain designed in the Roman Basilican style. The painting below of the Beheading of John the Baptist is from the 17th century and by the hand of artist, Alessandro Turchi.

Leaving the church we head east along Clerkenwell Road as far as St John’s Square which  straddles the road. The north side of the square was included in one of our earlier posts. However, unlike on that occasion, St John’s Priory is open to visitors today. I won’t go through all the history again but for Tudor buffs would remind you that the Knights of St John were the last of the monastic orders to be abolished by Henry VIII (in 1540). Consequent upon that Henry took the priory and all its land and wealth which were second only to those of Glastonbury Abbey. Henry gave the priory itself to his daughter Mary to use and as a palace and on her accession to the throne she restored the Order only for Elizabeth to do away with it for good when she became queen.

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Across the road is St John’s Gate where the main part of the Museum resides. If, like me, you’ve seen anything of the recent TV series on the Crusades this is well worth a visit. There’s no entry fee and the museum does a great job in presenting the remarkable story of the Order and its survival.

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And it also provides the opportunity for today’s selfie-of-the day. I know what you’re thinking – not everyone can carry off the suit of armour look that well.

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Continuing down St John’s Lane we reach Passing Alley which according to several sources was known as Pissing Alley back in the days when an al-fresco emptying of the bladder was more in tune with public sensitivities.

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Just a couple of doors further down is this sign for E.Higgs Air Agency which upped and moved away several decades ago and was last heard of trading out of Bracknell under the name of Higgs International.

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At the end of St John’s Lane we turn right down Peter’s Lane to cut through to Cowcross Street whose name derives from the time (up until the 1850’s) when live animals were herded down here on their way to Smithfield Market. Turning west we arrive at Farringdon station which opened in 1863 as part of the first London underground line, the Metropolitan.  One of the finest looking tube stations in the capital it has fortunately been left unscathed by the developments for, firstly, Thameslink and now Crossrail.

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From here we turn briefly up Turnmill Street and then right into Benjamin Street. At the end of this is the Goldsmiths Centre which was opened in 2012 as a new training and education facility supported by the Goldsmiths’ Company (one of the 12 great livery companies of the City of London). The building combines an 1872-built Grade II listed Victorian school with a modern extension.

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Just round the corner, on another section of Peter’s Lane, the weathervane and bull’s head mouldings on what is now the Rookery Hotel are another reminder of the proximity to Smithfield Market.

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So next we snake round Eagle Court, Albion Place and Briset Street which brings us out onto Britton Street. Here we find Mountford House, a block of flats built in the 1970’s but which incorporates the 1901-03 façade (by E.W Mountford) from the offices of Booth’s Gin Distillery, demolished as part of the same redevelopment. The preservation of the façade represented a rare victory for the forces of conservation at that time.

At the top of Britton Street we turn left then head back down Turnmill Street and pass Farringdon station again via another stretch of Cowcross Street. We then head north up Farringdon Road before slipping into Saffron Street and cutting up Onslow Street to return to Clerkenwell Road before heading south again on Saffron Hill. Where this meets Greville Street sits today’s pub of the day, the One Tun, which was established as an alehouse in 1759 and was frequented in his day by our old friend, Charles Dickens. Reputedly this was this inspiration for the Three Cripples pub which appears in Oliver Twist and will be familiar to viewers of the BBC’s “Dickensian” series. Accordingly I should probably have had ‘a little drop of gin’ and a pie instead of a pint of Ubu bitter and a duck fried rice. (Shame that Booth’s Distillery’s no longer around).

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After leaving the pub we move north again up Kirby Street which leads into Hatton Place from where Hatton Wall crosses into Hatton Garden. Hatton Garden and the streets leading off it create the internationally renowned jewellery quarter and hub of the UK diamond trade. Recently of course it has become indelibly linked in the public consciousness with the April 2015 raid on the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company which occupies nos 88-90; the so-called “largest burglary in English legal history”.

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On reflection then I suppose I should have been a bit more circumspect in wielding the camera round these parts. (But I guess no-one would expect lightning to strike twice).

The “bluecoat” statues on the building below are indicative of the site of a charity school. This building was originally a church built after the great fire of London allegedly to a design of Sir Christopher Wren. It was converted to a charity school at the end of the 17th century, suffered serious bomb damage during WWII and upon rebuilding was named Wren House. Fortunately these statues had been sent to a college in Berkshire for safekeeping prior to the start of the Blitz.

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Treasure House at nos. 19-21 dates from 1907 and is embellished with a fine set of carvings relating to the gold trade.

