London walk 28th December

Old Red Lion pub

It’s become a tradition of mine of over the last 15 years or more to head into Central London late in the afternoon one day between Christmas and New Year to wander the streets around Holborn and Bloomsbury. I started at Chancery Lane and was drawn along Red Lion Street, not noticing before the many times I’d passed this way, that the Old Red Lion pub was the place where the exhumed body of Oliver Cromwell had been stored before his rotting corpse was executed at Tyburn 2 years after his actual death. I can imagine business at the pub was slow during the period that his cadaver would have stunk the place out.

Old Red Lion Cromwell

Orde Hall Street WC1

Orde Hall Street WC1

I turned off Lamb’s Conduit Street into Dombey Street and then followed the curvature of Orde Hall Street. According to UCL’s Bloomsbury Project this parcel of land had originally belonged to Rugby School since the 16th Century and had gradually been developed over the ensuing centuries.

“It was built in 1882 and replaced the former slums of Little Ormond Yard, purchased by the Metropolitan Board of Works to improve housing in the area
It was named after John Orde Hall, member of the Holborn District Board of the Metropolitan Board of Works
It was designed for respectable working people.”

Orde Hall Street

Orde Hall Street Camden Council Estate

Queen Square

Queen Square


Queen Square

Queen Square always makes me think of Geoffrey Fletcher who I’m sure drew the gas lamp above although I can’t find the reference right now. The square was built in the early 18th Century and is notable for the various medical institutions that surround it, the most interesting to me being the elaborate Italian Hospital which closed in 1990.

Queen Square

Queen Square


The British Museum

I wanted to visit the British Museum to look at the Romano-British burial urns and grave goods for a video I was in the process of editing. The extra security checks now mean that the queues to enter stretch back along Great Russell Street.

Anglo Saxon jewelry

Anglo Saxon jewelry

Despite my focus on the Roman Britain rooms I can’t help being drawn in by the Anglo Saxon artefacts. We visited Sutton Hoo at exactly this time 3 years ago and the impression has never left me. The intricacy and beauty of even everyday objects seems so at odds with the Victorian image of the Anglo-Saxon era as dark and barbaric.

Supreme Store Soho

Supreme Store Soho

I passed through Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia and crossed into Soho. The spectacle of the queues outside the Supreme Store have become one of the tourist sights of London gauging by the twenty or so people stood opposite taking pictures.


I then traversed Leicester Square and crossed Charing Cross Road to Cecil Court where the shops were all shut, which is just as well as I may have been tempted to part with too much money for this lovely copy of Colin Wilson’s Adrift in Soho, a story of London’s Beat Generation.

Brydges Place

Brydges Place

I couldn’t resist being drawn along Brydges Place despite the foul stench of urine, accumulated over centuries. It delivered me to the rear of The Harp, one of central London’s finest real ale pubs, where the drinkers gathered in the alley and out the front. It was the perfect end to this winter wander.



Harringay Green Lanes to Chancery Lane via Caledonian Road

Tollington Park N4

Tollington Park N4

An unplanned walk – effectively locked out of the house and inadequately dressed. I jump the Overground to Harringay Green Lanes and buy a jumper from TK Maxx. Choosing a notebook and pen to record the day’s walk a man walked into the shop and just said, “Why is life so shit”, then paid and left without another word. Somebody was having a worse day than me.

I notice that the jumper I bought hurriedly is called a ‘Rodgers Zip Jumper’ – nice coincidence even with the alternative spelling of my surname.

There was no entrance into Wray Crescent Open Space sadly. A man sat loitering in a car by the gates with the engine running. Another man just stood on the other side of the fence beside a metal post.


As I see earthworks everywhere I’m intrigued by Newington Barrow Way just off Hornsey Road – I’m taking the meaning of Barrow as a burial mound rather than the wheeled variety.

The clouds look ominous and on Seven Sisters Road the Heavens open in quite dramatic style and I’m forced to seek shelter in Le Croissant D’Or cafe till it eases up about half and hour later. I contemplate buying an Italian silk scarf calling me from a shop window and still regret not taking the plunge, instead I push on to Holloway Road.

I decide to walk the length of Caledonian Road, ‘The Cally’, one of London’s great thoroughfares. A stocky bald guy walks past muttering to himself.

I find a 1956 edition of Ian Fleming’s Live and Let Die in good condition with the original dustwrapper for 50p. A quick check on Abebooks tells me they go for upwards for £12. I leave it on the shelf for someone else to find.


Muriel Street, N1


Priory Heights

I get a fantastic warm feeling as I pass the Rainbow Club where we took the boys to playgroup when they were babies. Now it’s an Escape Room game so they may well return to play there as teenagers. The same glow accompanies me up Wynford Road that I associate with the first steps around the block the kids took as toddlers. Priory Heights casts a benign protective shadow.


