Friday, 3rd May 2019 – Walk from Euston Station to Borough Market via the City, London
You see the oddest things when you walk through London, even just the small quarter that tends to represent my regular beat. Sometimes there’s just no explanation for them, the most notable being the pink elephant in the Brunswick Centre, because no matter the amount of digging I’ve done, I really don’t know why it’s there; it’s a very fine elephant regardless of its purpose (or otherwise).
Slightly more explicable is the statue of Euterpe in one of the small parks along the way between the station and the office. Though I’m not sure who put the crown on her.
Back in March there was also some fabulous blossom to be seen.
However, I didn’t pass any of those things on this walk in early May, from London Euston station to Borough Market by way of the office and the City. I did find a lot of other things I didn’t know about though, starting with the Fortitude Bakehouse on Colonnade (or Colonnade Mews as it’s apparently sometimes known). Before you get to that though, there is the Horse Hospital on the corner with Herbrand Street. This is now a theatrical costume store, but was originally what it says on the tin. It dates from around 1890, and the “site has had a long history of equestrian use since its initial construction by James Burton in 1794-97. It was occupied by veterinary surgeons and farriers before being used as a print shop until 1988. The Horse Hospital is a rare survival of double-decker inner-city stables.” There is a ramp inside between floors, which presumably makes dragging rails of costumes around, and which I assume would have been used to move the equine patients around. The mews itself is one of the wider ones I know of in London, and very handsome.
It also contains the aforementioned bakery which specialises in sourdough cakes and breads, but which also produces a frankly magnificent cinnamon bun (as it should be at a price of £3.45 per bun – that’s €3.96, or $4.43 to those of you outside the UK looking for a reference). They are very, very good, sticky and chewy and best eaten hot or at least warm, and they were just pouring syrup over them when I arrived at their door. I bought one and went on my way along the mews.
Mews have a long history in London (and elsewhere I would imagine) and were formerly places where hawks were kept while they moulted. It’s since come to mean stables since 1548 when the royal stables were built at Charing Cross on the site of the royal hawk mews, and now means a service road for those stables and the houses above and in front of them (or more precisely “a property in a Mews – a lane, alley, court, narrow passage, cul de sac or back street originally built behind houses in the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries to provide access for stables or coach house accommodation (often with associated living accommodation)”. These properties are now very desirable and any remaining mews contain lots of interesting and different houses and offices. “In 2015 a survey of the Mews in London estimated that there were 433 Original/Surviving Mews properties still in existence.”
Colonnade Mews itself has been in existence since at least 1801, and provided stables and lodgings for the coachmen who worked for the owners of the houses on Guilford Street. In 2011 nine new townhouses were built there and were sold at prices from £999000 to £1295000, but you can test the desirability of the location out if you want (https://luxuryservicedapartments.com/properties/colonnade/) without having to pay out a fortune! The other properties in the mews seem to now be film or TV studios of some sort.
Anyway, brown paper bagged bun in hand, I went on my way, stopping to admire some of the flowers running rampant at the end of the mews, just by the 2011 houses.
From Colonnade Mews, I made my way into Lamb’s Conduit Street, another very historic address in London. The whole area was originally part of the Bedford Charity Estate, founded in 1564 by Sir William Harpur (1496-1574) for the benefit of Bedford School. The neighbouring fields included conduits that supplied water to the City of London, one of which was financed to the tune of £1500, by William Lamb (or Lambe), who also provided 120 pails for poor women. The conduit, or pipe, was rebuilt to plans drawn up by Christopher Wren, after being damaged in the Great Fire of London. The street became fashionable in the nineteenth century, Charles Dickens counting as a local (the Charles Dickens Museum is close by). You can see the remains of the head of the conduit on the side of a 1950s building on the corner between Lamb’s Conduit Street and Long Yard but that’s as close as you can now get.
