Oi oi & ahoy, it’s Bunhill day !
I usually stick with the old adage ‘the first thing that comes to mind, stick with it’ but today I’m really glad I changed my thought process. It had been a couple of weeks since I covered the streets of South Lambeth, Vauxhall & the Oval, and although I did find a few things that tweaked my interests, I was left a bit disappointed. It’s to be expected though, some wards of London are just going to be highly residential, with some that were bombed heavily during the war, so not many older buildings survive, and that was South Lambeth.
I have had incredibly selfish noisy neighbours for the last four years (moving in a few weeks) and so I often find places down on the river or out by the old docks the most peaceful places to research and last week it had been really stressful with home noise so I plumped for the ‘Peninsula’ ward of Greenwich. I guessed it would be bereft of too many people and but still held enough industrial heritage to garner my interest. At the last minute though, I changed my mind and went for Islington. It had been ages since I did a dig up there having spent so much time out east and south, I thought it was about time, so I headed for the ward known as Bunhill.
Bunhill ward is very much an inner city ward bordering as it does on the southern side the City proper, at the Barbican. It’s southern edges definitely feel like your in a business district as it’s very quiet at the weekend, with many of the pubs closed. The northern area and my starting point has a more residential and ‘shoppy’ vibe to it. It turned out to be a rather fascinating walk around every street of Bunhill ward, with the residential parts throwing up plenty of interest, along with plenty of older building that still line the manor.
Disclaimer time, once again I’d like to state that these walks of mine are mostly me trudging roads, streets and avenues that are entirely new to me. They are not intended to be historical or factual statements, merely me finding out places of interests for myself and research purposes. If I find interesting history then it’s possible I will put together a walk and more research will be done then, or if anyone reading this lives or knows the area discussed well, please drop me a line, as any assistance will be greatly received. Just wanted to say…..ta !
So, it all started up at the Angel, Islington. Here is where five major roads intersect, and three are within the boundary of Bunhill. They are The City Road, Goswell Road and St John’s Street. I’d never actually thought about ‘what is the difference between a road and a street?’ and it is of course that a ‘road’ is a connection between two places and a street is more or less a residential built up area. For example, Goswell Road is an ancient road joining the City of London with Islington, purposely built for that reason.
The Angel is of course named after the Inn that stood at the top of the hill for many a traveller heading north since the 17th century, when the term ‘ it was all fields around here then’ rang true. There was a hotel rebuilt in the first half of the 19th century, rebuilt again at the turn of the 20th century and falling into a derelict state by the end of the 1960’s. The building we see now was restored as a bank in the early 80’s. The reason for the popularity of this Inn here, and of others in the near vicinity was that it was the first staging post on what was then a dangerous route out of London heading north.
Other notable public inns in the area include the Old Red Lion Theatre pub, originally built in the 15th century. Still standing but in it’s more modern incarnation of its former self.
Toward the latter part of the 18th century, it has been noted that among other well known people of the day, the Red Lion was frequented by the likes of Dr Samuel Johnson, the author of the first real dictionary to give explanations of words. Among the others and to whom there is blue plaque on the wall outside the pub, was the author, politician and American ‘revolutionary’, Thomas Paine. Paine, seen as one of the ‘founding fathers of the United States’ was an Englishman, born in Norfolk, lived in Lewes, Sussex, and part wrote the second half of ‘ The rights of man’ in the pub. Paine was profoundly influenced by the French Revolution, and the British Government feared him and his rhetoric. Although a pub, I decided not to pop in (nothing to do with it not being open yet!)
Down St John St a few yards and then a quick left into Owen’s Street and Owen’s Fields, a triangular piece of land that upon research on Britain from above, one can clearly see the old school yard that made up Owen’s fields and I can only presume that the old gates here were part of the entrance. Back onto Goswell Rd and the divider in the road of Goswell Rd and The City Rd offers us the famous Smith & Sons clock tower.
