This text was digitised from part of the “Fascination of London” series of books. Corrections will appear in due course.
This text was digitised from part of the “Fascination of London” series of books. Corrections will appear in due course.
A survey of London, a record of the greatest of all cities, that should preserve her history, her historical and literary associations, her mighty buildings, past and present, a book that should comprise all that Londoners love, all that they ought to know of their heritage from the past – this was the work on which Sir Walter Besant was engaged when he died.
As he himself said of it : “This work fascinates me more than anything else I’ve ever done. Nothing at all like it has ever been attempted befoi’e. I’ve been walking about London for the last thirty years, and I find something fresh in it every day.”
Sir Walter’s idea was that two of the volumes of his survey should contain a regular and systematic perambulation of London by different persons, so that the history of each parish should be complete in itself. This was a vei’y original feature in the great scheme, and one in which he took the keenest interest. Enough has been done of this section to warrant its issue in the form originally intended, l)ut in the meantime it is proposed to select some of the most interesting of the districts and publish them as a series of booklets, attractive alike to the local inhabitant and the student of London, because much of the interest and the history of London lie in these street associations.
The difficulty of finding a general title for the series was very great, for the title desired was one that would express concisely the undying charm of London – that is to say, the continuity of her past historj’ with the present times. In streets and stones, in names and palaces, her history is written for those who can read it, and the object of the series is to bring forward these associations, and to make them plain. The solution of the difficulty was found in the words of the man who loved London and planned the gi’eat scheme. The work “fascinated” him, and it was because of these associations that it did so. These links between past and present in themselves largely constitute The Fascination of Clerkenwell now forms part of the borough of Finsbury . It is of an irregular oblong shape, and is bounded on the north by Islington ; west by St. Pancras ; St. Andrew, Holborn ; and Hatton Garden, Saffron Hill. The last two parishes have already been described in the volume on Holborn. Clerkenwell is further bounded on the south by the City, and on the east by St. Luke and part of Islington. Its eastern boundary is easily defined, for it follows Goswell Road from the top to the bottom ; the northern one follows Richard and Albert Streets and Wynford Road ; the west is very irregular, having been originally determined by the course of the river Fleet (see p. 14). After zigzagging down several small streets, it i-eaches King’s Cross Road, and follows it to the Parcels Post Office. It cuts behind this, following Phoenix Place, Warner Street, and Little Saffron Hill, to Clerkenwell Road. Thence it passes eastward to Farringdon Road, and down it to the south corner of the Vegetable Market. The southern boundary is a series of zigzags, keeping roughly north of the Meat Market and south of Charterhouse Square to Goswell Road.
Several changes were made at the creation of the new London boroughs. A detached piece of the parish at Muswell Hill, which had been granted to the nuns (see p. 50) by the Bishop of London in 1112, was taken away, and the most southern ward – that of St. Sepulchre – was added.
The name is literally “Clerks’ Well,” and signifies an actual well near which the company of parish clerks used to perform their miracle or mystery plays (see p. 10). Clerkenwell has for centuries past been celebi’ated for its mineral waters. In early times we have, as well as the Clerks’, the Skinners’ Well, and Strype has preserved for us the names of Fag’s Well, Gode Well, Loder’s Well, and Rede Well, the very sites of which are now utterly lost. In the eighteenth century a new group was discovered, which drew people from far and wide. We have the New Wells, St. Chad’s Well, the Peerless Pool, besides the well-known Sadlers’ Wells, Bagnigge Wells, and Islington Spa. Some of these may have been the old ones rediscovered and renamed. These wells all became the centre for entertainment of the tea-garden or variety sort, and Clerkenwell was celebrated for its gaiety and amusements.
Clerkenwell is not mentioned in Domesday Book, and is supposed at that date to have been partly included in Islington. In the time of King Henry II. it is described by FitzStephen as ” fields for pasture, and a delightful plain of meadow land interspersed with flowing streams, on which stand mills, whose clack is very pleasing to the ear.” In Aggas’s plan, dated 1560, we can see the Nunnery and Priory ; also a few houses about Cow Cross and Turnmill Streets, a small cluster at the south gate near the boundary wall of the nunnery, and a couple of houses in Goswell Road.
The settlement of this suburb was not due to any overflow of the City like Cripplegate, but was owing to the horse market of Smithfield, and the many functions, executions, races, wrestling matches, fairs, etc., which took place there, and and caused the erection of taverns and places of entertainment. It was also due to the erection of the religious houses of St. Bartholomew’s, the Benedictine Nunnery, the Charterhouse, and St. John’s. Every religious house had its servants, gardeners, grooms, cooks, carpentei’s, stonemasons, etc. ” who lived outside, but near the house. Stow, in his “Survey” (1598), speaks of ‘ ‘ the many fair houses for gentlenaen and others, now built about this Priory, especially by the highway towards Islington.”
He adds that ” the fields here were commodious for the citizens to walk about and otherwise to recruit and refresh their dulled spirits in the sweet and wholesome ayre.”
In his map, corrected by Strype, we have an increase of buildings. The Priory is marked, and St. John’s Street and Lane. The upper part of the former merges into ” the road to Chester.” Clerkenwell Green and Close are marked, and the Duke of Newcastle’s house behind the church. Beyond Corporation Lane there are only one or two detached buildings, two bowling greens, and a ducking pond. Hockley-in-the-Hole, called later Ray Street, is partly obliterated by Farringdon Road, and near it is Townsend Lane. Mutton Lane runs into Clerkenwell Green on the west, and below is Turnmill Street. The Fleet River marks the western limit of the parish, and the eastern is “the road to Islington” (Goswell). About Cyrus Street is ” Queen’s way to Newmarket,” and north of it Wood Close leads to a ” Madd House ” – the old Clerkenwell manor house – now the spot where St. Peter’s Vicarage and schools stand. Sutton Street is marked, and merges into Swan Alley at the east end. Numerous other small alleys and courts are indicated numerically.
The strenuous edicts against building in the time of the Stuarts seem to have retarded the progress of the parish to some extent, but even then Clerkenwell was rather a favourite locality for gentlemen’s houses. In 166I there were 416 houses in the “village.” The Great Fire, by causing a rush to the suburbs, increased its growth, which continued steadily, so that when, in George I.’s reign, the new parish of St. John was formed, there were 700 or 800 houses apiece for each parish.
Clerkenwell has always been the centre of the watchmaking trade, of late years, owing to the introduction of machine-made watches, a decaying trade. But manufactories of various sorts flourish, engineering works give employment to numbers of people, and the character of the district is a busy working one.
The history of Clerkenwell has, of course, been greatly influenced by the large religious houses within her boundaries. These two houses – the Priory of St. John of Jerusalem and the Nunnery of St. Mary – are dealt with in perambulation. It is sufficient to say here that they are represented at the present day by the two principal churches – those of St. John and St. James – while all other remains of the monastic and conventual establishments, with the exception of St. John’s Gate, have quite disappeared.
Clerkenwell Green is green no longer, but an open paved space surrounded by houses. In the middle is the solid mass of the Sessions House, not so imposing as it once was, now that it is rivalled by the business houses in the vicinity. The Sessions House is the descendant of the better-known Hicks’ Hall, which stood some distance away, and not in Clerkenwell at all, but in St. John Street, about the junction with Peter’s Lane. It was named after Sir Baptist Hickes, or Hicks, one of the justices of the county, who built it. On January 13, l6l2, twenty-six justices of the county of Middlesex met there for the first time, and were feasted at Hicks’ charge.
The present Sessions House was built in 1779- 1780 from the designs of John Rogers. The site is freehold, and a clump of buildings was removed to make way for the new hall. There was a very grand ceremony of laying the first stone, which was attended by the Middlesex justices in full procession.
The building, which has been slightly altered or renovated from time to time, is of a very solid character. The principal front faces eastward, and has a rusticated basement from which spring four Ionic pillars, surmounted by a triangular pediment. The pillars enclose medallions ot allegorical figures. Justice and Mercy, and the arms of the county are in the pediment. The medallions, etc., are by Nollekens, but are not his best work, being rather workmanlike than artistic.
Within is a small hall of considerable height ; the ceiling is domed and decorated with octagonal depressions, a decorated cornice runs round the walls, and draped female figures in niches complete a rather elaborate effect.
Only two relics were brought from the old Hicks’ Hall. One is a very fine wooden varnished overmantel in Jacobean style, ornately carved. Beneath the royal arms is the inscription :
“Sir Baptist Hickes of Kensington in the Covuty of Middlesex Knight, one of the Jvstices of the Peace ot this Covnty of Midd. out of his worthy disposition and at his owne proper charge bvilt this Session house in the yeare of ovr Lord God 1612 and gave it to the jvstices of the peace of this covnty and their svccessors for a sessions hovse for ever 1618.”
And below :
“On the erection of the present sessions house Anno Dom. 1782 this antient chimney front, a part of the old Hickes Hall, was placed in this house to perpetuate the memory of Sir Baptist Hickes as set forth m the above inscription.”
The other is a pair of heavy iron fetters – anklets – which are traditionally shown as those worn by Jack Sheppard.
It was on the north side of Clerkenwell Green that the Welsh Charity School formerly stood. This was built in 1737 for poor children of Welsh parents in or near London. In 1772, the funds having increased, a freehold site was purchased in Gray’s Inn Road, and another larger building opened there, but since then the school has migrated into the country. At present the buildings round the green are very irregular – a high block of offices in the clean, severe modern style stands side by side with uneven earth-brick houses.
With the exception of the Sessions House, there is no building of any especial interest on the Green. Its fascination lies rather in its memories.
Isaac Walton was at one time a resident, and while here issued his magnum opus. But the very tradition of his house is lost. He came to Clerkenwell on his retirement from business in Chancery Lane some time before l650 with his second wife, Anne, daughter of Thomas Ken, and half-sister to Dr. Ken, Bishop of Bath and Wells. Sevei’al sons, born in succession, received their father’s Christian name and died. Walton was in the parish until November, 166I, when his name occurs for the last time in the parish books. After this he stayed with Dr. Morley, Bishop of Worcester, where his wife died. When Morley was promoted to the See of Winchester Walton accompanied him there, and continued to live with him.
Sawbridge, an eminent bookseller, ” friend of Lilly, the astrologer,” lived at Clerkenwell Green in 1670. He published Culpeper the herbalist’s books, and was well known in his own time. And there were lesser worthies, especially in the seventeenth century, when the Green was surrounded by fashionable mansions.
At the west end of the Green formerly stood the pound, an important feature in parish life, and near it was the pillory, where a woman was placed for perjury in 1787, and brutally pelted to death. The watch house was also on the Green. A drinking fountain near the hall was erected by the Good Samaritan Temperance Society in 1862. The houses round the Green call for very little remark. As we approach over the railway bridge from the west end, we have a public house with the odd name the Fox and French Hoi*n immediately opposite at the corner. This is marked on an 1822 plan. To the north of this, aAvay from the Green, parallel with the railway, is the bit of Ray Street now numbered in Farringdon Road. In this is the site of the old Clerks’ Well, which gave its name to the district. The earliest extant notice of Clerks’ Well is to be found in FitzStephen’s Chronicle. He alludes to the springs on the northern side of London – excellent springs, ” amongst which Holy well, Clerkenwell and St. Clement’s well are of most note and most frequently visited as well by the scholars from the schools as Ly the youth of the City when they go out and take air in the summer evenings.” The parish clerks of London were in the habit of giving representations of mysteries, or miracle plays, on the sunny slopes of Clerkenwell by the springing water.
” The parish clerk was formerly an ecclesiastic in minor orders, of whom the modern clerk is a degenerate survival. His duty was to assist the priest in the service of the Mass ; he read the lessons ; he carried the censer ; he was allowed to hawk the holy water among the people outside the church, sprinkling houses as well as people ; he attended funerals, singing ; he studied and practised church music and chanting ; he was allowed certain dues, collections, or doles from the householders, both in money and in kind ; in later times he compiled and printed the tables of mortality. In a word, he was one of the immense multitude who lived by the church, being under certain vows, including that of celibacy. He had some tincture of scholarship, with no dignity or position to keep up ; lie had plenty of leisure, therefore he was just the person to take in hand and to carry through the cumbersome and uncouth gambols with which the most solenm mysteries were rendered attractive.
A performance took place annually, and lasted some days. The miracles set forth incidents in the lives of saints ; the mysteries were representative of stories from Scripture, in which the letter of the sacred text was strictly adhered to, and the moralities were of an allegorical character. The Skinners’ Well, which lay near to the Clerks’, was also a favourite theatre, and it was here that in 1390 the clerks performed for three days representations of the ” Passion of Our Lord and the Creation of the World ” before Richard II,, his Queen and Court. In 1409 there was another great performance, lasting eight days, and this ” was of matter from the Creation of the World ; there were to see the same, the most part of the nobles and gentles of England ” (Stow). Stow also says that the Skinners’ Well was so called ” for that the Skinners of London held there certain plays yearly played of Holy Scripture.” If so, there must have been a certain amount of rivalry between the respective companies.
It requires some effort of the imagination now to picture the people thronging out of London and settling down for so long a period of patient watching ; but time did not rush by at such a pace then as it does now : a week at a performance was not considered of such vital importance. Besides plays, other amusements, such as wrestling and athletic sports, were carried on in the vicinity of Clerkenwell for many years, chiefly at the fairtime of St. Bartholomew.
The site of Clerks’ Well was for long marked by an old pump, which has been transferred to the western front of St. James’s Church. Strype says of Clerks’ Well :
” One Mr. Cross, brewer, hath this well enclosed, but the water runs from him into the said place. It is enclosed with a high wall, which formerly was built to bound Clerkenwell Close. The present well being also enclosed with another lower wall from the street. The way to it is through a little house which was the watch-house ; you go down a good many steps to it. The well had formerly ironwork and brass cocks, which are now cut off. The Avater spins through the old wall. I was there and tasted the water, and found it excellentlj^ clear, sweet, and well tasted.”
He goes on to add that the parishioners were displeased at its being enclosed, and were trying to get it for common use again.
The exact site of Skinners’ Well is not known. From the west end of the Green runs Turnmill Street, so named from a mill, perhaps one of those whose clack sounded so pleasantly in Fitz- Stephen’s ear. This is one of the oldest thoroughfares in Clei’kenwell. In the reign of Henry IV. it is mentioned as Trylmyl Strete, in which some persons are empowered to mend a stone bridge over the river Fleet. It has been variously written as Turnmyll, Tremill, and vulgarly as Tuirnbull or Trunball, which error is pointed out by Hatton. In Aggas’ map, 1560, the course of it is marked. Even from very ancient times it has been foully notorious, Tuvnmill Street being a synonym for everything vile and low. Its proximity to the Fleet, which may have been used as a means of escape from justice, as by the Hatton Garden criminals on the other side, probably aided this. It is referred to in terms of contempt and contumely by seventeenth – century dramatists, and was technically known as “Jack Ketch’s Warren,” from the rogues and criminals who lived in the courts and alleys, and taught their wickedness to their children. The disturbances in this neighbourhood were so fearful that thirty or forty constables armed with cutlasses would be marched down to quell them. The place abounded in taverns and public houses. Curiously enough, property in this nefarious neighbourhood seemed a favourite form of charitable bequest in the parish in the seventeenth century ; perhaps the worthy owners found they could do little with it themselves, and were glad to pass on the responsibility to more capable hands. With the opening out of the neighbourhood the palmy days of Turnmill Street were over. Shorn of one side, with its courts and holes laid open to the air and sunshine, it formed no more a desirable retreat for crime, and in the last fifty years the character of the neighbourhood has totally changed. Vast warehouses of many stories rise in square solidity, the great railway companies house their goods where formerly the fence concealed his plunder, and business, if dull, at all events respectable, reigns supreme, usurping the more exciting kingdom of crime.
The Metropolitan Railway runs between the street and the bed of the Fleet River, now covered in. This railway was opened with much enthusiasm in 1863, after having been engineered with great difficulty, owing to the floods of the Fleet River and the falling in of the ground. The river Fleet, whose winding course marks out the western boHndary of the parish, rises in the heights of Highgate and Hampstead.
Its course may now be traced by the winding King’s Cross Road, under which it flows as a sewer. It passes the western side of the Parcels Post Depot, once the House of Correction, and its course then lies beneath Ray Street until it reaches Farringdon Road, with which it continues to Holborn. It has been known by many names at different parts of its career. Besides the Fleet, it was the Holebourne and the River of Wells. Of these names the Holebourne seems to be the most ancient, and under that title it is mentioned in Domesday Book.
