Exploring the History of Shoreditch and Hoxton:

A couple of weekends ago I was joined by my wife Heidi on a fantastic stroll through the History of Shoreditch and Hoxton.

Elizabethan Theatres around Curtain Road
Our journey begins at Curtain Road, where the Curtain Theatre once stood which played a crucial role in London’s theatrical history. It is believed that Shakespeare and his contemporaries staged early works which were later staged at the Globe Theatre. Ben Jonson also had work performed at the Curtain. Burbage’s The Theatre had opened a year previously not far away, before it was taken down and moved to the south bank of the Thames to become the famous Globe Theatre. These two theatres helped establish Shoreditch as a place of entertainment in Elizabethan London, just outside the boundary of the City. A tradition that continues to this day.

Exploring Shoreditch and Hoxton
As we continue our walk we catch glimpses of remnants from the past, such as the Holywell Priory, the River Walbrook, and the Roman road which helped shape the development of the area.

Notorious Slums and Social Housing:
Our tour leads us to Boundary Passage, which through to the notorious slum known as Old Nichol. By the 19th Century this area was synonymous with poverty and poor living conditions, as chronicled by Engels and Mayhew. However, the dire situation prompted the London County Council to construct the Boundary Estate, one of the first social housing projects in the city.

Curtain Road, Shoreditch
Curtain Road
Great Eastern Street
Holywell Lane, Shoreditch
Holywell Lane

Cherry Tree Mound and Leon Kossoff in Arnold Circus:
We encounter the picturesque Cherry Tree Mound, a serene spot in the heart of the bustling city. This beautiful location inspired renowned British painter Leon Kossoff, who grew up in the area. Leon’s paintings often depicted the charm of North West London, but his early years around Arnold Circus left a lasting impact on his artistic journey and he returned in later life to make a series of sketches of the Circus and the Mound. A Cherry tree has been planted here in his honour.

St Leonard’s Church

We pass through the churchyard of St Leonard’s, now associated with the Oranges and Lemons nursery rhyme but in reality it replaced a demolished church in the original version of the story. The church sits at the junction of two Roman Roads – Ermine Street and Old Street. One of the sources of the Walbrook rises beneath ground nearby.

Leon Kossoff Cherry, Arnold Circus London
bandstand in Arnold Circus
Arnold Circus

Tranquil Hoxton Square:
Our penultimate stop is Hoxton Square, another historically significant location in the area. This vibrant square has witnessed numerous stories unfold over the centuries, and its atmosphere offers a welcome contrast to the hustle and bustle of nearby Shoreditch High Street. It was in the fields here before it was developed in the later 17th Century that poet and playwright Ben Jonson killed the actor Gabriel Spencer in a duel. Spencer was buried in St Leonard’s Church. In the 1990’s Hoxton Square become a great generator of culture with the Blue Note and other clubs on the same site, the White Cube gallery and the nascent digital creators who worked in the area.

Hoxton Well:

Hoxton possessed a ‘balsamic’ well discovered in the late seventeenth century, during the digging of a cellar for a house in Charles Square and enjoyed popularity for a few years. The water probably contained a small quantity of magnesium sulphate and iron according to Septimus Sunderland. A Dr. Macpherson reported that the water from Hoxton Well had a ‘bituminous scum on it, but, strange to say, yielded a pleasant aromatic flavour’.

Exploring the streets of Shoreditch and Hoxton is like stepping into a time machine that reveals the elements of the history of London as these areas evolved through centuries of change. It was a beautiful walk in the company of Heidi.

Walking the Beverley Brook for London Rivers Week

The Beverley Brook has been on my list of walks for a number of years now. I’d passed its confluence with the Thames near Putney on at least two occasions. Then I looked across its valley when seeking out Ceasar’s Camp on Wimbledon Common. The clincher should have been the crucial role played by the deity of the Beverley Brook, Bev, in Ben Aaronovitch’s excellent Rivers of London novels. But in the end it was London Rivers Week that gave me the final push to walk the Beverley Brook, or the Bev as I ended up calling it.

I found a Merton Council map and guide online and decided to use this as my definitive text. This route starts at New Malden, however multiple YouTube commenters pointed out the Beverley Brook rises in Worcester Park. Nevermind. The guide was excellent nonetheless. I picked up the river beside the A3 and pretty much the whole course out to the Thames was a bucolic amble across Wimbledon Common, Richmond Park, Palewell Common, and Barnes Common. All rivers deserve a deity, but it’s easy to see why Ben Aaronovitch chose Bev to play such a pivotal role in his books.

The Beverley Brook on Wimbledon Common
The Beverley Brook sign
The Beverley Brook in a culvert near Barnes