Walk 19 - THE BLACK PATH - A walk following the route of an ancient track from Walthamstow to Smithfield

The walk is approximately 7.5 Miles / 12 Km - about 3 - 4 hours. If this is too far for you in one walk, it could be done in two sections on different days, Walthamstow to Hackney, then Hackney to Smithfield. It could also be cycled, as a lot of the route has a cycle path available.

On a smartphone, the map above can be moved around and zoomed in and out to see the details of the route. 

On a computer, the map can dragged to move it and the + and - buttons can be used to zoom it.

Along the route there are blue stars near the route which mark places of historical interest. They can be clicked on (computer) or tapped (phone) to reveal the information.

Put your finger and thumb tips together and place them gently on the map. Then without lifting your fingers from the screen, spread them apart until the map is the right size.

Use two fingers to drag the map around.

The walk starts at Walthamstow Central Station (Overground and Victoria Line) or Walthamstow Bus Station, and ends at Smithfield. At the end of the walk there is a choice of St Paul's Tube Station (Central Line), Barbican Tube Station (Circle, Hammersmith & City, and Metropolitan Line) or Farringdon Station (Elizabeth Line) to return home.

This walk follows the route of the Black Path, an ancient track that ran diagonally from the north east of London into the City through open countryside. It’s not known exactly how far back in time the path goes. It started beyond Walthamstow, then went down to, and over the River Lea near Hackney Marshes. From there it went past Hackney and London Fields, over Shoreditch High Street to Old Street, then past Clerkenwell and Charterhouse Square and finally to Smithfield. 

Although it is not known why the Black Path was so named, there are some persuasive theories. Claire Weiss, in her history project of 2019, funded by the Borough of Waltham Forest, quoted archaeological evidence finding "very dark grey sandy clay, with occasional charcoal flecks" lying beneath the marshes around the Lea. This may give a logical explanation of why this part of the marshes, and various features that are or were on them, feature the word ‘Black’ in their names. These include the Black Path, Black Marsh, Blackmarsh stream, Blackbridge, Black Meadow and Black Marsh Farm.

Another name used for the Black Path was the Porter’s Way. This was because it was the path used to transport fruit and vegetables from farms, market gardens and orchards to the north east of the city, down to Spitalfields Market.  It was also the route used to drive animals to the meat market at Smithfield, where they would be slaughtered, and the meat sold.

A third name used for the path is the Templars’ Way. This is because it passes the 13th century St Augustine’s Tower in Hackney. The land that the tower is on, together with a wider area around Hackney, was once owned by the Knights Templar. The path links Hackney to the Temple area, the headquarters of the Templars in London. From Smithfield, the Templars Way would have continued south-west along Charterhouse Street and Fetter Lane to the Temple.

It's also thought that pilgrims, when starting from London and headed for the Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham in Norfolk, would have used the Black Path for the earlier part of the journey. On getting to Walthamstow, the pilgrims would have continued on to Waltham Abbey. From there, in approximately the same direction that they had been travelling in from London (NNE), the pilgrims would finally get to Walsingham, a journey of about 180 miles (290 Km).

It is still possible to follow the course of the Black Path through modern north-east London, following the clues in today's urban landscape. 

Along the route of the Black Path there are historic buildings and ancient sites which will be described as we pass them.


The walk is designed to be used directly from your phone. 

Just scroll down to start the walk.

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. 

In the walk: 
- Directions are shown in black text.
- History and information notes are shown in red text.

The walk starts at Walthamstow Central Station or Bus Station. 
If starting from the Rail Station, cross Selborne Road, and go into and across Walthamstow Town Square Gardens. Continue through the gardens until you reach the High Street (where the open air market is). 

If starting from the Bus Station, walk across into the Walthamstow Town Square Gardens, turn right and continue through the gardens until you reach the High Street (where the open air market is). 

In either case, when you reach the market (the High Street), turn left and start walking down through the market.
There are public toilets in the Public Library at the top of the Market
A useful web site to find toilets on the route is

CYCLING NOTE - If you are cycling, you may wish to avoid the market as it may be crowded. An alternative cycling route is turn left into Selbourne Road (outside Walthamstow Central Station). Selbourne Road curves to the left and becomes South Grove. As you come to a traffic island, take the second exit into St James Street. At the corner, turn left into Station Road. Continue route from Station Road (see below).

