Oh my god I have lots of cool things to tell you about today! I had such a great day out and I found all kinds of hidden spots to share. I never know if I should reveal the best place first so you don’t miss it, or put it at the end so you have to see all the other stuff along the way. Let’s just say, I found a place today that is in my Top Five finds from all of the walks. I guess you’ll have to read on to see which place it might be…mwahahahaha.
Ok. You know this place. It isn’t hidden at all, but I loved it as much as ever and found a cool new part that’s only been there a few months!
We all know this market and why it is wonderful: the salt beef sandwich with mustard and pickle. If I am ever near London Bridge when Borough is open, I make a point of stopping by just to wander through. I love the atmosphere, the sounds, the smells, the visuals and, of course, the samples.
The one thing that can be a little tricky is finding a place to sit and eat though, particularly if it is raining. But in the last few months the market has added a new indoor-but-feels-like-it’s-outdoor seating area that is absolutely gorgeous. They also threw in a welcome desk with really friendly staff to answer all of your questions and give you maps so you can find your way to the salt beef sandwiches.
Before You Die
I think my vote for the longest and most consistently wonderful street in London goes to Lower Marsh/The Cut/Union Street. If you want an easy walk that requires no thinking but offers a wide variety of cultural interests, food and drink, and great visuals, start at one end and work your way down. You won’t be disappointed.
On Union Street, just east of Southwark Bridge Road, you’ll find this great little “square”. It’s not technically a square by any definition, but it’s a perfect little pedestrian-friendly zone full of cute cafes and outdoor seating. It’s also the place I found this wonderful art project by Candy Chang.
The concept of Before I Die is simple: take a piece of chalk and add your dream to the board, whatever it is you want to do before you take off for good. The wall is full of everything you would imagine plus a lot of other things you might not think of. See the world, feel free, live life, eat candy forever, try a corn dog, and meet the beer baron were some of my favourites.
The Atlantic described this wall as “one of the most powerful creative community projects ever” and I must say that there is something incredibly moving about the concept. Chang began the first wall in New Orleans after Katrina as a way for people in the community to express what is important to them in their lives. Weirdly, she thinks that having open discussions about the needs of residents allows city planners to create spaces that are more meaningful for the people who live in them. Pretty awesome stuff.
The project obviously spread well outside of New Orleans and now it has been replicated all over the world (including a second wall in London at Camden Lock). If you want to voice your dreams in chalk, check out the list of locations here!
Red Cross Gardens
Community isn’t always an easy thing to find or feel a part of in London. Maybe what I loved about this walk so much was the incredibly people-cenric places and projects like Before I Die. They reignited my hope that people are finding ways to connect even in this fast and often individualistic city.
My next stop added another layer of hope and happiness for me.
In 1887, when Octavia Hill (future co-founder of the National Trust) opened the doors to the Red Cross Gardens, her brainchild and flagship project, she said “nature breathes in darkest Southwark”. That is the best way I can think to describe the gardens to this day. Southwark may not be as dark as it was then, but something about these gardens makes it a genuine place of rest and calm. I absolutely loved them.
Hill’s vision was to create a space that “demonstrated the importance of improving housing for the poor, of contact with nature for city children, and the need for meaningful occupation for poor workers.” The gardens became a community gathering place and were maintained by local residents.
Each element was designed to add something to people’s lives: meandering paths offered space and prompted curiosity, the ornamental pond provided a place for quiet contemplation, the bandstand hosted celebrations of music and poetry, a covered play area (now gone) gave children a place to play outdoors even when it rained, an overhead walkway let people view the gardens and festivities from above, and colourful mosaics brought art and beauty to the working poor.
Things changed as always though, and by the 1940s the garden had grown over and was in disrepair. It wasn’t until 2006 that Bankside Open Spaces Trust (BOST) revitalised the gardens and gave it a role in the community again. Now it is maintained by regular volunteers who also lead tours, after-school clubs, poetry readings, celebrations and other events like the annual Southwark Flower Show and the May Festival, which is held every year, rain or shine.
BOST works with the community to create spaces like Red Cross Gardens where everyone can get a little breathing room from city life. Similar to Before I Die, they think the people using the space should have a say in what it offers them, so they make a point of consulting the community to create the best place they can for the residents.
There are some great things going on in this big, bustley city!
I also really liked BOST’s office. It’s a great little eco-friendly tube nestled in a cute garden by an old church with one of London’s newest buildings in the background. This might be my favourite photo of the day.
Side note: If you want to get all tangled up in links (one of London’s favourite games), you might be interested to know that the office is located on Ayres Street, named after Alice Ayres who died nearby in an act of heroic self-sacrifice while rescuing her nieces from a house fire. We met her back on Day 6 at Postman Park’s (for those who hadn’t seen her previously while watching the movie Closer).
That’s about it for the big stuff today but I thought I would share some of the small stuff too. Really small stuff. Like St. Margaret’s Court, a street I couldn’t walk down because there was a van parked in it and it touched both sides.
And Calvert’s Buildings, which had a sign by the tiny little door saying I was clearly not allowed to walk down it.
I have my readers to consider though, so for the sake of your curiosity I obviously did.
This neighbourhood also has some small pieces of street art that made me happy.
The image in the top right corner is yet another decorated phone box (don’t worry, I am putting together a whole collection of them for you!), which represents the Little Dorrit Park. Dickens fans will recognise the name from his Little Dorrit serial novel about the incompetence and shortcomings of the government of the time.
He mainly focused on the catch-22 within debtors prisons; the idea that debtors were put into jail, taking them away from their work and therefore ensuring their inability to pay off debts. Clever. The idea for this series was influenced by the fact that his father was in debtors prison just across the street, a place I will visit on one of the last walks.
More to come on that in a future post!
See you next time!
Quick update from the future: now that this project is finished, I’m off on another adventure! Keep in touch on my new blog at Three Miles an Hour. See you there!