The name ’cloth fair’ derives from the cloth merchants who used to buy and sell goods during the Bartholomew market.
Cloth Fair runs beside the Anglican church of St Bartholomew-the-Great. Some of the nearby buildings survived the Great Fire of London with numbers 41 and 42 built between 1597 and 1614 still surviving. The buildings were almost lost when they were classified as dangerous structures but the architects Paul Paget and John Seely bought the buildings in 1930 and carried out a sympathetic restoration. Their success enabled them to purchase and restore many other local buildings and they continued living and working together in 41 Cloth Fair.
The street was originally within the precincts of the Priory of St Bartholomew’s. Until 1910, it formed a separate liberty with gates that were shut every evening. It was this early ’gated community’ which helped the street avoid destruction in the Great Fire – the priory walls protected the area from being destroyed.
Although Cloth Fair was a wealthy street of merchants in the medieval era, by the Victorian period the street had developed into slum conditions – very poor sanitation and many families sharing small rooms in squalid conditions. Most of the ancient houses were demolished after the First World War and in the early 1920s as part of slum clearance schemes.
43 Cloth Fair is the former home of Poet Laureate John Betjeman and the City Music Foundation is based in Church House in the road.