Local History Month TRIPLE POINTS (1)
August is Local History Month on diamond geezer. Over the years I've explored my immediate E3 neighbourhood, walked the entire length of the river Lea and crossed the capital on a line of latitude, to name but a few of my zealous quests. This year I thought I'd visit the places where London boroughs meet, in a series I'm calling Triple Points.
There are approximately 50 places in London where three boroughs meet. Some are at road junctions, some are in woodland, some match ancient landmarks and several are in the middle of the Thames. I don't intend to visit them all, but I have noticed that if I pick carefully I can visit all of London's 33 boroughs in just eleven stops. So let's start in the middle of town between Moorgate and Bishopsgate, specifically where Sun Street crosses Wilson Street.
S u n
S t r e e t
City of London
Welcome to Broadgate, or rather not welcome because this private developmental enclave is notoriously sniffy about public access byelaws. We're not over beside the main pedestrianised 'circus' behind Liverpool Street station (where Broad Street station used to be). Instead we're over in the northwesternmost corner where the estate's very first offices were erected in 1987 - that's 1, 2 & 3 Finsbury Avenue. They call them 1FA, 2FA and 3FA these days, because branding has spoken. It's 2FA which overlooks the street corner we're interested in, a graphite grey lattice with recessed revolving doors and external cylindrical liftshafts. Peer in through the ground floor windows and you can see architects from Bjarke Ingels engaging in "programmatic alchemy" and "hitting the fertile overlap". One room is entirely full of bikes.
Number 1 Finsbury Avenue was Grade II* listed a few years ago, so that's safe. But numbers 2 and 3 weren't, so are scheduled to be demolished and replaced by something less attractively modern. Planning permission was awarded last year for a much taller set of buildings including a 32-storey tower, increasing the total commercial space by a factor of 3, because what use is City land if you can't make a thumping rental profit out of it? Part of the plan is to drive a diagonal alleyway through from the corner of Sun Street to the streetfood Airstreams in Finsbury Avenue Square, and another scheme is to add a publicly accessible roof terrace on the 13th floor because that's how you get planning applications passed these days.
n.b. Until 25 years ago this block of land was actually in Hackney. The borough boundary was shifted northwards in 1994 to bring the entire Broadgate development within the City of London's remit, before which the Triple Point would have been at the end of Eldon Street.
If you were told that only one corner of this crossroads was in Hackney, you'd easily guess which one - it's the one with the pub. The Flying Horse dates back to 1812, which is a proper rarity in these parts, although the facade was remodelled in 1865 and the bar area is alas 1980s plywood. Nevertheless this was enough to get the place listed, in a citation celebrating stuccoed rusticated quoins and bobbin-turned balusters, and is the only reason the pub survives to pull pints. It revels as a traditional boozer with dartboard, cask ales and bigscreen Sky Sports, thereby acting as a rare magnet for cabbies, builders and vanmen, but dig beneath the surface and all their sandwiches are on rosemary foccacia so the financial set are also courted. Nextdoor is the Wilson Street Chapel, a gorgeous peaky Gothic hideaway where non-conformists still meet on Sundays and Wednesday lunchtimes.
The pub and chapel have been luckier than the adjacent Georgian stock brick terrace along Sun Street. I remember how rundown the shopfronts used to look, each either boarded-up or selling something lowly like buttered sandwiches, in sharp contrast to the City bling across the road. Today all their insides have been hollowed out and a windowless facade retained, as the One Crown Placedevelopment absorbs the entire remainder of the block. Two prismatic residential skyscrapers rise behind, destroying any heritage ambience this conservation area once had, sold off-plan in Hong Kong to investors who fancy making a tidy profit out of £5000pcm rentals. The brochure's strapline is "See the City in a new light", which only the astute will realise means you're actually buying in Hackney. How swiftly the character of the borderlands is consumed.
n.b. The Georgian terrace on Sun Street gets to become One Crown Place's boutique hotel, clubhouse and destination restaurant, because of course it does.
The western side of Wilson Street is entirely in Islington, and somewhat dull. The office blocks on both corners are unremarkable six-storey affairs in inoffensive grey or beige. The estate agents at Strettons ply their trade on the ground floor of Davies House in semi-public view. Across the road are Etec Associates, a building consultancy, revelling in the prestigous anonymity of a City fringe base. A few doors up Sun Street everything opens out into Finsbury Square, which is a hugely more interesting space but alas falls outside the remit of my Triple Point analysis. Don't look this way, look back at Hackney and the City, because that's where the story is.
Update: Except that, by picking City/Hackney/Islington as my first triple point, it's not going to be possible to find 10 others which fully tick off every London borough. Indeed I've tried numerous different configurations and I reckon it's impossible to divvy up the capital no matter where you start. Havering's very restrictive, and Kingston often messes things up, and Kensington & Chelsea causes a lot of trouble, and essentially I don't think this Triple Points feature can be completed.