The City Walk 1: Diamonds to Dungeons

Our city walks take in many places that aren't even on the map, so while we advise you follow an A-Z map while you're doing it, especially in part two, be aware that some of the small alleyways and courtyards are not marked on the official maps. We have a schematic map for you to follow here.

You have two choices of when to do the walk - at the weekends the city is empty - particularly on Sundays and you can explore to your heart's content, but many of the smaller courtyards and pubs are closed. Otherwise do it on a weekday try to start around 11:30 and have lunch on the way - it can get hectic as people pour out of the out of their offices in search of refreshment.

There are no major historic buildings on this walk, no museums or galleries - the City of London is the main attraction   If you have only time for one walk, do city walk two or our new city churches walk.

Timbered frontage to
                      Staples Inn on HolbornStart at Chancery Lane tube station, on the central line. Above the tube station on the south side is a row of black-and-white timbered buildings which give some idea of what the road was like 500 years ago. Contemporary engravings show these timbered buildings were the norm - that is until the great fire when brick and stone started coming in. Behind the timbered facade is Staple Inn which dates from 1380 - one of the original Inns of Chancery - run like an Oxbridge College of the time, for students at the Court of Chancery - a parallel legal courts system that has died out - no least because cases could drag on for over fifty years. The hall dates from the 16th century, with re-working in 1730. Samuel Johnson used to lodge here.

We follow High Holborn east, passing the Prudential building on our left - the last great gothic revival building in London, erected in 1879. The building is often used to double as a college or university for television and films. Look out for the tiling in the front rooms.  

On the left past the building is Hatton Garden, the centre of London's diamond and jewelry trade. It was at No 57 that the machine gun was invented by Maxim and changed warfare as we know it. It was a devastating weapon, and together with barbed wire, led to the abandoning of the horse as the main cavalry engine. It was also useful in the colonies leading to the rhyme " Whatever happens, we have got The Maxim gun, and they have not."
Further up, on the corner of Cross street is the facade of an old charitable bluecoat school, dating from 1690, with statues of pupils on the frontage - sadly due to bomb damage the interior is now offices.

The London diamond centre is at No 15, where diamonds are 'fingerprinted' - De Beers' diamond merchants are round the corner on Holborn Viaduct. However we'll head Between numbers 8 and 9, down a narrow passageway (there's a sign for the Mitre pub over the arch - worth a stop if you;re thirsty) which brings you out in Ely Place, a private road which used to be the London residence of the Bishop of Ely. It's now owned by the Crown and not subject to London's Mayor, and indeed is not part of the city of London that surrounds it (somewhat like the Vatican). The police can only enter if invited by the commissionaire.  

Here Shakespeare sited one of his most famous speeches 'This scepter'd Isle..." by John of Gaunt, who actually lived here in 1381. The Bishop's residence frequently entertained royalty - in one banquet in 1531, the menu included 4,000 larks.

This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise;
This fortress, built by nature for herself,
Against infection, and the hand of war;
This happy breed of men, this little world;
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands;
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings,
Fear'd by their breed, and famous by their birth,
Renowned for their deeds as far from home
(For Christian service and true chivalry)
As is the sepulchre, in stubborn Jewry,
Of the world's ransom, blessed Mary's Son;
This land of such dear souls, this dear, dear land,
Dear for her reputation through the world...

If you're feeling peckish pop into St Ethelreda's church (built 1293) which is on your left - the vicar has a reputation as a foodie and does good snack lunches in the crypt which predates the church - it contains part of a Roman basilica. Part of St Ethelreda's hand is kept here as a holy relic, though St Blaise is also honoured here - patron saint of throat complaints, which is worth knowing if you discover bones in your fish.

Leaving Ely Place, onto Holborn circus, turn left onto Charterhouse Street, crossing over busy Farringdon Road on your way. We're now in Smithfield, the centre of London's meat trade and the huge market stretches out for half a mile on your right. On the left are a number of new bars, restaurants and clubs - the area has recently become quite trendy with Fabric, a major nightclub opening in the basement of 'Smiths'.  

An interesting diversion , should you wish to follow it, takes us up left onto St John Street and then left onto St John's Lane. At the top you'll see the ancient arch that now houses the museum of the order of St John. It used to be the main gateway to the Priory of St John of Jerusalem - of which only this arch, the chancel and the crypt now remain. It's only been in the possession of the Knights of St John (a modern re-incarnation of the Templar tradition) since 1831 - the St John ambulance service was founded by them here forty years later.

