Day 29 – Bunhill Fields – Whitecross Street – Barbican

This walk begins opposite where the last one finished, on the western side of City Road at Bunhill Fields, the last remaining historic burial ground in central London. It then winds its way westwards and southwards, taking in Whitecross Street market before ending up at the behemoth of modernist architecture that is the Barbican Centre and estate.

Day 29 Route

Bunhill Fields is the final resting place for an estimated 120,000 souls, a large proportion of them interred at the time of the great plague of 1665 when the area first came into use as a burial ground. As the ground was never consecrated by the Church of England it became a popular burial site for Nonconformists and Radicals among whose number were  John Bunyan (1628 – 1688), the author of The Pilgrim’s Progress and a Baptist, Daniel Defoe (1660 -1731), writer of Gulliver’s Travels and Moll Flanders and a Presbyterian, and William Blake (1757 – 1827), poet, artist and religious iconoclast.

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Tomb of John Bunyan
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Memorials to Daniel Defoe and William Blake

The last burial here took place in 1854 and the site was configured into its current layout in the 1860’s with a public garden area created alongside a hundred years later. The burial ground now contains 2,333 monuments, mostly simple headstones (of which there are 1,920) arranged in a grid formation. Among the more extravagant memorials is that of Dame Mary Page, wife of Sir Gregory Page, first baronet, wealthy City merchant and East India Company director. As you can see below, the tomb is unusual in bearing an inscription setting out the graphic detail of the disease that brought about the lady’s demise – believed to be what is now known as Meigs’ Syndrome.

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After a circuit of Bunhill Fields we head north up City Road a short distance before turning left into Featherstone Street and proceeding west to Bunhill Row with a brief deviation into Mallow Street. Cross over into Banner Street just off the south side of which sits the Bunhill Fields Quaker Friends House, originally the caretaker’s house of a set of Quaker mission buildings, the rest of which were destroyed in WWII. The surrounding gardens and playground occupy the site of the old ‘Quaker Burying Ground’ where the movement’s founder, George Fox, is buried along with many thousand early adherents.

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At the next intersection with we turn north for the first of several visits to Whitecross Street. This has been home to an eponymous market since the 17th century though by the late 19th century the area had become a by-word for poverty and alcohol, known colloquially as Squalors’ Market. When I used to visit it occasionally ten years or more ago it was very much in the “pile it cheap and high” tradition of street markets with just the odd food stall among the DVDs, kitchen implements and cut-price clothing. Nowadays the “street food” has effectively taken over completely and the market is more-or-less just a lunchtime affair. Naturally (in keeping with established tradition) I got here just as all the stalls were packing up.

We hit Old Street just opposite St Luke’s and resume west as far as Golden Lane where we turn south then east along Garrett Street back to Whitecross Street. The restaurants that line the street have gone pretty upmarket and edged out most of the old-school retailers. The second-hand record store run by a couple of aging Teddy Boys is long gone but one or two of the old guard cling on as you can see.

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Whitecross Street and its offshoots have also succumbed to the encroachment of “street art” (spreading west from its Shoreditch heartland). Topically and appositely, the latest manifestation is an image of someone very cross and very white.

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Next up it’s the western stretch of Banner Street which returns us to Golden Lane where we look in on Nags Head Court before turning back east along Roscoe Street. Loop round Baird Street then continue east along Chequer Street (through another Peabody Trust estate). On the return to Bunhill Row we dip south briefly then make a right into Dufferin Street and complete a circuit of Dufferin Avenue and Cahill Street before crossing Whitecross again, this time into Fortune Street. Where this meets Golden Lane once more we encounter what can only be a sign of things to come.

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Turning south we arrive at no.1 Golden Lane which is now offices of UBS Bank but started life in 1896 as the home of the Cripplegate Institute; a charitable foundation set up by the City of London Parish of the same name. The building, designed by architect Sidney Smith, who was also responsible for what is now known as Tate Britain, incorporated a reference library, news and magazine rooms and classrooms for teaching such subjects as photography, dressmaking and first aid. In 1898 a theatre, staging mainly amateur productions, was opened in the building. The institute left the premises in 1987 and relocated to Chiswick, having sold the building for £4.5m.

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At its southern end Golden Lane emerges into Beech Street, a lengthy stretch of which forms the Barbican Tunnel. Heading east again we pass the Barbican Cinema which is now housed in a separate building from the rest of the arts complex.

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Passing this we turn back into Whitecross Street where the last vestiges of the old 3-for-a-fiver style street market are huddled in a concrete forecourt to a Waitrose supermarket. I once bought a checkered trilby hat here for £6 and still get occasional use out of it when the sun deigns to make a proper effort.

