London Walks - 2017

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On this page: Highgate - Deptford - Fleet


OCTOBER - The Fleet River rises on Hampstead Heath and flows under the Regent’s Canal and down between St Pancras and King’s Cross Station, where we started our walk, to join the Thames at Blackfriars Bridge. For many years the river has flowed underground out of sight but we did catch a glimpse of a tiny stream trickling through a culvert near King’s Cross.

Walking down King’s Cross Road it is possible to see the shape of the Fleet valley and the rise of the land on the north side of the road. Set into the wall at No 61/63 an inscribed stone dated 1680 is all that remains of Bagnigge House once used as a summer retreat by Nell Gwynne, commemorated by Gwynne Place opposite. In the 1850s a spa called Bagnigge Wells was developed here by one Thomas Hughes, a local tobacconist, who discovered that his attempts to grow flowers were being hampered by the high iron content of the ground water. He cashed in by opening his garden to the public offering the mineral water (an effective purgative) in the mornings and tea in china cups in the afternoons for those preferring a more genteel experience. Nearby is the fictional site of the miserly Henry Earlforward’s bookshop, in Arnold Bennett’s Riceyman Steps (1923), not a popular read nowadays.

The ground begins to rise at what we know as Mount Pleasant (home of the Royal Mail sorting office). Originally open fields on higher ground above the Fleet, a medicinal spring was found in the 18thc which came to be known as Cold Bath Fields. Later it became a rubbish tip and to be sarcastically referred to as ‘Mount Pleasant’ a name which has stuck to the present day. Cold Bath Prison was built here in 1794, which became Clerkenwell Gaol and finally a debtors prison closing in 1885. The Post Office used this as a temporary site from 1887.

In 1917 an underground railway was opened which operated until 2003 running from Paddington to Whitechapel via Wimpole Street, Drury Lane, Mount Pleasant, St Martins le Grande and Liverpool Street; automatic trains travelling at 35mph carried the mail to main line rail stations and depots beneath the city. It was used as a shelter during WWI and to house the Elgin Marbles during WWII. A new Royal Mail Museum has recently opened which will eventually house a huge collection of stamps, historic posting boxes, telephone boxes, telegram motor cycles and much more. A one mile section of the railway has been reopened and it is possible to ride a modified version of the train through a short section of track, with interesting effects, ending at an engineering section of the museum showing how it was all controlled.

Coming onto Farringdon Road we found more Peabody Buildings. Originally founded by George Peabody (1795-1869) an American banker/philanthropist who with backing from the Rothchilds and Junius Morgan (father of J.P. Morgan) founded a trust to provide subsidised housing for ‘artisans and the labouring poor of London’.

When he died he was given temporary burial in Westminster Abbey and his body was eventually returned (as he had wished) to Danvers his home town in Massachusetts (subsequently renamed Peabody in his honour). Nowadays the Trust owns and manages 29,000 London Homes and provides affordable housing for 80,000 people. It builds about 1,000 new homes each year. Currently a new development in Whitechapel is being built built on the site of a Peabody Estate destroyed during the Blitz – it has been a car park for over 50 years.

The original Clerk’s Well is visible through the window of 16 Farringdon Lane. There has been a spring of pure water here since the Middle Ages. At Cowcross Street the drovers crossed the Fleet to get to Smithfield cattle market, until 1855 when the slaughter of live animals at the market was ended. In the early days the Fleet was used to wash away the blood and entrails from the butchered carcasses – result a stink.

The old and newest booking halls of Farringdon Station face each other. The original opened in 1863, as the western terminus of the Metropolitan line, with brass bands and a banquet. The new booking hall which will be for Crossrail (the new Elizabeth Line) is spacious and streamlined and when completed large diamonds will be printed on to the glass panels that line the walls which will be backlit so that they shimmer and appear 3D in homage to nearby Hatton Garden. Works of public art will be incorporated into seven new Elizabeth line stations – the Culture line.

Saffron Hill is named after the rich crop of saffron crocuses grown here by the Bishop of Ely in Medieval times. Saffron still an expensive culinary ingredient but was originally used to disguise the smell of rancid meat.

