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.

New Era Estate residents give update & reflect on campaign with Russell Brand

25th March (which happened to be Good Friday) marked the first anniversary of the opening of the Trew Era Cafe so it seemed like a good time to meet up with some of the residents on the New Era Estate in Hoxton plus Russell Brand, to get an update on their situation.

There was so much widespread support for the campaign to save the New Era that I’m often asked how things are going now for the residents once the estate was bought by Dolphin Living. By all accounts everything is working out well with the new landlords and the spirit of the New Era Estate is as strong as ever.

There’s a great message for everybody from the residents in the video above – stick together and never give up.


Trew Era Cafe on the New Era Estate Hoxton

I hadn’t been back to the Trew Era Cafe since its opening back in March 2015 so I was keen to see how this inspiring project was progressing. The cafe was one of the outcomes of the successful campaign by residents of the New Era Estate in Hoxton to fend off developers. Russell Brand opened the Trew Era Cafe as a social enterprise with the aim of supporting people in abstinence based recovery. The aim was also to provide a community space for local people and to source as much produce as possible from the surrounding area.

Trew Era Cafe vegan food

The herbs used in the delicious range of vegan and vegetarian dishes are grown in pallet planters in the walled garden at the back. All the produce is organic. They plan to find allotment space to grow their own vegetables which will form part of the training programme.

Trew Era Cafe coffee

The coffee is roasted by Mission Coffee nearby in Clapton, who also provide barista training. The jams and granola are produced locally. Edit Hats beanies are on sale, for each purchase Edit donate a hat to the homeless. For every postcard bought from the selection hanging on the wall a tree is planted in Scotland and you can even go along and help with the planting. There are free Sunday morning meditation drop-ins and regular evening meetings.

Trew Era Cafe Hoxton

There’s a great friendly vibe around the place and the coffee is fantastic. The plan is to hopefully expand into an vacant unit next door to provide a more diverse range of training and support. Hopefully the Trew Era message will spread beyond Hoxton to the wider world. To badly paraphrase Billy Bragg – the revolution is just an organic soy milk cappuccino away.

Socially conscious coffee at the Trew Era Cafe

Thursday morning Russell Brand launched the Trew Era Cafe in an empty shop on the New Era Estate, Hoxton. The cafe is a social enterprise aiming to provide support for people recovering from addiction whilst also serving up fresh locally sourced food and drink at reasonable prices (£1.80 for a cappuccino in Hoxton is a rarity). As Russell explains in the video above, the long term aspiration is for the Trew Era to grow its own food locally and Hackney Council have donated land to that end. And the coffee is bloody good as well.

Amongst the opening day throng I spotted Chunky Mark The Artist Taxi Driver who’d driven Russell to the opening that morning and shot a video for his essential viewing YouTube channel. Although I’d only taken my camera along to take a few snaps I couldn’t resist the opportunity to grab a quick chat with Mark in what is now one of my favourite episodes of Drift Report with Mark’s section pretty much unedited.