Of the four principal streams which flowed from the heights into the Thames at London – the Westbourne, Tyburn, Fleet or Holebourne, and Walbrook – this was incomparably the most important ; the others were streams : it was a river.
Before the reign of King John ships sailed up it as far as Holebourne Bridge ; however, the water was so diverted for mills by Baynard’s Wharf that it ran low, and a petition for the removal of this grievance was presented by Henry Lacy, Earl of Lincoln, in Edward L’s reign. Yet, though the channel was cleansed and the obnoxious mills removed, it never recovered its former dignity of volume. Other mills were erected in it to the north of Holebourne Bridge. Even so late as in the beginning of the nineteenth century a water mill stood on the site of the police station in King’s Cross Road.
After the Great Fire the channel was again cleansed and made navigable for barges. But in the eighteenth century it was in a filthy condition – a ” black canal of mud,” a receptacle for dead dogs and refuse. Gay, Pope, and Swift all refer to it in terms of opprobrium. A curious old illustration of Pope’s two lines in the “Dunciad” – ” Here, strip my children ; here at once leap in ; Here prove who best can dash through thick and thin ” – shows a number of nude figures sporting over a gutter, certainly not more than 6 feet in width, which represents the Fleet. The portion of the Fleet between the pres’ent Fleet Street and Holborn was covered in and arched over as a sewer in 1757, though the portions above and below remained open ; the latter was covered in in 1765, and the former not until the middle of the next century.
Sudden thaws or heavy rains often caused it to overflow its banks, to the great danger and damage of those who lived near it. In 1809 a severe flood was experienced in St. Pancras near King’s Cross. In 1 846 the river burst its bounds, and flooded the houses which bordered it for the greater part of its course. There are many cuttings, prints, etc., in the City of London Library, out of which it would be possible to consti’uct a whole volume upon the Fleet alone ; but here there is space only for this slight sketch.
The Fleet now receives the rain drainage of all this part of London, and falls into the Thames near Blackfriars Bridge.
This part of the parish has been much altered of late years by the construction of Clerkenwell Road, which runs across the north ends of Turnmill and Red Lion Streets, cuts through St. John’s Square, and swallows up in its course what once was Wilderness Row. On both sides of this great road are now tall business houses of severely modern aspect, on which one sees the well-known names of large manufacturers. Down the centre is a double row of tramlines, connecting Theobald’s Row with Hackney and the City. The neat red- brick of the Holborn Union Rehef Offices are on the south side beyond Red Lion Street. Between Turnmill and Red Lion Street are still many small courts. These are no longer the haunt of vice, but, without exception, decent yards attached to business premises.
Out of Benjamin Street, a narrow entry on the north side, leads to the now disused additional burial ground of St. John. It is a quaint little backwater, shut in by high walls and the backs of houses. It is laid out with trees and flowerbeds as a public garden, and in it is a pigeon cote. The ground was originally presented to the jjarish by Michell, and consecrated in 1755, but, after being closed for burials, was allowed to lapse, and covered with workshops, etc. It was by the efforts of Mr. Dawson, then Rector, that it was rescued and laid out, in 1881, as it is at present. An inscription on the north wall records the date of Michell’s gift.
Red Lion Street was built about 1719, and the houses are of that period – red-brick mansions of a comfortable size, with flat casements and finely- carved brackets to the projecting pediments of the doorways. One of them is the rectory house of St. John, but many of the othei’s have sadly fallen in degree. At the north end is a large modern brick and stone building, the Holborn Union Offices, facing Clerkenwell Road, with date 1886. This district has been at various periods known as Bocher’s or Butt Close, and later as Garden Alley. It has been suggested that Bocher was a corrujjtion of Butcher, derived from the neighbourhood of Smithfield. The present street was built by Simon Michell, who bought St. John’s Church, then called Aylesbury Chapel, for the use of the parishioners. At the northwest corner of the street was a large tavern, the Red Lion, from which the present name arose, but the tavern itself was renamed subsequently The Jerusalem.
There have been several celebrated inhabitants of the parish. Britton (1771-1857), the author of ” Illustrations of the Public Buildings of London,” ” Memories of the Tower of London,” ” Dictionary of Architecture,” ”Beauties of Great Britain,” in which last he was assisted by his friend Brayley, lived here. Dr. Trusler (1735-1820) was also at one time a resident in Red Lion Street. He wrote many works that attained extraordinary popularity, and eventually set up as a printer and publisher on his own account.
Berkley Street takes its name from a mansion which really belonged to St. John’s Lane, which it faced, but the garden stretched back over the site of the present Berkley Street. This house, with ” advanced wings, enclosing a spacious forecourt,” was for many generations the home of the Berkeley family. Sir Maurice Berkeley, Standard bearer to Henry VIII., Edward VI., and Queen Elizabeth, lived here. His second wife was buried in the old church of St. James. It is not known when the family mansion at St. John’s Lane was destroyed.
Albion Place, formerly St. George’s Court, is a mere flagged passage or footway, with the courtyard wall of a Board school on the south side. Yet even here we find some of the associations with which Clerkenwell abounds. George Pinchbeck, the discoverer of a useful alloy, lived here in 1721. He was also a genius in the construction of musical clocks and automata.
But a greater interest lies in the fact that Thomas Bewick (1753-1828), the famous wood- engraver, found employment in this court, which gives colour to the supposition that a little woodcut of St. James’s Church in the Bewick style was actually done by that master.
Further south we are in the most southerly ward of the parish – that of St. Sepulchre. About this corner there is nothing to remark. The southern boundary of the parish runs just north of the Smithfield meat markets.
Continuing eastward we come to St. John’s Lane. Narrow and insignificant as this lane is at present, redeemed only by the old gatehouse at its north end, yet could its stones speak it might have more to tell us than any street in Clerkenwell. Here the warlike or devout followers of St. John of Jerusalem thronged to pass within the hospital precincts. Here the nobly clad, gaily-equipped bands of nobles halted on a journey ; here sovereigns came to be right royally entei’tained. In l677 a Nonconformist divine, Matthew Poole, who was the author of a ” Synopsis of Biblical Commentators,” lived here. The chief tavern was the Baptist’s Head, out of compliment, doubtless, to the patron saint of the Knights of St. John. It is now represented by a modern brick public house.
A print in the Grace collection shows two delightfully quaint old houses in this lane, with exterior decorations of double-tailed mermen and quaint devices. One of these bears date 1595 ; and as thei”e is also an inscription to the effect it is licensed to sell liquor, etc., perhaps this was the original Baptist’s Head.
THE PRIORY OF ST. JOHN OF JERUSALEM
The south gateway of the priory, which stands at the junction of St. John’s Lane and St. John’s Square, is, with the crypt, the only remaining part of the great building.
The priory at Clerkenwell was the chief house in England, Its prior was premier Baron, taking precedence of all lay Barons, and he had power over all preceptories and lesser houses of the order in England. The dress of the order was “a black cassock, and over it, on the left side, a white cross with eight spokes.”
The early history of St. John’s Priory is not very clear. Many of the ancient writers, including Stow, say that it was founded in 1100, the same year as the nunnery of St. Mary by the same founder, Jordan Briset. The only fact that can be relied upon, however, is the consecration of the Priory Church by Heraclius in 1185.
The actual extent of ground given to the hospital originally is not now traceable ; it was situated in Clei’kenwell and Islington, but Islington then embraced much of the ground now known as Clerkenwell.
By the seventh charter of Edward II. all the lands, manors, houses, churches, revenues, places, and other possessions of the Templars were conferred upon the Hospitallers on the suppression of the former order by Pope Clement V.
De Chauncey, prior between 1274-1280, built a chapel for the use of the lord piiors in their house at Clerkenwell, and in 1280-1284 William de Henley built a cloister.
But after prosperity canme calamity. In Richard II.’s reign the mob, under the leadership of Wat Tyler, marched upon the priory, set fire to the buildings, which Mere so extensive that they burnt for seven days. However, the priory arose from its ashes, and was rebuilt in an even more stately manner than before ; but it was of slow growth, for not until 1504, when Sir Thomas Docwra was prior, was there anything like completion. It is to this period we owe the great gateway still standing. In 1546 the priory was suppressed by Henry VIII., and its great estates confiscated to the Crown. Its yearly value at that time is given by Dugdale at £2,385 odd, by Stow at £3,385 odd.
In Edward VI’s reign we find Protector Somerset blowing up the massive buildings, and carting away the stones for the erection of his great palace in the Strand. Stow says that the stone taken from this source was also used to build the poi’ch of Allhallows Church, Gracechurch Street. The site of the priory had been particularly granted to the Princess Mary by her father, but she had no power to restore it to its owners until she came to the throne, when she immediately reestablished the Knights by the authority of Cardinal Pole, the Pope’s legate, making Sir Thomas Tresham prior. The hospital was once more incorporated.
The order was finally abolished on the accession of Elizabeth. The only print extant of the priory is that of Hollar in 1661. This gives three views – the east part of the priory including the church, the west end of the church, and the gateway. From the first of these we gain some idea of the long battlemented sweep of building which faced St. John Street from the church to Aylesbury Street, which was its northern limit. The priory covered the ground between Aylesbury Street and the gateway north and south, between St. John Street, and probably the river Fleet, east and west.
That it was many times visited by princes and sovereigns we know. In 1212 King John stayed here for a month in March, and here he knighted Prince Alexander, the son and heir of the King of Scotland. It was at the priory that King Edward I., when Prince, met his wife Eleanor, whom he had married at ten years of age and not seen since.
Henry, Duke of Lancaster, soon to be King Henry IV., enjoyed the sumptuous hospitality of the prior in 1399.
King Heiny V. visited St. John’s once or twice.
Queen Mary seems, when Princess, to have actually taken up her abode in the priory with all her household, but this was after its suppression, when her father had granted it to her as a residence.
“The XVth day the Lady Mary rode through London into St. John’s, her place, mth fifty knights and gentlemen in velvet coats and chains of gold afore her, and after her iiij score gentlemen and ladies, every one having a peyre of beads of black. ‘
Besides the entertainment of royalty, the old walls had seen gallant festivities in the feasts of the serjeants-at-law soon after the first expulsion of the Knights by Henry VIII. Stow gives us an account of one of these feasts worth recording : There were “thirty-four great beefes at £l 6s. 8d. a piece ; one carcase of an oxe ; one hundred fat muttons at 2s. lOd. a piece ; fifty-one great veals at 4s. 8d. a piece ; thirty-four porks or boars at 3s. 3d. ; ninety-one pigs at 6s. a piece ; thirty- seven dozens of pidgeons at 10s. a dozen,” capons and cocks ; ” three hundred and forty dozen of larks at .5s. a dozen”; and “fourteen dozen swans.” On these occasions a gold ring with a suitable motto was presented to every guest of importance.
The south gate of the hospital was granted by James I. to Sir Roger Wilbraham for life. The part of the priory still standing and the ” great house adjoining” came to the Earl of Exeter and, by marriage with a daughter of that house, to the Earl of Elgin, whose son, the Earl of Aylesbury, gave his name to the chapel.
This gateway, though repaired and restored, was originally the work of Prior Docwra in 1504, and was doubtless built to replace some similar piece of work, which had been razed to the ground by the rebels under Wat Tyler. The gateway has not always appeared as at present. In the earliest representation – that by Hollar – we see a wooden erection within the arch dividing it into two passages, one for vehicles and one for pedestrians. In 1731 the double entry remains, and there are battlements, according to a print in the Gentleman s Mriga::ine. The battlements had vanished in 1748, but have been again replaced. The secondary arch was not taken down until 1771. The proportions of the arch seem to have been altered by the rising of the ground level, one of the hinges of the former gateway being now about the height of a man’s elbow only, showing that the level must once have been 3 or 4 feet lower than at present.
As it stands at present it is a noble structure. The original stone of Docwra has been used, though in many places recut. The span of the arch is of newly-cut stone on the south side, but the piers or jambs of the ancient gateway remain in their original state.
At the last great restoration the original arms of Docwra and those of France and England were found to be so weather-worn and mutilated that they were taken down and replaced by the royal arms as at present. The arms of Sir Thomas Docwra and of Henry VII. on shields also adorn the south wall.
At one time in its history the base of the eastern flanking tower of the gateway was cut away, to make a convenient entrance, and the upper part supported by an iron column. The column has now been i*emoved and the stonework replaced – a work of no little difficulty, considering the weight of the superincumbent tower.
Within, the arch is beautifully groined, the original work of Docwra. On the centre or keystone of this is carved the Paschal Lamb, kneeling on a clasped copy of the Gospels, and supporting the flag. There are also on other intersecting bosses the arms of Docwra and the prioiy. The sides of the gateway are of red brick. On the north side of the gate the arms of Docwra and the hospital still remain. A low doorway, with carved stonework in the spandrils, evidently very recently restored, stands on the east side near the entrance. The upper walls are of brick encased in stone and the foundation walls about 10 feet in thickness.
‘ Before proceeding to describe the interior it is necessary to trace the history of the gate a little further than Sir Roger VVilbraham.
In 1731 Edward Cave set up his printing press on a room on the first floor in the western side, whence he issued the Gentleman’s Magazine, which bore a woodcut of the gate on its outer cover. Here he was visited by Johnson, who worked for him, and by many other of the Hterary men of his day. Toward the close of Cave’s career the gateway was partly used as a tavern, and called the Old Jerusalem Tavern.
In the great room over the gateway Garrick first made his debut, when, by Cave’s permission, a temporary stage was erected. After Cave’s death the Magazine continued to be issued from the spot until 1781. But it was not the only periodical bi’ought forth in these precincts. In 1749 The Rambler appeared also, as well as Johnson’s ” London,” ” Vanity of Human Wishes,” ” Irene,” and other works.
In 1827 a revival of the Order of St. John under a fresh constitution was decreed. This well-known body, having obtained the freehold of the old gate, completely redecorated it and made it their headquarters.
At present the ambulance department executive work is on the western side of the gate and the general executive work on the eastern. On the western side a spiral staircase leads upward. This is made of solid oak blocks, some of which date from Docwra’s time.
The Grand Hall, which is over the roadway, has been entirely renovated, repanelled, and toplighted with a decorative skylight of carved oak. It is, however, very small, and in 1903 a new Chapter Hall was opened on the southeast side of the gate. This measures 50 by 35 feet, and is partly panelled with oak and has a handsome decoi’ative wooden roof. Here are kept two ancient figures in armour, and a large oil painting of Pompeo, son of Andrea Floramonti Perugino, Knight of Malta, l622, removed from the smaller hall. There are other oil paintings, but none of any especial interest.
The room adjoining is known as the Chancellory. Beneath, on the ground floor, is the library – a charming little room in which, besides all the literature available concerning the history of the order, an almost complete set of the Gentleman s Magazine is preserved.
ST. JOHN’S SQUARE
St. John’s Square is bisected by Clerkenwell Road, and is less like a square than ever it was. In shape it resembles a highly irregular letter L. It covers the area previously occupied by the ancient priory court. The contracted portion of the square, corresponding with the horizontal bar of the L, was previously called North’s Court, for Sir John North, son of Dudley, Lord North, resided here in l677 and 1680 on a small estate (house and garden) left him by his wife. Rocque marks this part as St. John’s Square and the larger area as St. John’s Court.
In the reign of James II. a convent was established in the Square, but destroyed by the mob in the revolution of 1688.
The Square at present contains two great objects of interest – the church, and the gateway, which has been already mentioned. On the west side, adjoining Clerkenwell Road, is a Wesleyan Chapel.
The buildings to the north of Clerkenwell Road on this side are great modern manufacturies.
Jerusalem Passage is a narrow entry across which formerly stood a gate or postern. This was the north postern of the ancient priory, and was taken down in 1780. It was called the Little Gate of St. John, and was probably of more ancient date than the great gate, still standing.
In a house at the corner lived Thomas Britton, the musical small coal man. This poor fellow, by trade a vendor of small coal, was by nature a musical and chemical genius, and his talents, especially in the former line, won him recognition and notice among the great in intellect and station. He was a collector of rare books, and he counted among his friends the Earls of Oxford, Sunderland, Pembroke, Winchelsea, and the Duke of Devonshire. He died in 1714., and was buried in St. James’s Churchyard.
To return to the Square. Houses, probably contemporary with Michell’s restoration, stand on the north side. These are occupied by clock and watch makers. In one of them John Wilkes, the demagogue, was born. His father was a malt distiller of ample means, and the distillery adjoined the house.
On the south side of the church are narrow streets of the same or an earlier date. In many of these beautiful cornices, doorways, and panels attest their having been the residences of persons of good position and wealth.
