London Walks - 2009

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On this page: Southwark, Mayfair, Greenwich, Spitalfields, Olympic site, The London Wall, Poplar

OCTOBER - In 1396 the small village of Popelar with Blackwall was granted to the Cistercian monks of the Abbey of St Mary de Graces just by the Tower of London - becoming known as one of the Tower Hamlets in the parish of Stepney. Poplar probably took its name from one or more poplar trees growing on the bank of the river which would have provided a handy navigational aid to shipping. "Tower Hamlets" provided a lot of the labour force for the expanding the City of London and by the time of Henry VIII Blackwall had established a thriving shipbuilding and repairing industry which continued down the centuries with the establishment of the East India Company in 1601 and the subsequent building of the East and West India Docks in the 1800s.

Today it sits cheek by jowl with the gigantic Canary Wharf development.

After coffee, street-side, in the multi-cultural Chrisp Street Market we saw the crumbling shell of Poplar Baths one of the first public baths and wash houses in London, opened in 1852 and rebuilt in 1934. Outside the baths is a fine bronze statue (1866) of Richard Green a member of an important local shipbuilding family who contributed much to the improvement of social housing in the area.

Moving along East India Dock Road we saw in the park the Angel Memorial to 18 children killed by a direct hit on their school in the first daylight air raid on 13th June, 1917. Further links with shipping were seen in the George Green Home for Sailors founded in 1841 and the Queen Victoria Seamen’s Rest dating from 1834 and still offering B&B for retired, unemployed and serving seamen. In Mallam Gardens three rows of cottages built for Gas Board employees still have two of the original gas lights.

The decaying George Green Family vault in the corner of the park and the George Green Almshouses built in the 1840s for poor women and widows reminded us of the philanthropic work of this local shipbuilding family. Nearby is St Mary & St Joseph Catholic church designed with Moorish influences by Adrian Gilbert Scott in 1954 to replace an earlier one destroyed in the Blitz. There were once 12 churches on East India Dock Road.

We had pre-ordered lunch at the OPORTO near Westferry Station and run by Peter West who grew up in Poplar and has lived there all his life. A few yards from the pub and we were in Pennyfields - what used to be the famous Chinatown although there was little but a Chinese launderette to remind us of that period in Poplar’s history. In the late 1880s immigrant Chinese seamen began to settle in the Pennyfields area and Limehouse Causeway. The first Chinese laundry opened in Poplar. Stories are often told of around 4,000 Chinese living here but a more reliable estimate is probably around 400. As we moved down Poplar High Street we passed the impressive free standing sign for the White Horse - all that remains of this once famous and slightly notorious local public house. Not to be outdone by East India Dock Road with its 12 churches, Poplar High Street once boasted 15 inns and houses of refreshment - only a couple of hundred yards between the two roads so all human needs could be met with ease.

Meridian House was once the home of the East India Company’s chaplain in the 1650s. The adjacent church of St Matthias was originally built as the Company’s chapel in 1654 and used by mariners and their families for prayers before voyages. It was rebuilt in 1776 and refurbished in 1866. It closed in 1976 but was saved by English Heritage and the Docklands Development Board in 1992 and is now a community centre.

Opposite is the Vietnamese Boat People’s Catholic Community with a little garden shrine created by the refugees - a replica of one back home. Britain accepted 19,000 boat people.

Outside Tower Hamlets College a throng of multi-cultural students crowded the pavement. Further along we passed a number of decorative plaques commemorating ships that sailed from Poplar to the new world. The Godspeed set sail for America in 1606 with a crew of 13 plus 39 passengers, the journey was supposed to take two months - it took 144 days. The Susan Constant, the largest of the three ships, had a crew of 71. The Discovery, the smallest, set sail for Virginia in December 1606 - the journey took five months.

We concluded our walk on the steps of All Saints Church in Newby Place (it gives its name to the DLR station All Saints) designed in 1823 following a petition of the locals for their own parish church. The church was not open so we could not see the very fine interior which has been restored and is well maintained. In 1817 Parliament passed a law that made Poplar a parish in its own right. There is a document in the Metropolitan Archives - sealed in the reign of George III which sets out the rights and responsibilities of the new parish. Including the statement that "The Rector retains the right to close the East India Dock Road to prevent noise during the time of Divine Service". This Act has never been repealed but as we stood listening to the noise of the traffic on the East India Dock Road we felt sure there is no question of stopping it for Sunday services nowadays. (Report: Anita Butt, Photos: Harry Dennehy)

Crisp Street Market Poplar in Tower Hamlets

The Queen Victoria Seamen's Rescue built in 1901/2 for the Wesleyan Seamen's Mission

An original gaslight in Malam Gardens, where the cottages were for the use of gas-workers

The striking sign in Poplar High Street where the White Horse pub once stood

A grotto put up by Vietnamese boat people at 130 Poplar High Street

Tower Hamlets College Learning Centre

Meridian House was once used by the chaplin of Poplar chapel which later became St Matthias Old Church.

