Walk 14a - 2000 Years of Religion in the City of London - Part A

Link to an interactive version of the map

INTRODUCTION

A CIRCULAR WALK THROUGH TWO THOUSAND YEARS OF RELIGIOUS OBSERVANCE IN THE CITY.

London’s history can be told in many ways. This walk uses the rich history of worship and religious institutions to reflect on how London has evolved since Roman times, and the role religious observance has played in the lives of its citizens and their rulers. The commentary includes very brief descriptions of extant buildings, with links through to further detail. The scale and significance of the modern built environment demands acknowledgement of what now occupies the sites, with no visible presence. Material is largely drawn from The London Encyclopaedia (Weinreb et al) England’s Thousand Best Churches (Simon Jenkins) and Wikipedia. 

The full walk (parts A & B together) is just over six miles, and starts and ends at Liverpool Street Station. It could be started and finished at many points, as it passes close to Tube stations throughout the route. However, the instructions are split into two parts.

  • Part A (this one) starts at Liverpool Street Station and ends at St Paul's Tube Station. 
  • Part B starts at St Paul's Tube Station and ends back at Liverpool Street.
Exact timings are difficult to define, as it depends how much time you spend exploring each of the sites on the route.

At the end of Part A, you have a choice of either continuing immediately to Part B, or coming back to it at a later date. Breaking the walk into two parts will allow more time to visit the interiors of some of the sites. 


USING THE WALK

The walk is designed to be used directly from your phone. 
Just scroll down to start. 

There are links within the text to more information about things that are discussed in the walk. You can follow these up later if you wish. 

If you would rather use a printed version of the walk guide, you can download an optional PDF file from this link

The PDF version contains both Parts A & B of the walk.

In the walk: 

- Directions are shown in black text.

- History notes are shown in red text.


WALK 14a START

LIVERPOOL STREET TO GREY FRIARS PRIORY

The concourse of Liverpool Street station, just to the east of the Roman and mediaeval city, is an excellent spot to start the walk. This site captures the essence of London history, with almost 2,000 years of constantly evolving urban life beneath your feet. 

Go up the escalator adjacent to the main tube entrance, which leads up to Liverpool Street, and pause to look over the concourse below. 

The station was opened by the Great Eastern Railway Company in 1875. It is the third busiest station in London, with over 60 million passengers a year. A major reconstruction completed in 1991 transformed the atmospheric but chaotic Victorian Station into a very successful blend of 19th and 20th century architecture. The changes help the station to performs its modern function well, whilst also freeing up space above the eastern platforms to build 300,00 square metres of office space. 30 years later this is already being replaced to respond to the changing office market.

However, what lies beneath is a succession of  Roman, mediaeval and 17th century burial sites, and most famously the site of The Priory of St Mary Bethlem, founded in 1247. A hospital was attached in 1329 which had begun to specialise in “distracted” patients by 1377. At the dissolution of the Priory in 1547, on the orders of Henry VIII, the City acquired the hospital as an asylum. Following a number of relocations, most famously to the buildings currently occupied by the Imperial War Museum, the Bethlem Royal Hospital continues to serve patients at its current site in Beckenham. In the eighteenth century when it was located in nearby Moorgate, “Bedlam”, as it became known, was a source of fascination and entertainment to respectable affluent Londoners. People would pay to view the spectacle of distressed patients reacting in anguish to the cruel restraints and conditions that they lived in.


Leave the station and turn left onto Liverpool Street, on your left is the Great Eastern Hotel (built in 1884, and for many years the only hotel in the City) which has a plaque commemorating the Priory outside it. 

At the junction, with Bishopsgate to your right, is an array of very large skyscrapers stretching down into the heart of the city. Turn left and after a hundred yards or so cross the road to enter Brushfield Street. 

At the far end is Christ Church Spitalfields, a masterpiece by Nicholas Hawksmoor, framed on the left by the old Spitalfields market, and on the right by new office and retail developments which signal the eastward encroachment of the City into Tower Hamlets. 