The southern end of Hatton Garden forms one of the spokes of Holborn Circus. Heading west from here along Holborn (A40) we pass this statue of Prince Albert before turning right up Leather Lane.

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It’s been some years since I last visited Leather Lane market and I have to say it seems to have headed downmarket (so to speak) in the intervening time. Though in fairness the stallholders were packing up as I got there and my memory may be putting a bit of a gloss on its former status.

I did quite like the idea of the pie-minister though.

Having dipped in and out of St. Cross Street we exit the north end of Leather line by Portpool Lane and in doing so pass through the middle of the Bourne Estate. Constructed during the Edwardian era between 1905 and 1909 the estate represents one of London’s best examples of tenement housing and a number of the housing blocks have been Grade II listed. The Bourne Estate is the third of the three key estates built by the London County Council in the years of its greatest innovation. In Britain the Bourne Estate is the least known, but it has an international significance as the model for the much admired and highly influential public housing erected in Vienna immediately after the First World War.

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Portpool Lane terminates on Gray’s Inn Road and taking a left turn southward we call in on Verulam Street before taking the next left which is Baldwin Gardens. This brings us to the massive, and yet extremely well-hidden, Church of St Alban the Martyr. This one was originally built in 1859 to a design of William Butterfield. After being “burnt out” in 1941 it was restored during 1959-61 under the guiding hand of Adrian Gilbert Scott.  The large mural behind the altar, The Trinity in Glory (1966) and the paintings of the stations of the cross down the side are by Hans Feibusch, an artist of German Jewish extraction who after fleeing to Britain in in 1933 produced murals for 28 different Anglican churches. St Alban, incidentally, was beheaded by the Romans in Britain some time in the 3rd or 4th century A.D.

Baldwin Gardens takes us back to Leather Lane and then via Dorrington Street, Beauchamp Street and Brooke Street (with an “e”) we work our way back to Holborn and the site of the building called Holborn Bars but perhaps better known as the Prudential Assurance Building. This impressively monumental terracotta edifice in the Gothic Revival style was built in 1879 to the designs of Alfred Waterhouse (after whom the square which it surrounds came to be named). The Pru still own the building but since 1999 they no longer occupy it. In 1986, when they did, I had a temporary placement here and still remember the woman who sat opposite me and talked incessantly of nothing but her future wedding which was more than a year away. It was one of the longest weeks of my life.

This has been a bit of a marathon posting so well done if you’ve stuck with it right the way through. We’ve reached the final stop, you’ll be relieved to hear, which is Gresham College on the other side of Holborn. Gresham College was founded in 1597 and has been providing free public lectures throughout the more than 400 years since. From 1542 to 1959 the site which it occupies now, Barnards Inn, was home to the independent school operated by the Worshipful Company of Mercers.

 

 

 

 

Day 12 – Gray’s Inn Road -Pentonville Road – New River Head – Charles Dickens Museum

Bit of a meandering one today, largely covering the triangular area bounded by King’s Cross Road, Pentonville Road and Roseberry Avenue then returning to Gray’s Inn Road and ending up at the Charles Dickens Museum. Much of this area is comprised of the site known as New River Head which is integral to the story of London’s water supplies. This trip also takes us for the first time into the London Borough of Islington.

Day 12 Route

Begin within a return visit to Kings Cross and take the Scala on the corner of Pentonville Road and King’s Cross Bridge Road as the starting point. Originally opening as a cinema in 1920, the Scala has had many incarnations including a brief ill-fated stint in the late seventies as a Primatarium (a specially made-up word I suspect). This monkeying around lasted all of 18 months before the venue reverted to being a cinema and also hosting live music performances. That continued until 1993 when the Scala Cinema Club went into receivership after losing a court case over an illegal screening of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. After a radical make-over it was resurrected in 1999 as a concert and club venue. Unfortunately the building is completely swathed in scaffolding for repainting at present.

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Cut through onto the top end of Gray’s Inn Road where the familiar un-tarted up Kings Cross lives on.

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On the opposite side of the road is Willing House, now a Travelodge but originally built around 1910 in a ‘Free Baroque’ style for the Willing family, whose fortune was founded on billboard sites.

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The streets which intersect between Gray’s Inn and King’s Cross Road have little of real interest but the photos below give some flavour of St Chad’s Place, Field Street, Leeke Street, Swinton Street, Wicklow Street and Britannia Street.

One thing of note on Wicklow Street is this indication that the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital isn’t that keen on taking on any additional patients.

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After that lot it’s back out onto King’s Cross Road and a break for lunch; finally catching up with the vogue for Vietnamese Banh Mi rolls (after everyone else has moved on no doubt).

