The Adventure Walks Guide to Spitalfields
After writing an article on Dennis Severs' house for the current edition of Selvedge Magazine, we were inspired to create a new walk for anyone who wants to explore the real eighteenth century heart of Spitalfields and its history - plus the best places to shop and eat. We thought we'd put it online for all to enjoy! Let us know your thoughts or put photos on our facebook page if you have been on any of our walks.
Start: Aldgate East Tube (Hammersmith and City Line, District Line)
End: Shoreditch High Street (Overground)
Leave Aldgate East station via Exit 3 Northside emerging just outside the Whitechapel Art Gallery (1). Founded in 1901 to 'bring great art to the people of the East End of London', its first exhibition, which included the Pre Raphaelites, Constable, Hogarth and Rubens, attracted 206,000 local people.
Walk along Whitechapel Road to Brick Lane, named after the brick and tile industry that was here in the 15th century. It has since become the centre of London’s rag trade with its successive waves of immigrants settled around Brick Lane from the 17th century beginning with the Huguenot silk weaver. The Irish weavers followed them and in the 19th century the Ashkenazi Jews fleeing persecution in Russia worked as tailors. In the 20th century
Bangladeshi immigrants continued in the tradition of the textile trade and brought with them their culture. Brick Lane is lined with tempting Indian sweet and cake shops, shimmering sari shops, Bangladeshi signs boasting best curry in London, all to the strains of Bangla music.
On the corner of Fournier Street is the Brick Lane Jamme Masjid Mosque (2). This little building captures the history of the East End and is one of its oldest buildings. It began life in 1742 as La Neuve Eglise, a Huguenot Chapel but by 1809 it was known as the Jew’s chapel with the purpose of promoting Christianity to Jews. By 1898 it had become the Spitalfields Great Synagogue. In 1976 it became a mosque.
Turn left at Princelet Street (3) to see some of the best-preserved eighteenth century houses in London distinctive wooden shutters painted in reds, aubergines and greys. Many are still forlorn and neglected with peeling paint and faded colours, others have been rescued and painstakingly restored. These houses were originally built for the Huguenot master weavers who had made a success of their trade in London after arriving with nothing, having fled religious persecution in France in 1685. The Huguenots adorned their houses with window boxes and caged singing birds, French style and nearby streets acquired French names: Fleur de Lys Street, Fournier Street and French Place. Look out for the wooden spindles that still hang outside some of the houses demonstrating their history.
Wander down this atmospheric street and turn left into Wilkes Street. Turn right onto Fournier Street. Step into Townhouse (4) at no 5, with its 18th style painted wood panelled walls and roaring fires, crammed with curiosities and antiques. Take the creaky stairs down to the originally basement kitchen and its cafe.
At the top of Fournier Street is the impressive Christ Church (5) built by Hawksmoor in 1729 for the East End’s ‘godless thousands’ who were settling here, the first of 50 that Queen Anne had commissioned. The church is worth stopping in for a few moments if only to admire its grandeur. Virtually derelict in the 1960s it has recently been beautifully restored.
Leave the church down the steps, cross the road and walk down the side of Spitalfields Market (6) on Brushfield Street. Pass a row of tempting cafes, buy some sweets from a the old fashioned sweet shop A Gold and nip into writer Jeanette Winterston’s cafe, Verde & Co (7) crammed with delicious jams, elderflower wines, fresh bread and seven-day marmalade.
Cross the square and explore the market, leaving via Spital Square on the far side. Turn into Folgate Street. At number 18 is the atmospheric Dennis Severs’ House (8), described as a ‘still-life drama’, an intriguing recreation of a Huguenot weavers house through the life of a fictional family.
Walk down to Elder Street to see some of the finest surviving Master Weavers’ houses. The tiny doors to the side of the front door, found on some of the houses, were trade entrances leading into a courtyard and showroom. Look out for no 32 the charming Spitalfields Atelier of bespoke tailor, Timothy Everest (9).
Cross Commercial Street into Quaker Street and turn left towards the railway arches and Shoreditch High Street Overground (10). Extend the walk to explore some of London’s best independent shopping on Redchurch Street (11), just across the Bethnal Green Road where you will find such gems as Labour and Wait at no 85, Maison Trois Garcon at 45 and the Story Deli at no 3.
For more Adventure Walks exploring London go to www.londonadventurewalks.co.uk
A Christmas Carol Walk
London is as much a part of Charles Dickens’ own life as it is of his books. As a child, he was made to work in a blacking factory near the Thames while his father served time in the debtors prison at Marshalsea in Southwark. His experiences at this time affected him deeply and gave him an insight into the lives of the London poor. As a young lawyer’s clerk and a journalist, he spent many hours walking the streets of London. He wove the streets of London into the pages of his stories, with landmarks such as St Paul’s Cathedral and London Bridge as a backdrop.