The church dates from 1714, and was intended in part to serve the growing Huguenot population who had fled France, where they were denied freedom to pursue their protestant religion by Louis XIV. Christ Church is one of the fifty new churches promised by an Act of 1711. The new churches were to serve London’s growing suburban population. They were to be paid for by extending a tax on coal, originally imposed to replace the churches lost in the Great Fire. In reality only twelve were built.

Cross Commercial Street and proceed up the steps into the Church, described by Simon Jenkins as “London Baroque at its most self-confident” and well worth a visit.

Continue down Fournier Street, to the left of the church. 

The rectory at number 2 is also by Hawksmoor, and the artists Gilbert & George live at number 12. The street is emblematic of the gentrification of Spitalfields over the past forty years, from extreme poverty to one of London’s most sought after neighbourhoods. It now provides a very handsome streetscape, as it would have done when it was inhabited by the prosperous Huguenot silk merchants who were its first residents.

At the end of the street on the left is the Huguenot Chapel of 1743. Part of the rationale for the 1711 Act was a belief that the urban population was turning its back on the Church of England because of lack of accessibility. Here, in a pattern followed elsewhere, and despite the looming presence of Christ Church, the local population chose to build its own place of worship to meet its needs, rather than accepting the teaching and rituals of the established church.

Following the decline of silk weaving in the nineteenth century, due to pressure from imports and mechanisation, Spitalfields went into sharp economic decline and became the focus of successive waves of migration.  The Chapel housed a Wesleyan congregation in the early 19th century, and a Synagogue when the area was home to a large Jewish population at the turn of the 19th and 20th century. It subsequently became a Mosque when migrants from Bangladesh settled here from the 1970s onwards.  

Turn left into Brick Lane, now the traditional centre of the Bengali community, and famous for its curry restaurants. It is now transitioning to reflect the hipster gentrification of neighbouring Shoreditch. 

Turn first left into Princelet Street.

At No 19 is an unremarkable house which contains, behind its fa├žade, a hidden Synagogue. This totally transformed a once elegant Georgian residence, which had become a Victorian slum, into a spiritual and culturally significant space for the areas rapidly expanding Jewish population, who were seeking refuge from persecution in Tsarist Russia. Worship in improvised domestic spaces has been as much a part of London’s religious history as the endowment of grand churches, particularly for newly arrived migrant communities.

Turn right into Wilkes Street, then left into Hanbury Street. At the end of Hanbury Street, cross over Commercial Street , and go forward into Lamb Street with the Norman Foster designed redeveloped Spitalfields Market on your left. At the point where Lamb Street starts to veer to the right, keep going forward on the pedestrianised area. When you get to another road (Spitalfields Square) turn left into the newly created  Bishop’s Square, and walk along a little. 

This is the site of the Priory of St Mary Spital, founded in 1197 as a hospital run by Augustinian Canons, together with lay brothers and sisters. The Priory from which the surrounding neighbourhood derives its name functioned until the dissolution in 1538, at which time it had 180 beds with two patients in each. 


A short walk west into the square brings you to the underground remains of a Chapel with a Charnel House in its crypt, this was  revealed by the redevelopment, and is accessible by walking down some steps 
in a low glass-fenced area on the right. 

The chapel contained over 10,000 skeletons dating from the 12th century to 1539. This is claimed to be the greatest concentration of mediaeval burials ever discovered.

Retrace your steps and turn left into Spital Square and walk on to arrive at Bishopsgate

Bishopsgate was once the Roman Ermine Street, and the main road from London to Lincoln and York. Urban Roman burials took place outside of city walls, and the area to the east of Ermine Street was Roman London’s main cemetery from about 250 CE until London was largely abandoned in the fifth century. Rich families located large monuments to their forebears at the entrance to the city to proclaim their wealth and power.

Turn right, and walk along Bishopsgate. Pass Folgate Street on your right, then cross Bishopsgate at the next pedestrian crossing. Continue up Bishopsgate, and then turn first left into Worship Street. Follow Worship Street through to it’s junction with City Road. Turn right and continue up City Road, passing the HQ of the Honorary Artillery Company on your left, and continue to Wesley’s chapel, the self styled “Cathedral of World Methodism” on the right.


