Whilst staying in London for the weekend a couple of weeks ago and after a fortifying breakfast in the shadow of the meat markets at John Torode’s restaurant, Smiths of Smithfield – the best scrambled eggs in this part of town – I set out to find some unusual street art that I had read about.
At the end of the market, close to the new Crossrail site, concrete bollards to prevent construction vehicles entering the site had been painstakingly transformed into miniature tower blocks by the German artist Evol.
In fact a whole estate had been created with stencils!
Despite the rain and cold I headed up to Shoreditch and Spitalfields, two areas of East London that I return to again and again.
I first discovered this part of London’s East End some years ago whilst visiting the wonderful Columbia Road Flower Market. Here are a few photos that I took at the time.
Every Sunday morning come rain or shine, flower sellers and plant growers set up their stalls up in the middle of Columbia Road. By mid morning there is scarcely room to squeeze through the crowds of people with their armfuls of flowers and bags full of plants to see all the wonderful blooms on sale-and all at such reasonable prices too! The side streets and shops take on a carnival atmosphere with food stalls and buskers adding to the general mêlée.
From here Brick Lane and Spitalfields markets are but a short stroll away.
Today though, instead of heading to the flower market I made my way to St Leonards Church on Shoreditch High Street. One of the “Oranges and Lemons” churches (when I grow rich say the bells of Shoreditch). Viewers of the TV comedy series “Rev” will readily recognise it.
This historic church designed by George Dance the Elder, situated on the junction where once all the roman roads joined, was once known as the Actors Church. Within its crypt are buried some early theatrical figures and three members of the Burbage family, James, who built the first English theatre, Cuthbert, who built the Globe and Richard who was the first actor to play Macbeth!
On the corner of Calvert Avenue I noticed a unique wooden coffee stall established in 1919 – unfortunately it was closed so a quick warming coffee in the nearby Paper and Cup café was most welcome.
On to Arnold Circus at the end of the avenue – I recently began subscribing to “Spitalfields Life” a daily blog written by the anonymous “Gentle Author” and had read about the history of this fascinating area.
The area known as Friars Mount, originally an infamous rookery, was one of the earliest slum clearance programmes by a local authority.
The new development became the Boundary Estate, one of the first Council housing projects, with Arnold Circus at its centre.
The multi storey brick tenements radiate out from the Circus
The demolition rubble was used to form the gardens at the centre of the circus which today still has its bandstand. A lively Friends group continue to actively maintain and protect this unusual community green space.
A short walk away I found two captured Napoleonic cannons set into the pavement to act as bollards. These are believed to be the models for all other similar bollards cast and still found across many of London’s streets.
Just around the corner in Chance Street I came across another street artist’s work. A giant hedgehog this time courtesy of the Belgian artist Roa.
Crossing Bethnal Green Road and heading towards Brick Lane despite the chilly wind and rain the stall holders were out in force.
Once in Brick Lane the market was in its usual full swing with all manner of pitches selling all manner of things!
The tantalising smells of the myriad of cuisines on offer from the food stalls and the clatter of the counters on the carrom boards couldn’t help but lift the spirits on this cold and cheerless day.
Another Roa artwork appeared, this time in the form of a huge crane in Hanbury Street.
A familiar rat wielding a saw was also spotted on the corner of Brick Lane – is it a genuine Banksy though?
A visit to the Brick Lane Bookshop was a must as I wanted to purchase the Spitalfields Life book of the blogs both of which offer fascinating insights into the people, places and history of this part of London.
Last week I found out that the Museum of Immigration and Diversity otherwise known as 19 Princelet Street was open today and although queues were expected I headed off to join the others hoping to visit this unique piece of East End history.
After an hours wait all was revealed. Understandably photography was not allowed inside due to the fragile nature of the building.
The original house was built on a green field site in 1719 and was for many years a private house inhabited at one point by a refugee Huguenot family of weavers, the Ogiers.The bobbin hanging outside above the front door is a reminder that this was the home of a master silk weaver.
In 1869 the house was leased to a Jewish Friendly Society who built over the rear garden to turn the space into a synagogue.
Much work and funds are needed to stabilise this extraordinary building which charts the diversity of this area with the arrival of many dispossessed communities over the centuries. But it is a building that lingers long in the memory and is well worth a visit.
The street scene in this neighbourhood never fails to delight-no wonder it is one of the in places to live once again-history has come full circle.
Around the corner and up Fournier Street is the Old Spitalfields Market once famous for its fruit and vegetables until it closed on this site in 1991 and now refurbished with a funky glass roof affording unusual views of Christ Church.
It is now home to modern and vintage fashions, crafts and eateries and was coming to the end of another busy Sunday.
So was I as I headed off to catch the tube home after another memorable and fascinating day exploring this, to me, very special part of London far removed from the usual tourist trail.