Criss crossing the three main roads I find remnants of Victorian estates, plaques that clearly have references to past industries or organisations of past, and something I knew existed here but can’t find any information about, was a Quakers workhouse, on what would now be Paget Street and Hermit Street. On Horwood’s 1819 map of London it clearly shows the old workhouse but on a map of the mid 1850’s it’s gone. On further investigation the northern building was the workhouse and the building to the south was the Friends Meeting house.
I leave this interesting corner of the Bunhill ward and dart south. I use Lever street as a boundary. Between Lever St and the Angel lots of the original buildings to the north still stand but around Lever, post war buildings definitely take precedence, probably due to WW2 bombing. I find a lovely mid 1820’s church in St Clement’s and because the sun is hidden behind the spire I turn west towards another local landmark in King Square and the immense block of flat that looks down upon it. As beautiful as the church at the other end, and at least in distance, closer to God !
Heading south streets become more interesting again. Upon research many of them retained the same shape from when they were built, mostly in the 1820’s to the 50’s. On so many corners of these communities one can easily see the Georgian & early Victorian layout of the streets, and with London it’s amazing but no surprise that the layouts still the remain the same 200 years later. On the corner of what is now Dingley Rd and Dingley Place, a beautiful little triangular shaped structure with a ‘No 21, wine & spirit merchant and blender’ sign along the side.
The building been has turned into residential use this year (2018) and the signs restored beautifully. I find out from the informative ‘Pubs History.com’ that the building was once the Princess Alice pub of York Rd & George’s Row, and now not a pub of Dingley Rd ! Confused, yep I am !
I’d been so good at staying away from pubs I thought, but then realised it was still AM but ‘old bloke syndrome’ had returned with gusto and I needed a minute or two, shall we say! I spotted an opportunity, and it turned out to be the infamous Eagle of the City Rd. Just across the City Rd from where I needed to keep on kickin’ it, I utilised the space, took a couple of pics of a rather famous London pub, and skipped back into Bunhill ward. There had definitely been a few pub shutdowns around the manor but I was still impressed by how many still stuck around, particularly the ‘old school’ ones. A fine example of this is the Britannia on the corner of Lever Road and Ironmonger Row.
Moving down the City Road towards the gorgeous Old St roundabout, two very large building take my eye. The first to talk about is the important Moorfields Eye Hospital. The first hospital in the world specifically opened to deal with eye disease, it opened at the beginning of the 19th century mainly as a response to returning soldiers from the Napoleonic wars many of whom were suffering with Trachoma, and opened its doors for the first time in West Smithfield. From there it moved to a site near what is Liverpool St station and then to the site here on the City Rd, when in 1899 a spanking new, state of the art eye hospital was opened.
Many great medical steps were taken here and with the greater use of electricity, ever more so. The hospital became a centre of eye research around the world, and to find out more about Moorfields, follow this link https://www.moorfields.nhs.uk/content/our-history .
Sitting just around the corner on a prominent position next to the Old St roundabout, is the Leysian Mission building. Grand to say the least and built in brilliant terracotta style red, the Leys school was set up at Cambridge University in 1875, and the Leysian Mission set up ten years later amid concern for the poor of the East End of London. The Wesleyan Mission gave the Leysians rent free accommodation in Whitecross Street and Errol Street but these proved too small, and a purpose built building was opened up here on the City Rd in 1904 when the average attendance was nearly five hundred children. The school was intended to be the ‘Methodist Eton’.
Dipping into the back streets off the City Road I find yet another old school pub in the Old Fountain, looking a little out of place being surrounded by all the glass and steel blandness of many parts of London. I also pass a rather interesting substantial structure in the Willen Building.
Not as old as first expected, I would have plumped for the 30’s rather than 1948. Now City University of London residencies, its original occupants were the Willen Key Company. According to manchesterhistory.net the name comes from Willenhall in Staffordshire, which at the company’s time of origination, was the centre of the key and lock business. They moved back here to build this grand building after the war, after their original Bath St home was bombed.
Moving west and just north of the beautifully spired St Luke’s church, stands the Ironmonger Row public baths. Built in 1931 and intended to be a public wash house, a Victorian Turkish sauna was also built. During the 60’s many famous divers from around the world used the facilities here.
