The Wood Pavement

Greetings earthlings. Another excursion to brighten your day and hopefully make you rethink your own dull lunch break activities. Deborah and I have a real corker for you this week. That's if you're rather partial to a good old wood pavement, or ancient ghost signs, or random strangely-shaped clocks.  I think I've spoiled the surprise already, but this week's adventure was rather diverse - please, join us!

We set off in the direction of Whitecross Street, just behind our office building. Handy. Whitecross Street is a mix of old and new, dull and exciting, every lunch time the whole street is taken over by Whitecross Street Market, a buzzing, diverse and yummy-smelling food market with a little something for everyone, whatever your palate.  I've tried many of the cuisines on offer, including a rather tasty Chicken Phad Thai and a scrummy hog roast roll, to name a few.  By the time Deborah and I made our way up Whitecross, most of the stalls were packing up, but the delicious smells lingered, yum!

We were a merry couple, jaunting along the street, and before we knew it we had reached the end of the road and emerged on to busy Old Street, and high above us, appeared our first item of interest.  The Salvation Army ghost sign above No. 88.  We crossed the street for a better view.

The sign actually dates from 1865, when the Salvation Army was founded in the East End.  From what we could see from this angle, the sign reads "The Salvation Army, Hostel For Working Men..." and what looks like "cheap beer and.....", although we couldn't quite make it out. 

We didn't have to move from our spot to see the next item on our hit list.  We glanced to the left and saw our second item of the day.

'What on earth is that?' I hear you ask in perplexion. (I don't think that's a word but I like it).  Well this is a Pawnbrokers' signage, dating from around 1880.  Hidden away at the top of the building above No. 94 Old Street, you'd probably never notice it (as with most of the things we venture out to see during our lunch break - people do often stop and stare at us pointing our cameras in strange directions, wondering what on earth we are looking at).  The sign consists of a wrought iron frame supporting three cast iron balls, a symbol originating from the coat of arms of the Medici family of Renaissance Florence.  I wonder if the offspring of the Medici family know this is here...?

From here you can see both the Salvation Army and the Pawnbrokers' Signage

We suddenly realised that we had been distracted by the yummy smells of Whitecross Street and had gone too far!  We had bypassed our star attraction, so promptly headed back in the direction we'd come from to find it.  We couldn't leave it behind!  From Whitecross we went on a twisty & turny route (a very technical term) to find Chequer Street.  We were looking for something extremely specific, and were starting to think we may never find it.  But there, right at the end of the street is what we came back to find.  The last surviving section of wood paving in London. 

The wood pavement sandwiched between modern block paving (thank goodness the powers that be preserved it)

Wood paving was introduced during the Victorian era as it was quieter under iron rimmed wagon wheels and much safer for horses than stone or tar, especially on hills.  However, it was harder to keep clean, absorbed smells and needed great skill to lay.  During WWII, bombs dislodged most of the paving around London, leaving creosote-soaked wood blocks lying around for the taking.  My dad told me that my granddad was sent out by his mum to collect as many wood blocks as he could possibly carry to burn on the fire.  Perfect fuel!  Shame that this is the last surviving section.  In usual Secret London Lunch Break fashion, we got serious about taking some photos.

While immersed in the fun of taking photos, an older gentleman approached us and gave us a brief history lesson.  It was nice to speak to someone who remembered London as it was back then.

Because of the backtracking, we were a little behind schedule, so had to pick up the pace to our next destination.  We made our way up Bath Street, and found ourselves heading South again on City Road.  As much as we love the history of our City, we do like the mix of old and new and this time we headed towards Moorfields Eye Hospital to look at the aptly-shaped clock above the entrance.

The clock was commissioned in 1999 to mark the Queen's visit to the hospital - a lovely clock so I suppose that's one good reason to retain the monarchy...  With cameras pointing and clicking, we seemed to be attracting attention...

Time was ticking, so we headed South along City Road in search of our next item on the hit list, the elusive Penny Door.  We walked up and down but the Penny Door was nowhere to be seen.  We saw a Pret a Manger in place of where we thought it should've been and were extremely vexed at this.  Pret is taking over the world.  However, after asking a jolly Irish barman in the local boozer, he pointed us in the correct direction and hey presto - the Penny Door was discovered.  Sorry Pret - but we do still hate you.  (Although I do like your Italian Chicken Salad).