Albemarle Street was named after Monk, Duke of Albemarle, in whose day it was built. The Square was until recently the residence of many noble and wealthy persons. From the suppression of the Hospitallers onward we find a varied list. Sir William Cordell, Master of the Rolls during the reigns of Mary and Elizabeth, was a resident here. Charles Howard, first Earl of Carlisle was here in 1661. Arthur Capel, Earl of Essex, was his contemporary and neighbour. The first Lord Townshend was of about the same date, and also Sir William Fenwick, Bai*t., of Wallington, Northumberland ; and perhaps more important than any of the foregoing is the name of the great Bishop Burnet, of Queen Anne’s reign. His house stood exactly opposite to the church at the corner, where now a manufacturing house projects. The Bishop came here in 1708 after a life of fierce contentions, and was here until his death in 1715. He still wrote industriously, producing, among other works, the third volume of his ” History of the Reformation.” He was visited by all the great and noble of the land. But he was hated by the mob, and when at length, at the age of seventy-three, the old man’s body was carried in slow procession to St. James’s Church to be buried near the Communion table, the hearse and coaches were pelted and hissed by an infuriated crowd.
Burnet was no ordinary man. He was narrow, austere, unsympathetic, full of faults and oddities, but his strong individuality and wide ability made a mark upon his time.
THE CHURCH OF ST. JOHN
The church is the choir of the old priory church of St. John. Though the interior has been considerably altered, the walls, with the exception of the west wall, are those of the original building.
The crypt is one of the most beautiful and ancient in England, and is a combination of Noi’man and Early English work. It is about l6 feet in width and 62 feet in length, and is formed of a series of fine bays. Three of these are early Norman work – round arches unmoulded. The arches spring from solid piers resting on a stone bench, which runs on either side as far as the Norman work extends. Smaller piers, clustered on both sides, support diagonal ribs, which intersect each other. These are moulded, and show a decorative design of billhead pattern, which is still quite distinct in places. This is in very low relief cut through a thin layer of plaster on the stone arches.
At the east end is a transept, and from this run, parallel with the nave, what may be either termed north and south aisles or small separate chapels. The latter term is, perhaps, more appropriate, as they are, except for the transept, entirely cut oft’ from the nave. Both of these, together with the last bays of the nave, are of Early English work, Avith beautifully moulded pointed arches, which spring from triple clustered columns, apparently datmg from about 1170. These have moulded capitals and bases, and the ribs are diagonal, like those in the Norman bays. The south aisle, or chapel, contains, on its western wall, which corresponds with the second bay from the transept, the broken basin and drain of what was apparently a piscina. The deeply recessed windows on the south side are now blocked up, and in attempting to clear them the churchwardens found that the houses outside had been built actually on to the church wall, so that the thickness of one wall alone lay between the inhabitants of these houses and the crypt. On the north wall is an opening of more recent date, also a window of the earlier work of the nave. In this aisle stands a case containing fragments of stone, capitals, vases, and ornamental work, discovered in the rubble of the east end. These, though few in number, show great richness of design, traces of gilding and colouring being still apparent on the stone.
The eastern end of this aisle was converted by Simon Michell,in 1721, into a family vault, and was bricked up. When he sold the church to Queen Anne’s Commissioners he expressly reserved this corner, but his family remains were ejected with the rest in the great clearance of recent years. His arms are carved on a small shield which still exists.
The northern aisle is not of so simple a character. It consists of a series of rooms at various levels, the second of which has almost certainly been at one time a separate chapel. Here there is an ambry on either side of what was evidently an altar, and what is now an entrance where there was once only a window. From the westernmost of these chambers, which run the length of the nave, there is an entrance to the nave down two steep steps. This northern part was that which was actually used as a portion of the adjoining house during the Earl of Aylesbury’s time.
The parish was formed in 1723, and from soon after that date until 1853 the crypt was used for burials. The remains became in time most offensive and dangerous to health. The Rector and churchwardens in 1893 obtained an order in Council for their removal, and all the remains were transferred to Woking Cemetery, and there reinterred. The total number of bodies removed was about 325, from which some idea of the previous state of the crypt may be gathered. Before quitting this part of the church, mention may be made of the famous Cock Lane Ghost, which caused such commotion in 1763. The body of ” Scratching Fanny,” to whom the imposture was attributed, was interred in this crypt, and several gentlemen who had been promised by the child, the real author of the imposture, a sign from the coffin, went down singly or in couples into the vault at midnight to receive the promised sign from the supposed restless spirit in its coffin, but nothing, of course, followed, and no sign was given.
The church was consecrated by Heraclius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, in 1185, on March 4. It was doubtless added to and beautified by successive priors. It suffered in the riots of 1381, and was partly rebuilt by Docwra.
The present west wall, in which is now the main entrance, was built in the reign of Queen Mary, and later faced with brick. It will, of course, be undei’stood that when the nave was standing there was no wall here.
The interior is a grievous disappointment after the beauty of the crypt. It is a thoroughly Georgian interior, with painted columns supporting heavy galleries. The tracery of the three east windows seems incongruous with the varnished fittings. These windows were thoroughly and carefully restored in 1889. The centre one was the model for the others, from which the tracery had entirely disappeared. The original work was that of Prior Docwra, and is in the Tudor style. In the centre of the middle window is a small coloured shield – the arms of Prior Botyll – as follows : ” Gules, a chevron or between three combs. A chief of the Order,” and an inscription round : ” Robertus Botyll Pryor, Elect A.D. 1439; resign 1469.” The reredos is of oak, and the high, old-fashioned pews have been replaced with those of modern style.
Behind the panelling on the south side is still the original wall of massive thickness, built of rubble stone, excepting in the places from which the piers of the pillars sprang, where the dressed stone can be seen. A small pointed doorway, with traces of former moulding, now broken off, has been uncovered in the south wall. This probably led to a small chapel mentioned by Stow.
One possession of which the parish has reason to be proud may be mentioned here, as it is in use every Sunday. This is a very ancient silver mace – the oldest in London. The exact date is unknown, and a silver figure of the patron saint by which it is surmounted is said to have been added subsequently.
Stow mentions a great bell tower, “a most curious piece of workmanshippe, graven, gilt, and inameled,” which was destroyed by Somerset. In 1641 the house of the Hospitallers came into the possession of the Earl of Elgin, and the church was then used as a private chapel. His son, afterwards Earl of Aylesbury, continued so to use it, so that it became known as Aylesbury Chapel. It was to this period that Hollar’s print refers, showing us the east end as it is at present.
In the time of Dr. Burnet the church was used as a Presbyterian meeting house, and is alluded to by the Bishop as such. After this date it was kept open as a chapel by subscription of the inhabitants. In 1721 it was purchased by Mr. Simon Michell, who refitted and restored the north aisle to its proper functions. He refaced the west front and furnished the interior. In this condition it was sold to Queen Anne’s Commissioners for fifty new churches in 1723, and was reconseci’ated by Gibson, Bishop of London.
Behind the church, at the east end, is a narrow strip of graveyard, now a public garden. Great changes are going on here, and huge workman’s flats are being erected by the County Council. A tombstone to the memory of the Basire family, notable engravers, is on the north side near the church. On the opposite side, nearer the street, is that to the memory of Wilkes Booth, a relation of J. W. Booth, by whom President Lincoln was assasinated on April 14, 1865. Oddly enough, this spot is visited with interest by many Americans.
St. John Street is at its narrowest just opposite Jerusalem Court, but widens again northward. The line of battlemented priory building shown by Hollar faced the street, but not at the present house level. The priory frontage was flush with the church, and the present houses are built on the garden in front, the depth of which may be gauged by the strip of churchyard.
The houses in the present street are dingy and irregular, some rising to a considerable height, and they are almost wholly given up to manufacturing interests. The street is chiefly interesting by reason of its being the easterly limit of the priory, and the oldest of the parallel northern roads in the vicinity. It is mentioned in a charter of confirmation, ]170. Many times in its histoiy it had to be amended ]jy statute by reason of its being ” very foul, full of pits and sloughs, very perilous and noyous.” At the south end of St. John Street in 1642-1643, a battlement and bi’eastwork were erected against an anticipated attack of the Royalists.
It may be mentioned that, though included in the account of Clerkenwell because of its situation, the Charterhouse is extra-parochial. For an historical account of this great institution, see Medhvval Loudon, vol. ii. But it is impossible to pass by without some reference to a place so interesting. The high wall bounding the south side of the Clerkenwell Road dulls the sound of the roaring traffic, so that the pensioners within can walk about their green lawns and look at the ripening fig trees with only a murmur, as of the waves in the distance, to remind them of a world that is not at peace. In the fourteenth century, when burials were ominously frequent owing to the Black Death, the Bishop of London bought a piece of ground here for a churchyard, and some years later Sir Walter Manny enlarged it. When the terrors of the Black Death had abated, the same benefactor founded a college, which he afterwards converted into a house of Carthusian monks. It was dissolved by Henry VIII. ; and the last Prior, John Haughton, was executed, and one of his limbs hung over the fine gateway, which still exists.
After passing through the hands of various people, the place was sold, in I6II, to Thomas Sutton, who founded hei*e the great school known as Charterhouse, which was removed into Surrey in 1872. Another part of Sutton’s scheme was the providing for pensioners, not to exceed eighty in number. The pensioners remained here when the boys went into the country, and still wander about the precincts in their black gowns, and dine together in the famous old hall, though their number is now reduced to fifty five. The Merchant Taylors’ School now occupies the buildings on the east, which have been altered and enlarged, but there is much to see in the older part which architecturally is interesting.
In the first gateway are the massive ancient gates which were formerly in the second – a Tudor arch, that on which the prior’s limb was hung. The only really old parts of the main building – those dating back from the time of the monks – are the east and south walls of the chapel, which was originally very small, and was enlarged when Sutton’s foundation was established, Sutton’s own tomb, a magnificent erection, being in one corner. The rest of the interesting parts – library, tapestry room, and dining hall, and, above all, the beautifully carved wide staircase- were built by the Duke of Norfolk about 1570, when the buildings came into his possession after the dissolution. In the small cloister leading to the chapel are monumental slabs to those ” old boys ” whose names have become famous, among them those of Wesley, Thackeray, and Leech. The greater part of the pensioners’ quarters was built in the first half of the nineteenth centuiy, though a small court of more ancient date still exists. Richard Baxter (1615-1691), the Presbyterian divine, lived in Charterhouse Square for some time ; John Howe, an ejected minister and voluminous author, died hei’e in 1705 ; and William Wollaston, moral philosopher, author of ” Religion of Nature Delineated,” in 1724. The square is very quiet – a green oasis in the heart of a busy manufacturing district.
To the east is St. Thomas’s Church, of no architectural interest.
Turning northward, we find Great and Little Sutton Streets, Berry Street, and Allen Street, which need at the present time but small notice. Varnish works, breweries, white-lead works, a to tannery, etc., compose the industi”ies. The two first-named were originally Swan Alley and Little Swan Alley, and between the former and Allen Street there was Swan Alley Mai’ket. Near the end of Berry Street, in Clerkenwell Road, is a house notable as having been the residence of Thackeray from 1822-1824.
Compton Street is so called from the family name of the Marquis of Northampton, ground landlord. It is a long, dull street of small tenement houses, and is haunted in the dinner hour and after work times by groups of factory girls, all feather and freedom.
Northampton Street is marked on old maps as being already a thoroughfare picturesquely named ^^’^ood’s Close, and in Stuart times was a rural avenue between two rows of trees. Cyrus Street is lined by huge blocks of model workmen’s dwellings. Spencer and Perceval Streets were named after the unfortunate Sir Spencer Perceval. Goswell Street is narrow and squalid at the south evd, becoming wider and of a better character beyond Compton Street. It has shops on either side, carriei’s’ yards, and manufacturing premises. The west side only falls within the parish of Clerkenwell. It will perhaps be familiar to most people from its having been chosen as the residence of Mr. Pickwick in the second chapter of the ” Pickwick Papers.” The name is a corruption of Godewell or Goodwell, an ancient well incorrectly mentioned by Stow as Todewell.
In 1581 Queen Elizabeth took an evening ride in this direction, intending to go to Islington, but was greatly annoyed by rogues who pestered her. The Recorder of London took up seventy four of this brotherhood the next day, and “gave them substanciall payement ” for their insolence. On the east side, near Seward Street, was one of the vast plague pits in the dreadful year of calamity ; but this is outside the parish limits. This road, like all the great highways leading from London, was in the eighteenth century very perilous by reason of robbers and footpads.
The ground lying between Spencer and Perceval Streets to the east of St. John Street is occupied by Northampton Square and its radiating streets. These are all of about the same date – that of the very beginning of the nineteenth century. The square itself was part of the garden of an old manor house, and is lined by monotonously similar brick houses, nearly all used as offices, places of business, etc., on the ground floor. In the centre is a public garden, where grow sevei’al large plane trees, in one of which is a pigeon cote. There is a fountain also, and many seats.
At the corner of Ashby Street in the square is an unpretentious building called by the imposing name of the British Horological Institute. This was founded in 1858, and its object is sufficiently explained by its name. The first premises were in St. John’s Square.
Until 1818 St. John Street Road was called by the much more appropriate name of The Road to Islington. It is a very ancient road.
Ordinances were issued for tolls and customs for its repair. It was a poor road, however, for we find Elizabeth, James, and Charles I. all preferring to ride over the open fields rather than follow it. This was a very lonely part, and it was customary in the last century for persons leaving London to band themselves together in a party sufficiently large to be formidable before encountering its dangers. Persons who were coming from the north, arriving late, preferred to put up at the Angel Inn until daylight rather than face the lonely highway. The Old Red Lion Inn, the successor to which stands between Owen Street and the City Road, was one of the oldest inns in London, dating from 141.5. It was in a room in this house that Tom Paine wrote his ” Rights of Man,” and the house was visited also by James Thomson the poet and by Dr. Johnson.
The road from the south end presents rather a fine vista, with a broad, open space, which allows the striking group of St. Peter’s Church and the Northampton Institute to be seen to full advantage. St. Peter’s Church, otherwise called the Smithfield Martyrs’ Memorial Church, is very ornately l)uilt, with panels representing the Smithfield martyrdoms in bas-relief, and in niches at the heads of the projecting buttresses are statues of the most prominent martyrs, with their names beneath. The foundation stone of the present building was laid in 1869, and the church was consecrated in 1871.
The vicarage and infant schoolhouse were finished in 1875, and the boys’ and girls’ schools two years later. These stand on ground previously occupied by the old Clerkenwell manor house, which was the residence of the Northampton family until the end of the seventeenth century. It was later a private lunatic asylum, in 1817 a ladies’ boarding school, and, finally, a boys’ boarding school.
Just across the street is the Northampton Institute – a truly magnificent modern building. This occupies an ai’ea of \^ acres – all the ground between Ashby and Charles Street. The site was presented by the Marquis of Northampton. The building is of red brickj with facings and finishings of stone. There is a central tower dome-capped, and from this projects a large clock worthy of the reputation of Clerkenwell.
The central entrance is very fine, with moulded arch and decorative frieze or panel above in high relief. The architect was Mr. Mountford, F.R.I. B.A. It was opened in 1898. The building encloses a courtyard, with a cloister or arcade running partly round it, and is designed in triangular form in three blocks or wings. The front one, facing St. John Street Road, contains a fine hall, library, reading room, refreshment rooms, etc. The southern wing is the educational department, with workshops, classrooms, and, in the highest story, are the kitchen and laundry for technical domestic classes.
The third wing includes the social element. Here is a magnificent swimming bath, 100 feet by 40 feet, lined throughout with white marble and a huge gymnasium. The fees put the advantages of the building within the reach of every respectable working man and woman.
Leaving St. John Street Road we cross over westward and find ourselves in a medley of streets traversing each other at every angle. Many of these are fairly broad, and they all partake of the same general character, varying between the brick box-like dwellings of the beginning of the nineteenth century, and the immense, rather dreary, model flats that succeeded them.
Myddleton Street is, of course, named in honour of the great water benefactor.
In Myddleton House, at the corner, the Daily Chronical – then known as the Clerkenwell News – was first published.
The name of Skinner Street is interesting, because it recalls by its name Skinners’ Well and the old miracle plays. It was built on part of an estate held here by the Skinners’ Company.
At the corner of this and Whiskin Street is the Clerkenwell Public Library – a fine building with rounded corner tower surmounted by a vane and a row of gables along the roof. The foundation stone of the present building was laid on March 8, 1890, on a site given by the Skinners’ Company. The Skinners’ Arms in Coburg Street was once an important hostelry, where the Philanthropic Society held their meetings ; Pierce Egan, Sniirke and George Cruikshank met here.
