Newington Green to Smithfield

Radical Trail

An idiosyncratic trail of visual and historical curiosities from Newington Green via the Angel, Clerkenwell and onto Smithfield, taking in radicals, rebels and assorted contrarians along the way.  Featuring the radical centre of world Revolution of Newington Green; a dash of Dickensian scandal; Tudor intrigue at Canonbury Tower; bourgeois life in Canonbury Square; controversial modernist architecture, revolution and revolt in Smithfield.

Route Summary

Easy / 2 out of 10

3 miles / 4.8 kilometres

OS Urban Map Walk London

Dog Friendly


How to get here


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Newington Green Terraces

Revolutionary Newington Green

The start of the walk features London’s oldest surviving brick terrace, also home to a fascinating illuminati of political radicals and activists>>

Newington Green Statue of Mary Wollstonecraft

Wollstonecraft & the 'Birthplace of Feminism'

Maggie Hambling’s (in)famous statue of Mary Wollstonecraft stands glistening in Newington Green, with the nearby Unitarian Church happy to declare itself ‘the birthplace of feminism’>>

Spa Fields in the 1780s

From the Old...

The walk features a host of fascinating historical architecture, including Canonbury and Clerkenwell Priories, The Angel, Charterhouse Square and Smithfield.  All with a story to tell…

40 Douglas Road

... To the New

Ultra-modern additions sit cheek to jowl with the centuries old, such as the ‘love it or hate it’ award winning design of 15 Clerkenwell Close or the “space-age greenhouse” at 40 Douglas Road (above).

Sadler's Wells and Old Red Lion painting by Hogarth

Sedition, Rebellion and avoiding your taxi fare

Follow in the footsteps of Lenin and the Founding Fathers of the USA, Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin, and find the way to escape your cab fare at the historic Old Red Lion>>

Two Smithfield Rebels: William Wallace and Wat Tyler

A Tale of Two Rebels

At Smithfield follow the story of two of the nation’s most notorious rebels – William Wallace and Wat Tyler>>

Begin Walk

“The beginning is always today.”

Start: Newington Green

Start your walk in the centre of Newington Green where you can consider, not only Maggie Hambling’s (in)famous statue of Mary Wollstonecraft, but how the buildings around the Green and the people within them have shaped revolutionary forces around the world.


From the Green, facing away from the Unity Church, head south along the right side of the Green, along Newington Green Road for about 600m where, as the road swings left, you briefly enter St Pauls Place to turn immediately right into Northampton Park.
As you do, notice the low grey building on your left: Park Cottage opposite.  See link below for an account of the secret ‘Dickensian scandal’ originating here.


Walk ahead along Northampton Park to the end where a pedestrian crossing takes you directly opposite into The New River (if closed, take the pathway on the left).

As you reach the end of the first section of the New River loo for the Marquess Tavern on your left.  Just before this, exit to see the futuristic 40 Douglas Road

See link below for an account of the 400 year story of this lovely, half-hidden, green way and its ultra-modern addition.


Continue ahead to re-enter the New River continuation; before leaving, check out the river watchman’s hut and the information board.


Exit the New River and swing immediately right, and right again to turn into Alwyne Villas which rises gently upwards away from you. Keeping to the righthand side, just before the junction at its end, note the old, long garden wall – with a black gate – on your right. This marks the line of the border wall of the mediaeval Canonbury Priory.


Take the small turn in to the cul-de-sac of Canonbury Place where smart Georgian houses stand on the site of the Priory (look out for the map on the wall). You are standing in what would have been the courtyard and garden. Looking into the Garden, look out for the tree with low spreading boughs near the far wall. This is a Mulberry tree believed to have been planted by Francis Bacon in an attempt to encourage silk production in England. The only remaining remnant of the Priory, built in the early 1500’s, is the Tower.

See link below for an account of the Tower and related political/romantic shenanigans.


Exit the cul-de-sac, turn right, crossover at the zebra crossing to face the Tower to achieve a better view. The modern houses behind you stand on the site of what were the Priory’s fishponds.


Next, cross back over the crossing to turn right and head into Canonbury Square, keeping to the left-hand pavement and following the square around on its southern side.

