Welcome to the July 2023 issue of the Clerkenwell & Islington Guides newsletter, and this month we have a wide range of walks and tours available. Whether you want to explore the history of the area, look at the view from some spectacular high points, or just to get out and learn more about this historic area – there will be something of interest in the following listing:
Caledonian Tower Tours
Tours take place on Saturdays and, during the summer, on some weekday evenings. The Saturday Tours cover the history of the Tower and Park while the weekday tours are shorter looking at the Clock and its mechanisms as well as affording the views from the top of the Tower.
Our guided tours are led by highly experienced guides from Islington Guided Walks. Tours are free currently as part of our introductory offer. Space will be strictly limited to 10 places so please book in advance. We will be operating a waiting list due to high demand.
I ticket is required per person (this includes children over 10. No ticket = no entry, if the tour is at capacity).
Dates are available during July and August. The booking link is here and the drop menu lists all available dates.
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.
Islington’s Big Screens: From Silents to Super-Cinemas
A stroll through more than 100 years of Islington cinema-going; all between Angel and Essex Road stations. We’ll encounter Victorian showmen, architectural wonders and tales of bad behaviour in the stalls. Come to discover hidden gems and hear what a night ‘at the flicks’ was like decades before multiplexes.
In addition to such landmarks as the Screen on the Green, you’ll see some buildings that were once cinemas as well as a few intriguing places where all trace of their cinematic past has vanished.
Canonbury Tower Tour
Canonbury Tower was built in the late 16th century and is a rare survivor of Tudor domestic architecture in London. The Tower was added onto a manor house built in the early 1500s as the country retreat of the Canons of St Bartholomew’s Priory in Smithfield.
On this 90-minute tour you’ll see the existing Tudor interiors and hear about the many notable characters associated with the building. Over the centuries these have included Thomas Cromwell of Wolf Hall fame, Henry VIII’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, Francis Bacon and the writers Washington Irving (Sleepy Hollow) and Oliver Goldsmith (The Vicar of Wakefield). You’ll also have the chance to climb up to the rooftop which affords wonderful views over London in all directions.
Canonbury Tower is owned by the Marquess of Northampton and has been in the same family since the 16th century. All visitors are guests of the seventh Marquess, Spencer Compton.
This tour takes place on multiple dates in July and August, and can be booked at this link.
Islington’s enchanted paradise. See fine Georgian squares, secret gardens and London’s smallest nature reserve, while learning about the area’s history.
Dating back to the Domesday Book of 1086, Barnsbury was for centuries a rural manor set back a little from the busy Islington main road of Upper Street.
In the 18th century its open fields, fresh water springs, pleasure gardens (and forerunner of the world’s most famous cricket ground) were built over by 18th century developers. This brought the growing middle classes into the area, but in the 19th century it was not immune to industrialisation, overcrowding and a workhouse for the poor.
Today, Barnsbury is one of inner London’s most beautiful areas, tucked away between Upper Street and Caledonian Road.
Start: Angel tube station
Finish: Close to Caledonian Road & Barnsbury Overground station, or a short walk to Highbury & Islington or Caledonian Road tube stations.
The walk lasts around two hours. Please be prepared for all weather conditions!
“Such a wonderful walk around one of the loveliest parts of London” May 2023
“A great afternoon visiting a part of Islington I thought I knew but found out more and more about!” May 2023
Walk Date: 5th August 2023 2pm and the walk can be booked at this link.
Clerkenwell: London’s First Suburb
Monks, nuns, courthouses, rookeries, radicals, distillers, pubs, crafts, trades and architecture.
On this circular walk from/to Farringdon Station, now one of the best connected stations in all of London, you will:
• Learn about Clerkenwell’s Norman and medieval heritage as the location of a Priory and a Nunnery in fields north of the City of London.
• Discover Clerkenwell’s tradition for radicalism, dissent and protest.
• Understand its growth from rural monastic quarter to the first area to be swallowed up by creeping urbanisation.
• Find out Clerkenwell’s history as a centre for makers of clocks, watches, jewellery and furniture; for brewers and distillers; and for crime and vice.
• See the site of the historic court houses of the lost county of Middlesex.
• Admire architecture from the 16th to the 21st centuries in a visually attractive village-like area.
• Have a rare opportunity to see the Clerk’s Well that gave the area its name.
The walk lasts approximately two hours. Please be prepared for all weather conditions!
