When I Grow Rich…

…ring the bells of Shoreditch in Oranges and Lemons, Shoreditch being where mos of the start of my novel is set, although I very much doubt the bells of St. Leonard’s are going to help me get rich by writing it.  (The church is apparently features on current BBC series Rev, which is also set in Shoreditch.)

I’ve visited Shoreditch many times while I’ve been writing the novel, particularly recently, and I think I’ve noticed the most recent stages in its metamorphosis from run-down, working class area to the predominantly cool artists’ neighbourhood that it is today — although you don’t need to wander too far away from the Rivington Road/Shoreditch High Street area to find yourself in some very unartistic-looking, grim housing estates.

Bishopsgate from the Edge of the City

Perhaps the opening of Shoreditch High Street overground station about 18 months ago has been a catalyst as now the area is linked directly to south London and the North London Line at Dalston.

Shoreditch is surprisingly close to the City of London and its concentration of wealthy financial services workers. The photo below is taken from Shoreditch  — the marker post on the right side of the photo shows the City of London boundary marker.

It’s an extraordinary transition point with the Broadgate development on the right along Bishopsgate and the Gherkin in the distance. The street where I stood to take the photo is a very short length of road called Norton Folgate which connects Bishopsgate with Shoreditch High Street. It’s probably no more than one or two hundred yards in length but the contrast in urban landscape between its two ends is striking.

Great Eastern Street, Shoreditch
Great Eastern Street, Shoreditch
Slightly further up the road, looking away from the City is Great Eastern Street. This very ordinary looking street is actually London’s inner ring road — connecting the end of the dual carriageway at King’s Cross with Tower Bridge via Angel and Old Street. Village Underground with its tube trains on the roof can be spotted in the middle-distance.
After our first workshopping session of the autumn at Mike B’s in Old Street, I visited Village Underground’s large warehouse space (what the trains sit on top of) for the Moniker Art Exhibition in October , which was timed to co-incide with the big London Frieze event in Regent’s Park (at £27 a ticket that was a bit steep for me). But there was a lot of really good at the Moniker Event — and the space at Village Underground was a good venue for it.
It’s surprising that hundreds of years after the Roman and medieval walls of London fell into disrepair that it feels as if there’s still some psychological separation between inside and outside their boundaries.
Shakespeare Acted Here
Not the Globe Theatre but Noisy, Dirty, Anonymous Curtain Road, Shoreditch

All types of disreputable activities occurred in areas like Shoreditch, just outside the City walls and, in the late sixteenth century, this included actors and playwrights, along with all the other undesirables cast outside the City walls like thieves and prostitutes. Just around the corner from Village Underground is this plaque in Curtain Road, which is a very understated memorial to the Curtain Theatre – a predecessor of the Rose and Globe Theatres in much more historically celebrated Bankside.

London’s first theatre (called The Theatre) was located somewhere around the area between Curtain Road, Village Underground and Shoreditch High Street which has had the track for the new

Rivington Street, Shoreditch
Rivington Street, Shoreditch

overground station laid right through it. It’s incredible to think that this area of Victorian warehouses, 60s office blocks and surface car parks was a crucible of the English language — where Shakespeare started his writing career.

Very close to the Shakespeare plaque is the Old Blue Last — a live-music venue described by NME on its website as  ‘the world’s coolest pub’ and continuing Shoreditch’s history of alternative entertainment. A roll-call of the ‘coolest’ acts of the 2000s have appeared at the pub including Amy Winehouse, Florence and the Machine, (Gordon Brown’s favourites) the Arctic Monkeys, the Vaccines and many more.
Old Blue Last, Shoreditch
Old Blue Last, Shoreditch

Places like the Old Blue Last won’t have deterred the arrival of trendy artist types in the area and I thought the photo below shows an appropriate clash of old and new — über-cool American Apparel (apparently the shop where Ruta Gedmintas bought her outfits for Frankie in Lip Service) has opened up next to a pub improbably called the Barley Mow.

Old and New on Curtain Road
Old and New on Curtain Road

Actually the Barley Mow is only a traditional looking boozer from the outside, as I found when I organised a pub crawl starting at the pub, and found that the price of a pint of their Fuller’s ale was a far from working-class £3.70.

A group of us did 8 pubs in all in a route from Shoreditch to Islington via Old Street and the Regent’s Canal. Second on the list was the also archaically named

Bricklayer's Arms Shoreditch
Probably Not Many Bricklayers in Here Any More -- Bricklayer's Arms, Shoreditch

Bricklayer’s Arms (thought the punctuation of the name suggests there was only one tradesman).

On the crawl was the ultimate down-at-heel boozer that’s been the unlikely beneficiary of being turned into a nationally famous ale drinkers’ destination — the Wenlock Arms on the borders of Old Street and Hoxton.

It’s in a very mixed area with new apartments being developed around the Wenlock Basin on the Regent’s Canal but also being situated in the middle of the sprawl of forbidding-looking council estates that border the trendy centres of Shoreditch and Hoxton.

Wenlock Arms, Hoxton
Wenlock Arms, Hoxton

It’s an almost stereotypically ‘unspoiled’ pub — almost falling to pieces in places — but it’s got a thriving clientele of ale drinkers (some of whom I know seek this place out from the USA) but it has been under threat recently of being redeveloped into a five storey block of flats.

It’s the sort of authentic place deserves to be preserved and, as an example of one aspect of pub culture, a pub very like it might find its way into my novel. And any inquisitive barmaid who might work in this sort of pub would certainly know how to keep and serve great beer.