Giorgio Morandi at the Estorick Collection

Estorick Collection, Canonbury, Islington

We managed to catch the last day of the Giorgio Morandi exhibition at the brilliant Estorick Collection in Canonbury, Islington.

Giorgio Morandi: Masterpieces from the Magnani-Rocca Foundation

“For the first time, the entire collection of 50 paintings and works on paper by the artist belonging to Italy’s Magnani-Rocca Foundation will be on show in the UK.
Best known for his enigmatic still lifes, Morandi is today widely recognised as one of the most significant figures of modern Italian art – and certainly one of the most beloved. Often considered to have been something of a recluse, he was in fact at the centre of contemporary artistic debate and actively engaged with many of the most important national trends and movements of his day, from Futurism to Metaphysical Art. His distinctive mature style is renowned for its masterful treatment of light, exquisite tonal subtleties and exploration of the boundary between abstract and figurative imagery.”

Giorgio Morandi at the Estorick Collection
Giorgio Morandi at the Estorick Collection
Estorick Collection - Giorgio Morandi
Estorick Collection, Canonbury, Islington London

We discovered the Estorick when living in Highbury in the late-90s and instantly fell in love with it.

Estorick Collection, Canonbury, Islington London
Giorgio Morandi at the Estorick Collection
Giorgio Morandi at the Estorick Collection

I’d first properly encountered the work of Giorgio Morandi when living in Modena, Italy and visiting an exhibition in an art gallery located in one of the palaces of the Este. Morandi had lived and worked his whole life in nearby Bologna, a city I also came to develop a deep affection for.

Walking the Secret Alignments of London

A walk linking together Bunhill Fields, Bunhill Row, Old Street, St Luke’s, and City Road. Taking in the burial places of William Blake, Daniel Defoe and Hawksmoor’s obelisk on St Luke’s Church.

Why do I always end up around the edge of the city in December and January? I associate this area with being freezing cold and it being a kind of gloomy cloudy day like the day I shot this video just before Christmas 2021. It was the perfect weather for this particular walk linking together series of really intriguing locations with great stories to tell. This is really the best type of walk in many ways. Obviously I love my river walks, I love all walks really, but there’s something about unlocking the secrets of the city which is just magical. There’s something about the city fringe, the nature of it, the stories it contains which is really potent and really resonant because of the things that were pushed outside the city walls. I headed north of Liverpool Street into once what would have been fenland and marshland where the River Walbrook rises, a place of dissenters and outlaws and outcasts, a place of pleasure and play. These are all things encountered on the walk.

psychogeographic alignments of London map from Lud Heat by Iain Sinclair
psychogeographic alignments of London from Lud Heat by Iain Sinclair
Grave of William Blake in Bunhill Fields, London
Bunhill Fields

The Route:
This walk starts near Liverpool Street on the edge of the City of London and heads along Worship Street to Finsbury Barracks, home of the Honourable Artillery Company. Next to the Barracks we find Bunhill Fields an old burial ground were numerous religious dissenters were buried including Daniel Defoe and William Blake. We walk along Bunhill Row where John Milton lived and wrote both Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained.The secret alignments of the City lead us to Old Street believed to have been a Roman road between Silchester and Colchester built along an even older trackway. Here we find St Luke’s Church designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor.
Our route takes us past Ironmonger Row Baths to Peerless Street once the site of a notorious pool that became a Ducking Pond and later a bath house with a library. We then emerge on City Road and our walk ends at The Eagle pub in Shepherdess Walk which is mentioned in the nursery rhyme, Pop Goes the Weasel.

Bunhill Fields

Read – Secrets of the City with Iain Sinclair

Walking London’s Civil War Defences – Islington

This was a walk that I first did in 2005 and blogged about here. I’d stumbled across an article by Guy Mannes Abbott published in the Architects Association journal that linked the Civil War Parliamentary defences of London to the progressive architecture of the London Borough of Finsbury in the post-war period. The idea that the streets that I walked home in the dark each night were part of a ‘utopian enclosure’ was incredibly beguiling.