Although once described in 1956 by the Evening Standard as, “London’s most beautiful square” the square has seen some surprising rises and falls in its fortunes not least of which was soon after its creation in 1805 when Canonbury Road was driven through the centre, bisecting the square. The square has been home to an interesting, imaginary cocktail party of guests: George Orwell, Barbara Castle, Evelyn Waugh, Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell and Lulu. 


Pass on along the capacious paved Terrace through the square into Canonbury Lane and then to merge ontp Upper Street after a further 100m.

At the traffic lights – diagonally across is the famous Hope and Anchor pub which has, in its steamy basement, staged many of pop music’s great names (and understandably for a pub venue, quite a few rubbish ones).  The greats include The Specials, Dire Straits, The Clash, U2, Madness and Joy Division (the latter charging a spirit-of-the-age entry fee of just 75p…)

Turn left, and staying on the left side of Upper Street to better view the upper facades of buildings on the right. Notice how the architecture above the shops opposite varies enormously in age and style, largely based around original buildings starting in the 1700s. Note how they become slightly grander as we move towards the City.


Continue on the left-hand side of the street for another short distance to notice the rusty red of a modernist recreation: the Aria Building.

See link below for an account of the controversial approach to rebuilding a lost end of terrace.

Gaze along the line of the terrace as you proceed south to compare this version to the original end of terrace, a short distance along, on which the new Aria Building was based.


Look out for the pink Oliver Bonas store on the right and cross over, and if you have the self control to avoid the temptation to window shop, notice instead No.3 Terret’s Place. Opposite the fire station on your left don’t miss this little alleyway, “a singular little old-fashioned house up a blind street” as Dickens described the house directly ahead, No. 3, in Martin Chuzzlewit. Dickens set this as the home of Tom Pinch, loyal and kind-hearted assistant to the grasping, ambitious Seth Pecksniff. The Terrace has been dated by the finding of halfpenny dated 1724 while the atmosphere is well captured, especially at night, by the street lamp and No. 3’s door and windows. 


Take the next right into Almeida Street, passing the Almeida Theatre on the left, to enter through the driveway on left into the newly created ‘Islington Square’.  It’s worth raising your gaze at this point to notice the conversion of the 1900’s former Post Office flagship sorting complex on your right, now smart apartment buildings (spare your brain the ‘bad trip’ of the purple building on your left) and also the curved modern structure, further along on the left, sitting atop the shell of the 1906 Post Office.


Pass through the narrow piazza, continuing straight on to Theberton Street where you turn left to re-join Upper Street. Cross over and continue on down towards the Green, passing the Screen on your right. At Islington Green, turn left across the ‘top’ (north) side of the Green viewing Waterstones, formerly Collins Music Hall.

See link below for an account of the Screen’s place in cultural history.


Passing Waterstones, take the pedestrian crossing across Essex Road, to turn right and pick up Camden Passage which begins ahead through a narrow gap over to your left. Pass the Camden Head pub to savour the chi-chi delights of the Passage; note the dens of vintage knick-knack and jewellery shops tucked away on your left at Pierrepont Row.


Continue on to emerge a few hundred metres later, with an old Victorian terrace on your left and a large brick building on your right, formerly a tram shed, now a shopping mall. Continue on again to pass the York Pub and shortly after the Angel tube station.


Continue on again to the busy junction which constitutes The Angel. Cross over to the right (west) side to the Coop Bank and then cross again to continue straight ahead, down St John’s Street.  After a short distance note the Old Red Lion pub on your left.

See features link below for an account of the nefarious goings in this area and especially this famous pub.


Continue down St John’s Street to turn in 150m, the first right, into Chadwell Street. Pass through Chadwell Street, noting the curious architectural details of the funeral company on the left, into Myddleton Square (built 1720s onwards and named after Sir Hugh Myddleton of New River fame).

Turn left into the square passing down the eastern and then southern side to soon pick up Myddleton Passage on your left. Turn here and follow the Passage, shortly left again into a cul-de-sac ending in a narrow alley about 150m ahead on the right. Pass through the alley to emerge at the side of Sadler’s Wells Theatre.

See features link below for an account of the theatre’s dubious origins.