The great space between Corporation Row and Sans Walk, between Woodbridge and Rosoman Streets, is now occupied by a school of unusual size and design. The lower part is of brick, the upper of yellow terra-cotta. A vast area of playground surrounds this mighty building – the Hugh Myddleton Schools. These were opened on December 13, 1893. There are special departments for deaf and dumb and blind children.
A gaol, called the Clerkenwell Bridewell, was built here for the punishment of rogues and vagabonds of Middlesex. Many popish priests were imprisoned in it, and Pepys tells us that he went, in 1661, with his wife to see a friend of hers who he euphemistically states ” is at school there.”
In 1668 a mob of London apprentices attacked the building, as they had done once before in the early days of its erection. In I669 Richard Baxter was held in durance here for preaching in his own house at Acton in the intervals between Divine Service on Sundays.
Ten years later the prison was to a great extent burnt down ; this was supposed to be the work of a papist prisoner. But it was rebuilt. In 1757, just about a hundred years later, the pi’ison was internally in a deplorable state. John Howard visited it many times. It was pulled down about 1804. At the close of the seventeenth century there had been erected to the south of it a building called ” The New Prison,” which was therefore contemporaneous with it for nearly a hundred years ; this was to be ” an ease for Newgate.”
The most notorious criminal here confined was Jack Sheppard, with his mistress, Edgeworth Bess. This pair managed to escape by filing their fetters and the window bars. In 1774-1775 the New Prison was rebuilt.
In the riots of 1780 the mob attacked the prison and released the prisoners. In 1818 the prison was rebuilt on a larger scale and enclosed the site of the Clerkenwell Bridewell, also a piece of ground below alluded to as first a mulberry garden and afterwards a drill ground.
In 1845 this prison was taken down and a new building of the latest approved prison construction built upon its site. This was known as the House of Detention, and was for those awaiting trial. On December 13, 1867, this prison was the scene of a most terrific explosion. A friend of the Fenians within the prison })laced a barrel of gunpowder against the northern wall, with the intention of assisting their escape. On the afternoon of that day he was seen to do something to this barrel by some children playing near. A short time after an explosion, which shattered the row of houses opposite, and blew a great hole in the prison wall occurred. Six persons were killed and fifty injured, all belonging to the poorer classes.
In the middle of the eighteenth century part of the site enclosed by the present school walls was a pleasure ground called the Mulberry Garden. Unlike many pleasure gardens of the period, this was open free to the public, the proprietor counting on recouping himself by the sale of refreshments. The grounds wei’e open only from 1742-1752. They were well laid out with alleys and avenues, a skittle-ground and other attractions. A band played out of doors when the weather was suitable, and in the ” long room ” otherwise. There was an occasional display of fireworks. There are engravings of the garden extant representing a number of gay young sparks, some playing skittles, and one lounging on a circular wooden bench which enclosed the stem of the mulberry tree. Towards the end of the time when the gai’dens were open a small charge was made for admission, but the place never seems to have been fashionable, being patronized chiefly by small tradesmen and artisans. Later on the ground was used by the Clerkenwell volunteers for exercise and drill. Besides the various buildings mentioned above, there was the Corporation workhouse at the northwest corner. Sekforde and Woodbridge Streets recall the memory of Thomas Sekforde, one of the masters of the Court of Requests, Surveyor of the Court of Wards and Liveries in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. He was the fii’st man who published a county atlas. He founded and endowed an almshouse at Woodbridge in Suffolk for thirteen poor men, and he left his estate in Clerkenwell, on which these streets are built, for the endowment of the almshouse. In Woodbridge Street a large distillery with frontage to St. John Street occupies part of the space, and on the other side is an Independent chapel. The south end of Woodbridge Street was once called Red Bull Yard, from an old playhouse established here in the time of Elizabeth. At the beginning of James I.’s reign, the Queen’s servants, who had been the Earl of Worcester’s players, exhibited here. There are several contemporary references to it during the seventeenth century, and a curious print of l672 shows us the stage at that date with the actors upon it.
The ubiquitous Pepys, of course, visited this theatre in March, 1660-1661, and thus records his visit :
“To the Red Bull, where I had not been since plays came up again. Up to the tireing room, where strange confusion and disorder that is among them in fitting themselves, especially here where the clothes are very poor and the actors but common fellows. At last into the pit, where I believe there was not above ten more than myself, and not one hundred in the whole house. And the play, which is called ‘ All’s Lost but Lust,’ poorly done, and with so much disorder ; among others in the musique room, the boy that w^as to sing a song, not singing it right, his master fell about his ears and beat him so that it put the wliole house in an uproar.”
In 1663 the playhouse was forsaken by the actors, and was used for fencing and prizefighting.
When the building was demolished is not known. The Chui’ch of St. James stands on the site of the church of St. Mary’s Nunnery, a religious foundation in the parish, second only to that of St. John of Jerusalem. It has been supposed that it was founded in 1100 by Jordan Briset and Muriel his wife, but research has tended to show that the date should be put later.
This nunnery stood on the site of the present St. James’s Church, and in the earliest records is styled Ecclesia Sanctae Maritp de Fonte Clericoruni. It was for Benedictines or Black Nuns, though Dugdale quotes one deed of the founder in which he says that he gave the above that it should be bestowed on the Gray Monks or Nuns.
Besides the site, Jordan gave also to his chaplain, Robert, ” a place to build a mill, for him there to build an house of prayer, and to place in it what order he thought fit, so as that the Hospitallers should have no claim on the same.” A document of the eighth year of Richard I. sets forth the boundaries of the nunnery. This was read before the London, Middlesex and Surrey Archaeological Societies in I86I by W. H. Hart, F.S.A. It was a fine levied at Westminster, whereby Lecia, wife of Henry Foliot, released to the Prioress Ermeniard, and to the convent of the nuns at Clerkenwell, two virgates of land in Clerkenwell which were thus described :
” Fourteen acres of land in which the prior}^ was situated, and which extend to the Coninioii of the Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem : The land lying between the court of the nunnery and the valleys which was a great fish pond, in which valley is Skinneres well ; three perches of land to the north of that valley, but extending in length to Holebonrne, and the valley and the land lying between that valley and Gode well, under the road to Holebonrne and above the road towards the east to the ditch which runs from Holebourne to the mill belonging to tlie nunnery ; and the land, meadow, and garden between the mill and the garden of tlie Hospitallers which lies upon Holebourne ; and the land and messuages between the said garden, and the bar of Sraethefield upon the stream of Fackes well owards the north, and the laud and messuages which the nuns have of the fee, of the aforesaid Letia between the said Stream and Chikeu lane ; and one messuage in front of the house of Robert de Foleham ; and two acres of land by the Street which runs from the bar without Aldredsgate to Iseldone, by the garden belonging to the Hospitallers at Smethefield.”
In 1539 King Henry VIII. suppressed the nunnery, but he granted pensions to the Prioress and several of the sisterhood. Isabel Sackville, the last Prioress, was of ancient family, originally Norman. Her father was Sheriff for the counties of Sussex and Surrey ; one of her nephews, Thomas, was created Earl of Dorset by King James I., and Lionel, the seventh Earl, was created Duke of Dorset by King George I.
The Prioress herself died in 1570, by which date she had attained her eightieth year, and was buried in the nunnery church, near the high altar.
A curious point in connection with the manor is that the manorial rights lay dormant for nearly fifty years – namely, from 1751, when the holding of a court leet and baron is recorded, until the beginning of the nineteenth century – and it was only by the accidental discovery of old documents that the existence of the manor was proved. The Church of St. James is the descendant of the old nunnery church In early times it was designated either St. Mary or St. James, the latter title appearing prior to the dissolution of the nunnery.
Some time after the dissolution of the nunnery the ground on which it had stood came into the possession of Sir William Cavendish, created Duke of Newcastle, and he built a large family mansion on the north side of the church. At that date the church is described by Hatton as being ” partly Gothic and partly Tuscan.” In this old church were many monuments, including one to Weever, the antiquary, who did much to preserve the memorials of others ; by the irony of fate his own has been lost. Stow, writing in 1 598 about the church, mentions that ” one great aisle thereof fell down,” but the part that remained served as ” a parish church for inhabitants of the near neighbourhood, as well as up to Highgate, Muswell, etc.” Yet the church remained in private hands until 1656, when the parishioners purchased it, and it has been their property ever since ; accordingly, the custom of electing a vicar by vote remains in this parish. The old church had a scjuare tower or belfry, and it was this that fell down in 1623, carrying with it a great part of the building. A sum of 18d. in the Â£ was levied on the parishioners for the cost of rebuilding, but just as the work was nearly complete, being infamously done it fell down again. The steej)le was completed the third time and the damage made good. The church was of brick and rough stone, the battlements coped with stone.
In 1788 an Act of Parliament was passed for the rebuilding of the church, and four years later the present fabric was completed. This has a fine steeple in several stories rising to a great height ; a square tower surmounted by a balustrade has ornamental vases at the angles ; from this rises an octagonal lantern, and from this, again, the tapering spire proper.
The exterior of the building is singularly plain and devoid of any interest ; round-headed windows outlined in Portland stone with quoins and courses of the same material break the monotony of a dull brick wall.
Within, the structure is in the room-like form of the period, with a flat decorated ceiling and copious galleries. The windows ai*e filled with stained glass of singularly divergent schemes of colour, and are consequently very inharmonious. Many old marble slabs hang on the walls, preserved from the first church. A monument to Prior Weston represents the recumbent efligy of a man extremely emaciated, with cadaverous face and skeleton hand. The theory is that he was so emaciated by disease. The canopy and upper part of this tomb are lost.
Close by Prior Weston is a brass to the memory of Bishop Bell, of Worcester. The date is 1556. It represents the figure of a man about three- quarter life size. These two were restored to the church in ISS^. There are several other monuments to be noted, among them one to the Dowager Countess of Exeter, dated 1653.
A spacious vestry room contains the registers, etc., the earliest of which dates back to 1587. There are no entries of any particular interest. The churchyard outside is about an acre in extent. It was purchased in l673, and enlarged 1677, and is now laid out as a public garden with seats and flowerbeds. On the west wall of the church is fixed the spout of an old pump.
The limits of the nunnery walls are not known.
A few years ago, near one of the houses in Newcastle Place, a few feet below the surface of the ground, part of the pavement of a walk, evidently of the date of the nunnery, was unearthed. This was plain and without ornament. At the same time a few fragments of pillars, etc., were dug up, and are preserved in the Clerkenwell Free Library.
Newcastle House was situated to the north of the church, and must have been a singularly plain building if it resembled the print of it still extant. There are no windows on the ground floor. Those on the first-floor are of great size, and separated into couples by flat pilasters. Above these are only the dormer windows in the roof. The house has two deeply -projecting wings and a central gateway. The house in later days was let in tenements, and fell into decay. The garden in Pennant’s time contained a part of the cloister of the nunnery.
The Nuns’ Hall, situated at the north end of the eastern part of the cloisters, was standing in 1773, but used as a workshop.
In 1793 Newcastle House was pulled down and the present Newcastle Place built on its site. The garden of Newcastle House extended as far as St. James’s Walk. This walk has been variously known as Hart Alley and New Prison Walk before receiving its present name. In about 1830 most of the houses now standing were built. The houses on the west side are supposed to be on the site of the nuns’ burial ground.
Clerkenwell Close was originally the Nunnery Close ; it was built over in the times of the Stuarts, thirty-one houses being rated here in 1661. The entrance to the Close at the south end was widened by the pulling down of a butcher’s shop about the beginning of the nineteenth century. It is not very wide now. This is a singularly quiet place with a few tenement houses of a poor description, mingled with the newer premises of manufacturers. We note bookbinding and engineering works, and a pencil factory. On the north rise up the gray, uncompromising walls of Peabody’s Buildings. Several famous men have lived in the Close.
John Weever (1576-l602) from hence issued his “Ancient Funeral Monuments.” His house appears to have been on the west side facing Newcastle Place.
Sir Thomas Challoner, born in 1521, Foreign Ambassador under Elizabeth, and author of a mighty work-” The Right Ordering of the English Republic,” incomplete in five volumes – also lived in Clerkenwell Close, from whence he issued this work. The parish register records his death in 1565, but he was buried in St. Paul’s. His son was the first to discover alum in England. It is supposed that it was the Challoners’ house that Cromwell occupied during his residence in the Close. This house is shown in some prints in the Crace Collection.
Sir John Cropley, Bart., and Dr. Garenciere, a celebrated physician, are among other names. The latter was the author of several scientific works. Another resident in the seventeenth century was Dr. Everard Maynwaring, who wrote ” A Learned Discourse ” as an appendix to a reprint of King James I.’s ” Counterblast to Tobacco.”
The name of Bowling Green Lane is a reminiscence of the bowling greens to the north marked in Stow’s map. At one time it was known as Featherbed Lane. At the southeast corner of the Lane, bounded on the east by Rosoman Street, was a burial ground known formerly as St. James’s Middle Ground, and adjacent to it was Cherry Tree Ground, so called from the Cherry Tree Tavern, which had tea- gardens attached to it, and a number of cherry trees growing round. A Board school, older than the Hugh Myddleton schools, stands here now, and the playgrounds of the children are upon the graves of the dead.
In 1675, at the corner of Bowling Green Lane, was one of the huge cinder heaps immortalized by Dickens in connection with his ” Golden Dustman,” and at one end of the lane was a whipping post for petty offenders.
Corporation Row was so-called because one of the earliest of the Union or Corporation workhouses stood here. In earlier times it bore the awful name of Cutthroat Lane, presumably in reference to some murder here committed. In Horner’s plan of Clerkenwell, date about 1806-1808, north of the eastern part of the lane are green fields as far as the New River Head (where a small triangular group of gardens, buildings, and trees, denotes Islington Spa and Sadlers’ Wells), and beyond that again are open fields to the Fentonville Road.
In 1686 some part of the workhouse was appropriated as a school or “colledg” for infants, i.e., pauper children. In l692 it became a Quakers’ workhouse also, and a meeting house was attached. In 1805 it was taken down, and part of the site was used in widening Corporation Lane. This portion of Corporation Row is now bordered by an enormous block of model flats on the north, and by the playground wall – a fragment of the prison wall- on the south.
The eastern portion of Corporation Row has a series of good houses on the south side, with picturesque doorways enclosed in wooden porches with wooden pediments of eighteenth-century style.
Between Coburg and Rosoman Streets are blocks of workmen’s flats. The street was first known as Bridewell Walk, but when Rosoman, the builder and proprietor of Sadlers’ Wells Theatre, in 1756, built a terrace of houses at the upper end, he called them by his own name, which gradually spread to the whole.
In the upper part there is a Roman Catholic chapel, built in 1835, and dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul. This was at first designed for a congregation of the Countess of Huntingdon’s connection, but was adapted by the Roman Catholics in 1857.
The English Grotto, New Wells and London Spa, were all three close together about the site of Rosoman Street. The first was in existence about 1760, and had grounds attached with a grotto and waterworks. All that is known of it is gleaned from one or two views in the Crace Collection. It may, however, have been identical with the grotto garden kept by Jackson in 1779, which is referred to by Smith in ” The Book for a Rainy Day.” The New Wells is connected with its theatre rather than its waters, though probably the latter formed its laison d’etre. For about twenty years, roughly 1730-175O, it was celebrated for its harlequinades, pantomimes and entertainments, including variety exhibitions, rope- walking, conjuring, etc.
After being closed for three years, in 1750 the theatre and gardens were reopened with the exhibition of the military Hannah Snell, but they were soon closed again, and the theatre was turned into a Methodist cha})el. It was pulled down at the building of Rosoman Street about 1756.
The London Spa, about 100 yards south of the above, at the junction of Rosoman and Exmouth Streets, now obhterated by Rosebery Avenue, originated in an inn called the Fountain. A spring of chalybeate water was discovered on the premises about 168″). It attracted a good deal of notice. Wroth reproduces a curious and interesting old print of 1120, showing the milkmaids dancing at the London Spa on May Day. Northampton Row is a long, dull, and rather quiet street, with a number of small streets and alleys of similar character opening oft’ on the south side. Coming out near Exmouth Street, we see the ornamental angle of the back of Finsbury Town Hall.
Exmouth Street was known as Baines or Braynes Row until 1818, but was given the present name in honour of Admiral Lord Exmouth. The clown Grimaldi lived at No. 8 in 1829.
At present it is one of the market streets of the poor, and is lined by barrows on either side of the road. Stalls of fruit and vegetables, of cat’s meat and embroidery, jostle one another, and the very shops catch the prevailing custom and hang their wares outside. There is always a crowd in Exmouth Street, a busy, pushing crowd, eager to buy and to gossip.