© Copyright Robin Webster and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Walthamstow Market is thought to be the longest market (although not the biggest) in Europe. It is approximately one kilometre long. It’s open Tuesday to Saturday 8am-5pm, with a Farmers Market on Sundays 10am-2pm.

The High Street was built, and the street market began, towards the end of the 19th century. Before that it was a country lane called Marsh Street, so named because it led down to Walthamstow Marshes. Today, the marshes have been mostly drained by building reservoirs, and the River Lea Flood Relief Channel. 

Continue walking down the High Street for about 900 meters until you get to St James Street, on the left. Walk down St James Street and pass under a railway bridge.

Continue on, and where the road starts to curve left, continue straight on into Station Road. Walk down Station Road, and at the junction with Markhouse Avenue, turn right.

Markhouse Avenue will turn into South Access Road where you continue on. On the left you will pass the Walthamstow Pumphouse Museum.

The museum has a Grade II listed Victorian water pumping station. Inside are an original pair of Marshall steam engines, and a collection of other small engines and pumps. At certain times (usually Sundays) you can access the museum and see the engines running. Entrance is free.

There is also an extensive collection of fire-fighting equipment, an old tube train carriage and a model railway.

See their web site for opening times and events if you are planning to visit as part of the walk. 

Continue along South Access Road. You will pass St James Park, some allotments and a small sports ground on your right. 

Continue on South Access Road, passing Argall Avenue on your left. Shortly afterwards you will come to the Allied Bakeries. Just to the left of it is a footpath and a cycle lane. Walk down here.

Continue on the path. It will cross over Argall Avenue. Continue on the path at the other side of the road. The path will come to a bend at another place in Argall Avenue. It has a pedestrian crossing and a railway footbridge on the other side of the road. See picture below.

Walk over the railway footbridge, then shortly afterwards over another bridge that spans the canalised Lea Flood Relief Channel.

Immediately after the bridge over the Channel, turn left and walk down the path. Take the first turning on the right.  

Go straight ahead crossing a path then through a gate. You will pass the Lee Valley Riding Centre on your right. 

At the end of this path, turn left and almost immediately right on to another path, walking between two old concrete gate posts. 

I have been told by Dan Kelly, a local historian, that these gateposts were originally from a footbridge over an aqueduct that was near here, carrying drinking water into London. 

Head along this path. To the right here is the Lea Valley Park, part of the old Walthamstow Marshes. 

This area of these marshes is called Lammas Meadow. The name Lammas comes from Lammas Day (Loaf Mass Day), a Christian Saxon festival held in early August, where bread would be made from the first of that year's grain harvest. At this point in the year the land usage would change from arable to livestock farming. This festival was a Christianised version of an originally pagan Celtic midsummer harvest festival.  

From ancient times until the early 20th Century, local people had "Lammas rights" on Walthamstow Marshes. This entitled commoners to put their animals on to the land following the harvest, from Lammas day in August to April the following year.

The path will veer to the right of the building in front of you (the Lee Valley Ice Centre). Where the path splits, take the right fork.

Follow the path to a footbridge over the River Lee. Cross the bridge, then turn intermediately left along the path by the side of the river. Keep going until you get to the Lee Bridge. 

Above the bridge is the Lea Bridge Road, this takes its name from the Lea Bridge. Before there was a bridge the road was called Mill Field Lane, so named because there were a number of watermills in this area.

Before there was a bridge here, farm animals to be butchered were taken to Smithfield market across the river here. The river would have been a wider and shallower than today, creating a ford where the animals could have been herded across.

There were two ferries here up to the mid 1700’s, when the first bridge here over the Lea was built.

A second, replacement road bridge was opened here in 1890. This lasted until it was replaced by the current bridge in 1995. 

The original Lea Bridge, a watercolour sketch painted by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd in 1834. - A Public Domain Image.

Go down to the path next to the river and walk under the Lea Bridge. 

After the bridge, you will pass the Princess of Wales pub on your right. After the pub, on the other side of the river is the Middlesex Filter Beds Weir, where the River Lea splits into two. You will then go over a small bridge, then, on the right, pass an opening to a long straight path leading into and across Millfields Park.  NOTE - We will be returning to this path to continue the walk in a short while, but first there is a short detour where we will  go over the river to the site of the old Middlesex Filter Beds.

Continue along the river a short way then cross the footbridge across the river. Follow the path along the wall until you come to the gates leading into the Middlesex Filter Beds on the left (open 8.00 a.m - 21.00 pm). Go in, walk forwards a few metres then go left through a gate until you come to some granite blocks.

