August on diamond geezer is traditionally Local History Month. I sometimes interpret the title somewhat broadly, but generally the idea is to come up with an all-consuming safari, researched in slightly excessive detail, and then impose this on you as the month progresses. Here's what LHM has involved thus far...
My apologies, but some of these features don't fit on one page any more, that's ever since the bastards at Blogger truncated my archives in 2010 in order to 'speed up loading times'. But you can always click back using the "Older posts" link at the bottom of the page, indeed you can always do this, not just for these special features.
My favourite Local History Months have tended to be been the waterside walks, that's the Fleet, the Lea and the New River. Tracing the Fleet was particularly fascinating, because it's no longer visible, and my in-depth tracking has probably generated more long-term interest than anything else I've ever written. The other two rivers involved considerably longer walks, but still the same discipline in coming home and writing about each stretch in semi-forensic detail. London2012 dominates the rest of the list somewhat, because you don't get much more locally historic than an Olympics at the bottom of the road (with High Street 2012 an attempt to record my local neighbourhood before the legacy vortex struck). As for retracing John Betjeman's Metro-land, nobody did local history stuff better than he, so it was inspirational to follow in his documentary footsteps four decades on. And last year's attempt to conquer every London Borough Top turned out to be a brilliant way to discover a scattergun of unexplored highpoints across the capital.
So what to do this year? I thought it was about time I went back to proper local, so I've dug deep into my "list of things I've been meaning to do for ages" and finally grasped a big idea. I'm going to walk around Tower Hamlets.
That's all the way around the edge of Tower Hamlets, starting in Bow where I live, and heading clockwise around the perimeter of the borough. You will not believe quite how far it is.
I'm fortunate in that Tower Hamlets has a better defined border than most boroughs, with the eastern edge delimited by the River Lea and the southern edge by the River Thames. To the west it butts up against the City, before following Hackney Road, the Regent's Canal and the northern rim of Victoria Park. And there are some cracking places of interest along the way. The cobbles of Limehouse and Wapping, for example, and the Tower of London, and the heart of Spitalfields, and even a central slice of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. On a less well known note there's London's only lighthouse, the launchslip of the greatest ever Victorian steamship, the former liberty of Norton Folgate, an alcove rescued from a previous London Bridge and an actual Blue Peter garden. If you'd like to view this fascinating boundary in full cartographic detail, click here.
A few rules. I'm not walking dead ends, so if the closest path to the boundary requires me to retrace my steps, I'm not going there. I'm sticking to public rights of way, so there'll be no trespassing along someone's back passage to take a shortcut. And I've decided to stay within Tower Hamlets at all times, never straying to the other side of the boundary, even if that requires a lengthy diversion because the obvious path lies just outside the borough. For example the Regent's Canal towpath runs along the Hackney bank not the Tower Hamlets bank, alas, while the better path down the River Lea is usually across in Newham. And finally I reserve the right to break these rules if there's something really interesting nearby I'd otherwise miss.
I will confess, I have already walked the whole thing once. I thought I'd nip round one Saturday last month just to get the feel of it, and to take lots of photos while the weather was good. I hoped it wouldn't take too long, the borough's one of the very smallest in England, with an area of less than eight square miles. But I was seriously unprepared for quite how long a trek it was going to be. "I'm going to walk it all in one go without stopping," I said, but that plan went by the board when ten miles came round and I was still only by the Thames. "I'm going to walk all the rest in one go without stopping," I promised after slumping on a bench, but even then I couldn't manage without a further rest in Victoria Park. In the end I limped home almost eight hours after setting out, having walked an astonishing twenty miles just to circumnavigate my borough. I don't necessarily recommend that you follow in my footsteps.
But at least a twenty mile walk should make for a decent month-long feature. Don't worry, I won't be blogging about my walk every day, I'll split it up into bite-size chucks and ensure other non-Tower-Hamlets stories get a look in inbetween. I hope I'll convince you that my borough is something special, and that's without venturing near any of the other interesting stuff in the middle. I have just one apology before we begin, which is that I'll be starting and finishing at the closest point to home, which is the Bow Roundabout, which you're possibly heartily sick of hearing about by now. But once we've got that out of the way, it's much less familiar territory. Let's go Round Tower...