Keystone Crescent N1


Housmans Bookshop

I spend too long in Housmans radical bookshop and eventually walk away with a copy of Rudolph Rocker’s The London Years for a fiver and four back issues of the New Left Review for a quid.

Round the wreckage of Kings Cross and down Grays Inn Road, into Cromer Street, Argyle Walk and Marchmont Street – the wanders of my Islington years. My purchases at Housmans mean I have to resist the gravitational pull of Judd Books and head on through the Brunswick Centre.


Through Queens Square with nice memories of studying Experimental Sound Art at the Mary Ward Centre and making recordings of the lamp-posts and park railings.



Grays Inn Gardens


Sandland Street

On the far side of Red Lion Square I stop to admire the Geoffrey Fletcher gaslights in Sandland Street before passing through Grays Inn to Chancery Lane Station and back home to Leytonstone.


Bohemian London – stroll through Fitzrovia and Bloomsbury

Leaving the Robert Elms Show at Broadcasting House I follow my nose through the streets of Fitzrovia. I notice the name change of Union Street to Riding House Street and the home of Olaudah Equiano whose autobiography describing his experiences of Slavery helped bring about its abolition.

I take in the new development of Pearson Square, which appears left-over from the Kings Cross redevelopment and designed to funnel the wind through its walkways.

The old apartment blocks remind me of the world of Patrick Hamilton in his novel The Midnight Bell, lonely boarding rooms for clerks and shop-girls, typists, and workers in the rag trade.

Soon my feet carry me into Charlotte Street and to the door of what in my experience is the most authentic Italian Cafe in London – people chatting in Italian, well-read copy of Gazetta Dello Sport folded up on the counter, bank of TVs with the latest Italian football news.

The Brunswick Centre

A quick look at the Persian and Bronze Age Britain galleries in the British Museum before strolling down Woburn Walk to Judd Books and the unavoidable purchases. At this point I’m on autopilot, well-worn tracks from my days living at the Angel, an afternoon amble, baby in the pram on the way to Coram’s Fields. The Bruswick Centre a glorious hunk of sculpted utopia rendered in concrete.

Sometimes in my desire to push the boundaries of London, to venture out beyond the city fringe into the provinces, it’s easy to overlook the multiple wonders of a mazy wander round the streets of Fitzrovia and Bloomsbury.


Aimlessly wandering the Bloomsbury grid with Gandhi and Lenin

I wanted to go OUT and shoot SOMETHING happening. I followed my instincts – the Central Line to Holborn then sucked north into the grid vortex of the Bloomsbury Squares. I’m sure there’s some sort of occult geometry underlying the lay-out of the garden squares of Bloomsbury (distinct from those arranged on the slopes of Pentonville and following the curve of the high ground across Barnsbury).

Tea Hut

The ‘Cab Man’s Tea Huts’ fascinate me – but you know what, I’ve never actually been in one, how is that possible? The one at Russell Square was presented by Sir Squire Bancroft in 1901. Bancroft was a significant figure in Victorian theatre, instigating a new form of realist theatre “drawing-room comedy” or “cup and saucer drama”. He produced a play by the bizarre figure of Edward Bulwer-Lytton who I wrote about in This Other London – the man who had has wife locked up in an asylum for disagreeing with him, coined a number of cliches still used today and most bizarre of all, wrote a novel that was later the source of Nazi cult that believed in a subterranean secret source of energy and insisted the Luftwaffe develop a Flying Saucer in the last months of the war.

Those tea huts are strange places and who knows what other odd powers have been unleashed by the Bloomsbury grid – just look at the art deco detail on the gate posts of SOAS in the video and the brutalist brilliance of the Institute of Education.


In my head as I approach writing this blog just before midnight I have the Iggy Pop song, Nightclubbing bouncing around inside my skull – y’know, the track that shares a distinction with half of Scotland’s actors of being made famous by the film Trainspotting. What Iggy Pop and Trainspotting also shared in common was heroin addiction – maybe that’s why Iggy’s other tune on the soundtrack, Lust for Life, became the film’s anthem.

But I’m not writing about Iggy Pop or Trainspotting but a walk I took the other night from Queen Square Bloomsbury through the streets of old Holborn, for the sake of a wander, and also for my series of walking vlogs.

I don’t know a great deal about that area but somewhere in the gloom I saw the spirit of Thomas De Quincey shuffling ahead of me bound for the Penton Mound. De Quincey has become synonymous with London walking, the cult of the flaneur, and borrowed by psychogeographers to lend some notion of heritage to this strange habit of walking around unpromising corners of the city. In his most famous book, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, he writes of walking at night “in Oxford Street by dreamy lamp-light”. He noted that, “being a peripatetic, or a walker of the streets” – he often found himself in the company of prostitutes. And as you’ll have deduced from the title of his book was also fond of heroin, like Iggy Pop.

