Soon after the Centre for Hearth Tax Research started working on the 1666 London hearth tax, I had an idea in the back of my mind to compare and contrast an analysis of wealth and poverty derived from the hearth tax with the work and findings of the nineteenth century social analyst Charles Booth. First things first, why did I think this was a good or plausible idea?
For those unfamiliar with the work of Charles Booth, between 1886 and 1903 he researched and published a seventeen-volume study of wealth and poverty in London entitled Life and Labour of the People of London. Booth’s study was pioneering in many ways but probably his most notable achievement (and the one that has endured longest in the minds of the public) were his ‘Maps Descriptive of London Poverty’ in which he brought together socio-economic analyses and geographical locations to produce maps of wealth and…
‘Men , with their B.M (Bloody Manly) walk, were so terribly difficult to emulate. The biggest give away was the gay walk’ (Skinner, writing in Gay News 1978 quoted by Rictor Norton in The Myth of the Modern Homosexual 1997).
This post, written as part of the coursework exploring queer public history for the Queer History MA at Goldsmiths, aims to take the reader on a tour of Clerkenwell (occasional strolling into neighbouring areas). Its theme is how queer culture has intersected with the radical fabric of the area.
Clerkenwell was traditionally one of the poorest areas in London and its proximity to Fleet Street where the print industry was developing in the 17th century created the conditions for an emergence of political dissent. The area is part of the borough of Islington where in recent history the balance of power in local government has nearly always been held by The Labour Party.
In 1985 this neighborhood became home to the Lesbian and Gay Centre (LLGC) at 66 Cowcross Street. The LLGC aimed to provide a self-managed, non-commercial, autonomous queer space.
Founding statements by the Greater London Council on its reasons for funding the London Lesbian and Gay Centre
Central to the Greater London Council’s (GLC) equal opportunities policies, this five-story building cost over £1 million. Championed by the left and scorned by the right it was perceived as the embodiment of everything municipal socialism stood for. While criticised by the right at the time, the GLC and Islington council policies towards lesbians and gay men have now become standard across the political spectrum.
Various press clippings found in Capital Gay which trace the establishment of the Centre
During its lifespan the centre housed various groups, some still in existence today. These included The Hall Carpenter Archives group from which this post is indebted to for providing most of the visual input.
The Centre also reflected the political culture within the community. Fierce debate raged in the pages of London’s gay press over whether bisexuals and a group calling itself ‘SM Dykes’ should be allowed to used its facilities.
Despite a relatively short existence the Centre left an enduring legacy. This was an experimental space where many long lasting projects and ideas were formulated that cemented together various diverse strands within the queer community leading to lasting friendships and alliances. Its decline raises broader questions exposing difficulties arising from its reliance on state funding and the changing political climate. But like a phoenix from the ashes maybe one day the centre will open its doors at a new location with a new outlook on diversity more suited to the 21st century and catering to the BTQ of the LGBTQ community, not just the LG!
Walking up Cowcross Street and crossing the road to St John Street the next stop on our queer tour is 16 St John Street, a tall slim building now housing several commercial offices but once home to the Headquarters of the Communist Party of Great Britain.
Around 1982 a young queer punk squatter from Portrush Northern Ireland made a trip to Bangladesh. The sick, poverty stricken children and people begging on the streets changed his whole attitude to life. He became a communist. His name was Mark Ashton and he was the first ‘out’ gay man to become general secretary of the Young Communist League (YCL).
Here is a party membership card belonging to former Communist, journalist David Aaronwich. He once wrote that ‘growing up a British Communist meant to encounter a series of connections which others simply did not have.’
Walking down St John Street I turn right through back streets of council housing juxtaposed with new coffee shops and art hubs. This is a reminder of the area’s working class roots. The various points in this part of the walk which pass through these North London housing estates echo the theme in my previous post based in Deptford. Here in North London I consider how social housing has impacted queer Londoners. Matt Cook in his study of queer domesticities reports that from the 80s the GLC and other Left Wing Councils, Islington being one of the most prominent, began tackling discrimination directly in their housing policies. By 1986 Islington had a an equal opportunity housing policy designed to accommodate Lesbians and Gay men, recognising these minorities were vulnerable to homelessness. They offered protection from harassment and secure housing tenancies on the same terms as heterosexual single people and couples.
Arriving at 25 Noel Street, former home of another rebel, gay playwright Joe Orton and his lover Kenneth Halliwell. Back in 1962 when homosexuality was unmentionable they were arrested for stealing and defacing books from Islington’s public libraries Orton and Halliwell were sent to prison for 6 months and fined 40 shillings. On Thursday 13 Jan 1983 Islington council decided to erect the green plaque outside the house
Ironically it is the councils libraries panel who is responsible for green plaques. This was a move urged by the Gay and Lesbian Working Party and is evidence of how in the space of 20 years municipal attitudes in the borough towards sexual minorities had turned full circle. Deputy Librarian Stan Marshall told Capital Gay ‘There is a kind of irony I suppose, with the distance of time it is now quite witty, but at the time it was different’
Just a few yards away from Noel Street stands the site of the Fallen Angel at 63-65 Graham Streetnow fallen to the same fate of many of the pubs covered in my Ghost Pub Walk and converted into residential property. Benefits for social groups such as the London Gay Teenage Group, an all day vegetarian cafe and a women only night on a Tuesday, all combined to make this venue a popular alternative to the commercial gay scene. It became the subject of controversy when its women only night was successfully challenged in court on the grounds of sexism, leading to the establishment of a picket line outside the pub in order to dissuade men from entering the premises on women only nights.
Reaching the junction of Upper Street and Pentonville Rd I walk down into Kings Cross.
I passed the site The Bell ( the home of the ‘alternative clone’) once stood and at end of Pentonville Road to my right is the Scala nightclub. During the 1980s this venue offered an unique queered experience of cinema going with its all nighter attracting an eclectic mix of cinema goers. These all nighters at the weekend showcased arthouse features by the work of cult film makers such Russ Meyer, John Waters, and Derek Jarman to name but a few.
Exiting Kings Cross via Grays Inn Road, crossing into Farringdon Road and through Exmouth Market I pass by an expansive building, the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA). This archive acknowledges that London has always been the capital for the LGBTQ community in the UK and is committed to reflecting this. Within its stored records can be discovered committee minutes, correspondence and grant files relating to the establishment and assistance of LGBTQ groups from public bodies such as the GLC Inner London Education Authority (ILEA).
The LMA continues to document the history of the LGBTQ community by actively collecting archives relating to the queer experience in London. They partner with the Speak Out London, an oral history group, and the Black Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Cultural Archive, RUKUS.
Before turning back into Farringdon Road I spot a pub at 2 Northampton Road, The Bowler, this used to be called The Surprise. While not an exclusively gay venue, it did however play host to several queer club nights, one of these was a regular event held on a Saturday night called The New Depression. This offbeat and friendly club was similar to The Bell and The Fallen Angel in its choice of music, and clientele.
Given the aforementioned radical roots of the area and its history of embracing the marginalised, it is fitting that I end our walk on Clerkenwell Green at Marx House, the site of the Marx Memorial Library. As well as archiving a vast array of socialist material the building plays host to various leftist educational and activist gatherings.
So ends our tour of queer Clerkenwell. Hopefully I have demonstrated the importance of this part of London from a queer perspective and I hope for some of you this has triggered many happy memories. If there is something you feel has been left out from our walk please free to add this in the comments box below.
Traditionally, the flaneur is normally considered as a male who goes and watches the river of life flow past him in all its majesty and splendour. It is usually perceived that the males can only marvel at the everlasting magnificence and the astonishing concord of life in the capital cities, a harmony so advantageously upheld among the mayhem of human freedom (Purdy, 2004). Nevertheless, I, Flanunes, a 24-year-old woman, always conflicted with this notion and always wanted to break the misconception that flaneur is always male. To break this notion, I decided to take a walk on Oxford Street back in the festive season of 2015 as the entire area was to be soon decked out in sparkling lights, and as retail activity picked up over the last few months of the year. Consequently, there was really no better time to come to find lots of bargains here.
This was not my first walk on this street as I used to walk here with my father back in the 1990s when we lived just a few blocks from here. So the thought of seeing how much things have changed since then also motivated me to take a walk on this street.
As far as my knowledge goes, Oxford Street has been one of the main arteries pulsing through the heart of the London’s West End for centuries, and its roots can be dated all the way back to Roman periods. During the Middle Ages, the 1.5-mile-long street (stretching from Marble Arch station to the west and Tottenham Court Road station to the east) used to be recognised as Tyburn Road, and was the central road leading from London to Oxford.
At present, with over 200 million visitors every year, Oxford Street is the busiest shopping street in Europe, and the most common shopping endpoint in London. As I love to shop, this street was a heaven for me. Though many of its stores were packed full of high-end, boutique items, I didn’t necessarily need to be made out of money to enjoy all that Oxford Street had to offer.
I reached the street by tube. Back in the 1990s, there used to be only three underground stations but at present there are five different underground stations within walking distance to Oxford Street: Marble Arch (via the Central line); Tottenham Court Road (via the Central and Northern lines); Piccadilly Circus (via the Bakerloo and Piccadilly lines); Oxford Circus, (via the Bakerloo, Central and Victoria lines) and Bond Street (via the Central and Jubilee lines).
I planned my tour as per the shop opening times which tend to stay open much later than anywhere else in London. However, because each shop had different opening and closing times, I first checked their official website before visiting any specific stores such as Accessorize, Adidas, Claire’s Accessories, Evans, Longines, Kingdom Of Sweets, Boux Avenue and Dune London. During its earlier years, the street was lined with independent traders selling wares, but nowadays it has expanded to consist of over 300 stores ranging from retail chains, flagship stores and designer outlets (Strawberry Tours.com, 2016).
For example, I saw two Marks & Spencer stores on the Street. The first branch, Marks & Spencer Marble Arch, was at the connection with Orchard Street while the second branch was between Tottenham Court Road and Regent Street. Similarly, the 100 Club, in the underground room of No. 100, has been operating as a live music site since 1942. It was supposed to be secure from violence fears owing to its covert place.
There was also Oxford Street campus of London College of Fashion which is a part of the Arts University London.
In 2015, Lush, the cosmetics retailer, opened a store here which is company’s largest retail premises on 9300 square feet and covering three floors.
Heading from east to west, I noticed that the shops got gradually posher and larger, with several high-end jewellery and fashion boutiques to be located around Bond Street. Oxford Circus, meanwhile, marked the junction between Regent Street and Oxford Street, and it was on this corner where I found the flagship Topman and Topshop stores, along with the huge Nike Store.
Heading along Regent Street provide me the accessibility to some of the most iconic places in the capital, counting Hamelys and Apple’s flagship store– possibly the most famous toy shop in the world along with FAO Schwarz in New York.
Continuing westwards, I was stumbled upon the Disney Store; as I was looking to do some Christmas shopping while in the capital I found the perfect gifts for all my friends and family here. Eventually I reached the end of Oxford Street at Marble Arch, which acted as the entrance to Hyde Park.
The key highlight of my walk was visiting one of the most famous of Oxford Street’s many stores, Selfridges, which was founded by the American businessman Henry Gordon Selfridge in 1909. With over ten acres of space for shopping which occupy a whole block of Oxford Street, Selfridges is the second-largest store in London after Harrods, and has been named as “an extraordinary temple of the retail business” owing to its neoclassical columns and jaw-dropping main entrance
While walking on the street, I was especially aware of pick-pockets and kept an eye on my belongings, especially during the busier periods. I did not worry about running out of cash during my visit, as there were a ton of different ATMs and banks scattered all along Oxford Street. I normally found them in some corner shops and newsagents (though they charged me for transactions), but there were some near Tottenham Court Road, Oxford Circus, and obviously, directly on Oxford Street.
I also visited many takeaways and cafes along Oxford Street, and a pub called The Tottenham (at 6 Oxford Street); and obviously many different fast food chains like McDonalds and Burger King. Hotels around Oxford Street tended to be considerably costly (as were many of the hotels situated in West End of London). The majority of the hotels near Oxford Street were located around Marble Arch, where I saw many four-star chains and the odd budget hotels. The more expensive hotels tended to be around Mayfair (to the south of Oxford Street), and were some of the most expensive in the city. There were also a ton of chain boutique hotels scattered all around Oxford Street like the Sanderson, the London Marriott Hotel (Park Lane) and the Hyatt Regency (Timeout.com, 2017).
I also observed some classy hotels for those who like to splurge during hotel stay in London, the Hotel 41, The Beaumont and the Taj 51 Buckingham Gate Suites and Residences are some of the highly-rated hotels near Oxford Street. Similarly, there were hotels closer to all the hustle and bustle; No.5 Maddox Street, the quirky Courthouse Hotel and the Langham Hotel were much closer. I also saw some hotels visited by London celebrities. Such hotels have the quirky touch; the fashionable Langham boasts chandeliers, velvet furniture and marble bathtubs, and the oh-so-retro Chiltern Firehouse (its Nuno Mendes restaurant is frequently visited by some London celebrities as well). (Knight, 2014)
As the flaneur, I found Oxford Street one of the most architecturally outstanding streets in Europe. In my view, few spaces can compete it for its sheer vitality and variety. While seasoned natives and canny visitors alike scrum down to take on the crowds, dodge buses or do everything they can to avoid the place, those that submit, pause and look up are rewarded with a spectacular parade of neo-classical and baroque palaces, renaissance jewel boxes, art deco monuments, modernist icons and showy obscurities.
Beneath the modern day tumult of rapid consumption and shopping, lies one of London’s earliest highways, a dynamic artery that over centuries has perceived traders, drovers and travellers of all types, but also the parades of convicted cheering and leading their way to the city’s chief public gallows at Tyburn (Livingstreets.org, 2017).
Weaving a course on and off the main strip, this walk charts the development of Oxford Street from main road to retail behemoth through its best buildings, the backgrounds around them and the innovations and developments that have been fundamental to its alteration.
Coverley, M., 2012. The Art of Wandering. Oldcastle Books.
Fotios et al., 2015. Road lighting and pedestrian reassurance after dark: A review. Lighting Research & Technology, 47(4), pp.449-469.
Knight, S., 2014. Oxford Street – the case for pedestrianisation.
The City of London is home to many iconic observations and a widely diverse community, and bearing this in mind inspired this particular date for me to go on a walk. The Flaneur predominately roams the streets of Paris, but I believed I could take the concepts and use them to explore and observe modern day London.
When deciding on where to walk, I thought of the techniques of Baudelaire’s Flaneur, and in furthering my understand of the definition, using Keith Tester’s opening sentence in his book The Flaneur ‘the activity of strolling and looking’ (Tester, 1994, p. 1), Sunday 18 June seemed like the perfect time for this. Pakistan had just beaten India to win the ICC Champions Trophy. I hadn’t anticipated to focus my blog on such a memorable occasion, but I saw it as the ideal opportunity to what Larousse defines in Coverley’s book The Art of Wandering; ‘wandering without aim, stopping once in a while to look around [and observe].’ (Coverley, 2012, p. 153).
My attempt of adopting the ideals of the Flaneur almost began immediately, before I had even left Oval underground station and walked along Harleyford Street. Following Coverley’s ideas presented in The Art of Wandering I remained ‘a keen observant of my surroundings’ (Coverley, 2012, p. 158) and noticed crowds of people celebrating and cheering at such a momentous occasion. As I left the station and continued my walk down Harleyford Street and towards Oval Cricket Ground, not only were there crowds celebrating and completely ignoring the rules of the road, but there were few vendors and stalls which had been opened, for the event, in order to sell flags, souvenirs and any other items that would bring out the patriotic passion amongst the celebrators. Other notes I had taken on this walk, was the fact that barriers had been imposed along the pathway and the road to try and prevent accidents, however I will come back to this point later. I have taken this route around Oval Cricket Ground a few times prior, and noticed this is the first time of any significant changes, in not only scenery, but policing and pedestrian activity.
For me to clearly observe as that of a Flaneur, I recognised the studies of the role I was adopting in which Baudelaire believed in his book Paris Spleen ‘he can or does look just like anyone else… everything is vacant; and if certain places seemed closed to him, it is only because in his eyes they are not worth visiting.’ (Baudelaire, 1970, p. 20). Even though I had not attended said match, I had come the distance to observe the crowds and the scale of the celebrations. I arrived at the stadium unaware of the exact details of the match, but in a chameleon like manner, I was able to blend in like everyone else.
Guarding the stadium were The Jack Hobb Gates, filled with security and celebrators all around. As I continued to observe the crowds and their behaviour on such an occasion, I was challenged. ‘Appearing like everyone else, left me with the danger of that being in a crowd inspiring much of the pleasure and delight of the spectacle of the public’ (Tester, 1994, p.3-4) and this led to me being carried away whilst living in the moment, but we will blame that on wanting the experience. For me to continue my task, I came to the realisation that ‘without walking, I would not be able to make any observations at all’ (Coverley, 2012, p. 164) and hence I followed the road around and decided to loiter along the barriers on the corner of Kennington Oval.
Returning to my previous point mentioned above, as I was sitting back and observing, I had noticed that police were fully aware, ensuring traffic was flowing and attempting to limit the amount of people running onto the road celebrating. One officer seemed very agitated at the situation as people would fall victim and ‘aimlessly walk out into the middle of the road without any consideration for the oncoming vehicles,’ in one way similar to the challenges posed by Musil. (Tester, 1994, p. 13).
To some extent my walk might be considered as a pilgrimage, for at its very centre is the lost lives of twelve men who died in 1853, when scaffolding fell on them during the construction of The Crystal Palace after it was moved from Hyde Park to Sydenham.
With the starting point being West Norwood Cemetery, the halfway checkpoint of Crystal Palace Park, and the final destination St Bartholomew’s Church in Sydenham, my aim is to historically connect all three locations.
Turning right onto Knights Hill as I leave West Norwood train station at about 10 am on a cold and bleak Sunday morning, I find the area pleasantly quiet. I’m not too worried about the weather because I am prepared; decent boots will “protect thy feet” and “a proper coat for winter’s wear” (Gay, 2016, p. 2). On my right is St Luke’s Church, an early nineteenth century Grade II listed building, and on the other side is the Free Public Library, designed by Sidney Smith and built in 1887. Both buildings give an indication as to the wealth arriving in this area during the 19th century.
I continue walking, and in just a few moments over to my right is the entrance of West Norwood Cemetery. It is one of the Magnificent Seven which includes; Abney Park, Brompton, Highgate, Kensal Green, Nunhead and Tower Hamlets.
These new places of burial were a response to various factors including the high death toll of Cholera, churchyards becoming unhealthily overcrowded and fear of grave robbery (Curl, 1984). The Victorian desire to celebrate death and life in a respectful manner required burying the dead in a safe place to ensure they reached the afterlife, which allowed the survived to grieve and remember their loved ones accordingly (Rugg, 2000).
Whilst here, I will attempt to locate three graves; Douglas William Jerrold (1803-1857) a significant contributor to the satire Punch, which effectively named the Great Exhibition. George Jennings (1810-1882) a sanitary engineer who introduced his idea of public toilets at the Exhibition and after its move to Crystal Palace, charging a penny for a clean seat and a towel, hence the term ‘spend a penny’. And finally, Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) who preached to a Crystal Palace crowd of 23.5 k people.
Walking along the meandering paths and taking in the sights around me, the graves and overgrown shrubs mix well to create a tranquil state of mind. I am not alone for there are other people here too, paying their respects to loved ones and ancestors. Some are tidying graves and replacing flowers, others are just standing there perhaps in fond memory of loved ones. I have a rough idea where my three graves are, but it is not easy to locate them. Time drifts by, just as I drift by the many worn graves and find myself in a far corner of the cemetery where the architecture is strikingly beautiful, this is the Greek Necropolis.
From out of nowhere I can hear bells, my watch tells me it is 11.30, which means I have been wandering about for well over an hour and I have not found any of my graves. But online research proves fruitful, Douglas Jerrold has a family vault, George Jennings has an elaborate stone, and Charles Spurgeon has a tomb. It is as though the bells are signalling the end of my time here, I feel defeated and I leave the same way I entered but turn left up Norwood High Street.
As I pass under a railway bridge I notice an old pub over the road, once named The Gypsy Queen but now the Book and Record Bar. It has scaffolding fixed all the way to the top and it looks reasonably safe, so not worth stopping for a picture. As I look round to my left, I notice a road sign on the wall which reads Pilgrim Hill.
Thinking this is a good omen I smile and continue walking up Norwood High St which soon turns into Elder Road, and not long after that I can just see the top of what I grew up to understand as the Crystal Palace Tower, which began transmitting in March 1956. I decide to put my map away and trust my own judgement, with the tower in sight I have a bearing. So I follow the boundary of Norwood Park turning left where Elder Road meets with Central Hill, past the entrance to the Virgo Fidelis Convent School on my right (which can be seen in the picture below), and then left again into Salters Hill.
After a hundred yards I see a pathway between two houses, a sign post tells me it leads to Gibbs Square, it is time “to leave the noisie roads” (Gay, 2016, p. 22). I see this as an opportunity to mention the houses, because Charles Booth’s online map just falls short of this area. As I make my way through this housing estate of what appears to be two and three bedroom terraced houses I consider how Booth’s investigators would grade them. I do not think they would be too dark a colour, in fact I would estimate them to be fairly comfortable with good ordinary earnings. I work my way through the streets until I find myself on Central Hill Estate which consists of a lot of densely situated concrete flats.
