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Spend the day…..on the Circle Line (Part 4)

Even a London walking tour guide like myself can see the benefits of sitting in a tube train and making your way from A-B, or in this case A-B-A as you go full circle on the aptly named Circle Line.

If you were to just sit on the train and do the loop it would take you just over an hour to pass through the 28 stations, which in itself can be an enjoyable way to spend the time, people watching, reading or even having a little snooze, safe from whatever the weather has to offer outside, but I’m proposing a full day out visiting each station and seeing something of it’s locality. There are links to help you get more information, and I’ve purposely left out all the major tourist attractions, as you can decide for yourself if you want to include them in this tour. Here’s part four. Previous parts can be found at Part one, Part two, Part three.

Farringdon: You’ll emerge from the recently revamped station into Cowcross Street, this will tell you that you’re in the vicinity of Smithfield Market, the street taking it’s name from the place where cattle being herded to market made their way across the Fleet River. On your right you will see the Castle Tavern. If it’s open pop inside and take a look at the painting on the wall (If it’s not open you can just about see it through the window). Before you enter look up and you will see three brass balls, all will become apparent. The scene depicted is one of King George IV, who after losing all his money at a local cockfight entered the tavern and issued the landlord with a pawnbroker’s licence then handed over his gold watch to obtain some cash to return to the cockpit. The following day a flunky returned with the money to redeem the watch. The pub retained the ability to trade as a pawnbroker up until the 1960s. A couple of doors along further up Cowcross Street you will see the ornate wrought iron entrance to Faulkeners Alley, enter here and walk all the way through. The alley dates back to the 1550s when it ran through the grounds of St Johns Priory, but after the dissolution the area was sold off and became known as an area for criminals and prostitution. It was inhabited by both small factories and housing up until the end of the 1930s. Emerge into Benjamin Street and turn right passing the old burial ground of the priory church on your left known as St John’s Gardens. Turn left into Britton Street and just after the Faux Jerusalem Tavern (opened in the 1990s and made to look old) on your right is a small alley called St John’s Path which dates from the late 17th century. You’ll emerge into St John’s Square and the majestic St John’s gate. Walk through the archway and a little way along there are three things to look for. The first is Passing Alley, then the two buildings either side of it. The beautifully named Lovell & Christmas who in 1850 started as Provision Merchants and grew to become one of the biggest food hamper suppliers, sending their luxury goods all over the empire. Number 28 on the other side used to be a warehouse until it was destroyed during a German Zeppelin raid in 1917, there’s a small plaque on the wall above you. (I recently posted an article relating to the Zeppelin raids on London during WW1, A souvenir from starving Germany) Continue to the end of the lane and turn right into St John’s Street and in front of you you will see the imposing edifice of Smithfield Market. Walk through the central lane of the market and cross the road towards the small garden in front of you. This area is known as The Elms the site of executions up until the 1400s. Further along the left side of the garden is the memorial to William Wallace who was executed on the site in 1305. Keeping this memorial on your left you will see a black and white wooden building which you can read about in a post I wrote called The best seats in the house. Walk through it to take a look at St Bartholomew’s church. Walk back through Smithfield Market and turn left as you exit to Charterhouse Street. Turn right into Farringdon Road and by the traffic lights turn right to bring you back to the underground station.

Kings Cross: Synonymous with the mainline railway station, Kings Cross was previously known as Battle Bridge. The bridge part is an absolute fact, as it had been a crossing point on the river Fleet since roman times. The battle link is a little bit spurious but difficult prove or rubbish in equal measure. It is said that the bridge being of strategic importance was the site of a battle between the local roman legion and the Iceni tribe lead by warrior Queen Boudica (Boudicea). The current name for the area comes from an ugly and ill judged monument to King George IV which stood from 1830 to 1845 at “the king’s crossroads” where New Road (later Euston Road), Gray’s Inn Road, and Pentonville Road converged. Exit the station and walk past the magnificent St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, as you do consider the lunatics that no so long ago wanted to demolish the building. Next door in contrast is the more modern British Library. Keeping the library on your right walk long to the traffic lights and cross the road and walk down Mabledon Place. The surrounds change very quickly from the slightly bleak urban Euston Road to a quaint genteelness of Victorian Terraces. The Mable Tavern in front of you is an older resident , established in 1823 as the Kentish Arms. With the rather daunting HQ of the National Union of Teachers on your right proceed towards the gardens in font of you. This is Cartwright Gardens named after John Cartwright. Further along the street, now demolished was the residence of Rowland Hill. As the gardens give way to Marchmont Street of which I’ll tell you about a little later you’ll pass a splendid pub which has stood here since the the early 1850’s, the Lord John Russell . Much of the area today is still owned by the Duke of Bedford, Russell descendant. A little earlier than the pub but situated next door is the house occupied by Percy and Mary Shelley. Turn left at the end of the street into Tavistock Place. You’re now on the fringes of the area of Bloomsbury, with it’s fine streets and garden squares. Unfortunately time doesn’t allow us to explore fully, bit you’ll get a flavour of it. As you walk along the road on your right are the houses lived in by two people with very different personalities. The first at number 32 was the home of the writer and humourist Jerome K Jerome, while one door to the left (appropriately) was a home for a year to Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, who based himself here while researching at the British Library. Keeping Lenin on your left just backtrack a little and turn right into Marchmont Street. This seems very much like the other part of Marchmont Street that we saw earlier, but the reason you’re walking down here is that it holds a record of some sort as it is believed to be the street with the most Blue Plaques in it. In total I counted eight. Some may be better known to you than others, Mark Ashton, Sir William Empson, Emlyn Williams, William Reeve, Kenneth Williams, John Skinner Prout, William Henry Hunt, Charles Fort. When you reach Mr Prout cross to the opposite side of the road by the modern pavement and flats. While walking down the remainder of the street and in between looking at the Blue Plaques, take time to look down at your feet. Every few yards you will see a small metal token set into the pavement. this is a very poignant reminder that you are in the vicinity of Coram Fields once the site of the Foundling Hospital. Each child that was accepted at the Foundling Hospital was given a new name but the mother would leave a token to be recorded to help identify their child if they were ever in a position to return and collect them. The tokens were never given to the children and were kept wrapped in a piece of paper with the admittance information and filed by date order. Turn right into Coram Street and then first left into Herbrand Street to look at a fine Art Deco gem of a building, the former Daimler Car Hire Garage. Walk back to to turn left into Coram Street and follow it to the junction with Woburn Place turning right as you do so. Continue along Woburn Place until you come to Tavistock Square probably Bloomsbury’s finest example of a garden Square. There are many statues and dedications, the most modern of which is for the 13 victims of the 7/7 bomb which exploded on a number 30 bus outside of the imposing building on your right which is the Head Quarters of the British Medical Association (BMA). With the BMA on your right continue along the road until you reach the Euston Road where you will turn left, A short distance along the road you will enter Euston Square underground Station (Don’t confuse it with Euston underground station).

