Welcome to the newsletter of Clerkenwell & Islington Guides, walks and events for April, and to start, some information about some free walks that are taking place this coming Wednesday, the 5th of April:

The following walks take place during April, with some running into May:

Burnings, Butchery & Black Death: London’s Bloody Past

Travel through a thousand years of history, meeting kings, body snatchers, Charles Dickens, an eighteenth century ghost, and William Wallace – aka Braveheart (and learn how he was in no fit state to shout “Freeeedoooommmm!” whilst being executed!)

On our guided walking tour we’ll visit the areas around Smithfield, for centuries London’s site of both animal and human slaughter. We’ll learn about how the city disposed of the tens of thousands of Black Death corpses in the fourteenth century, the execution methods used in the Middle Ages, and how the area became a notorious slum which Dickens used as the setting for Oliver Twist.

The guided walking tour begins outside Barbican Station, ends near to Farringdon Station, and will take around two hours. Total distance is about two miles.

Ticket sales will be limited to circa ten attendees, to ensure maximum enjoyment for everybody on the tour.

The walk takes place on alternating Fridays and Saturdays, starting at 11:00. The first two dates are Friday 7th April and Saturday 15th April. The walk can be booked at this link.

Islington Health and History Walks

We are pleased to be offering this series of free health and history walks in local parks, organised in conjunction with Islington Council. These walks offer the chance to stroll at a gentle pace and appreciate nature, whilst also hearing about fascinating local history. They are running on the last Friday of each month and last 75-90 minutes, with opportunities for a short break where needed.

This month, our walk is on Friday 28th April in Rosemary Gardens N1 and will be led by our guide Lesley Thompson. This local park offers grassy and wilder woodland areas, planting to encourage wildlife, a tree that grows beans and a football training pitch opened by Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger! Centuries ago, archery was a popular sport here, then the local inn’s pleasure gardens and country air attracted visitors from the City until a lead factory was built on the site. We will also learn more about the intriguing local history, including the nearby canal, houses and warehouses.

The Walk Date is the 28th April 2023 at 11.00 am and can be booked at this link.

St Mary’s Church, Islington – A Guided Tour

Discover the history of Islington’s first parish church and enjoy a panoramic view across London from its 18th-century tower.

St Mary’s, Islington on Upper Street has played a central role in the history of Islington for a thousand years. During this time several different churches have stood on the site, leaving an eclectic range of architectural styles.

On this 90-minute guided tour you’ll learn about the 12th-century Norman church and its 15th-century medieval successor. In the 18th century it was completely rebuilt, lasting until 1940 when St Mary’s became the first London church to be destroyed in World War II. Only the tower and steeple survived the bomb; the main body of the church was rebuilt in 1956, a fascinating example of post-war reconstruction and design.

As well as providing a glimpse into the history of St Mary’s and how it has influenced Islington today, you’ll also have the opportunity to climb the 120 steps to the top of tower, giving you a bird’s-eye view over London.

This tour is now booking until the end of May, and tickets can be found at this link.

Canonbury Tower Tour

Canonbury Tower Tour’s have been booking up very quickly, however there are a couple of dates in April with availablity and more dates have been added, The tour includes the opportunity to see inside the oldest building in Islington and enjoy a magnificent view for miles over London from the roof of its tower.

The Canonbury Tower Tour can be booked here.

Art Deco Arsenal and Finsbury Park

On this walking tour we’ll look at some interwar buildings and see how the clean lines and design devices of the Art Deco era have continued to inspire architects and designers.

You’ll see a cross-section of architectural styles. We’ll look at and talk about gorgeous places of entertainment, companies that strived to keep up with the zeitgeist, an impressive sports ground, well-proportioned residential properties and a renovation scheme that was started but never completed.

We’ll talk about typography and letterform, and how the design ethos of this era has endured through subsequent decades. 

The walk lasts just under two hours and starts near Arsenal tube station, ending close to Finsbury Park station.

This walk takes place on Saturday 8th April and can be booked at this link.

Art Deco Holloway – architectural delights of the 1930s

On this guided walk, lasting just under two hours, we’ll look at some marvellous ‘statement’ architecture constructed in the interwar years during a design period that later came to be identified as ‘Art Deco’.

The modernist architecture of the Jazz Age era with its clean geometric lines, simplicity, functionality and minimal decorative enhancement was designed to impress and inspire – a kind of “understated showing-off” pointing to a positive bright future – a complete change from the fussiness and over-embellishments of the Victorian and Edwardian periods.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Holloway continued to be one of north London’s major shopping and entertainment destinations and many of businesses here were keen to keep up with the designs of the time. This means there are some excellent examples of modernism and deco style hiding in plain view at almost at every junction. We’ll look at a cross section of buildings and styles, including places of entertainment, commerce and health as well as manufactories and housing developments.