I am not sure what Booth’s investigators would make of this concrete jungle, I very much doubt they would colour this area in bright pink or orange. But on the other hand, the community spirit of the residents, has recently been called upon to fight against demolition and redevelopment, or what might be considered as gentrification.
Without the tower as a bearing I move on blindly in the general direction of Crystal Palace Park. The brick terraced homes return, up Highland Hill, across Gypsy Hill and down into Woodland Hill, past the school on the left and terraced houses to my right. At the bottom of the hill I take a “silent wander in the close abodes” (Gay, 2016, p. 22) of an alley named Jaspers Passage, and from there I get a marvellous view of the Tower.
I’m not far now, following Jasper Road into Farquhar Road I come out at Crystal Palace Parade, with the park being on the opposite side of the road. I find a safe place to cross, because the roads are quite busy. I step into the park in good time, 12.30 and as luck would have it, I find a bench after making my way through the first group of trees, over-looking the site of the old Crystal Palace. It is a coincidence that it is dedicated by Transport for London to the Ring Walkers, and I feel blessed to have found such a significant place to rest my feet.
Having stopped to top-up with hot coffee and a sandwich, I am ready to find the general area of the park where the accident happened on 15th August 1853 and try to create in my mind the events of that fateful day. I try to imagine a busy site, with lots of noise, different groups of men, undertaking different tasks. The noise of the traffic is lurking in the background, a sign of our busy lives in the 21st century. There is a group of walkers on the terrace, gathered around a speaker and I wonder if they are being told about the twelve men. Below is a photograph taken in about 1890 which helps me to orientate my position, at least within the general area.
I would hazard a guess that the Ring Walkers Bench would be out of sight, further back to the left of the building, what I would consider as the upper left bank if I were looking from the fountain. So, from where the bench is, and looking down towards the fountain nearer the time of the accident, I might have seen the sight of men shoring up the uneven banks with brickwork, before it was covered with the finer masonry.
I am now beginning to grasp how big the Crystal Palace was, but I think there is one more image that will help me get even closer to understand what happened that fateful day.
It seems logical to suggest that the structure with the level platform is the protagonist of this inquiry. It appears to be balancing with no support from the ground and it is quite easy to imagine it collapsing and claiming the lives of the twelve men. I have already done some research on the Free BMD website and found the following deaths listed; William Hardy (Croydon-1853), John Foreman (Greenwhich-1853), William James (Croydon-1853) and Henry Fielding (Croydon-1853); with the results of James Wardlow, Joseph Copping, George Rolph Smith, George Topham doubtful. Although Henry Reading (St Olave-1853) and William Harris both died in hospital. I have been wandering and loitering for long enough and feel the need to get my blood circulating. So I step on, paying my respects to Joseph Paxton who received a Knighthood for designing the giant greenhouse known as The Crystal Palace.
Having taken a photograph, I decide to double back to the maze but it is no challenge due to the leafless hedges, so I make for a path, following the Sunday crowd. As I pass by the fishing lake, I notice a lone angler and think how nice it would be to sit there myself for a few hours. But then “I spy” (Gay, 2016, p. 25) some lads playing football which reminds me that I must keep moving. Walking along the path surrounding the pitch, I look at the name plates that are on the benches, which includes; a local fisherman who enjoyed the park and a former zookeeper who worked in the park.
As I continue to walk, I consider how every bench in the park has a special meaning to somebody somewhere, a train of thought that stays with me until the dinosaurs are in my sight. It is nice to see some conservation in progress, it means generations to come will be able to enjoy the dinosaurs which are are being refurbished. There is also the odd sight of a mechanical digger floating on the boating lake!
I exit the park, turning left onto Thicket Road, a hundred yards on the Crystal Palace Park Road, and then right into Lawrie Park Road. To my left is Sydenham Tennis Club and to my right is St Christopher’s Education Centre. A little further down the road I see another scaffolding, this one looks quite safe. I keep on walking until Lawrie Park Road meets Westwood Hill where I turn left. Ahead on my right I can see a church, and as I get nearer I can see it is St Bartholomew’s.
When I enter the Churchyard I feel a bit dismayed to see the front entrance boarded up with a sign directing pedestrian traffic to the side entrance. But in my next breath I see the grave I have been thinking about all morning, and the twelve names are on the refurbished slabs, clear as day.
But as I look closer, the stone with the names on is actually on top of a sub stone with inscription round the edge;
IN THE MIDST OF LIFE WE ARE IN DEATH FOR OF WHOM MAY WE SEEK FOR SUCCOUR BUT OF THEE O’LORD, which is from the Book of Common Prayer, The Order of the Burial of the Dead. The stone is also situated to the left of what was probably the original gravestone, why else would the information plaque be situated as it is?
I stand for a while, contemplating the difference between the graves of West Norwood and this one. I wonder why these men were interred here rather than the new cemetery just a few miles away. Was it something to do with money? Or was it just the wish of the families that they all be buried together. Is there any meaning to the difference? I think what really stands out for me is the very fact that right opposite this grave, only a hundred yards away, is a precarious looking scaffolding which made me question if those workers knew the story of the twelve men buried here.
You can just make out the perimeter boards behind the lamp post
My walk has presented me with the opportunity to discover that it does not really matter what type of monuments are left behind, especially if the Victorian celebration of death was centred around reaching the afterlife, what really mattered was getting there! Thomas Browne provides some nice words to close this blog;
“The greater part must be content to be as though they had not been, to be found in the Register of God, not in the record of man” (Browne, 2008, p. 77).
Walking is a huge part of being a Londoner, along with extreme manners and temperamental whether, walking is what we do. The city demands exploration; it calls out your name and it never disappoints. Today, I am taking a walk in New cross, partly to explore the streets, mostly to get a sense of what this part of the city feels like to explore. I have always lived in West London and can navigate Hammersmith with my eyes closed. However, East London is still a new territory to me, even though I have been studying in the very area I researching for the past three years I haven’t always thought about its story. Furthermore, as a historian, I am always interested in stories, and to make this walk more interesting, I will be comparing the part of London I see today to the one Charles Booth lived in. Booth was a successful business men who embarked on one of the greatest surveys ever conducted in the city of London. He deserves credit and respect from us all for revolutionising the way Britain treats its most disadvantaged citizens. Historians and (some) politicians understood the huge debt owed to him. He was responsible for showing us the perfect example of how demonising and ignoring the poor can lead, from disease to crime to weak economy.
Booth went as far as to create a map of London where he divided it’s four million citizens into eight (colour) categories. His map/s can be views and used freely on the internet and it can be used for current research, like the one I’m conducting today! I started my walk using the diary entrances of one of his researchers George Arkell who walked around New Cross to report on the conditions in which people lived, their houses, their jobs, income, hobbies and how this poverty problem can be fixed. He used the colour code system to determine the income and thus the crime level of this area I started my walk from New Cross Station and walked all the way around the back ending up at the main building of Goldsmiths University.
The first thing I noticed on my walk is how simultaneously different and similar everything seemed to how it used to be in the Victorian era. As a modern observer and an historian, I can see the tremendous amount of changes this area has been through. And while Booth’s social reform had a huge impact on the condition in which people lived, London is well known for preserving the past in a way only a historian can understand. New Cross, for example, has had many changes in the last century, and three of the most important elements that changed this area is immigration, war and social reform. Other, minor yet equally important factors are things like lighting, sanity and safety. Arkell had to be escorted by a police sergeant for his own safety and for guidance because this was a time where google maps didn’t exist.
Walking through these streets is a very useful experience when comparing modern London to the one in the past. It is a jarring reminder that the work of humanists, especially historians is of great value for future generations. Not only because London is changing every day and by the 22nd century it will most likely have extraordinary changes as well. I say this because without our records and descriptions of our time, future generations will not have the access to what the human experience was like, despite what technology can and will achieve in the next century.
It is undeniable that Booth and his researchers helped start a revolution, he was instrumental in the changes we see today. This however did not stop some areas from lagging behind. As I walk down Amersham Vale, I can still see the huge difference between the houses here and the houses in, Kensington, for example. The divide between the classes is still visible today. However, the poor now have food on the table, healthcare, protection and other lifesaving advantages.
As Booth was conducting his research, he made it abundantly clear that his motives are to reveal the truth on the parts of London the great British empire didn’t like to talk about. It was the capitals dirty little secret! Except, it wasn’t little, it was estimated that 30% of Londoners lived in abject poverty. As historians compare and argue about the two centuries, it is clear that that number has dropped to small single digits (arguably). In fact, as I took my walk following in the same footsteps Arkell took I can see clean pavements, well presented houses, families walking safely, and quiet, so much quiet! The streets are noticeably less noisy than the main road, despite their proximity to the train station.
It is also interesting to read what the description in the notes and compare it to what the street looks like today. For example, Arkell notes as he walks along New Cross Road that the Empire Theatre of Varieties was due to open soon – that it was just completed. Today the theatre is nowhere to be found. This is a prime example of what walking in two different centuries means to historians. Even though I am standing exactly where Arkell took his walk, this street is vastly different than how it used to be and future historians would appreciate our prospective as much as we appreciate Booth’s work.
Other examples are more poignant than interesting to discover. Take the example of New Cross Woolworths, which was attacked in 1944 by the Nazis costing 168 people their lives. This was thanks to the great advancement of weaponry Booth did not know in his life time.
As far as we know, no one has produced a research as comprehensive as Booth’s. His involvement in social reform is as instrumental as historians insist it is. However, it is obvious, and not shocking considering when Booth conducted his research that he had preconceived notions of what the streets and the people in them were like. For example, he associated the extremely poor (black codes in his maps) as criminals! This may seem rather harsh considering how we’ve evolved to think of the poor (or some of us did) however, this was extremely common in the Victorian era, despite all the enfranchisement and ‘good’ laws passed, the poor were still demonised. Booth research was also beneficial in attracting public/voters’ attention into the dire situation thus bringing further changes and introducing new laws by an otherwise reluctant government to do something to help the people who needed help desperately. One of the most important contributions to the poor Booth made was the Old Age Pension Act (1908) in which his involvement was instrumental.
Booth and his researchers made sure to note everything they witnessed as they walked down the streets of London. It was as if their obsessive noting of everything around them was exactly why cameras were invented! Today, to conduct a similar report we can save valuable time describing places when we can show them using our modern technology. And while the modern walker does not need to describe the width of the street or the shapes of the houses here and how clean they kept their windows. It is still valuable to provide prospective and add them within an appropriate context.
Booth was the good fortune he acquired to conduct a never seen before research that changed the way Britain (and even America) treats its poor. And while there will always be those who object or thinks the government may be rewarding laziness, most people agree that children and old people should be helped. This is a long way from how Britain used to operate in the late Victorian era where the laissez faire approach was practised and accepted. However, it must be stressed that Booth alone did not bring the dire state of the poor in London to light. There were other factors, for example, the health reform and improved sanitation of the city has Cholera and the upper-class fear of disease to thank. Furthermore, wars and Britain (the empire) performance in war was the driving force behind many legislation regarding the government involvement in providing food, because poverty could never produce a strong army.
Today we have Booth to thank for many reforms that went on to save lives and improve the living quality of millions of people. However, it is not just the handouts to the poor that did that. It can also be argued that looking after people when they’re young can lead to a generation of educated healthy workers able to afford good houses, food etc. Moreover, New Cross is the perfect example of how successful that experiment has been, and while we cannot compare it to the ‘posh’ areas of central London, people are not starving here, the houses are beautiful and comfortable, there’s a big Asda where people can go buy affordable groceries, and based on the accounts of Booth’s researchers it doesn’t smell as bad as it used to. Finally, Social reform has been instrumental in keeping Britain as one of the biggest economies in the world. And we don’t need to leave Europe to find an example of what a country that neglects its citizens can become.
Hidden away in south east London, between Brixton and Peckham is an apparently timeless and romantic idyll that is Dulwich village. A small but gentrified and wealthy area, we will find no charity shops, pawn brokers or betting shops in this part of South East London, and at first glance it would appear it has remained unchanged for over a hundred years or more. The word Dulwich
means village in the valley and is probably derived from the Anglo-Saxon Dsel, Friesian Del, a cleft or valley, and Wic, a village. At the time of the Doomsday book Dulwich was not large enough to warrant a mention although neighbouring Peckham and Camberwell were. Dulwich is famed for its connection with Edward Alleyne and the expensive boarding school for boys, Dulwich College, designed by Charles Barry Jnr.. Dulwich also holds within its bosom the first art gallery ever to be opened for the public and bequeathed by Sir John Soanes. However both these venues are well discussed for not only their historic value, but also their picture postcard beauty, and it is not my objective here to continue that discussion further. I am interested in the not so perfect Dulwich Village, the Dulwich that lurks beneath the postcard image. As London has grown to surround this once small hamlet, it has retained the feel and atmosphere of a bucolic and wealthy village. I begin my leisurely stroll at the entrance to the main thoroughfare, a straight road running North to South, and aptly called Dulwich village………
In Edward Walford’s article, ‘Peckham and Dulwich’, printed in the journal Old and New London during 1887, he tells us that “notwithstanding the active building operations that of late years have fenced in London and its suburbs with miles of bricks and mortar, the village of Dulwich still presents a rural aspect.” ( Walford, 1886, p.286-303)
Writing her perambulations in 1803 Pricilla Wakefield describes the village as ‘pleasantly retired, having no high road formally through it.’ (Walford, 1886, p.286-303) Although this fact is somewhat changed and today and there is a main road running through the village, it could still be described as ‘pleasantly retired’. Indeed apart from the brief weekday gridlock of a variety of four wheel drives and other tank like cars, driven by a multitude of young women – the modern-day bourgeoisie and nicknamed yummy mummies, as they drop their small angelic looking children off at the old infant school in the morning, and repeating the process in the early afternoon – the road is relatively quiet and remembers the more peaceful times when carriages and not cars swept along it.
I cross the road…….
Opposite Dulwich Village Church of England Infants’ School – a seat of learning here since 1888 – I am confronted by the village’s parade of shops. From just looking at the various window displays and passing the open doors, my senses are captivated by the smell, feel and appearance of wealth this village holds within its centre. A new sub post office has recently opened which strikes me as interesting, as in most places they are being closed or privatised, and speaks volumes about the area through which I am walking. An expensive optician sits snugly next door to the very plush Scobie’s, a “premier valeting service” who apparently do a hand finished dry-clean. I for one do not even know what this means. Further along this rather grand parade can be found an expensive toy shop, obviously intended for those cherubs as they relax on comfortable car seats in the back of mummy’s range rover, and a quaint and cosy coffee shop selling homemade cakes, herbal teas and fresh coffee.
These shops appear to have a history of being plush as an advert for what we would nowadays call a cab service shows us. ‘Chas’s Pick-Up’ was in fact a private Daimler service, and, advertising itself in the Dulwich Village Gazette during 1923, price one penny, it promised its customers “all the joys of a private motorist” and is “always at your disposal” the advert ends, “with confidence assures you of efficacy in every detail.” In the same Gazette a Fishmonger and Poulterer insist their reputation will be “maintained” at 35 Dulwich Village. (Chapman, 1923, Dulwich Gazzette)
I continue my stroll….
I am pleased to say that not all of Dulwich reflects the razzle dazzle of upstanding and wealthy inhabitants, and my next stop shows me the darker side of Dulwich’s long history. Tucked around a quiet corner behind the delicatessen and plush hairdressers is a stark reminder of Dulwich’s grim past. Here formerly was situated the village stocks. A plaque remains and has the motto on it saying…”it is a sport for a fool to do mischief, thine own wickedness shall correct thee indeed.”
We know of at least one of these unfortunate fools as she is interred in the burial ground on the opposite side of the road. One Dorothy Miller, a poor sister of the college, was caught and punished several times between 1759 and 1761 for drunkenness. On the last occasion, she was placed in the stocks for two hours and had a week’s pension deducted. These stocks, the grisly reminder and symbol of public authority, were ordered to be moved to the end of what was then Croxted Lane in 1847.
The burial ground itself is a place that fascinates me and is situated on the other side of the road from the site of the stocks. This year (2016) marks the 400th anniversary of this burial ground, unusual for not being connected to any nearby church, and although on full view to the public, it still retains a tranquil ambience all its own.
The dead include victims of the plague during both 1625 and 1655. The death rate in the village of Dulwich was the same as that of the City, with one in every six falling victim to the disease. Children, including several nurse children who were farmed out to Dulwich between 1700 and 1820, also constitute a large proportion of the people who can claim this burial ground as their final resting place. Not only are the graves of these children particularly upsetting, but they are also evidence to me that not all was perfect in our picture postcard Dulwich of the past where maybe behind the respectability of Victorian middle classes, unmarried women came to Dulwich to hide their shame. I imagine the pain of the mothers who had to give up their illegitimate children, who by paying a weekly price believed them to be safe left in the hands of so called nurses. Often these women took money off the mothers long after the child had died, which many of them did. I cannot help but compare the lives of children in the 19th century to those of our chubby Dulwich cherubs with their modern day nurses, the army of silent, underpaid, and mostl Eastern European nannies, whose chatter I hear as they sit outside the coffee shop on the parade once their charges have been dispatched.
The last burial on this consecrated ground was performed in 1918 and aside from general maintenance the site has been left virtually untouched since that time.
Its late afternoon, the evening is drawing in on a cold and damp November day. Dusk is settling in, the artificial street lights making the damp mist almost fog like, and my imagination wanders to a Dulwich village of over a 150 years ago, to an epoch of gas lamps and night watchmen. I close my eyes and imagine I hear wheels of a carriage as it rumbles down the uneven lane, the breath of the horses almost touching my neck as they go by. But my stroll is finished and I must leave the dead and the living of quaint Dulwich village and head for home. As I have no Daimler service I turn around, walking the way I came, and walk out of the village to catch the bus back to Peckham….
Edward Walford “Peckham and Dulwich”. Old and New London; volume 6. London: Cassell, Petter and Galpin. 1878 pp. 286-303.
The History of Dulwich Collage. William Young, Morrison and Gibb. Edinburgh 1889
Dulwich Village Gazette, for the inhabitants of Dulwich and its environs. Ed. And produced by Albert Chapmen, Collage Press Dulwich Village. October 1923
Setting out in the late afternoon of the 31st October 2016 I frequented my usual haunt of Brockley and Ladywell Cemetery, yet this time with a more specific purpose in mind. I have walked my dog, Achilles, there almost every afternoon for the past 5 months, and for many of these walks I have pondered over the gravestones there, the names of their dead, their lives and wondering what kind of London they used to live in.
Catherine Arnold’s book ‘Necropolis: London and It’s Dead’ (2006) inspired me, alongside Mrs Basil Holmes ‘London Burial Grounds’ (1888), to combine the topics of cemeteries and walking to uncover knowledge about historical London with a specific focus on the local area of Brockley and Ladywell.
As a joint honours student of History and Anthropology, I am not unused to using walking as a methodology in an anthropological sense. As any anthropologist knows, we spend a great deal of time wandering around and carrying out ‘participant observation’ in our fieldwork. Surprisingly though, I had never considered how walking might be utilised by historians in the uncovering of the past and I believe that part of this is that I had fallen prey to the unconscious association of historians getting stuck in dusty old archives.
However, this assumption began to be challenged as I familiarised myself with walking as a historical methodology through psycho-geographic work and reassessment of classic literary works which took place in London, such as those by Charles Dickens. Similarly, the discovery of Victorian historian Mrs Holmes’ charming work really began to bring the themes of walking and history to life for me. In assessing the use of walking to her own historical investigations, Holmes emphasises the benefits of walking as “it is never safe to take anything on trust, nothing but actual perambulations and inquiries on the spot could show the present size and condition of the burial-grounds, and even several that are marked on the ordinance maps have been built upon since they were published” (Holmes, 1888, p15).
Whilst I did not fully commit to Holmes’ way of walking, as she recounts many amusing tales of tramping through unsuspecting but reluctantly obliging strangers’ houses in order to peer out of their windows, her ideas inspired me to consider how the themes of walking, death, the environment, the use of public spaces, and using cemeteries as a tool that is ‘good to think with’ to invigorate my understanding of historical London.
As I was already familiar with my area of walking I thought it would be interesting to use this handy little map, made by the Friends of Brockley and Ladywell Cemeteries, to guide the majority of my walk. I was curious about the choice of natural and historical landmarks of the cemetery which the Friends had chosen to focus on, whilst wanting to allow myself (read Achilles) the freedom to meander off the recommended paths to see if we could uncover anything else along the way.
Starting at the impressive wrought iron gates of the Ladywell entrance, I followed the route to the left of the main avenue and had my attention immediately directed to the avenue of trees, impressive family vaults which lined the path, and collection of war graves.
As a regular walker in the cemetery I have previously noted the prevalence of military graves throughout the cemetery. These little white commemorative gravestones can be found all throughout the cemetery in groups or as singular stones. Upon first discovering these I did not know anything about war graves and had been confused over their uniformity and whether there was anyone buried alongside the graves. However, after doing research I became aware that these graves had been erected by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission who ensure that all those who died during the two world wars are commemorated and their names remembered. The uniformity preserves the “memory of the dead with simply dignity and true equality” (CWGC).
I discovered many more war graves throughout the walk including large war memorials recording the names of soldiers from the local area who died throughout the two world wars, as well as gravestones of naval men, tellingly marked by their anchors. These anchored graves are particularly prevalent on the Brockley side of the cemetery, formerly Deptford cemetery until shortly after 1914, and hark back to Deptford’s maritime history in which the Deptford Dockyard was the leading dockyard throughout the 16th-18th centuries (Royal Naval Dockyards website). Subsequently, Deptford hosted a large population of naval men who lived or worked in the local area, and so it is not surprising to see so many of them eternally anchored to their local land.