St Matthias Old Church built in 1654 by the East India Dock Co. This is the oldest building in Poplar. It was closed in 1976 and is now used as a Community Centre

The Vietnamese Pastoral Centre


SEPTEMBER - The walk started at the Tower Hill where in the entrance to a subway is part of the preserved London Wall. Built around 200AD this wall originally stretched from the Tower to Black Friars. We heard how much of present-day London is built over the remains of Roman times and this is evident from the preserved sites where ground level is way below that of present day. As we looked back to the Tower, Gisela, one of our party, told us how she had stayed many times within the Tower when her father-in-law was a Beefeater. She pointed out the arrow slit behind which his apartment was situated. Walking on we saw the statue of the Roman emperor Trajan in front of another section of the wall where the construction showed the difference between the Roman and medieval levels. In Trinity Square we saw a building with a memorial plaque to Viscount Wakefield who patented Wakefield Engine Oil, which we now know as Castrol. He was a friend of the Reverend Tubby Clayton and a blue plaque with his name was also on the house. Tubby Clayton had been the Army chaplain who set up a house of sanctuary for soldiers from the front line in World War 1. Based in Poperinge in Belgium all servicemen were welcomed and their rank was left on the doorstep. This house was named Talbot House and became the start of Toc H. In 1929 Lord Wakefield bought Talbot House and donated it to the Talbot House Association. Turning into Cooper Row we walked on into the entrance to a hotel, which again had a preserved stretch of the wall. Evidence here showed the remains of a staircase, possibly to a sentry post high on the wall. On reaching Crutched Friars we had a brief coffee stop

Crossing Aldgate we saw the Sir John Cass primary school. Sir John was an MP for the City in 1710 and became a great philanthropist. He founded a school for 50 boys and 40 girls. On his death the school was closed and it took 30 years before his will was upheld and the school re-opened. Aldgate was the main route to Colchester in Roman times. We walked on to Houndsditch, so named because of the dead dogs, which were disposed of in the moat surrounding the wall. Our next port of call was Bevis Marks, the oldest synagogue in the UK, which was founded by Portuguese and Spanish immigrants. The interior is based on the Great Synagogue of Amsterdam. All our men had to wear a kippah whilst in the Synagogue. We were given a talk by a Synagogue official who gave us an insight into the history and traditions of Judaism. We then broke for lunch.

After lunch we took the bus to the Museum of London and walked to the Salter’s Co. At the rear of the building are quiet gardens with several stone sculptures of the saltcellar and the coat of arms of the Salters’ livery company. From here we walked to St Alphage’s gardens where another part of the wall is evident. This had formed part of the north side of St Alphage’s church. Walking down the steps took us to Cripplegate, which had been the gate to a fort in Roman times. This was incorporated into the London Wall. Our next stop was St Giles in Cripplegate. Here we saw the memorial garden and wall and Gisela showed us the plaque remembering her in-laws. Her mother-in-law had been a member of the church. Inside the church we found memorial plaques to Martin Frobisher who was knighted for repelling the Spanish Armada in 1588 and John Milton of "Paradise Lost" fame. A beautiful church and well worth a visit. We then strolled around the Barbican before heading back to Liverpool Street and the train home, tired but happy with our time spent walking the wall. (Report: Ann Franey, Photos: John Franey)

An outline history of the London Wall

Above: Behind Grange & City Hotel

Heads must be covered

Sir John Cass Primary School

The Roman Emperor Trajan in front of the wall

Salters' Company Garden

St Giles in Cripplegate Church

Below: Medieval on a Roman base

St Giles Memorial Wall

AUGUST - Approximately six months ago, Anita and Roger booked places for members of London Walks to visit the 2012 Olympic site - now being created in Stratford. Around 30 members arrived at Stratford station where they boarded a bus that was to tour the site. A Blue Badge Guide welcomed us aboard and imparted a wealth of information and facts as the bus made its way round. The whole site still closely resembles a building site, which is of course what it is, but the work being undertaken and the enormity of the scale of the whole undertaking is quite awe-inspiring. The tour which lasts approximately an hour (there are two a day and they are free) was very interesting and most agreed that it must be a logistical nightmare to bring all the components of the construction (men, materials, and machinery, etc) together. (Report and pictures: Brian Leith)

Work is well under way with the Olympic Village that will be home to the athletes. After the Games it will be converted into accommodation for thousands of residents.