Beginning as a reform movement within the Church of England in the 1730’s, and led by John Wesley, by the time this chapel was opened in 1778, Methodism was evolving into a powerful challenger to the established church. This was particularly true among the urban middle class, the rural poor and the newly emerging working class. By the end of the century, the movement had broken from the church, and had become a denomination in its own right. The chapel was designed by George Dance the Younger, the architect of the Mansion House. Wesley’s House, 47 City Road, is in the grounds to the right. Wesley is buried behind the chapel, and there is a museum of Methodism in the crypt.

Opposite to the Chapel, across City Road, is the entrance to Bunhill Fields Burial Ground, cross over to it and go in. 

Although laid out by the City Corporation as a burial ground in 1665, it was never consecrated as a Church of England cemetery, enabling nonconformists to be buried according to their own practices. Here are graves and memorials to John Bunyan, William Blake and Daniel Defoe. In the adjoining Quaker graveyard lies George Fox, the founder of The Society of Friends. The growing attraction of dissenting Protestant sects through the 17th and 18th centuries is probably a better explanation for the decline of attendance at Church of England services than a shortage of church buildings. Despite this, the belief that more churches were key to the Church of England’s survival as the established church remained influential into the Victorian era.

Walk straight through the burial ground and exit on the other side. Cross Bunhill Row, turn left and first right into Dufferin Street. Carry on down Dufferin Street, and straight on into Fortune Street and then Fann Street.  At the junction of Fann Street and Viscount Street is “The Jewin Church”, a modern Welsh Presbyterian Church on the site of a 12th century Jewish burial ground. Continue to the end of Fann Street, turn left into Aldersgate Street, then cross the road and turn right into Carthusian Street. Turn right into Charterhouse Square.

This is the site of a Carthusian monastery founded in 1370 on land originally used as a burial ground for victims of the Black Death. The monks lived alone in “cells” which were small houses with gardens and workspaces. They ate together on Sundays and Feast days, and could talk to each other and leave the precincts for three hours after their shared meal. They had no personal possessions and were forbidden to eat meat.

Having initially enjoyed royal patronage from Edward III, the monks became disastrously embroiled in Henry VIII’s split from Rome. An invitation to Thomas Cromwell to discuss the Kings supremacy over the church, resulted in arrest and execution of the Prior and two monks in May 1535, with three more executions following in June. The following year, led by a new Prior installed by Cromwell, twenty monks signed an oath of allegiance to the King. Nine of the ten who refused were starved to death in Newgate Prison, with the lone survivor being executed three years later.

 In 1537 the Prior handed the building over to the King, and it was passed around amongst the nobility as a desirable London residence until 1611, when Thomas Sutton, “the richest commoner in England”, bought the house for £13,000 as a school for poor boys and alms houses for “poor gentlemen”.  As Charterhouse (a corruption of Carthusian) the school established itself as an elite institution, including Prime Minister Lord Liverpool, novelist William Thackeray, founder of Scouting Robert Baden- Powell, as well as John Wesley among its pupils. The school relocated to Godalming in 1872.

The surviving buildings, much damaged in a 1941 air raid, continue to be used as alms houses. The restored chapel and parts of the Tudor House are open to the public. The Sutton Arms pub can still be found on Carthusian Street.

Exit the square via Charterhouse Street, with Smithfield Market on your left. Turn right into St John Street and fork left onto St John’s Lane. 

At the top of the lane is the 1504 St John’s Gate, the entrance to the Priory of The Knights Hospitallers, founded around 1145. The Hospitallers were a military order originally based in Jerusalem, with a mission to protect Christian control of the Holy Land. 