On one side is a large chapel in the Italian style, with an inscription running across the frieze.
This is the Church of the Holy Redeemer, and it is Church of England. There is a Baldachin over the altar supported by columns and surmounted by dome and cross. The altar stands not against the south end (the chapel is built north and south), but forward so as to leave a sort of ambulatory or Lady Chapel behind. The interior of the church is light and lofty, with immense columns running right up to a clerestor)
The church stands exactly on the site of the old Spa Fields Chapel, to which a curious histoiy is attached ; it was consecrated in 1888.
The building did not begin its career as a chapel, but as a Pantheon, a place of amusement. It was on the site of the Ducking Pond House, near a pond resorted to for duck hunting. The large playground at the back of the church now covers the place once occupied by this pond. It is shown in Strype’s map, and he records that there ” six pretty young lads ” lost their lives through the breaking of the ice.
The Ducking Pond premises were acquired by Rosoman, of Sadler’s Wells, and were sublet to a publican, who laid out tea gardens, etc. The Pantheon was opened in 1770, and contained a central stone and galleries running round under a great dome something after the manner of a miniature Ranelagh. It was chiefly patronized by apprentices and small tradesmen, and was generally full on Sunday afternoons and evenings. In 1774, Craven, the man who had been running it, became bankrupt. It was not, however, closed until two years later, when it became a depot for the sale of carriages. Subsequently it was opened as a Church of England chapel, under the name of Northampton Chapel, and very shortly after was bought by the Countess of Huntingdon and opened as Spa Fields Chapel. It narrowly escaped destruction in the riots of 1780, one of the rioters, it is said, pleading for its immunity on the ground that his mother had worshipped there. The Countess lierself came to a large house on the east side of the chapel in 1779, and here she died in 1791. The chapel was pulled down in 1887.
About the time of the opening of the chapel the pleasure grounds in the rear were leased independently and converted into a burial ground. An enormous number of bodies were brought here for interment. In 1843 the public was horrified at discovering the practices which had been resorted to in order to make way for fresh burials when the ground had already been used to its full extent. The coffins were dug up and burnt to make more room, and in preparing a fresh grave, the remains of seven or eight persons in vai’ious states of decay were sometimes mutilated or exhumed. Petitions, signed by hundreds of the neighbouring inhabitants, were presented to Parliament, until at length the practices were suppressed by law and the ground closed. This space is about 2 acres in extent, and was subsequently used as a drill ground by the 3rd Middlesex Rifles. At length the Marquis of Northampton gave it for a playground, adding to it an additional i acre. The Public Gardens Association then drained it and laid it in soil and gravel, and finally put up a gymnastic apparatus, to be the delight of many hundreds of children.
Not far from the London Spa stood the New Wells, where there was a theatre at which operatic perfoi’mances were given, with rope dancing, singing and tumbling from 5 p.m., lasting all the evening. In 1744 the grand jury represented the place as one tending to corrupt the morals of the people. In 1752 John Wesley converted the theatre and gardens into a chapel.
In Chapel Row the business element predominates, but in Vine Street all is squalid. Small shops of rag and bottle and general dealers and wretched tenements line the streets. Vineyard Walk is of the same character. Pinks attributes the first suggestion of Farringdon Road to Gwynne in his ” London Improved.” Sir Christopher Wren also appears to have contemplated some great northern street of this kind, but the line his fancy took was further westward – more in the direction of Hatton Garden. It was under Acts of 1840, 1842, and 1848 that Farringdon Road was made, and it was at first called Victoria Street. It is a continuation of Farringdon Street, and is bordered on one side by the Metropolitan Railway and on the other chiefly by very modern business blocks and model flats. For part of the distance the Fleet River runs underground (see p. 14). In the open space bordered by the wall of the Metropolitan Railway, just to the south of C’lerkenwell Road, there is a curious open air market of the poor. Stalls line the causeway, displaying every kind of ware – toys, fruit, tools, but most frequently second hand books.
The southern part of Ray Street, in which stood the Clerks’ Well, has been mentioned already. The northern part, to the west of the railway, is of a business character, and there is a large foundary on one side.
Ray Street has borne its present name since 1774. Before that date it was Hockley-in-the- Hole, a spot which bore a notoriously bad reputation. Camden derives ” Hockley ” from the two Saxon words meaning a muddy field. The Hole was the low level, the deep descent down the sloping banks of the Fleet River, which at times overflowed and made all this neighbourhood a marsh. In 1756 the road was widened and considerably raised. In 1855, when a sewer was being constructed, about 13 feet below the roadway was found a smooth pavement of freestone worn by much traffic, and below this were oaken piles, hard, black, and strong, the remains of one of the mills of the neighbourhood.
In Hockley-in-the-Hole bear-baiting and bull-fighting were carried on, the bear garden being on the site of the Coach and Horses tavern, now a large modern red-brick public house, and this was patronized not only by the scum of the neighbourhood, but by noblemen. Ambassadors, etc.
To these pleasing entertainments were added exhibitions of prize fighting, dog fighting, and on some occasions the unfortunate bulls and dogs were tormented to madness by fireworks being tied all over them. There are many advertisements in contemporary papers and handbills, of which the following is a specimen :
“At the Bear Gaideu in Hockley-in-the-Hole, 1710.
” This is to give notice to all gentlemen, gamesters, and others, that on this present Monday is a match to be fought by two dogs, one from Newgate Market against one of Honey Lane Market at a bull, for a guinea to be spent. Five let-goes out of hand which goes fairest and farthest in wins all ; likewise a green bull to be baited which was never baited before, and a bull to be turned loose with fireworks all over him ; also a mad ass to be baited. With a variety of bull-baiting and bear-baiting and a dog to be drawn up with fireworks.
” To begin exactly at three of the clock.” There are likewise many references to Hock- ley-in-the-Hole in contemporary literature. These are to be found in ”Hiidibras,” in the ” Dunciad,” in the “Beggar’s Opera,” and in Gray’s “Trivia.” Fielding makes Jonathan Wild the son of Elizabeth, daughter of Scragg Hollow, of Hockley-in-the-Hole. Curiously enough, there is only one small print extant representing this street, with a man driving a flock of sheep through it. In 1724 an attempt was made to abolish the infamous shows held here, but without success. Among the odd things found by the owner of the Coach and Horses public house was a small leathern portmanteau, with wooden ends, bearing the name R. Tvrpin cut on the inside of the lid. It is not a great strain on credulity to conjecture this may once have belonged to the famous highwayman, for Hockley-in-the-Hole was just the kind of place he would have delighted to visit. The fact that there was a parish burial ground in Ray Street, consecrated 1763, must not be omitted. This was for paupers, and was given up when the Clerkenwell Commissioners required the ground for improvements. A mausoleum with a Latin cross in stone on the top was built over the remains, which were collected together. The Metropolitan Railway and Farringdon Road run over the site of the burial ground.
Crawford Passage was once called Pickled Egg Walk, from the association of the owner of the principal tavern with these delicacies. It is said that King Charles in passing once stopped and partook of a pickled egg. The presence of the King in this locality is not so absurd as may be supposed, for until Farringdon Road was made this was the most direct route from the City to Clerkenwell. This walk shared in the character of the neighbouring streets, and had in the eighteenth century its own exhibitions of cockfighting.
Coppice Row is now absorbed in Farringdon Road. The portion of it which can be traced on the east side of a block of buildings in the road is lined by great business premises. The rest is quite swallowed up and obliterated. In the seventeenth century it was called Town’s End Lane and also Codpiece Row. At the northern end stood the workhouse, which was enlarged in 1790.
Baker’s Row is a poor and wretched street, with only one or two workshops and business premises to redeem it from utter squalor.
Warner Street is one of the lowest and poorest districts in Clerkenwell. The population is largely composed of the itinerant organ-grinder and ice-cream vendor of Italian or mixed foreign nationality. In fact, in spite of the broad dividing line of the Clerkenwell Road, the quality of the district remains the same as that of Great Saffron Hill. The houses are of the date of the seventeenth or early eighteenth century. Small general shops are here and there. In Great Warner Street lived in the middle of the eighteenth century Henry Carey, author of the popular song, ” Sally in our Alley.”
The southern branch of the much-mutilated Coldbath Square is now occupied by model flats, which tower above the viaduct. The place owes its name to one of the most famous natural baths in England, the spring of which was discovered in 1697, and used for over a century and a half.
The baths were open from five in the morning to one in the middle of the day, and the charge was 2s.
In 1811 the trustees of the London Fever Hospital bought the property, intending to build a fever hospital on the site ; but on account of the agitation of the neighbours, this scheme was abandoned, and the garden was let on building lease. Eustace Budgell, writer and journalist, also a relative and friend of Addison, lived in the square from 1733 to 1736.
At the place where Cobham Row touches the Farringdon Road once lived Sir John Oldcastle, Lord Cobham ; his house was later converted into the Lord Cobham tavern and pleasure gardens, first opened in 1728, and in 1742 described as a handsome house with good accommodation, a large garden, a grove of trees, and a reputation for selling the best beer in London at 3d. a tankard. A few years later it became a place of entertainment with concerts of vocal and instrumental music. Fireworks also were a favourite form of amusement, and in the garden there was a canal stocked ” with good carp and tench fit to kill.”
Rosebery Avenue was opened in 1895 by Lord Rosebery, after whom it is named. A double set of tramlines, used by the Kingsway and Aldwych trams, runs up the centre. For the first part of the way it is lined by great printing and publishing offices, and huge blocks of model flats. A row of young trees borders the pavement.
Further north some of the original houses on the streets which it overflowed in its course, remain. A large red-brick fire station stands just to the north of the Farringdon Road. The Town Hall, a splendid specimen of its class, is at the junction with Garnault Place. The style is that of the English Renaissance, and the materials used are red-brick stone and glazed tiles. The building was opened in 1895. On the ground floor there is a spacious corridor, in which are the public offices. The great hall is 66 feet 6 inches in length, and 42 feet 6′ inches wide, and seats 500 persons. There is also a council chamber 50 feet by 30 feet.
Further north we have the New River Head, with the company’s offices, succeeded by Sadlers’ Wells Theatre on the west side. We will return to these presently in the course of perambulation, going back now to the west end of Rosebery Avenue.
Mount Pleasant was formerly Baynes Row. It is now a wide modern thoroughfare, lined by large red-brick buildings used as offices, etc., on one side, and by the walls of the Post Office on the other.
The House of Correction stood here, but it was pulled down by Government in 1889, and the Parcel Post building immediately erected in place of it.
In it was a stern and gloomy stone gate, which figured as one of the illustrations in the late Mr. Du Maurier’s popular novel ” Peter Ibbetson.” Those who know the illustration, however, would notice that by artistic license the lion’s head, which marked the keystone in the real gate, is transformed in the picture to an ” agonized face.” It remained for a time as the entrance to the Parcel Post Depot, but with the walls on each side of it was eventually pulled down, and is to be seen no more.
A prison on this site was built in the reign of James I. It was intended for persons condemned to short sentences. In 1794 the House of Correction which existed up to recent times, was built ; later it was considerably added to. It was known also by the alternate name of Coldbath Fields Prison.
There was at first considerable objection to the site, which, being on the banks of the Fleet, was swampy and unsuitable for strong foundations. It had also been used as a public rubbish heap, and a mountain of rubbish had to be cleared away. There is a curious print extant which shows the beginning of the erection, with the River Fleet running actually within the walls before being covered in. The gaol was built on the plan I’ecommended by Howard, but did not therefore escape the evil tendencies of the prison administration of that day. ” Men, women, and boys,” we ai’e told (Chesterton’s ” Revelations of Prison Life”), “were indiscriminately herded together . . . while smoking, gaming, singing, and every species of brutalizing conversation” went on perpetually.
In the beginning of the century several violent riots took place, in which the prisoners were aided and abetted by the mob outside. A vagrants’ ward was added in 1830, and a female ward in 18.32 ; these later additions were on the radiating or spoke-wheel system. The high wall which surrounded the whole place, and a part of which remains near the gateway, encircled 9 acres of ground. In 18.50 the females were removed to Westminster, and Coldbath Fields was reserved for male offenders.
Leigh Hunt was an inmate for a libel on George IV.
The streets on the east of this section of the Farringdon Road, opposite the Parcels Post depot, are extremely uninteresting, all of about the date of the beginning of the nineteenth century, and in the hideously inartistic style of that period. Wilmington Square is named from one of the titles of the Earl of Northampton. It is now made into a public garden with seats and flowerbeds.
On the east is Merlin’s Place, a name which recalls a place of entertainment in the eighteenth century known as Merlin’s Cave. Here were gardens and a skittle-ground. North of Margaret Street is a Board school.
In Amwell Street are large schools erected in 1828 as Parochial Charity Schools, which had been previously carried on in Aylesbui’y Street. George Cruikshank lived at No. 23 for some years.
Baker Street was built about 1823, and takes its name from the owner of the gi’ound. It runs down an extremely steep hill to King’s Cross Road.
The district lying to the north of this is of a different character from much of the rest of Clerkenwell : the houses are neat, and of a better class ; the small squares have the air of being in a backwater, and are deserted and very quiet. The reason, apparently, is that, owing to the inclination of the ground, no traffic comes this way if it can avoid it.
In Lloyd Square is a House of Retreat for the Sistei’s of Bethany.
In Granville Square is the Church of St. Philip, built of light-coloured brick, without tower or spire. This was erected at Government expense in 1831. It stands in a dismal space of uncared- for ground, covered with rubble, bricks, and rubbish, but the interior is unexpectedly cheerful, being wide and light. There is a short chancel the same width as the nave, and a gallery at the west end. The reredos is of carved stone.
At the corner of Upper Vernon and Wharton Streets is a red-brick church with high gabled tower, the successor of the old Spa Fields Chapel.
A polished granite obelisk, in memory of the Countess of Huntingdon, stands at the southeast corner.
All the streets to the north slope more or less steeply. Percy Circus and Holford Square are quiet, respectable places, and \^ernon Square, in which there is a Baptist Chapel, has had one side lopped off in the making or widening of the adjacent road, and is a ” square ” no longer. Though the boundary line of the parish runs down the centre of King’s Cross Road, it must be taken here as a whole, the most important of its memories being associated strongly with Clerkenwell.
The road as it is at present is a most dreary thoroughfare, of no great width, lined by rows of dingy little brick boxes of houses belonging to the third decade of the nineteenth century. A line of trams runs down the centre. The Parcel Post Office has been mentioned. A tavern called the Sir John Oldcastle stood at the junction of the present King’s Cross and Farringdon Roads. In 1731 it was a place of entertainment. The grounds and gardens were very extensive, and lighted by lamps ; a band played during the summer months, and exhibitions of fireworks were given.
The old ” Sir John ” was finally pulled down in 1762, and a hospital for smallpox patients built instead ; the patients were removed to a new hospital near King’s Cross in 1794′. The site is now covered with a huge ” Rowton House.”
Continuing northward, we are confronted at the corner of Pakenham Street with a public house named ” Ye Okie Bagnigge Wells.” This is not on the site of the famous Bagnigge House, but very near it. A stone according the actual site is fixed on the front of a house some nine or ten doors further north.
These wells were situated just in the western bend of what is now King’s Cross Road, opposite Wharton Street. There seems to be no distinct origin of the peculiar name, but among its many aliases the Fleet was sometimes known as the River Bagnigge . “The land here was formerly called Bagnigge Marsh from the River Bagnigge, which passes through it.” This was one of the many wells in that marshy coui’se from which arose that other pseudonym of the Fleet – viz., the River of Wells. The properties of this particular spot were discovered about the middle of the eighteenth century.
Pinks, the historian of Clerkenwell, quotes several passages from the Public Advertiser.
On April 14, 1759 :
” Bagnigge “Wells are now open for the reception of company, both the chalybeate and purging waters being iu the greatest perfection. Proper conveniency and attendance, breakfasting, etc. N.B. – Three half-pints of the purging waters is sufficient for most people. No salts are required to quicken their virtue.”
Again, nearly twenty years later, in 1775, we read in the same paper :
“The Royal Bagnigge Wells between the Foundling Hospital and Islington. Mr. Davis the proprietor takes this method to inform the publick that both the chalybeate and pui’ging waters are iu the greatest perfection as ever known, and may be drank at 3d. each person, or delivered at the pump room at 8d. per gallon. Tliey are recommended by the most eminent physicians for various disorders as specified in the handbills.