I came across many examples of grand gravestones which recorded the burial of a notable rank of individual who had served in the armed forces and who had been buried in their family plot. These family graves deny the aimed uniformity of the commemorative graves by the Commission, often incorporating the wealth of the family. Possibly one of the most eye-catching examples of this was the grave of Dudley Granville Brown who served in the RAF during the First World War, whose grand gravestone towers over the surrounding graves.
Similarly to the ornate military family plots are the imposing family vaults. These grand family vaults would have been very costly and many of the inscriptions detailing the owners of the vaults are often from noble families or men of high social ranks. Whilst the number of vaults is far fewer than in the older Magnificent Seven cemeteries, for example the towering vaults of Nunhead Cemetery (1840) or the impressive catacombs of Norwood Cemetery (1837), there are still a considerable number throughout the cemetery indicating the diverse demographic from the surrounding areas.
Brockley and Ladywell’s family vaults comparatively with the poorer graves
I continued along the path taking note of the intertwining theme of nature and history as my attention was drawn to the rows of Plane Trees, various flowers and animal life, wilderness and wildlife conservation areas which interspersed the numerous graves until I was met by a small archway. It was unbeknown to me that this archway marked the entrance to the separate Roman Catholic area of the cemetery. Whilst I could not find information on the date of consecration, the North West Kent Family History Society details that the land was further expanded in 1922-35. Apart from this archway, there is no other physical separation currently existing between the Protestant and Catholic ground. There had been an additional chapel which separately dealt with Catholic burials, however the only existing remains of this chapel now are a few left over bricks possibly as a result of bomb damage to the cemetery during World War II.
I meandered off the map path for a while towards the Brockley entrance and surprisingly came across the inconspicuous grave of both Rachel and Margaret McMillan. Whilst I was tenuously aware of their connection to Deptford, I had not realised that they were buried in the cemetery despite having walked past their grave dozens of times. I felt that Mrs Holmes would have greatly admired the McMillan sisters work, particularly in their reform contributions centred around the improvement of children’s health through the Open-Air Nursery School and Training Centre opened in 1914 in Deptford, as Holmes was a great advocate for the use of burial-grounds for the public’s benefits. Holmes had even argued for more burial grounds to follow the example of Spa Fields in which a playground for children was set up to prevent burial-grounds falling into disuse whilst providing fresh air for the public’s welfare (Holmes, p278).
The Rachel McMillan Open-Air Nursey (Image: http://www.rachelmcmillannursery.co.uk/) and the Spa Fields Playground (Image: http://www.cdesignc.org/blog/2016/08/15/risky-business) still stand today.
Continuing to meander off of the path for a while I took a shortcut round the side of the cemetery. Once again, I found myself discovering things about the cemetery which were entirely new to me. For months I had been stepping up the small bricked wall and onto the grassy banks as a shortcut into the undergrowth with little thought.
It was only as a result of going on this walk that I discovered that this low wall was in fact the boundary of what had originally been two separate cemeteries; Brockley (previously Deptford) and Ladywell (previously Lewisham) Cemeteries, that were made in 1858 in response legislation in 1854 to prevent further overcrowding in London cemeteries. Both cemeteries ran alongside one another, only separated by this wall until they were joined together in 1948. Unfortunately, as both of these cemeteries were built 17 years after the last Magnificent Seven cemetery, less attention has been given to Brockley and Ladywell Cemetery with much of its history yet to be uncovered.
Old Postcard images of Brockley Cemetery and Ladywell Cemetery before they were joined together. (Images from http://www.foblc.org.uk/)
Despite much of its history still being hidden from me, using walking as a methodology was incredibly useful for facilitating discoveries that I would not otherwise have made. Reiterating my frequent statement, despite having walked through this cemetery every afternoon for five months it was only through the unique combination of walking and historical inquiry that I was able to uncover much of the history of Brockley and Ladywell Cemetery, as well as incorporate this into the wider picture of historical London. The works of Arnold and Holmes have greatly inspired me to continue research into the many cemeteries of London, expanding my knowledge on how the dead have helped London to develop since the 19th century. Lastly, walking not only provided a new perspective on history, but I felt that it helped to bring history alive and allowed access to previously hidden knowledge.
In the closing words of Holmes… “I have never been out of my way for the sake of idle curiosity, but have not hesitated to go down any street or court or to knock at any door which was in my way, and I have never had cause to regret it. An appearance of utter insignificance and an air of knowing where you are going and what you want, is the passport for all parts of London” (p19).
Catherine Arnold, Necropolis: London and its Dead (London: Simon and Schuster, 2006)
Mrs Basil Holmes, The London Burial Grounds: Notes on Their History from the Earliest Times to the Present Day (New York: Macmillan and Co., 1888)
An Ode to Nightwalking or Dickens, under the influence of De Quincey, accompanies his mistress to the arcade, shielding her from the perils of the night.
This video documents a modern walk from Dickens’ alleged New Cross retreat to the address of his mistress Ellen Ternan (Dickens may have taken a similar route himself). It then moves on to Rye Lane and the modern arcade that is Aylesham Shopping Centre, Peckham [namesake of the link shared between Southwark Council and Aylesham, a Kent mining village, during the miners’ strike 1984-5 as stated in Origin of Placenames in Peckham and Nunhead by John D. Beasley (Amberley Publishing Limited, 2010)]. It is narrated with Dickens’ own words.
In Charles Dickens: a biographical and critical study (Philosophical Library, 1950, pg. 379) Jack Lindsay writes ‘his habit of wandering round in strange places at strange times of the day or night went on; and he had a secret retreat in an apartment close to the “Five Bells” at the corner of Hatcham Park Road’ and this scene is where the journey begins. Implanted into the mind of Dickens, imagining this line of sight as his own, we are very quickly jerked into action as he heads up Pepys Road (a personal nod to Samuel Pepys, a writer who made mention of the Deptford and South East London area regularly).
We pass through Telegraph Hill, an area referred to as ‘Plow’d Garlic Hill’ on John Rocque’s 1746 Map of London, past Nunhead station, through the Barset estate on Gibbon road and eventually we arrive at Linden Grove, home to Dulwich Cemetery and also Dickens’ mistress. The speed and movement in the video represents the ‘manic’ Dickens, his walking habit becoming compulsive and obsessive.
Dickens begins to have visions of his mistress and as we approach 31 Linden Grove (the site where her home once stood), her image becomes clearer to Dickens and ‘Nelly’ joins us on our walk.
The effects of insomnia create a disorienting haze which renders the peripheral jarring and leaves us wondering if the flickering object of Dickens’ focus is indeed real or imagined. The exaggerated colours and exhilarating pace is also a tribute to the heady tales told by Thomas De Quincey, an avid walker in his own right, spurred on by another form of intoxication. Perhaps here we explore our own northwest-passage, a colourful ride from Dickens’ Victorian London to the modern London of today.
As we reach Peckham Rye Common the contrasts between day walking and night walking begin to be explored further. As we travel upon the desire path,visible along the ground,carved out by the countless others not constrained by the ‘suggested’ path, in the light of day children enjoy a game of football and dog walkers are a common feature but Nelly however is walking at night. Does this become a dangerous place for her? For Dickens? For them both? A woman alone in the dark traversing the common must certainly arouse suspicion. Fortunately for Nelly, she is accompanied by Dickens, a man of stature enough to see him unmolested, his midnight meanderings acceptable. Fortunately again for Nelly, this is no seaside town.
We leave the park and the lights of Rye Lane begin to illuminate the streets. As our perspective shifts from day to night do we notice a difference? Is Peckham any more perilous under the sunshine or the moon’s glow? Nelly walks on undeterred.
Finally we reach what appears to be our destination. Glass ceiling panels and windows galore. Nelly marvels at the delights on offer and Dickens wanders in tow but is this arcade the realm of the flaneur? Or have we arrived at a ‘feminine’ space? Can Nelly, a woman, occupy the role of the anonymous flâneur in the arcade, becoming the flâneuse? Is it appropriate for Dickens as a 19th Century man to stroll about the shops as a relief from his responsibilities? Distracted and satiated by the burgeoning consumerism of the epoch.
While depicting a brisk and erratic walk through South East London, this video moreover explores the various ideas held throughout history surrounding the concepts and understandings of ‘walking’ in London and elsewhere, examining and questioning them.
Photographs and video by author.
Origin of Placenames in Peckham and Nunhead, John D. Beasley (Amberley Publishing Limited, 2010)
Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London, Chaucer to Dickens, Matthew Beaumont (Verso Books, 2015)
The poet William Blake was raised in a church that believed in the “Doctrine of Correspondence,” which holds that everything material mirrors something spiritual. Blake argues that because of repressive social and religious systems, we are only able to see the material. However, if we liberate ourselves from these systems by embracing imagination, we can attain full vision. In his epic “Jerusalem,” he imagines a correspondence between human nature and London, represented by the spiritual city of “Golgonooza.” Blake maps out Golgonoozain descriptive verse, but this should not dissuade one from attempting to walk it. Though Blake does not outright describe the correspondence between locations in the real London and its spiritual counterpart Golgonooza, the very nature of Blake’s philosophy allows for, even requires, walking what we imagine the map to be. In Golgonooza, “Los,” the great spirit signifying mankind’s imaginative force put to action, begins building by the Thames. This becomes the city’s center, the Palace of Los. To each of the four directions a gate is placed signifying an aspect of human nature: North: inspiration and instinct East: emotional life South: reason and intellect West: bodily senses + “the Door of Perception” In Blake’s account, most men are engaged with all of these, but because of repression the Door of Perception is shut, forcing mankind to view only the material world, not the higher spiritual reality. Blake gives each direction 64,000 spirits– gnomes, genii, fairies, and nymphs–and other guardians, which are not necessary to cover here. Threatening Golgonooza are the forces of Babylon, another London characterized by materialism, manifest in industrialization, dehumanization, imperialism, and consumerism. A walk of Golgonooza could hypothetically take place anywhere in London, as it depends on the imagination of the walker. Yet because Blake references other actual locations in England throughout the rest of “Jerusalem” and hints ever so slightly at a possible center of Golgonooza, I planned a London route one level above random, for reasons I will discuss in turn as I describe the walk through them. Unfortunately, I lack room to detail all of these places, so I have focused on the most interesting. I’ve had to completely exclude South. I chose MI6 as South, epitomizing the tyranny of intellect and culture of oppressive surveillance and law that Blake feared, but it was the most boring aspect of the walk, which I think Blake would not have found surprising.
North – Inspiration and Instinct – Southbank Centre
In Blake’s mythology, 64,000 gnomes guard North Golgonooza. I thought, London being London, I’d probably run into some “Lions of the South,” but not gnomes, so it was pretty funny to run into them exactly where they should be:
I chose Southbank Centre because as home to a cluster of artistic and creative spaces like the Hayward Art Gallery and the Poetry Library, it seemed the imaginative nucleus of London. But Blake writes how the lower human aspect, instinct, susceptible to more materialist impulses, also dwells in North Golgonooza. Instinct misled manifests itself today in the Christmas market that crowds around the Centre, imitating its creative and joyful nature only to bend these to materialist purposes. Visitors, dazzled by the novelty of market stalls, music, and mulled wine, stray from what would actually cultivate their spiritual and imaginative lives. Though entirely free access to infinite enrichment through art, music, books, dance, friends, and conversation waits right through the doors of the Centre, the gleaming red booths snag the attention of the tube-tossed visitor on Southbank’s shore.
But here, Blake would caution us against false binaries– we understand that materialist “goods” and the spiritual good both are aspects of human nature. Blake dreamed of a London with its higher impulses no longer crushed to base materialism, a London balancing desire for imagination as material delight and order. And Southbank is more like that now than when Blake lived nearby. A map from 1738 reveals the old Southbank, or rather “The Marsh,” a largely inaccessible wetland:
Blake may have had this marsh in mind, when he described how “Around Golgonooza lies the land of death eternal…The Forest, and the Marsh, and the Pits of bitumen deadly”. I think Blake would praise Southbank’s progression from marsh to thriving cultural center, and while the Christmas market and other nearby attractions like the London Eye and “Shrek’s Adventure” may distract, they fail to choke out imagination here. I noticed that even those along the bank surrounded by enticements to spend and consume always turned eventually to watch the entirely immaterial sunset over the Thames.
Center – Locus of Creation – Lambeth Palace
I’m fairly confident Blake envisioned Lambeth Palace as the center of his London, and of Golgonooza. Blake lived down the road from here. As the Archbishop’s residence, it likely symbolized for Blake the inordinate level of power held by religion. He respected the place itself as an ever-evolving cultural and spiritual center with deep roots, but as David Erdman describes, during Blake’s time, “at Lambeth Palace, which should be a center of love and freedom, State Religion is preaching war”. Further proof of Lambeth Palace as the center of Golgonooza is Blake’s adoring description of it: …the secret furniture of Jerusalem’s chamber Is wrought: Lambeth! the Bride, the Lamb’s Wife, loveth thee: Thou art one with her & knowest not of self in thy supreme joy. Go on, builders in hope : tho’ Jerusalem wanders far away, Without the gate of Los: among the dark Satanic wheels.
This passage implies that the gate of Los (Los’ Palace, and the center of Golgonooza) rests in Lambeth, as here we find the “builders,” and here Jerusalem “wanders” away from both at once. For Blake, London’s Lambeth Palace has been appropriated by religious tyranny to champion war and repression, but its nature is as a spiritual center for imaginative development.
Today, where Golgonooza’s palace is surrounded by a moat of illuminating fire, Lambeth Palace is entirely ringed in a high, brick wall. The Palace itself is an impressive amalgamation of centuries of architectural styles. No wonder Blake respected it– it squashes together a castle’s fortitude and a church’s grace in a borderline idiculous hodgepodge. Lambeth Palace embodies the splendidly messy, unrepressed creative impulse at our center. Unfortunately, the wall prevents one from fully pilgrimaging, except by scheduled guided tour. But like encountering the gnomes at Southbank, I found a funny coincidence of Blake and real life here. According to Blake, the Los stands at this center in a continual act of construction, and “ceas’d he not from labouring at the roarings of his Forge / With iron & brass Building Golgonooza in great contendings”. Currently, Lambeth Palace is roaring under construction, and there was even a brass-looking structure inside. Recalling that for Blake, Los exists inside mankind as the spirit of active creation, finding real people at work inside Lambeth Palace improving it for later public use was essentially finding Golgonooza alive and thriving in the real world.
East – Emotional Life — Blake’s House
Blake’s house, or where it used to be, is slightly east of Lambeth Palace. As his home with his wife and workspace for creating his art, it seemed a plausible location for the space of “Emotional Life” in Blake’s ideal city. But Blake’s house here has long since been demolished, and we can only hope that the new inhabitants of the “William Blake Estate” are cultivating their emotional centers.
West – Life of the Senses and the Door of Perception – the Thames
Blake aligns each of the four directions with an element, and water he gives to the West. The Thames lies directly West of Lambeth Palace. It seems possible that Blake, with his emphasis on thinking outside the everyday, conceived of the river itself as the fourth direction of Golgonooza and the Gate of Perception that allows us to see the spiritual along with the material. Whether or not Blake thought so, he created Golgonooza with the aim of having us contemplate the aspects of our nature in relation to the city, so I felt I had license to choose the Thames as my West. It certainly functions within the mythology. A perpetual thread through the centuries, and the last powerful work of nature in London not invisible under human construction, the Thames provides an enduring and sublime object of contemplation. As I mentioned earlier, searching for “Imagination” at Southbank Centre, I found people most drawn from materialism in contemplating sunset over the Thames. The Thames uses our material senses, especially that of vision, to pull our attention from base materialism and to contemplate higher things, even in the very middle of a busy city. Blake mourned the “charter’d Thames” but through our imagination, the Thames breaks the human charters binding it, and then in turn frees us from the charters that bind our minds.
When waking up abruptly in the thick darkness of night, one could find it quite unusual to rise from that warm haven of rest to go marching 8km through the city of London in search of a bunch of fish. However, on November 26th at 2am, my dear friend and myself did exactly that, lured by the prospect of capturing a taste of the sea under the Golden Arches of the world famous Billingsgate market.
I had watched the BBC documentary, The Fish Market: Inside Billingsgate, back in 2012 and was mesmerised by the apparent magic of the market. The camaraderie between the fish mongers, the swathes of people wanting to purchase fish before the sun was up, the stories of how things had changed with nearly all expressing a sentimental quip about how great things used to be, had captured my imagination and become an almost legendary place in my mind’s eye.
So as not to be completely ignorant of the history of the market and in order to be able to gauge the contrast of then and now, I researched into Billingsgate market beforehand and became even more misty-eyed about my impending journey. It became apparent however, that the history of Billingsgate was, akin to almost all things in this world, a history deep with individual stories, ascensions and descents and of course political interference.
Originally located in the City of London, the Billingsgate fish market was established with an Act of parliament in 1699 wanting “a free and open market for all sorts of fish whatsoever”. The fish used to be sold from a ‘hythe’ directly off the pavements of Lower-Thames Street until increased yields of fish required the stalls to be moved indoors in 1849. However, the building being deemed inadequate was demolished and with Sir Horace Jones as the architect, a newly built building was opened in 1876 to become the official home for the fish market.
Still though there would be another move in 1982 to the Isle of Dogs, where the fishmarket I was heading to is now situated. After over 300 years the market was moved from the City of London and placed away from the riverside in the Borough of Tower Hamlets. Here the market now sits, in the shadows of skyscrapers, paying its rent with the “gift of a fish” and opening its doors at 4 am to begin trading.
Although the main objective of the walk was to reach the market itself, there was a wealth of history and fascination to be found whilst wandering across the four boroughs towards Billingsgate. Each place had its distinct character, from the perpetually lively roads of New Cross into the rich architectural history of Greenwich, right through the residential area of the Isle of Dogs, there was a vast depth of knowledge to be obtained. There was however two distinct features along the walk which were of high importance for me sticking out for their association with the river, sea and fish market.
The first of these was the Cutty Sark. Walking through the streets of London in the early morning hours it was bewildering to see an enormous sailing ship on the top of a restaurant. The Cutty Sark had not always been a fancy adornment, it had in fact been one of the fastest clipper ships of the 19th century. Built in 1869 she was primarily used to import tea from China but due to competition with steam ships in at the end of the century, she would come to be demoted from the tea trade and eventually in 1938 would make her last sail. The name of the Cutty Sark intrigued me because I couldn’t explain to my dearest friend what it meant. So with further investigation it was revealed to me that the word Cutty-Sark comes from the 18th century Scots meaning for a “short chemise” and was the witch in Robert Burn’s poem, Tam o’ Shanter.
The second was the Greenwich foot tunnel. This remarkable feat of engineering stretches 370 meters underneath the river Thames, allowing walkers to cross over to the Isle of Dogs. The foot tunnel was opened in 1902 with the original purpose being for workers a more accessible route to the shipyards and docks across the river. When imagining that I was making the same commute that sailors and no doubt fishermen would have made 100 years before me the final destination had never felt so close.
When arriving at Billingsgate market it was quite a bewildering sight. The market could not seem more out of place with its surroundings. Behind the Canary Wharf can be seen towering into the sky, to the front cars race down the dual carriageway, the dull yellow roof of the market looks somewhat delinquent with an accumulation of grime and birds shit. But the smell is unmistakable, the squawking of seagulls confirms the sea’s treasures are close and walking through the giant hanger doors your eyes are indeed assaulted with a colossal wave of fish. The energy inside the building is magical, the workers perhaps somewhat aware of their infamy put on a spectacle, telling stories to us weary travellers of cold mornings, unshakeable fish smells and bust-ups on the market floors. We wander around taking it all in, wandering around and around the slippery green floor, covered in fish guts and scales and ice and finally decide on a crate of oysters. For £12 we got 25 oysters, took them to the workers café where old heroes painted the walls, staring down at us from within their wooden frames and we spoke and listened to tales of the old Billingsgate market whilst I got to taste the ocean in the shadows of giants.
Night walking can be addictive. It offers the thrill of exploring the unknown but also in an environment that evokes constant adrenalin. The dark is associated with evil; it renders the sight almost colourless as well as blank. The lack of sight inflates the feeling of isolation and with the limited noise makes you feel startled at any unanticipated sounds. A recurring theme throughout Dicken’s Night Walk is ‘Houselessness’, referring to those who wander at night in purposeless manner.
My Night walk, based on Charles Dickens Night walk, takes me on a circumference between Westminster bridge to the west, waterloo bridge at the centre and London bridge to the east. Trafalgar square and Covent garden to the north west and the Old Bailey, Bank station and billingsgate market to the north east. To my south east I went down Dickens memory lane to Bench Parks marshalsea prison and the imperial war museum. However, I started my walk, miscellaneously perhaps, at Haymarket, in the hopes of drawing a comparison to Dickens description as one ‘the worst kept part of London’. This is partly because of its association with prostitution and other sources of entertainment. Walking up the sloping Haymarket street passing Cineworld cinema on my left that is extortion to visit. Most stores within this area have their own set “London” prices.
