Hitting ‘The Wall’

Statically you are more likely to give up, than gain that winners medal of a green badge, those who do persist on their journey often refer to losing their grip on reality as the Knowledge becomes an obsession . . . . . . . . . . .

Exclusively for Patrons, here is List 17: Run 257 the next ‘run’ from my travelogue Pootling around London: Manor House to Gibson Square, again I hope you find it both amusing and informative.

Thank You again for your support.

Finsbury Circus EC2 to Wick Road E9

It’s now about 18 months since I embarked on the Knowledge. Just like marathon runners, the Knowledge is not a sprint, but a gruelling test of endurance and many experiences ‘the wall’ about this time. As a consequence statically you are more likely to give up, than gain that winners medal of a green badge. Those who do persist on this journey often refer to losing their grip on reality as the Knowledge becomes an obsession.

So today’s start seems apposite – Finsbury Circus, an elegant oval green space tucked away from the frenetic City was once the site of Bethlehem Royal Hospital, better known as Bedlam, its incumbents often themselves lost to the real world.

Leaving via Blomfield Street I’m back again in London Wall and approaching the curiously named Wormwood Street, the name for a medieval weed apparently. The left turn into Bishopsgate the location of the medieval Bishop’s Gate one of the original eight gates of London. It straddled the old Roman Ermine Street. Now called the A10 the thoroughfare runs straight (as you would expect with a Roman road) to Royston. Little did the Romans realise when they constructed their sparkling new road north, that two thousand years later this small length, now named Bishopsgate, would always be under repair. In fact, during the 27 years of driving around London, I’ve never seen it devoid of traffic cones.

When a Knowledge examiner asks for the location of a point, he needs to know that, not only does the student know which road the point stands, but importantly where on that road, knowing that you can then indicate with confidence when to turn off in the correct direction.

Everyone who uses Liverpool Street Station knows of the Dirty Dicks pub. The public house is named in memory of Nathaniel Bentley an 18th-century merchant and previous owner of the hostelry. Miss Havisham portrayed in Charles Dickens Great Expectations is said to be inspired by Bentley. A dandy in his youth, his fiancée died on their wedding day, he withdrew into himself refusing to wash or clean his house. Letters addressed to ‘the Dirty Warehouse’ would be delivered to his address. The pub was renamed from The Old Jerusalem and recreated to look like Bentley’s warehouse.

Logging it on my clipboard as standing on the southern corner of Middlesex Street, but facing Bishopsgate I wend my way through the roadworks.

Just further on the road changes name to the intriguing Norton Folgate, once known as the Liberty of Norton Folgate, it must have been a dreadful place to live. The census of 1831 recorded that 1,918 persons lived within its 8 acres.

Turning right into Bethnal Green Road when I reach near the end of this long road I record the location of W. English & Son, funeral directors, the de facto undertakers used by East End villains for their final journey to meet the Guv’nor.

Soon after passing W. English I come to Bethnal Green Station, it was here in 1943 that the greatest loss of civilian life occurred in one incident during World War II. Many, fearing an air raid, had rushed down the station’s wet and dimly lit steps. One woman and a child fell and in the ensuing melee 27 men, 84 women and 62 children died. The tragedy was hushed up, and with the Blitz, in its third year, the Government decided the public were in no mood for receiving the news.

On a lighter note, almost next door is the Museum of Childhood, a prefabricated Victorian structure giving some indication of how the original Crystal Palace might have looked. It would be here, over a decade later that I met with BBC documentary makers prior to appearing in A Picture of London, celebrating Londoners prior to the 2012 Olympics.

Continuing along the road I’m heading towards Hackney – pronounced AK-ni, it’s the beating heart of East-London and famed for, among other things, the Hackney Empire, a beautifully restored late-Victorian music hall. I turn off before reaching this elegant building into Well Street, its name presumably derived from where the locals once drew their water.

Soon I arrive at my destination, Wick Road, a pretty bland thoroughfare with no interesting points.

Except for one, a decade later not a stone’s throw away would be built the Olympic Park, when in 2012 for just a few days, much of the world’s population would be focussed upon this part of London.

A footnote on the word hackney:
Hackney, this impoverished region of east London, was probably unknown to most of the world before the Olympic Games Committee decided its marshes would make a rather splendid place to hold the next Games.

The term Hackney Carriage is used the world over to describe a vehicle for hire.

In medieval England, Hackney was just a small village north-east of the City, on the west side of the River Lea, but separated from it by a large area of marshland where they have constructed the Olympic Village. The countryside was pleasant, open, good-quality grassland, which became famous for the horses bred and pastured there. These were riding horses, ‘ambling horses’, as opposed to war horses or draught horses. Hence hackney became the standard term for a horse used for riding in industrial or domestic work. These horses were also made available for hire, and so the word also came to refer, about the end of the fourteenth century, to any horse that was intended to be hired out.

Later still, the emphasis of the word shifted from ‘horse’ to ‘hire’, and it was used for any passenger vehicle similarly available, especially the hackney coach or hackney carriage. This last term, of course, became the usual one for a vehicle that could be hired, today’s London black taxis, with not a horse in sight, are still formally referred to by that name.

In the nature of things that are hired out to all and sundry, these horses of the hackney type were often worked heavily, so the word evolved in parallel with the previous sense to refer figuratively to something that was overused to the point of drudgery.

By the middle of the sixteenth century, hackney was being applied to people in just this sense, and was abbreviated about the start of the eighteenth century to hack, as in hack work; it was applied in particular to literary drudges who dashed off poor-quality writing to order, hence its modern pejorative application to journalists and now I suppose to the world of blogging.

Hackney horses were also widely available and commonly seen, to the extent that they became commonplace and unremarkable. So yet another sense evolved for something used so frequently and indiscriminately as to have lost its freshness and interest, hence something stale, unoriginal or trite. The adjective hackneyed communicated this idea from about the middle of the eighteenth century on.

By the way, it was thought at one time that this whole set of words derived from the French haquenée, an ambling horse. The first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary considered this to be so, but modern writers are sure that the French term was actually borrowed from the English place name, so great was the reputation of Hackney’s horses even in medieval times.

As the Victorian music hall song went:

With a ladder and some glasses/
You could see the Hackney Marshes,/
If it wasn’t for the houses in between.

Runs using short stories
Robert Lordan’s excellent book The Knowledge, Train your brain like a cabbie features 100 runs and includes many ways that one may train the brain to remember the details. One method that he advocates involves turning the run into a short story. An example he gives is Wapping Lane E1 to Canning Town Station E16 [List 9; Run 138: A water grave posted here on 17th March 2018].

The Highwayman
The Highwayman (1) was a nasty piece of work; bitter as lime (2) and sneaky as an asp (3). He was galloping towards the River Lea where he knew the circus (4) was camped out on the bank: he was sure there would be rich pickings there.

As he approached, however, he noticed troops from the East India Company (5) were guarding the tent. When they spotted the highwayman the soldiers released their hounds who gave chase, snarling and barking (6) all the way.

The highwayman turned and fled the circus as bullets whizzed past him, ringing out like metal cans (7). He cursed as he slipped (8) down an embankment, knowing there would be no silver for him tonight (9).

Here is a key to the roads prompted by the story:

1. The Highway
2. Limehouse link
3. Aspen Way
4. Leamouth Circus and Leamouth Road
5. East India Dock Road
6. Barking Road Slip
7. Canning Town Circus
8. Station Road Slip
9. Silvertown Way

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