ABOVE - Map Showing the Engine House at the East London Filter Beds. 
Taken from Charles Booth Poverty Maps (1886-1903).

ABOVE - 'Nature's Throne' by Paula Haughney

The blocks are an artwork called “Nature's Throne” by Paula Haughney. It was completed in 1990 and is constructed from huge granite blocks that were once the foundations of the Victoria Engine House which pumped water. It has also been dubbed “Hackney Henge”.

From 1760 there were water powered mills on this site. A water channel or millrace took the water from the river to the waterwheels. The mill race has now been filled in. 

There have been different uses for the power created by the waterwheels. 
  • A water pump, which supplied over 1,000 households with water. 
  • A mill grinding corn to make flour. 
  • A lathe/drill which bored out tree trunks to make pipes. These were slotted together so that they could carry water to the reservoirs and from there to local homes. 
  • Finally, grinding and polishing pins and needles. 
After a fire, the mills were rebuilt and taken over by East London Waterworks Company in 1829. In 1833 the water mills were demolished and a new steam powered pump house built to replace them.

There were other water mills downstream from here, including Temple Mills, so named as they were owned by the Knights Templar who first built a mill here in 1185 and Three Mills at Stratford, which still has a working waterwheel.

Return the way you came to the bridge, cross over it, turning right along the river bank then turn first left onto the long straight path through Millfields Park. 

In the late 9th century, Danes sailed up the River Lea on their way to raid Hertford. The Lea at the time was the agreed boundary between the Saxon held territory and the area of Danelaw. On their way back down towards the Thames, Saxons ambushed them near this spot and a battle ensued. 

Millfields Park is also the reputed site of a victory of Aescwine of Essex over Octa of Kent in the early 6th century, which allowed Aescwine to become the first Anglo-Saxon King of Essex.

Before the Lea Bridge Road got its current name, it was called Millfields Lane. It became a toll road in 1745. The last toll was charged in 1872.

The path emerges at the junction of Chatsworth Road and Millfields Road. Continue in the same direction as the path into Powerscroft Road. It continues straight and uphill for a while, then there is a turn to the right to remain on Powerscroft Road. 

Just before the junction with Lower Clapton Road, on the left is the gothic style Clapton Park United Reform Church, with it's interesting looking Round Chapel. 

From Powerscroft Road, cross over Lower Clapton Road and continue in the same direction down Clapton Passage, which emerges on to Clapton Square. 

The square was laid out in 1816 in the fields of the manor of Hackney. The houses provided upmarket homes for senior merchants, officers and financial brokers in this upmarket residential square. The square has central gardens which contain a handsome drinking fountain, which was donated by a Howard Morley in 1894.

The 19th century Jewish writer Grace Aguilar lived in the square. Around 1905, Russian revolutionary Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin) visited his friend Theodore Rothstein, who lived in the square.

The east (on the left when you first enter) side of the square was destroyed in the London Blitz of World War II.  This side of the square was rebuilt, trying to recapture the style of the original houses, in the early 21st century.

Go around (or through) the square, until you come to another section of Lower Clapton Road. Cross over, and turn right to walk down Lower Clapton Road. On the other side of the road is the St John at Hackney Church

Cross the road and turn right.

The church of St John at Hackney was designed by James Spiller and built in 1792, when demand in the parish of Hackney for church places was in excess of 3,000. 

ABOVE - St John at Hackney Church

This vast, classical building is designed on a Greek Cross plan. It can hold around 2,000 people. The building is Grade II listed and contains monuments dating from the early sixteenth century, which were transferred from the medieval parish church.

When you get to Mare Street, which is pedestrianised, turn left into it and walk down it until you come to St Augustine’s Tower on the left hand side.

ABOVE LEFT - view of St Augustine's Tower in 1750, on the left is a building called the Black and White House
ABOVE RIGHT - St Augustine's Tower as it is today. Public Domain Images. 

The tower is all that remains of the old church of Saint Augustine. It was built around 1275 when Hackney was a village and there were nothing but fields between it and the City of London. 
From about 1660, the church was dedicated to St John of Jerusalem, St John the Baptist, and known as St John at Hackney, representing the links of the parish with the Order of St John of Jerusalem, also known as The Knights Templar, a military organisation.  The Knights were landowners in Hackney, and probably donated the land on which the church was built. 

The Black Path is also known as Templars Way because it connected their land in Hackney with their London Headquarters in Temple (south of Fleet Street). Temple Church (consecrated on 10 February 1185) is still there today.