This walk takes place on Saturday 8th April and can be booked at this link.

Islington’s Golden Mile – drapery, corsetry and fancy goods

This stretch of the A1 was, in the past, known as Islington’s Golden Mile, offering top quality products in beautifully presented surroundings – a truly A1 shopping experience.

Along this route, from Highbury Corner to Islington Green, you’ll see how Georgian houses were converted into fancy Victorian emporiums, complete with gilded signage, polished brass and decadent displays set within curved glass windows.

Learn how the street became a magnet for wealthy young Victorian ladies who came here to purchase items for their wedding trousseaus, such as handmade corsetry, beautiful shoes, luxurious fabrics and unusual household goods. Gentlemen and children were well-served too, with a good selection of outfitters offering clothing for all occasions.

Hints of these bygone times are still visible today within the fabric of these old buildings. See evidence of, and hear about, umbrella makers, milliners, provisions stores, tea rooms, furriers, furnishers, tailors, toy shops and other novelties.

We will also see at how this thoroughfare has evolved through the twentieth century as we stop to look at some modern architecture that has made its mark on this colourful and vibrant shopping and entertainment street.

This walk takes place on Monday 10th April and can be booked at this link.

All change at Farringdon: how railways and roads have affected the area

The arrival of the Metropolitan Railway in 1863 was the just start of dramatic changes around Farringdon and Clerkenwell. The railways soon expanded not just for passengers by also for freight, in particular there was a huge underground goods depot serving Smithfield meat market. In addition, in the 1870s, a number of new roads were carved through what were then some of London’s worst slums.

Historically railways were important for transporting mail and up the road from Farringdon is one of London’s largest sorting office. In the late 1920s this gained its own underground railway to link with other main sorting offices in central London.

More recently, the railways have been revitalised. In the 1990s a new north-south route, Thameslink was opened and just last year a new east-west railway, the Elizabeth line opened, making Farringdon the epicentre of railways in London.

Join this tour to discover the impact of new railways and roads in the 19th century on this historic area and how transport continues to shape the area today.

An Islington Guided Walk in conjunction with Islington Local History Centre. This tour ends at the Centre where you will have an opportunity to visit a free exhibition celebrating 160 years of the Metropolitan Railway and it’s initial terminus at Farringdon. (This exhibition runs from 6 March to 27 May if you wish to make a separate visit).

The walk takes place on Saturday 15th April and can be booked at this link.

The Only Way Is Essex Road

We’ll walk the full length of this street, from Islington Green up to its junction with Balls Pond Road (just over one mile) and along the way we will stop to look at historical sites and marvel at how this important road into London has changed throughout the centuries.

Find out about an innovative market, an early care home, various alcoholic beverages, Georgian floor coverings and amazing Elizabethan establishments.

Admire a variety of interesting buildings and developments that tell us so much about the history of this road, with references to theatres and entertainment, social housing, sport and manufacture. We’ll look at the bones of a swimming pool, a cloned church and an Egyptian Temple.

It’s a marvellous mixed bag… but then so is Islington… and that’s why we love it.

This walk takes place on Monday 10th April and can be booked at this link.

Evolving Islington

Discover how Islington developed from a rural settlement and centre for dairy farming into the diverse, bustling area it is today.

In 1086 the Domesday Book reported that Islington contained just 27 households. Today its quarter-of-a-million residents live in an area that’s often mocked as being the natural habitat of a wealthy ‘metropolitan elite’ but also has one of the highest percentages of child poverty in the country.

The story of how Islington developed over the centuries provides many tales of social, cultural and political history. The walk takes in many of central Islington’s most fascinating sites – some well-known and others even locals may not be familiar with.

You’ll see a Tudor house that’s been in the same family since the 16th century, the first church bombed in World War II and some of the pioneering homes built in the early 20th century as Islington’s population boomed. You’ll also find out how the world-famous Union Chapel got its name and why you should never graffiti in a library book…

The tour lasts about 2 hours. It starts at Highbury & Islington station (we’ll meet at the round benches near the station) and ends in Islington Square off Upper Street, a 10-minute walk from both Angel and Highbury & Islington stations.

This walk takes place on Saturday 29th April and can be booked on this link.

With longer days and (hopefully) warmer weather, the above walks provide an opportunity to get out on the streets, explore and learn about the fascinating history of Islington and Clerkenwell.