Waterloo bridge holds the great entertainment complex with the royal opera house, Covent garden and the strand north of the river and Southbank south of the river. Agreeably with Dickens the river holds a special resonance at this time, however, not a call for suicide. Once everything had slowed down the small waves in the river provide some serenity and also a sense of freedom from the rush and noise during the day. The day time, at the strand and its theatres, is relatively quiet, however, as dickens refers to the period that is ‘The restlessness of a great city, and the way in which it tumbles and tosses before it can get to sleep, formed one of the first entertainments offered to the contemplation of us houseless people’. The time in which people are heading home after their evening out in the theatres or the pub, is this area’s busiest period and after it, its quietest. Even at times during desolate hours this area was in state of restlessness with cleaners (as well as arguable the mouse) cleaning the streets for the morning tourists and workers, builders repairing streets and as Matthew Beaumont describes the people at this as those either ‘running out of time or those with time to burn’. Working the curve of the strand I headed towards the old bailey where once it housed Newgate prison.
The Newgate prison was demolished after 1902 now home to the Old Bailey criminal justice court. The prison housed all sorts of criminals from petty theft to rapes and murders. Not far from where the Newgate prison once existed lies Bank home to the Royal Exchange and the Bank of England. Describing the Debtor’s door as the death door, at this point, Dicken’s talks about his father dealings with debt when he was younger. Today it screams affluence and yet seems uncommercial. For years, I had never known its existence because around the area retail buildings are housed within what looks like official and grand office buildings. Much what you would expect for educational buildings or courts. The area is not as sociable as in the north-west region but there are many restaurants and transport links around the area. You can tell that this is a place for white collar workers and weirdly I had not noticed a homeless person nor really any houseless.
Crossing London Bridge that was once full off carriages. I went on to pass the old billingsgate market where dickens had hoped for some company in his Night walk. Billingsgate now a hospitality and events venue can hardly be remembered for it world’s largest fish market and great brewery.
Moving on King’s Bench prison also known as the marshalsea prison has been demolished with a plank place in honour of Dicken’s as well as a library. Following on from his father’s issue with debt his family were held in the marshalsea prison while he worked in Warren’s Blacking factory off the strand. Walking the street felt more isolated than anywhere else. The whole south side of the river seemed darker and less commercial because there were more houses. You would also find fast food takeaways that were open till late and foxes rummaging through people’s bin. At one point, though I was walking on a street that was wide and bright the sound of the autumn leaves startled me because I had initially no idea where the sound was coming from.
Philosophically, Dickens talks about being sane and those who were kept in Bethlehem mental asylum now home to the Imperial War Museum (IWM). Bethlehem hospital itself had moved to different areas around London throughout the centuries but during Dickens time would have been where the IWM is now. The building itself is actually quite pretty and does not scream mental asylum even if there is great big canon in its front yard. Conversely, perhaps Dickens judgement was clouding at this moment but Dickens logically explains the insanity in all of us in reference to the Night.
‘Are not the sane and the insane equal at night as the sane lie a dreaming? Are not all of us outside this hospital, who dream, more or less in the condition of those inside it, every night of our lives?…Do we not nightly jumble events and personages and times and places, as these do daily? Are we not sometimes troubled by our own sleeping inconsistencies, and do we not vexedly try to account for them or excuse them, just as these do sometimes in respect of their waking delusions?’
Moving on, towards the end of my journey I moved to Westminster, Covent Garden and St Martin’s Church by Trafalgar square and realised my phone battery would barely last me and was in need of my sleep. Westminster, the ginormous building that is difficult to take a shot off up close, alludes to the power London holds now as it did then as well the history of its power. He also talks about the law and civility which was at the heart of Victorian era’s Martin’s Church Highly gates like most building in the centre was resting quietly in the corner of Trafalgar Square. Covent Garden, guarded by security men at the time during which drunken men were being disorderly still had an unexpected amount of noise and light. At this point it was quite heartening to hear them after the long silence south of the river.
In conclusion, it was a lot of ground to cover but a recommended walk to getting a sense of the wide variety London has to offer. I know this blog won’t do justice to the insight gained from walking through London’s history but it has developed my ability to empathise with the historical context Dickens wrote in during the Victorian times.
Matthew Beaumont, Night Walking: A Nocturnal History of London (London: Verso, 2015)
Dickens, Charles, The Uncommercial Traveller, 1st edn (London: Oxford University Press, 1958)
One of the most important moments in London’s history was the Great Fire of London. I wanted to go on a walk where I could be some kind of personification of the flames that burned down the whole city and destroyed many buildings. I searched online of ways that I could be able to imitate the journey that the flames took and I came across a pamphlet provided by the “City of London.”While I used the overall structure of the path that was on the guide, I wanted to see different areas that were not listed. In the process of going on a semi-self guided path, I came across some areas that commemorated buildings that once stood before the Great Fire destroyed them. I had a great walk and was able to vividly see how much the fire spread, the areas that were damaged, and the severity of the flames.
I began my journey at where it all started: Pudding Lane. The Great Fire of London began on the night of September 1 of 1666. The story of the fire begins with a baker, Thomas Faryner, who forgot to properly extinguish the fire in the oven of his bakery, “leaving sparks to set light to spare fuel and flour.” It was surreal to be in the presence of the place where the fire that changed London forever started. All I could do while I stood there in front of a building that stands where the bakery once stood was imagine what it must have looked like during the seventeenth century. Looking around in the area, it seems odd that a bakery would be placed there during modern times. Nevertheless, my journey to discover where the fire spread began.
The closest Tube station to where the fire started at Pudding Lane is Monument Station. I took the Tube from New Cross Gate all the way to Monument Station on the District Line. When I got out of the station, the first thing that I saw was the Monument, which was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, and was built between 1671 and 1677 to commemorate the Great Fire of London (The Monument). Today, people are able to go inside and climb the stairs of the Monument by spending about four pounds if you are an adult.
After leaving the Monument, the next place listed on the guide was Leadenhall Market, but I wanted to veer off to see the London Bridge before I made my way to the opposite direction. Before the fire, London Bridge had been crowded with houses. This was not helpful for people to be able to escape the fire because of how dense it was. Fortunately, “the wind direction and a fire break in the bridge meant that the fire did not spread along it to Southwark.” While I walked along the bridge and put myself in the shoes of those who lived there during the Fire, I only imagined how much I would have panicked. Since it was so dense and the fire was easily able to trap people on the bridge, I only thought of how I would have thought about jumping into the Thames. It found it very surreal to be in the areas where people were affected by the Fire and thinking what it would have been to be in that situation.
After leaving London Bridge, I continued to walk on the next place listed on the guide: Leadenhall Market. Leadenhall Market only suffered minor damages during the fire because of its stone construction. This was especially important because since everything around the market was highly combustible, it was able to prevent the fire from spreading past the market. As I was walking toward the market, I saw many buildings and professionals walking around. I also noticed a few coffee shops and food shops. It is very much a busy area and everything is so close together physically, which was able to help spread the fire. When I saw Leadenhall Market, I was able to see why the fire could not fully damage this structure. It was an enclosed market with stone buildings and a very beautiful design of architecture. It was very helpful that the market was able to only suffer minor damages, and the plaque that was placed on the market does not help us forget that.
After I left Leadenhall Market, I continued to walk aimlessly until I reached St. Mary-le-Bow on Cheapside. While on the way there, I was able to come across the Bank of London which was located on Threadneedle Street and about a one-minute walk from Mansion House. While the Bank of London did not exist during the Great Fire of London, it was founded almost thirty years later in 1694 and is known as the “old lady of Threadneedle Street, is the government’s bank and the UK’s central bank.” Mansion House is the place where the mayor’s place of work and residence is, which also opened after the Great Fire of London. When I reached St. Mary-le-Bow, it was a big church and had a courtyard where people could sit and enjoy time outside on a nice day. I passed by many shops, pubs, as well as narrow streets. According to “City of London,”most City streets were as narrow…during the fire…making it extremely hard for firefighters to get through.”This reminded me of how it would have been like on the London Bridge with such dense areas that made it hard for people to escape and evacuate. The St. Mary-le-Bow church was completely destroyed during the Fire and “its successor was built by Wren between 1670 and 1683its successor was built by Wren between 1670 and 1683.” The architecture was beautiful, but my next destination was much more grandiose.
After leaving St. Mary-le-Bow, I reached St. Paul’s Cathedral. St. Paul’s was about two minutes from St. Mary-le-Bow, so I was able to walk past all of the shops once again. When I saw St. Paul’s, it was my third time being there, but its grand structure never ceases to amaze me. However, according to the guide on “City of London,” “three days after the fire had started, the wooden scaffolding surrounding St Paul’s caught fire and ignited the timbered roof.”I found it amazing that the Cathedral could have potentially survived had the scaffolding not been there, but it gave way to the beautiful design that Wren developed that we all enjoy today. After leaving St. Paul’s my last stop was where the Fire stopped: Golden Boy at Pie Corner.
On the way to Golden Boy at Pie Corner, I walked along Newgate Street where I would meet Giltspur Street and make a right. As I walked along this path, I made the wrong right turn. When I realized that I made the wrong turn, I ended up where the Bank of America was on King Edward Street. As I was walking back to get back onto Newgate Street, I came across a plaque that said “Near this spot stood Poulters’ Hall; 1630-1666.” I snapped a picture of it and looked it up and found out that it was once a Livery Company that now “now operates as a charitable institution.” It was destroyed by the Fire and I found it interesting that I randomly came across a site that commemorated a company whose building was destroyed by the Fire.
As I continued towards the end of my walk, I finally found the street I was looking for. I reached the end of the flames. The flames continue no more. It was interesting to think about how the flames stopped there and how there is a Golden boy placed on the building to symbolize the end. I stood there for about seven minutes just looking at the image and reflecting on how “Great” the fire truly was and how far the flames travelled across the highly combustible city. The boy was originally “a wooden effigy… to ornament Giltspur Street’s Fortune of War tavern” (Hidden London). My walk in total took about two hours. It is amazing to think how the flames spread at such a distance, lasting five days, and damaged so much property at “373 acres within the City walls and 63 acres without.”After finishing my walk and catching the Tube to head home, it is hard to imagine that such a tragedy would occur again with the material that all of the buildings that I walked past are made of.
Having already pursued a methodology founded on specificity, whereby I retraced the steps of an individual, who walked on a specific day, for a purpose which caused them to document the entire process; I decided to attempt a more generalized act of walking, to recreate a route pursued by many individuals, over centuries, for reasons which did not warrant individual record. Of course, in order to be able to recreate a walk, record must exist, so I took the lead of contemporaries. I decided to follow a route traveled with such regularity, that it caused Parliament to institute legislation specifically for its maintenance and improvement, specifically, a Turnpike Toll Road.
Alan Rosevear’s Map of Turnpikes in Middlesex illustrates how, by 1720, all major roads into and out of the City of London were maintained by Turnpike Trusts, and by 1730 even the route between London and its most proximate suburbs were administered similarly. In Middlesex by the 1820s there were around 170 miles of Turnpike Trust Roads, and in London and the surrounding counties the total was 2067 miles. The following map is specifically of part of the routes between Highgate and the City, based on Rosevear’s but plotted onto a more geographically accurate map, dated to 1837, around the peak of Turnpike mileage nationwide. I chose to focus my walk on this Trust, as I expected its entirety to produce a manageable number of leads for investigation, and because of its proximity to the centre of the City.
When established, the roads within these Trusts seem to run through fields surrounding the city, with no development along their length. Even by 1837 the area is only developed adjacent to the existing toll roads. Booth’s 1889 Map shows however that in the half-century intervening, streets have branched off from the main road, and it has taken on a distinctly more urban character. For the most part the main street is show to be well-off or mixed, with pockets of poverty to be found in the back streets.
The Same Area, in recent Satellite Photographs.
The walk followed this Route. While I did not expect to learn much about the London of the c.18th which gave rise to the system of Toll roads, or for that matter did I expect any major physical remnants of the road’s prior format to survive, I had some optimism snippets from this period might survive, in street and building names, perhaps even in the form of a Church or Inn. The roads and pavements themselves are of course similar to any other modern urban street, as part of the process of repair and improvement for which turnpikes were originally instituted, and Rosevear’s Assessment that no Toll Houses survive is accurate, at least in my observation. However, given that the road may change its format, but not its route, I was curious as to how an arterial, logistical road might come to accommodate business, industry and residence, as the city expanded. As a place into which London grew largely during the c.19th, I hoped it might therefore reflect an Urban Plan particular to the period.
Beginning at Euston Square, I found myself backed by two imposing structures, Friends’ Hall, founded 1927 and St Pancras’ Parish Church, consecrated 1822. Euston Station – a rail terminus since 1837 – stood to my left, and the London County Council Fire Brigade Station, completed in 1902, to my right. This might serve as an apt metaphor, placing a City governed by Parish and Religious authority to the South, and heading outwards to a newer London, represented jointly by new technology and newly minted Civil Authority; if only this weren’t complicated by the actual dates of each institution. Not to be disheartened by my subject’s resistance to being narrativised, I began north.
Found within St Pancras Church. A dedication from the Second Boer War, on of several dedications to men of the ‘City of London Imperial Volunteers’.
Eversholt Street runs along the East side of Euston Station for its whole length, and at this hour is not busy, aside from traffic servicing the station. This microcosm was somewhat evocative of the nationwide demise of Turnpike Trusts, as railways became a more efficient means of transporting goods into and between cities. I was to find that the road became busier Only along Kentish Town Road were the roads busy, otherwise this route seemed to have been surpassed by others. Little of note lay along Eversholt Street, smaller three-storey Victorian and Edwardian Townhouses giving way to larger Victorian and Edwardian Townhouses. The broad pavements alone hinted at the prior purpose of the now-quiet street.
Where I begin down Camden High Street there stands a statue of Richard Cobden dated to 1868, and paid for by public subscription, to which Napoleon III was a major contributor. Cobden, a figure pivotal in the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846, was an ardent supporter of free-trade and laissez-faire capitalism. Turnpike Trusts were largely resented by those who used them, and those who lived in cities isolated by them. They effectively created a tariff on imports into the capital, and so the erection of a statue to a figure so opposed to protectionism in this location has a certain – presumably unintended – dissonance.
Further into Camden I came cross the Trinity Church Though a Presbytarian congregation had existed in the area since 1835 – when sermons were first given under a railway arch to navvies working on the railway – the current building had been constructed in 1909 to replace an older Chapel acquired by the congregation. During the reconstruction sermons had been held opposite at the YMCA, now a Sainsbury’s, but consideration had been given to the Turkish Baths on Prince of Wales Road. These I encountered later on, grandiose buildings established in 1903 and restored between 2007 and 2010, On 50 yards of street there stands the Baths; Una House, a Camden Borough Council run housing block, established 1922; One Prince of Wales Road, a building of the North-Western Polytechnic from 1929, and Hope Chapel. This unusual concentration of institution is also notable in that, the baths and polytechnic having separate facilities based on gender, the gated housing containing the poor in what was a well-to-do area, and the Chapel confining a small community of believers.
Further along the route, the ties to its prior purpose became further eroded. As I approached Highgate, the streets broadened and remained residential, but I could find no links between the institutions upon them and the prior administration of the roads. My finding, perhaps predictable, is that a generalized walk, not linked to a specific, well documented past act of walking, is limited in its capacity to provide anything more that a generalized, unspecific impression of its subject. I encountered difficulty in relating the points of interest I encountered on the walk to its intended theme. While my structure was measure I took to avoid being guided or biased by the attractions of street as it is today, a more impulsive, less planned route may have yielded its own theme, and allowed the surviving artifacts of the past to guide my investigation. While there are certainly a few historical leads to work from related to the theme of the walk, in this instance the actual walking of the route for the most part was not in itself informative. I approached the source – in this instance the modern streets – knowing what nature of information I wanted to find and perhaps walking – more even than other methodologies – requires that the source lead the investigation.
After being inspired by the concept of the wandering existentialist flâneur, I decided to take a historical walking tour above and around a part of the route of the Bakerloo line. The walk took me from Charing Cross station via Pall Mall, most of Regent Street, Piccadilly Circus, a little bit of Carnaby Street and finally finishing at Oxford Circus station. When viewed from a map, it does look like a fairly short route, but when one wanders around the area and puts the route into historical context, the distance feels huge. Although the average flâneur was a Parisian and utilized way too much philosophical jargon, I myself believed it was possible to use similar qualities and apply them to the exploration of early-modern and modern London by describing my feelings and experiences in relation to the city’s history, as well as mentioning interesting facts. Many features which I encountered on my route were related in many ways to the romantic era of the early 19th century, also the time when the early stages of flânerie emerged, notably from the works of Charles Baudelaire (Tester, 1994, Introduction, pp. 1-21).
Emerging from the dusty Charing Cross underground station, a combination of sunlight and the chilly November breeze struck me, and before I knew it, Nelson’s Column was towering above me. As I began wondering about Trafalgar Square, I began noticing more a more militaristic theme about the area. Aside from the obvious fact that it was named in honour of Admiral Horatio Nelson’s victory and death at the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar, there were multiple memorials and statues all dedicated to military figures from the 19th and early-20th centuries. The openness vast space and the impression I got from this was that Trafalgar Square was more than just a symbol of London, but its design and architecture reflected the true strength and might of the British Empire during its heyday. Even Adolf Hitler was so fond of it that during the cancelled Operation Sea Lion he had planned to take the monument and place it in Berlin, had he succeeded.
Trafalgar Square’s best friend
Going west into Cockspur Street, I noticed several features connected with Canada, most notably Canada House. Built from 1823 to 1829 and designed by the British Museum’s architect Robert Smirke, the Greek revival building originally housed the prestigious Union Club until being purchased by the Canadian government in 1923 for $1 million. The country’s High Commission settled here due to another building that I came across, with the words “Canadian Pacific” clearly showing. The aptly-named Canadian Pacific Building housed the UK offices of the Canadian Pacific Railway Co. and was built to help promote Canadian businesses and drive emigration from the over-populated U. K. to Canada during the early 20th-century. I even noticed the former Canadian National Railway Company Building with the coat-of-arms of Canada’s provinces and territories.
Rather than walking along Haymarket, I took a brief detour off the Bakerloo Line route and onto Pall Mall, where the architecture changed from grey and Edwardian tower blocks to two cream-coloured Regency-era structures, now housing the Institute of Directors and the private Athenaeum Club. Standing in that open space with an outstanding view of St James Park in the sunlight, which gave me a sense of fascination. Pall Mall is one of London’s oldest streets, with roots dating back from Saxon times, but these two particular buildings mark the beginning of modern Regent Street. Completed in 1825, Regent Street (and subsequently Regent’s Park) were named after then-Prince Regent George IV and designed by John Nash. It’s main purpose was to provide high-quality retail to rival that of Bond Street – something which carries on to this day.
However, I noticed another memorial for a 19th-century war – the Crimean War. It contained statues of two famous figures who served in the war, Florence Nightingale and Sidney Herbert. Unveiled in 1861, one aspect I found remarkable was how sharp the bayonets of the three statute soldiers were, almost as if they were real! It was yet another imperial display of power.
Heading north along Regent Street, I came to another of London’s most recognizable landmarks – Piccadilly Circus, which meant that I was finally back on the Bakerloo Line trail. One aspect that interested me was the area’s rather unusual name. As it turns out, the land that the Piccadilly road now occupies was bought by a man named Robert Baker(loo!) in around 1611-1612, who built a manor named “Pikadilly Hall” since Baker had amassed a fortune selling piccadills, the fashionable collar of the Tudor-Stuart period. Its layout is relatively the same as Nash’s plan, most notably the curve on the Quadrant, which gives the name “circus.” Nash had originally wanted Regent Street to be like a straight-lined French boulevard (which would’ve been perfect for flânerie), but due to problems with land ownership, he had to avoid St. James’ Square to the south, and thus the Quadrant was constructed and caused displacement of Swallow Street’s working-class population. (Beaumont, 2015, ch. 11, ‘Crowded Streets, Empty Streets’, p.326)
Continuing along the Quadrant, although the Regency-era structures are long-demolished, the architecture of the current buildings heavily reflect the Neo-classical influence of their predecessors.
As I walked amidst the hordes of shoppers trying to get their early Christmas shopping done, boredom struck me, mainly because shopping for fancy items isn’t my forte. I began feeling Wordsworth’s frustration with capitalist London (Beaumont, 2015, p.326) In order to retreat from the snobbishness, I took a detour into Tenison Court and briefly found myself in the Soho district. I must say, it was huge relief to retreat from militant consumerism and find some historic buildings.
As I made my way north to Great Marlborough Street and back onto Regent Street, I finally found Oxford Circus Station. What can be concluded from this experience? London has, and still does, emit a whole range of emotions from people who observe the city. The awe of Trafalgar Square commemorates more than one conflict and disdain for Regent Street contains a hidden working-class past dating before its construction. London truly is a flâneur’s city.
Keith Tester, ed., The Flaneur (London: Routledge,1994), introduction, pp. 1-21
Matthew Beaumont, Night Walking: A Nocturnal History of London (London: Verso, 2015), ch. 11, ‘Crowded Streets, Empty Streets’, pp. 323-346
My previous walk explored the rural areas of Georgian era Stepney Green, Mile End and Whitechapel. This walk adds in Shadwell and St. George-in-the-East, densely inhabited areas in that period, housing sailors, dock-workers and shipping clerks in contrast to the upper management and sea captains of Mile End and Stepney Green. It moves forward into the nineteenth century when the area suffered great poverty, overpopulation and the excesses of gin, beer, opium, dodgy lodgings and lewd women. Post-Dickens, the East End has been tainted with a wide brush and a narrow view of disease, degeneration and deprivation which spread eastwards like a rash and at any moment threatened to turn west again.