The Knights Templar, were suppressed in 1308, and their estates were taken from them by papal decree, and passed to the Knights Hospitaller, also known as the Knights of St. John. This led to the church being renamed St. John-at-Hackney. 

In turn, the Order of the Knights of St. John was dissolved during the Reformation, and its property in Hackney passed to other owners. 

There are public toilets near St Augustine's Tower

Walk further down Mare Street, under the railway bridge. Continue until you get to the Hackney Empire on the right hand side of the road. 

Hackney Empire is a grade II* listed building which was built as a music hall in 1901. It was designed by the architect Frank Matcham, and is considered to be an excellent example of Victorian / Edwardian architecture. 

When the Hackney Empire was a music hall, many top acts including Charlie Chaplin, W. C. Fields, Stanley Holloway, Stan Laurel, Marie Lloyd and Julie Andrews performed there. 

In the mid-1950s ATV shows such as Take Your Pick and Oh, Boy! were broadcast live from here. It has also been used for filming programmes such as Opportunity Knocks and Emergency Ward 10. From 1963 to 1984, the theatre was used as a bingo hall and as a wrestling venue.

In 2001, the Empire closed for a £17m refurbishment project and reopened in 2004.

Hackney Empire’s programme now includes theatre, opera, comedy, dance and music. It collaborates with a range theatrical organisations including the Royal Shakespeare Company, English Touring Opera, Scottish Opera and the BBC Concert Orchestra.

Carry on down Mare Street past the Hackney Empire, and turn second right into Reading Lane. Walk past the Hackney Central Library then turn first left from Reading Lane into Hackney Grove.

Hackney Grove turns into Martello Street. Go under the the railway lines then turn right into London Fields after the playground. Follow the path and turn first left. Turn left again at the next path junction and pass a public toilet on your right. 

There are public toilets in London Fields

Carry on walking down the park along the foot and cycle path parallel to the edge of the park. Towards the end of the path there is another children's playground on the left, then an area with exercise facilities. In this area there is an interesting sculpture (see below).

This sculpture commemorates the use of London Fields as a grazing area for livestock, and a stop on the Black Path / Porters Way route for animals and produce on its journey to the London markets in Spitalfields, Cheapside, and Smithfield. The sculpture was made as a community art project  by local artists Freeform Arts Trust and schoolchildren in the 1980s. It has recently been refurbished. 

Continue to the end on the park, where there are more public toilets, and cross the road into Broadway Market.  

The original name for Broadway Market was Mutton Lane (there is still a Lamb Lane near here today). Notice the Cat & Mutton public house on the left. There has been a pub on this site since the late 17th Century. Its original name was The Cattle And Shoulder Of Mutton, and was used by animal drovers, and also by agricultural workers making for markets in the City of London. 

After railways developed and started carrying animals in the early 1800's, droving animals became much less common in England. 

Broadway Market itself has developed on the Black Path / Porters Way route into the City. The Market has existed since 1883 and consisted of over thirty stalls selling vegetables, fruit, flowers, eggs, meat, fish, bacon, as well as ironmongery.
In the early 2000s the market activity dwindled to a couple of stalls selling produce. But in 2004 a new food market was launched on Saturdays which has since become firmly established. It is now open on Sundays too.

Walk down the market to the end (if cycling, you may have to get off and push your bike if busy). At the end of Broadway Market, keep going in the same direction over the Cat and Mutton Bridge, which gets it’s name from the pub passed earlier. Continue on into Pritchard’s Road (named after the owner of a tile and brick making company in Hackney Road called Andrew Pritchard, in the early 19th century). Continuing on, the road turns into Goldsmith Row. 

On the right you will pass Haggerston Park, originally created in the 1950s on previously derelict housing and a factory, together with the old Shoreditch gasworks, which had been hit by a V-2 rocket in 1944 and badly damaged. 

After passing the park, you will and the come to Hackney City Farm.

There is a toilet in the Hackney City Farm

Before the Hackney City Farm was set up in 1984 and offers children and grown-ups an opportunity to experience a range of farmyard animals, and to see, smell and plant vegetables and other food plants.

The land that the farm is on has previously had a number of uses. In the early 1800s there was a market garden on the site, supplying fresh produce to the City markets. Later in the 1800’s Wests Brewery was built here. It brewed beer from about 1880 until the 1930s. West’s Brewery had its own public houses in Hackney Road and Bethnal Green. There is a capped off well that still exists on the City Farm which supplied the water for the brewing process.

