London: Deaths, Executions, Markets Etc
More wanderings toward the Thames bring me to the Bourne Estate, not the name of a film starring Matt Damon but an Edwardian housing estate in the middle of Holborn that few office workers get to see. Constructed from 1905–1909, it’s regarded as one of London’s best examples of tenement housing. Most of the blocks are listed. The design has international significance because it was the model for Vienna’s houses built after the First World War.
The estate’s arches are covered in tilework, and the whole neighbourhood (which I didn’t know existed, despite living almost on top of it) seems undamaged by bombs, a rarity in central London. It also throws up some unexpected views around corners, like this one featuring a peculiarly narrow church (I can’t recall its name – St Stephens? But it’s not normally seen from this side.)
On to Leather Lane, which on this fine morning was just setting up its market stalls and getting ready for the day’s first customer. But who are its customers? Not the city boys – the residents of the Bourne Estate use it, and there’s a strong sense of local community still here, which is unusual so close to the West End.
Now I’m across the street heading to Hatton Garden, its jewellery shops not yet open. It’s still hard not to think of the old-school diamond robbery that took place there; the senior-age robbers (genuinely pulling one last job) got caught because they didn’t know that digital cameras could read number plates). There’s a fine traditional pub here that no longer appears to have a name other than ‘Public House’. Note the taxation avoiding bricked-up windows.
No two buildings along this stretch of Clerkenwell/Holborn appear to be the same. I love the mismatch, like a tea service that has had cups replaced over time.
As I was so close to the source of the Great Fire of London, I thought I should say good morning to the Golden Boy of Pie Corner, erected to warn against the ‘sin of gluttony’ that caused our fair city to burn to the ground. On September 2, 1666, Thomas Farrinor, baker to King Charles II, forgot to turn the oven off. Its embers ignited some firewood and by 1:00am, three hours after he went to bed, his house in Pudding Lane went up. Farrinor, his wife and daughter, escaped from an upstairs window, but the maid became the Great Fire’s first victim.
I thought I must have walked through every alleyway by now but they still have the power to surprise. Take this one, around the back of St Sepulchre, where little cottages appear to have been transported from the heart of the countryside.
Around the corner, in the ruined church garden, there’s another commemorative piece, but I was a bit rubbish and failed to note what it represents. Anyone?
Two moving items from inside the church; the first is the executioner’s bell from Newgate Prison, which was rung outside a condemned prisoner’s cell at midnight before their death, just in case they were starting to come to terms with impending oblivion.
And most tragic of all, this poor old cross cobbled together by survivors represented the deaths of 100 soldiers at the Battle of Loos. It stood marking the spot where they fell for three years. It has more dignity and grace than any gold-leafed crucifix knocked up by the Vatican.
The sun is high now, and there’s writing to be done. I return home with a plan for further visits that will actually involve a mode of transport, but to be honest, there are riches enough all around me within walking distance that could keep me going for many years.