Yet, the area exudes a rich history of non-conformists, radical protests and nationalistic conflict; Bryant & May’s striking Matchgirls’ and Sylvia Pankhurst’s ELFs marched here, Sidney Street Siege and Battle of Cable Street invoked the first nationalistic conflict here when Boadicea met the Romans. Due to the Docks, vice festered in the forms of bootlegging, prostitution and opium smoking which arrived with Chinese sailors, but soon found clandestine favour among every level of London society, rich and poor. Charles Dickens (Edwin Drood), Oscar Wilde (Dorian Gray) and numerous journalists visited and wrote about opium dens in Bluegate Fields, [Gilman, 2004, pp.118-125]. Two articles, written in 1868 and 1883, give explicit directions to an infamous den, run by opium-master Chi Ki. What better challenge on a frosty Tuesday morning than hunting down Edwin Drood’s opium den? And so the walk begins in the Bluegate Fields section of Cable Street, also known as Tiger Den, ‘on account of the number of ferocious she creatures in petticoats that lurk and lair there’ [London Society, 1868].
The walk continues the length of Cable Street and focuses on the shadier side of its nautical and nationalist history. The pragmatically named Cable Street is one of several Rope Walks in the area in which ropes were twisted to make ships cables, resulting in very long and straight road layouts (a ship’s cable is approximately 600 feet long (10 fathoms), 10 cables make a nautical mile). Today Cable Street is much longer, absorbing the eastern stretches previously known as Bluegate Fields, Knock Fergus and Back Lane. The starting point is two schools named Bluegate Fields adjacent to Twine Court, a curious name choice given the Victorian connotations.
Twine Court, Shadwell, c.1899. H. J. Malby for National Photographic Record and Survey. Victoria & Albert Museum, E.3596-2000.
Twine Court in 2016. Source: Google Streetview.
Comparing maps and reports from 1830 to 1900, there were frequent changes in the streets and buildings, although not, it seems, in character. In 1883, James Greenwood describes the location of Chi Ki’s abode ‘as in the very heart of the Bay, and from end to end it presents an unbroken scene of vice and depravity of the most hideous sort. Almost every house is one of ‘ill fame.’ [Greenwood, 1883]. Greenwood’s associate gave short directions via seven public houses and the Rehoboth (dissenters’) Chapel (1841) that ironically indicated the way to Chi Ki’s den. These were perhaps the easiest landmarks to direct by but also show a curious intimacy with Shadwell’s drinking places. Unfortunately, most, if not all, of these public houses have been demolished and several are absent from period directories, rendering the directions useless today. The easier landmark by which to gauge the den’s location is the Rehoboth chapel, accessed through an inscribed archway. It seems most likely that the access road was Dellow/Victoria Road, [Gilman, 2004, p.119] originally Blue Gate Fields. The chapel would have been situated on the alley that became Lowood Road during the 1896 redevelopment of the area, following the 1875 Artisans’ and Labourers’ Dwellings Improvement Act, [Yelling, 35].
Map Of London 1868, By Edward Weller, F.R.G.S. Source: [accessed 29 November 2016]
Aerial view of area off Dellow Road in 2016, showing 1896 and later developments. Chi Ki’s den was probably in the area now called Solander Gardens. Source: Google Earth
Charles Booth’s notebook of 1898-99 describes the general area consisting of public houses, low lodging houses, courts, single storey hovels, drunks and prostitutes. Booth’s investigator, George Duckworth, notes Dellow Street being greatly changed due to demolition and ejection of its tenants. He recommends the new development is labelled purple (mixed prosperity), though the rest of the area remains dark blue or black (very poor / semi-criminal), and ‘vicious’ [Duckworth, 1899, pp.201-05]. Between the 1896 tenements on Lowood Road stands a small, white, pitched building called The Lodge. Its incongruous appearance among its towering neighbours suggests it could be the chapel, but subsequent map research suggests that was demolished with the rest of the plot by 1890. The oldest buildings of Booth’s day are gone too, replaced by inter-war blocks, still arranged in courts, with a shabbiness that suggests a degree of deprivation still. It is somewhat disappointing that the grotesque building reputed to have been graced by the Prince of Wales is no more, however it is illuminating to tread in the footsteps of Wilde and Dickens.
The Lodge, Lowood Road, 2016. Presumed site of the Rehobeth Chapel. Taken November 2016.
Victorian Apartment Blocks, dated 1896, on Dellow Road. Taken November 2016.
Adjacent to this estate stands St George’s Town Hall (1860), the park (1875) and church (1726) of St. George-in-the-East, a Hawksmoor design. The park is a striking contrast with its Victorian surroundings, an unlikely description from 1896 extolls ‘always bright and neat and full of people enjoying the seats, the grass, the flowers and the air’ [London Gardens Online]. To create the park, the tombstones were moved and now line every available wall. Remnants of a bombed chapel and a mortuary which became a Nature Study Museum (1904-WW11) provide curious objects for further study.
St George’s-in-the-East from The Highway, February 2000. Photo: S Williams. Source: London Gardens Online.
Detail of St. George-in-the-East Church, 1726. Designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor. Taken November 2016.
Mortuary in St. George-in-the-East Park converted to Natural Study Museum in 1904. The architectural detail is worthy of closer inspection. Taken November 2016.
Exiting through the west gate of the Town Hall passes the bold mural commemorating the Battle of Cable Street in 1936. Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Facists intended to lead his far-right ‘Blackshirts’ army in a march from Royal Mint Lane down Cable Street, in a reportedly deliberate attempt to incite chaos in a mostly foreign area. The local community of communists, Jews, Irish, dock-workers and trade unionists came together to blockade the walk leading to violent fighting, while women showered police with missiles thrown from tenement windows. Although the government had allowed Mosely’s marches, it resulted in the 1936 Public Order Act which banned the wearing of military-style uniform by political groups [Palmer, 2000 pp.133-36].
Above: Footage from the Battle of Cable Street, 1936.
Most of Victorian Cable Street has been demolished, on the North side runs the Docklands Light Railway, opened 1987. On the South side, sufficient buildings survive to indicate the nature of its architecture in the 1800s, Georgian terraces of 3½ story buildings with passageways to courtyards beyond. Marked blue (poor) and purple (mixed) on Booth’s map, today these terraces are a blend of houses and discreet apartment conversions, marketed to city professionals. Modern apartment blocks are similarly high-brow, but the ghosts of the past linger in the run-down nature of twentieth century flats that intersperse with the very old and very new.
Cable Street looking east from junction with Cannon Street Road, showing surviving Georgina buildings. Taken November 2016.
Gated passageway to rear courts of Cable Street. Taken November 2016.
Hawksmoor Mews, 200 Cable Street. Taken November 2016.
At the crossroad with Cannon Road Street is the staking and burial site of seaman John Williams, the suspect for the 1811 Ratcliffe Highway Murders. [Palmer, 2000, pp.53-55]. Taking a diversion south towards the old Ratcliffe Highway, the west of the street holds more uninviting, post-war flats, the east side suitably shabby Victorian buildings, derelict-looking, some with period shutters behind windows and original shop fronts. These properties appear to change hands frequently judging by the permanency of estate agent sign battens on the walls.
Victorian Terrace. Cannon Street Road, looking south to The Highway from junction with Cable Street. 2016.
Victorian terrace, showing original shop-fronts. Cannon Street Road, looking south to The Highway from junction with Cable Street. 2016.
Victorian terrace, showing original shop-fronts. Cannon Street Road, looking south to The Highway from junction with Cable Street. 2016.
Right onto The Highway, a very short distance along is Betts Road, the location of an encounter with a real life tiger! Rev. Harry Jones describes St. George’s as ‘the central market of the world for lions, bears, tigers, elephants, monkeys, and parrots’. The tiger, recently docked from the East Indies, escaped its cage and made a protest of its own by seizing a young boy and disappearing up Bett’s Street with its prey, the tiger merchant giving chase. Although the boy was surprisingly unharmed, the next owner made great money advertising it as ‘the tiger that swallowed the child’ [Jamrach, 1879]. Bett’s Street, redeveloped into flats, no longer reaches Cable Street, instead it diverts around the old Swedish colony, now Swedenborg Gardens (after their ambassador), which was one of the better off areas (pink) on Booth’s map. The presence of an estate regeneration office suggests otherwise today, homes are a mish-mash of high and low apartment blocks and bungalows. The Swedish Church has gone, but the gardens remain and the road turns back to Cable St along what was Denmark Street, now Crowder Road.
Little else catches the eye on Cable Street but on crossing Fletcher Street, attention is caught by another old chapel down the street. This is the mission room and infant school of the adjacent St. Pauls Church for Seaman (today a Primary School) on the east side of Wellclose Square. Access to most of the old square, marked as blue (poor) Almshouses by Booth, is blocked off. The return to Cable street is via the enticingly romantic-looking Graces Alley, not likely to be the description given to it in the 1800s, especially as it houses Wilton’s Music Hall (c.1850), the oldest surviving in London. According to Booth’s map this area was a complex for destitute sailors, including assembly hall, home and hospital, although 200 years previously, Wellclose Square was the home of sea captains and wealthy merchants [Wiltons]. The public buildings on Ensign Street (formerly Well Street) still retain some of that early prestige. The alley reconnects with Cable Street concluding the walk at the junction with Dock Road and Leman Street where the road becomes Royal Mint Street, better known as criminal Rosemary Lane and its dubious rag market.
Graces Alley, dating from c.1692 onwards, looking towards Ensign Street (formerly Well Street) from NW corner of Wellcose Square. Taken 2016.
Wilton’s Music Hall, Graces Alley, opened c.1850. Photo: James Perry. Source: Wilton’s Music Hall archives.
There were no Tigers spotted here today, human or feline, and I shared both my guiding authors’ disappointments at not finding an Oriental gentleman in rich, Eastern garb. In fact, I encountered no Chinese, but then I encountered hardly anyone at all in this once throbbing area. Multiple nineteenth century reports of Cable Street describe it as, day and night, thronging with drunken, savage-looking sailors of every nationality and its Tigress prostitutes, but on a Tuesday morning in 2016, the greatest danger to be faced were the cyclists whizzing down the Cycle Superhighway.
References Sander L. Gilman and Zhou Xun, eds. Smoke: A Global History of Smoking (London: Reaktion Books, 2004).
‘East London Opium Smokers’ London Society, July 1868.
James Greenwood, ‘An Opium Smoke in Tiger Bay’, In Strange Company: Being the Experiences of a Roving Correspondent (London: Vizetelly & Co, 1883)
J.A. Yelling, Slums and Slum Clearance in Victorian London (Abingdon: Routledge,  2007).
George H. Duckworth’s Notebook: Police and Publican District 7 [Mile End Old Town and Spitalfields], District 8 [Aldgate, St George’s in the East, Shadwell], District 9 [Bethnal Green, North and South], District 10 [Bethnal Green East], District 11 [Poplar and Limehouse] (1898-99), BOOTH/B/350.
Mrs. Basil Holmes cited in ‘St George’s-in-the-East Churchyard’, London Gardens Online, London Parks and Gardens Trust,
<www.londongardensonline.org.uk/gardens-online-record.asp?ID=THM041#> [accessed 29 November 2016].
Alan Palmer, The East End: Four Centuries of London Life, (London: John Murray  2000).
Rev. Harry Jones, ‘East and West London, Being Notes of Common Life and Pastoral Work in Saint James’s, Westminster and in Saint Georges’-in-the-East’ (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1875).
Charles Jamrach, ‘My Struggle with a Tiger’, The Boy’s Own Paper, Vol I, No. 3, February 1879.
‘History’, Heritage, Wilton’s Music Hall, <www. wiltons.org.uk/heritage/history> [accessed 29 November 2016].
Further Reading Glinert, Ed London Compendium: A Street-by-street Exploration of the Hidden Metropolis, (London: Penguin Books, 2003).
Humphreys, Rob, The Rough Guide to London, (London: Rough Guides, 2001).
Marriott, John, Beyond the Tower: A History of East London, (Princeton: Yale UP, 2011).
Derek Morris, Mile End Old Town 1740-1780, The East London History Society,  2007.
Morris, Derek, Whitechapel, 1600-1800, The East London History Society, 2011.
Photiadou, Artemis, From Slums to Homes: Samuel Barnett and The East End Dwellings Company (London: Toynbee Hall, 2014).
I find myself on the tube at one o’clock in the morning heading towards Oxford Circus. I have decided to take a walk through an area that I have explored countless times during the day, and wish to relearn it and experience it anew during the night. My first cause for concern is the harsh winter at this time of night and the cold that comes with it. While sitting on the train I realise that I, as a Londoner, am experiencing something new in the City’s history, the night tube. Perhaps sometime in the future someone will write a book documenting the stories of the night tube.
I start my walk from Oxford Circus tube station and head down Oxford Street towards Marble Arch. What immediately strikes me are the large Christmas lights that decorate Oxford Street every year. I have wandered down this street countless time during the Christmas period and never once cared to think why the lights are such a big deal, mainly because every time I walk down Oxford Street during this time of year I am trying to navigate the mass of people without going into a fit of rage. It turns out the festive decorations on Oxford Street do not span as far back as my childish imagination thought they did. As it happens the tradition started in 1959, a full five years after Regents Street had the idea. The decorations were lead by an article in the Daily Telegraph which commented how lacklustre London looked at Christmas. With the streets so well illuminated walking down Oxford Street did not feel any different at night than it does during the day. I turn around and head back to Oxford Circus.
Once I returned to Oxford Circus I decided to head towards Carnaby Street. This is a place where my friends and I have spent countless hours for some reason. Now at night time there are significantly less people compared to the day but like when I was on Oxford street it still felt the same to me. Even without the crowd. Perhaps it was the fact that the area was so familiar to me. So I resort to actively look for something exciting because at that moment my walk was rather tame. So from Carnaby street I begin to walk through the dark alleys of the area hoping something or other might happen. Venturing down said alleys I never really felt a significant amount of unease but perhaps it has always been installed in us when we were children to be wary of these sorts of place. The only thing that really alarmed me whilst heading around the alleys of Soho was the sight of rat that was too large for comfort and subsequently had thinking of how much I hate rats.
At this point in my walk I have not decided how I should feel whilst walking around at night. This is new to me. I have never walked around London at night with the sole purpose of walking around. So I consult the people before me who have walked around London in the dark, primarily Matthew Beaumont and Charles Dickens. Beaumont’s recent book ‘Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London’ offers the ideas that London is both ‘earthly and unearthly at night… the night time City is a different City’.(Beaumont, 2015, Pg. 2) With this quotation in retrospect, I can see how London may feel different the fact that the streets are so empty and the darkness envelops the City and this may feel exciting and edgy to some. However, I can not help but disagree with Beaumont. Perhaps this comes from the fact that I am a Londoner and have always been exposed to London be it at day or at night. The city will always feel the same to me because it my home and associate many memories I have had with it regardless of the time of day. The city does not feel new to me at night because of this. Additionally, perhaps it is the modern age that taken some of the mystery of night time London, with the amount of street lighting, CCTV cameras, and mobile phones. Especially mobile phones. If anyone is now lost in night time London there is no more worry or even sense of adventure, as some on can easy just pull up a map on their phone and head to the place they wish with the quickest and easiest route. I admit that Beaumont’s book was published in 2015 so he is observing the same London as me, but I feel as a youth of London that it has not kept its sense of mystery because it may be that I have been moulded by London at night. This is not to say that to any visiter of London that night time walking at London is not something special. This city is different, people are more relaxed than during the day, but for the modern city itself I cannot say it is ‘unearthly’. However, if by magic I ended up in Charles Dickens’ London I will have something much different to say. There are moments in Dickens’ ‘Night Walks’ where he describes Covent Garden and its people as ‘wonderful company. The great waggons of cabbages, with growers’ men and boys lying asleep under them, and with sharp dogs from market-garden neighbourhoods looking after the whole, were as good as a party.’ Nowadays I find it highly unlikely that the market of Covent Garden would have these sorts of things going on. This is why I cannot associate myself with Beaumont’s thinking, gone are the days where boys would be asleep under wagons and people bantering and shouting before market. I feel as if London has lost this or it is harder to find. London has changed in this sense.
From Carnaby Street I decide that my walk was not exactly what I was hoping for. It was rather tame. So I come to the decision that observe some people and try my hand at becoming a flaneur for a bit. I mean, I was slightly well dressed I fit the part ever so slightly. I decide to post up on the corner of Shaftesbury avenue and Wardour Street. I came to this decisions as I felt that this was an area where at this time of night there was significant crowd and interesting people I could observe. I stand on the corner for several minutes. As the minutes increase I feel more and more uncomfortable. In my head I felt as if was attaching attention as it was odd that I was alone on the corner and just watching people go past at this time of night. The people of this night all seemed a happy go lucky bunch and enjoying their night and the cold did not seem to deter people from a good night out. I see a potential group that I could “observe” (this sounds more formal than just saying that I was following them) however my flanerie was cut short when I saw they entered the near by McDonalds, which personally didn’t seem worth my time. By chance I saw Hen Do walk past a couple minutes after my disappointment. This perked my interest to observe them as I remembered during a seminar at my university people discuss how if a Hen Do walked past there was a sense of unease. So I wanted to see how this specific Hen Do interacted with the general public of London. So I follow them for about 15 minutes to see how they interact with world around them. I notice immediately is that this group has decided to stick to the main well lit streets and avoid the darker streets. This immediately made me think back how I felt walking down darker paths. It seems to me that night time London is different for everyone, what might not seem scary or uncomfortable to some may be to others. So everyone in the night time city seems to have different feelings and assumptions towards it. I notice that this group does not really seem to have a care in the world, shouting, laughing, and generally having a good time. Making me think that at night the people in London generally do not care how they are perceived by others. During the day people are rather reserved and mind their own business, but it seems that once in the later parts of the night people do not really seem to care. The stress of day is lifted and they can express themselves. Even though the group stuck to the main roads I see a bit of confidence as they holler at people walking past and some even looking uneasy. I decide to stop following the group and head back to Oxford Circus. The success of my nighttime flanerie is debatable. I never felt as a ‘man of the crowd as opposed to the man in the crowd’ as Tester argues the flaneur should.(Tester, 1994, Pg. 3) This may be the case because I decided to follow a Hen Do, and honestly I could never fit in there. However I did enjoy my time observing this specific crowd and how they interacted with the public sphere around them, so I feel the success of my flanerie is debatable.
Beaumont, Matthew, Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London (Verso Books, 2015)
Coverley, Merlin, Art Of Wandering: The Writer As Walker, 1st edn (Oldcastle Books, 2012)
It has been stated that 70 per cent of all people would experience part of their lives in absolute or relative poverty in the nineteenth- century. (King & Payne, 2002, p.3) That is a substantial amount of people suffering with financial limitations and all that entails. This fact stimulated an interest as to how people managed to obtain the bare necessities of life, combined with a love of clothes and a growing awareness with the contemporary concern amongst Victorians with the poor and how they lived, I chose to walk around a place I had read so frequently about.
Starting on Monmouth Street (present day Shaftesbury Avenue and not to be confused with actual Monmouth Street which runs almost parallel) I opted to first consider a work that came about as a result of the same activity I was completing; that of Charles Dickens in 1836. One of his most riveting journalistic essays, as part of ‘Sketches By Boz,’ was ‘Meditations in Monmouth-Street.’ In which a fictional character named ‘Boz’ walks the street I am concerned with observing the details and customs of the people and places in tremendous detail. In this case he observed perhaps some of the very worse off poor of London’s population.
Vivienne Richmond highlighted, ‘the simple fact was that the poor could rarely afford to buy new clothes,’ and taking this further expresses, ‘the poor, therefore, remained greatly reliant on second-hand garments.’(Richmond, 2013, p. 75) From my reading it became clear to me that in London, in Monmouth Street in particular and the area surrounding Covent Garden was the hub of second hand trade of anything and everything. However, as I stand here now at one end of the street I can tell already that the street I am on is a million worlds away from what I have read. My mood is sombre anyway, because of the cold and my surroundings are doing nothing to spur my imagination.
Dickens said of Monmouth Street, that it was the ‘burial-place of the fashions,’ by this I have come to conclude he mainly meant that the clothes of the deceased came here to be resold. The illustration that accompanied this work gave me reason to hope that some lasting marker of what once lined this street would exist – of which there was minimal. The street is now predominantly back doors of shops and private offices with their blinds shut, nothing in comparison to what Dickens saw, he imagined whole lives in the clothes that hung in the shop fronts, ‘from the shape and fashion of the garment itself, to bring its former owner before our mind’s eye.’ (Dickens, 1836.) The street is wide and the buildings are mostly old, most probably identical to back then as they are formidable and dark – the street is still busy too. At the time that Dickens wrote – the city had become a very different place to the one that Londoner’s were familiar with, its demographic had grown from 1 million residents in 1811 to 1.65 million in 1837, it is therefore no surprise that this very street would have been bustling with people given the percentage of the country as a whole who found themselves in poverty. However, the crowd that surrounds me is much different to that of Dickens, mostly men and women looking busy in their work attire and more than likely rushing to a job that they hate but pays well. Hence the smart looking clothes. This raised a question in my mind, I know that this was the hub of second-hand trade and although there is little evidence of this here, what articles exactly could the poor purchase here? Dickens talks of many different articles of clothing such as, ‘pilot great-coats with wooden buttons, have usurped the place of the ponderous laced coats with full skirts; embroidered waistcoats with large flaps, have yielded to double-breasted checks with roll-collars; and three-cornered hats of quaint appearance.’ (Dickens, 1836.) This list in itself is impressive and I am sure that despite some exaggeration, it is mostly truthful. In contrast, the articles of clothing hung in the shops today are almost identical to those found next door. The choices do not rival those included in Dickens’ description.