From the 1940’s the site was owned by the Jeakins family, and was run as a road haulage company. A furniture making company and a button making company also had small factories on the land.

Walk past the farm until you come to Hackney Road. Turn right here on the footpath or cycle path. After about 70 metres cross over the Hackney Road on the crossing here. From the crossing, walk straight on next to the cycle path, bearing right after 20 metres where the path divides. This path is the start of Columbia Road. 

Continue walking down Columbia Road. On Sundays, when the Columbia flower market is on, cyclists will have to get off and push their bikes.

After about 300 metres, you will pass Ravenscroft Park on your right.  After another 250 metres, on the right you will come to Columbia Road Nursery School, outside of which are some old gateposts.

These gateposts are from, and mark the site of the original indoor Columbia Road Market, built by Angela Burdett-Coutts. See below.

Columbia Road Market was built upon an area known as Nova Scotia Gardens. This had been a brick field, north-east of St Leonard's, Shoreditch; the brick clay had been exhausted and the area begun to be filled in with waste

Cottages (probably evolving from sheds, serving the gardens), came to be built here, but were undesirable as they remained below ground level, and so were prone to flooding.

Angela Burdett-Coutts established Columbia Market in 1869 as a covered food market with about 400 stalls. Her secretary and future husband William Burdett-Coutts came to own the market, and built up a considerable fishing fleet in the North Sea. He was involved in a planned railway line for the delivery of the fish to the market; but competition from Billingsgate Fish Market meant that it was never built, and traders preferred selling outdoors. The market closed in 1886, after use as warehouses and small workshops. Prompted by Charles Dickens, Angela Burdett-Coutts also built the separate U-shaped Columbia Dwellings.
The Columbia Road Covered Market and Columbia Dwellings. (Open Source)

The Columbia Road flower market that is now on each Sunday morning, further up the road from here, began as a Saturday trading market. It was moved to Sunday, by Act of Parliament, in order to accommodate the needs of local Jewish traders. This also provided the opportunity for Covent Garden and Spitalfields traders to sell their stock left over from Saturday. 

The market suffered in World War II from rules prioritising food production, and went into a long decline.  From the 1960s, new rules forced traders to attend regularly, and the market enjoyed a new resurgence with the increasing popularity of gardening programmes. Today the flower market here continues each Sunday morning.

Continue on Columbia Road towards the junction of Columbia Road and Hackney Road. Just before the junction, on the left side of Columbia Road are some interesting tenements, the Leopold Building.

The Leopold Building is an interesting Victorian tenement block of flats.

The flats were built in 1872 by The Improved Industrial Dwellings Company, founded and chaired by Sir Sydney Waterlow. It was built on land leased by Angela Burdett-Coutts - then the richest woman in Britain and, for her philanthropy, nicknamed the "Queen of the Poor".

The buildings were Grade II listed by English Heritage in 1994. Following years of neglect, the block was completely refurbished in a £3.5 million project in 1997 by the Floyd Slaski practice for the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and Ujima Housing Association, in conjunction with English Heritage.

Turn left on to Hackney Road and walk about 180 metres down it to the junction with Kingsland Road. 

From here Kingsland Road (the A10) goes to the right, Old Street is straight ahead (which we will shortly walk down), and to the left is the church of St Leonard's Shoreditch, which is in Shoreditch High Street (which becomes Norton Folgate, Bishopsgate, then Gracechurch Street as it heads south to meet London Bridge).

The name “Kingsland” is derived from the fact that large parts of the land around here was in royal ownership. There is a 1667 quote from diarist Samuel Pepys, who had lived around here when he was a boy, “and used to shoot with my bow and arrows in these fields. A very pretty place it is.”

Kingsland Road is part of the A10 and was originally known as Ermine Street, a road built by the Romans from London to Lincoln and York. The name "Ermine" is a corruption of "Earninga", the name of an anglian tribe. The Earningas lived in what is now Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire, which Ermine Street passed through.

More recently the A10 was known as the Old North Road.

St Leonards is the church referred to in the line “when I grow rich said the bells of Shoreditch” from the nursery rhyme “Oranges and Lemons”.

The current St Leonard's is the third church on this site, and dates from around 1740. It replaced a Norman Church which was built in 1185, and which had probably itself replaced a previous Anglo Saxon church. 

As one of the sources of the Walbrook, this area was always noted as being marshy. The previous Norman church is said to have subsided because of the softness of the ground.

