Welcome to the March edition of the Clerkenwell & Islington Guides newsletter.
As hopefully the weather starts to improve and the days become longer, there are plenty of walks available to explore Clerkenwell and Islington, and this months edition brings a range of guided walks throughout March and April, starting with a tour of St. Mary’s Church which includes the opportunity to climb the tower and see views of the city from this Islington high point:
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 Pastimes: 400 Years of Entertainment
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+
Waterways, Wharves and Warehouses
Today the tow path is open to all, lined with colourful houseboats, waterside apartments and offices, well-used by walkers, cyclists and joggers. We use it to experience a bit of calm and quiet away from the bustle of the shops and the cars. But it wasn’t always so lovely.
This 200 year old waterway from Paddington to Limehouse has a rich history. It was constructed to link the north of England to London’s docklands on the River Thames providing a low-impact distribution network for heavy goods. The businesses that lined the water’s edge were dirty, noisy, dangerous hives of industry and manufacture.
The canal follows the boundary between Islington (old Finsbury) and Hackney (old Shoreditch) and along the way you’ll hear about the various products that were manufactured, stored and distributed from the wharves here. Find out why the tow paths become no-go zones and the old warehouse buildings fell into disuse. And learn how the area was later regenerated and transformed into the envirnment that we see and enjoy today.
Look At The Estate We’re In: philanthropy and social housing
Join me to visit and admire an interesting cross-section of impressive social housing estates.
We’ll walk through Victorian, Edwardian and pre-WWII developments made possible by concerned and innovative benefactors. These we’ll compare with early London County Council estates and the London Borough of Islington’s more recent schemes. It’s a delightful route that always surprises.
Find out about the philanthropists and how they made their money. Learn about the architects behind the some of the schemes and how their cleverly-designed and solid-built constructions brought about a sense of pride and well-being. These well-maintained estates still look marvellous today.
Fables, Fashions & Feasts
200 years in 2 hours. Philip takes you on a memorable and cultural tour de force, reviewing historic sites like the Caledonian Market, Pentonville Prison and the Islington Workhouse, also visiting the chic squares of Barnsbury and checking out, metaphorically, the wide-ranging dining and entertainment currently
to be had on and close to Upper Street.
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.
Oh What a Circus… The Elephants Escape
In 1884 Sanger’s Circus arrived at the south-east corner of Parliament Fields. During the unloading process two of the four performing elephants got unusually spooked and broke free of the yard, fleeing through nearby streets, causing mayhem and excitement along the way.
Ida and Palm’s journey ended in N19 where they had managed to trap themselves in a basement space between two residential houses. Luckily, the elephants were unharmed, although there were some extraneous casualties along the way, and, after being rescued, they walked to the circus site and the show went on as planned, no doubt better attended than previously expected.
This walking tour follows the whole of the elephants’ rampaging route to see the kind of obstacles these two lost and confused beasts would have experienced along the way.
We’ll admire Georgian streets, Victorian terraces, cobbled lanes and narrow little alleys including a row of cottages in Little Green Street which was only recently saved from demolition. Learn about the real “Greatest Showman” and what was one of the biggest circus companies in the world at that time. Hear about music, Margate and monkeys. See how the arrival of railways changed the area. It all helps to make this a really evocative tour.
The Diary of a Nobody – Mr Pooter’s Victorian Holloway
The Diary of a Nobody is a much-loved amusing work of fiction by the artistic brothers George and Weedon Grossmith. Still well-loved and in publication today, the diary satirises the Victorian middle classes of that era.
You won’t need to have already read the book to enjoy this tour, but I am sure you’ll want to afterwards.
The action takes place in the Holloway area and this guided walk brings the book and the characters to life, looking at where they might have lived and shopped (had they been real).
Mr Pooter’s daily musings were originally written as a column in Punch magazine during 1888 and due to its success it was extended and published in book form in 1892.
The Victorian-era middle-class Upper Holloway that Charles Pooter and co might have experienced isn’t really that far removed from life today – for instance, we also try out the latest new fads and products with often amusing results, we trust the laundry with our clothes, and we complain about disreputable tradesmen.
See where the subtly amusing characters might have lived, where they would have purchased some of the items mentioned in the book, how they travelled, and what they ate and drank (and they seemed to drink quite a lot!). Many buildings and hints of that time are still with us today in the form of houses, shops, signage and street furniture.
You’ll hear about Charles’ arguments with the ironmonger, the shirt dresser and the stationer, his relationship with his unconventional son, his nights out, and his holidays on the coast.
Be prepared to roll your eyes at Pooter’s clunky puns and deluded observations – I’ve also found a few more places, products and people that, had Mr Pooter been a real person, he would have found highly pun-tastic..!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Thanks for subscribing to the Clerkenwell & Islington website and we hope to see you on a walk.