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.

Walk along the Walbrook – the City of London’s Lost River

I first did a version of this walk along the Walbrook back in November 2011, but was keen to return starting nearer to one of the supposed sources and also visit the recently opened London Mithraeum that sits upon the banks for this ancient stream. The route I followed in early December, drew from two principle sources – Nicholas Barton’s classic book, The Lost Rivers of London, and a sketch map of London Under Henry II by Marjourie B. Honeybourne from Norman London – An Essay by Professor F.M Stenton (pub. 1934). Stenton’s essay and the map is informed by a contemporary Norman description of London by William Fitz Stephen.

London Mithraeum

The route starts at St. Leonard’s Church Shoreditch, and goes past the Shoreditch Holy Well in Bateman’s Row. From here it follows the course of the river down Curtain Road to Blomfield Street where it was partially excavated during Crossrail works. Then we cross London Wall and go through Angel Court where another part of the river was uncovered in the 1970’s. We go behind the Bank of England at Lothbury then follow the buried river down Walbrook to the Temple of Mithras. From here we go down Dowgate Hill to where the Walbrook makes it’s confluence with the Thames near Canon Street Station.


Click here to see my video of another walk along one of the ‘Lost rivers of London’ – the Tyburn


The East-West Passage – Stratford to the City via Bethnal Green

Fresh off the train from Ramsgate into Stratford International I needed to stretch my legs so set off Westwards. Cutting down beside the Copper Box Arena and along the Lea Navigation towpath I crossed onto the Hertford Union Canal – which connects the Lea Navigation to the Regent’s Canal.

I emerged onto Roman Road as the sunset started to light up the blocks of flats above the shops. I follow the ancient London to Norwich route through Globe Town and Bethnal Green to the junction with Shoreditch High Street, itself the Roman Ermine Street striking north through the Hertfordshire countryside and beyond continuing north through Lincoln to York. On the other side of this two millenia old confluence is the narrow lane, Holywell Street associated with the Shoreditch Holy Well and the Holywell Priory, although the site of the Holy well has been reported as being in nearby Bateman’s Row.

I’m sucked into the belly of the Barbican, escaping across the modern A1 North Road and down Long Lane through Smithfield. I always get the shivers passing across the ‘Smooth Field’ as this is where my namesake, John Rogers the Martyr was burnt at the stake on 4th February 1555.

John Rogers Martyr

My feet lead me to the road that links me to the place of the my birth, the A40, and where John Rogers the Martyr was vicar at St. Sepulchre. I pay my respects to the great heretic then head for the Central Line at Chancery Lane.