A print of Bagnigge Wells shows gardens carefully laid out, with yew hedges, fish ponds, smooth lawns, and alleys. The carthartic well was situated some forty yards north of the chalybeate, and both wells were about 20 feet in depth. In the mornings hundreds of persons flocked to drink the waters ; in the afternoons the same gay crew, in search of amusement, made up tea-parties. The River Fleet passed through the grounds, and was crossed by a bridge ; near it was a grotto, where such of the company as chose to ” smoke, or drink cyder, ale, etc.,” were allowed to sit : this was not permitted in other parts of the grounds. There are innumerable engravings of the wells at different times, showing their date by the fashion of dress in the figures grouped in the gardens. One print, dated 1777, shows an interior, a long and gaily-lighted room, with a great organ at one end and a numerous assembly of fashionable people promenading about after the aimless fashion of Ranelagh, or seated at little tables tea drinking. This room was used for concerts and balls. The admission to the former of these entertainments was 3d., with tea or coffee Is. extra. The amusements also included balloon ascents, glee-singing, etc. The first proprietor was Mr. Hughes, succeeded by Mr. Davis ; he in his turn made way for Mr. Salter, who became bankrupt in 1813, when all the furniture, fittings, etc., were sold by auction. The wells were, however, reopened under new management, and quickly passed from one owner to another, but the palmy days of Bagnigge were passed.
Bagnigge House was itself a place of some consequence before the discovery of the waters. It is traditionally assigned as one of Nell Gwynne’s residences, and there is no reason to doubt it. The house was a convenient distance from London, was healthfully situated, and had pleasant views. Even in 1844, when the place was in ruins, the house was pointed out as ”Nell Gwynne’s residence.” The Finder a Wakefielde was an old public house or hostelry, standing in Gray’s Inn Road, not far distant.
Among the many springs in the neighbourhood was one in close vicinity to Bagnigge, known as ” Black Mary’s Hole.” The name is popularly supposed to have originated with a negro woman, who used to draw water from the well. Tradition says that it was originally Blessed Mary’s Well, but that this having fallen into disrepute at the Reformation, the less attractive cognomen was adopted. There is, however, the ” Black Virgin ” still to be found in some French churches, ” Our Lady of Fuy ” being black, and it is probable that the origin of the name lies here. This group has sometimes been confused with Bagnigge Wells, but was apparently quite separate. Further north, in King’s Cross Road, is a police court built of red brick and bath stone in a clean and pleasant style, usually associated with public libraries. Considerably further on near the junction of the King’s Cross and Pentonville Roads is a Welsh tabernacle.
Pentonville Road, as well as the district, derives its name from Henry Penton, M.P., one of the Lords of the Admiralty, who died in 1812.
He owned the estate, and laid out the first streets about 1773. Pentonville Road was originally a continuation of the New Road, but in 1857 was called by a separate name.
It has a very steep ascent from King’s Cross, or rather from the bed of the now invisible Fleet River. The road is wide ; the houses stand back behind strips of dingy garden, and the objects of interest are few. Many of the houses are offices or places of business, such as photographic studios.
The Church of St. James is a very dingy-looking building of earth-brick with round-headed windows. It has a small cupola or bell tower. It was built as a chapel of ease in 1787, and, with the cemetery, was consecrated in 1791. The burial ground was opened as a public garden in 1897. Claremont Chapel is used by the Baptists. It was opened for a dissenting congregation in 1819- The frontage, though ugly, being carried out in various-coloured stucco, is clean and bright. In the centre of Clax*emont Square is a great reservoir of the New River Company, Avith steeply sloping green banks.
A little to the south is Myddleton Square, surrounded by respectable dwelling houses possessing no external beauty.
The Square garden is reserved for the use of residents, but in part of it stands St. Mark’s Church, which was built in 1827 on a site presented by the New River Company ; it is of the usual type of pseudo- Gothic, and is neither better nor worse than dozens of churches of the same period.
Between Myddleton Square and the Pentonville Road is a district of streets of small houses. Eastward in Owen Street we find a large red-brick school. On the frontage are the arms of the Brewers’ Company and the arms of the foundress, Dame Alice Owen, a pomegranate tree bearing fruit. Besides these, an inscription tells us the school was founded in l6l3, enlarged in 1881. The girls’ school, of brick also, but with no external adornments, faces this across Owen Row. The origin of the charity is preserved in a story. Originally this part of the parish was called the Hermitage Field, from a hermitage founded here by the Hospitallers in 1511. At the Dissolution the ground and building passed into secular hands, and in the middle of the sixteenth century was held by Thomas Wilkes. His daughter Alice, passing through the field one day, stooped down to try her hand at milking a cow ; as she did so, an arrow from an unseen archer transfixed the crown of her hat : it had been shot carelessly by a gentleman practising archery. Grateful for such a wonderful deliverance from untimely death, she vowed to erect a building on the spot to the glory of God. Years after, when she was a widow, Dame Alice Owen – she remembered her vow- bought the land and erected almshouses for fourteen poor widows and a charity school. To complete the little romance, it is said that her husband was the very man who had so nearly killed her.
The Brewers’ Company was made by her trustees of the charity. The ancient almshouses were a row of quaint one-storied buildings. In 1840 the revenues of the charity having greatly increased, the Brewers’ Company rebuilt both school and almshouses. The latter, however, were pulled down subsequently, and the recipients made out-pensioners.
Dame Alice Owen died in 1613, and was buried in the old Church of St. Mary, Islington, taken down in 1751, where there was a handsome monument to her memory.
The site of the almshouses is now included in the playground of the school. The schools are adapted for 300 boys and 300 girls.
Following Owen Row, we come to the junction of St. John Street Road and Rosebery Avenue, and a little below this is the now decrepit building, once the brilliant Sadler’s Wells Theatre.
The curious correlation of a theatre with a medicinal well began by the discovery of the waters in l683 in the grounds of a music hall belonging to a Mr. Sadler. There is, however, a tradition that the well had been known many centuries before, and had been accounted a holy well. The well, in any case, sprang very quickly into celebrity, and five or six hundred people visited it every morning. Sadler’s Wells have been confounded by many writers – notably Lysons – with New Tunbridge Wells, which were further south, and are described in detail below.
The Sadler’s Wells were impregnated with iron, and in 1686 John Evelyn visited them. But the waters seem always to have been subordinate to the theatre, and it is by the theatre chiefly that the glories of past days are remembered. The entertainments at first were of a low character. In l6’99 the playhouse was called Miles’ Music -House (Sadler being presumably dead), and here various disgusting tricks were played, such as that of a man who ate a live cock, ” feathers, guts and all with only a plate of oil and vinegar for sawce,” and boasted further he would do the same with a live cat.
The audience in the early part of the eighteenth century was of a mixed class. Macklin, the actor, stated that he remembered the time when the admission was only 3d., except for a few 6d. places at the sides reserved for the aristocracy.
At this time the theatre had no very good character, being spoken of as a ” nursery of debauchery.” There were four or five performances a day, and their length depended on the number of the fresh audience waiting outside. Rope dancing, tumbling, juggling, and other feats seem to have formed the staple of these entertainments. The site of the wells is now quite lost, but it is supposed that it may be actually beneath the present theatre building.
In the latter half of the eighteenth century the place became of better repute under the management of Mr. Rosoman, though the old style of music hall variety entertainment was still adhered to. Rosoman rebuilt the theatre, which had previously been of wood, and the prices wei’e increased. Boxes were 3s., which entitled the ticket holder to a pint of ” Port, Mountain, Lisbon, or Punch,” Is. 6d. was paid for the pit. Is. for gallery, and for an additional 6d. these two lower classes could have the same liquor as the first.
In 1763 Grimaldi, father of the great clown Grimaldi, first appeared here. In 1772 Rosoman was succeeded in the proprietorship by Tom King. Little Grimaldi appeared on the boards in 1781 in the character of a monkey. As he grew up he began to take more important parts, and in 1794 we find him in receipt of a salary of Â£4 a week. In 1802 the brothers Dibdin bought shares in the theatre. Just before this date the interior of the building had been once again completely renovated.
In 1805 the theatre seemed to take a new lease of popularity. One of the series of “^ strong” men, then a great noveltj^, appeared, and by the construction of a great tank below the stage, filled from the New River Head close by, a representation of the Siege of Gibraltar, with real vessels on real water, was given. This evoked immense applause, and was followed by many pieces in which the ” real water ” played a part. Grimaldi’s populai’ity as clown was by this time firmly established, and he appeared in 1807 in a new pantomime, ” Jan Ben Jan ; or, Harlequin and the Forty Virgins.” During the years that followed he was the mainstay of the theatre, and in recognition of his splendid services had several benefits. In 1828 he had his final benefit, by which he gained £230.
In 1838 the theatre was thoroughly renovated and redecorated, and in IS-tfi Mr. Phelps, then manager, determined on reproducing the whole of Shakespeare’s plays. He succeeded in putting about thirty of them on the stage, and also represented both the older dramatic and the first-rate modern dramatic Avriters.
Sadlers’ Wells Theatre still stands, a building facing the New River Head, with the dirty stucco peeling off’ the frontage in patches, and the bricks of the body of the house showing a leprosy of damp and old age. It is a music hall, and the bills announcing that the seats vary in price from 2d. to 1 s. proclaim the standing of the house. The New River Head is the apotheosis of one of the most wonderful undertakings ever devised by a man. In 1605, an Act of Parliament granted to the Mayor, Aldermen, and commonalty of London power to bring water from the springs of Amwell and Chadwell, in Herts, for the supply of London. This Act was enlarged the following year, with explanatory clauses, and both had been instigated by a goldsmith and citizen of London, Hugh Myddleton.
But in spite of the Acts, none would invest money in so precarious an enterprise. So in l609 Hugh Myddleton obtained a transfer of the Acts to himself, and determined to embark his whole private fortune in the venture. To understand the difficulty of the task, it may be premised that in the neighbourhood of Ware two copious springs gushed up, and to bring these to London by a route which would be feasible involved carrying the water in a channel through many private estates, in pipes or above ground at various levels, a distance of eight-and-thirty miles. The time granted for this arduous work was at first four years, but by repeated apjjlications Myddleton obtained an extension of time to seven years. Private persons inveighed against selling him the right to bring the water through their grounds, a petition to Government against the scheme was even got up, but these obstacles Avere overcome, and the work progressed steadily. As might be expected, Myddleton’s private purse was unequal to this strain, and by the time the channel had been constructed as far as Enfield he applied to the citizens for aid, and even offered half the shares to the Corporation, who refused them on the ridiculous ground that the success of the plan would ruin the water bearers I The King, however, came to the rescue, and agreed to bear half the expense on condition that part of the concern was vested in him. At length, on September 29, 1613, the great work was completed, and a memorable opening of the New River Head was made.
There are many illustrations in the Grace Collection of the New River Head in the earlier stages of its career.
In 1619 the shareholders were incorporated ; in 1622 Ml”. Myddleton was made a Baronet, and – – an even greater mark of royal favour – let off paying the usual fee of Â£1,095. A picture of his house, with a curious peaked roof and arcade running along the basement, with supporting columns, is in the Crace Collection. This house stood on the site of the present offices. Sir Hugh died in l631.
There are several statues to the memory of this great originator. One is in the Royal Exchange ; one on Islington Green over a drinking fountain, for which the water is appropriately supplied gratis by the company ; and in the Goldsmiths’ Hall is an original portrait of the Baronet. In proximity to the New River Head and Sadlers’ Wells was the Islington Spa, or New Tunbridge Wells.
An advertisement in the London Gazette of l685 shows that this spa was then open. The wells were at first called Islington Wells, but later, because their waters were strikingly similar in composition to those at Tunbridge Wells, they gained their secondary title.
In spite of the fame of their great neighbour and rival, Islington Wells managed to hold their own. There were gardens with shady avenues of limes, a coffee house, and a raffling shoj). The charge for drinking the waters Avas Sd., and many people came at a very early hour in the morning for the benefit of their health. Later in the morning there was a gaily-dressed crowd strolling about to see and to be seen. About an hour before noon the nmsic for dancing began, and continued all day, two days a week during the summer. The evening festivities of the other pleasure gardens seem not to have been attempted. In the Monthly Intelligencer, May, 1733, we read : ” Their Royal Highnesses Princesses Amelia and Caroline having been to drink the waters at the Wells by the New River Head in the parish of St. James, Clerkenwell, almost every day for the latter part of this month, there was so great a concourse of the nobility and gentry that the Proprietor took above £30 in a morning.”
A very well-known song, ” The Charms of Dishabille,” describes the grounds, and was illustrated by a view of New Tunbridge Wells. One verse runs :
“Behold the walks, a chequer’d shade,
In the gay pride of green array’d ;
How bright the sun, the air how still !
In wild confusion there we view
Red ribbons grouped with aprons blue ;
Scrapes, curtsies, nods, winks, smiles, and frowns,
Lords, milkmaids, duchesses and clowns.
In their all various dishabille.”
Capricious fashion left the spa in the first half of the eighteenth century, but it was a good deal patronized about 1750 by a rather lower social class of customers than before.
In 1777 an attempt to reanimate it was made by a Mr. Howard, who added a bowling green, introduced astronomical lectures, and an orrery, to give a tinge of seriousness during Lent. The subscription then became a guinea, and the gardens were open both morning and afternoon.
About 1810 Howard, finding that in spite of all his efforts the popularity of the gardens waned built a row of houses, which he named Charlotte Street, on part of the grounds, and the old entrance to the gardens was removed for the building of another row called Eliza Place. A new entrance was made in Lloyd’s Row. Rosebery Avenue has, of course, altered partly the face of the ground here, but the changes above may still be traced by noting that Thomas Street now corresponds to Charlotte Street. The well remained open through all the changes, and in 1826 what remained of the gardens was again opened, but the public refused to come, and in 1840 the last of the coffee room was demolished. The gardens were leased for building purposes, and two rows of cottages, called Spa Cottages, erected. The waters were still flowing in I860. Of the streets lying between this and Goswell Road there is very little to say ; they are all dull streets of the beginning of the nineteenth century. Wynyate Street takes its name from Compton Wynyate, an ancient seat of the Marquis of Northampton. St. Mark’s National Schools are in Rawstorne Street.
The Angel Inn is about 230 years old, though it was rebuilt in 1819, and again recently. It was in old times a point of departure for the northward mails.
Manorial courts were held at the inn from a very early period. Timbs describes the courtyard of the ancient inn as ” nearly quadrangular with double galleries, supported by plain columns, and pilasters carved with caryatid and other figures.” A Hogarthian scene of ” Country Inn Yard at the Time of an Election ” shows us the Angel with these ancient galleries.
Considering its age, the inn has not much history attached to it. The old inn had a very long frontage ; prints of it in the Grace Collection show a row of no less than twelve windows. At present this is one of the busiest spots in London, with converging bus and tram lines, and on show days at the Agricultural Hall the bustle and crowd are almost inconceivable. Just a few doors northward is an unpretentious, rough- stuccoed inn – the Peacock – which boasts a tradition reaching farther back than the Angel, though no reminiscence of interest is attached to it. The streets behind the inn are of no great interest. White Lion Street is mainly lined by manufacturing buildings, and wears a workaday aspect.
In Chapel Street Charles Lamb lived for a time. At present stalls of every variety line both sides of the way. Cat’s meat and old clothes, crockery and bedding, fruit and fish lie in amicable proximity.
At the southwest corner of Penton Street is the Belvidere public house, to which is attached a racquet court. This, with the adjacent grounds, formed a pleasant place of resort at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries.
Exactly opposite was Prospect House, so named from the magnificent view it commanded before the houses on the Pentonville Road were built. This house had bowling greens attached, and was also a place of entertainment.
To the north of Albert Street is the site of the famous White Conduit Tea Gardens, marked, as those of so many of these old places of entertainment are, by a public house. But this lies outside our present parish limits.
At the corner of Risinghill Street, which, by the way, is marked John Street in Pink’s* map, is St. Silas’ Church. This little church has had rather a chequered career. The foundation stone was laid in I860, but a lawsuit was commenced because the chancel, it was alleged, was laid on ground properly belonging to the roadway. The chancel was subsequently abandoned, the plan of the building foreshortened, and the church opened to the public in 1863 under the name of Christ Church. It was not until four years later that it was consecrated as St. Silas. The chancel was added in 1884. The exterior is rather striking and uncommon. Within, the church is very broad in proportion to its length, and has a singularly fine timber roof of the hammer-beam type.
The buildings behind the church are chiefly workshops – bookbinders, etc. – and there is a Board school.
Hennes Street owes its odd name to a celebrated Swiss physician. Dr. de Valangin, who lived here from 1772 to 1802, and named it after Hermes Trismegistus, the fabled Egyptian King who traditionally discovered chemistry.