Vivienne Richmond expressed that, ‘industrialised production lowered the cost of new clothes in the nineteenth century, and the second-hand trade declined and became associated with poverty,’ (that is the trade itself – not those who it provided for) she also expresses that Monmouth Street had, ‘much reduced in size and quality by the mid-1800s’. (Richmond, 2013, p. 76) As I continue my stroll I take this in to consideration and come to ponder the very nature of the street itself and how such a large area in width and length could ‘reduce in size,’ whilst it did not physically change in size, a diminishing trade contributed to a reduction in significance of this area and undoubtedly the closing of many second hand ‘shops.’ It is interesting to think about the many purposes and periodical importance a place can have and will have in the future – I am, to an extent, impressed by the ambiguity of this city street. Her statement is confirmed in a contemporary source written a decade after Dickens visited by Henry Mayhew, he expressed, ‘now Monmouth Street… has no finery’ and ‘its second hand wares are almost wholly confined to old boots and shoes which are vamped up with a great deal of trickery.’ (Mayhew, 1848, p. 26) With this in mind I continued my walk, capturing the essence of a depressed trade here is not difficult.
With knowledge that the second-hand trade here waned and became associated with poverty, I was curious now with, not those purchasing the articles but those who lived and worked on this very street – essentially the second-hand sellers – who would have no doubt, made up a significant part of the historical significance of this street . Henry Mayhew reported, ‘there were a few Jews and a few cockneys in this well-known street a year or two back, but now this branch of the second-hand trade is really in the hands of what may be called a clan… Almost every master in Monmouth Street now is, I am told, an Irishman.’ (Mayhew, 1848, p. 26) Chapman demonstrated this stating that, ‘whereas in 1825 there had been around one thousand, predominantly Jewish, used clothes dealer in London, by mid-century their number had almost halved.’ (Chapman, 1993, p. 10) Therefore an intrinsic part of London’s trading history can be exemplified on this very street. The movement of the Jewish trade to another part of London meant that Irish work men replaced them and dominated this area. Within the nineteenth-century prejudice against immigrants was rife. It is no surprise then that the new Irish workmen on Monmouth Street, in a trade that was poverty stricken, were to face common blame and association to poor working and living conditions within the local society of London.
Dickens description does resemble city life as we know it in some ways, but perhaps not the Monmouth Street that exists today. Having said that, all in all, my walk down this street – despite its disappointing presentation and partial resemblance to its own past – did allow me to become successfully inquisitive with regards to many aspects of the nineteenth- century that interest me. Most importantly it permitted me to make interesting links with the chronological changes that took place in this period’s history. Such as the influence of a contraction of trade on poverty; what second hand articles could be purchased here; the size and significance of the street over several decades and finally revealed an interesting glimpse in to one reason why Irish immigrants faced prejudice in the nineteenth century – even before the mass immigration from Ireland at the time of the potato famine.
Steven King and Christiana Payne (eds)’’The Dress of the Poor’, special edition of Textile History, 33 (2002)
Vivienne Richmond, ‘Clothing the Poor in Nineteenth-century England’ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013)
Charles Dickens, ‘Meditations in Monmouth Street,’ Sketches By Boz (1836)
Henry Mayhew, ‘London Labour and the London Poor’, John Rosenburg. (New York, 1968)
Stanley Chapman, ‘The innovating entrepreneurs in the British ready-made clothing industry’, Textile History, 24:1 (1993)
My observation of the famous antiques market, located in the Royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea, north-west of London, begins as I walk down 55,56, 57 Portobello Road, greeted by the wind and rustling leaves sticking onto brightly pastel coloured house, virtually stuck to one another.
Although Portobello Road is lined with other businesses such as restaurants, pubs, and coffee shops my main focus is on the stalls offering vintage clothing, jewellery, posters, antiques, music records and instruments, all the way from Westbourne Grove up to Golborne Road, and under the westway out to Ladbroke Grove. I stop across 24-54 Pembridge Road, and carefully observe some vintage antiques that the tourists, as well as London natives are purchasing.
Historically, Portobello Road was built during the Victorian era, before the mid-nineteenth century, it was known as a country lane which connected Portobello farm with Kensal Green in the north, and Notting hill in the south. The Victorian architecture of the road serves to be a huge attraction, as the tightly squeezed houses and shops which curve down the road create a feeling of intimacy within the atmosphere of cultural diversity, adding to this friendly perception of a market in the metropolis.
As I walk down toward the end on 88th Portobello Road, I’m aware that different foreign languages are spoken; as well as the tourists who are speaking in French and Italian, on my left hand side, I notice two older women speaking Russian, walking and stopping specifically at every stall offering jewellery and fur coats. In return, they take careful observation of me noting down as I pay attention to what they’re looking for. One of them eventually gives me a suspicious look, perhaps wary of what I am writing. In reference back to Baudelaire’s theories of transforming the city as an idea of space investigation, and Georg Simmel, who’s theory focused on the fact that the city creates social bonds and attitudes towards others. In many way their work summarises the de-human, robotic cold feeling this woman is giving me, would she speak to me if she knew I didn’t have harmful intentions?
Further along 26, Denbigh Terrace, I notice more tourists whose attention is captured by the vintage shop offering vintage sets of tea and plate settings, so I take the opportunity to interview a few of the tourists walking around, as I was particularly interested in the sort of things they have bought at the market.
Tommaso, 25, visiting London, from Milan, Italy
“Hi Tommaso, is this your first time visiting Portobello market?”
“Hi, yes, it’s my first time. It’s my first time visiting London actually, so how could I not come to Portobello market?”
“What have you bought at Portobello market so far?”
“I’ve got some vintage tea sets with me. I’m looking for some more interesting antiques.”
“If you could summarise the atmosphere of the market, as you’re walking through it, in three words, which words would you use and why?”
“Exquisite- because some of the antiques that you find here are so old, yet delicately kept in their original form, lively- there’s loads of people around here, even during the winter time, diverse- a sense of diversity of cultures compacted into one.”
“Do you feel this sense of cultural diversity in London everywhere, or mainly in market places?”
“I think it’s precisely these market places which best underline the cultural diversity in London”
Jeanne, 19, visiting London, from Paris, France
“Hi Jeanne, I hope you’re enjoying your stroll around Portobello market. Is this your first time in Portobello market, and what have you bought with you today?”
“Hi, I often come into the market when I’m visiting my family who live in London. I am addicted to collecting handmade jewels, I’ve got some silver bracelets today, and I’m looking some vintage posters now. I’ve gotten some other things from Portobello before, such as my leather bag with my initials printed, you can see…” She flashes her little light brown leather shoulder bag with the letters ‘JS’ carefully crafted on the right hand side.
As I continue walking down 5-15 Elgin Crescent, right across Ladbroke Grove, my mind wonders more on the idea of a female ‘flaneuse’ located in a market place was some what seen as appropriate due to the sociological attitudes that people had in the late eighteenth-century. In my ways a market like atmosphere surrounding a female was a typical place associated with a middle to upper class woman, not only buying bread and groceries, but also in other particular instances, picking out clothing made of materials such as silk, velvet, and lace. In reference to Virginia Woolf’s writing on a ‘flaneuse’, a female equivalent of Walter Benjamin’s male portrayal of a ‘flaneur’, I can quickly feel the sense of how one might find themselves in psycho-alienation amongst the condense crowd in the market. Despite the market’s cultural diversity, and friendliness amongst tourists, the feeling of capitalism and consumerism is not lost, in fact in many ways, it’s so evident that the atmosphere wouldn’t be the same without it.
I stop inside a main Portobello Market stall hall, and my eyes are fixed onto a bunch of vintage posters…
Shortly after interviewing the tourists who politely agreed to answer my questions, I sit to enjoy a warm cup of coffee in the ‘Coffee Plant’ café. A little coffee shop located at the heart of Portobello Road, where I take on the position of a modern day ‘flaneuse’.
Finally, the figures of these two old women sat directly outside me, catching my glance, not because they haven’t stopped smoking in the twenty minutes that I have been sat here, but because they seem to be drinking endless cups of filtered coffee. They, themselves closely observing people who are passing by. I attempt to read into what they’re taking about through their facial expressions and body language. I soon realise that one starts crying and the other is offering her a silk white handkerchief. The irony of being surrounded by a table of young tourists laughing loudly behind me, the woman crying outside a coffee shop on Portobello market, as people pass by taking no acknowledgment of hardly anyone but the stalls displaying materialism in it’s best form, led to my conclusion, that it was exactly in this moment I felt the mental realisation of life in the metropolis, and it was beautiful, in the most ambiguous way.
Hampstead Heath has been a retreat for Londoners seeking to escape the urban sprawl for centuries and has been a source of inspiration for many of the capitals greatest literary figures and artists. In search of this inspiration I began my journey in Downshire Hill on the way to the home of the romantic poet John Keats 1795-1821, who lived in a street now named in his honour ‘Keats Grove’. Keats was one of many romantic poets that called Hampstead their home and though Keats had only resided in Hampstead between 1817 -1820 it is here that he wrote some of his greatest works, inspired by the natural beauty of the Heath.
Apart from finding Keats house I had no real plan for my journey, just a copy of Keats collected poems, which I intended to use as means to gain an understanding of how Keats interpreted the Heaths landscape. As I made my way down Keats Grove and approached the iron gate of his home (now a museum and literary centre dedicated to the poet) I decided to take a closer look at the garden surrounding the house. It is here that Keats allegedly wrote the draft of his poem ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ which, was inspired by the bird song of a nightingale nesting somewhere on the Heath (Everest, 2002. p.90-91). As I strolled around the garden I tried to get myself in the spirit of the poet, so that I could attempt to find the poetry in my surroundings.
As I continued on from Keats grove towards the heath I decided to seek higher ground turning left onto East Heath road, so that I could get a better perspective of the landscape. I moved up the hill and stopped as I noticed the name of the street to the left of me was Well Walk. It was here that Keats shared his first Hampstead lodgings with his brothers and where his friend and fellow poet Leigh Hunt 1784-1859 had lived (Roe, 2013. p.155-156). I imagined that Keats would have been here to meet him before embarking on their walks through the Heath together.
However, I was not yet ready to venture into it myself and continued along the Heaths eastern periphery, stopping once I had reached the its summit on Spaniards Road by the White Stone Pond. As I stood above the Heath I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the landscape beneath me and the view of London’s towering skyline in the distance. As I stood there I felt it a perfect opportunity to read one of Keats poems and felt that this verse from ‘I stood tip- toe upon a little hill’ was most fitting (Keats, 1991. p1).
‘The clouds were pure and white as flocks new shorn, And fresh from the clear brook; sweetly they slept On the blue fields of heaven, and then there crept A little noiseless noise among the leaves: For not the faintest motion could be seen Of all the shades that slanted o’er the green. There was wide wand’ring for the greediest eye, To peer about upon variety; Far round the horizon’s crystal air to skim, And trace the dwindled edges of its brim’
After a moment of reflection, I continued on my journey down into the Heath following a path which ran past the Vale of Health, an encroachment of Houses situated on the slope of the Heath, which lead me to a pond situated at the back of the Vale.
The Heath is well known for its many ponds of which, many were formed as a result of centuries of quarrying for the Heaths Bagshot sand. From here I wondered further into the Heath were I came across the Viaduct pond. At first glance the bridge across the water had the look of a romantic folly however, it was in fact constructed for a practical purpose in 1847 as opposed to a purely aesthetic one.
The viaduct was commissioned by the then Lord of the Manor Sir Thomas Maryorn Wilson 1800-1869,who had intended it to be the entrance to his proposed housing development but thankfully his plans were blocked. Attempts to exploit the Heath both for its beauty and its very earth have seen it close to destruction but nature has clearly retaken the land. However, It made me realise that the heath that Keats would have known would have been a far wilder landscape than what it is now. Nevertheless, it is remarkably how the Heath has maintained so much of its natural beauty.
From the Viaduct Pond I continued south allowing the landscape to guide me downhill. It is easy to forgot whilst walking through the Heath that you are a mere 4 miles from the heart of the city. This deceiving landscape allows you to imagine yourself somewhere far from the hustle and bustle of city life, until that is you catch a glimpse of London’s not so distant obelisks. However, this does not dampen the romance of the Heath, it adds to it. As the ground began to level off I could see the Hampstead ponds in the distance and headed towards them.
Realising that I was only a short distance from where my journey began I decided to push on back into the Heath. I walked between the two ponds and up along a winding path, where I noticed a small gate to the right of me. Intrigued, I decided to enter, by this time the day light was beginning to fade and I found myself feeling disorientated by the winding paths, which was exacerbated further by the density of the woodland around me. After wondering aimlessly for a short time I came to a clearing with a stone bridge. Feeling pleased that I had freed myself from the wooded labyrinth I realised I had wondered into the grounds of Kenwood House a stunning neo classical building that in Keats time was owned by the 3rd and 4th Earls of Mansfield.
By this time it was quite dark so I decided to end my journey and as I made my way out of the grounds of Kenwood house I was gifted with one last view of the city skyline.
Everest, Kelvin. John Keats. Tavistock: Northcote House Publishers Ltd. 2002
Keats, John. Lyric Poems. Dover Thrift edition, Volume 5. New York: Dover Publication Inc. 1991.
Roe, Nicholas. John Keats. London: Yale University Press. 2013.
Title Image: Portrait of John Keats Listening to a nightingale on Hampstead Heath by Joseph Severn, c.1845
I have decided to replicate a small portion of the walk undertaken by Charles Dickens from his home in Tavistock Square to his house in Gad’s Hill, Kent. If I were a fitter man, I may have been tempted to walk a larger portion of his route, but I am not, so, with time and bodily constraints in mind, I have decided to walk from Blackfriars Bridge (where Dickens crossed into south London) through Borough and down the Old Kent Road to New Cross. In a letter written on the 7th December 1857, Dickens mentions that he has recently completed the Tavistock Square to Gad’s Hill walk and that owing to his inability to sleep (rumoured to be in part, because of his marital problems) he set off at 2 o’clock in the morning. (Storey & Turner, 1995, p. 489)
In the interests of being as true as possible to my muse I also conducted my walk in the early hours. As I myself have no such problems when it comes to insomnia, I have had to consume copious amounts of coffee to make this nocturnal amble possible. Nor am I in a situation of marital distress, so my own personal brand of cantankerous cynicism will have to suffice as a poor substitute. To get into the spirit of my Dickensian walk and feel fully immersed in my surroundings, I have dispatched with the earphones that normally accompany me everywhere – partially for the music, but chiefly to avoid unsolicited social interaction (evidence of cantankerous cynicism – see above). Also worth noting at this point, I have not used the flash when taking any of the pictures, in the hope that you will see things as I saw them.
Despite the hour, Blackfriars Bridge is still busy when I set off southbound. I am aware that the bridge I am crossing, though located in the same place, is different to the one that Dickens would have crossed, given that it was completed (in its current form) in 1869. The first main stretch of the walk takes me down Southwark Street towards Borough, whilst I mostly find myself passing various glass and concrete clad office buildings, every now and again I find a building Dickens may well have passed nestled in between the modern monoliths.
It is on Southwark Street that I first feel acutely aware of how my experience is being impacted by the lateness of the hour. Southwark Street and Southwark Bridge Road (which I turn into next) are largely commercial areas and so by being here after hours I am seeing them closed and dormant, as if the streets themselves are asleep for the night. I am reminded of Beaumont’s assertion that ‘the night time city is another city.’ (Beaumont, 2016, p. 3) Whilst my night walk feels notably different to any daylight equivalent, it is not an entirely solitary experience. The traffic never dies down entirely and many of the more prominent bus stops have at least one or two stragglers waiting.
My first real point of interest comes when I arrive at Borough via Marshalsea Road. The name of the road itself is indicative of why I am interested. Here, where Marshalsea Road intersects Borough High Street is the approximate location of the Marshalsea Prison, where Charles Dickens’ father, John, was detained for failure to repay his debts and around the corner from where Charles Dickens lodged in Lant Street.
By walking the route myself, I see how close Charles Dickens journey to Gad’s Hill brought him to the prison site in a way I could not have appreciated had I only read of his route. All that is left of the prison now is a small stretch of wall just off the High Street. Little Dorit Court and Charles Dickens Primary School, serve as further reminders of his connection to the area, both in a personal and literary sense.
I continue on my route down Great Dover Street (assuming this is a reference to the ultimate destination of southbound travellers on the old Watling Street) and onto the Old Kent Road. The Old Kent Road pops up in Dickens’ work, inspired at least in part by his own experience of the street, in David Copperfield, when a destitute David is forced to sell his waistcoat to shop proprietor Mr Dolloby. (Dickens, 2000, p. 157)
Dickens referred to the Old Kent Road as one of the few areas along his walk where he may have expected (or even hoped) to have had his solitude disturbed by the chaos of late night revellers being ejected from the various pubs and taverns. With this in mind, I am struck by how few pubs remain, the businesses that populate the street have changed and evolved, especially as different migrant communities have settled in the area. One former pub, The Duke of Kent is now home to the Old Kent Road Mosque, a prime example of how the area’s buildings have been transformed in order to best serve the current local population.
Across the road from the Mosque is the Thomas A Becket, another former pub that has served many functions over the last few decades in particular. Standing outside the Thomas A Becket now there is, at first glance, little evidence pointing to any of its previous incarnations (it’s currently a bar) but taking a closer look into one of the alcoves on the outside wall, I notice a blue plaque bearing the name of Henry Cooper. Cooper was a champion boxer (and childhood friend of my grandfather’s as it happens) who trained at the Thomas A Becket when the upstairs space was used a boxing gym. The plaque would have been easy to miss and serves as a quiet reminder of the working-class culture that once dominated the area.
Cooper’s plaque and a rather uninspiring picture of the Old Kent Road Mosque:
As I move toward my final leg, the Old Kent Road gives way into New Cross Road. This area is prime example of London’s hodgepodge of historical architecture and street landscaping. This ancient roman road is now home to a wide variety of buildings, from the Georgian and Victorian terraces that would have been familiar to Dickens as he wandered, to the sprawling post war housing estates that attempted to solve London’s chronic housing problems. Whilst it is true that the Tustin Estate has seen its fair share of violent crime over the years, I find as I take a brief detour round, just after 2am, the public spaces in between the buildings are calm and even tranquil.
There is a comfort in the silence.
Matthew Beaumont, Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London (London: Verso, 2016)
Charles Dickens, David Copperfield (Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Classics, 2000)
Graham Storey and Kathleen Turner, eds, The Letters of Charles Dickens: Volume Eight 1856-1858 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995)
But perhaps the best way to describe it is as Arthur Ransome quite rightly puts it in his book An Arrival in Bohemia (New York, Dodd, Meade and Company, 1907, p. 133) ‘It was a foggy night and we crossed Cambridge Circus with difficulty, and then almost groping our way along the pavement, found the door and stepped into the glamour and noise… the Painter nodded to men in both rooms and then turned to me, “this is Bohemia”’
I too have walked along these streets many times without taking too much notice of what may have been here before or who may have walked in the same footsteps, from the likes of Thomas De Quincy and Marx. It is with this in mind that I plan to visit Soho again but with my history hat on.
As I got off the bus I noticed just how bitterly cold it was and braced myself for the long walk ahead. It was Monday lunchtime, and perhaps one of the busiest times of the day. From Oxford Circus I battled my way down Oxford Street manoeuvring my way through the swarms of people. Carefully fitting through any gap that I could find on the pavement, it’s a busy day today, many signs and posters on shop windows indicating that today was Cyber Monday, and inviting me to buy something very expensive that I didn’t require. I turn right onto Argyll Street. It always surprises me, no matter how many times I see it, an imposing department store in its Mock-Tudor style Architecture; Liberty of London. Argyll Street is nice to wander around in because it is all pedestrianised, a rarity in London. At the very top of the building I noticed there was a golden coloured. It is named The Weathervane, after the ship that sailed into the new world. When the department store opened, it was known as a luxury trader of goods from the orient. Imported silks from India an example of the kind of things one could be purchased here. I would like to take a moment to discuss the interior of the building itself, shopping was an activity which would have been largely aimed at women, and I find myself finding links with the appearance of Liberty and the room style layout of in from the inside. The layout was supposed to replicate a house, this is interesting because not only would women feel more at ease leisurely shopping but because it would be deemed as a safe socially acceptable space too.
I turned left on to Great Marlborough Street crossed the road and immediately turned right on to Carnaby Street. I notice the Christmas lights instantly. Again swarms of people stood taking pictures. Carnaby Street has always been known as a famous market street. It is mentioned also is the work of Benjamin Disraeli in Sibyl or the Two Nations. ‘He was a carcase-butcher, famous in Carnaby-market, and the prime councillor of a distinguished nobleman for whom privately he betted on commission.’ As I walk through Carnaby Street today, I instantly notice the vast concentration of swanky Restaurants, Bars, the next great ‘hip’ coffee shop and quirky fashion boutiques.
I continue down Broadwick Street. And arrive at St Anne’s Court. As I am walking through Berwick Street and Wardour Street, I notice many bars and clubs. Soho has always attracted a big Gay community. The so-called Dirty Square Mile has had gay connections since about the 1890s. Wilde bought gay porn here, and Jack Saul lived in Old Compton Street. During the Bohemian 1920s and 30s, there were several gay-friendly cafés in Soho. However during the post war years it seems that Soho became synonymous with older men seeking to meet young girls. It was therefore regarded as a no go zone for homosexuals perhaps the later AIDS epidemic too transformed the area of Soho.
