When I saw ‘Hoxton’ as the name of the district where I was going today, I didn’t have high expectations. I’d never heard of it, and there didn’t seem to be any well-known landmarks in the area to draw visitors in. Emerging from the tube station at Old Street, I firmly decided to ignore the traffic and urban blight and focus on the positives: I was here to explore someplace new.
It didn’t take long to see that Hoxton has a lot going on under the surface to make it an attractive place to live and work: trendy wine bars of glass and steel tucked themselves into the undercrofts of refurbished warehouses, Vietnamese restaurants advertised cheap eats in colourful menu postings, art galleries and print shops fronted by plate glass windows allowed passersby to gaze in at creativity in progress. The area exudes a trendy, urban chic vibe — a kind of modern hipster’s paradise organically grown from bohemian artist roots.
A sense of the area’s historic poverty can be found in the Catholic Church on the north end of Hoxton square. Tucked down an alleyway off Old Street, a winter-bare patch of mud passing for a park is fronted by bars and art galleries spilling onto the pavement. It’s not a pretty square during the winter months, the trees little more than barren barren branches emerging from a grassless lawn, but the quietness of the square by comparison to the noise of Old Street just meters away is a welcome change. In the middle of the line of adjoining buildings on the north side of the square, an unassuming Catholic Church nearly hides. Inside, the smell of incense is weak, masked by the more prominent odours of threadbare carpet and damp masonry. The décor seems cobbled together from charity shops: chipped, dated, slightly kitsch — more like an Italian grandmother’s living room than a sacred house of worship. At the front, lies a small shrine to St Monica, the patron saint of mothers and widows.
Further on down Kingsland Road lies the Geffrye Museum, housed in a line of almshouses from the early 1700s. It is a simple earth-brown brickwork building, the windows and door frames trimmed in white colonial woodwork. Inside, the museum contains an unexpectedly interesting progression of interior design furnishings from 1650 to the present day. Essentially a series of rooms opening to a long corridor stretching the entire length of the building, the exhibits lead you from one century to the next like a camera rolling through a run-on movie set.
When the rigours of museum legs set in, head back to Old Street to the curiously named Ziferblat café. Roughly translating from Russian to English as ‘clock face’ or ‘timepiece’, the café boasts the unique approach of charging customers by the minute, and not for the products they consume. Housed upstairs above a pub, the entrance is through a residential door on the corner of Old Street and Kingsland Road. Visitors must ring the buzzer for entry, giving you the distinct impression of gaining access to a sort of inverted speakeasy. At the main reception, I was greeted by a girl who directed me to take a clock from the shelf by the wall and note the time on a slip of paper she passed to me. She then invited me to find a space anywhere amongst the communal tables, help myself to drinks from the kitchen, and leave my pounds in the honesty box on departure. All told, I stayed for about an hour. I consumed a single cup of tea, a handful of custard cream biscuits, and my slice of the wifi connection. All for about £1.50.