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Cut up onto Pentonville Road again via Lorenz Street then back down Weston Rise and up Penton Rise. Somehow it’s never really registered with me before that a Rise is so-called because it does just that. On the west side of this incline is the 1960’s GLC built Weston Rise Estate which is garnished at its southern end by a somewhat incongruous tropical garden.

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On the other side is Vernon Square, home to Kings Cross Baptist Church and behind which is another SOAS campus.

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Heading further east along the Pentonville Road brings us to Claremont Square in the middle of which is the eponymous reservoir originally dug at the start of the 18th century then covered in 1855 following The Metropolis Water Act of three years earlier, prompted by the cholera epidemic of 1846, which required this of all reservoirs within London. The reservoir fell into disuse in the 1990s, but came back into service in 2003 to provide a kind of header tank or balancing reservoir for the London Ring Main

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Claremont Close loops off the square and then Mylne Street leads off the south-east corner down to Myddleton Square. This, the largest square in this part of London, is named after Sir Hugh Myddleton  one of the main architects of the New River project – of which more in a minute. In its centre sits St Mark’s Church, Clerkenwell, consecrated on 1st January 1828. The church is unusual in that there is no graveyard in its grounds. The congregation have also shared the church with the World Community for Christian Meditation since 2002.

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Having circumvented the square, Ingelbert Street takes us into Amwell Street and then River Street returns us to the square from where Myddleton Passage cuts through to Arlington Way. Here we emerge opposite the west side of Sadler’s Wells Theatre on Roseberry Avenue, London’s premier contemporary dance venue. The current building which opened in 1998 is the sixth theatre on this site; the first erected in 1683. Current offering is Matthew Bourne’s “Sleeping Beauty” which I can thoroughly recommend.

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Immediately to the west of Sadler’s Wells is the area known as New River Head which derives its name from being the site of the mouth of the New River, the channel cut at the start of the 17th century to supply London with water from springs out in Hertfordshire. This was all carried out under the auspices of the New River Company which became a very substantial property owner over the next couple of centuries before being taken over by the Metropolitan Water Board in 1904. It was the latter which constructed the Laboratory Building (below) in 1938 as a home for the testing of water quality. This archetypal 1930’s creation was converted to residential use in the 1990’s.

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On the apex of Roseberry Avenue and Hardwick Street sits the equally impressive New River Head Building which was opened in 1920 as the headquarters of the MWB. This also succumbed to conversion into luxury private residences in the nineties.

 

Hardwick Street leads into Amwell Street again and crossing over into Merlin Street we find Charles Rowan House  with its distinctive turrets and atypically Expressionist feel. This was originally built in the 1920’s as married quarters for Met policemen and was converted into council housing in 1974.

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Next up is Wilmington Street, then Fernbury Street and Naoroji Street (named after Dadabhai Naoroji (1825 – 1917) the so-called “Grand Old Man of India” and the first Asian to sit as a British MP). A bit more of Amwell Street then left into Lloyd Baker Street and right into Lloyds Street. The elevation comes into its own here with this view across to the BT Tower in the west.

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From Great Percy Street we dip back into Amwell Street then loop back via Cruikshank Street and Holford Street. Cumberland Gardens and Prideaux Place are the next stops before arriving at Percy Circus. Like Great Percy Street, this takes its name from Robert Percy Smith, Governor of the New River Company from 1827 to his death in 1845. It is also the least central of the London Circuses. At No. 16 is yet another blue plaque commemorating a brief residency of Lenin.

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Next down Vernon Rise back to King’s Cross Road and again zig-zag between this and Gray’s Inn Road taking in Acton Street, Frederick Street, Ampton Place, Ampton Street, Cubitt Street, Pakenham Street and Wren Street. This brings us to St Andrews Gardens opposite which on GIR is the London Welsh Centre – a hub for Welsh cultural activities in the capital not a rugby player.

Just a bit further up the road is the old Kings Cross telephone exchange with its distinctive blue façade.

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Wander down to Doughty Street to  rendezvous with final stop of the day, the Charles Dickens Museum at no.48. Dickens only lived in this Georgian terraced house from 1837 to 1839 but two of his daughters were born here. it was where he wrote Oliver Twist and it also sadly witnessed to the death of his 17 year old sister-in-law. The museum first opened in 1925 and, as you would expect, is home to the world’s most important collection of Dickens memorabilia, including the writing desk you see below. To be honest I can’t say it was the most scintillating museum experience I’ve ever had – perhaps I should have waited a week for the Christmas decorations to go up.

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48 Doughty Street
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Drawing Room
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Study