This walk took place on 22 June, the day before London pegged its colours to the masts of tolerance and enlightenment and practically the whole of the rest of England laughed in the face of this exhortation on the Great Eastern Road.
Which is where we begin this time; heading north west initially then veering due north up Curtain Road before covering the area west of there as far as City Road and south as far as Worship Road which is pretty much the northern boundary of the City now.
First though there’s a brief detour back on to Old Street to take a look at two Grade II listed buildings on opposite sides of the road. On the north side is the former Old Street Magistrates Court and Police Station, constructed in the Edwardian baroque style in 1906 to the design of architect John Dixon Butler. This has recently been converted into a 5-star 128-room hotel (opening just last month in May 2016 in fact). In somewhat dubious taste perhaps, five of the old 5ft by 15ft cells where East End felons including the Kray twins were banged up have been incorporated into the hotel bar as VIP booths which can be hired out for the night. The bar will also serve cocktails with a range of crime-oriented names including “slammer”, “clink” and “nick”.
Facing the hotel is Shoreditch Town Hall which was designed by Caesar Augustus Long opened in 1866 as the Vestry Hall for Shoreditch. Throughout the building the motto ‘More Light, More Power’ can be seen beneath the crest of Shoreditch. This motto, together with the statue of Progress on the front of the tower, commemorates the reputation that the Vestry, (later the Metropolitan Borough of Shoreditch), had as a progressive local government, particularly in its provision of electric power to the borough. Shoreditch Town Hall ceased to be a centre of municipal administration in 1965, when the boroughs of Shoreditch and Stoke Newington merged with Hackney to form the larger London Borough of Hackney. For the next four years the Assembly Hall became one of the East End’s premier boxing venues until in 1969 when, after a hard-hitting fight against Joe Bugner, the tragic death of Trinidadian boxer Ulric Regis led to a ban on boxing throughout Hackney. After this the building’s future became increasingly uncertain as neglect and disrepair set in. In the early 1990’s there was colourful interlude in the shape of the Whirl-Y-Gig weekly trance nights before in 1997 a trust was formed with a mission to regenerate the building. This eventually led to a reopening in 2004, following major restoration work, as an independent arts and events venue.
So next we track back west along Old Street and turn down Charlotte Road. Then it’s right into Rivington Street which leads out onto Great Eastern Street again where we turn left as far as Garden Walk. Head up here back to Rivington Street then complete the southern stretch of Charlotte Road. Crossing over Great Eastern Street we go west on Leonard Street where Joy Division meet Marvel’s Avengers – a near unbeatable combination in my book.
On the corner with Ravey Street (well-named for this part of town) is the Grade-II listed Griffin pub which dates from c.1889. Before its closure for refurbishment in 2014 it was described by Time Out as a “typical old blokes’ boozer”. What odds it will still warrant that description once it re-opens.
At the top of Ravey Street squeeze past some more new development to get to Willow Street then west to Paul Street and up to the apex of Old and Great Eastern Streets where stands this pink and grey polished granite monument which was originally a drinking fountain installed nearby by the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1880. When it was moved a short distance in 2002 as part of street improvements the fountain aspect seems to have been discarded.
Behind this to the north east is this giant geisha mural by artists Core246 & Kaes on the wall of Red Gallery.
So we retrace our steps down Paul Street, look in briefly on Blackall Street and then return along Leonard Street stopping off at Westland Antiques which occupies the former Church of St Michael and All Angels. This Victorian Gothic revival church was built in 1865 and designed by James Brooks (1825 – 1901) who was the architect of many East End churches of this era. Westland, who took over the site in 1977, specialise in salvaged Antique Chimneypieces and Fireplaces . But their collection extends far beyond that as you can see in the pictures below. If you find yourself in the area its more than worth looking in.
So after a circuit of Mark Square which lies behind the church we turn south down another section of Ravey Street into Luke Street then north east on Phipp Street and east on Gatesborough Street to reach the lower stretch of Curtain Road. From here we weave back and forth along Luke Street and Christina Street passing the splendidly-named but hugely disappointing Motley Avenue.
When we return to Curtain Road we find ourselves opposite one of the most decrepit (though presumably still financially viable) NCP Car Parks in the land.
Given everything else that’s going on in the area I can’t help but feel its days are numbered (though I also feel a tinge of regret about that – for the Star Wars mural alone it deserves a shot at survival for a few years yet). Anyway, continuing down Curtain Road we arrive at the site of the absolutely massive new residential, leisure and retail development known as the Stage. In 2011 the remains of Shakespeare’s Curtain Theatre were discovered 3 metres below the surface of the development. The intention now is to incorporate these remains into the development as a tourist attraction with a purpose-built visitor’s centre and sunken amphitheatre.