Continue north over Clerkenwell road and along Jerusalem row - a narrow passage that leads into the centre of Clerkenwell Green a picturesque village square with pubs and restaurants and the churchyard of St James Clerkenwell - a typical rural village church, dating from 1100. Clerkenwell used to be a hotbed of radicalism, a trend which is marked by the present Karl Marx Memorial Library. To re-join the route, retrace your steps south to Smithfield  

Continue east on Charterhouse Street and we come to Charterhouse Square, with the ancient Charterhouse behind it on the left. Most of the time it's not open to the public,The Charterhouse but it's worth the time to visit the mediaeval courtyards rather laid out like an Oxbridge college. The Charterhouse Information for tours is on their information phone line, Tel: 0207 251 5002. There's an excellent hotel (expensive) and restaurant (not too bad) Malmaison here, which is known for its cheeseboard.

The Charterhouse started out as a Carthusian Monastery in 1370. In 1611 it became a school and hospital (housing for poorer gentlemen) - with many illustrious pupils, including John Wesley, Sir Robert Baden-Powell, and William Thackeray, who paints a thinly-veiled portrait of it in The Newcomes. The Charterhouse The school has moved to the country but the residences remain housing Charterhouse Pensioners. It was badly damaged during the war, but most of the buildings have been restored.  

The 1920s deco building on the east side of the square, Florin Court, is famed for being where Hercule Poirot lived in the television series of Agatha Christie's novels. It is also known for having some of the smallest flats to rent in London, although there is an art deco swimming pool in the basement.

We emerge out of Carthusian Street onto Aldersgate, with the Barbican Arts centre on the opposite side of the road.

Follow the road tunnel opposite the tube station, through the Barbican complex to Chiswell street.The Conservatory of the
                      Barbican Centre Above the entrance to the Barbican Arts Centre on Silk street to your right you can see the glasshouse conservatory, which has a large collection of tropical plants and cacti (it could save you a journey to Kew Gardens) which is worth the detour - it can be very hot and humid, as befits the ecosystems of the plants themselves. The Whitbread BreweryFurther along Chiswell Street is the historic Whitbread Brewery, dating back to 1750 however the Brewery has been turned into a corporate entertainment venue (if you wondered why your portfolio isn't performing, it's all the corporate entertainment....)  

We continue along Chiswell Street - and turn up Bunhill Row - but before you do so continue on a few yards until you see the gateway to the headquarters of the Honourable Artillery Company, the oldest regiment in England - which was incorporated in 1537 from a previously-existing body of archers. They fire the cannons on ceremonial occasions across the City. Their training ground is famous for hosting one of the first great Cricket games, in 1774.  

Up Bunhill row you walk alongside the Artillery grounds until come to Bunhill Fields,Bunhill
                      Fields an oasis of green in the city, with a park and a large graveyard, where John Bunyan (author of Pilgrim's Progress), Daniel Defoe (author of Robinson Crusoe) and the painter and poet William Blake ('Tyger Tyger..') are buried. Also buried here is a certain Dr Doolittle who may have been the prototype for the famous vetinarian. There's a guided tour every Wednesday in summer which goes from the gardener's hut at 12.30pm. Walk through the cemetery (the important graves are in the middle) to City Road. Opposite Bunhill fields, on City Road, number 47, is the Wesleyan Centre, dedicated to the founder of Methodism, and John Wesley's house. You can visit the chapel (built 1777: pretty, but no great shakes) his grave, behind the chapel, and the house which contains many of his artifacts. There's a good biography of Wesley here.  

Continue South on City Road and turn east on Sun Street, on the south side of Finsbury Square (look out for a commemorative plaque - Bruckner spent an afternoon in what is now the Bloomberg building - hardly worth commemorating we feel) and take Wilson then Eldon Street to the aBroadgate Complex with it's steel sculpture of a tower in front. Walk north into the complex, with a ring of shops and restaurants. Fallen woman The central arena houses - a an open air ice rink in winter, and various other events in Summer.

Head north to Exchange Square - the northern limit of the Broadgate centre - with it's open-air amphitheatre (rare concerts) and small park with it's zen fountain and sculpture Doisneau's favourite
                      locationof a fallen woman  

From Exchange square you get a good view into the bowels of Liverpool St Station - one of the grand old Stations of London - you will probably already have seen it in the photography of Robert Doisneau - though most people think the photos of a romantic couple taking a final kiss before their (steam) train pulls out were taken in Paris.