Walking under Holborn Viaduct we passed Turnagain Lane, Old Fleet Lane and Old Seacoal Lane reminders of the river’s past. Once we arrived at Blackfriars Bridge we looked across to No 1 Blackfriars which has shot up to nearly 50 floors since our Embankment walk in 2016. Prices for the apartments start at £1.15 million for a one bedroom studio, to £23 million for 6, 000 sq ft and 5 bedrooms. Next spring prices will be announced for the 17,000 sq ft penthouse. At peak 1,400 will have worked on the construction On a clear day you will be able to see as far as Brentwood – should you wish to of course! (Report: Anita Butt, Photos: Maria Buckley)

Peabody Buildings on Clerkenwell Road

Bagnigge Wells

Sign indicating the Clerk's Well

The Clerk's Well

Line drawing of Clerkenwell in times past

Another drawing showing Clerkenwell in times past

Entrance to new Farrington Station for Crossrail

Scale Theatre Pentonville Road

New Royal Mail Museum Mount Pleasant

Old wall hanging postal collection boxes outside the new museum

Looking down on a trickle of water could it be the Fleet River?

Cow Cross Street - cattle were once driven into Smithfield Market


SEPTEMBER - The first recorded bridge over Deptford Creek dates from 1345 but there is archaeological evidence that there were once both Roman and Saxon settlements nearby. The road here formed part of the old Roman Road used by many including Chaucer’s pilgrims. Deptford has a rich industrial past following the founding of the Shipyard by Henry VIII in 1513. By 1544 it was the most important shipyard in England, employing some 80/90 shipwrights and other workmen and remained so until Chatham overtook it at the end of that century. Sir Francis Drake, Sir Martin Frobisher, Sir Walter Raleigh and later Captain Cook all sailed from Deptford on their voyages of discovery. In 1869 the dockyard closed; the two main factors were the silting up of the Thames and the fact that the shipyard itself had become outdated. Many jobs were lost of course. The Royal Victoria Victualling Yard which we see at the end of the walk later stored and supplied many provisions for the Royal Navy. It closed in 1961.

Our coffee stop was at the LABAN dance institute now housed in a striking building, one of the first new developments in the regeneration of Deptford, designed by Herzog & de Meuron also known for the redevelopment of Tate Modern and the 2016 extension which we visited shortly after its opening last year. The external walls of the Laban centre are clad in semi-transparent coloured polycarbonate in shades of lime, turquoise and magenta, punctuated by large clear windows which reflect the surrounding landscape; it incorporates a ‘brown roof’ a special habitat for wild life including the Black Redstart one of the UKs rarest birds.

Rudolf Laban (1879-1958) born in Austro-Hungary was one of the founders of Modern Dance. He arrived in the UK as a refugee from Nazi Germany in 1938 and continued his work in the UK until his death. He believed that dance had tremendous therapeutic power and that it could wider the horizons of poor and under-privileged people. He developed choreology – the discipline of dance analysis – and invented a system of dance notation now known as kinetography Laban or Labanotation.

We entered St Nicholas’ churchyard through the original gates of Trinity House founded in 1511. The East India Company and the General Steam Navigation Company were also founded nearby. A plaque in the Churchyard commemorates Sir Christopher Marlowe the Elizabethan dramatist who was murdered in a tavern brawl in Deptford in 1593. The base of the Tower dates from the 14C and the present church building dates from 1697 though in fact only the walls remained after intense bombing during WWII. A fine row of original houses in Albury Street date from the early 18C and many have extremely fine carving on the wooden door canopies. These were probably the homes of Naval Officers from the nearby dockyard. There is no evidence to support the rumour that Nelson and Lady Hamilton once lived there. The very fine St Paul’s Church nearby was described by John Betjeman as the Pearl in the Heart of Deptford. Designed by Thomas Archer it was opened in June 1730. Sadly due to reconstruction of the approach to the church, in a landscaping and restoration project by Lewisham Council, we were only able to look at the church through the railings!