The Priory Church in St John’s Square, across Clerkenwell Road, was consecrated by the Patriarch of Jerusalem in 1185. In 1381 Wat Tyler’s rebels beheaded the Prior and burned down the Priory, before suffering similar fates shortly after. The Priory apparently burned for several days and nights providing the 13 year old Richard II with evidence of the mayhem outside the walls of the Tower where he had taken refuge. The Priory was dissolved in 1540, with many knights fleeing abroad while others were executed.

Retrace your steps down St John’s Lane towards Smithfield Market. Pass through Grand Avenue (that goes through the market building) into West Smithfield, then go left into Cloth Fair and right into the garden of St Bartholomew the Great

The garden is a remnant of the cloisters of the Augustinian Priory and Hospital founded in 1123 by Rahere, a courtier of Henry I, in thanks for surviving malaria on a trip to Rome. The existing church is the choir of the original, much larger church, which had its west door where the Tudor Gatehouse leading to Smithfield is located, and measured approximately 91 by 26 metres with a large central tower. The interior is a rare survivor of early Norman architecture in the City, described by Jenkins as “ a church of accretions and secret places, of incense, sudden heights and  unexpected shafts of light”. A brightly decorated 1405 tomb to Rahere, to provide focus for pilgrims, survived the reformation.

At the back of the garden, leave it by going down the steps and turn right. Exit via the gatehouse onto West Smithfield. 

Opposite to the Gatehouse is St Bartholomew’s Hospital, known as Barts, London’s oldest hospital, founded alongside the Priory. Walk over to it to view the memorials to Wat Tyler and William Wallace on the walls.

According to one version of the history of Wat Tyler’s rebellion, it ended when he was lured into an ambush, on promise of negotiation with the King. He was then stabbed, and badly wounded, by the Lord Mayor of London, William Walworth. He was then taken into the Hospital, but was pursued by the Kings men, dragged out and beheaded on the spot.

Smithfield was a place of public execution for many years, and on the walls of the hospital are memorials to some of the victims, including Wat Tyler and his rebel comrades,  William Wallace of “Braveheart” fame, and a number of Protestant clerics executed by Queen Mary I as she sought to re-establish Catholicism in a deeply divided country. 

Return to the Gatehouse and turn right to exit West Smithfield via Little Britain, named in honour of the Dukes of Brittany, whose London residence was here. 

Adjoining No 13 Little Britain is the site of John Wesley’s evangelical conversion in 1738, which started his journey towards Methodism. 

Turn right into King Edward Street. 

Proceed until you come to a statue of Rowland Hill, the founder of the Penny Post, outside a large Edwardian Office block which was opened as the HQ of the Post Office by Edward VII in 1911.

A plaque commemorates this as the site of a Franciscan Monastery founded in 1224. Known as Grey friars in reference to the colour of their habits, the order was renowned for it’s maintenance of a simple regime, in contrast to the indulgent lifestyles of some other orders. This attracted support and patronage from Royalty and City Merchants. The heart of Eleanor of Provence, wife of Edward III, was buried here in 1291, and from then on it was favoured by successive Queens. In 1421 London’s most famous Lord Mayor Richard (Dick) Whittington built a library, and endowed it with £400 worth of books.

Following the dissolution in 1538, the buildings fell into disrepair until Edward VI’s foundation of a school “for poor fatherless children” was established as “Christ’s Hospital“ on the site in 1553. The Choir of the Monastery Church was utilised as a parish church, and renamed Christchurch. Destroyed in the Great Fire, the church was rebuilt by Wren, but was then destroyed again in the blitz. Only the steeple remains, in gardens at the junction of King Edward Street and Newgate Street. Christ’s Hospital School decamped to Sussex in 1897, and the remaining monastic buildings were swept away by the new General Post Office building which is now part the Bank of America.

WALK 14a END

ENDING THE WALK

If ending the walk here, continue to the end of King Edward Street and turn left into Newgate Street. 

St Paul’s Tube Station is at the next junction.

CONTINUING THE WALK

If you would like to continue to the second part of this walk (14b), go to the end of King Edward Street, and turn right into Newgate Street.
This link will take you to the second
 part of the walk.


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Russell & Paul