“The forts mark an area known for its spas and radical reformers and which, in the seventeenth century, Wenceslaus Hollar represented in a series of etchings showing extensive earthworks. They protected an area that would become the site of the largest and most ambitious plan ever for the social regeneration of London and which remains a paragon of what could be achieved with social housing. Spa Green, Bevin Court and Priory Green just north of Finsbury are all positive manifestations of a politically committed and revolutionarily ambitious approach to collective works, but – conscious of what there was to fight for – Tecton also produced a plan for an elaborate system of defences and network of communications with uncanny echoes of the Civil War forts.”

from ‘The Malignants trecherous and bloody plot against the Parliament and Citty of London which was by God’s providence happily prevented May 31, 1643’
from ‘The Malignants trecherous and bloody plot against the Parliament and Citty of London which was by God’s providence happily prevented May 31, 1643’

I’d been intending to make a video of this walk for my Walking Vlog series ever since starting it in 2015, but had delayed and delayed as I considered that a true walk of London’s Civil War defences should at least cover the section north of the Thames from Wapping in the East to Pimilico in the West (where the Lillington Gardens Estate that stands of the site of the fort has an oddly fortress-like appearance). But then, first I encountered the southern ‘line of communication’ while walking the River Neckinger, followed by reading an article in London Archaeologist debating the location of the defences around Whitechapel. I was faced by an edifice of research that was difficult to penetrate.

Eventually, the landscape called me. The original walk of the Finsbury Forts was too rich not to capture on camera, and so I headed out on the day the clocks went back to retrace my steps from 17 years ago. Picking up the traces of that walk on the edge of the City of London I headed up Goswell Road to Mount Mills and then followed the deep entrenchment across Northampton Square to the site of Waterfield Fort, now occupied by Spa Green Estate. From here I progressed down Rosebery Ave to Mount Pleasant Fort before ascending Amwell Street to the Fort Royal which occupied a commanding position on the crest of the hill at Claremont Square near the Angel Islington.

Clerkenwell Tales

A walk from Charterhouse Square to the Clerks’ Well

There’s something in the atmosphere of the City fringe that draws me in around midwinter and the turning of the year. That once dubious territory outside the old Roman walls where rivers ran off the rising ground into the Fleet and the Thames. It’s a place of stories. So on New Years Day I set out to capture some of the magic and the mysteries between Charterhouse Square and the Clerks’ Well.

The draw at the beginning was the medieval priory and almshouses of the Charterhouse, but to get there you pass over the buried remains of around 40,000 victims of the Black Death. The water supply to this 14th Century hermitage of Carthusian monks came along the White Conduit from a source in Barnsbury which later became the celebrated White Conduit House pleasure garden. There’s still a tavern on the site but last time I looked it’d become a restaurant.

Charterhouse, Clerkenwell, London
Charterhouse

There were very few people around as I looked for the course of the lost river Faggeswell, that once formed a boundary on the southern edge of Clerkenwell. I’d place the course along where Charterhouse Street runs along one side of Smithfield Market. I could have then picked up the cattle route along Cowcross Street but instead took St. John’s Lane to pass through the majestic St. John’s Gate, built in 1504 – a chunk of medieval London hiding in plain site.

St. John's Gate, Clerkenwell, London
St. John’s Gate

The ancient trackway of Clerkenwell Road is crossed on the way to Clerkenwell Green where I imagined the mystery plays being performed around the Skinner’s Well and the Clerks’ Well. The second of these is remembered in the name it gave to the area and also the plaque in Farringon Lane marking its location. The Skinner’s Well though seems to have been forgotten, a process that started long ago. Writing in 1910, Alfred Stanley Foord remarked;

“Skinners’ Well is there described as lying in the valley between the Nun’s Priory and the Holeburn, in which was a large fish-pond… Strype, in his continuation of Stow’s Survey (1720) say, ‘Skinners’ Well is almost quite lost, and so it was in Stow’s time. But I am certainly informed by a knowing parishioner that it lies to the west of the church (of St. James, Clerkenwell), enclosed within certain houses there.’  The parish would fain recover the well again, but cannot tell where the pipes lie. But Dr Rogers, who formerly lived in an house there, showed Mr Edmund Howard…marks in a wall in the close where, as he affirmed, the pipes lay, that it might be known after his death.”

However, there’s no plaque that I could see around St. James Church and the name lives on solely in the presence of Skinner Street.