One of the more notable building is The Lamb pub, where Lynne and I used to occasionally drink back in the 1980s. It’s a very fine public house from both inside and out and dates from the 1720s. Being in Bloomsbury, it’s not short on literary associations, with claims that Dickens drank there, and that Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath were known to meet there (Hughes was a regular).
Halfway along I turned off and walked down the very short Great Ormond Street where someone has gone to a great deal of trouble to make it a riot of glorious planters, with flowers bursting out all over, and some even embedded in to earth around one of the roadside trees. There’s a link here with another school, this time Rugby School, founded in the sixteenth century as a result of a bequest made by Lawrence Sherriff (or Sherriffe), a Rugby-born London grocer. He owned an eight-acre pasture in Conduit Close, which could not be built on at the time because it was half a mile outside the London city walls.
It might not have appeared very valuable at the time (it was let for the not very princely sum of 8 shillings a year), but by 1807 the annual rental income was over £2000, and I’m pretty sure it’s worth a fortune now. Some of the land was sold off to what is now Great Ormond Street Hospital, and although the school failed to redevelop a lot of the rest of the houses on the Rugby Estate I cannot imagine they are not making money from the leases. The next street along is Rugby Street which is also rather lovely and contains some very expensive shops. The oldest house still on Great Ormond Street is No. 49, and there’s an interesting article about it here.
Rounding the corner into Great James Street, there is an interesting contrast between the old and the relatively new, and there is also a blue plaque (there are a lot in Bloomsbury needless to say) indicating that Dorothy L. Sayers lived and worked at No. 24.
Frome here I crossed Theobalds Road, trying not to get run over, and trekked down another mews, this time Jockey’s Fields, which runs behind properties along Holborn and Gray’s Inn enclosure. These mews were originally built around 1720 and served as stables for the houses on Bedford Row, though they were heavily damaged by a direct hit from a German bomb in WWII. From here there is a small gateway into Gray’s Inn and its gorgeous gardens.
Gray’s Inn is one of the four Inns of Court (the others are Lincoln’s Inn, Inner Temple and Middle Temple), which were originally associated with the Inns of Chancery, a major component of legal education since the fourteenth century. These lesser inns (the Inns of Chancery) were originally for young men at the start of their legal education, where they could learn the basic elements of the law before entering an Inn of Court to study law in greater detail. It’s very peaceful in the early morning hours, and you can get a look at The Walks through the railings that shut them off from idly curious people like me (though they are open to the public for a couple of hours around lunch time).
They are apparently one of the largest privately owned gardens in London at almost 6 acres, and they date back – in their current layout – to the early 17th century when Sir Francis Bacon was Treasurer of the Inn. There are smaller garden areas within South Square and Gray’s Inn Square too, and these are not fenced off. I need to nip back one lunchtime for a closer look though.
I finally battled my way out of the Inn (there’s a lot of work going on at present which means that several of the entrances/exits are out of action for the time being) and onto High Holborn, coming out just along from the end of Gray’s Inn Road and the mad fruit seller who thinks you should make sure you get your 5-a-day (at least)!
High Holborn is close to the London end of the A40 road which runs all the way to Fishguard so it’s historic in its own right. It’s also the site of Staple Inn which was one of the two Inns of Chancery associated with Gray’s Inn.
It’s a somewhat ricketty part-Tudor building used as the London venue for meetings of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries, and is the last of the Inns of Chancery still standing, largely intact. It is believed that the building was once the wool staple, a place where wool would be weighed and taxed, and it has survived a great deal including the Great Fire of London, though not the Luftwaffe. The building was substantially restored after WWII and it has a timber-framed façade, a cruck roof and a Georgian internal courtyard, with the ground floor being let as commercial premises. Apparently it also featured on tins and pouches of Old Holborn tobacco, which I vaguely remember from when I was a child and my Dad went through a pipe smoking phase, frustrated by the fact that he could never keep one alight!
