As it’s Friday, we thought after work we might go somewhere warm and friendly for a cup of coffee and a slice of cake. In the event, it didn’t work out that way…
In Borough, we boarded the 35 bus that would take us to Liverpool Street but just as I was dreaming of Ponti’s or Costa or Polo 24 Hour Bar, Tigger suggested we stay on the bus to its terminus in Shoreditch. OK, well, maybe they have coffee and cake in Shoreditch…
This is where the bus brought us, to the front of Shoreditch Town Hall, which I previously mentioned in Two saints and a city farm. Shoreditch was once a borough in its own right but was eventually absorbed into the Borough of Hackney, making the town hall redundant.
We then went for a little walk around Hoxton, or Hogsdon, as it appears in early records. Once a rural area with farms and villages, Hoxton was first colonized by the well-to-do who wanted to live in a pleasant environment out of town but within easy reach of the city and then became built up as the city spread inexorably outwards and enveloped the once leafy surroundings.
This park or garden forms the centre of Hoxton Square. The square was laid out in the late 17th century but the area suffered badly from bombing during the Second World War and the buildings today are an eclectic mix of ancient and modern.
On the square, I spotted this tall, thin house. I have no idea how old it is (I am very good at knowing the age of houses that have a date on them but this one has no date!). It might even be one of the original houses from the 17th century.
I was intrigued by the rather ecclesiastical air that it possesses, which is emphasised by this niche which looks as though it should contain a statue.
Has the statue been damaged and removed or was there never a statue to start with?
On the other hand, there is no doubt about the ecclesiastical credentials of this pair of buildings. On the left is St Monica’s Church and on the right, the Priory of St Monica, both designed by Edward Welby Pugin. The church was completed in 1866, two years later than the priory which was occupied by the Augustinian order of friars. St Monica’s was the first Augustinian priory in England after the Reformation.
In Pitfield Street, we found the Passmore Edwards Free Library. John Passmore Edwards was another member of that elite class of Victorian philanthropists. He set up hospitals, libraries, schools, and many other charitable foundations. This library was opened in 1897 but became redundant when the new Central Library was opened in the 1990s. It then became the home of the Courtyard Theatre and thus continues to serve the community in the spirit of its founder.
Further along Pitfield Street, in what was once called Haberdashers Place (1802), I was happy to find another installation provided by the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association (MDFCTA). How old do you reckon this one is? Happily, I can tell you because at one end it bears a rather unusual inscription: “In Memory of a Beloved Friend 1910”. That stopped me in my tracks because it is obviously a personal tribute, yet it is on a trough provided by an association. An interesting little mystery.
It wasn’t the end of the surprises, however, because not far away I found another piece of MDFCTA work in the form of this drinking fountain. Note the little dog bowl, obviously intended for small pet dogs. This fountain has no date on it but it is very similar in design to one shown in the MDFCTA literature for 1878. Note how the railings are designed to incorporate the fountain.
This is the Church of St John the Baptist, Hoxton. Built to serve the growing population of the area, it was opened in 1826. Perhaps the railings were installed later, even after the drinking fountain, and were designed to accommodate it or perhaps the fountain is earlier than 1878. It’s hard to know.
The church has at least two of these handsome, if soberly designed, gates. Here is a close-up of one of the lions’ faces.
After the mild spell, the temperature has plummeted again. We were feeling the cold and decided it was time to go home. We walked through to City Road and caught the 214 to the Angel. We didn’t after all find our coffee and cake but made up for it with a cheese and celery sandwich at home.
On a short walk, we could only sample what the area has to offer. I know there are many other interesting things to see and investigate. They will provide motive and material for future visits.