Clerkenwell Green with its radical roots felt like an appropriate place to end the walk for the video and to look ahead at 2022. I’ve a good feeling about the coming year.

Highbury Fields Forever

A walk from Homerton through Hackney, Dalston, Newington Green to Highbury Barn

The pull of nostalgia is a powerful thing. It was during the first lockdown that I devised this walk from Leytonstone to Highbury – from my current home to one from my past laced with happy memories. It was a comforting thought in such an uncertain time. Now in the first week of the third national lockdown it seems an apt moment to post this video of that walk which I finally embarked upon during the second lockdown.

It starts on Homerton High Street, which was recorded as Humberton in the 14th Century, and is said to be derived from a lady’s farmstead Hunburh. We take a look at the Tudor Sutton House built in 1535, before walking through St. John’s Gardens to Hackney Central. Along Mare Street we pay homage to the Hackney Empire, designed by Frank Matcham in 1901 as a Music Hall.

Our walk takes up Graham Road to Ridley Road Market, Dalston and then along Kingsland Road (Ermine Street) to the Rio Cinema. Next we go up John Campbell Road and Mildmay Road to Newington Green where we look at Richard Price’s Unitarian Chapel built in 1701.

From here we pass along Ferntower Road to Petherton Road where the New River runs beneath a green strip of land running along the middle of the street.

Highbury Fields

Highbury Fields

Highbury New Park takes us to Highbury Grove and we turn up Baalbec Road to Highbury Place.

Highbury Fields is one of my favourite spots in London, a beautiful open space covering a high ridge of land which was once known for its springs and conduits. We walk around Highbury Fields contemplating the possibility that the name suggests that this was once the location of an ancient burial mound, barrow or fortification given that the area was previously known as Newington Barrow.

Our walk ends at Highbury Barn at the site of the former pleasure garden famed for its milk, custards, and concerts.

Walking the River Fleet – London’s Lost Rivers

The Course of the River Fleet

“Just South of Caen Wood there are to be found half a dozen ponds all strung out in a line which runs North and South. These are called Highgate Ponds. The Holebourne flowed out of the most southerly of these, and was soon joined by a tributary, which came from near the present Highgate Cemetery and went just North of Swain’s Lane.
The Holebourne crossed and recrossed the Highgate Rd, met a Brook from Parliament Hill and Kentish Town somewhere between Chalk Farm and Camden Town stations and then almost followed what are now the tram lines past Crowndale Road and down to Kings Cross. A brick bridge crossed it here, and the neighbourhood was once called not Kings Cross, but Battle Bridge for Boadicea is said to have fought the Romans here.
Keeping to the line of Kings Cross Rd, the Holebourne went on by Saffron Hill – sweet name! – and past the present junction of Clerkenwell Rd with Farringdon St. From the top of a tram going from Old Street towards the Holborn terminus the Valley of the old stream can be seen very clearly. There was a distinct Hill from Saint John’s Gate down to Farringdon Road and up again to Grays Inn Rd, Farringdon St still roughly follows the line of the old valley of the stream, though, of course, the level has altered. Over the deep cleft, which Holborn Viaduct (built 1867 to 1869) now spans, was a fine stone bridge, and between it and the Thames the stream was called the Fleet. This was crossed by Three Bridges, at Harp Lane, Fleet Street and Bridewell.
But this talk of modern streets must have begrimed the picture. The Holebourne has fallen from a higher grace than any of its sister streams the very names of streets remind us of how different the Vale of Holebourne used to be from the dark and dismal thing it is now.”
Alan Ivimey, Some Lost Rivers of London, Wonderful London Volume 2 (1926)

 

“… one or more tributaries of the Fleet rise near the Vale of Health on Hampstead Heath and flow in one stream via Hampstead Ponds and South End Green along Fleet Road to Gospel Oak. This stream then proceeds due south through west Kentish Town, crossing Prince of Wales Road just below Angler’s Lane (the derivation is obvious) and then continues in a slightly more eastwards direction till it crosses the lower part of Kentish Town Road below the Castle Inn, at almost the same place the where the Regent’s Canal has run since 1820. But just before making this cross to the eastern side of the road it is joined by its other main tributary, a stream which rises in the grounds of Ken Wood, and flows down through Highgate Ponds (which are old reservoirs) on the edge of Parliament Hill.”
Gillian Tindall, The Fields Beneath (1977)