Explore the secrets of Dickens’ London with this Christmas Carol walk: from the Temple, where Dickens both worked and set several stories, to the City, where Scrooge famously learnt his lessons of kindness and Christmas spirit.
Walk Start: Temple Tube station
1. Turn left as you leave Temple station, climb the steps and turn right on Temple Place. Cut into Temple Gardens and come out the other end, on the left hand path.
2. Head up the narrow Milford Lane, and follow the way, up steeply worn steps to Essex Street.
3. At Devereux Court take a right, and pass through the black gates to Temple, the home of Barristers at Law since the fourteenth century.**
To your right is Fountain Court, described in Dickens’ novel, Martin Chuzzlewit. Look for the plaque by the fountain with its quote. Walk on, past Middle Temple Hall, where Shakespeare first performed Twelfth Night to Queen Elizabeth I.
Keep going through the archway and turn left to Temple Church, one of London’s few round buildings and home of the Knights Templar.
4. Take the narrow passage up the left side of Temple Church, called Inner Temple Lane. Walk out through the ancient wooden gateway and onto Fleet Street.
5. Turn right and walk along Fleet Street until you reach Salisbury Court on your right. Cut down here, looking for the plaque to Samuel Pepys. Take the first left into St Bride’s Avenue and take a peep in this beautiful church. Its tiered steeple is said to have inspired a nearby baker to make the first tiered Wedding Cake.
6. Follow the path round the front of the church and straight on pastThe Old Bell Pub. Turn right at the bottom into Bride Lane and follow it round to the main road, past the Bridewell Theatre.
7. Cross at the lights to the right and take the small side turning Stonecutter Street. Climb the giant staircase straight ahead and down again, to Apothecary Street and the old Apothecaries’ Hall.
8. Turn left along Blackfriars Lane. At the junction of little roads, turn right into Carter Lane and meander along for a while enjoying the narrow lanes off to the side. Turn left up Deans Court and out to St Paul’s Cathedral.
9. Cross the road to admire the Cathedral close up. Walk alongside the Cathedral, with it on your left. Cross over New Change and turn left, then right, down Watling Street. Take a left into Bow Lane to St Mary Le Bow church famous for its Bow bells: being born in earshot of these bells makes someone a true cockney.
10. Turn right on Cheapside and walk all the way to Mansion House, the official residence of the Lord Mayor of the City of London. In Dickens’ day, the Lord Mayor ‘gave orders to his fifty cooks and butlers to keep Christmas as a Lord Mayor should.’
Carry on past the grand front of the building and cross Lombard Street to the Royal Exchange. Climb up the steps to the pillared portico and head inside. No longer a place where deals were done, it is now full of luxury shops. The Royal Exchange is where the last of the Christmas Spirits took Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. Here he hears bankers and traders from the City dismissively chatting about his death.
11. Walk straight out of the far side of the Exchange onto Royal Exchange Walk. Turn right and then left onto Cornhill, where Scrooge had his Counting House. Cross the road.
12. Walk down here as far as St Michael’s Court on your right. St Michael’s Church is most likely the church whose ‘gruff old bell was always peeping slyly down at Scrooge out of a Gothic window’ in the story.
Wiggle your way down the narrow alley, alongside the church, passing the old Jamaica Wine House. This is London’s first coffee house, dating back to 1652. Look out for Simpsons Tavern in Ball Court, where Scrooge might have enjoyed a ‘melancholy dinner in his usual melancholy tavern’. Turn left along the side of the churchyard to the end and bear left and then right down some steps, through a passageway into Corbet Court which opens into Gracechurch Street.
13. Cross over Gracechurch Street into the Victorian splendour of Leadenhall Market, where Bob Cratchit would have run to get his Christmas Turkey.
14. Head back to Gracechurch Street and turn left to Monument Tube station at the far end.
** At weekends the entrances to Temple are closed except for one on Tudor Street. To get here, follow the passage around Devereux Court and onto Fleet Street, alongside the George Pub. Then turn right down Fleet Street and eventually turn right on Bouverie Street, then right on Temple Lane, following it round to the Temple gateway on Tudor Street. Cross the car park and head straight towards a building with a large clock and weathervane on top. Take the alleyway to the right to cut through into Elm Court. Walk straight across and through the arch to get to Fountain Court. Explore as you like and pick up the walk from point 3. Although the gates are shut at the weekend it is possible to exit from any of the closed entrances.