In Deptford High Street a plaque commemorates Peter the Great, Tsar of Russia, who worshipped at the Friends’ Meeting House which once stood on the site. He studied ship building in Germany, Holland and England, staying at Sayes Court, the home of John Evelyn he 17C diarist and traveller, in Deptford for a short time. He amassed a huge amount of knowledge and took several hundred craftsmen, engineers, military personnel, architects and painters back to Russia when he returned. He was quite a vandal, broke furniture, dirtied carpets and tore pictures. His wheel-barrow races were legendary, causing much damage apparently. Deptford station which opened in 1836 is London’s first and oldest working station as part of the London to Greenwich railway which was intended to run to Dover and beyond as a channel tunnel was envisaged even in those days.

After lunch at the Moby Dick on Greenland Dock we walked along the Embankment back to Deptford passing dockside equipment from the days when these were working docks. Drake’s steps commemorate the knighting of Sir Francis Drake by Queen Elizabeth I on the Golden Hind at the end of his round the world voyage in 1581. Reaching the Naval Victualling Yard operating from 1742 – 1961 and renamed the Royal Victoria Victualling Yard following the Queen’s visit in 1858 - we pondered on the fact that there was a special building for storing Rum. Passing the elegant Terrace and Collonade, housing the officers’ quarters, we concluded the walk by boarding the 188 Bus back through Deptford to Cutty Sark station where we began. (Report: Anita Butt, Photos: Maria Buckley)


Above left: Carved decoration on doorway on Albany Street


Above centre: New development near Deptford Creek


Above right: Memorial plaque at Royal Victoria Victualling Yard

Below left: Approaching the LABAN Institute of Dance built 1997

Below centre:St Paul's Church

Below right: Device to raise the track to allow ships to pass underneath the railway


APRIL  - Highgate is named after the 13thc gate to Hornsey Park the estate of the Bishop of London. In the 1300s the Bishop decided to charge travellers a toll for using the road across the park and erected three manned gates to collect the tolls the most important being the eastern gate – to London. This eastern gate was controlled by a hermit and with pilgrims visiting him there soon grew up a hermitage and a small settlement which eventually grew into Highgate. Its hill top position and wealthy residents kept it apart from the spread of suburbia. The railway arrived in 1867.

We walked down the High Street with the panorama of the City of London far below us and soon found reference to one of the many poets who lived in Highgate and feature on this walk along with a number of funerals. Townsend Yard had been at the side of T.H. Dunn, Chemist, where the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge obtained the laudanum (a mixture of opium and brandy) to which he became addicted. Mr Dunn’s teenaged assistant Seymour Porter like to serve Coleridge because he found him so kindly and fascinating to talk to. The laudanum was supplied in a flat half-pint bottle at a reduced price of 5 shillings. On one occasion he found him outside the shop watching the long funeral cortege of the poet Lord Byron setting out on its long journey to his ancestral home in Nottinghamshire, and delivering a eulogy on the greatness of Byron’s writing.

In 1884 Andrew Smith Halladie the Scottish engineer who built the San Francisco cable car system created a cable tramway linking Highgate High Street with the Archway but it was scrapped early in the 20thc following a number of accidents.

In the 16thc Lauderdale House in Waterlow Park was the country home of one Richard Martin, goldsmith and Lord Mayor of London. Modernised in the 17thc by Earl Lauderdale in the 19thc it became the home of Sir Sydney Waterlow head of the printing firm, also Lord Mayor in 1873. The house and grounds were given to the then LCC in 1889. A large sundial commemorates the poet Andrew Marvell (d1678) a resident of Highgate. His poem on the stone reminds us “How well the skilful gardener drew, Of flowers and herbs this dial new, Where from above, the milder sun Does through a fragrant zodiac run. And, as it works th’ industrious bee Computes its time as well as we. How could such sweet and wholesome hours be reckoned but with herbs and flowers”.

At this point the garden is about the same height as the top of St Paul’s Cathedral - 111 metres.