River Fleet Hampstead

Hampstead Heath Tumulus

The Source of the River Fleet on Hampstead Heath – The Vale of Health

The River Fleet is London’s most famous, most notorious, and most mysterious ‘Lost’ River. It rises on Hampstead Heath and has two sources. One is in Kenwood where it flows down the East side of the Heath feeding the Highgate Ponds. It then meanders through the streets of Dartmouth Park and Tufnell Park to combine with the second source in Kentish Town. The other branch was the one that I would follow, and rises in the Vale of Health on the western edge of Hampstead Heath.
I crossed Parliament Hill from Gospel Oak Station and admire the tract of land that lay between the two sources of the Fleet. In the fold of this vale is the Hampstead tumulus. According to Walter Besant writing in 1863 this was a burial mound containing the bodies of the citizens of the original Iron Age London built on the top of Ludgate Hill (where St. Paul’s stands today), who fell in a great battle with the people of what would become Verulam after the Roman conquest. However, excavations have not found any human remains.
It was in the woods below the tumulus that I picked up a trickle gurgling through the valley floor – the River Fleet. It was quite a moment to see this legendary ‘lost’ river running above ground. I followed this brook through the ferns and mud, crossing plank bridges back to the source at the Vale of Health.
I then retraced the stream back to the chain of Hampstead Ponds down to Hampstead Heath Overground Station, South End Green and Fleet Road.

River Fleet

Gospel Oak to Kentish Town

The Cork and Bottle on the corner of Fleet Road was once The White Horse, a legendary music venue. Apparently there’s a plaque nearby which announces the presence of the Fleet running beneath the street, but I somehow managed to miss it. The ground is noticeably lower to the left of Fleet Road and can be seen through the gate of Byron Mews so I wonder if this is the course of the river. I was uncertain of where the river flowed from the end of Fleet Road, so I proceed along Mansfield Road, Gospel Oak, and turned into Heriot Place to get a view of the open space at Lismore Circus which would be a strong candidate for the course of the Fleet. I knew the Fleet ran near Grafton Road from the days when I worked nearby and saw the waters flooding Andy’s sandwich bar near the railway bridge. However I noticed on the map that Spring Place runs parallel to Grafton Road and more neatly aligns with Anglers Lane which Gillian Tindal identifies being a spot where people fished in the Fleet.
From here I followed Kentish Town Road to Quinn’s Pub on the corner of Hawley Road, the point where the two sources of the Fleet are said to combine into a single watercourse for their journey to the Thames and out to sea (or since the 1860’s into Bazalgette’s sewer system on the Victoria Embankment).

River Fleet St Pancras Old Church

St Pancras Old Church

Camden Town to Kings Cross

I passed by Camden Gardens beneath the proposed route for the Camden Highline garden built along a disused railway line. Tom Bolton wrote on Londonist that you can see/hear the Fleet outside the Prince Albert Pub in Lyme Street. And there through the street iron the dark waters of the Fleet can just be made out deep below the street. Moreover it can certainly be smelt, with a strong whiff of sewer filling the air.
The river then follows the line of Pancras Road taking us to St. Pancras Old Church which we know once stood on the banks of the River Fleet. The discovery of some roman walling in the foundations of the current medieval church led to claims that it may have been the site of a 4th Century place of Christian worship, which if true, would make one of the oldest Christian sites in the world. It’s just one of many wonderful stories attached to the ‘River of Wells’. A little further along its course we arrive at Kings Cross Station which was formerly known as Battle Bridge and spawned the legend that Queen Boudica made her final stand against the Romans here near the banks of the Fleet. Some even theorised that the warrior Queen’s body lay buried beneath Platform 8, or perhaps it was Platform 10.
Across the road in St. Chad’s Place we find the story of the battle between Edmund Ironside and King Canute which caused a medicinal spring to burst from the ground and became a site of pilgrimage. St. Chad is the patron saint of medicinal springs. From here the river is said to flow beneath Kings Cross Road, which leads us to the site of Bagnigge Wells where a plaque at No.61 Kings Cross Road behind the bus stop marks the site. The Fleet flowed through the gardens of this once famous pleasure garden at one time owned by Nell Gwynn. The Open Street Map shows the Fleet running beneath Cubitt Street which certainly seems to align with the shape of the land and leads us into Phoenix Place.