Collier Street is a long street lined with irregular houses of the sort common at the beginning of the century, as all the houses about here are, more or less. There are also a charity school and a Primitive Methodist Chapel.
In the remaining streets included in this parish there is absolutely nothing worthy of notice.
A respectable workaday atmosphere dominates them all.
As stated in the beginning of the volume, St. Luke’s forms the second part of the borough of Finsbury. The parish was formerly included in that of St. Giles’s, Cripplegate, and was only separated from it in 1730. The Manor of Holywell and Finsbury was early granted to the Prebendary of Finsbury in St. Paul’s. In 1315 Robert de Baldock, then Prebendary, granted all his rights in the said manors to Sir John Gisors, Mayor, and to the commonalty of London for a term of years at 20s. annually. The Corporation had, however, to surrender the manor to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1867, when the lease ran out.
The parish is bounded on the west by Clerkenwell, south by the City, east by Shoreditch, and north by Islington. The boundary line was formerly very erratic, but was much straightened at the creation of the new boroughs. It now runs down Goswell Road on the west and City Road on the east, making a wedge-shaped piece.
Added to this is a rectangular projection from the City Road, including the City Road Basin. Reaching Old Street, the eastern boundary goes eastward to Singer Street, and turning down, after various zigzags, arrives at Paul and Wilson Streets, down which it runs. The southern boundary starts at the junction of Wilson Street and South Place, and goes westward along Ropemaker Street, thence in a zigzagging line to Goswell Road.
The parish is partly built over the great marsh known as Moorfields, which lay on the north side of the City, or, according to FitzStephen, washed ” the walls of the City on the north side.” This vivid chronicler gives a picture of the marsh when it was frozen over in the winter time. He says : “The young men go out in crowds to disport themselves upon the ice. Some, having increased their velocity by a run, placing their feet apart and turning their bodies sideways, slide a great M-ay ; others make seats of large pieces of ice like millstones, and a great number of them, running before and holding each other by the hand, draw one of their companions who is seated on the ice ; if at any time they slip in moving so swiftly, all fall down headlong together. Others are more expert in their sports on the ice, for fitting to and binding under their feet the shin bones of some animal, and taking in their hands poles shod with iron, which at times they strike against the ice, they are carried along with as great rapidity as a bird flying or a bolt discharged from a crossbow.”
FitzStephen goes on to describe how two such skaters would run atilt at one another from opposite sides of the ice, which frequently resulted in serious injury and heads “laid open to the very skull.”
In Strype’s Stow we are told that this part was called in ancient writings Magna Mora, because of its great extent, and to it belonged a fishery for the use of the City. In Edward I.’s time this fishery was seized by Walter de Merton, Lord Chancellor. The moor Avas let for 4 marks in Edward II. ‘s time because it was unprofitable ground.
Moorfields was only endurable in the winter time. At other seasons of the year pestilential refuse heaps and open ditches, used as sewers, bred miasma, fevers, and ague. It was not until 1414 that any attempt was made to remedy this evil. In that year Thomas Falconer, Mayor, broke through the City wall, and erected a small postern gate at the head of what is now Moorgate. Previously the only two entrances had been by Cripplegate or Bishopsgate. He constructed a solid causeway over the quaking morass, on which travellers coming from or going toward the north could pass in safety. He also drained parts of the moor. A few cottages sprang up close by the City wall, and little patches of garden where watercress and lettuce were grown began to appear ; but there seems to have been some natural objection to such salads because of the sewer ditches and the filth in which they were grown.
The Rev. WilHam Denton, incumbent of St. Bartholomew’s, Moorfields, delivered a lecture on this district which was printed in 1863. In this he gives a vivid picture of Moorfields as it must have appeared in 1480. At this date the site of what is now Windmill Street, City Road, was a great mound or laystall of the City rubbish, and on it were planted four or five windmills. Mr. Denton says :
” In the foreground close to the mills is the common archery ground of the City, studded with butts and targets . . , here and there patches of the old swamp . . , splashy pools covered with green slime and fringed with rushes. Part of the moor is being torn up for brick- making, and kilns for lime are smoking to the west of the windmills. On all sides are unsavoury heajis of London rubbish and mounds over which pestilence hovers. . . . Ravens and kites are fighting over the carcases of dead dogs and bodies of cats which have been skinned. … To the left, in front of Carpenters’ Hall, arc tan pits and yards for curriers filled with heaps of unsavoury green hides. The Lower Walks, as they were called, the present site of Finsbury Circus, have been somewhat better drained . . . and are appropriated to the seekers of recreation and amusement.”
In 1498 all the little holdings that had been established were ordered to be destroyed, an edict which caused much rioting for over a century. The reason alleged for their destruction was that they hindered the pursuit of archery, which was considered of supreme importance for national defence. Consequently the young apprentices of the City mustered in bands to pillage and despoil the settlers, and their rioting was winked at as under the countenance of the law. Successive Mayors attempted to drain the laud further, but it resisted all efforts. Stow says such was the moorish nature of the ground that he doubted if it would ever be any better, even if they levelled it up to the battlements of the City walls. But Strype adds that time and labour had since made such an alteration that part of the moor had been turned into pleasant walks set with trees for shade and ornament, with vaults underneath to carry off the water. In Strype’s edition of Stow, which was published in the beginning of the eighteenth century, there are two maps of this district. The older one shows us Finsbury Square, mai’ked ” Upper Moorfields,” laid out as a place of recreation, and south of that Finsbury Fields, crossed by two double diagonal rows of trees.
The open space of Bunhill Fields stretches right up to Old Street, and in the extreme northeast corner is a building marked ” Dog-house.”
This was the kennels for the City and Lord Mayor’s hounds.
A strip of ground at the southern end of Bunhill Fields is ” Citty Church Yard,” and below that is the Artillery Ground.
Between the Ground and Goswell or Aldersgate Street are streets marked pretty much as we see them now. The western extremity of Old Street bifurcates^ embracing a block of houses, and is here marked Rotten Row.
To the north there is St. Bartholomew Squai*e, in Strype’s corrected map Old Street Square, at the western end of King and Richmond Streets, which are both marked. Strype also shows us the church marked ” New Church.”
In Stow the pesthouse is marked further north in Bath Street, and in Strype the almshouses are shown in the same street at the back of the present hospital. On the eastern side we have in Strype the Farthing Pye House standing in the midst of illimitable fields about what is now Tabernacle Square, but this is just outside our present parish limits.
Below this, along the side of the present City Road, is a long strip of ground unbuilt upon, but marked by crosslines and called ” Tenterground.”
Moorfields and Finsbury are so inextricably mixed that it is difficult to separate them. Finsbury, however, was a gift to the citizens before the Conquest, presented by two sisters, Mary and Catherine Fenes, from which the name is said to be derived. Another derivation is from the word ” fen,” but of this Mr. Loftie, in a note to his ” History of London,” says : ” Finsbury may be the borough or bury of Fin, but cannot possibly be derived from ‘ fen.’ It was early called Vynesbury.” Stow suggests the latter derivation. ” Finsbury adjoining to Moorfields, I find mentioned in an old record granted 20 Richard II. to Robert de Wylingham under the name of the garden of Vynesbury, Prebend in the parish of St. Giles, Cripplegate, whence we may gather that this place had once been a large garden for vines or a vineyard.” It shared in all the licence and rowdiness of Moorfields, which was described in the seventeenth century as a jumble of amusements and shows. There were fairs held here, and booths were erected ; thimble riggers, pickpockets and cheats plied their trade. Poor wretches were flogged at the carttail to give zest to the amusements. It was to North London what Tothill Fields was to the southwest, a vast open space to be used for any purpose requiring much room. After the Great Fire many temporary sheds were erected here to shelter the houseless during the rebuilding of the City. Stalls of every commodity were set up in the open air ; bedding, old clothes, and second-hand books could be bought. Pennant calls Moorfields the great gymnasium of our capital, and the haunt of most motley amusements not too innocent.
The rights of the citizens were at length set aside ; the fever for building attacked the district, and it was not many years before the whole neighbourhood was covered with houses.
We will begin our perambulation in the southeast part of the parish at the corner of Ropemaker Street and Finsbury Pavement, Ropemaker Street retains its name from the early days when it was really a ropewalk, being conveniently placed near the City, yet in a district where building had hardly begun, and there was consequently plenty of space. In this street Defoe died.
Finsbury Pavement, or at least the part of it forming the west side of the square, was the first coherent bit of building to be begun in this district. It was commenced in 1777 by the architect, George Dance, junior, and was followed in 1789 by the north side of the square ; in 1790 the east side was begun, and a year later the south, yet the building of the latter must have been very badly done, for Pennant tells us two houses fell down directly they were put up, and the rest were in a very perilous condition. However, he eulogizes the square as one that did ” not give place in beauty and not much in size to the most boasted at the west end of the Town.” This square was built on the spot formerly used by the citizens for their promenades, and was known locally as the ” City Mall.” It is marked ” Upper Moorfields ” in Stow’s map. There was a suggestion made that the centre of the square should be let to the New River Company for a reservoir, but this came to nothing. The part below the square and directly adjoining it, marked by Stow ” Finsbury Fields,” was also once a favourite promenade. This is now covered with streets.
The square is at present occupied by offices and business houses. The occupiers are secretaries of companies, auctioneers, estate agents, etc., and there are a large number of private hotels. At one time this district and the Circus swarmed with medical men, and was as distinctly associated with the medical profession as Harley Street, Marylebone, is now, and there are still many medical men and dentists to be found here.
The sides of the square are of uniform brick houses with stuccoed basements unrelieved by any embellishment. At the north and south corners rise two huge modern stone buildings in a decorative style, something alike, with cupola domes. The southern is the London and Manchester Industrial Assurance Company, and the north, called London Royal House, is to be let as offices, etc. At one corner of the square is an elaborate drinking fountain, put up in 1898, and in the centre is a large oval grass plot with a kiosk or summer house.
Finsbury Pavement is generally associated with the name of Keats, who was born at the Swan and Hoop, where his father was a livery stableman. But the site of this classic spot lies beyond our present limits, adjoining Fore Street. In Chiswell Street one or tv/o houses of original date remain, but the street is chiefly lined by modern business buildings. At the north end of Finsbury Street are some dilapidated gates, formerly used as an entrance to the Artillery Gi’ound, but now superseded by those in the City Road. These have trophies of arms, etc., in Portland stone on the piers.
Bunhill Row is almost entirely given over to modern business enterprise, though here and there an eighteenth century house remains. The 1st City of London Rifle \’olunteer Brigade has its headquarters here. About midway up the Row on the west side is an immense timber yard, Avith its great latticed woodstores facing the street ; a short way south, a tablet on a modern house announces that it stands on the site of that occupied by Milton, who died there. Further north are the ” Star ” Printing Works of De la Rue, erected 1874. The gates of the Artillery Ground are here also, and between them and the entrance to Bunhill Fields Cemetery are St. Paul’s Church and Rectory. This is an ordinary little church with a spire, built in 1839, partly remodelled in 1868, and restored by Butterfield in 1883. The timber pillars and arches in the interior give it an open, lofty appearance.
Behind it are the City of London Militia Barracks, overlooking the Artilleiy Ground. These were designed by Jennings, and built in 1857 in an early castellated style. The frontage facing City Road is very awe-inspiring, with battlements, turrets, etc.
The incorporation of the Artillery Company of London took place under Henry VIII. in 1537, but the Artillery can be traced back further than this, being the successors of the Civic Volunteers, founded in the reign of Edward I. At about 1585 they were greatly enlarged, and were known as the Trained Bands. In l622 they removed from Devonshire Square, Bishopsgate, to the present ground, which is 6 acres in extent. The ancient manor house of Finsbury once stood art the corner of Chiswell Street.
The origin of the name Bunhill Fields is supposed to be found in Bone Hill, because in the reign of Queen Elizabeth more than 1,000 cartloads of bones were removed here from the charnel of Old St. Paul’s. There were three great fields of the Manor of Finsbury, namely, ” Bonhill, Mallow, and High Field or Meadow ground, where the three windmills stand.” Thus they are described in a survey of 1567. Of these, Bonhill contained 23 acres, 1 rod, and () poles ; it abutted on Chiswell Street on the south, and on the north on the “highway that leadeth from VVenlock’s burn to the well called Dame Agnes the Cleere.”
It is curious that thus, in its very beginning, Bunhill should have been associated with dead bones. Being without the City walls, it was a convenient place for the burial of malefactors, of those who died in prison, of plague victims ; hangings even took place here. But these gloomy associations have long given way to peaceful, if mournful, solemnity.
This, with other land, was at first held by the prebendal stall of Finsbury in St. Paul’s, and was granted on lease to the Corporation in 1553. The earliest mention of Bunhill by name is in l()dl, when this field was sublet by the City Corporation to one Tindal, who established a cemetery here. Stow says that a piece of ground at Bunhill Fields was enclosed for a burying place for the convenience of such as died of the plague in l6()5, as if it had not before this been a burial ground. Certainly during the Great Plague part of it was set aside for the burial of victims from that disorder ; but it does not seem to have been used, and must not be confounded with the Great Plague pit, which was further north on the east side of Goswell Road, about the site of the present Seward Street. In Stow’s and Strype’s maps the centre strip only is marked as a burying ground, the part to the north being Bunhill Fields, and that to the south the Artillery Ground, as at present. In 1788 Tindal’s lease expired, and the Corporation regained the ground. The north part was added, and the whole was subsequently used by the dissenting fraternity, and became the chief burial place of the Dissenters in the Metropolis. In 1867-1868 efforts were made to put the ground in order, and a Preservation Committee was formed, and it was opened as a public garden on October 14, 1869, and is maintained by the Corporation.
This ground is 5 or 6 acres in extent, and is thickly set with gray headstones. It is divided into two parts by a footpath running from the City Road to Bunhill Row, between iron railings. In these railings are small gates, open in the daytime, affording access to the graves. Asphalt paths run about here and there, and seats are placed for the convenience of the pedestrian. The continuous roar of the traffic in the City Road sounds like the combing of waves on a shingly beach, but melancholy peace is in the cemetery precincts. Numbers of young plane trees and willows throw a pleasant shade The tombstones have been worn by exposure to one uniform grayish tint. By far the greater part are either the plain, round-headed slab or the simple altar – tomb ; there are, however, one or two obelisks. John Bunyan died at a house in Snow Hill belonging to a grocer named Strudwiek, and is buried in Strudwick’s vault at Bunhill Fields. Not far from the east end, on the south side of the walk, is an altar-tomb, which commemorates him. It cannot be admired. The tomb itself is extremely ugly, and not very ancient, and covered with a kind of stucco. A bas-relief on either side represents Christian weighed down by his burden, and Christian losing his burden at the foot of the cross ; the latter has been mutilated. The figure of Bunyan himself reclines on the top. At each end of the tomb is an inscription : “John Bunyan, author of the Pilgrim’s Progress, died 31st Aug., 1688. Restored by public subscription under the presidency of the Right Honourable the Earl of Shaftesbury, May, 1862.” Almost exactly corresponding to Bunyan’ s tomb, but on the north side of the path, is a tall, plain obelisk, which marks the spot where Daniel Defoe lies. On this is the inscription : ” Daniel De-Foe, Born I661, Died 1731. Author of Robinson Crusoe,” and below a statement that the obelisk was erected as the result of an appeal in the Christian World newspaper to the boys and girls of England, and represents the subscriptions of 1,700 persons contributed in 1870.
Beyond Bunyan’s tomb are others to the memory of Henry, Richard, and William Cromwell, and to General Fleetwood, who married Oliver Cromwell’s daughter, the widow of Ireton. The mother of the Wesleys is also buried near this spot. Another great name is commemorated in Dr. Isaac Watts (died 1748) ; his tomb is near the City Road on the northern side, and the inscription, which is very large and plain, is simply, ”Isaac Watts, D.D.” Among other names of well-known persons buried here we have Dr. John Owen (l683). Dean of Christ Church and Vice-Chancellor of Oxford ; Dr. Thomas Goodwin (l680), an Independent preacher who attended Cromwell on his death bed ; John Ward, LL.D, (1758), author of the ” Lives of the Gresham Professors”; John Home Tooke (1812) ; William Blake (1828), painter and poet ; Thomas Stothard, R.A. (1834). On the piers which stand at intervals between the tall railings lining the City Road are cut the names of those buried in the vaults of Bunhill Cemetery.
Among other associations with Bunhill Fields there was the Haberdashers’ School mentioned by Strype, completed 1673, in which thirty boys were taught free. This was until recently in Shoreditch, and is now removed to Hampstead.
