Walking from St Leonard’s church to no.1 Hoxton Square is only made difficult by the traffic. There is only a couple of hundred metres between the two. In fact you can almost see the house where James lived his most of his life from the garden on the north-east side of the church.
The view from the garden of St Leonard’s church; the front of the church is ahead on the left of this photo and Hoxton Square is directly ahead between the building on the right side of the photo. There is a train track blocking the view.
Leaving St Leonard’s by the front gate, you cross Hackney Road (or the A1208) – the busy road road in front of the church – and turn down Old Street (the A5201). After passing under the railway tracks there is a small side street on the right which connects with Hoxton Street and then leads into Hoxton Square. None of the surrounding buildings were here when James walked these streets. And sadly his home is not here either.
In 1910, Prof Leonard George Rowntree (a lecturer at Johns Hopkins Medical School, Baltimore) visited Hoxton Square looking for the house where James lived. Luckily for us he took a picture, though the house was in very poor condition with broken windows, etc.
An image of no.1 Hoxton Square – Source
Prof Rowntree visited the building and described it as:
The house is a plain old three story building facing the east, on the northwest corner of Hoxton Square. Behind the main building and connected with it is a smaller two-story one with a central door opening into the little side street. This apparently was Parkinson’s office. Behind this again is another smaller building which may have served as a laboratory, as a library, or perhaps as a museum. Leading up to the deeply set, black, massive looking front door are a stone walk and deeply worn stone steps. The house is only a few feet back from the street and before it stands an old iron fence.
Uninteresting though the exterior is, upon entering this building one is impressed at the large size of the rooms and with the evidences of the prosperity of other days. We see in almost every room great carved open fire-places of elaborate design, and between some rooms large connecting arches. The deep panelling of walls and ceiling which was formerly so much in vogue is well preserved in some of the rooms on the second floor. One is surprised to find such an interesting interior behind such an uninviting exterior. (Rowntree, 1912)
Walking down Hoxton Street towards Hoxton Square, the property where James lived is directly ahead on the far corner of the square. The square opens up to your left as you enter it, and no.1 Hoxton Square occupies one corner of it. Shortly after Prof Rowntree’s visit, the house that James lived in was demolished and a furniture factory was built in its place. The factory is now gone and the building has been converted into apartments with a restaurant (“Bill’s”) on the ground & basement levels .
During my visit to the square I had lunch in the restaurant (a Bill’s burger followed chocolate brownie – both very good). Like Prof Rowntree, I was struck by the space of the interior (I am assuming that this old factory covers the same space as the previous building). As you step inside the space stretches off in front of you and the walls seem deceptively wider than the exterior would have suggested. James did not live in a small two-up, two-down Victorian sized house. He had quite a bit of room to play with.
After lunch, I paused on the steps of the restaurant and search for the blue heritage plaque on the front of the building, which reads “James Parkinson 1755-1824 Physician and geologist lived here”. It is slightly blocked from view by an umbrella/awning. I also took the opportunity to take in James’s view of Hoxton Square.
Again I am pleased with my visit to Hoxton. It hasn’t brought me any closer to a likeness or portrait of James, but did give everything I’ve read a sense of substance. And my next stop on my trip to London was the Wellcome Library, in search of more of that substance.