Sebright Arms to The Ten Bells (and everything in between)

As part of the London Festival Of Architecture 2015 Antony Nelson volunteered to lead a guided walk within a programme of Landscape Institute (LI) organised tours…

When asked by the LI to provide a summary of my tour content I was initially plagued by self-doubt – What topic would be worthy of acceptance within the London Festival of Architecture celebrations?

Living in a vibrant area of East London near Shoreditch, whilst indulging a tendency towards daydreaming and aimless wonderings (which I like to pass off as Psychogeography), gave me the idea of a meandering walk through my patch; weaving in layers of interest I hoped others would enjoy as much as I do.

My Pitch to the LI

‘Antony Nelson, a local Landscape Architect from Planit-IE, will guide you through an oblique slice of East London taking in an eclectic mix of old, new and proposed architecture; side streets; local and social history; public spaces; immigration; art and fashion; and notorious criminals.’

The Walk

The tour started close to home at my local pub, The Sebright Arms on Coate Street, E2. Three years ago an enlightened Council decision saved this community asset from proposed demolition to make way for a residential scheme. It has since grown to be one of the top music venues in London for emerging artists.

This short quiet street is also home to the studios of Witherford Watson Mann Architects, Kinnear Landscape Architects and Caruso St John Architects. The new ‘WoodBlock House’ designed by dRMM for the artist Richard Wood is sandwiched between the latter and a beautifully detailed narrow family home by Sergison Bates, whilst FAT’s ‘Bluehouse’ is just around the corner.

I would like to think all tour stops were of great interest, but the one that encapsulated the walk’s theme and really caught people’s imagination was Arnold Circus within The Boundary Estate.

The Boundary Estate, just off the busy Shoreditch High Street and within the shadow of the ever-encroaching skyscrapers of The City, is a calm pocket of beautiful red brick and glazed tiled Victorian tenement style buildings.

They sit on the site of London’s most notorious former slum, called the ‘Old Nichol’. In his social mapping of London Charles Booth identified occupants as the “lowest class…occasional labourers, street sellers, loafers, criminals and semi-criminals”. The slum was eventually cleared in the late 19th century to make way for the Boundary Estate, which became the country’s first council estate.

We stood on top of the central mound to Arnold Circus, in the bandstand, as I relaid this story. My explanation was followed by a question – What had become of the remains of this vast slum? Well, I told everyone, it’s under our feet.

Conscious that people had come from as far as Altrincham and paid £8 to hear me talk, I’d added a caveat at the start of the tour. I’d promised everybody that if unimpressed by the time we reached The Ten Bells pub I would personally buy them a beer. If, on the other hand, they really enjoyed the tour – they would have to buy me a beer. This seemed only fair.

I’ll leave you guessing whether I’ll be a walking tour guide next year because I still need to perfect my technique in gaining free beer; or wish my thirst to be fully quenched yet again!

The Route

A foldable map, created by P-IE’s Graphic Designer Bryony Gawthorpe, highlighted selected points of interest along the way and acted as a keepsake for those attending.