There does come a time when seeing the sites of London, just walking around and taking in the scenery or having someone tell you the history of a place, just doesn’t cut it anymore. Try Monopoly.
After living in this great city for three years I started to find new ways to experience London and see beyond the main streets, looking more into the nooks and crannies of what the great city actually has to offer.
There are many ways of discovering London’s hidden gems. You could use an app pretending to be Sherlock Holmes – discovering new areas of London while solving a case can be hours of fun. Or you can try the pub crawls following the Circle Line, experiencing just how small the city centre actually is. Personally, I found great enjoyment in the one game I have enjoyed playing time and time again – Monopoly.
First a little trivia: I, like most other Aussies, thought the original Monopoly board was based on London. Guess what – it’s not! The game was originally marketed by the Parker Brothers in the US, the board based on Atlantic City, New Jersey. But for us Aussies it’s the London version we all know and love. Admit it, we’ve all indulged in a little Monopoly name-checking while here, haven’t we?
Reality’s Monopoly board
So, I set about researching all the places on the familiar Monopoly board and referenced them on the London map.
Starting well in South London I slowly began to find my way back into the beating heart of the city centre. I decided I had to make something my key in order to know that I had indeed made it to that part of the board. You can choose many keys but I decided on street signs. As we know, of course street signs in London are scarce or at least hard to find, but that does mean you might see a side of the city you have never seen as you nosey around looking for them. It also means that it will take longer, especially if you choose to walk a lot of it, so it does end up becoming a day out.
At the first stop, Old Kent Road, you may have to walk half of the long road before you see a street sign. The shops there though are nothing like you see in the city centre or the rest of London for that matter. It is rich with its own diverse culture and the shops along the street prove it with the variety of outlets and corner stores.
As you progress towards the final stop of Mayfair you do indeed circle the city centre, taking in the full spectrum of London, from the corporate sector to the unique old East End buildings of Jack the Ripper days and even the famous curry street of Brick Lane.
The Angel ain’t what she used to be
The thing I found most fascinating was how different some areas’ socio-economic positions — and so their positions on the board – are today compared to when the London board was comprised in the 1930s.
Angel — named after what was The Angel Inn, now the old bank building on the Pentonville Road intersection – is a prime example. It was included on the board as the third cheapest property. Nowadays, Angel is arguably one of the ‘hip’ parts of London and certainly one of its most vibrant; well known for the diverse music scene, restaurants and bars for a great start to a night out. To live there you could be jostling with young bankers and tech gurus to rent a 1 bedroom flat, worth over half a million pounds, at well over £400 a week. Chapel Market though, just across the lights from the Tube station, is a terrific little reminder of the area’s cockney working class roots.
The biggest surprise is Pall Mall, derived from a ball game that was played there during the 17th century. In its early history Pall Mall was mainly for the purpose of the King and most of the land was known as St James’s Field. However, by the 18th century, land was released by the crown and developed on, creating the main road and St James’s Park which we see today. In recent history the street has become the centre for various Gentlemen’s clubs.
The southern side of Pall Mall is still owned by the Crown Estate, as it has been for several hundred years. St James’s Palace is on the south side of the street on the Western end. Marlborough House (where King George V was born) is next to it, on the east. Considering all the royalty and long established poshness, it makes you question how this was only placed at number seven on the board.
King’s Cross Station, with Platform 9¾, is of course a must for Harry Potter fans. Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes freaks can get a few kicks as well.
The station has underwent a dramatic £500million renovation a few years back and the area around it is showing signs of rejuvenation as a result. Before that, London’s King’s Cross area shared a seedy reputation on a par with its Sydney namesake and was worthy of its lowly rank on the Monopoly board.
The other stations – Marylebone, Fenchurch Street and Liverpool Street — certainly have their Victorian charm but now it’s King’s Cross’s, and the adjoining St Pancras Station’s, time to shine.
All the way to Mayfair
There are several options you can take to complete the board. You could continue to go in a circle to the final destination in the heart of the city or do it in the order of the board. I chose to be true to the board which does make the path more disjointed as you will have to backtrack on where you have been but to me that is what makes it more exciting. All the alleyways you used to be afraid of walking down, you do pass through them. Not only will you find that doing so cuts out half the time in moving between places, you will also discover that they are not all that scary, at least during the day.
There are many other ways to try and experience London but if you do decide to do the Monopoly board, whether using pubs, street signs or creating your own key markers as a point of reference, just remember one thing – take your Monopoly piece with you and stay out of jail (down behind Kings Cross, by the way) and keep an eye out for the little man in the top hat.