I turn Right onto Dean Street, greeted with all the different smells of food from around the world. As I walk along, looking into all the food being cooked before me. I notice a blue plaque commemorating Dr Joseph Rogers, a Physician who lived here from 1821 – 1889. Now I don’t want to get too ahead of myself but I can certainly see a theme developing here, and that is one of health. Rogers had his own surgery, which was established in 1853, however do to the Cholera epidemic it was destroyed in 1854-1855. He was later offered a job as an officer to the Strand Union Workhouse, Fitzrovia and having been so appalled by the conditions there for the poor, he dedicated his life campaigning for better medical care provisions for them.
I continue walking up along Dean Street noticing all the different theatres. The Soho Theatre, an independent theatre. Suggesting once again the bohemian fell of Soho. I turn right onto Carlisle Street. And see Soho Square, in the distance. By this point, I have been walking for almost an hour, the streets seem a lot calmer, and the office lunch break seems to have come to an end, still there were on or two people on benches eating out of boxes.
For my walk I decided to start off with a guided tour and then branch off and do some exploring on my own. I took a walking tour of what is left of the Crystal Palace, after it was destroyed by a fire eighty years ago.
The Crystal Palace was orignially located in Hyde Park, and was intended to be a temporary structure for the Great Exhibition in 1851. It was a place to show off innovations, discoveries, and culture. Even the palace itself was a technological marvel of the time.
After its move from Hyde Park, the Crystal Palace continued to be an exhibition space – demonstrating achitecture, art, sculpture, and was used for sporting events, fairs, and other cultural events.
I had wanted to visit Crystal Palace since I got here in September, as I knew it to be the home of some of Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins’ dinosaurs. Like most kids, I had a dinosaur phase, where I knew all of their names, and was determined to become a paleontologist. This was when I first learned about Hawkins and his dinosaurs, as well as the Crystal Palace.*
I knew that the Crystal Palace had been destroyed by fire in the 1930’s, but what I did not know was just how much of it had been destroyed, and how that had affected the land around it. There was only one original metal pillar left from the original structure of the Palace, and one small group of replica beams.
metal beam, part of the original structure
Most of the stone terrace and stairway that ran down from where the Palace used to be was either fenced off, or in overgrown ruins.
This was the area that the tour was held in. We walked along and down the terrace, the guide describing and explaining the gardens, fountains, and other structures that had once been there, but were now gone. As we were walking I wondered about why so little of this landmark had been restored after its destruction. The only items that I saw either restored or recreated were the sphinxes, the small metal archway, and later, some of the dinosaurs. For a moment I thought that people had simply given up on the Palace after the fire in 1936, as it just seemed hell-bent on falling apart. The fire that destroyed the Palace for good was not the first one it suffered. There had been another fire on December 30, 1866 that destroyed the north transept. Even before these fires, in 1861 the palace was badly damaged by a gale.
One wouldn’t think that a building made primarily out of metal and glass would be so vulnerable to fire as to catch on fire more than once, yet it remained frustratingly flammable. It did have wooden floors, as well as wooden seating for events, and this seems to have been its downfall.
Our tour guide explained later that the reason why so little restoration happened was because of a lack of funding that has continued through to today, which made more sense than my theory, but I was still struck by just how much disaster the Crystal Palace endured before that final fire in 1936.
Since the dinosaurs were not part of the walk, as they were some distance from where the Palace once stood, I went off on my own to find them. When I left the terrace, I expected gardens, and more old stone walls and crumbling statues. However, just beyond the terrace was a collection of modern sports buildings and fields, even a small track that looked like something that go-carts could be raced on.
I found this rather jarring and strange, considering the contrast of where I had just come from, until I remembered that, alongside exhibiting art, and foreign wonders, the Crystal Palace had also hosted a number of different sporting events, including motor races, and cricket matches, even hosting 20 F.A. Cup Finals. I found this fitting. It was as if part of what Crystal Palace once was, was still alive and well, even with other attractions gone or in disrepair, the sports facilities remained something that was well used and maintained. Upon further research I found that this sports complex was finished in the 1960’s, and is significant in that it is a multi-use complex.
Had I not gone on the tour of the grounds first, I would have been able to gather very little from my surroundings just on observation alone. There are no markers or plaques and the only immediate source of information was the small museum nearby. The park felt forgotten, and unimportant, rather than the site of a piece of monumental architecture. It could have been the weather – overcast, with a biting wind – that affected my perception of it, but the park felt like a ruin, with modernity slowly creeping in on it. The tallest structure in the area was not a reconstruction of a building, but rather a TV tower, that loomed over the park like a poor man’s Eiffel Tower. It was helpful only in imagining how tall the Palace once was, by providing a kind of ruler that one could use to gauge height.
Maybe it all comes down to money. The Palace burned down only a few years before WWII began in England, so it makes sense that money would not be spent during or after the war, when there were more important projects that it could be used for. In fact, during WWII the water towers that had flanked the palace were torn down to remove a landmark for enemy planes. To restore the palace in its entirety would be incredibly expensive, so it is no wonder that so little has happened on the site in regards to restoration. There have been proposals for rebuilding in the past, such as one costing £500 million in 2013, yet none ever came to fruition.
In a modern London, the Crystal Palace is no longer needed as an exhibition space for culture and invention. Times have changed since the Victorian era and the Crystal Palace’s importance has shifted from a display of modernity and the future, to a landmark of a time long past.
Thomas De Quincey, known as an opium addiction writer, first visited London in 1802. In his Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, during his first life in London, he depicts London’s nocturnal aspects, admiring the life of the poor. Dickey argues that being naturally interested in female peripatetics ‘technically called street walkers’, De Quincey walked ‘through a nightmare city recording his observations’ (http://www.laphamsquarterly.org/roundtable/addicted-life-thomas-de-quincey). He goes on to argue that ‘De Quincey is the first modern flaneur’. Thus De Quincey can be identified both as a walker and a person who observed walkers despite the fact that it is no doubt necessary to go outside and walk to observe walkers. It could be argued that to several extents Soho and the areas surrounding it have visibly changed from what De Quincey saw as ‘a nightmare city’ because of several developments the human society has achieved.
My walk began at the Holborn Underground station at 8:00 pm on 28th November 2016. In initiating the journey going firstly in the direction towards the British Museum with the curiosity to observe how it looks like at night, I immediately realised that the walk was undoubtedly going to be made absolutely harsh by the extreme temperature. Beaumont (2015: p300) is definitely right to assume that in De Quincey’s homeless experience in his first life in London, ‘he must have endured some pretty brutal conditions, not least because it was already November’ when arriving. Near the museum were streets lights of which lightness appeared to contribute to diminishing the fear of pedestrians.
Passing in front of the Tottenham Court Road station, I made my way to Oxford Street. The first thing that could be noticed was that the darkness of the street had disappeared completely due to the Christmas illuminations. Even at 8:30 pm, there were still countless people walking, in particular around the huge intersection near the Oxford Circus station. De Quincey’s description of this area as ‘the great Mediterranean of Oxford-street’ (p28 in Oxford World Classics 2013 edition) in his Confession characterises its crowdedness and the fact that in comparison with what I saw during my walk, perhaps Oxford Street has not witnessed a significant increase in the number of night walkers.
I proceeded my walk into Regent Street which connects Oxford Street with Piccadilly. In the street, it was noticeable that public one garbage bin had been installed in almost every 50 meters. Probably thanks to this, the surface was kept clean with a little amount of garbage, which offered the avoidance of uncomfortable walk to people. Furthermore, the tidiness is largely attributable to night cleaners. Most of them are from Africa, some illegally migrating to the UK and they have nothing glamorous; they are underpaid and usually work all the night, return home at 7:30 am and get sleep until 4:00 pm merely to work again in the winter therefore can rarely see the sunlight (Sandhu, 2006: pp30-35). However, the fact that in Regent Street bags full of garbage, presumably generated at daytime, became visible to night walkers because they were left at public bins and accumulated aside is applicable even to almost every street I walked though. This obviously had a negative impact on the appearance of the clean and well-maintained street.
Almost half way through the street, I turned into the dark side, inside Soho, to head off to Golden Square which is believed to have been designed by Sir Christopher Wren around 1670s (http://myparks.westminster.gov.uk/parks/golden-square/). The square gives the sense of nature in the crowded metropolis, consisting of ‘bedding displays and shrub planting with perimeter rose beds and grass verges, and 4 mature Hornbeam trees marking the east and west entrances’ (http://myparks.westminster.gov.uk/parks/golden-square/). Moreover, Golden Square possesses familiarity with De Quincey. On one evening accompanied with Ann, he ‘slipped off into Golden Square and there briefly deposited themselves’ without desiring to be connected to the noise and flash of Piccadilly (Beaumont, 2015: p307). In fact, the combination between the silence of the square and illusionary orange lights was effective enough to offer relaxation and disconnection from Piccadilly’s absolutely artificial and busy environment. The positive effects of visiting the square as an opportunity of De Quincey to be surrounded by nature are encouraged as Beaumont (2015: p343) maintains that ‘for the Romantics, night was a privileged time for apprehending nature’.
Admiring the diversity of Piccadilly with regard to races, language used by people walking, culture, I continued to walk eastwards. Then I turned into fairly narrow and slightly dark Greek Street. Towards the end of the street was 58 Greek Street where De Quincey slept at night, described in his Confession. He explains that he had a ten-year-old female cohabitant and the extremely bad conditions of the house caused her to believe the house was haunted. In the current time, not only the house but also the entire street did not seem to have had dark side. Moreover, it was likely that its function to connect Oxford Street and Piccadilly had resulted in the diversity of the people passing the street at night, which was noticed thanks to the clothes they wore; some were formally suited up and the others casually. According to Richmond (2013: p3), clothing can reveal or mispresent the wearer’s identity including occupations and social allegiance.
Then my walk was continued heading off towards Covent Garden which was my final destination. Many of the buildings demonstrated the bond between shops on the ground floor and residential spaces upstairs.
Finally arriving Covent Garden at 11:00 pm, I realised that some people were still walking through along and inside it. Although the shops were closed, possessing no commercial attraction at night, Covent Garden was likely to function effectively as a junction of pedestrians due to its shape; people were coming from and going to different directions. Furthermore, these people probably were confident about where they went, without getting lost, because of their familiarity with the place fostered at daytime when business is dominant.
Overall, the nightmare London De Quincey experienced did not exist anymore. The streets in which I conducted this walk were always remained illuminated by lights, there were still countless people and commercial aspects were clearly visible at late night. Gilbert and Henderson’s comment that ‘shopping, eating drinking and visiting theatres and concert halls’ have been crucial to the visitor (2002: p129) could be extended to night time as numerous pubs, restaurants and a variety of shops in places like Oxford Street and Piccadilly stayed open.
Beaumont, M. (2015). Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London. London: Verso.
De Quincey, T. (1821). Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. Edited inMorrison, R. (2013). Confessions of an English Opium-Eater and Other Writings. Oxford: Oxfors University Press.
Gilbert, D. and Henderson, F. (2002). London and the Tourist Imagination. Edited in Gilbert, P. K. (2002). Imagined Londons. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Sandhu, S. (2007). Night Haunts. London: Verso.
Richmond, V. (2013). Clothing the Poor in Nineteenth-Century England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
“The earliest mention we find of Fulham occurs in a grant of the manor by Tyrhtilus, Bishop of Hereford, to Erkenwald, Bishop of London, and his successors, about the year 691; in which grant it is called Fulanham”
Observing each building I pass as I walk down the New Kings Road I notice a blue plaque to my left. This discovery really made me reflect on how useful walking can be as a methodology for historical research. The New Kings Road was part of my school route meaning I walked down this road and passed this building 5 days a week for 10 years and never once noticed the blue plaque belonging to Ralph Steadman. Simply being observant of your surroundings and taking a closer look around improves your historical knowledge of an area. I later found that the blue plaque was in actual fact a “Gonzo Heritage Society” plaque and not an English Heritage plaque. Ralph Steadman drew illustrations for “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” by Hunter S Thompson in this house in 1971.
I finally reached the end of the New Kings Road and come to Fulham High Street with Putney Bridge on my left. I cross Fulham High Street and make my way down Church Gate (a man selling wreaths and Christmas trees next to the road sign reminds me of a fastly approaching Christmas!) to see in front of me the gates to Bishops Park.
Within the churchyard are several war memorials. I stop for a moment to pay my respects and spare a thought for all the lives lost. I then hear the chiming of church bells, check the time to find it is 2.30pm already.War memorial in churchyard
Leaving the churchyard and onto a path within Bishops Park I notice a Fulham Football Club sign and pause to take a photo (a sign I would have taken a photo of regardless – my football team!) The path leads me to Bishop Embankment with a clear view of the Thames and Putney Bridge. Despite having walked along Bishops Embankment several times I feel ashamed to admit I had never once acknowledged the information stands along the riverbank provided by Hammersmith and Fulham Council. As I approached the first information stand I could not believe my luck to find so much historical information already provided on my walk throughout Bishops Park.
The first information stand explained that ‘Fulham Bridge’, where Putney Bridge now is, was constructed in 1729 and was the only bridge between London Bridge and Kingston Bridge at this time. It later was rebuilt and opened 29th May 1886 as Putney Bridge. Bishops Embankment is a popular place to watch the Oxford University vs. Cambridge University boat race, which has been raced from Putney ever since 1846, except for the war years during the 20th century.
An image of Fulham Palace from the first court/quadrangle.
Using walking as a methodology of historical research has lead me to reflect on something Nicholson said; much of this walking was done as part of my daily routine – I didn’t really consider is a separate activity.I have to admit when it comes to walking this statement is true to me. Previous to using walking as a means to widen my historical knowledge, walking simply has been just part of my daily routine, getting from A to B. Nicholson explains that London has already been discovered, walked, and claimed by many and therefore ones exploration must be ‘personalised’, and this is what I chose to do, thus increasing my ‘own store of particular knowledge’ and walking my ‘own eccentric version of the city’.
Faulkner, Thomas, An Historical and Topographical Account of Fulham: Including the Hamletof Hammersmith, (T. Egerton, 1813), pg. 1
Nicholson, Geoff, The Lost Art of Walking: The History, Science, Philosophy, Literature, Theory and Practice of Pedestrianism, ( Harbour Press, Limited, 2011), pg. 40-42
I decided to take a walk through the streets of Soho in order to investigate how walking can be a beneficial tool for a historian who is investigating the changing states of cities. I didn’t have a particular route planned for my walk, as I believe that in order to experience the labyrinth nature of Soho drifting is key- although, this was not to be an aimless drift. I was going to wonder and observe what Soho was prepared to reveal to me. When I think of Soho I think of style, sex and music. To me these are the most obvious stimulations, which have made up the essence of this area in the last few decades. Sadly, Soho is slipping away from the heart of London’s underbelly as property redevelopment giants are gentrifying Soho brick by brick. The media has declared ‘The Slow Death of Soho’. So I wanted to witness, firsthand, the changing spirit of Soho and to learn both about its history and have an idea about its future.
I began my walk entering Carnaby Street. I switched the song on my headphones to The Kinks who spoke of the ‘Carnabetian army’ referring to Soho’s dedicated followers of fashion. Carnaby in the 60’s tantalised the most exciting consumerist senses and indeed formed a very stylish army of mods and mini skirts. The baby boom after the war, coupled with new rise of affluence meant that youth culture was given the freedom to explore these consumerist desires.  Walking down the street it felt as if I was walking down a catwalk; the street was fast paced, fashion orientated and slick.
I even spotted an image of Twiggy, the sixties style icon, in a window display. It made me question how much has style in our modern times generated social revolution? In the true spirit of a modernity lamenting flanuer, I cannot help but comment on the fact that London style today does not have the power to conjure a social revolution…sadly I feel like Londoners have seen it all. Mary Quants miniskirt, on the other hand, flaunted by thousands in Carnaby Street during the sixties, represented not only a new trend but also the sexual liberation of women, revolutionising public ideas about what was acceptable to flaunt and what was not.
I then turned left into Broadwick Street. On my right I was presented with a ginormous mosaic mural created. It was depicting a woman stretching out her skirt to reveal the various streets of Soho. Each section of the mural seemed to represent different events and people that had once had a presence in Soho. It included the world’s greatest thinkers, poets and musicians who had been inspired by Soho. Overall, the mural effectively conveyed the great importance of Soho as a space of shifting patterns, social change and a place that has generated wordily entertainment. It was curious to me what Marx, who stares at passers by in the bottom centre of the mural, would have said about Soho today. It is highly possible that he would have condemned the women who were walking with at least 6 shopping bags, carrying yet more pairs of shoes for not being strong enough to resists the clutches of consumerism!
I continued to walk further down Broadwick Street, I walked up to John Snows pub and stopped. I thought it would be interesting to find out exactly who John Snow was. Going into the pub I noticed there were wall hangings displaying useful information. I quickly learned that he was actually a doctor during the 1854 Soho cholera epidemic that had devastating affects on the predominantly working class population who resided there. This made me think about how much the neighbourhood has changed, as now I was seeing business men wearing suits, holding coffees rushing to their destination as if someone had copy and pasted them from Canary Wharf. I have to say, learning about the cholera epidemic made the walk much more fascinating. As I walked out the pub, I was immediately drawn to the narrow and cramped structures of these streets, having no chance of escaping the grit and dirt of city life. This also highlighted the fact that this city is constantly morphing. This once poverty stricken, cholera infested filthy neighbourhood- is now a destination for the trendy and rich.
I proceeded towards Berwick Street. As I got closer to the street I started to smell the most tantalising aromas of street food. I turned into the street and was greeted by the hustle and bustle of a market. I was particularly excited to have encountered Berwick market, as I was aware that this had been a favourite place of Virginia Woolf in the early 20th century. Woolf had noted in her diary that on Berwick market one could find ‘stockings, ironmongery, and candles and fish’.  However, I did not spot any of those items being sold on the market during my walk. Berwick Street has also ceased to be the 20th century working class woman’s Oxford Street, once offering fashionable attire for affordable prices. The market has changed from dealing cheap clothes and tat to catering people’s lunches. On this street there were tourists, shoppers as well as local office workers. The food ranged from vegan burgers, to Mexican, to Jewish, to American, to Indian, to Greek, to Japanese food- you could quite easily taste your way around the world on this market strip. I believe this change can be attributed to the fact that Soho today has many offices and many different businesses cramped together, thus cheap and tasty lunch food may prove to be quite the profitable endeavour for market stallholders. As I was at the end of the market I heard the cockney calls of the fruit and vegetable stall ‘1 bowl £2, 3 bowls £5…fresh fruit and veg ladies and gents, best in town!’. I bought a pear.
At the end of Berwick Street I turned into Peter Street. People were queuing to enter the ‘SUPREME’ shop, which was right on the corner of the turning. The people in the queue appeared to be following a very similar fashion with all (except one) wearing a similar kind of sports shoe.
I stood on the opposite road looking at them for a while, eating my pear. The people were going into the shop and walking out with a purchase and the new catalogue for in season clothes. The very orderly manner of things made me conjure an image of a consumerist conveyer belt. As I was finishing up my pear a homeless man wearing a blanket for a cape walked up to me and claimed that he needed ‘a fiver’ to save his life. I was curious to know exactly what the five pounds was for, but hesitated to ask. I didn’t have much change so could only give him £1.10; he thanked me and carried on walking. The homeless man, a prominent figure in all cities, represented the subversion of this frivolous consumerism I was seeing in front of me. The homeless man does not need a new pair of shoes to go in a shoe collection; in fact he does not even need to be wearing matching shoes. This homeless man outside an expensive cult fashion shop captured the exclusive nature of capitalism very well.
I turned into Wardour Street and I was soon to discover what David Bowie meant when he sang ‘Bright lights, Soho, Wardour Street, you hope you make friends with the guys that you meet’. As I was walking through this street I noticed that above the café Pret A Manger there was an old sign, which read ‘Cinema House’. This, I learned, was the remaining evidence of the fact that Wardour Street was the busiest hub of British film industry in the 20th century.  The sign today looks positively haunting.
I then drifted a bit further turning left and then left again finding myself on Brewer Street. I stopped at the first sex shop I have come across in Soho so far on my walk- evidence that the seedy parts of Soho are still trying very hard to clutch on, fighting against gentrification. However, it has to be said that even this sex shop looked somewhat gentrified. It looked commercialised, flashy and glossy- not very underground at all. I decided that this signified the end of my journey.
I have learned that walking is a very useful tool for a historian to use when trying to measure the amount of change an area has experienced. By walking you are able to deduce from clues, why change has occurred. There’s nothing like walking through the history of an area in a city.
 Ewig, Elizabeth, History of Twentieth Century Fashion, (Bames and Noble, 1992) p.27
 Woolf, Virginia, The Diary of Virginia Woolf, 1915-1919, vol. 1, (Harmondsworth, 1979) p. 135
 Walkowitz, Judith, Nights Out: Life in Cosmopolitan London, (Yale University Press, 2012) p. 157
This is my account of an ill-conceived journey around Hyde Park. I hesitate to call it a journey, however, since my destination was none other than my starting location, the entrance to Kensington palace, though some ten hours later. This was done with some vague motivation of meeting a friend there when she finished working at the venue, at around 12:30 am. My journey was therefore less one of distance than of time, from the day to the night, and through the transformations that London undertakes within that period.