Reaching the gates of Highgate Cemetery we paused to consider its history. Opened by the London Cemetery Company in 1839 as one of seven commercial London cemeteries the western cemetery was full by 1856. The eastern cemetery opened in 1854 with a tunnel linking it with the western section so that coffins could be transferred discreetly. Of 50,000 graves perhaps the most famous resident is Karl Marx (d1883). Others include Michael Faraday, Charles Dickens wife and daughter, George Eliot, William Foyle (bookshop) Sir Leslie Stephen (father of Virginia Woolf and the poet Christina Rossetti. About ten years ago Alexander Litvinyenko, the Russian agent poisoned by polonium, at afternoon tea in London joined them. And ten days ago George Michael was brought here, in an ambulance rather than a hearse, and is thought to have been buried next to his mother Lesley Panayiotou. According to press reports 15 limousines, 12 bodyguards and black tarpaulins were in evidence that day.

Plodding back up the hill we reached Pond Square, the original village green and water source for the village until piped water arrived in the mid 19thc. St Michael’s church stands at the same height as the top of St Paul’s Cathedral and has the tomb of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, re-interred there in 1961. We remembered Coleridge’s poem the Rime of the Ancient Mariner “Day after day, day after day, We stuck, nor breath nor motion; As idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean. Water, water, everywhere, And all the boards did shrink; Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink.”

The beautiful 17thc houses along The Grove included one time the home of Yehudin Menuhin; and Samuel Coleridge (1772-1834) who by now a laudanum addict was looked after by Dr Gillman and his family until his death. Samuel had been the youngest of 10 children, his father a minister. He was bullied as a child by Frank the next youngest and his mother was rather distant. He ran away aged 7 but was found and returned to his family. His father died when we was 9 and he was sent away to London to a charity school for children of clergy and eventually stayed with a maternal uncle. He was something of a prodigy, devoured books and became first in his class. He was first given laudanum when sick as a child. J.B. Priestley later lived in the same house.

In more recent times George Michael lived a few doors along and when he died at his home at Goring on Thames on Christmas Day last year flowers and tributes began to be attached to the gardens railings. They were cleared away and re-appeared on the grassed area in front of the houses. More tributes continue to arrive and are tidied up regularly. Near neighbours are Jamie Oliver, Kate Moss and Jude Law.

Lunch was in The Flask pub parts of which date back to 1663. Nearby The Gate House pub stands on the site of one of the original gatehouses and was once a favoured meeting place for Coleridge, Shelley, Lord Byron and John Keats and the upper floor is still used for plays and dramatic productions. We passed Highgate School founded in 1565. The School Chapel built on the site of the original hermit’s shelter was used as the village church until 1867 before the ‘new’ St Michael’s was built when he school claimed it for its own. Opposite the school were Byron House once the home of John Betjeman and Byron Cottage the home for the poet A.E. Housman (d1936) who wrote A Shropshire Lad’ his most famous poem while living there… ”When I was young and twenty, I heard a wise man say, ‘Give crowns and pounds and guineas, but not your heart away. Give pearls away and rubies, but keep your fancy free’. But I was one-and twenty; No use to talk to me. When I was one-and twenty I heard him say again, The heart out of the bosom, Was never given in vain’ ‘Tis paid with sighs a plenty, And sold for endless rue! And I am two-and-twenty, And oh, ‘tis true, ‘tis true.’

At Southwood Lane there were more panoramic views over London. Finally we passed the almshouses built by Sir John Wollaston (d.1658) and rebuilt in 1722 by Sir Edward Pauncefoot of Lauderdale House who doubled their number to twelve and added a girls school. Finally, Avalon the childhood home of Mary Kingsley, traveller and writer and niece of Charles Kingsley who died in 1900 working in S. Africa while nursing in a prisoner of war camp. (Report: Anita Butt, Photos: Maria Buckley)

Above left: Lauderdale House/sundial with poem by Andrew Marvell

17th century poet.

Above centre: One time Gatehouse at Highgate Cemetery

Above right: St Michael's Church burial place of poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Left: One time residence of Coleridge and also J. B. Priestley.

Centre: Pop-up shrine to George Michael outside his house.

Right: Interesting feature along The Grove.



Below left: One time home of John Betjeman

Below centre: One time home of poet A. E. Housman

Below right: One time home of Mary Kingsley.

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