The building closed in 2010 for an upgrade and as builders were digging deep they unearthed some mediaeval pottery, floor tiling etc, quite a lot of it and this wasn’t your Primark quality, this was Fortnum & Mason! It was soon uncovered that before the baths were built, Victorian terraces were here, and long before that, a manor house connected to St Luke’s church. By all accounts, these guys had a few quid! The aforementioned St Luke’s church is a grade 1 listed John James & Nicholas Hawksmoor structure. It ceased being a place of religion in 1964 and is now the home of the London Symphony orchestra.
In this small block flats there are obviously some disgruntled residents of Islington Borough council. I haven’t had time to look into their grudges, but for me it’s good to see people standing up for themselves when they are narked, and it’s great when a community still stands together for each other.
Across the road on a new build house I look up to see this plaque and take a quick snap as I also notice a middle aged woman looking straight at me. I notice she’s wearing a dressing gown and so I sheepishly jog on so I don’t have to explain myself ! The plaque tells us that a police officer was killed here during a WW1 bomb. When I got home I checked the trusty old OS map from 1898 and found that the factory behind where the plaque is, was at least at that time an iron foundry. I have no idea if this was the actual factory that was hit by the bomb though. So to PC Smith and his act of bravery. On 13th June 1917 twenty Gotha German bombers took off from an airfield in Ghent, Belgium. Not all of them made it to London but the ones that did make it, had a devastating effect. 162 people died from East Ham to Islington on a bright sunny morning terror dropped from the skies that morning.
Liverpool St station was hit as were the Royal Docks. Many stories of heroism came out of that day but a well documented one is of PC Alfred Smith, immortalised in a plaque also down in Postman’s Park, deliberately attempted to keep female and girl workers inside of the factory on Central St as the raid was happening overhead. His act of bravery cost him his life as bombs fell only a few feet from where he was guarding the exit of the factory, killing himself and 15 others.
Heading into the final third of this really informative walk around Bunhill Ward, I head over the junction of Goswell Road and what becomes Clerkenwell Road. The first thing I notice is of course the old Hat & Feathers pub. On a pub history website this pub appears to closed down, opened up again, closed down, lived in by squatters and possibly turned into offices. It definitely was not open for pub like business when I walked by, which is a shame because it really give off an air ‘interesting old pub’ vibes. Just behind the old pub one can just make out a small poster for Christian Aid. The poster promotes the idea (which we all know happens) that the British Government openly sell arms to the Saudi dictatorship that is freely involved in ongoing atrocities in the Yemen.
Delving into the back streets between Goswell Road and St John’s Street I stumble upon a very quiet yard, especially for its size. This is Brewhouse Yard. I turn around and immediately spot a brewery or at least part of one. The rather large and rather red building is now at least part of the architects BDP but back when this place was the extensive Cannon Brewery, it was the fermentation house. There are only a couple of remnants of it, in what is now Brewery Square, with the old office still in used, presumably as housing.
Out onto St John’s Street and looking back at the office we can clearly see the company’s name above the entrance.
Weaving back into the back streets and down an alley or two, I see a few nice courtyards decked out for customers to partake in some Xmas booze and food. I also run by a few pubs that I might have entered had they been open. I must say that St John’s St took on a really eerie atmosphere. I seemed to be the only one walking down down it, and with its continual five or storeyed buildings on either side, they seemed to represent some of Berlin wall-esque vibe to me. I’m sure it’s very different when it’s not Xmas or the weekend.
So I only had one small to cover by now. I was very happy with the ground covered today but not just that, it had been quality info collected. It was just about to turn to dusk, I knew I needed to jog on as I wanted to collect a few pics of Charterhouse & Bunhill Fields burial yard whilst still light. So on to Charterhouse. I’m sure many of you know of Charterhouse and the square so I won’t bang on too much about it, suffice to say it has had real influence on the area over the centuries. The original monastery being built on top of an extensive black death burial ground in 1371, the monastery grew and grew during the medieval period and at the beginning of the Tudor era. After the dissolution of the monasteries, the Charterhouse was used to house the wealthy and royalty often stayed here and held meetings. The Charterhouse became a school in 1611 and also almshouses.