As for the streets on the east of the City Road below Old Street, they are all built on ground marked in Strype’s map “Tenter Gromid,” which signifies it was used by a tenter or clothier who here dried his cloth. Later on, in the early part of the nineteenth century, the district about Tabernacle and Paul Streets was known as St. Agnes le Clear, from a celebrated well or pool of that name near Old Street. The well and district have been variously called Dame Annis the Clear (Stow), Anniseed Cleer (Defoe), and Agnes le Clair. Stow gives the legend from which the name arose as follows : ” Not far from it (the Peerless Pool) and somewhat west was Daine Annis the Clear, so named from the rich widow of a City gentleman, who matched herself with a riotous courtier of Edward Is’t, who consumed her wealth and left her, so she drowned herself in a ditch.” The streets at present comprising this district are almost entirely given up to business houses, warehouses, manufacturing houses, and offices. Facing the City Road, with a neatly laid asphalt strip of ground before it, is Wesley’s Chapel, the very shrine of the founder of Wesleyism. The first stone was laid by Wesley himself in 1777. A large statue on a polished granite pedestal stands in the centre of the asphalt space where Wesley broods over the flowing tide of human kind in the busy thoroughfare, with his own words, “The world is my parish,” inscribed beneath him.
There are here a few small elm trees and a railed-in space enclosing the tombs of several ministers of the chapel. They are commemorated also by slabs fixed into the wall of what was John Wesley’s house, which abuts on the burial ground on the south side. The house belongs to the chapel, and has been turned into a museum for relics of Wesley, among which are Wesley’s chair and table (the latter scorched by a fire which destroyed what was known as the Morning Chapel in 1879^ since rebuilt), autograph letters, oil paintings, etc. It is open on weekdays from ten to four on payment of 3d. The chapel is a broad building with a range of five windows. The porch is of the Doric order, with fluted columns. The material is yellow brick, and the roof rises in a curious pyramidical shape to a narrow turret. Within, it is surprisingly ornate for a dissenting place of worship. The east window is in three sections, filled in with very handsome stained glass. The large galleries are supported by seven scagliola columns representing seven sections of the Methodist body in Canada, India, Ireland, United States, etc. Marble busts and tablets cover the walls ; and the pulpit, of polished mahogany, is the very one used by Wesley during his ministry.
The chapel was all restored and redecorated in 1890- 1891, the centenary of Wesleyism. In the graveyard behind, abutting on Tabernacle Street, is John Wesley’s tomb, an altar-tomb surmounted by pedestal and urn added in 1840. In the same vault lie Wesley’s sister, and many of the ministers of the chapel.
Wesley’s association with this locality began in his occupying a foundry with Whitefield for the purpose of preaching. This foundry, used for casting cannon, was ” near Windmill Hill,” already mentioned. Not far northward, in the City Road, is a small Welsh Wesleyan Chapel ; and a chapel known as Whitefield’s Tabernacle, because originally built by the followers of Whitefield after his split with the Wesleys, stands at the junction of Leonard and Tabernacle Streets.
Strype thus mentions Old Street – Eald Street – so called for that it was the old highway from Aldersgate Street, for the northeast parts of England before Bishopsgate Street was builded. Which street runneth east to a Smith’s forge, sometime across, before Shoreditch Church, from whence the passengers and carriages were to turn north to Kingshmd, Totenham, Waltham, Ware, etc.”
Wheatley, in ” London Past and Present,” quotes from a manuscript of Oldys on trees : ” ‘ The choicest fruits of the kingdom were reared, in King James Ist’s time by John Milton in his nursery in Old Street.’ ” We are also told that in Queen Elizabeth’s time there had been here a rose garden of 3 acres.
Samuel Daniel, the poet, lived here, and died here in 1 6 19- George Psalmanazar used frequently to meet Johnson in one of the taverns in Old Street for a friendly chat. He lived in Ironmonger Road. He died in 1753, and the great Doctor said he was the best man he had ever known.
The eastern part of Old Street, from the church onwards, used to be called Old Street Road. Old Street is now a wide thoi’oughfare, down which horse trams run. It is lined by irregular buildings of varying ages, some squalid shops, some large modern business premises. At its junction with the City Road there is a station belonging to the City and South London and Great Northern Electric Railways. A school known as the Telfer School (St. Luke’s Parochial School) is on the south side, with old-fashioned figures of boy and girl in niches on the frontage, removed from an older building.
On the north side, at the corner of City Road, is the Lying-in Hospital, built in 1770-1773 by Robert Mylne, thus adjoining St. Luke’s Asylum. Passing to the north side of Old Street, we see the Hospital of St. Luke, which was first established in 1751 opposite the better-known Bethlehem Hospital for Lunatics. The two buildings then stood in Moorfields, and old maps show the Bethlehem Hospital abutting on the open space dedicated to the recreation of the citizens. St. Luke’s grounds adjoined on one side the space occujDied by Wesley’s chapel. In the oldest record it is described as being in ” Upper Moorfields, at the top of Windmill Hill, Fensbury.” At the date of establishment no Government institutions provided for the pauper insane, and it was to meet this want that a number of City men, bankers, merchants, etc., met together in the early part of 1750 to arrange for the foundation of the institution. The building, opened the following year, contained accommodation for 110 persons.
Dickens in 1852 wrote a little account of the hospital, in which he says :
“These practitioners of old would seem to have been, without knowing, early homceopathists : their motto must have been *S’mz7ia similihus curantur ; they believed that the most violent and certain means of driving a man mad were the only hopeful means of restoring him to reason.” In 1787 the present site was secured, and G. Dance employed as architect for a new and larger building. This he carried out with somewhat the same solidity that characterized his work at Newgate. Though the exterior, with its grim frontage and solid walls may cast gloomy apprehension on the passer-by, the walls are firm and good, the construction stable, and there is no doubt that the comfort of the innaates is secured.
Nowadays the two great divisions of the asylum are for men and women, the men on the west and the women on the east. Long corridors of great width, with a row of windows overlooking the gardens at the back, are used as day rooms. The corridors are light, lofty, and well furnished. At the back the chapel and laundry are built out into a pleasant garden, with asphalt tennis courts, walks, and grass plots. The site and grounds altogether are about 5 acres. In the board room there is a portrait by Gainsborough, full length, life size, of the Duke of Montagu, K.G., the first president. Several other oil portraits hang on the walls. About forty years ago some change was made in the constitution of the hospital. The hospital now accommodates 200 patients, who contribute to their maintenance according to their means.
St. Luke’s Church was built in 1732 by G. Dance, when the parish was formed out of that of St. Giles, Cripplegate. The exterior, which was thoroughly restored in 1869, is of Portland stone, with a curious spire in the shape of a fluted obelisk, surmounted by a vane. The interior is in the Georgian style, with massive stuccoed columns, copious galleries, and ornate elliptical ceiling. The stained glass in the east window is peculiarly rich in colouring. The handsome oak pulpit was once the old-fashioned three-decker ; the two lower portions have been removed, but are preserved. The churchyard, in which the building stands, is cut in two by a paved roadway. Altogether it comprises about l| acres. The part facing Old Street contains many altar tombs covered with ground ivy, which gives it rather a picturesque aspect. The part north of the dividing I’oad has been laid out as a public garden in the usual style, and is very neatly kept.
The only two names of any import belonging to persons buried here are those of Caslon, typefounder, 1766, and Thomas Allen, topographer, 1833.
For the derivation of the name of Whitecross Street we must turn to Stow, who says : “In this street was a white cross, and near it was built an arcli of stone, under whicli ran a course of water.” At the south end of Whitecross Street stood formerly the town residence of the Abbot of Rumsey, and at the corner of Redcross Street that of the Prior of Holy Trinity. Both these sites lie beyond the limits of our present parish, but are too important to be passed by unmentioned.
Stow tells us that in Whitecross Street “King Henry V. builded one fair house, and founded there a brotherhood of St. Giles to be kept, which house had sometime been an Hospital of the French Order by the name of St. Giles within Cripplegate, in the reign of Edward 1st, the King having the jurisdiction, and appointed a custos thereof for the precinct of St. Giles, which hospital being suppressed, the lands were given to the Brotherhood for the relief of the Poor.”
The French hospital here referred to was a cell of the Hospital of Clugny, in France.
This is one of the open-air market streets where costers’ barrows and stalls line the roadway. It is narrow, and the houses are mean and poverty-stricken, but they are certainly destined before long to disappear, and be replaced by the clean and respectable, if somewhat severe, workmen’s dwellings of the present time.
Roscoe Street, with the other smaller ones in the vicinity, is lined by enormous blocks of model flats, replacing squalid slums. On the south side there is a Friends’ Meeting house, Adult School, and a coffee house, adjoining a small patch of open ground neatly laid out ; this was a Friends’ Burial ground, acquired in ](J6l, and many times enlarged. What is left is only about g acre, and is not open to the public. The buildings abovementioned, which are known as Memorial Buildings, were erected on part of the site. At the back of the coffee house there is a Board school. Playhouse Yard is at present a quiet, business-like street, with the httle church of St. Mary standing back from it behind a few small trees. This was built in 180’i upon what was known as the Upper Churchyard of St. Giles. The burial ground WHS fii’st used in l636, and became notoriously overcrowded. There is a strip of the burial ground at the back of the church also remaining.
One of the oldest theatres in London stood in Golden Lane, about the site of Playhouse Yard. This was the Fortune Theatre, built in 1599 1600 for Philip Henslowe and William Alleyn. It was opened in May, I6OI, and was a square timber and plaster building. Twenty years after its erection it was burnt down ; it was rebuilt, of brick, but in 1649 the interior was again burnt out, and this time the building was supposed to have been set on fire by sectarians. In I661 the site was advertised to be sold for building purposes, but it does not seem to have sold readily. Eventually part of the old building was converted into tenement dwellings, but every vestige of it has long since disappeared. The ” Fortune,” which gave the place its name, was typified by a symbolical figure in plaster, which stood in a niche. The Nursery was a school for actors in this street, built in the reign of Charles II. Pepys mentions it. In Golden Lane we are told by Strype that ‘â– ‘Richard Gallard of Islington, Citizen and Painter Stainer of London, founded thirteen Almshouses for so many poor people placed in them rent free. He gave to the poor of the same Almshouses two pence apiece weekly and a load of charcoal amongst them yearly for ever. He left fair lands about Islington to maintain his foundation.” The street at present is a clean, fairly wide, business thoroughfare. Large, well-built brick and stone business premises line the sides. A big school stands near Hatfield Street, and another is on the other side of the street a little further south. The modern buildings are spreading back, obliterating the ruinous little courts and alleys which before swarmed here ; glimpses of tiled roofs and tumble-down walls may still be seen, but light and air, cleanliness and solidity, are fast spreading back to Aldersgate. The limit of the parish is a little south of Farm Street on the one side, and, running for a few yards down the centre of the street, comes down opposite Bi*ackley and above Sun Court on the other. Just below here a great carriers’ yard occupies part of the space of what was formerly a graveyard called the City Bunhill Ground. About one third of it was in the City, and now the site is shared with the carriers abovementioned by the City Mortuary and Coroner’s Court.
Passing across Old Street, we come to Bath Street, which is one of the older streets of the parish. Here we find Alleyn’s almshouses, of which the first stone was laid by the founder of Diilwich in l620. In 1707 the houses were rebuilt, and again in 1874, so that they now accommodate twenty-two persons. They are not beautiful, but neat, of brick outlined in stucco, with open air arches on both floors, and here and there a bow window. The httle space in front is laid out with flower beds, etc., and a black board announces that apprenticeship, scholarships, and exhibitions are among the further benefits of the charity. The old parish graveyard, consecrated for the parish of St. Giles in l622, lies behind the almshouses, and is partly absorbed in the garden of the asylum. The pest house is marked on Strype’s map about the size of the almshouses. Peerless Street recalls the Peerless Pool, a former place of entertainment. This was a large piece of water, originally known as the Perilous Pool, from the numbers of persons who were drowned in it ; but this was altered to the more pleasing title by Kemp, proprietor in 1749, who laid out the ground about it as a pleasure garden, and enclosed the pool. A bath 170 feet long by 100 feet wide, surrounded by trees, was formed, and this was a very popular place of resort. A bowling green and fish pond were advertised as attractions. In 1805 it was purchased by Mr. Joseph Watts, who drained the pond and built over the site. He built Baldwin Street over the fish pond, and Bath Buildings on Kemp’s orchard, but he preserved the bath intact. A detailed account of the Peerless Pool may be found in the first volume of Hone’s ” Every-Day Book.”
Bartholomew Square, King and Richmond Streets, are also among the older parts of the parish. The centre of the square is now asphalted, and is a playground.
In Radnor Street is a Wesley an school, with a superabundance of foundation stones, and the date 1882 plentifully besprinkled over its surface. This street and some of the neighbouring ones are built on the site of the former French hospital, now near Victoria Park in Hackney. St. Clement’s Church, in Lever Street, was built by Butterfield, and was consecrated in 1880. It is in the Pointed style, and seats 700 persons. Large Board schools occupy the space between Bath and Lizard Streets. In Ironmonger Street and Row we find a very poor district. In the Row there are a few red-tiled houses with dormer- windows, which, taken in conjunction with the church and churchyard in the foreground, look rather picturesque.
Central Street is being widened by the destruction of the houses on the east side. The district through which it runs is a mixture of poor dwellings and manufacturing buildings. In Norman’s Buildings we have a few of the flat-sashed old brick houses, bearing date 17 6l, and in Peartree Street a stone let into a wall bears date 1725. St. Paul’s Church presents a high wall to the street. This church was built from the sale of St. Mildred’s, Poultry, and was consecrated in 1875. Within, it is wide and high, and terminates in an apse-like end.
Seward Street, off which Mount Mill branches at the western end, deserves mention because it is on the site of a great plague pit. Even apart from the plague pit it has a history. Stow tells us that a chapel was built here by Queen Katherine, first wife of King Henry VIII. This stood on the site of a windmill which had been blown down. She called her chapel the Mount of Calvary, but it was demolished in the reign of her husband, and replaced by another windmill. Then, in lb’42, the Parliamentary army chose this spot for one of their breastworks, and placed here a battery. During the (ireat Plague this place was chosen for one of the principal pits in the north of London ; it is computed that 1,37′” persons died of the disorder in Clerkenwell, and were mostly buried here. Defoe tells a story of a wandering piper who, being drunk, was picked up as dead by the plague cart, but recovered his senses in time to avert the awful doom of being buried alive ; this incident has been made use of by Harrison Ainsworth in his narrative ” Old St. Paul’s.” But the spot was yet again used, this time as a public laystall. Hence the great mound of earth from which the name was derived. This mound was levelled about 150 years ago. There is very little to say about the streets to the north ; they vary between small tenement houses and big business premises. In King Square St. Barnabas’ Church has a massive portico and Ionic cohimns, also a clock-tower and steeple. It was built by Hardwicke in 1821 The square is a public garden with seats in it. In Moreland Street is a Baptist Chapel and a Board school.
By Pickard Street we pass to City Road. Here there is a Congregational Chapel of considerable size ; and St. Mark’s Hospital for Fistula and Diseases of the Rectum, built in 1835, enlarged in 1853, a neat square building of brick. Large works line the south side of this busy thoroughfare. St. Matthew’s Church is an ordinary structure in the Pointed style, with a spire ; it was built in 1848 by G. G. Scott. The City Road is a wide and busy thoroughfare, with trams running down it. It crosses the basin of the canal which bears the same name, and is lined by buildings of very various descriptions. Only the west side falls in Finsbury, and on this side one of the most interesting buildings is the Leysian Mission, housed in a magnificent red- brick building not far from the junction with Old Street. This mission was founded in 1886 by the scholars of the Leys School at Cambridge. The headquarters was removed here from Errol Street in October, 1904. It is in the centre of a congested and extremely poor district, and the good that it does extends to every section of the very poor. The building was opened by the Prince and Princess of Wales ; it is splendidly designed, and contains one or two novel features. The great hall, called the Victoria Hall, can seat 2,000 people. Connected with it is an open-air preaching and concert garden. Besides the usual religious and medical missions, the building includes a settlement or hostel for workei’s and numerous recreative and social agencies, as well as clubs of all kinds. Both in its design and objects the settlement is worth attention.
Thus we conclude our perambulation of the Borough of Finsbury, which is a busy, thickly- populated district, filled with workers of all sorts, from highly-skilled mechanics to the poorest costers. Immense business premises stand side by side with two story earth brick tenements destined soon to disappear before the march of progress, and be replaced by the more sanitary, but not more beautiful, workmen’s flats now so much in favour.