As you can see below, the Curtain Theatre was built in 1577 as London’s second playhouse, just a year after the first, simply known as The Theatre and only a few hundred yards away (and covered in a previous post). The Curtain’s heyday was really only the three years from 1597-1599 when it became the premier venue of Shakespeare’s company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, during the time it took for the Theatre to relocate to the South Bank and become the Globe. In this time though it did see the openings of both Romeo and Juliet and Henry V.
Hewett Street which was the actual address of the Curtain still survives as does the Horse and Groom pub (more like barely clinging on in truth) but Hearn Street to the south and Plough Yard to the east have both been wiped out by the redevelopment (though they still show up on Google maps).
That partially completely development you can see in the background above is Principal Place which some marketing genius has branded as the Unsquare Mile. It’s also subtitled (with rather more legitimacy) as the place where the City meets Shoreditch. (For the purposes of entitling this post you will note that I’ve switched that around).
In the background above is the well-known music venue, the Queen of Hoxton (teetering on the right side of the line for now). Moving on; at the eastern end of Worship Street we meet the junction of Shoreditch High Street and the wonderfully-named Norton Folgate (more of that another time).
Turning away from the City dragon we go up the A10 and revisit Great Eastern Street this time turning west down Holywell Lane. On the other side of Curtain Road this turns into Scrutton Street and where that forks into Holywell Row we have today’s pub of the day, the Old King’s Head – half of Estrella and a bacon, chicken and avocado sandwich for £5.95.
Holywell Row merges into Clifton Street which takes us back to Worship Street. After a brief stint westward we turn north again on Paul Street then east for the remainder of Scrutton Street and then left up New North Place. Emerging back on Luke Street we resume west into Clere Street (which was formerly Paradise Street – and you can see why they changed the name).
We then find ourselves on Tabernacle Street and veering northward takes us right back up to the Old Street/Great Eastern Street nexus. After turning briefly west on Old Street we take a left down Singer Street and then a right into Cowper Street which is home to one of my favourite music venues, XOYO, though this puts on far more club nights than gigs these days.
Across the road is the Central Foundation Boys’ School established in the 1860’s by the Reverend William Rogers to provide affordable secondary education (£4 a year) for the sons of skilled workers and tradesmen. It was originally called the Middle Class School (back when becoming Middle Class was still an aspiration).
We’re now at the Old Street roundabout and from here we head a short way south before turning east down Leonard Street. At the junction with Tabernacle Street we resume southward as far as Epworth Street which crosses over to Paul Street and then switch back via Bonhill Street. The final yards of Tabernacle Street run down to Worship Street almost at the apex with City Road and turning back up the latter represents the final stage of today’s journey. The western side of this stretch of City Road is dominated by the home of the Honourable Artillery Company. The HAC is the oldest regiment in the British Army and the second most senior unit of the Territorial Army. It traditionally traces its origins to 1537, when Henry VIII granted a charter to the ‘Fraternity or Guild of Artillery of Longbows, Crossbows and Handguns’ which was also to be a perpetual fraternity of St George. The building you can see below, which fronts onto City Road is the Finsbury Barracks designed by the architect Joseph Jennings and completed in 1857. Behind this is the gargantuan Armoury House, most of which dates back to 1735, and in front of that the extensive Artillery Garden (and sports grounds).
A little way further up, on the other side of the road, is our final stop of the day, Wesley’s Chapel. John Wesley (1703 – 1791), the founder of the Methodist branch of Protestantism, built the chapel in 1778 to be his London base. Its designer was George Dance the Younger, surveyor to the City of London. Although it has undergone some alteration the Grade I -listed chapel is still one of the finest extant examples of Georgian architecture. Margaret Thatcher was married here in 1951 and the communion rail was presented by her as a gift. To the right of the chapel is the house in which John Wesley lived for the last eleven years of his life. Wesley’s tomb is in the garden at the rear of the chapel alongside the graves of six of his preachers, and those of his sister Martha Hall and his doctor and biographer, Dr John Whitehead. The statue of Wesley which stands at the entrance to the courtyard bears the inscription “the world is my parish”. The ground floor of the chapel houses the Museum of Methodism which is well presented but, if I’m being honest, not exactly a riveting experience. It may be sacrilegious to say so but perhaps the best reason to visit the chapel is to take a look at the toilets; specifically the gents which are the only surviving original Victorian conveniences in London. These were installed at the end of the nineteenth century with cisterns by the one and only Thomas Crapper (1836 – 1910) who provided the colloquial name for the W.C even if he didn’t invent it as such.