Part of the superstructure of the stadium

The Aquatics Centre will act as the gateway to the Olympic Park

Another view of the Olympic Stadium


AUGUST - We took the bus to Aldgate where we fortified ourselves with coffee etc. ready for our walk. Spitalfields gets its name from the hospital and priory St Mary’s Spittel that was founded in 1197. 

Our first stop was at the building, which had been a warehouse of the East India Company who were importers of silk, cotton. tea and opium amongst other goods. Next to this was the Women’s Library, now a centre for research. The building had been a Victorian washhouse where a hot bath had cost 6d and a cold bath 2d.

We also heard about Toynbee Hall, an arts and crafts building. This had been the home of Alan Barnett and his wife Henrietta who had encouraged Oxford graduates to stay in the hope that in their future years they would do some good in the area. Notable people who stayed were Clement Attlee and William Beveridge.  The area was very much a Jewish base and some of Rothschild’s 4% dwellings were here. The name came from the deal where financial backers were guaranteed a 4% return on their money. We walked through the Petticoat Lane area, which had developed over the years from the clothing trade.  We passed Tenter Ground where silk was laid to dry and stretched to make it go further. Further on was The Soup Kitchen, a purpose built building where the Jewish poor were fed. Interestingly this had the date of the building in both the Jewish and present day mode, 5662 – 1902. Walking on Anita pointed out a painted sign on a building showing the direction of a wartime shelter. We came to Lilan Knowles House, which had been a centre for refuge, accommodating 100 women and only 20 men of good character. From there we walked into Artillery passage and a most interesting area with the streets still in the original plan after the Great Fire of London. The King’s Stores pub and other building show evidence of the military training ground from the days of Henry VIII.

A baker’s shop had evidence of its use decorating the exterior wall. A more macabre fact was that this was a haunt of Jack the Ripper. Leaving this area we then walked on to the Sandys Row Synagogue used by the Dutch Jews who worked in the cigar, diamond and fruit trades. We crossed the road and entered the redeveloped area of Spitalfields market. This development has been handled in a very sympathetic way and artefacts from the past, which were found during the work, have been incorporated into the pavement area. There were many open-air cafes and eating-places in the market and so we broke ranks and had an hour to find our lunch before meeting again to finish the walk. We met again outside No 1 Bishops Square, which houses the largest power solar system in London. It also had triple glazing and the entire building was very energy efficient. We walked through the market and crossed to Christ Church, a Hawksmoor church built in 1729. Next to this was the Ten Bells pub, so named because of the number of church bells, where Mary Kelly, Jack the Ripper’s last victim, was last seen before her grisly end.  Further on the walk we passed The London Society where they had tried to convert Jews to Christianity with only 16 successful converts.  This building is now a Mosque. We passed the houses of Anna Marie Garthwaite, a designer in Spitalfield Silk, Miriam Moses, social reformer and Gilbert & George, painters. Outside the house of artist Mark Gertler was a cast iron coalhole cover depicting part of one of his macabre paintings. Our walk finally finished outside Denis Severs House – but this might be the venue of a subsequent outing so more of this another time.  A fascinating walk through what once was a thriving silk and weaving centre of London that had gone through disreputable times, but was now becoming once again a most interesting area to visit, to work and to live.  (Report: Ann Franey, Photos: John Franey)

