Discover the history of the progressive former Shoreditch Borough Council and its headquarters.
Standing on Old Street amidst the tech companies and hipster coffee shops is a towering monument to civic duty. Shoreditch Town Hall hasn’t had its own council for over 50 years, but was known in the Victorian era for being progressive. Before establishment of Borough Councils in the late 19th century, parishes of London were administered by vestry halls. The ancient parish of Shoreditch had boomed in population during the early Victorian era, with over 129,000 residents by 1861. Before building the Town Hall, the site contained the old Fuller’s Hospital, a collection of almhouses founded in 1605. Shoreditch district surveyor Caesar A Long designed the original town hall, which was smaller than the building you see today (see a 1865 sketch of the building). The façade was made of Portland stone, with five bays across the two-storey building. The exterior features Corinthian columns at the front entrance and allegorical keystones, representing Justice, Labour, Mercury and others. Inside, it impressed many with its Doric columns, stained glass windows, glittering chandeliers and ornate interiors. The entrance hall still features the original Victorian details, such as a triglyph frieze, ceiling roses and red Minton tiled floor. Its grand façade and interiors led to it being described as ‘the grandest Vestry Hall in London’.
When it opened in 1866, there were 120 members of the Shoreditch vestry. As well as being a civic centre for the vestry members, the hall was also a local entertainment centre. It was used for the popular Music Hall style of entertainment, with big names such as Arthur Lloyd (1839-1904), Max Miller (1894-1963), Dan Leno (1860-1904) and George Leybourne (1742-1884) performing there. The vestry’s main hall (now the Council Chamber) hosted the inquest into the last Jack The Ripper victim, Mary Jane Kelly, in November 1888.
In 1899, the Shoreditch Vestry became the Metropolitan Borough of Shoreditch when London’s local government system was re-organised. The new council adopted the motto, ‘More Light, More Power’, which is seen frequently throughout the building. This referenced the council’s innovative approach to bringing the new technology of electricity to the area. In 1897, the vestry had built the St. Leonard Shoreditch Electric Light Station, (later known as the Shoreditch Borough Refuse Destructor and Generating Station). Revolutionary at the time, it burned rubbish to provided steam for an electricity generator, with the waste heat heating the public swimming baths next door. Today, the generating station is now the National Centre for Circus Arts school. Shoreditch Vestry was the first municipal energy company to generate electricity by burning waste.
Increasing council duties meant more space was required so architect William George Hunt (b.1870) was enlisted to design a western extension at a cost of £30,000. Hunt lived in Kensington and had also worked on an extension for his local town hall in 1898-9, as well as the Harrods Furniture Depository in 1894. Hunt added the large Assembly Hall, a tower, caretaker’s cottage and more offices. A new staircase was added with cast iron balustrades, along with a stained glass window depicting a municipal crest His designs retained the old Vestry chamber to be used as a council hall. The tower united the original and new extension and featured a female sculpture of Progress, which alludes to Shoreditch’s innovative reputation at the time. Progress wears a winged helmet (symbolising speed) and is holding a torch (to shine the light of progress) and an axe (to cut through forest to make way for civilisation). The extension features more allegorical keystone heads just like the original: Labour, Justice and Protection. Meanwhile, the top western pediment features two reclining figures, with a shield in between and the council motto underneath. Read the rest of this entry
If you’re a fan of escape games and immersive experiences, this fun charity event could be right up your street. This November, KIDS are hosting an evening of murder mystery in trendy east London for one night only.
‘A Twist of the Rope’ will combine the traditional murder mystery format with live performances and an interactive escape room. Visitors will be taken on a mysterious journey to join the circus, where a killer is hiding in the world of ringmasters, lion tamers and mimes. Keep an eye out for clues, solve riddles, interrogate witnesses and unravel the secrets of the circus.
Guests are invited to help Detective Jones find out who killed the circus acrobat, found dead in her dressing room next to a mysterious vanishing cabinet. Aspiring investigators can take part in teams of 2-6 people.
Money raised from the event goes to KIDS, who support over 13,500 disabled children, young people and their families across Britain. Established in 1970, the charity provides over 120 different services and works with 80 local authorities across the country.
- Murder Mystery: A Twist of the Rope takes place on 13 November 2019. From 7.30pm-10.30pm. Over 18s only. Tickets: £30. Trapeze Bar, 89 Great Eastern Street, Shoreditch, EC2A 3HX. Nearest station: Old Street. For more information, visit the KIDS charity website.
For a guide to what else is on in London this November, click here.
Find out where William Shakespeare used to spend his time working, living and playing during his two decades in London.
