Friday, 24 July 2015

Calvert Calm

In this second blog piece about iconic Shoreditch streets, we have turned our attention to the delightful Calvert Ave. If Redchurch Street represents the young, cool, if ever-so-slightly brash kid on the block, then Calvert Ave is its older, wiser, yet still fashionable older sibling.

Paragon Gym is not technically on Calvert Avenue, but is still an excellent place to start. Stuart Lawson, who set the gym up with his two brothers 18 years ago, is a martial arts expert with a world championship title under his kickboxing belt. Paragon is not a traditional gym and there is not a running machine or weights bench in sight - just mats, punch bags and a boxing ring.

Paragon keeps people fit in mind and body by specialising in kickboxing and boxing. What makes this gym really special is its ethos - it is welcoming, inclusive and everyone is respectful of each other, regardless of their  experience. Beefy black belts get no more special treatment than scrawny novices on their first 6 week course. Stuart is a humble yet inspiring teacher and, as a space to get fit in, the gym feels both refreshing and reinvigorating.  

It helps that clientele is varied – from proper Eastenders, to city workers, Shoreditch hipsters and artists. Whilst most people are in their 20s, Stuart still trains his oldest client, who is 58, twice a week. He has seen a lot of change in his years here, ‘It used to be an impoverished area where you couldn’t get a cup of decent coffee, now there’s one on every corner, but it’s gone too far and they are all so expensive, you need to go to Dalston for a reasonably priced cup!’ @paragongym

We suspect Stuart has forgotten that right at the other end of Calvert Avenue, on the corner of Shoreditch High Street is Syd’s - the capital’s oldest coffee stall. The stall itself was constructed in 1920 after Syd returned from the war. Originally made from the finest mahogany, very early on it was the first stall of its kind to have electricity and mains water. Having survived a bomb blast in the Second World War, Syd’s is still being run by its original descendants (info from a longer article from Spitalfields Life If you are lucky when you visit, Syd’s granddaughter Jane Tothill might be serving, so you could get a slice of history to go with that coffee. 

Close to Syd’s is another interesting coffee shop. Paper and Cup has featured in 99Shoreditch’s blog before. It is excellent in its own right, but more importantly a not-for-profit social enterprise created by the Spitalfields Crypt Trust. It supports people recovering from addiction and homelessness by providing the opportunity to learn new skills - easing people back into work and life. Paper and Cup, SCT’s charity shops and The Restoration Station on Shoreditch High Street are all staffed by people on their programme. It means that whilst you are tucking into one of its delicious pastries, you are also putting something positive back into the local community. @PaperAndCup @recoverypathway @RestorationStn

Opposite Paper and Cup you can’t miss St Leonard’s church. Dedicated to St Leonard, the patron saint of prisoners and those who are mentally ill. The church was designed by George Dance the Elder - a favourite pupil of Christopher Wren, and it opened in 1740. Tours of the Church, Crypt and Tower are available upon request, but it is the outside areas that we are particularly partial to. This year has seen the launch of a Shakespeare-themed garden, created by the gardening students of the nearby New Hanbury Project (another offshoot of the brilliant Spitalfields Crypt Trust). It is a lovely space to stop and contemplate life, before diving back headlong into the chaos and vibrancy of Shoreditch.


Further down Calvert Avenue, you get to the Boundary Estate. This was one of the first social housing schemes built by a local government authority in 1890 and therefore arguably contains England’s first council houses. Before construction the area was a run-down slum, full of crime, extreme poverty, disease and dreadful infant mortality rates. One child in four died before his or her first birthday. Demolition rubble from the slum was used to build a mound in the middle of Arnold Circus at the centre of the development, with a bandstand that still stands today.

Just before the bandstand there is a run of amazing independent shops and boutiques.

Luna and Curious describes itself as ‘a miniature department store, offering a wonderful mix of womenswear, childrenswear, beauty, stationery, homeware, jewellery and accessories’. Like many other passionate independents Luna and Curious believes in British-made products. It has its their own ceramics label and this year sees the launch of knitwear, homeware and accessories lines. @lunaandcurious

Adjoining Luna and Curious is O’Dells, an exclusively male preserve. Proof that men’s fashion, grooming and accessories do not have to be wholly utilitarian, O’Dells stock is just as smart as its female couterparts. With items that range from beard oil to handwoven rugs, each item has an interesting story and clear provenance. Calm and happy, it is a space perfectly designed for its Shoreditch clientele. @beardwithboy

Leila’s is a Calvert Ave stalwart. There is a café known for its amazing eggy breakfasts and a grocer / deli next door. Both of these places are all about proper food. Leila spends huge time and effort to source and supply the best - everything is fresh and delicious. This great article in The Gentlewoman describes her passion and purpose @Leilas_Shop

Charlene Mullen is a British success story, originally working in fashion she turned her talents to homeware and is now a successful brand that is stocked in high-end shops around the world. She has designed crockery for Royal Doulton, but is best known for her embroidered textiles, which have a contemporary, witty British feel. The great thing about her shop on Calvert Ave is that her design studio takes up the back half of the shop. It is so refreshing to see that instead of hiding away all that creativity, it is on show if you take the time to peek behind the curtain. @Charlene_Mullen

And finally if all that shopping has tired you out and you need something amazing to eat, then Rochelle Canteen is conveniently situated on Arnold Circus. Hidden behind an unassuming doorway its quintessentially English menu has garnered respect and rave reviews from foodies and critics alike. Situated in a former bike shed, the folding doors open onto a lovely garden where some of the salad and herbs for the menu are grown. Items on the seasonal and ever-changing menu include Salt Hake Fritters & Tartare Sauce and Ox Tongue, Lentils & Chard. They have a close relationship with Leila’s who can supply you with the wine for your meal, as the restaurant is not licensed. @Rochellecanteen


The residents and shopkeepers here exude an understated authenticity and quiet confidence. So if you are after something a little more reserved, contemplative and grown up, then it is the place to come.

All photos by @foxyfoxlet

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