The church has a connection to Shakespeare, because it is situated near to the sites of two places where he acted and wrote when he was first in London. These places are The Theatre, England's first purpose-built playhouse, and the Curtain Theatre in Curtain Road.

The Norman crypt (now below the current church's crypt) is the burial place of a number of Tudor period actors who were the contemporaries of Shakespeare. These include James Burbage, the founder of The Theatre, and his son Richard, who was the first leading man in many of Shakespeare's plays. Also buried here are the actors Gabriel Spenser, who was killed by Ben Jonson in a duel, and Richard Tarlton, an Elizabethan comic actor. 

Outside St Leonard’s Church is a Water Pump, installed in 1832, which marks the spot of an old water spring. This spring was one of the sources of the River Walbrook, which rose in various places in this general area. The Walbrook flowed from this area southwards to join the River Thames at a place near Southwark Bridge (and still does, but much reduced and in a pipe underground). 
One suggestion about the origin of the name Shoreditch is that this tributary of the Walbrook may be the “Suer“ (the Anglo-Saxon word for stream) that was used to create the name “Suerditch” (Shoreditch).

You may be interested in another walk in the future following the route of the Walbrook. 
It’s on the WALKSPAST website and called:  

At this crossroads before the Roman Wall around Londinium there was a Roman army camp, supported by the available water supply. This camp could control road movements around the country. The  road to the west, now called Old Street, led to Silchester (Calleva Atrebatum) and Bath (Aquae Sulis). The road to the north, now Kingsland Road (A10), led to York (Eboracum). The road to the East (now Hackney Road), led to Colchester (Camulodunum). The road to the south, now Shoreditch High Street (A10), let to Chichester (Noviomagus).   

Old Street is well named. As well as it’s Roman roots (see above), it was recorded as being called Ealdestrate in around 1200, and was referred to as Oldestrete in 1373. As mentioned above, it follows  the route of an old Roman road connecting Silchester in the west, and Colchester to the east. The eastern side of Old Street (that we just walked down) is now called Hackney Road. This route was also possibly a pre-Roman track.

Cross Kingsland Road and carry on going in the same direction that you were walking in before, into Old Street, and walk under the railway bridge.

Continue along Old Street for about 340 metres until you come to a cylindrical building (which is to become the ART'OTEL) on the left.

There are a choice of routes here. Although the original Black Path would probably have gone along Old Street, heavy traffic can can make it unpleasant and dangerous, particularly for cyclists. This alternative route follows the line of Old Street, but is about 50-70 metres south of it. It makes it safer for cyclists and more pleasant for walkers. Choose either routes A or B to get to Goswell Road.

Walk around the Art'otel and cross over Great Eastern Street at the crossing. Carry on in the same direction, passing a column drinking fountain monument then forking to the right into Tabernacle Street. 

Carry on Tabernacle Street until it crosses Leonard Street. Turn right into Leonard Street. At the end of Leonard Street turn right and immediately left into Featherstone Street.

Featherstone Street crosses over Bunhill Row and becomes becomes Banner Street, continue along it to it's junction with Golden Lane. Turn right into Golden Lane, then left into Baltic Street. At the end of Baltic Street, turn left into Goswell Road.


Keep following Old Street to the Old Street Roundabout (about 600 metres)  Go around the roundabout and stay on Old Street at the other side of it. 

Carry on along Old Street (about 750 metres) until you come to the junction with Goswell Road. Turn left into Goswell Road.

Cross to the right hand side of Goswell road.  After about 300 Metres turn right into Carthusian Street. Carthusian is the name of an order of monks that lived in the London Charterhouse. 

On the right of Carthusian Street is the cobbled entrance to the Charterhouse Square. Walk into the square and around the cobbled path. You will pass a striking block of 1930's Art Deco of flats on the right called Florin Court.  

You may recognise Florin Court, as it was used in the Agatha Christie inspired Poirot ITV series as the site of Poirot's apartment.

At the far side of the square is The Charterhouse. Walk around to it.

The London Charterhouse dates back to the 14th century. It was originally built as a Carthusian priory, founded in 1371 on the site of a Black Death burial ground.

After the priory's dissolution in 1537, it was rebuilt from 1545 onwards and became one of the great courtyard houses of Tudor London. 

In 1611, the property was purchased by Thomas Sutton, a businessman who established a school for the young and an almshouse for the old. The almshouse remains in occupation today, while the school was re-located in 1872 to Godalming, Surrey.

