I went on a walk with Ken Titmuss, aka Old Map Man, around Shoreditch in east London. Old Map Man’s walks come highly recommended and I was especially interested in the Shoreditch one because in my novel The Painted Bridge, the heroine Anna Palmer spends her brief married life there. Reverend Vincent Palmer’s fictional church of All Hallows is set near Curtain Road, in what was then a parish rather than a borough. I’ve explored it on my own in my research for the book but was interested to learn more.
The walk took in brilliant bits of old architecture, whether currently cherished like this house just off Hoxton Square
We were able to go inside Shoreditch church, which I’d never done before despite passing by it many times. It is beautiful inside and has the atmosphere of a church but also of a theatre – a place in which different things could occur. The church has an extraordinary history; church buildings in different forms have stood on the site for centuries. In its Norman incarnation, it became an actors’ church and is likely to have been used by Shakespeare. The first English theatre was nearby in New Inn Yard.
But the church has a strong social mission, that also seems to go back a long way.That continues strongly, with projects to help homeless people recovering from addictions. The church is dedicated to St Leonard, the patron saint of prisoners and those who are mentally ill. Another link with the novel for me, because in it in 1859 Anna Palmer is taken from Shoreditch to be incarcerated in a private madhouse for women.
There was a sense – not so much on the main streets, thronging with people, but on the quiet back streets, in the burial ground, of the past and its inhabitants still stalking the workshops and pubs and churches that they built and frequented.
More details of Old Map Man’s walks are to be found here, on his website.