River Fleet Map

“© OpenStreetMap contributors” https://www.openstreetmap.org/copyright

Clerkenwell to the Thames

In Phoenix Place I bumped into fellow River Fleet Walkers, Bart and Tracey, looking into the excavations at the old Mount Pleasant Parcel Sorting Office that was destroyed by an incendiary bomb on 18th June 1943. Bart shone his torch through the grates of a man-hole cover and there sparkled the waters of the Fleet deep beneath our feet – it was a magical moment.
The site is now the focus of a large redevelopment by Taylor Wimpey called ‘Postmark’. Developers are referring to the ‘River Fleet corridor’ as a zone of development opportunity. Reading the shape of the land the Fleet appears to flow right through the blocks of new flats but then runs next to a row of houses in Dorrington Street dating from 1720 built before the river was forced underground, which seems an usual place to build such a row of fine houses. The Ordnance Survey map of 1868 to 1873 does show a dotted line, most likely indicating a boundary of some sort (Parish?), running down Kings Cross Road, down Phoenix Place and into Warner Street and Ray Street to Farringdon Road. In other words following the Fleet. And we know that rivers were often used to demarcate boundaries. Which would indeed place the river running around the western side of the terrace in Dorrington Street.

John Rogers River Fleet

River Fleet photo by Tracey

River Fleet

Hockley-in-the-hole

By now the light had faded to darkness – the best time to perambulate this dark river valley. The sloping streets of Little Italy rise out of the Fleet to Clerkenwell Road. Outside the Coach and Horses pub in Ray Street we get another great view of the Fleet. Tom Bolton mentions this in his post on Londonist. In Springs, Streams and Spas of London History and Associations published in 1910, Alfred Stanley Foord writes:
“One writer, Mr J.G Waller points out that the holes that gave the Saxon name to the Holebourne are still marked by the sites of Hockley-in-the-hole now Ray Street Clerkenwell-and Black Mary’s Hole, Bagnigge Wells.”
Bart shone his torch down the two street irons in the road illuminating the ‘holes’ down into the Holebourne. The Victorian bricks glowed white in the torchlight and the Fleet could be clearly seen, and be heard loudly flowing.

“Another ‘hole,’ of worse repute, was in the immediate vicinity, and is better known to the reader of London literature as ‘Hockley-in- the-Hole.’ There assembled on Sundays and holidays the Smithfield butchers, the knackers of Tummill Street, and the less respectable denizens of Field Lane”, Chambers Book of Days, pub. 1888

My temporary companions departed at this point and I crossed the river at Kings Cross Road to visit the site of the Clerks’ Well at 14 – 16 Farringdon Lane. From here we pass straight along Farringdon Road sploshing in the waters of the Fleet where once sail barges brought cargos to the dockside. You can detour into Saffron Hill to visit Dickens’ One Tun pub as mentioned in Oliver Twist, or along Fleet Street to visit the Bride’s Well at Bridewell Church. If you climb the stairs to Holborn Viaduct you get a fantastic view back along the River Valley in both directions.

River Fleet drawing

From Springs, Streams and Spas of London History and Associations published in 1910, Alfred Stanley Foord

The final section of the walk takes us down into the underpass at Blackfriars Station and out onto the Victoria Embankment to look out into the Thames and imagine when this was once a busy dockside at the mouth of the Fleet stretching back through time at least to the days of Roman London. Although reduced to the status of a sewer, the waters of the Fleet still flow on beneath the streets.

 

More Lost Rivers of London walks can be found here

The Tyburn

The Walbrook

The Philley Brook (Fillebrook)

The Black Ditch

The Cran Brook

The Shortlands Stream

Save St. Luke’s Gardens


A lunchtime diversion round Ironmonger Row Baths took me past Burnhill House, Islington where the residents have draped banners on the balconies in protest against Islington Council’s redevelopment plans for the St. Luke’s area. Early proposals threaten to cast St. Luke’s Gardens and Burnhill House into permanent shadow it seems. London is annotated with hundreds of such conflicts.

You can read more here

And there’s a petition on Change.org