The school has been highly regarded throughout the centuries for its high standards of education and in the early 1870’s the school moved out of London and down to the leafy environs of Goldoming in Surrey. The square houses some fine buildings, both very old and some newer like this fine (guess-30’s block) and a few pretty alleyways.
Skirting around the border of the City and the Barbican in desperate attempt to cover all the roads in the ward before it got dark, I head for Whitecross Street. I knew there was a small and fairly old market held here, but what I garnered (especially after a swift half in one of the locals) was there seemed to be a sense of community still alive down here. There are some wonderful pictures tied to railings of past characters from the area, including shop owners of businesses no longer used or needed.
On both sides of Whitecross Street are some lovely Peabody buildings and frequently you will come across some typical ‘Shoreditch art’.
Thankfully though buildings like this Whitbread stable still exist amongst the rebuilding of mundane glass and steel structures that are becoming too common in London these days.
So nearly last but not least over to Bunhill Fields Burial ground and opposite that the home and museum of Methodism. Firstly Bunhill Fields Burial ground is what you might call ‘atmospheric’ at the right time of day. I caught it at dusk on an increasingly chilly day, with a red sky. The burial grounds are the last resting place of around 120,000 people dating back to the 17th century including Daniel Defoe ( author of Robinson Crusoe), William Blake, poet, John Bunyan (seen in photo),
writer and preacher, but ‘Bone Hill’ possibly came into existence in the Saxon period. The name Bunhill derives from ‘Bone hill’. There are over 2,300 monuments in the grounds, including over 1,600 headstones. It was used primarily as a nonconformist burial ground being just outside the City walls. The last burial took place here in the mid 1850’s and the grounds were then deemed a public open space. Well worth a visit for a breath of peace !
Another peaceful environment is just across the road at the Methodist Museum. I’m unashamedly an atheist but even just for the architecture these places have to visited. I’m always willing to learn why people ‘follow’ and had a very nice chat with one the staff in the museum. John Wesley set up the Methodist church with his brother. The Wesleys were sons of a nonconformist preacher from Dorset. John Wesley was educated at Charterhouse and then Christ Church, Oxford. There are many intricate acts that Wesley followed before, during and after setting up the Methodists, which I don’t want to go into here but a lot was to do with the colonies. It’s worth checking out the museums website for more info or pop in, even if religion isn’t your bag.
Uh oh, late addition. Can’t finish this without mentioning the Artillery Grounds ! From around 1500, the area was given over to the practice of archery and shooting. In the 18th century, the grounds became used for the sport of cricket. Cricket had just been invented possibly down at Kennington Common, where the first sport to use an enclosed arena took place. The Artillery ground was where the first sport to charge an entry started and was on a par with Lords in status as a ground. In 1784 Vincenzo Lunardi, an Italian aeronought, flew a balloon from here 25 miles north. His passengers that day were a cat, dog and a pigeon. Why on earth would a pigeon need a lift in a balloon ! The crowd that day was estimated at 200,000 strong. Later the grounds were used for Rugby and football, and still are to this day.
That’s it for another walk. Doing another tomorrow. Not sure which ward I’ll end up in though. That’s the beauty of doing this, so many places to see, so little time ! Just as I left the manor, I took a right out the Wesley museum and saw the kind of place that I really dig. A run down, disused factory or something. I’ve yet to find out what it used to be but hey, it had artwork of a toaster in the first floor window, and that is enough to gain my interest anywhere!
Once again, I’ll do more research on some of these places and If I find a common thread, I’ll hopefully put together a walk of the area.
Ps: Please check ‘my walks’ part of my website as I hope to get cracking on them in February. Here you’ll find local history, political espionage, pre millenium terror on the streets of London, lost industries and an ever growing portfolio of walks around town. I’m trying to arrange strolls across town in all areas for the future.
Please mail me if interested.
Only a tenner to you Guv !
Peas out & ta ta for now.