Turn right to emerge at the front of the theatre, cross the road, then turn right heading slightly downhill, along Roseberry Avenue. Note the impressive redbrick Art Deco building opposite: formerly The Metropolitan Water Board Laboratories.

This often overlooked curving, art deco wonder (built 1938), next to Sadler’s Wells, was until recently the home of the Metropolitan Water Board’s Labs. Now apartments, the building is on the site of the head of the New River, encountered earlier, where the water from nearly 40 miles away was pumped into the City.


Continue on past the small park on your left, immediately passing Roseberry Hall where you will turn left into Garnault Place – note the Art Nouveau Finsbury Town Hall over to your right.


Proceed down Garnault Place and, in about 80m as the road swings left, crossover to head into Rosamon Street towards Spa Fields directly ahead (see features link below).

Pass through centre of the park – noting the grisly sign boards as you go – to emerge onto Northampton Road ahead.


Continue straight along. In 100m note the large Victorian school, ahead and over to your left, once the site of Clerkenwell Prison. You might notice that from here on the walk takes on a slightly mediaeval feel as we follow the old street patterns.


Continue on into Clerkenwell Close which shimmies around to your right, for 150m before emerging at a T-junction where you turn left to pass around the front of St James’s ChurchSee features link below for colourful character associations here.


Turn to see, opposite the church, 15 Clerkenwell Close: all stone and glass – another controversial Amin Taha design. See features link below for the tale of conflict, criticism and enthusiasm that surrounds this project.  Approach to find the tiny hidden garden tucked away down the left hand side.


Continue past the church to emerge into Clerkenwell Green – which is hardly green at all – though you’re now in what was a thriving mediaeval crafts area, notably watch and clockmaking and trades allied to Smithfield.


Turn diagonally left to head for the far corner of the square, where you enter Aylesbury Street, then in 50m pick up the very small Jerusalem Passage on your right. Emerge from the passage into the tiny historic space known as St John’s Square.  Note the neat Georgian terrace of Zetters’ Town House behind, on your right, and the Museum of the Order of St John on your left. The Museum stands on the site of the mediaeval Clerkenwell Priory (dating from 1185).  Crossover to pass through St John’s Gate.

See features link below for an account of the Priory and the Gate’s Crusader association.


Continue on down St John’s Lane until, just before it is about to join St John Street, you take the smaller Peter’s Lane – ahead and slightly right – to emerge on to Cowcross Street.


Turn left heading towards the junction with St John Street where you will be facing the arched central entrance to Smithfield Market. Before passing through the arch take a detour to your left, along Charterhouse Street for about 60m to take the smaller fork into Charterhouse Square. Take a few minutes to explore this Square noting the interestingly eclectic range of architectural eras which surround you.

See features link below for an account of the history and recent discoveries in the Square. 


Retrace your steps to pass through the major arch of Smithfield meat market and catch the information boards at the end on the left side.


Emerging from Smithfield market you are facing Smithfield Square.

Head across to the clearly blitz-scarred wall of Bart’s Hospital on the far side to our final point: the Memorials to William Wallace and Wat Tyler.  Head towards the centre of the wall and the blue and white Scottish flag-draped Wallace Memorial first. Wat Tyler is celebrated on your left.

See features link below for an account of the two rebels differing battles with English ruling powers.


So… from ‘The Village that Changed the World’ through the heart of historical Islington and on to the turbulent setting of ‘Smoothfield’, taking in controversial figures  – and architecture – along the way, we come to the end of the walk.

For directions back or onwards see Transport Link at the top.

Or Postman’s Park a few minutes away is a nice picnic spot…

Browse more walks…

Lucky you. I’ve walked several thousand miles of footpaths and city streets to distil out a choice selection of rambles for everyone to enjoy. There is no way of knowing whether a walk is worth doing except by walking the route every step of the way; a lot of terrible walks, dull vistas, and frankly boring trudges have been endured and discarded. Lucky me, I love walking and being outside so it’s all been worth it. I hope you can find the time to explore a route or two.

"Everywhere is within walking distance if you create the time..."

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An idiosyncratic trail of visual and historical curiosities taking in radicals, rebels and assorted contrarians along the way...

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