A Finsbury Walk

Route & what to see


A 4 mile walk from Old Street Station to Holborn Circus. There is some overlap with other routes.

Finsbury was an area of fields used for pasture, sports especially archery and drying washing. Londoners fleeing from the fire and plague set up temporary homes in the area. Activities not welcome in the City such as theatres and industries including brewing were established. Medicinal springs were discovered and exploited as places of entertainment and it also became a centre for non-conformity. Later development was piecemeal under various owners. Initially people worked from home but later factories were opened so the area became built up by the mid 19th century. By 1901, when Finsbury became a Metropolitan Borough, 31 blocks of model dwellings had been built to replace slums. Redevelopment continued between the wars and afterwards. Finsbury was absorbed into the Borough of Islington in 1965.

Exit into City Road and go southwards
On the left is the Wesleyan Chapel founded in 1777, Museum of Methodism and Wesley’s House (now a museum)

Go through Bunhill Fields opposite
This burial ground was never consecrated so was used by dissenters. The last burial took place in 1854. There are pictures and listings of notable graves in the central building.

Go right at Bunhill Row, cross Old Street and continue along Bath Street
This recalls the Peerless Pool, a reservoir used as a bathing pool in the 18th century. Beyond Peerless Street on the right is Moorfields Eye Hospital.

Go left into Radnor Street
In the entrance to St Luke’s Primary School are inscription stones from the previous building. At the corner with Ironmonger Row is the Baths and Wash House. The first phase with slipper baths and laundry was designed by Alfred Cross in 1931. The second phase by his son Kenneth Cross (1938) provided a swimming pool and Turkish Baths. The building has been refitted but retains many features and has a small history display in one of the former slipper baths.

Go left through St Luke’s Garden (former graveyard) across into Helmet Row
St Luke’s Church was designed by Hawksmoor with John James in 1727-33 and features an obelisk spire. In 1959 the roof was found to be unsafe and was removed leaving the church at the mercy of the elements. However it has now been Grade I listed and transformed into a rehearsal, performance and education building for the London Symphony Orchestra with a cafe and exhibition in the reconstructed crypt. There is a programme of events including concerts and workshops open to the public. Number 12 is the former vicarge.

Cross Old Street into Whitecross Street
Some old houses remain at the northern end. Further along is a large Peabody estate of the 1880s. The street is used as a market.

Go left into Dufferine Street
At the end on the right Dufferin Court was built for costermongers and features barrow storage sheds in the courtyard.

Go right into Bunhill Row
The terrace of houses with City of London property marks are early 19th century

Go right through Lamb’s Passage
St Joseph’s RC Church is at the corner

At the end go right into Chiswell Street
Opposite is St Paul’s Tavern. Whitbreads moved here in 1749 extending an existing house and brewery. The historic core was retained after closure in 1976. Buildings on the south side are the company headquarters and a conference centre. The casking department on the north side is now accommodation for Guildhall School of Music students. The sundial records the original 1771 building rebuilt in 1867.

Go right along Whitecross Street and left into Fortune Street
A plaque records the site of the Fortune Theatre built for Edward Alleyn and Philip Henslowe in 1600. It burnt down in December 1621.

Continue along Fortune Street, cross Golden Lane then go along Fann Street. Go right at Goswell Road
At the Clerkenwell Road/Old Street junction is the former Hat & Feathers pub of 1860.

Continue along Goswell Road and just past the Percival Street/Lever Street junction go left along Sebastian Street
Northampton Square was laid out in 1805. Some houses remain but there are also several City University buildings.

Exit via Ashby Street and continue left along Goswell Road. Go left into Rawstorne Street
Land in this area was left to the Brewer’s Company by Dame Alice Owen in 1613. There are houses of c1789 and tenements of 1871-3.

Go right at Paget Street, left into Friend Street and left through Rawstorne Place
Bennetts Associates (Architects) occupy premises which inlcude a former printworks and a small 18th century barn. These were restored and incorporated into the complex along with new buildings designed by the practice. Sustainable features include a green roof.

Continue along Rawstorne Street to the right and go right at St John Street. Go left into Rosebery Avenue
In 1684 Dick Sadler opened a pleasure garden at the site of a medicinal spring to which he later added a music house. A later building was closed in 1915 and not replaced until 1931 when under the direction of Lilian Baylis it became home to the Royal Ballet and English National Opera. This was demolished in 1996 and the present building opened in October 1998. A well can still be seen in the entrance.
Opposite is the Spa Green estate planned by Tecton in the pre-war years but not built until 1946-50 under the direction of Lubetkin & Skinner. The war memorial was erected in 1921.
The site on the right is that of New River Head from which water was distributed. This was taken over by the Metropolitan Water Board (later Thames Water) and a new HQ was built by 1920 and extended in 1934-5. The buildings have since been converted to apartments. Visible on the site is Smeaton's Engine House, built in 1767 and extended in 1812 and the stump of an early 18th century windmill (now with a conical roof). Further along on the left is the former Finsbury Town Hall built in 1895 with Art Nouveau features and a glazed street canopy.

Go right into Amwell Street
St Peter & St Pauls RC Church of 1875 is on the left

First left into Merlin Street
Flats for married police were constructed in 1927-30

Continue into Wilmington Square
This was laid out in the 1820s

Exit via Tysoe Street, crossing Rosebery Avenue and go right along Exmouth Market.
The Church of the Holy Redeemer of 1887-8 was designed by J D Sedding in an Italian Renaissance style.

Go left into Pine Street
To the left is the Finsbury Health Centre, a H-shaped building of 1935-8 by Lubetkin & Tecton.

Go right at Vineyard Walk and cross Farringdon Road into Topham Street
Coldbath Square to the right recalls medicinal baths of 1697

Go left through to Bakers Row then right here. At the end go left along Warner Street
The Coach & Horses pub (built 1900) stands on the site of Hockley-in-the-Hole Bear Gardens. The Fleet River runs under the street outside this.

Right at Back Hill. Cross Clerkenwell Road and go down Leather Lane
This is another market street

Go right into Dorrington Street
St Alban the Martyr Church was designed by William Butterfield in 1861-2 but rebuilt after being largely destroyed in WWII. It was built amongst the slums on the site of a thieves’ kitchen.

Continue along Brooke Street
The poet Chatterton committed suicide at a house on the site of number 39 in 1770.

At the end go left along Holborn to Holborn Circus
The original Prudential buildings of 1879 were designed by Alfred Waterhouse but the present buildings, which have kept faith with the style, are by other architects including Paul Waterhouse. There is a bronze equestrian statue of Prince Albert in Holborn Circus. The ancient St Andrews Church escaped the Great Fire but was rebuilt by Wren in 1684-90. It was restored after WWII bomb damage by Seeley & Paget. The church contains items from the Foundling Hospital and the reredos from St Luke’s Old Street.


london-footprints.co.uk 2014

Buildings of England (Pevsner) – London North

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