My journey begins at the rather uninspiringly named ‘Round Pond’ opposite the palace, just one of many additions to Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park for which we have Queen Caroline (wife of George II) to thank. Though, unbeknownst to him until after her death, it was the king’s wallet we have to thank (Davies: p.49). I sit here to read, with the sunlight glaring off the water into my eyes, for an hour or so before moving on.
I take the Broad Walk to Bayswater Road, turning right at the gates and following the length of the road to Marble Arch. This road will become very familiar to me over the course of the evening. I shall hardly be the first person acquainted with this street however, since it dates back to Roman Britain and has heard the footsteps of countless notables, as well as the last breath of many criminals. The Tyburn ‘tree’ (once an actual tree, replaced with a 24 noose gallows) was, from as far back as 1196, used for public executions. Finally moved in 1783, it was not the principal of execution that caused the now affluent surrounding households to push for its removal, but the noisy crowds of unseemly spectators that it drew (Davies: pp. 35-6). I pass a pub. I want to sit there and read, but there are a number of customers and I decide against it.
I accidentally miss Speaker’s Corner. Even since before it was brought to law in 1872 (due to the many riots ensuing as police attempted to dismantle meetings), it was a popular place for people to voice themselves (Davies: p. 36). Nowadays it is a platform for the criers of doom to yell at tourists. I don’t turn back for it, continuing down to Hyde Park Corner. I try to find a suitable place to read but none takes my fancy. The pub then, is the only logical choice, and there I head. I follow Grosvenor place to Victoria station; Wetherspoons is packed with people, I head back to the park in disappointment.
The sun begins to set, it becomes too dark to read so I head once more to Victoria. Here I settle in to eat, and after two hours, emerge into darkness. My phone (my only means to tell the time) is out of battery. I walk back to Hyde Park on the same route as before but now the streets are filled with merrymakers and the pubs are full to the point of bursting. All the stone-faced businessmen of the afternoon have smiles on their faces now.
The park is illuminated by strings of street lights, bright enough for the path but not to light any further than it. Still, it must be an improvement on the 300 oil lamps put up along Carriage Drive by William III after he bought what is now Kensington Palace. By this time, Hyde Park was a notorious spot for footpads, with walkers waiting for groups to form before crossing it at night so they might defend themselves (Jennett: p. 24). Even the well-guarded Kensington Gardens was not immune, with a highwayman scaling the walls and robbing King George II on one occasion (Davies: p. 49). Walking now, I don’t get the same feeling of danger, but the night changes my interactions with the people of the park. The cyclists, the pedestrians, they all now move with a little more haste, and a far less welcoming expression. There are no more spontaneous conversations as earlier in the day.
Coming to the bandstand, I hear music, and see it illuminated. A group of people dance and play instruments. It is a beautiful sight. I sit down on a bench to observe. Perhaps because they can’t see me until up close, the passers-by, few though they are, stare far more intently at this lone figure on the bench, holding their gaze upon me until the angle of their neck no longer allows it as they pass by. Am I really such a strange sight; a feared highwayman? I suppose at this hour they can only speculate as to my reason for being here, doing nothing at all, though I should hardly think the same behaviour would have raised any eyebrows in the light.
I follow a path along the Serpentine, past the many couples adorning its benches (all startled by my presence, clearly unaware of each other’s), cross the 9Serpentine Bridge, and find that Kensington Gardens is now closed. I need to find the entrance that will be opened for the event if I am to meet my friend. I follow the road round, past the Albert hall, until I reach Palace Avenue. Here a police officer directs me to walk up Kensington Palace Gardens, turning right, past the Russian embassy, back on to Bayswater Road. Following this down a short while, I come to the entrance to the Gardens which will be used.
The guard is immediately suspicious of me and quickly sends me away. Wandering down Queensway, a man standing in a shop doorway offers to sell me drugs. Further down, drunks steal chairs from a pub. I turn back. I walk up and down Bayswater Road, having used the clock in Queensway station to work out it is a 20 minute circuit. I stop at Tyburn Convent, seeing the drug dealer walk by. Inside, for over a century, the nuns have been up in shifts all night, to pray for the souls of Londoners (Sandhu: p. 130).
Hyde Park has always had two sides. By day, it is a place of community. By night, a darker side (no pun intended) reveals itself. Though less violent now, present mostly in a hostile atmosphere and drugs, legal and illicit, it has persisted since its very foundation. The dual nature of this area, divided by day and night, is not unique in London though. I would suggest it is merely illustrative of a larger, city-wide phenomena.
Seàn Jennett, Official Guide to the Royal Parks of London, (London: HMSO, 1979)
Hunter Davies, A Walk Round London’s Parks, (London: Hamish Hamilton ltd, 1983)
Sukhdev Sandhu, Night Haunts: A Journey Through London at Night, (London: Verso, 2007)
One of the things I love about London is the mix of old and new. There are stone buildings that have been around for hundreds of years encompassed about by giant edifices of steel and glass. Even with all the new building that goes on in the city the history is still right there in front of you in all the old buildings and spaces dotted around the city.
Near London Bridge station an unimposing old church stands between some old town houses. Opposite are the large stone buildings that make up Guy’s Hospital; these old buildings which once housed patients are now used for administration purposes while newer facilities, which are more conducive to modern medicine and treatment of patients, are just around the corner. This theme of old and new drew my attention as I walked around London on a windy, Thursday afternoon. The old church I had started my walk at, was once St. Thomas Church which had made up part of St. Thomas Hospital, which houses the Old Operating Theatre. The operating theatre, the oldest in Europe, only survives today because it is in the attic of the church; which is dwarfed by larger modern buildings that surround it. This juxtaposition can be seen everywhere in London; the old living alongside the new.
Heading north from the Old Operating Theatre I came to London Bridge. The bridge, rebuilt between 1967 and 1973, was full of standstill traffic; quite a different view to what would have been seen over 400 years previously when the bridge was a place of commerce and residence. With shops, houses and even a church on, the bridge would have been full of hustle and bustle. One of the only ways to cross the Thames into London, it was a place where criminals’ heads were displayed on spikes to warn offenders of their fate should they get caught, a strange sort of welcome to the city.
On the north side of the bridge, stretching along the expanse of the Thames bank was a profusion of buildings. With stone buildings that had, at one time, probably been the grandest buildings in the area now being overshadowed by larger glass office blocks to house some of the many companies that reside in London.
It was easy to see that I was moving into an area with a high density of offices. As I walked along the street it was a hive of activity. At 2pm on a Thursday afternoon business men and women were rushing around to get lunch before they headed back to one of the many offices in the area; offices that could be found in century old buildings as well as hundreds more modern that can be seen throughout the area. Cannon Street, like other streets I had already walked down, had the same tale to tell; old stone buildings were alongside newer glass and brick buildings and to add to the effect of new and old many cranes were also visible showing the ever changing face of the city as more buildings are erected.
Over the heads of passing people and between the office blocks on Cannon Street a large stone structure could be seen, St. Paul’s. Redesigned by Christopher Wren after the fire of London in 1666 this building dominates the skyline, with space all around it, unlike so many of the old buildings in London that seem to shrink in size compared to so much of the modern architecture that is shooting up around them.
Down the road and around the corner from St. Paul’s another church can be seen. Like St. Paul’s, the original church that stood here was destroyed in the fire of London and redesigned by Christopher Wren. Unfortunately, during WWII bombs were dropped on the building leaving only ruins, these remains have been made into a garden. As with most old buildings in London, whether fully intact or not, Christchurch Greyfriars Garden is no different; peering over the ruins are some modern office blocks.
Making my way to my destination I stumbled upon a small park amongst the great big buildings found in central London. A place of quiet and serenity in amongst the hustle and bustle of a busy, modern, city. Postman’s Park is not only a little green space to relax but also houses gravestones from the numerous churches around it as well as a Victorian memorial to everyday heroes that died while trying to save other peoples’ lives. 62 plaques give details of those who sacrificed their lives for others but the instalment was never finished as its creator, George Fredric Watts, passed away before its completion; but this old park helps tell stories of people that would have otherwise been forgotten.
As I neared my destination, St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, I noticed all the construction work going on. Cranes filled the skyline, as often happens in London, signifying the construction of more new buildings; but it is clear to see that the old buildings are still valued within this ever changing city. On a corner of St. Bartholomew’s, I came across a sign dedicated to a nurse of King Henry VI. This, like so much I had seen on my walk, was the old surrounded by the new. Written on the wall under the dedicatory stone were many messages regarding Sherlock Holmes. Holmes and St. Bartholomew’s have an ongoing connection throughout both the Arthur Conan Doyle novels and the BBC TV adaptations. So here not only is it a contrast between the old and new dedications to people, but also between real life and fantasy. London seems to be a place of contradictions that seem to work together to make it the place that it is today; a place of history and modernity.
London’s music scene and her venues are in a state of flux. Seemingly powerless in the face of consolidated development and veracious capitalism, musical institutions are vanishing or at risk of doing so. One should not look on the past as perfect, halcyon days in which art and artists roamed and owned the streets, instead present lamenting must maintain a guise of objectivity and be a call to action rather than merely resignation in the face of the faceless forces of change.
Denmark Street is at a crossroads in its existence. Facing peril at the hands of developers and abandoned by local councils, a centuries old musical history is in the balance. It was with this contemporary issue in my head and in my heart that I endeavoured to walk ‘Between the 12 Bars’ – the 12 Bar being the streets venerable music venue and a place of deep personal attachment for myself as a musician having both seen gigs performed there and dreamed of taking part myself. The bar closed its doors at the beginning of 2015, moved to Holloway Road only for that to close. The tireless efforts of Henry Scott-Irvine and the Save Tin Pan Alley group have recently secured a music venue to operate once again on the original site, gutted by Crossrail development, on Denmark Street. Home again.
The walk was to function as an opportunity for reflection on music in London – perceived as ‘gone’, but perhaps ‘changing’ is more appropriate a term – at best optimistic, at worst naïve. My exact route is less relevant than my reflections – brought to mind as a direct result of the mentally stimulating act of perambulation.
Methodologically, my improvised route served sometimes as a distraction and weather at first propelled me to certain, sheltered routes. On the other hand this improvisation allowed me to get truly lost – something becoming a rarity in this city, my adopted home. Lost where amongst the first signs of familiarity are places of fond memory of time spent with my ex-partner. It seems even in walking, enacted as a mentally palliative exercise, one is not safe from the stop-in-your-tracks power of the memory of the head and of the heart. Included is a hand- and hastily- drawn map of my route, in the spirit of Guy Debord’s Discours sure les Passions de l’amour though I hope he will not take offence at the quality of its execution.
One, two, three, four.
Behold the 12 Bar brought low. Not wishing to dwell too long on a loss always in my heart I headed north on Tottenham Court Road, a station normally a popular busking spot but not today. Remembering conspicuously absent petrified Freddie Mercury. To Gower Street, passing RADA and a curiously named ‘Minerva House’. Goddess of wisdom and sponsor of the arts, trade and strategy – perhaps some perverse ancient divine determinism set the arts at the whim of the forces of trade millennia ago.
Through the bowels of the Ministry of Truth – a long and incorrect way (a detournement at least as far as being a detour) to Richer Sounds on Holborn’s ex-Electric Avenue, that name being an adolescent misnomer on my part. My father having described with fond memory the proliferation of shops selling and servicing record players around Tottenham Court Road. I, logically, conflated the name of Brixton’s famous street with the only area of London I associated with musical electrics. One could only find retailers of such things here and, in the same vein, London’s only guitar shops were on Denmark Street – except of course Macari’s which has presence not only on the street itself but also en route on Charing Cross Road, as if an amuse-bouche to the coming musical feast. Somehow my younger mind could absorb and retain this itinerant information but could not conceive of a place known as ‘Brixton’. This truly is time to reflect, and simply to be out walking.
Amidst rain and crowds, head-down to Euston via Gordon Square observing some obsolete borough street signs – an interest of mine. The first I ever noticed I used to pass every day, when I lived and loved in Peckham; St. Mary’s Road, once of the Borough of Camberwell, now Southwark. Mornington Crescent for Koko, heading, perhaps drawn, to Camden. Arlington Road, Charlotte Street, being parallel to main thoroughfares – Camden High Street and Tottenham Court Road respectively – allow for but do not insist upon a quicker pace. Rather, the emptier pavements allow the freedom to dictate one’s own pace. Displaying an accidental loyalty to the A400 in its numerous guises as Tottenham Court Road, Hampstead Road and Camden High Street. Crossing Regent’s Canal via a beautiful Victorian lock, only to be confronted with a behemoth branch of Morrisons.
Not yet witnessed much ‘music’, more homelessness than anything – at least, those people asking for money. What am I looking for, or expecting to see? Something indicative of my second-hand experience of the halcyon days of the 1960s and 1970s? Perhaps something that made those days so open to rose-tinted reminiscences was the lengthy, peaceful cohabitation in the charts of both the titanic and timeless as well as truly drab and cliché pop acts. I refuse to make a comment on the condition of present chart music, but my reluctance to do so most likely reveals my feelings.
The loss of music possessing a power of cultural phenomenon – one likes to imagine young people as the ruling class and the easily characterisation of every youth as one of The Young Ones quartet – rather than simply being an audiophilic pastime is certainly, if partially, linked not only to the closure of pubs and bars, but also increasingly stringent licensing restrictions. Further, not only are long-standing venues at risk of losing their right to exhibit music – not least Kilburn’s venerable Good Ship – under the auspices of sound being classed as an anti-social act but large clubs, a real source of anti-social behaviour, are given free reign with all-night licenses. In Vauxhall for instance the recent by-law prohibiting the consumption of laughing-gas is a largely unenforced and irrelevant measure in the battle against anti-social behaviour in the area.
Fabric, ex of Farringdon, may not be a music venue by my personal experience – a place of live, band music – but it was a place of music for a great many people and to speak against its closure may at first seem a little counter to my preceding vitriol regarding large clubs, but the closure of Fabric was not about the consumption and potentially fatal consequences of drug-taking. Loss of young life is undoubtedly a tragedy but no lucid observer truly believes this was the reason for the popular and historic nightclub’s closure. It had to be made an example of. Indeed, “Fabric was always going to close, drug deaths notwithstanding”, and that closure could be celebrated as a tick-in-a-box in the war on drugs in the capital by both Mayor of London as well as the top echelons of the Metropolitan Police. Local councils lose more government funding year-on-year but, the Independent claims, revenue generated by institutions such as Fabric was simply too locally focussed. It did not serve to augment the coffers of the council in the more direct way that, say, a block of luxury flats would – which incidentally would create less income than night-time economy businesses. The fact that Dickens’ ‘Social Night’ is instead now referred to as the ‘night-time economy’ evidences the priorities of London administrators – not in a varied, safe and inclusive night-time culture, but instead the maximising of profit. Further, there is a clear congruence between the stories of the 12 Bar and Fabric in that they were both closed – the former moved north then closed again, the latter closed seemingly indefinitely – but both are set to reopen, highlighting the insecurity of London’s music venues.
Leafy north London, not so much a land of capitalism as is central London where I began – perhaps of the victors of capitalism – those financially comfortable in their existence. At least outwardly so – the financial affairs of my own family are by no means directly correlative with my father’s income. Sought a subversion of the present-day condition of my surroundings whilst lost in Hampstead and Gospel Oak by singing the Kinks to myself – those proud residents of Muswell Hill. ‘Sunny Afternoon’ seemed a fitting defiance to the autumnal reluctance of the sun to make his presence known.
Lost. An over-estimation of how north Holloway was led me to the south-eastern corner of Hampstead Heath and Gospel Oak. Refusing the aid of my phone – and the relief of public houses – I instead orientated myself by road signs and maps in bus shelters. At Tufnell Park, which I found myself at by accident, I got myself back on track, if nowhere near where I wanted to be considering the protestations of my stomach and the contents of my wallet – or lack thereof.
Finally, Holloway Road whose length presented itself with Roman straightness. Despite knowing that the 12 Bar was no longer in operation here – I never had a chance of visiting whilst it was, only during its Denmark Street residency – I was dismayed, due to a miscalculation, that it was now a Cashino (not a typo, a chain of slot-machine based casinos).
My unintended north London jaunt meant my end-point had been reached, without all of my points of interest visited. Completing the length of Holloway Road I headed towards Highbury and Islington to visit upon the Union Chapel – a space shared in the Durkheimian sense between the sacred and the profane, being a Congregational Church as well as part-time music venue (and a charity base). The Union Chapel is partially representative of the growing sharing economy in London – itself a necessity as much an anti-capitalist belief system – as well as the multiplicity of roles that a single place can perform. One wonders how the nearby disused but fine Highbury station building could function if reopened. Unlikely to be musical with The Garage next-door-but-one, but music is not the only activity that requires public spaces for its exhibition and is not the only branch of the arts with a falling number of opportunities for that exhibition. Sat in its residents’ gardens with a free coffee from a certain supermarket, before rushing to Lewisham, home again, in the Carol King sense, to develop my film.
Here is the street as it was, is and – Muses willing – will always be.
I decided to do my walk in a part of London which had encapsulated me the very first time I set foot on this beautiful soil. The part I am talking about is synonymous with wealth and power; it is the part where laws are made, where individuals and whole companies can flourish or fall deep into the ashes of shame. The area I am alluding to is legal street, which starts from the top of Chancery Lane, near the Gray’s Inn, and trails down to the Royal High Courts of Justice. I embarked on an unknown journey through the conglomeration of might, in which I felt myself being enfolded into a tiny spec of insignificance amid the great law firms of this bustling metropolis. Fortunately, I had my friend Helena to join me, which made it a little less daunting; it was this companionship which galvanized me to continue on with this endeavor. It is reasonable to say that I did my walk at this particular place because I felt there was a story to tell. Here is what I saw:
We started on top of Chancery Lane across from the entrance of the famous Gray’s Inn Square, where at that time an unknown young man named Charles Dickens trained to be a clerk.
Before we entered the narrow alleyway, I noticed the bustling noise of cars behind me, but as soon as we entered this alleyway, it felt as if we were transported back into Victorian London, a surreal and eerie tranquility fell upon us. Interestingly, there was still an old lantern placed in the middle of that alleyway, surrounded by new firms and advertisement agencies, as well as a pub. We walked through another seemingly old entrance into a big open square.
The first thing I noticed was a big gate right ahead of me, with two gargoyles placed on each of the two columns, as if they were shielding the entrance from unwanted visitors. I found it very appropriate, mainly due to the sign which stated that the park is only open to public for a certain amount of time.
This instantly made me think of the exclusion of certain groups of people that was prominent in British society, whether they were poor or from another socioeconomic background. We made our way back to the main street en route to finally walk on Chancery Lane, the infamous place of legal power.
I noticed how narrow the street was compared to the main street we had just walked across. It immediately indicated the age of this road. Moreover, Chancery Lane was constructed by the Knight Templars in about 1160, in order to have a road that would lead through fields they owned. It was originally called New Street, but when the Bishop of Chichester in 1227 received this land from Henry III in order for him to build a palace on this lane, his successors, who until 1340, usually held offices within administrations of Lord Chancellor, would give this street its current name (Bebbington, 1972, p. 78).
As we were walking through the narrow path, I noticed a small building to my left with the same title of the street, it was called Chancery House.
Seemingly old, it houses many law firms today. I was mostly astounded by the fusion of old and new. Onto my left was the Quality Court, which was an old Patent Office in the past; but what I found very interesting was the origin of its name, which as quoted by Strype in 1720, ‘for the goodness of the Houses, and the Inhabitants, is by some called Quality Court’ (Bebbington, 1972, p. 266-67).
I felt as if I was trapped in a time bubble, the narrow alleyway reminded me somewhat of the good old black and white films on London I used to watch as a kid. There was an old lantern in the middle of the court (similar to the one in the Grays Inn courtyard). There are wooden benches everywhere, and you are virtually surrounded by an array of Victorian houses. I felt quite aloof as I was walking through these courtyards, because it is not hard to feel above the rest when you are surrounded by so much wealth and power. One of the most startling aspects on Chancery Lane is the lack of homelessness, because I noticed quite a few homeless individuals on High Holborn, but absolutely none on Chancery Lane. As we were heading closer towards Fleet Street, we passed by a very extravagant looking Whetherspoons, it is called the Knights Templar and it made me chuckle a bit, due to the tacky name given of the original builders of this street. Chancery lane was bustling with lawyers striding to make it back home, and I cannot begin to count the amount of times I accidentally stumbled into one of them. We made our way through another narrow section of the street, and we passed a small construction site, I noticed a blue plaque on a building, it read ‘John Thurloe Secretary of State 1652’. This building is now part of the Lincoln’s Inn Society, which dates back to 1422, and was built to house lawyers. The exact origins are unknown, however, it most likely had its full use in the late fourteenth-century. The building resembles the colleges seen in Oxford and Cambridge.
Only a few meters further down the street, we saw this rather exclusive looking building, with a small arch gate entrance which had ‘The Law Society’ written on top.
As we were walking through this awe inspiring place of prosperity, I started to notice that the tranquility of this street was disturbed by rumbling car sounds. We arrived back to modern London, Fleet Street. Only a few more steps and we arrived at the place where the ultimate decisions are made, Royal Courts of Justice. The building was constructed by George Edmund Street, which had originally been 6 Acres in 1873. The building was officially opened by Queen Victoria in 1882. The might of the British judicial system, is certainly being demonstrated with this building.
We ended this walk back towards High Holborn, but this time via Bell Yard, narrowly leading me back to reality.
Bebbington, Gillian. London Street Names. London: B. T. Batsfrod Ltd., 1972.