Leave Exchange square north, through the large modern building and turn right on Primrose Street and across Norton Folgate (a continuation of Bishopsgate). Diagonally opposite is Folgate Street - which together with Elder Street are exactly as they would have been 150 years ago - cobbled, and lit by gas. Folgate
                      Street areaIt's enough to make you look over your shoulder for Jack the Ripper at night. At number 18 Folgate street is a small museum (see our attractions page). Turn down to the south towards the Spitalfield market and walk through it. The whole area round here has become very fashionable and the usual accoutrements of a property boom in restaurants and pubs have opened. The market itself is more fully described in our markets section. However, during the week there's little of the buzz of weekends, especially Sundays, though a few of the stalls open around midday.  

Out the other side of the market onto Brushfield Street you'll see Hawksmoor's Christ Church Spitalfields, Christ Church,
                      Spitalfieldswhich dates from 1720. It has an octagonal tower and the outside has masterly proportions, though it's sparse inside, and the crypt is an alcoholics' rehabilitation centre. Take Fournier Street down the side of the church - this part of London is the old Hugenot quarter. French protestants came across after the St Bartholomew's day massacre and as many of them were weavers, look out for the large windowed old workshops. The architecture round here is largely Flemish.

Turn up Wilkes street and make a circuit along Hanbury Street, Brick Lane (look out for the Jamme Masjid on the corner of Princelet Street - this was initially a Catholic Church, then a French Protestant one, then a synagogue, then a methodist chapel, and finally now is a mosque - showing the waves of immigrants that have swept this area, each displacing the previous one).  

Hugenot architecture Brick Lane is London's 'Little Bengal' and the Bengali community supplies most of the waiters in most of the 'Indian' restaurants across the city. Not only that, but they mostly come from one small area of Bangladesh.

However they are in turn being displaced by boho artists and designers, who are occupying the Trueman Brewery at the north end of the street, which is undergoing a renaissance, new design/fashion shops opening monthly.

Complete the circuit by coming back west along Fournier Street into Gun Street, which leads to Artillery lane (the former home of the Artillery Company) which leads up and back to Bishopsgate, via Middlesex Street.  

                      Boltoph's Old SchoolTurning South onto Bishopsgate you'll see St Boltoph's, a small church on your right was where Keats was christened (though there's little of note within) - pass through the churchyard. The church hall with its missing statues on the front, used to be a charity school.

Four churches dedicated to St Boltoph were built without the city's main gates,Shimla Pink's Restaurant for the use and relief of travelers. Continue out the back of the churchyard down the alleyway - look out for the exquisite entrance to the former Shimla Pinks Indian restaurant - a converted Turkish Baths, ornately carved. The interior of the underground restaurant is equally ornate. You come out on Bloomfield Street.  

We jiggle north and then West to enter Finsbury Circus, with its bowls ground in the middle, and through to Moorgate tube Station, following the signs to the Barbican. From the tube station (Moor Street exit) you can follow a yellow line on the pavement right through to the other side of the arts complex, through pleasant walkways, to Barbican Tube station. The Museum of London is on the other side of the complex.

Rahere's TombOn the same side of Aldersgate as the tube is an entrance to Cloth Street, which runs west parallel to and south of Long Lane. Half way down it turns into Cloth Fair which leads on to St Bartholomew's church, the oldest church in London, noted for it's appearance in 'Four Weddings and a Funeral'. It was founded as a priory in 1123, after King Henry I's jester, Rahere, had a vision in which St Bartholomew saved him from a winged monster. here we intersect with our City Churches walk.

                      Bartholomew's Church Gateway Enter the church from the timbered front entrance on West Smithfield, which marked the original South door of the Priory - the church is made of the remains of the choir on the dissolution by Henry VIII. What remains is superb and very mediaeval - judging from the remains of the cloisters the original church would have been a masterpiece.  

Old Bart's hospitalComing out of St Bart's straight ahead of us is the original site of the annual St Bartholomew's fair, depicted in the play by Ben Johnson, until it was suppressed for debauchery in 1855. Even after Rahere was made Prior of his own foundation he wasn't opposed to coming out and juggling at the fair - the licence money for which enriched his priory. On the left of the church is St Bartholomew's Hospital, the oldest in London, also founded by Rahere, after being cured of malaria, contracted during a pilgrimage to Rome.  

                      Pye Statue marks the place the Great Fire stopped If you keep the hospital on your left as you pass down Giltspur Street, look out for the gilt statue of a cherub (a sort of mannekin non pis) on the other side of the street -Justice is blind it marks the area where the great fire of 1666 ended. In front of you is the Old Bailey , London's central criminal court (see our historic buildings page for more details.

The walk continues in Part two 'Secret London', which takes us through the maze of passageways and courtyards near the Bank of England, site of the original Roman city of Londinium. The walk ends with another monument to the Great fire, Wren's Monument on the site where it all started.   Guidebook to what to
                      see and do in London

Search this site:

Match:  Any word All words Exact phrase