Although he was born, died and spent a lot of his life in Stratford-upon-Avon, actor, playwright and poet William Shakespeare (1564-1616) found fame – and fortune – on the London stage. Over 400 years after The Bard’s death, his life and works continue to fascinate and entertain people around the world. Although many of Shakespeare’s former homes and haunts in Warwickshire are in good condition, it’s rather more difficult to find his London hotspots. Fires, plagues, war and redevelopment over the centuries have changed the fabric of the City of London and Bankside and left little of Shakespeare’s sights. However, fans of the great literary legend can make a pilgrimage to some Shakespearean landmarks, with some buildings still in existence or plaques marking his presence.
What was William Shakespeare’s life like in London?
Born in 1564, Shakespeare moved to the capital in his twenties. It’s been difficult to pinpoint exactly when he headed for the big city, as historians have referred to 1585 and 1592 as Shakespeare’s “lost years” due to lack of records. However, it’s certain that he was a married man and a father-of-three by the time he sought fame and fortune in the capital. He was definitely working in London by 1592 when he was mentioned by a rival dramatist Robert Greene.
Shakespeare lived in London for around two decades, but split his time between the city and Stratford-upon-Avon, where his wife Anne (1556-1623) remained bringing up their children. Soon after arriving in London, he began his career as an actor and playwright, with records showing his plays were being performed by 1592. He started acting with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, later becoming the King’s Men, and became part owner of several theatres, including The Globe. He turned his attention from plays to poetry when theatres were closed during the plague outbreak of 1593. He remained in London for another 20 years or so, eventually retiring to Stratford in 1613, three years before he died.
Guide to William Shakespeare’s London landmarks
- The Crosse Keys
Today, the Crosse Keys is a Wetherspoons pub in a former Victorian bank. However, the pub takes its name from the former Crosse Keys Inn, which stood near the site in the late 16th century. Shakespeare’s troupe, the Chamberlain’s Men, performed for audiences of up to 500 people in the cobbled courtyard of the Inn on a regular basis in the early 1590s. The original Crosse Keys was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666, with its replacement burning down in 1734.
– The Crosse Keys, 9 Gracechurch Street, City of London, EC3V 0DR. Nearest station: Bank.
- St Helen’s Parish
By 1596, Shakespeare was living in the parish of St Helen’s, Bishopsgate, while his family back in Stratford had moved into the recently bought New Place. The exact address is not known, but it is believed he was living near Leadenhall Street and St Mary Avenue. The Bard is listed as failing to pay 5 shillings on £5 worth of taxable goods in November 1597. Living locally, it was likely he worshipped at St Helen’s Bishopgate church and is commemorated inside with a stained glass window of his image.
– St Helen’s Bishopsgate, Great St Helen’s, EC3A 6AT. Nearest station: Liverpool Street.
- The Theatre
After the Plague led to plays being banned from the City of London, theatre troupes like Shakespeare and co started to move to just outside the jurisdiction of the City. The Theatre was built in 1576 on the site of the former Holywell Priory by actor and theatre impresario James Burbage – a colleague of Shakespeare at the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. By 1594, the group started performing The Bard’s plays exclusively and it soon became the leading acting company in London. Romeo & Juliet was believed to have been performed at The Theatre for the first time, with the tragedy estimated to have been written around 1591-95. However, The Theatre was dismantled in 1598, with some of its materials being used to build The Globe, after the company fell out with the land’s owner Giles Allen. Archaeologists discovered remains of the theatre in 2008. A building to house offices and a permanent exhibition about The Theatre is currently being constructed on site. Today, a mural of Romeo & Juliet commemorates Shakespeare’s spell in Shoreditch.
– New Inn Broadway, Shoreditch, EC2A 3PZ. Nearest stations: Shoreditch High Street or Old Street.
Gigi’s Hoxton review: Summer cocktails and delicious bites at a versatile new dining, drinking and music venue
Hoxton Square is one of my favourite areas in Shoreditch because it offers what appeals to me about the area (e.g. nightlife), but also avoids the traffic and pollution that venues in Old Street, Great Eastern Street, etc, have to put up with. I’ve been socialising in Hoxton Square since the late ’90s (showing my age here!) and always thought of the area as a little nightlife enclave with great bars and a nice atmosphere.
A new addition to the East End foodie and entertainment scene is Gigi’s Hoxton. The versatile venue is an all-day restaurant, bar and music venue with an alfresco terrace and a basement sister space Hoxton Underbelly hosting comedy, live music, DJs and club nights. Taking over the former Zigfrid von Underbelly, Gigi’s Hoxton is the latest venture from Giovanna Hussain, the woman behind some of East London’s favourite venues, including The Corner Shop and The Grapevine in Shoreditch, and The Rocksteady in Dalston. I went along with a friend last week to check it out.
