diamond geezer

 Friday, October 20, 2017

A City of London
The City of London has always remained outside the administrative system of the other London boroughs, so there was never any danger of the Herbert Commission adding it to Greater London. It's always done its own thing, its planning department especially so, including a pioneering network of elevated walkways in the late 60s and early 70s. The 'pedways' were supposed to become a 30 mile network across the City keeping pedestrians above the traffic, but development ground to a halt and only a fraction were ever built. I've been out in search of what remains, with the aid of this 1992 map usefully tweeted by @MrTimDunn (the numbers and colours are my addition). Why not head down and explore for yourself?
[green - still walkable, amber - somewhat stunted, red - since redeveloped]

Pedways of the City of London

1) The Barbican Highwalks
The one set of pedways every Londoner knows is the maze of passageways around the Barbican, if only as somewhere it's notoriously easy to get lost. The estate was built during the precise period that pedways were in vogue, hence all the main thoroughfares run above ground level, leaving down below for water gardens, car parks and deliveries. The concrete highwalks exhibit considerable variety, from tight tunnels to broad esplanades and from smart crescents to narrow gangways, linking visitors to the central concert hall and residents to the outside world. For lovers of practical brutalism it gets no better.

Most of the original network survives, looping beneath slab blocks and skirting the towers, but the eastern end hasn't been so lucky. The Moorfields Highwalk comes to an abrupt end in midair above the edge of a building site, the remainder of the rooftop empire demolished as part of Crossrail-related development. Some new kind of connection will be created once that's complete, but in the meantime don't try following the fabled yellow line to Moorgate while a less than satisfactory diversion remains in place.
I could devote this entire post to the Barbican's pedways, but you don't need me to tell you where they are to be able to explore for yourself. The City's more elusive pedways deserve our attention instead.

2) Baynard House
Where you find pedways, you often also find concrete. Baynard House is a total concrete eruption, a three storey office block smothering the site of a royal Tudor mansion, located just to the east of Blackfriars station. Architect William Holford built his grey fortress with pedway principles in mind, its main entrance at first floor level, and an elevated walkway set back alongside Queen Victoria Street.

40 years later this gloomy passageway feels somewhat dour, frequented by BT employees and pigeons, twisting past boarded-up doorways, men in sleeping bags and a single potplant. It begins in a raised square with a Shakespearean totem pole depicting the seven ages of man, continues above the Mermaid Theatre accompanied by whiffs of urine, and descends on the far side of Puddle Dock outside a little-known entrance to Blackfriars station. As M@'s video attests, this is a pedway worthy of (brief) psychogeographical exploration.

3) Peter's Hill
According to the City of London's classification, the long pedestrian avenue which slopes down from St Paul's Cathedral to the Millennium Bridge was officially designated a pedway. It's still very much in situ, and easily the busiest on the map, but totally lacks that essential elevated pedway vibe, so I'm going to skip it and move on.

4) Fyefoot Lane
This meanwhile is a proper pedway, one of a series built to span Upper Thames Street when it was dual-carriagewayed in the late 1960s. It begins on Queen Victoria Street, slipping between a couple of office blocks wherein financial drones can be seen sat patiently tapping on computers. It's named Fyefoot Lane after a medieval alley which once ran this way down to the docks, previously known as Five Foot Lane because one end was only five foot wide.

The land hereabouts drops quite steeply towards the Thames, hence the walkway emerges at lamppost-top-height, just to the east of the Upper Thames Street tunnel. A double bend leads pedestrians to a sleek footbridge above the road, propped up on thin concrete wedges, with the City's coat of arms decorating the railings on each flank. No attempt is made to reach the building on the far side, there are simply steps down, but maybe that's why this pedway has survived riverside redevelopment and several of those downstream have not.

5) Suffolk Lane
Located just to the east of Cannon Street station, this pedway's had a modern makeover. At its heart, spanning Upper Thames Street, is an flat concrete slab much like that at Fyefoot Lane. But someone - I suspect the Japanese bank in the new building to the south - has clad the bridge's exterior with timber struts, and replaced the treads in the staircase with modern metal. Employees now trot out of the security door at first floor level with gym kits poised, before returning with a bagged-up noodle feast, while other local workers get to walk up from street level instead.

On the northern side the path bends round a much more 20th century office block, channelled through a pillared promenade, through whose windows Prudential employees are going about their business. The landing point is a backwater junction on Laurence Pountney Hill, with boltholes where "any sandwich and a drink" costs £9, and besuited souls do deals over a ciabatta and a glass of red.

