Monday found me at the foot of London’s east-end in Shoreditch.
Legend has it that the name is derived from Shore’s Ditch, being the last resting place of Jane Shore the mistress of Edward IV who is supposed to have either died or been buried in a ditch in the area. What’s more likely is that the name comes from Sewer Ditch.
My friend Brian’s studio is located in a redeveloped Victorian match factory, the Perseverance Works. This was the sort of place where the exposure to white phosphorous in the matchmaking process caused Phossy Jaw, a nasty disease that caused the teeth and jaw to rot away, before causing death from massive organ failure. The phosphorus made the affected jaw bone to glow in the dark, hence the name. The use of white phosphorus over the more expensive, but far less toxic red phosphorus was only banned in the UK in 1910, after a lot of campaigning from the Salvation Army and other philanthropic groups.
Today Perseverance Works is a much nicer place, having been redeveloped into design studios, magazine offices, artisan workshops and the like. Brian’s studio is on the top floor with access to a roof terrace with some stunning views over London. The light wasn’t that good but I got a nice view to the west where you can see,
Shoreditch Church, which is the very same one that says ‘When I grow rich’ in the rhyme Oranges and Lemons, and the tower blocks of the City of London beyond. Dedicated to St Leonard it is used as the location for the BBC comedy Rev.
A bit to the north of St Leonard’s is the redundant Shoreditch Town Hall, with its Neo Classical facade, on Old Street which wends its way up towards, what the Prime Minister calls Silicone Roundabout. Not quite Silicone Valley, but I suppose it’s about as good as we are going to get in London. Perseverance Works is often used as a filming location for things like cookery shows and it does have a very attractive courtyard. Such a welcome change from the original purpose of the building.
In Tudor times James Burbage built a theatre in the area and some of Shakespeare’s plays were performed there. Later in Victorian times Shoreditch became a centre for music halls and gin palaces, and all the crime, drunkeness and sleaze that went with them.
Then along came Hitler, who flattened most of the area during World War Two and mid 20th century developers who put up some really quite appalling new properties. However Shoreditch has been undergoing a bit of a renaissance just lately, as lots of creative industries have moved into places like the old match factory. As part of London’s old east-end it has always been the home of immigrants getting a leg up into the city. Some of the most recent settlers are the Vietnamese who have opened some very good restaurants, so many in fact that Kingsland Road is known as Pho Mile. We had lunch at the Viet Hoa Cafe, which was very good.
There are a few interesting Victorian buildings in Shoreditch that managed to survive both Hitler and 60s re-developers like this former ironworks. Shame someone cut a window through that decorative tiling.
If you fancy a look around the area the nearest stations are Shoreditch High Street (London Overground) Liverpool Street and Old Street (Northern Line)