I headed down High Holborn towards Saint Paul’s, stopping to admire the viaduct over the Farringdon Street and the now subterranean River Fleet. It was built between 1863 and 1869, as a part of the Holborn Valley Improvements, and cost £2 million at the time (around £181 million at 2018 rates). As anyone who travels through this part of London will tell you, it no longer succeeds in its stated aim to improve the flow of London traffic. It was opened by Queen Victoria wuith a coach procession on 6th November 1869.
If you’re on foot you can get between the street levels through some very fine pavilions at each side and either end, and it’s worth a quick detour to investigate these and the restored (post-WWII) statues on the viaduct itself. In addition to being possibly the world’s first flyover, it was also home to the world’s first coal-fired power station, the Edison Electric Light Station, opened on 12th January 1882, three years after the invention of the carbon-filament incandescent light bulb. It ran at a loss for just over four years, when the lamps that it powered were converted back to gas and the station was closed.
At the next crossroad I turned off High Holborn and headed down towards Smithfield. The Golden Boy of Pye Corner marks the spot where the 1666 Great Fire of London was stopped. The statue is made of wood and is covered with gold. The building that incorporates it is Grade II listed and sits on the corner of Giltspur Street and Cock Lane, a small street in Smithfield, leading from Giltspur Street in the east to Snow Hill in the west. “Cokkes” Lane was the site of a number of legal brothels in medieval times and is reputedly haunted, though I doubt that. The Golden Boy himself was originally part of the front of a public house called The Fortune of War before it was pulled down in 1910. He’s a fine but small piece of history.
From here you can cut through or walk round Saint Batholomew’s Hospital. Or at least you can normally; there’s a lot of work going on there too so it’s not as easy as it might be to cut through the hospital grounds or in fact walk around the outside. Bart’s is a very old institution, dating back 1123, and is now a teaching hospital run by Barts Health NHS Trust. It was founded by Rahere, a courtier of Henry I, who was also a prebendary of St Paul’s Cathedral and an Augustinian canon regular. The hospital survived the Dissolution of the Monasteries, before being refounded by Henry VIII in December 1546. It is the oldest hospital in Britain still providing medical services on its original site and although a lot of it is modern, there are a number of historically and architecturally important buildings including the Henry VIII entrance, with with the only extant statue of the king in London. The pigeons seem to like him!
The main square, by James Gibb, was built in the 1730s and three of the four blocks survive to this day. The first wing built was the North Wing, which contains murals by William Hogarth. 120 years later a fountain was placed at the square’s centre, and it is still there and it still works.
There’s also museum showing the development of medical care over the centuries and looks interesting if I can get round the somewhat restricted opening hours.
After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the hospital precincts were designated as an Anglican ecclesiastical parish, and the lovely St Bartholomew-the-Less became the parish church, the only one of five chapels to survive the Reformation.
Outside, but associated with the hospital, is St Batholomew-the-Great, which was the Priory Church, founded as an Augustinian priory in 1123. It was also founded by Rahere in gratitude for his recovery from fever. Despite the Reformation, part of the main entrance to the church remains including its half-timbered late 16th-century, Tudor frontage.
From this gatehouse to the west door of the church, the path runs where the south aisle of the nave was although there is very little left of the original monastic buildings. Later it fell into disrepair, was occupied by squatters, and was finally restored in the late 19th century. The Lady chapel had been used for commercial purposes and it was there that Benjamin Franklin worked for a year as a journeyman printer, while the north transept had been used as a blacksmith’s forge, so the restoration wasn’t easy. It did however escape damage during WWII, not something that could be said of most of the surrounding buildings.
On the other side of the street from the gateway is a small memorial to William Wallace. Smithfield was, in its past, one of the most important places in London for entertainment which included jousting, summer fairs and executions. William Wallace was executed here on 23rd August 1305. he was a Scottish knight who became one of the main leaders during the Wars of Scottish Independence, and was tried for treason in Westminster Hall, despite his probably not unreasonable claim that he could not be guilty, because he had never sworn fealty to Edward I. It didn’t save him and so he is memorialised on the outer wall of St Barts.