Start: Farringdon Station forecourt (opposite Castle pub, Cowcross Street/Turnmill Street)
Finish: Farringdon Station
“Thanks for a great walk.” May 2023
“My wife, myself and a friend had a very enjoyable walk with Jonathan around Clerkenwell this afternoon and enjoyed the informative dialogue and the hidden places visited, all in all a great afternoon was had by the whole group, thank you.” May 2023
Walk Date: 23rd July 2023 2.30pm and the walk can be booked at this link.
Clerkenwell’s Lost Monasteries
This year Bart’s Hospital is celebrating its 900th anniversary on the same site that it was founded in 1123. It was originally part of St Bartholomew’s Priory, founded by a courtier of Henry 1 in thanks for surviving a bout of malaria while on pilgrimage to Rome. St Bartholomew’s was only one of four great religious houses in Clerkenwell that flourished for hundreds of years until Henry VIII closed them down. Come and see what is left of these once rich and influential priories and hear their stories – including the priors who lost their heads, the monks who went to war and the secret tunnels. Three of the Priories – St Bartholomew’s, The Charterhouse and the Order of St John – have a flourishing legacy to this day. Our tour does not go inside the surviving buildings but there are free museums that you can visit at both The Charterhouse and St John’s Gate and both also offer guided tours of their historic interiors. The tour meets at Farringdon Tube station. It takes about two hours and finishes with a visit to the Clerk’s Well which gave Clerkenwell its name.
Walk Dates: 12th July 2023 2pm, 29th July 2023 2pm, 10th August 2023 6pm, 26th August 2023 2pm, 6th September 2023 2pm, 16th September 2023 2pm, 30th September 2023 2pm and the walk can be booked at this link.
Walk in the footsteps of Shakespeare and Dickens and see contemporary art in London’s oldest parish church.
Since the middle-ages, when religious pageants were held on the banks of the River Fleet and entertainers performed at the annual Bartholomew’s Fair, Clerkenwell has been a part of London steeped in cultural history.
Theatre, literature, music, film, architecture, food, sculpture and visual art spanning the last 900 years are all covered as we wander the streets and alleys of this atmospheric neighbourhood.
In addition to following in the footsteps of William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens, along the way you’ll hear how William Morris, Agatha Christie, Vladimir Lenin, William Hogarth and Benjamin Franklin have all left their mark on Clerkenwell.
In London’s oldest parish church you’ll see a striking sculpture by one of Britain’s most controversial artists. Down hidden alleyways you’ll find out about one of London’s great 17th-century theatres, a pioneering architectural partnership and an unsung champion of classical music. You’ll also see why this historic area has been a location for some of Hollywood’s biggest movies. And you’ll get the chance to see close-up the site that gave Clerkenwell its name.
The tour lasts about 2 hours. It starts outside Barbican underground station (Hammersmith & City line) and ends at Farringdon station.
Walk Dates: Saturday the 22nd of July at 10.20am and Friday the 11th of August at 3pm and the walk can be booked at this link.
Bunhill Guided Walks: Bone Yard to Baths
Sitting between today’s financial district and the Angel, Islington’s Bunhill ward is named after an ancient bone yard. It was once marshland outside the walls of the City of London, but for a while offered spas and London’s first outdoor public swimming pool. As urbanisation swallowed the fields, the area became industrialised and populated by tradesmen, the poor and the sick.
The legacy of the past is still visible, but this walk will also reveal some hidden architectural gems and tranquil open spaces. Discover its nonconformist burial grounds, one of the oldest regiments in the British Army, its 90 year-old public baths and wash-house and one of London’s most unusual churches.
Meet outside Moorgate tube station, the western entrance on Moorfields (follow signposts to Exit 1).
Walk Date: 9 July 2023 2pm and the walk can be booked at this link.
Forgotten Fun: Islington’s Lost Entertainments
On this two-hour tour we’ll be walking through the many ways that Islington has met that most unusual of human needs: the need to have fun.
Fun, like all culture, is subject to the whims of fashion, and Islington is littered with traces of activities and institutions that have gone from ubiquity to obscurity. We’ll explore Islington’s time as a land of pastoral excess; the antics of various rock-n’-rollers; the food; the fads; and the fights.
The walk begins outside Angel station and ends near Highbury and Islington station. Due to some mature themes, the walk is recommended for ages 15+.
Walk Dates are:
15th July 2023 13:30
27th July 2023 13:30
29th July 2023 13:30
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.
The next newsletter will be on the first Sunday of August, and until then, we look forward to meeting you on one of the above walks.