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Next right is Errol Street which forks right again into Lambs Buildings where you can find the home of the Royal Statistical Society in a converted Victorian Sunday School building. In 1833 the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BA) created a statistical section following a presentation by the Belgian statistician Adolphe Quetelet to its fellows. This proved so popular that, a year later, a Statistical Society was founded by Charles Babbage, Thomas Malthus and Richard Jones with the Marquis of Lansdowne as President. Florence Nightingale became the first female member in 1858. I failed miserably to come up with any interesting actual statistics about the RSS but a mildly interesting fact is that Harold Wilson was its President in 1972-73 whilst leader of the opposition to Ted Heath.

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Just around the corner is St Joseph’s Catholic Church featuring the memorial Cardinal Hume Quiet Garden.

Turning left we’re back on Bunhill Row which was originally called Artillery Walk (as it runs along the western side of the grounds of the Honourable Artillery Company – as featured in the last post). John Milton lived here for a time, during which he completed Paradise Regained.

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We go south from here onto Chiswell Street and then complete a circuit of Lamb’s Passage, Sutton’s Way and Whitecross Street (for one final time) before crossing into Silk Street and entering the Barbican Centre just as the rain starts to fall.

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The Grade II listed Barbican is Europe’s largest multi-arts and conference venue and one of London’s best examples of Brutalist architecture. It was developed from designs by architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon as part of a utopian vision to transform an area of London left devastated by bombing during the Second World War. Although the first proposals were submitted in 1955 it wasn’t until 1971 that construction started and 1982 when the Queen formally opened the building. For a whistle-stop  history of the Barbican site from medieval times to the present day I would recommend this animated video inspired by an essay from the pen of Peter Ackroyd. The image below shows how things looked in 1955, with only the church of St Giles Cripplegate having miraculously survived the carnage wrought by the German air raids.

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The following selection of images feature :

  • a spatial installation in the foyer (until 10/09/2016), exploring the theme of collision, in which two revolving arms narrowly evade each other in a mobile of light and sound in constant motion.
  • the Barbican Muse – a sculpture, created by artist Matthew Spender, of a woman holding the separate masks of tragedy and comedy.
  • the Guildhall School of Music and Drama – founded in 1880 and taking up residence in the Barbican complex in 1977.
  • the “lakeside” terrace (thronged on this day with graduating students from King’s College)
  • the residential tower blocks (now some of last remaining from their era)

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Nip in to see the latest exhibition in the art gallery which is a retrospective of work by the Icelandic performance artist, Ragnar Kjartansson which you can catch until the first week of September 2016. Centrepiece of the exhibition is a work entitled Take Me Here by the Dishwasher: Memorial for a Marriage (2011) a live performance featuring ten guitar-strumming troubadours singing for up to eight hours a day against a backdrop of a clip from an Icelandic softcore film of the Seventies starring the artist’s parents.

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Leave the Barbican by the Silk Street entrance again, head east and loop round Milton Street and Moor Lane. This area is home to several of the monolithic glass skyscrapers that have come to dominate the City and these days there are as many residential as there are office blocks and I find myself asking if there isn’t perhaps a finite pool of people who can stump up £3.75m plus for an apartment, however stunning the view.

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Moor Lane backs onto another massive instalment of the Crossrail redevelopment.

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Fore Street takes us round to the southern side of the Barbican complex where we find the aforementioned St Giles Cripplegate church.  It is believed that there has been a church on this site since Saxon times though it was during the Middle Ages that it was dedicated to St Giles. The name “Cripplegate” refers to one of the gates through the old City wall, which had its origins in Roman times as a fortification to protect the Roman city from attackers. There is no definitive explanation of the origin of the word ‘Cripplegate’ but it is thought unlikely that it relates to cripples despite the fact that St Giles is their patron saint (along with beggars and blacksmiths).  It is more likely that the word comes from the Anglo-Saxon “cruplegate” which means a covered way or tunnel, which would have run from the town gate of Cripplegate to the original Barbican, a fortified watchtower on the City wall. Sections of the old wall can still be seen near the church.

The church was designated a Grade I listed building on 4 January 1950 and it was extensively restored in 1966. Against the northern flank of the church is one of 14 artworks located around central London which were organised during Lent 2016 into a trail telling the story of the Passion of Christ under the umbrella title Stations of the Cross. Some of these (like the Jean Cocteau mural reported on a couple of posts back) are longstanding features of the city but the one you can see below, station no.9 by G.Roland Biermann, is one of four freshly commissioned pieces in 2016.

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As you see, after an absence of several weeks, some more of my pigeon friends have managed to inveigle themselves into this final collection of images.

Leaving the many fascinations of the Barbican behind we finish for today by walking down Wood Street to London Wall (which we will return to on other occasion).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Day 28 – Where Shoreditch meets the City

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.

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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.

Day 28 Route copy

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Behind this to the north east is this giant geisha mural by artists Core246 & Kaes on the wall of Red Gallery.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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).

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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).

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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 ChapelJohn 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.

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