De Beauvoir to Old Street (1.1m)

1/20 This route follows the footway suggested by ‘Central London Footways’– mapped network of quiet and interesting streets for walking, available from various bookshops (see Keep to the right hand side of the road for the whole route.

2/20 Start at the  junction of Downham and De Beauvoir Roads, next to the former Rose Lipman Library, closed 2012. It was named after a Hackney councillor. The building stands on the site of  the moated Balmes House built c.1540. The house with its surrounding estate, from Balls Pond Rd to the Canal, were bought by Richard de Beauvoir in 1686.

3/20 From 1756 to 1852 the house was an asylum for the mentally ill, one of a few in the area. It was run for a time by the notorious Thomas Warburton who ran other ‘mad houses’ in London Fields and Bethnal Green. Much money could be made then from looking after the mentally ill: rich as well as parish paupers.

4/20 Go down De Beauvoir Rd. The area left and right was developed for housing in the 1850s by the Benyons, heirs of the de Beauvoirs. Either side of road was compulsorily purchased and redeveloped in the 1960s as De Beauvoir estate; the blocks were named after places in the Channel Islands. The de Beauvoir familyoriginally came from Guernsey

5/20 Whitmore Bridge crosses the Regent’s Canal completed in 1820 through open fields connecting London’s docks, then  at Limehouse,  to the Grand Union Canal at Paddington. Continue along  Whitmore Rd, on the line of the coachway to Balmes House, once owned by the Whitmore family. Royalists, they entertained Charles I there in 1641.

6/20. Crossing the canal the route passes from what was the parish of Hackney into the parish of Shoreditch. Both became metropolitan boroughs of London in 1900 and were amalgamated in 1965 with Stoke Newington to form the London Borough of Hackney. Continue straight on past the £38m rebuild on the right of the Britannia Leisure Centre with flats and the City Academy, Shoreditch.

7/20 19 acres of Shoreditch Park are on the right. The area the park is now on was built up from the 1820s as far west as New North Rd with house-filled roads. These streets were badly bombed in WW2. Pre-fabs for bombed-out families and the remaining houses were demolished for laying out the park , which was opened in 1980, providing the only open space for miles around.

8/20 This part of Shoreditch is called Hoxton. From the late 1600s Hoxton had many plant nurseries. Hereabouts was the most famous one belonging to Thomas Fairchild. He produced scientifically in 1729 the first artificial hybrid: crossing a Sweet William with a Carnation Pink. The result came to be known as Fairchild’s Mule.

9/20 Continue down Pitfield Street, once a country lane and named for a family who bought land here in 1648. Across the road on the site of a health centre were from 1749 to 1881 Westby’s, or Old Maid’s, Almshouses for Protestant Ministers’ widows. The almshouses were one of 18 almshouses established in Shoreditch.

10/20 Also on the left note the Arden Estate and names of buildings marking Shakespeare’s association with Shoreditch. Walk on to see on the right the fine sweep down Crondall St. of the 1930s façade to St John’s School. Opposite is the Lion’s Boys Club (girls have also been members since 1997) rebuilt with flats above.

11/20 Next to Lion’s is private members’ Classic Car Club from where you can drive Jags, Porsches etc. StJohn’s Church, Hoxton, is  next on the right, built in 1826 for the growing population in this western part of Shoreditch parish. It is where Hoxton girl and Music Hall star Marie Lloyd, aged 17, married the first of her three  husbands.

12/20 Walk through the Churchyard to continue down Pitfield St. It was closed in 1857 for burials and opened in 1882 to the public as one of the few open spaces then in Shoreditch for people to take a stroll. Take care crossing the road to continue down the east side of Pitfield St towards the George and Vulture pub. The land here was owned by the the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers; look out for the name in local street names.

13/20 The Pitfield Estate opposite was built on an area badly bombed in WW2, between here and east towards Kingsland Rd. The estate contains the impressive Fairchild House with its attractive tiered, curved bays. Named after the famous plantsman already mentioned, it was opened in 1951 by the Minister for Health and NHS creator Nye Bevan. In the 1950s  Shoreditch was the top London borough in proportion of public housing provision per head of population.

14/20 Continue past the façade replicating the cinema first built in 1912. On to Aske’s Hospital formed in 1689 with money left by Robert Aske, a silk merchant and member of the Haberdasher’s Co in the City. It housed almshouses and a school and was rebuilt in 1827. In 1898 it was taken over as the Shoreditch Technical Institute to train workers for the building and local furniture trades.

15/20 The Haberdasher building was redeveloped in the late 1990s as flats. Opposite is the red brick and terracotta former Shoreditch Central Library. It was part of innovative Shoreditch’s ambitious group  of civiv buildings consisting of a library and public baths put up 1895-7. The adjoining baths were demolished. The library building was restored in 1955-6 after war damage.

16/20 Continue to the junction with Old Street – Ealdestrate in early medieval times. The road follows the line of a Roman, or pre-Roman, route from Colchester westwards. As of December 2020, this area is the subject of much development. Take care crossing Old St and Gt Eastern St by pelicon crossings to the obelisk opposite. Note, when not obscured by billboards, Hackney artist STIK’s work on a wall to your left.

17/20The obelisk was put up in 1880 to mark the laying out of  Great Eastern St which was an extension of Commercial Rd to take increasing traffic from London’s docks. Behind the obelisk is the original Old Street Fire Station, built in 1895. It closed in 1964 when the new station was built on the other side of Old St. Walk down Tabernacle Rd.

18/20 Tabernacle Rd is so named for a chapel built further down the street at the corner with Leonard St in 1741 by George Whitefield, one of the founders of Methodism. Turn right into Cowper St. Note high up on the wall at the corner ‘Borough of Finsbury Boundary 1900,’. Finsbury became part of the London Borough of Islington in 1965.

19/20 Walk down the street past the Central Foundation Boy’s School.  With academies for gentlemen and much done for the education of poor children in London, this school was established for middle class education in 1866. The school moved here three years later to new premises built in the shadow of the City’s wealth.

20/20 Current building work blocks the end of the road to Old Street ‘Silicon’ roundabout, so nicknamed due to the high number of web businesses in the vicinity. The area is ‘the world’s third largest tech hub’ claimed the Hackney Gazette in 2015. TFL works to make the station easier for pedestrian access are to complete in 2022.

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