Although fragments survive from the monastic period, most of the standing buildings date from the Tudor era.

You can visit the Museum, Chapel and Shop free of charge. Opening times are Tuesday - Saturday, 10.30am - 4.30pm. There are also various tours, but these need to be pre-booked and paid for. Use this link to see details: https://thecharterhouse.org/

Continue walking around Charterhouse Square on the cobbled path until you emerge through the green gates on to Charterhouse Street. Carry on down Charterhouse Street towards the Victorian Smithfield Meat Market building.

When you get to the Smithfield Market building, turn right and go along it, then turn left into the tunnel through the building.

Walk through the building until you emerge outside again. Straight ahead is the Rotunda Gardens. 

In the Middle Ages, Smithfield was called Smooth Field, as it was an open, flat, grassy area. Smooth Field was outside of the London Wall and was near to the River Fleet (approximately where Farringdon Road now is). This access to water and grazing helped the establishment of livestock rearing and a livestock market. A meat market developed from this which has lasted until today.  


As Smithfield was large open space, just outside the City, Smithfield became a popular place for public gatherings. Royal jousting tournaments were held here, some lasting for up to a week.
Cattle were driven to it down the Black Path and from from other surrounding areas for slaughter. There were traditional places on the way, like London Fields, that the cattle were rested and fattened up before the final drive to Smithfield. 

Smithfield had slaughterhouses in basements and yards. In addition, rendering, dressing, flaying, tanning, soap making and tallow making were all businesses set up in Smithfield, working with the slaughterhouses. These all disappeared when the live animal market was abolished in 1855. 

In Oliver Twist, Dickens describes the Smithfield: ‘Through the filthy lanes and alleys no-one could pass without being butted by the dripping end of a quarter of beef, or smeared with the greasy carcase of a newly-slain sheep.’ 

Smithfield was also famous as a place of executions for treason and heresy. For heresy the execution method was to be burned at the stake, or in some cases burned in a barrel of tar or boiled in oil.
ABOVE - The burning of Anne Askew for heresy at Smithfield on the 16th of July 1546. Anne Askew was an English writer and a Protestant preacher. She was condemned during the reign of Henry VIII as an heretic for stating that transubstantiation was a false idea. (Transubstantiation is the belief that during Mass, the bread and wine are literally changed into the body and blood of Christ.)

For treason, the execution used was to be hanged, drawn and quartered. The words spoken when someone was sentenced to this punishment were:  “The sentence of the Court upon you is that you shall be taken to a place execution. There to be hanged and cut down alive, your heart and bowels plucked out, and your privy members cut off and thrown into a fire before your eyes. Then your head to be stricken off from your body, and your body shall then be divided into 4 quarters, to be disposed of at (Queen’s / King’s) pleasure. And may the Lord have mercy on your soul.”

Wander over to the Rotunda Gardens and look down around it  at what is now an underground car park, but which used to be an underground steam train station (see below). After this, have a look at the Smithfield Meat Market building.

Designed by the City Surveyor, Sir Horace Jones, and built in the 1860's by the Corporation of London at a cost of around £200,000, the Central Meat Market was a model of modern Victorian commercial design. It provided cooling ventilation and an efficient space to display and sell meat on the wholesale market.

Beneath the Market were tunnels through which GWR steam trains delivered meat to be sold at the market. Steam trains were superseded by electric trains in 1905. The trains used a station under the walled Rotunda, built in 1872, which is just south of the Market building. Above the Rotunda are the Rotunda gardens. There is a ramp between the walls of the Rotunda which was used to transport the meat up to the market building.

The Victorian Central Meat Market building is soon going to close and be repurposed to house the Museum of London. The Smithfield wholesale meat market will be moving to Dagenham, along with the Billingsgate fish market. 

There is a road through the market buildings called Grand Avenue. At present you can walk through this, even on days that the market is closed.

There are some other interesting places around Smithfield, if you have time to explore.

Cloth Fair is a medieval street, where merchants used to buy and sell cloth during the Bartholomew Fair. The fair was an annual event around this area, starting on the 24th of August. It operated by Royal Charter, originally granted by Henry I in 1133.  The fair continued until 1855 and lasted for varying amounts of time, from three days to two weeks in different periods. As well as trading, Bartholomew Fair was also a Pleasure Fair. 

