After 6 days and 35.75 miles of walking in the City, I’ve been pampered with gorgeous, green squares where I’ve enjoyed people-watching during lunch hours and resting in the afternoon sun, all while being continually surrounded by crisp suits and angular architecture. Today’s walk was quite different.
Though technically within the jurisdiction of the Corporation of the City of London, Spitalfields felt like an entirely different world, a rougher, more real-life world. I was continually struck by the contrasts between the City and this new neighbourhood: perfect, glittery skyscrapers looking down on worn out, brick buildings; men in suits cutting through graffiti-lined alleys; fabric shops and the rusty carts of street vendors replacing high-end retailers.
One of the few plaques I did find in the area informed me that I am not the first to observe this mismatch:
“Spitalfields edges the City. It is a place of transitions. Bishops Square covers an old threshold on the City boundary where the masters and merchants inside met the flux of life and death beyond. Creating space and making room for different worlds to overlap illuminates the whole of its long history.”
This mingling of cultures, incomes, interests and lifestyles, has given Spitalfields an incredibly diverse population. If ever a London neighbourhood could be called a melting-pot, this is it. If I attempted to give you a singular description of this neighbourhood, I would not be doing it justice. If I tried to share even a few of the voices from its past and present, this post would be miles long. Luckily for you, there’s a blog that beautifully captures its multiplicity, its history and its humanity every day of the year. If you are interested in this area at all (and even if you don’t think you are) you should read the blog Spitalfields Life, a decades-long project to document the lives of people in this neighbourhood.
For lighter reading and information on points of interest in Spitalfields both inside and outside of the Congestion Zone, check out Exploring East London’s site about the area.
From the intensive construction going on here, it appears as if creating room for this overlap of cultures is not the City’s intention forever. Scattered amongst housing estates, towering blocks of flats are going up at a rapid rate, an activity that can only serve to push those on the lower end of the income scale farther to the East in the not-so-distant future. I venture to guess if you visit the area in even five years’ time it will be a different world completely. Go experience it while you can!
AND NOW FOR TODAY’S HIGHLIGHTS
Best Surprise of the Day
A Gherkin-obsessed friend of mine (yes, they exist) told me about a secret view of her favourite building nearly two years ago. Only today did I finally take the opportunity to check it out for myself. Learn from my mistakes, dear reader, and get yourself to Heron Tower ASAP!
Before we chat about the view from the top down, let’s discuss the ride on the way up. The ear-poppingly fast lift launched me 40 floors into the air while revealing an unexpected, unobstructed and unbelievable view across the City. I was too bedazzled by the experience to get any footage on the ascent but below is a video of the ride down. The lady at the door must have thought me a first-time tourist when I landed back at street level with a beaming smile and a camera in each hand. Click here to watch the video on YouTube (and feel free to mute all the crunching in the background!).
As you recall, on Day 2, the Gherkin managed to find its way into nearly every photo I took. Today it was back in full force. Its best cameo of all time, however, has to be this shot from Heron Tower. Having now seen the amazing video of London’s best lift ride ever, you can delight in the fact that the cherry on that sundae was walking into the 40th floor bar to see this view. Spectacular.
Best Way to Measure a Distance
A story for today from the plaque under this gorgeous statue:
King Edgar (959-75) granted this derelict land to thirteen knights on condition that they each perform three duels: one on land, one below ground, one on the water. These feats having been achieved, the king gave the knights, or cnihtengild, certain rights over a piece of land ‘from Aldgate to the place where the bars now are, toward the East, on both sides of the lane, and extended it towards the gate known as Bishopsgate in the north, to the house of William the Priest…and to the south to the Thames as far as a horseman riding into the river at low tide can throw a lance‘.
To be honest, this tale creates more questions than it answers. If you happen to know more about these knights, their duels, or any other particulars about the lance throwing (right or left-handed, in armour or tighty whiteys, sober or after a pint?), please do share!
Cutlers Gardens, where this statue can be found, is itself an interesting spot and has had quite a number of faces over the years, from burial grounds to dumping grounds to worship of God and worship of money. It’s a cute little tucked away place to stop by on your way through. Read more about it here!
Most Beautiful Soup Kitchen
(Yep, that’s the same dude in the picture twice. Mind blown?)
In the late 19th century, millions of Jews fled from Russia and Germany to London and a large population settled in Spitalfields, developing what is considered by some to be the largest Jewish community in Europe as late as the 1970s. This gorgeous building on Brune Street served as a soup kitchen for the Jewish poor (if you didn’t figure that out from the building itself). The majority of the Jewish population has left the area but in my wanders I came across numerous markers for former synagogues and schools, all hinting at this once thriving population. For a first-hand account of someone who went to the soup kitchen as a child and revisited it in its current form as a block of luxury flats, read more here.
Well that’s about it for today. After all this talk of immigration and melting-pots, I’ll just leave you with one parting question:
How many years do you have to live in London before you stop sniggering over street names like this?
See you next time!