As a previous customer of Zigfrid (although my last visit was some years ago), I couldn’t believe how different the venue looked. The bar had been moved from its original location and the vibrant murals by Kate Philipson had really brightened up the place. The finished look is a mix of industrial and vintage-esque chic, with colourful chairs, zinc tables, a green stone bar and neon lights.
Upon arrival, we headed straight for the bar and mulled over the cocktail list. Being a balmy day, my natural choice was an Aperol Spritz, while my friend couldn’t resist the Espresso Martini (on tap!). As a seasoned Aperol Spritz fan, I’m pleased to say Gigi’s got it spot on with the right mix of bitter and sweetness. I’ve found quite a few bars/pubs don’t get the balance right, so it’s always good to see a venue getting it right.
The ground floor is essentially a L shape so we headed to the narrower section at the back to grab a table and two leather chairs. Gigi’s menus have been created by Head Chef Antonio Mollo and are influenced by his Italian heritage, as well as classic British dishes. We tried a selection of canapes, derived from the main menu, and were impressed by the creativity and flavour. One particular stand-out was the bruschetta. Although I’ve eaten the dish often over the years, I must praise this one for being so fresh and rich in taste. Other highlights were the crispy polenta, mushroom and taleggio fondue and the tortilla taco with homemade guacamole. I’ve got to mention the pea soup, Grey Goose le citron vodka sour cream shot which was a pretty unique taste for me, but I quite liked it.
Aside from the drinking and food, one of Gigi’s USPs is its music scene. After initially being treated to some soulful house and classic R&B tracks from the DJ, we were entertained with some great live music from the Blue Lion Band.
Overall, I think Gigi’s Hoxton is a great addition to east London’s nightlife. The food and drinks were equally good. The venue had a great ambiance and the DJs and live music really completed the evening. I’ll be back.
- Gigi’s Hoxton, 11 Hoxton Square, N1 6NU. Nearest stations: Hoxton or Old Street. Open Mon–Thu: 12pm–1am, Fri: 12pm–3am, Sat: 10am–3am, Sun: 10am–12am. For more information, visit the Gigi’s Hoxton website.
For more of Metro Girl’s restaurant reviews, click here.
Shoreditch street art commemorates where the tragic love story was first performed back in the 16th century.
When it comes to checking out street art in Shoreditch, you’ll be spoiled for choice. However, one of the district’s most striking murals has a special historic significance. One particular building on New Inn Broadway features a mural depicting Romeo and Juliet… on the very spot where the play was first performed.
Long before The Globe was built on Bankside, William Shakespeare (1564-1616) used to tread the boards in the East End. In 1572, the Mayor of London cracked down on plays being performed within the City of London in an attempt to prevent the spread of the Plague. As a result, theatre companies started performing just outside the jurisdictions of the City. The Theatre was built in 1576 on the site of the Holywell Priory, which has been demolished following the dissolution of the monasteries a few decades earlier. It was started by actor and theatre manager James Burbage (1530/5-1597) and his brother-in-law John Brayne (1541-1586). At the time, Shoreditch was notoriously rough and was surrounded by brothels, gambling dens and rowdy taverns. The Theatre was built in a polygonal shape, included three galleries and a yard and was said to have cost £700 to build.
The Theatre owner Burbage was a member of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men theatre company, with a certain actor and playwright from Stratford-upon-Avon as one of his colleagues. The LCM was formed in 1594, when Shakespeare had already been making waves in the theatre scene for at least two years. The troupe started performing Shakespeare’s plays exclusively. Shakespeare’s tragic love story Romeo and Juliet was performed for the first time at The Theatre, estimated to have been written around 1591-1595.
After 22 years of entertaining Londoners, The Theatre came to an end following a dispute between the late Burbage’s son Richard (1567-1619) and the site’s landowner Giles Allen. In a desperate bid to protect their playhouse, Richard and his brother Cuthbert enlisted the help of some associates to dismantle The Theatre in December 1598. The timbers were believed to have been hidden nearby in Bridewell, before being taken over London Bridge to Bankside when the weather improved. Timbers from The Theatre were used to build The Globe in 1599.
For centuries, the site of The Theatre was lost until it was rediscovered by Museum of London archaeologists in 2008. They found remains of brick and stone polygonal footings of the gallery, along with seeds and fruit pips and broken beer vessels from the Elizabethan period. Just north of the Romeo and Juliet mural we see today, a building is being erected to house offices and a permanent exhibition about The Theatre.