From there I needed to cross over to the wonderfully, tiny, splendidly eccentric Postman’s Park. I love this park. It’s quiet, shady, full of interest. It’s part of the site of the former headquarters of the General Post Office (GPO), hence the name, and provides one of the largest open spaces in the City of London, though it’s not exactly enormous. Prior to opening as a park in 1880 it had been the churchyard and burial ground of St Botolph’s Aldersgate. A shortage of space for burials in London meant that corpses were often laid on the ground and covered over with soil, which is why the park is higher than the streets around it.
If you find yourself in the park you mustn’t miss the splendid Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice, which is just wonderful in an odd, and oddly moving, sort of way. The wall was opened in 1900 and basically commemorates ordinary people who gave their own lives to save others. It was begun by George Frederic Watts, and uses plaques designed by leading tile designer William De Morgan.
Only four of the planned 120 memorial tablets were in place at the time of its opening, and a further nine tablets were added during Watts’s lifetime. His wife, Mary, managed the project after his death in 1904 and a further 35 memorial tablets were installed. Later she became disillusioned with the new tile manufacturer and only added five further tablets. In June 2009, Jane Shaka, through the Diocese of London, added a new tablet, the first new addition for 78 years.
The gardens are well kept and tended and it’s a lovely place to sit and think.
There’s also a deeply cheeky squirrel.
From the park I was now very close to work, just a matter of crossing Aldersgate Street, a road which runs north from the old Aldersgate gate. The name is more modern than the gate it applied to, which was Roman and 2nd or 3rd century. The name is first recorded around 1000 as “Ealdredesgate”, the gate associated with a man named Ealdrād. The old Roman gate was taken down in 1617, and rebuilt the same year, before being damaged by the Great Fire of London in 1666. It was repaired once more and remained in use until 1761. There’s not a great deal left of it now and it can get very traffic-choked, making getting across something of a challenge.
I scooted off down Gresham Street towards Pewterer’s Hall, where my employers usually hold their summer party, the garden of which used to be the site of the church of St Mary Staining. Staining seems to refer to Staines, implying that the landowner was from there.
There was certainly a church on the site in 1189. Oat Lane, on which it stood, was probably the site of an oat market in the C16th, before the church was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. The garden is a raised area of lawn with a large plane tree, a path on two sides and tombstones ranged along the back. It is overlooked by Pewterers’ Hall, which was built here in 1959-61 after the Company’s hall in Lime Street was demolished in 1932. The Pewterer’s Hall is surprisingly attractive given its age (it’s the same age as me), and has some very interesting artefacts inside if you ever get the chance to go in. It’s a shame the 1496 hall no longer exists though.
And so to the office, escaping at lunchtime for a trip to Borough Market. I went a different route to the market for once, going past the Bloomberg Building and stopping to take pictures of the Walbrook, another of London’s mostly underground waterways. I think they missed a trick with this because it now looks like it’s the overflow from someone’s washing machine. It’s really not as attractive as I suspect it was in the artist’s head, or as it was originally! Because make no mistake, this is an installation by the artist Cristina Iglesias. It’s called “Forgotten Streams” and “The revelatory landscape is woven through three different plaza spaces, evoking the Lost Rivers of London, namely the Walbrook”. If she says so… I fully expect that at some point, Ben Aaronovitch is going to have something to say about this; I’m not sure it will be complimentary.
I cut towards the Thames from there, passing the Tallow Chandlers Company hall. The Tallow Chandlers used to regulate oils, ointments, lubricants and fat-based preservatives and to manage candle making using tallow (animal fats). They have been around since 1300 or so, and were granted a coat of arms in 1456 by Edward IV, and gained full livery status in 1462. They have owned the site since 1476, with the current hall dating from 1672. The hall was undamaged in WWII and has not really changed substantially since its completion. It’s rather swish, as so many of the livery companies’ halls are.
And so, via the Hanseatic Walk, over the river to the old “stewes of Southwark” via the old Bear Gardens and to the market for some serious food shopping.