Spitalfields/East End Walk
"I’ve taken part several events for charity in the past – including numerous 10K runs – but none as enjoyable as this. Hidden behind the modern glass buildings and mad rush and noise of the city are some fascinating havens of tranquillity and peace. The highlight for me was St Ethelburga’s – from the site of the Bishopsgate bomb in 1993, a warm, welcoming place for people of all faiths and beliefs has emerged. It was a pleasure to discover this and other hidden gems, and to know that it was all contributing to a very worthy cause."
So wrote Colin Hallmark, one of the participants on the walk. It was cold and windy for the Spitalfields walk day, and in the end only a small but select band of us managed to take part: illness, family responsibilities, exams and unexpected work commitments all took their toll. However a number of people will be doing the walk on other days instead so they will get a chance to take part later in what proved to be a very interesting and enjoyable event in spite of the weather. John Keast, Sara Younger, Colin Hallmark and Sarah Smalley set off from the REC office, walking down Worship Street to City Road, where the first destination, Wesley's Chapel, had been the venue for the REC's AGM the previous week.
Across the road we visited Bunhill Fields Burial Ground, the old Dissenters' cemetery, seeing the graves of such well known Non Conformists as Daniel Defoe, John Bunyan and William Blake. Back down City Road, we turned into South Place and saw the plaque commemorating the first meeting place of the South Place Ethical Society, forerunner of the Humanist movement in Britain. Then on the opposite side of the road we went into a haven of peace in St Mary's Church, Moorgate, the only Roman Catholic Church in the square mile of the City of London.
At the end of the road outside Liverpool Street Station we came to Hope Square, a space commemorating the mainly Jewish children from all over Europe who escaped from the Nazis on the Kindertransport, many arriving by railway to safety in Britain. A beautiful and moving sculpture stands as a tribute to their survival.
Round the corner was St Botolph's without Bishopsgate, one of the churches which had been on the boundary of the ancient city walls. Like all the churches we visited, this one was open throughout the working week so that those employed in the City could come into an oasis of tranquillity and reflection away from the bustle in the street outside. Further down Bishopsgate was an even more remarkable sanctuary; St Ethelburga's had been severely damaged in the blast of an IRA bomb attack on the City in 1993, but has been restored and is now a centre for reconciliation and peace, with a beautiful garden and a sort of tent like building with greetings and symbols from many religious traditions indicating the inclusive and welcoming nature of the place. As we walked on we were surrounded by building works and huge new office blocks on all sides and remarked on the extraordinary absence of any sign of economic depression in this small but powerful part of the country.
Next we came to a well known place in the heritage of this area, the Bevis Marks synagogue which is the oldest one in Britain. Several of us knew the interior through pictures of it in many RE books and videos so the chance to make even a short visit was very welcome. Further down the road was another St Botolph's Church, at Eastgate (churches at city boundaries were often named for St Botolph, the patron saint of travellers). Outside it had a sculpture showing a figure bending over as if to cover and protect those under it – it was dedicated to all victims of oppression and seemed very apt in a part of London which has often been the entry point to Britain of people fleeing persecution – as it still is now.
Last but not least, we walked down Whitechapel Road, popping into the Bell Foundry which has been there for almost 450 years!It has cast Big Ben, the Liberty Bell taken to the USA, and many, many bells for churches across Britain; it is still a working foundry today.
Round the corner we saw the Fieldgate St Great Synagogue from the outside, then back on the main road we paid a brief visit to the East London Mosque. A short walk down Brick Lane took us to a building which started as a French Huguenot Church, was then a Baptist one, then a synagogue and now serves as a mosque for the local Bangladeshi heritage community. Our last stop was Christchurch Spitalfields, a beautiful Hawksmoor building and a landmark visible from all around and not so far dwarfed by redevelopment unlike much of the City not far away.
John Keast's comment sums it up, "A brilliant walk which gives a rich understanding of a side of the CIty of London that is little seen and little appreciated by most people. No one highlight - just all fascinating!" If anyone would like a copy of the route in order to make a visit themselves, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will send you one.
In spite of small numbers on the day, the walk will have raised almost £2500, of which half will go to the REC and the remainder to Providence Row charity for the homeless for some walkers, and for others to the Board of Deputies for the updating of the Jewish Way of Life Exhibition for schools. It's not too late for you to sponsor retrospectively so please visit www.virginmoneygiving.com and give us your support!