Jonas A Barish, in his book ‘Ben Johnson and the Language of Prose Comedy’ quotes a description of Bartholomew Fair from 1641:

“Hither resort people of all sorts, High and Low, Rich and Poore, from cities, townes, and countrys; of all sects, Papists, Atheists, Anabaptists, and Brownists: and of all conditions, good and bad, vertuous and vitious, Knaves and fooles, Cuckolds and Cuckoldmakers, Bauds, and Whores, Pimpes and Panders, Rogues and Rascalls, the little Loud-one and the witty wanton.”

41/42 Cloth Fair is the oldest privately owned house in the City of London. It was built between 1597 and 1614. In 1666, the house was enclosed within large walls, part of the Priory Church of St Bartholomew the Great. This enabled it to be the only house in the City of London to survive the Great Fire of London.

41/42 Cloth Fair - Picture by Elisa.rolle CC BY-SA 

The house was in a poor state by the 20th century, and was in danger of being demolished. But from 1995, new owners arranged for extensive renovation. You will see from a plaque on the building that this restoration was awarded a City Heritage Award in 2000.

Among visitors to the house were Sir Winston Churchill and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. They both followed a tradition of scratching their names in the glass of an upstairs window. 

John Betjeman used to live upstairs at 43 Cloth Fair, a fine Victorian house. It now belongs to the Landmark Trust and can be rented from them to stay in for holidays. The plaque and door to it is in Cloth Court, next to 41 & 42 Cloth Fair. 

Return down Cloth Fair and turn left to get to the St Bartholomew's Gatehouse.

St Bartholomew's Gatehouse is the gate to The Priory Church of St Bartholomew the Great that we passed on Cloth Fair. The Gatehouse survived the Great Fire. The small timber framed house above the gate was built in 1595.
In the 18th century, a Georgian frontage was built over the Tudor timbers and the building was used as a shop. In the First World War, a German Zeppelin caused damage to the frontage and the Tudor timbers were again revealed.

Inside St Bartholomew the Great Church and the Gatehouse

If St Bartholomew the Great Church, which this gateway leads to is open, it is well worth taking a look inside.

The Priory Church of St Bartholomew the Great was founded in 1123 by Rahere, who was an Anglo-Norman priest and a monk. Rahere was a favourite of King Henry I.
When Rahere was in Italy, he had a dream that he was taken to a high place by a winged beast. The beast gave him a message from "the High Trinity and the court of Heaven", that he should build a church in the Smithfield area of London. St Bartholomew the Great Church was the result. 
The priory gained a reputation for curing sick people. Claims were made about serious disabilities being miraculously cured after visiting there. Many of the cures took place in the church hospital. This hospital became the current St Bartholomew's Hospital, known as 'Barts', which is the group of buildings behind the memorials we will look at next.

When you emerge from the gatehouse, cross over and find the execution plaques on the wall of St Bartholomew’s Hospital.

Wat Tyler & Sir William Wallace Memorials

The memorial reads: ‘At this place on 15th June 1381, Wat Tyler, John Ball and other representatives of the Great Rising (The Peasants Revolt) met King Richard II to finalise terms for ending the Rebellion. The King had agreed to all the political reforms aimed at alleviating the plight of the people. However he and his advisors later reneged on that agreement, after killing Tyler in the process near this spot. John Ball and many others of the Revolt were also later executed.’

A little further along the wall to the right is a memorial to William Wallace.

Sir William Wallace was executed for treason near this spot on August 23, 1305. 

Wallace was tried in Westminster Hall, and sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered. He was brought to Smithfield, where the execution was carried out. His body was then cut into four parts, and sent to Scotland as a warning to the rebels. His head was displayed on London Bridge. 

Wallace was famously portrayed by Mel Gibson in the film 'Braveheart'. If fact, Wallace was never called Braveheart, it was Robert the Bruce who was given this nom de guerre. It referred to the fact that, because in life he didn't get to fight in the crusades, after his death his friend Sir James Douglas took Bruce's heart in an urn to the Holy Lands. It is said that during a battle, Sir James threw the urn at the enemy. 


Route to the Farringdon Elizabeth Line Station
At the front of Smithfield Meat Market (on the Rotunda side) the road is called Long Lane. Walk along Long Lane about 120 metres. The entrance to the Farringdon Elizabeth Line Station is on the left.

Route to the St Paul’s Central Line Station    
Walk back to the St Bartholomew's Gatehouse. Walk past the gatehouse (on your left) and continue walking. The road becomes Little Britain. Bear right into King Edward Street. Turn left at the junction at the end of the street. St Paul's Tube Station is on the right of the road.

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