6) Swan Lane
I will confess to never noticing this one before, which perhaps isn't surprising given it's been almost completely severed. An ummarked staircase rises on the corner of Swan Lane and Upper Thames Street, one block west of London Bridge, filling a space where you might expect to see two storeys of office windows. I ducked somewhat suspiciously past two ladies chatting, cigarettes in hand, and climbed five flights of stairs past a doorway marked Out of Order and a second landing with similarly non-existent access.

At the top of the final flight a diagonal railing brought my ascent to an abrupt halt, at the point where the pedway would have continued across the road. The footbridge disappeared when the building across the road was redeveloped in a more private manner, leaving an unintentional triangular landing which now functions as a kind of balcony overlooking the street corner below. This stumpy staircase should never have survived, but hurrah that it does, as easily the quirkiest pedway remnant on my list.

7) Pudding Lane
This is probably the best of the pedways outside the Barbican, both for length and for variety. It also has a splendid staircase to link roadside and footbridge level, curved in South Bank style, with no-expense-spared granite treads. A broad path heads Thamesward through St Magnus House, one of the chunky office blocks between London Bridge and Billingsgate, emerging onto an expansive terrace with fine views down to Tower Bridge and immediately opposite to the Shard. A sign at riverwalk level attempts to lure tourists upwards, but the vast majority pass by, leaving the upper terrace free for fag puffers, sandwich munchers and windblown litter.

On the northern side of the footbridge one prong of the pedway runs parallel to Pudding Lane, joining it roughly where 1666's fateful bakery once stood. The other prong runs parallel to Upper Thames Street, down a featureless corridor seemingly ideally sheltered for overnight sleeping. I found a small tent, a rolled up sleeping bag, and one alcove neatly laid out with carpet tiles, shoes and clothes on coathangers. If the worst ever happens, bear this pedway in mind.

8) Bishopsgate
The City's second-largest pedway network used to span the area around Bishopsgate, from Leadenhall Street north towards Liverpool Street station. No more. This part of town lies at the sweet spot for skyscraper development, unencumbered by protected views, and sequential rebuilding projects have wiped most of the highwalks away. The imminent behemoth rising at 22 Bishopsgate ensures that nothing survives of the former footbridge (and all points east), while the warren of paths around the foot of Tower 42 has (very) recently been cut by the intrusion of a gleaming glass row of bars and restaurants.

To find the one surviving chunk of pedway head to Wormwood Street, look for the concrete span across the road and climb the unmarked staircase alongside. Although it's possible to cross the bridge in perfect freedom, the main exit past the office block on the far side is fenced off and the other ends intrusively beside a second floor meeting room. Meanwhile a service corridor weaves south from the footbridge past several emergency back-exits and an open courtyard before terminating down a second corridor in hostile semi-darkness. The closure's only temporary, according to a brief notice, but it's hard to see how it'll ever again continue onwards through that new barrier of wrap vendors and burger eateries. A total dead end, in both directions, and easily the spookiest surviving pedway.

9) Middlesex Street Estate
Out on the far eastern edge of the City, and primed for unwealthier citizens, the Middlesex Street estate was built between 1965 and 1970 and so wholly embraced the pedway concept. One tower block and a ring of elevated flats surround Petticoat Square, with one upper gangway around the rim, and a series of access stairs squeezed in with the emergency services in mind.

When first built anyone could have wandered in, but the main entrance opposite Wentworth Street is now blocked off, and security doors prevent public access elsewhere. Laminated notices confirm that this is Private Property, No Loitering, and that rough sleepers will be arrested for trespassing. You will not be visiting this pedway any time soon.

10) London Wall Place
Somewhat unexpectedly, for those who thought pedways were out of fashion, a brand new City development is embracing them in a big way. London Wall Place is being built across a long splinter of land to the north of London Wall, to the southeast of the Barbican estate, with construction requiring the demolition of the former St Alphage Highwalk. The developers have been obliged to add new pedways amid their jungle of office blocks, mainly because the surrounding infrastructure includes several upper level links on all flanks which would otherwise be defunct.

Construction of the chain of bridges is well underway, not in concrete but in weathered steel, because architectural tastes move on. You can already see one of the seven bridges suspended above Wood Street, close to Jamie's Italian, and another over Fore Street close to Salters Hall. The closest to completion spans London Wall on a jaunty diagonal, and yesterday was being scrubbed down by a workman with a big cloth. Once open it'll breath fresh life into the Bassishaw Highwalk, formerly the Barbican's link to the Guildhall, and the workers in the adjacent offices won't be quite so shocked to see people walking past their window. It seems pedways are no longer the dead end concept they used to be.

» The Pedway: Elevating London (40 minute video)

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