Great Portland Street: Aloof. That’s the word I use to describe Great Portland Street underground station. It’s conspicuously uninvolved with it’s surroundings. It sits on it’s own little island refusing to either blend in or stand out from it’s surroundings, which is in keeping with the street which it takes it’s name from. Great Portland Street was built to connect the residential areas around Regent’s Park with the West End. The street is rather non discript, but acts as a divider, emphasising the contrasting areas to either side. To the east, are artistic areas such as Fitzrovia, which have historically been less well-to-do than the west, with its grand parade of Portland Place, residential areas for the gentry, and doctors and medical institutions on Harley Street. The skyline is dominated by the BT Tower a monument to 1960 technology, but we’ll go in search of something older. Exit the station onto the Euston Road, directly across from you will be the the former Holy Trinity church (now an events venue). Keeping the church on your left move off along Euston Road passing the Greene Man pub on your right. Take the second road on the right which is Conway Street and walk down to Fitzroy Square, passing number 27, the former home of legendary Jazz saxophonist Sidney Bechet . The square has had a number of prominent residence over the years and there are plaques to the following; Prime Minister Salisbury, George Bernard Shaw, Virginia Woolf, Roger Fry, Robert Adam, Sir Charles Eastlake, A W Hofmann, Captain Matthew Flinders. Leave the square by Grafton Way, turning right into Cleveland Street passing the home at number 139 of Samuel Morse, then turn left into Greenwell Street. At the end of the road turn left into Bolsover Street then right into Carburton Street. At the junction with Great Portland Street turn right and take the first left, Devonshire Street. We’re now on the fringes of the district known as Harley Street. Although Devonshire Street had several notable residence including Charles Babbage, I’m going to let one of my hero’s, poet John Betjeman give you his view of Devonshire Street which I think sums the area up quite nicely. Turn right into Portland Place and head towards Park Crescent with it’s elegant terraced houses. If you have time cross beneath the Marylebone Road through the Nursemaids Tunnel to emerge into Park Square and on to The Regents Park. When you’ve finished you have two options, walk back to Great Portland Street underground station, or keeping the park on your right proceed along the Marylebone Road.

Baker Street: Whichever exit you emerge from you’ll be confronted by the imposing Chiltern Court which sits astride the station. Completed in 1935, apartments at Chiltern Court were first advertised for between £175-£750 per annum and included central heating, refrigerators and wireless telephones as well as additional guest and maid quarters and a luxury restaurant for use by the residents, two of which were Arnold Bennett and H. G Wells. If you like the idea of living in Chiltern Court you’ll need in the region of £2.5 million to buy and apartment today. Baker Street was laid out in the 18th century by the builder William Baker, after whom it is named. On the Marylebone Road side of the station is the statue to the great fictional detective Sherlock Holmes who as most people know lived at 221b Baker Street (home to the Sherlock Holmes Museum). To the right of the statue you will see the pedestrian subway known as the Wonderpass use it to cross under the road and emerge on the corner of the southern section of Baker Street which you will walk down. On your left at number 120 is the former home of Prime Minister William Pitt the younger. On the corner of Baker Street and Paddington Street is the site of the rather shambolic foray into fashion retail that was the Beatles’ Apple Boutique. Turning left into Paddington Street continue along to Paddington Street Gardens. Slightly further along from the gardens you will see a very small triangular shaped road island at the junction with Nottingham Place. One shop along on your right enter the narrow Grotto Passage named after John Castles a shell designer/entrepreneur who exhibited and sold his creations (1737 until his death in 1757) from tents and sheds on this site then known as The Great Grotto. With shell grottoes being a must have for the English country house Castles seems to have made a good living, designing a grotto for Robert Walpole’s Chelsea home. The Great Grotto became one of London’s most popular attractions. Fashion’s change and after Castles’ death the Great Grotto closed, eventually being replaced in 1846 by ‘The Grotto Ragged and Industrial Schools’. The school taught working class children practical skills to help them get more skilled employment. Follow the passage until you turn right into Ossington Buildings which will bring you into Ashland place where you will turn right to walk back up to Paddington Street turning left at it’s junction. Walk along taking the first turning on your right into Chiltern Street to make your way back to the underground station.

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