Today, a Romeo and Juliet mural adorns a modern three-storey office building on the site of The Theatre. The top of the piece features the heroine Juliet in a blue gown, looking down from her balcony for her Romeo, who gazes up adoringly at her from two storeys down. One of Juliet’s passages from Act 2, Scene 2 of the play is featured: ‘My bounty is as boundless as the sea’; ‘My love as deep the more I give to thee’; and ‘The more I have for both are infinite’. Fans of the play will recognise it from Romeo and Juliet’s post-Capulet ball discussion when they make plans to marry after meeting that evening. The mural was commissioned through the Global Street Art Agency in June 2018.
- New Inn Broadway, Shoreditch, EC2A 3PZ. Nearest station: Shoreditch High Street or Old Street.
Follow Metro Girl on Instagram for more photos of hidden London.
For more London history and architecture posts, click here.
Returning to East London to brighten up gloomy February is the eclectic London Remixed Festival. Over two days, 25 musical acts and DJs will be taking over four stages at Richmix in Shoreditch. Promising all of the fun and sounds of a festival without the mud and cold, the London Remixed Festival will feature Latin Grooves, Afro beats, Tropical Bass, Vintage-Remix, Desert Remix, Balkan Beats, Urban Roots, Acoustic Soundclash and Brass Band Remix.
Among the fabulous names performing are Sam And The Womp with their soundsystem show of Balkan-influenced heavy dance beats. London Remixed Festival’s very own new UK Garage Orchestra will be performing UK garage classics with the Blue Lion Band and special guests MCs. Meanwhile, The True Stays will be playing vintage rock ‘n’ roll in the Folk Ghetto.
On Friday night, the Brass Off stage curated by Continental Drifts features Deadbeat Brass vs Das Brass. On Saturday, revellers will be spoiled for choice with severals stages to choose from, including Tropicarnival curated by Wormfood + Movimientos; Polka Club curated by Continental Drifts + MARSM; and the Folk Ghetto curated by Fire in the Mountain + Woodburner. There will also be the popular Silent Disco, with music from PantherPanther, DJ Hiphoppapotamus, Ecklectic Mick and Madame Electrifie.
- The London Remixed Festival takes place from 1-2 February 2019. Open: Fri 8pm-1am, Sat 8pm-4am. Tickets: £11.19–£21.79. Rich Mix, 35-47 Bethnal Green Road, Shoreditch, E1 6LA. Nearest station: Shoreditch High Street or Old Street. For tickets, visit the London Remixed Festival website.
For a guide to what else is on in London in Febuary, click here.
A new gravestone to be unveiled in Bunhill Fields in August 2018.
William Blake (1757-1827) is widely regarded as one of, if not the, greatest artist in British history. The born and bred Londoner was an acclaimed poet, painter, author and printmaker, although never had much success during his lifetime. Nearly 200 years after his death, Blake’s canon continues to amaze and inspire people around the world. Among his more famous works include ‘Songs of Innocence and of Experience’, ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’, ‘The Four Zoas’, ‘Jerusalem’, ‘Milton’, ‘And did those feet in ancient time’.
Having been brought up as an English Dissenter (Protestant Christians which broke away from the Church of England), Blake was laid to rest in a Dissenters’ graveyard following his death in 1827. The painter died at home in the Strand and was buried in Bunhill Fields in the London borough of Islington. As well as the location of his parents and two of his brothers’ graves, Bunhill also included the burial sites of Daniel Defoe, John Bunyan and Susanna Wesley. Blake was buried in an unmarked grave on 17 August – on what would have been he and wife Catherine’s 45th wedding anniversary. He was buried on top of several bodies, with another four being placed above him in the coming weeks. His widow Catherine died in 1831 and was also laid to rest at Bunhill Fields, but in a separate plot.
Bunhill Fields was closed as a burial ground in 1854 after it was declared ‘full’, having contained 123,000 interments during its 189 year history, and became a public park. Although William and Catherine Blake had both been buried in unmarked graves, the William Blake Society (founded 1912) erected a memorial stone to the couple in Bunhill Fields on the centenary of the painter’s death in 1927. The stone read: ‘Near by lie the remains of the poet-painter William Blake 1757–1827 and his wife Catherine Sophia 1762–1831.’ Re-landscaping in the 1960s following widespread damage during World War II resulted in many of the monuments being cleared. Although the Blakes’ memorial was one of those to survive, it was moved from its location at William’s grave to near Defoe’s memorial stone in 1965. Read the rest of this entry
Glitterbox is a huge name in clubbing culture, famous for their flamboyant and hedonistic parties in Ibiza, London and beyond. With a high glamour and inclusive vision, Glitterbox are renowned for bringing the spirit of disco to the 21st century. To mark their fifth year as they gear up for the next season in the Balearics, Glitterbox are celebrating with an exhibition of fabulous moments, music and people.