The 'Penny Door' is actually just a door with a one and two pence mosaic, but a very novel idea and very unique.  The jolly Irish barman informed us that the house was actually occupied by squatters, and had been for years.  Someone obviously has a lot of spare change!

A stark contrast between rich & poor

On the way back to the office, we saw many interesting buildings, but we wish we had more time to explore further.

Alexander Trust Dining Rooms

We walked past the old Alexandra Trust Dining Rooms.  Built close to the busy tram and bus junction at Old Street by philanthropist Sir Thomas Lipton (he created the Lipton tea brand), this restaurant offered very cheap meals to the poor working classes.  Six boilers could heat 500 gallons of hot soup and a three course meal cost 4.5d (2p) in 1898.  Some 100 waitresses could serve up to 12,000 meals a day.

We couldn't pass by Wesley's Chapel and the Leysian Mission without stopping to take photos either...  We started to wonder if we would ever go back to work.

The Leysian Mission, Old Street

Wesley’s Chapel and the Leysian Mission came together on Easter day 1989 to form the present Methodist circuit, a mix of two identities. The Leys School was opened in Cambridge in 1875; just two years after non-Anglicans were admitted to the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. It was intended to be 'the Methodist Eton'.  Its first headmaster was Dr. William Fiddian Moulton, a renowned Biblical Scholar and church leader. The Mission was started in 1886 by former pupils of the Leys School who were concerned about the social and housing conditions in the East End of London. It’s first premises were in nearby Whitecross Street but in 1902 the Mission moved into grand purpose-built premises in Old Street (just round the corner from Wesley’s Chapel). It had evangelical and social ministries and encouraged alumni from the Cambridge school to give time to programmes that reached out to the poor. In the early days, there was a Medical Mission, a “poor man’s lawyer”, a relief committee, feeding programmes, meetings for men and women, and a range of services and musical activities. Royalty patronised the Mission’s events and the school in Cambridge maintained strong links. However, the ravages of World War II and the advent of the post-war Welfare State saw a change in circumstance that led, eventually, to disposing of the buildings and the merger with Wesley’s Chapel in 1989.

Glancing at our watches we realised we had to stop taking photos and hot foot it back to the office.  We crammed so much in today, some sights were not even planned, but fantastic to discover.

We are a little behind with our blog updates, so stay tuned for more fun-filled excursions to come!


  1. I love those concentric circles!

  2. Hello from the Colonies of the USA. I enjoyed reading about the wood block pavers you found. My name is Norm Kaswell, and I am second generation in the end grain block business. While most of our business is for interior application, we have made many exterior wood block installations, and I've always been fascinated by the history of our product. You might enjoy visiting the Paul Smith store in London, all interior space paved with Kaswell end grain Oak. You can see us at May I capture one or more photos from you to add to our historical section on our web. Looking forward to hearing from you. Sincerely, Norm Kaswell

    1. Hi Norm, thank you for your comment. I just had a look at your website, very impressed, the wood blocks are amazing! Very classy and by the looks of it, something I'd love to invest in one day. Thank you for interest in this post, we certainly enjoyed our day taking a closer look at the wood paving, a unique part of London's history! I would be happy for you to capture some of these photos, are you able to copy them from here? If not, please send me your email address and I will ping a few over to you. Regards, Jessica

    2. And if you could credit us, it would be appreciated. :)

  3. This post, and your blog is an inspiration! My friend and I meet up each school holidays in search of something new and out of the London ordinary. I have been turning to you for ideas. Tomorrow's hunt is from this post! I only wish I'd found you sooner and that you were still together and blogging! Thank you!

  4. I read your blog frequently and I just thought I’d say keep up the amazing work!

  5. Hi, I've just discovered your brilliant blog. I just wanted to tell you a little bit about the Leysian Mission. I went to Sunday school and the Girls Brigade from 70-76. The place was a rabbit warren. In the basement was a huge Gym and another hall with a stage for shows as well as loads of over rooms. The main church was on the first floor that too was massive. There were lots of unused seats at the back that I never saw used but it must have been packed many many years ago. Sorry I could go on and on and wish I could have the building put back to what it was, so sad it's flats now .

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