Top left:  Soup kitchen


Top centre: Baker's shop


Top right: Pavement outside No 1 Bishops Square

Above left: Artillery Passage


Above centre: Mosque


Above right: Denis Severs House


Left: Spitalfields Market


Right: Anita tells us about the Mosque


JULY - Our journey took us on the Docklands Light Railway to Greenwich and the Novotel Hotel where coffee, etc was enjoyed. Leaving here we saw the Almshouses built in 1574 by Sir Thomas Plumer, which are now run by the Drapers Company. Anita and Roger then guided us through streets that were once homes of the poorer workers but now many of them have been modernised for today’s lifestyle.  Past the Earl Grey pub our next stop was in the park, which was once the churchyard of St Alfege’s Church complete with graves - not the place to be after dark. Entering the church, designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor in 1714, we were greeted with music from a school choir. Such enthusiasm and lively singing merited a round of applause from us all. In the church was a memorial plaque to General Wolfe and a painting depicting his death in Quebec. Leaving the church we crossed into Turnpin Lane, one of the oldest mediaeval streets in London, which led to Greenwich Market. Inside over the entrance was the inscription “A false balance is abomination to the Lord but a just weight is his delight”. Leaving the market we walked up to the river and the Cutty Sark, which is still under restoration. We followed the river path past the Joseph Bellot Memorial to the site of the Royal Naval Hospital. - an almshouse for elderly seaman. In 1873 it was taken over by the Royal Naval College, which continued into the 1990s. Nowadays the building on the left is the University of Greenwich and on the right Trinity College of Music. Whist here Anita recounted how in days gone by various people had become “time sellers”. They set the accurate time from the Greenwich Royal Observatory and then sold it in the city and West End. The most famous of these was a lady called Ruth Belville who sold time until she retired in 1939 at the age of 80. Going through the gates we walked up to the building, designed by Christopher Wren, housing what was the Royal College dining room with a ceiling painted by James Thornhill. He took 19 years to paint the murals and was paid the princely sum of £7,000 for his efforts. Across the way stood the chapel of St Peter and St Paul with an interior designed by James "Athenian" Stuart. Well worth a visit to see the lovely interior. In the foyer were the statues of Faith, Hope, Charity and Meekness, and during the building’s time as a training site for Officers the statue of Meekness was covered as it was thought to be not suitable for fighting men. One o’clock was fast approaching and we were all outside to see the red ball atop the Octagon room at the Royal Observatory rise and drop precisely on the hour. This was for shipping on the Thames to check their time. Noon was not chosen because at that time most ships would have been recording their log of the day. Our next stop was lunch. Most of the party went to the Yacht Pub next to the Trafalgar Inn where the other nine fortified themselves. 

Back together again we walked on along the river path, passing an unusual mural of “A Thames Tale” - a story about Stan and his dog, before turning inland past the old Greenwich power station. We passed an early 16th Century house and another site of the "Meridian Line" before reaching the park behind the Royal Naval Hospital. This park will house the equestrian events in 2012. Back in the 1500s on the site of the Royal Hospital was the Palace of Placentia, birthplace of both Henry VIII and Elizabeth 1st. It fell into disrepair in the English Civil War and was pulled down to make way for the Hospital. 

In the grounds is a statue of William IV.

Our walk almost over we had a very sharp shower before finishing the walk with a descent into the Greenwich foot tunnel, opened in 1902, and walking through to Island Gardens from where the famous view of Greenwich Hospital painted by Canaletto can be seen.  A fitting end to another very interesting day.   (Report: Ann Franey, Photos: John Franey)

Start of the walk

St Alfrege's Church

Death of General Wolfe

Above: History lesson from Anita

Right: Greenwich Market

St Peter & St Paul's Chapel

The red ball atop the Octagon room at the Royal Observatory

 The Meridian Line

Canaletto's view of The Royal Hospital


APRIL - We travelled from Shenfield via Stratford and the Jubilee Line to Green Park.  First stop was for coffee in Henry’s Bar on Piccadilly.  We delighted in the lovely art deco interior and the drinks were good too.  From there we walked towards Hyde Park before turning into White Horse Street. Along the way we had passed The Kennel Club headquarters and Egremont House, designed by James Paine and built for the Earl of Egremont in the 18th century. It was also the former home of Lord Palmerston and later home to the In and Out Club which has now relocated. Mayfair had got its name from the annual May Fair that had started in the Haymarket and gradually spread along Piccadilly until it was banned in 1764.  Wealthy landowners developed the area, one of the most prominent being the Duke of Westminster who owns much of it. 

White Horse Street, which followed the course of the old River Tyburn, led us into Shepherd’s Market, which still retains the feel of a village.  It was a very self-contained area with all the shops needed in daily life.  It had also become a ‘red light’ district of London and Ann recounted how when she worked in the area some fifteen or so years ago, it was quite usual to see the prostitutes at lunch time picking up their clients. Anita told us that the nursery rhyme Lucy Locket lost her pocket had associations here.  Wealthy Kitty Fisher lived in one of the squares and the story suggests that Kitty Fisher took over poor Lucy Locket’s lover and source of income with him… The area, now quite respectable, has some very fashionable restaurants and still retains its charm. 

