A London walk

For some time now I have been going once a week, most weeks, to the Cass Business School at City University to work with Celia Glass and Robert Schumacher on acyclic orientations of graphs. I hope to tell sometime what we have been up to.

Rather than taking the Tube, I have been walking to and from the Cass Business School. The walk takes me a little over 35 minutes; I couldn’t do much better on public transport, and the journey time would be much less predictable. This is not one of the world’s most scenic walks, but there are many stories in the things along the way. Some of these are famous, such as the Peasants’ Revolt, Jack the Ripper, and Lenin’s visit for the First International; you can find these stories elsewhere. I will tell here about last week’s walk.

I emerge onto Stepney Green, where a busy road goes along one side and a cobbled lane on the other, with gardens between them. The gardens have many fine horse chestnut and London plane trees, devoid of leaves at this time of year, with a few scrawny crows’ nests visible in their branches. The daffodils are up, but won’t be in flower for a while yet. I meet the first of much digging at the end of the green, for the replacement of London’s Victorian water mains. Out into the busy main road, where a very ugly block of council flats has just been demolished; this morning Stepney Green is half blocked, and the joining road, Hannibal Road, completely blocked.

Along the Mile End Road, there is more digging. This is “High Street 2012”, which means it will be the main route from the City to the Olympic site during the games; they are trying to show that Whitechapel Road is posher than its position and price on the Monopoly board might suggest, so there is a lot of work on pavements and shopfronts. (Among the changes are the recent removal of iron railings at pedestrian crossings. So now, where the two sides of a crossing are offset, almost nobody crosses in the approved place; people go straight over through the stationary – or not so stationary – traffic.)

In Whitechapel I stop off at the library (sorry, the “Idea Store”) for some more recycling bags. Last week they didn’t have any, claiming that with the works going on behind the library, they can’t get deliveries. This week the works are still going on but the bags are there.

In Brady Street, the digging for the water mains and the digging for Crossrail seem to merge into one another. I turn into Durward Street. Over the top of Whitechapel station, the vast blue elephant of the new London Hospital is almost complete; it will be opening soon.

London Hospital

Like the old hospital, it has a helicopter pad on top; I believe the plan is that casualties at the Olympics will be brought here by helicopter (as many other patients are now). We had a talk on protein networks in blood coagulation by a researcher from the medical school a few weeks ago; the talk was illustrated with a picture of the air ambulance bringing in an accident victim.

Down a back street, across a tiny park with not much except a children’s playground, across another road, and into Hanbury Street, which will take me all the way to Commercial Street. At first it is little more than a cycle track and footpath with dingy council flats on either side. The Brady Centre has a colourful mural with the word “us” in several languages and scripts; a reminder that the East End has welcomed incomers from many different cultures, most notably Huguenots, Irish, Jews, and Bangladeshis.

The council flats become more substantial, and give way to a mix of eating places, shops, and warehouses. We are approaching the famous Brick Lane; but unlike Brick Lane, where the Indian restaurants cheek-by-jowl are virtually identical, there is a lot more variety here: Chinese, Japanese, Italian, and a South Indian dhosa house which I mean to visit someday but haven’t got around to yet. Also on this stretch is the world’s largest heron, which may not be there much longer; its wall is looking increasingly precarious. The top of the spire of Christ Church Spitalfields (a Hawksmoor church) is visible over the rooftops.


Across Brick Lane (little traffic here) and down to Commercial Street (lots of traffic, and a light which is very slow to change). Here I have to cross the road and do a dog-leg into Folgate Street, where I enter the Congestion Charge Zone (a little odd, since Folgate Street itself has a traffic barrier halfway along; but there may be ways to enter the City by ducking down side roads). It is a pleasant road, with fine old houses on either side. One of these is Dennis Severs’ house, whose story I have told before.

In Bishopsgate, I am confronted with a dramatic change, as the Broadgate Tower, one of the newer tall buildings in London, rises in front of me. A little way down, a zebra crossing takes me over the street and into Worship Street, where a road bridge crosses the Liverpool Street railway lines. Here there are big buildings on my left, and much smaller ones on my right. To the left is the “ring of steel” enclosing the City of London; all the small roads leading towards the City have been blocked off, some with gardens, lawns and concrete blocks, some just with iron posts. On the right there is a little row of wooden tile-roofed porches in front of the small shops and restaurants.

There are two lots of building works in Worship Street. One has scaffolding and a skip forcing me into the road; the other had cranes blocking the traffic last year, but now the demolition is done, and a void has been created, the adjoining buildings draped in plastic.

At the end, where we meet City Road, there is an elegant domed building, perhaps once a temple of some sort, but now a sports bar. The way straight ahead is blocked by the premises of the Honourable Artillery Company (I don’t know whether they practice here), so I have to walk up the road, past several coffee houses and small hotels, and the last of several Tesco Metros which have sprung up along the route, to Bunhill Fields, where there is a delightful path.

This is the non-conformist burial ground, and indeed many notables rest here, including Susannah Wesley, Daniel Defoe, and William Blake. Also, there are two men who combined statistics with preaching, and whose stories I have mentioned before: Thomas Bayes, who proved the eponymous theorem, and Richard Price, who wrote the preface to Bayes’ essay and may have been the first Bayesian. As in Stepney Green, the daffodils are up but far from flowering; but there is an occasional crocus in flower here.

In Bunhill Row and Moor Lane, there are several tall buildings. (Indeed, on a sunny day in Bunhill Fields, the tombstones have three shadows, one cast by the sun and the other two by reflections from tall buildings.) The Cass Business School is comparatively modest in comparison. Future businessmen and bankers are smoking outside the door. Inside, the receptionists greet me and call Celia to tell her I’m here. The free papers in the waiting area are not the usual Metro and Evening Standard, but the Financial Times and City AM.

About Peter Cameron

I count all the things that need to be counted.
This entry was posted in geography and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to A London walk

  1. Today I saw, for the first time, the air ambulance landing on the helipad on the new hospital building.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.