Monday, 20 October 2008


Sometimes, when I can talk myself into it, I go for a wander around the London streets at lunchtime. When I do go, I always discover loads of new things and have to tear myself away to get back to work in time. It's just that I spend so much time sitting at this desk it's sometimes hard to build up the energy to leave, when I could just eat my lunch right here in front of the computer like a depressing lump.

Anyway, recently I did manage to haul myself up and out, and this time my wanderings took me around Clerkenwell. I work in the Holborn/St Paul's area of London, and when I first started working here, I was disappointed with what seemed to be a heavy traffic area lined with dull, post-war office buildings, Tescos and Subway sandwich shops. This wasn't what I moved to London for! I wanted Victorian architecture, tiny alleys filled with cosy pubs, and history and meaning bursting from every doorway.

After a while I discovered that there are a lot of those things all around this area. I just had to take myself off the main thoroughfares and find them. After a bit of research I realised that I was in one of the oldest parts of London - populated since before it was even called London - the site of the Great Fire of London, close to St Paul's Cathedral and countless churches and cathedrals, St Bartholomew's Hospital (founded in 1123, people!), Postman's Park, the diamond district, The Old Bailey, the Inns of Court, and the list goes on. And even more interestingly, there are countless dark alleys and unexpected lanes that look completely uninviting until you walk down and find a six-hundred year old tavern, and next door a record store, and next to that a shop selling only doorknobs. No Tesco or Topshop in sight.

It also seems to have been the site of a disproportionately large number of London's most notorious jails over the years - if you believe Wikipedia.

Anyway, my trip into Clerkenwell (and bits of Farringdon and Barbican) went well. Some shots are below, and the rest are in the Around London set on flickr.
Legitimately old looking brick buildings

Ever so cool students congregating in the sun outside some college - perhaps the London College of Communication, whatever that is Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, Back Hill

Stairs to viaduct (possibly) Rosebery Avenue bridge in Clerkenwell

Queuing for fresh Ghanaian food in Exmouth Market

The absolute highlight was finding somewhere (in Exmouth Market) to buy a flat white. For the un-enlightened, a flat white is an espresso with a moderate to small amount of milk, without foam. It's a cafe standard in Australia but much rarer in latte-obsessed England. I hate the enormous, milky coffees you get from the coffee chains here so finding somewhere that sells a flat white was very exciting. It's about 1.2km from work, so not quite close enough to dash off to every morning, but at least a flat white is no longer entirely out of the question.

It was about time for me to get back to work, and following my newly-cultivated habit of heading down dark alleyways, I headed down here:

And was greeted with this.

Standing in busy Exmouth Market, there is no clue that a peaceful green space is less than 50m away from you. This happens to me all the time in London. It's such a muddle of lanes and building add-ons and overpasses that I'm constantly finding something lovely like a park or courtyard or overgrown cemetery completely by accident. That's something I'll miss when I go back to the familiar grid system in Brisbane.


Miriam said...

I used to work just near where you walked, Lauren and it's an interesting area, full of history. One of the joys of London is discovering little corners like this. The stairs lead up to Holborn Viaduct by the way. St Bartholomew's church is also worth a look, if you didn't go there already - it's in Four Weddings And A Funeral.

Lauren in London said...

Thanks for the comment Miriam! I just liked the arches and the brickwork of this stairwell.

I can say those aren't the Holborn Viaduct stairs - they're a few blocks north of there - not sure what street as I wasn't paying close enough attention but near Exmouth Market somewhere. You can just see a tiny bit of the viaduct to the left and it's green (Holborn Viaduct of course being red). I have a photo of the actual viaduct I'll post to flickr and maybe someone there can help identify it!

Thanks for the tip re St Bartholomew's, I will definitely check that out this week.

Lauren in London said...

I've worked it out - it's a bridge along Rosebery Avenue!

Miriam said...

Ah yes, of course! sorry. Something I love about London is that there's so much to see even if you just stand in one place and look up. eg you would have probably walked near the William Wallace memorial at St Barts. Also just round the corner is Postmans's Park, which has a wall of plaques for people who died saving others - definitely worth a look.

marmitelover said...

I remember Exmouth market when it was an old-fashioned fruit and veg market. Now it's so trendy, a mini restaurant quarter.
I love hearing about London from an outsider's point of view.
Don't Australians say "you get your first black bogey at Heathrow"?

Lauren in London said...

ML: they do, although I understand from Ted (who lived here in 2001) that it's no where near as bad as it was (no black under fingernails as soon as you get out of the shower etc).

Miriam, thanks for the tips!