Leaving the market Anita led us through many of the streets, pointing out the various embassies, notable residents who have blue plaques to commemorate them such as Anthony Eden & Somerset Maugham. The streets twisted and turned and many of them followed the old farm boundaries of days gone by.  We went into The Church of the Immaculate Conception, a Roman Catholic parish in the heart of Mayfair.  “Farm Street” as it is commonly known had a stunning interior with many treasures.  The gardens at the rear of the church had been used by the ‘Cambridge Spy Ring’ to perfect their contact meetings, rather audaciously as the area was also home to offices of MI5 and MI6. In contrast to the Catholic Church we then visited Grosvenor Chapel on South Audley Street.  This is built in the American “Colonial” style and has a memorial to the servicemen who lost their lives in the American ‘Great War’, our 2nd World War. Our last stop before lunch was at Thomas Goode, reputedly the largest china shop in the world and site of the first automatic door in London. Lunch was at the Audley pub and Anita had booked our tables for which we gave her full marks. 

After our break we walked up to Grosvenor Square, the present home of the American Embassy. The square was once the most fashionable address in London with its Georgian architecture and pleasant gardens.  Once again the land is owned by the Duke of Westminster and takes its name from the family name Grosvenor.  Our steps then took us to Berkeley Square, another of the prestigious residential areas. Home now to the Clermont Club and Annabel’s nightclub. We finished the walk in Charles Street near The Only Running Footman pub and we heard how it got its name.  The research and planning Anita had put in to organising the walk had given us another memorable day.  (Report: Ann Franey, Photos: John Franey)

Henry's Bar

First stop

Shepherd's Tavern


1st automatic doors

Blue Plaques

Farm Street

Blair's Barber

Mount Street Gardens

Grosvenor Chapel

9/11 Peace Pagoda

Audley Pub


Lunch is booked



The Only Running Footman



MARCH - Our first walk of 2009 took us to Southwark on a beautiful spring day. We took the bus to the City side of London Bridge, which we then crossed. Anita then took us down Nancy’s steps (not the original) and back towards Southwark Cathedral. On route she told us of the history of the bridge ~ originally Roman ~ followed by a mediaeval bridge completed in 1209. This was replaced by a bridge designed by John Rennie completed in 1831. This in turn was sold to an entrepreneur in the United States in 1968 and has been reconstructed at Lake Havasu in Arizona. The present bridge was opened in 1973 and is looked after by The City Bridge Trust formerly the London Bridge Trust. Southwark took its name from the "south works" created during earlier construction works. From mid 16th century until 1899 it was part of the City of London and was known as "The Ward of Bridge Without." Coffee was enjoyed at Southwark Cathedral and we then headed away from the river. We passed the site of the Bishop of Winchester’s palace where the remaining wall with its rose window is being restored. Anita told us of the "Winchester Geese" the name given to the prostitutes of the area. The locality was a well-known red-light area and people from the other side of the river were not encouraged to visit. We walked on past Borough Market, a thriving area with some specialist shops and eating-places. We saw some of the first "Low cost Housing" built by Sydney Waterlow an English philanthropist. Our next stop was The Hop Exchange where hop growers from Kent were able to trade their crop. The interior was wonderfully ornate.  Walking on we came to the site of a Paupers Burial Ground, now closed, but protected by high iron gates tied to which were many memorial tributes.The last resting place of the Winchester Geese. Quite a moving sight. We strolled through Redcross gardens and saw the social housing connected with Octavia Hill, a social reformer and founder of the National Trust. From there we walked on and stopped for Anita to tell us about the Headquarters of the Fire Brigade and Winchester House which is now the home of the Chief Fire Officer. She then took us to "The Escape," the local pub where we enjoyed drinks and lunch in a private room. Rested and refreshed we walked through the site where Henry the Eighth minted his coins. Anita pointed out an old hospital for sick children, which was built in memory of Evelina, wife of Baron Rothschild who died in childbirth. The area had great connections to Dickens where many streets were named after characters in his books and St George the Martyr & St Jude church has a window depicting Little Dorrit. Crossing the road we entered the churchyard where stands a remaining wall of  Marshalsea Prison which stood on the site. Anita gave the last words of the day to Charles Dickens who wrote of the prison “It’s gone and the world is none the worse without it.” A superb walk and a great start to the 2009 programme. (Report: Ann Franey, Photos: John Franey)

Top left: Tower Bridge

Top centre: Borough Market

Top right: The Hop Exchange

Centre left: Sydney Waterlow Housing

Centre: Redcross Gardens

Centre right:  Rose window

Bottom left: The Escape

Bottom centre: Remains of boundary wall of Marshalsea Prison

Bottom right: Paupers burial ground

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Page last updated : Tuesday, 23 June 2020