The Glitterbox experience of DJs, performers, dancers and clubbers have been captured in iconic artwork and photography over the years. Acclaimed artist and ‘Blitz Kid’ Mark Wardel will be showcasing his original work, with limited, signed prints available to purchase. Meanwhile, Glitterbox’s resident photographer Gavin Mills will be revealing never-seen-before images from five years of decadent revelry. The exhibition will also feature archive flyers, posters and graphic prints, as well as new artwork for the 2018 season.
The exhibition will span one week at the contemporary gallery, print publisher and printing studio Jealous in Shoreditch. There will also be special gallery events during the exhibition.
- Glitterbox x Jealous Gallery runs from 13 – 19 February 2018. Open 11am-7pm. Free admission. At Jealous East, 53 Curtain Road, Shoreditch, EC2A 3PT. Nearest station: Old Street or Shoreditch High Street. For more information, visit GlitterboxIbiza’s website or the Jealous Gallery website.
For a guide to what else is on in February, click here.
Need to shake off those winter blues? Well, you don’t have to wait until spring as the London Remixed Festival is returning to Shoreditch this February. Over two days, over 25 innovative and exciting bands and DJs from a range of genres will perform across four stages. Revellers will be entertained by talented artists playing Latin Grooves, Afro beats, Tropical Bass, Vintage-Remix, Desert Remix Balkan Beats, Urban Roots, Acoustic Soundclash and Brass Band Remix.
Taking over Rich Mix, music fans can soak up the festival spirit without the mud or dodgy toilets. As well as live music and DJ sets, guests can also take part in the free Remix workshops, Silent Disco, the ‘Disco Lift’ or the infamous Remix Speed Dating. Among the headliners include Wara, Holy Moly & The Crackers, The Baghdaddies, John Fairhurst, Siska and Subajah.
On Friday night, the Brass Off stage curated by Continental Drifts features New York Brass Band Vs Temple Funk Collective; DJ Chris Tofu and Count Bassy. On Saturday, revellers will be spoiled for choice with four stages to choose from, including Tropicarnival (Curated by Wormfood, Movimientos and Vibes & Pressure); Polka Club (Curated by Continental Drifts and Arts Canteen); and Folk Ghetto (Curated by Two For Joy and Woodburner).
- The London Remixed Festival takes place from 2-3 February 2018 at Richmix, 35-47 Bethnal Green Road, Shoreditch, E1 6LA. Nearest station: Shoreditch High Street. Open Fri 2 7pm-1am, Sat 3 8pm-4am. Tickets: £7-£15. For more information and booking, visit the festival’s official website.
The Old Street roundabout has never been one of the more attractive hubs in London. However, increasing regeneration is breathing new life into the area’s buildings and making EC1 a more attractive place to be.
As part of new office and retail quarter The Bower, a new public art installation is lighting up Old Street for the better. Renowned Dutch artists DeMakersVan have created a facetted stainless steel and glass installation inspired by Shoreditch’s industrial past.
The Art Wall is located at the City Road entrance to The Bower and is visible from the Old Street roundabout. The installation is a 21 metre long, 3-dimensional structure lit up with LED panels. The DeMakersVan brothers were inspired by the Crittal windows commonly found in Shoreditch and warped the shape. Mirrors on the interior of the structure reflect the white haze glass windows and rainbow effect glass panels, resulting in an iridescent light display.
Gerald Kaye, CEO of Helical, developer of The Bower, enthused: ‘The Bower is the perfect location for our Art Wall, which we believe encapsulates both the history of the area and the transformation of materials and aesthetics over time. We are proud to have it positioned in such a public and visible space by Old Street tube station, and hope the public enjoy this fantastic piece of art.’
DeMakersVan commented: ‘We are delighted to unveil our first installation in London, and believe the locations aesthetic complements the work and its philosophy perfectly.’
As well as the Art Wall, The Bower is also home to Bone Daddies, The Draft House, Enoteca da Luca, Honest Burger, Maki sushi bar, Good & Proper Tea and Franze & Evans.
- The Bower, Old Street roundabout, Shoreditch, EC1V 9NR. Nearest station: Old Street. For more information about The Bower, visit their website.