As I found myself approaching the foothills of the Angel and contemplated descending into Black Mary’s Hole I remembered that Samuel Taylor Coleridge used to walk through this way to visit his friend Charles Lamb in Islington. De Quincey moved himself into Coleridge’s social circle and it was Coleridge who by one stage removed introduced De Quincey to opium:

“The powers of that great agent I first learned dimly to guess at from a remark made to me by a lady in London; then, and for some time previously, she had been hospitably entertaining Coleridge …. Consequently, she was familiarly acquainted with his opium habits”.

In Lamb’s Conduit Street I admired what I took for an old gas lamp but I don’t really know how to spot them. Geoffrey Fletcher was fond of these relics of old streetscape and sketched them for his books and pamphlets. In Offbeat in London he encourages the reader to take the 171 bus from Chancery Lane to Mount Pleasant and admire the old gas lamps – more or less the route of the walk I had taken. He also notes the lamps in Queen Square – the point I had started my walk and the first shot in the video.

The Duke Pub John Mews

I followed old tracks from the beginnings of this blog when I nightly walked from the South Bank to the top of Pentonville Road. I wanted to enjoy once more for the sake of my video the junction of John’s and Roger Streets spelling out my name if you carry the ‘s’ across to the end. I stopped to admire the fine block of art deco flats next door at Mytre Court, built in 1938 by Denis Edmond Harrington.

Perambulating down a dark Grays Inn Road Arthur Machen came to mind, I think he lived here, he certainly mentions it in his book The London Adventure, “what strange things I experienced in chambers in Grays Inn”. It also became his base camp for ventures further afield,

“But in writing this book of mine I was to dip rather into the later years; into the 1895-99 period when I first found out the wonders that lie to the eastward of the Gray’s Inn Road, when Islington and Barnsbury and Canonbury were discovered, when Pentonville ceased to be a mere geographical expression.”


Bloomsbury to Kings Cross Sunday wander

A sultry Sunday early evening stroll round Bloomsbury was just what my hangover required. One of my literary role-models, Thomas Burke spent a lot of time walking these streets and I fancy, often feeling slightly jaded from a few the night before. In his 1939 book, Living in Bloomsbury he writes about how the reputation and nature of the area had changed, “as one district erases its shabby past, and improves and promotes itself, another forgets its decent past, and deteriotes and wanes…. Bloomsbury is a notable example of the whirlygig of favour.”

Burke outlines Bloomsbury’s arc from a smart neighbourhood for professionals and bankers in the 1820’s – 1860’s to the dwelling place for ‘hard-up clerks’ by the 1880’s, then starting to become re-gentrified during the interwar years of the 20th Century when he lived there. He lists the 19th Century books on London life that he accumulated during this time, books for people who are “seeking illumination on the realities of the period”. The intriguing collection includes, The Wilds of London and The Seven Curses of London by James Greenwood; Ritchie’s Night Side of London, Occult London, Mark Lemon’s Up and Down the London Streets, and James Grant’s The Great Metropolis.

From Sicilian Avenue I make my way for a mooch in Book Warehouse on Southampton Row and then on to the Brunswick Centre after stopping to admire the font of the Underground sign above the entrance to Russell Square tube station.

I photograph the doorway of an apartment block in Marchmont Street that I imagine is where those ‘hard-up clerks’ mentioned by Burke might have lived. The prostitute from Patrick Hamilton’s The Midnight Bell also lived round here somewhere. There’s always life in Marchmont Street, in the cafes, the launderette with the cranes looming above, the pub, Judd Street Books (which I just missed).

Moving round to Judd Street munching on a Topic bar you have to stop and admire Clare Court, a fine 1920’s brown brick block of flats, a fitting tribute to the 18th Century brick fields upon which it stands.

The neighbouring Lucas-Cromer estate was developed for housing with the first six houses rising from the cow pastures in 1801. By 1815, Lucas the tin-plate worker, had built another 99. Cromer Street today is dominated by a mixture of social housing blocks – the backs of the estate that lines Harrison Street and older flats with locally-listed shop fronts below. It has a European feel in the sunset, reminds me of the outskirts of cities in Emilia Romagna – Modena, Parma, Bologna.

The view north from Swinton Street is a panorama of changing London – the backs of early 20th Century social housing and the gleaming new glass towers of the Kings Cross development. I’m closing in on sacred ground – the Pen Ton mound, springs gurgling beneath the pavement, rising on the high ground around the top of Pentonville Road. The only reasonable thing to do now is to follow the water to a table near the banks of The New River outside the Marquess Tavern in Canonbury, a grand Victorian pile where George Orwell used to drink.