Today’s route is another compact one covering the area bounded by Gray’s Inn Road to the west, St John Street to the east and Holborn to the south. Highlights include a visit to the Museum of the Order of St John (try and contain yourself please) and a stroll around the (in)famous home of the London diamond trade, Hatton Garden.
We start in familiar territory and quickly knock off the triangle of streets that are bordered by (and sunken beneath) Rosebery Avenue, Clerkenwell Road and Farringdon Road. Despite some great names: Coldbath Square, Crawford Passage, Bakers Row, Warner Street, Eyre Street Hill, Back Hill, Summers Street, Ray Street and Herbal Hill have only this temporary resident to tempt open the camera lens.
Like most things though this is a matter of timing. This area of Clerkenwell (and a bit beyond) was once known as “Little Italy” due to the influx of about 2,000 immigrants from that country in the 1850’s. It remains something of a spiritual home to London’s Italian community due to St Peter’s Church (on Clerkenwell Road) which is the force behind the Procession of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Sagra which takes place each July and brings this sunken enclave alive. I was fortunate enough to stumble across the procession, and its accompanying food and drink stalls, some years ago and have been trying to schedule a return visit ever since.
St Peter’s Church opened amid great celebration in 1863 and at the time was the only church in Britain designed in the Roman Basilican style. The painting below of the Beheading of John the Baptist is from the 17th century and by the hand of artist, Alessandro Turchi.
Leaving the church we head east along Clerkenwell Road as far as St John’s Square which straddles the road. The north side of the square was included in one of our earlier posts. However, unlike on that occasion, St John’s Priory is open to visitors today. I won’t go through all the history again but for Tudor buffs would remind you that the Knights of St John were the last of the monastic orders to be abolished by Henry VIII (in 1540). Consequent upon that Henry took the priory and all its land and wealth which were second only to those of Glastonbury Abbey. Henry gave the priory itself to his daughter Mary to use and as a palace and on her accession to the throne she restored the Order only for Elizabeth to do away with it for good when she became queen.
Across the road is St John’s Gate where the main part of the Museum resides. If, like me, you’ve seen anything of the recent TV series on the Crusades this is well worth a visit. There’s no entry fee and the museum does a great job in presenting the remarkable story of the Order and its survival.
And it also provides the opportunity for today’s selfie-of-the day. I know what you’re thinking – not everyone can carry off the suit of armour look that well.
Continuing down St John’s Lane we reach Passing Alley which according to several sources was known as Pissing Alley back in the days when an al-fresco emptying of the bladder was more in tune with public sensitivities.
Just a couple of doors further down is this sign for E.Higgs Air Agency which upped and moved away several decades ago and was last heard of trading out of Bracknell under the name of Higgs International.
At the end of St John’s Lane we turn right down Peter’s Lane to cut through to Cowcross Street whose name derives from the time (up until the 1850’s) when live animals were herded down here on their way to Smithfield Market. Turning west we arrive at Farringdon station which opened in 1863 as part of the first London underground line, the Metropolitan. One of the finest looking tube stations in the capital it has fortunately been left unscathed by the developments for, firstly, Thameslink and now Crossrail.
From here we turn briefly up Turnmill Street and then right into Benjamin Street. At the end of this is the Goldsmiths Centre which was opened in 2012 as a new training and education facility supported by the Goldsmiths’ Company (one of the 12 great livery companies of the City of London). The building combines an 1872-built Grade II listed Victorian school with a modern extension.
Just round the corner, on another section of Peter’s Lane, the weathervane and bull’s head mouldings on what is now the Rookery Hotel are another reminder of the proximity to Smithfield Market.
So next we snake round Eagle Court, Albion Place and Briset Street which brings us out onto Britton Street. Here we find Mountford House, a block of flats built in the 1970’s but which incorporates the 1901-03 façade (by E.W Mountford) from the offices of Booth’s Gin Distillery, demolished as part of the same redevelopment. The preservation of the façade represented a rare victory for the forces of conservation at that time.
At the top of Britton Street we turn left then head back down Turnmill Street and pass Farringdon station again via another stretch of Cowcross Street. We then head north up Farringdon Road before slipping into Saffron Street and cutting up Onslow Street to return to Clerkenwell Road before heading south again on Saffron Hill. Where this meets Greville Street sits today’s pub of the day, the One Tun, which was established as an alehouse in 1759 and was frequented in his day by our old friend, Charles Dickens. Reputedly this was this inspiration for the Three Cripples pub which appears in Oliver Twist and will be familiar to viewers of the BBC’s “Dickensian” series. Accordingly I should probably have had ‘a little drop of gin’ and a pie instead of a pint of Ubu bitter and a duck fried rice. (Shame that Booth’s Distillery’s no longer around).
After leaving the pub we move north again up Kirby Street which leads into Hatton Place from where Hatton Wall crosses into Hatton Garden. Hatton Garden and the streets leading off it create the internationally renowned jewellery quarter and hub of the UK diamond trade. Recently of course it has become indelibly linked in the public consciousness with the April 2015 raid on the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company which occupies nos 88-90; the so-called “largest burglary in English legal history”.
On reflection then I suppose I should have been a bit more circumspect in wielding the camera round these parts. (But I guess no-one would expect lightning to strike twice).
The “bluecoat” statues on the building below are indicative of the site of a charity school. This building was originally a church built after the great fire of London allegedly to a design of Sir Christopher Wren. It was converted to a charity school at the end of the 17th century, suffered serious bomb damage during WWII and upon rebuilding was named Wren House. Fortunately these statues had been sent to a college in Berkshire for safekeeping prior to the start of the Blitz.
Treasure House at nos. 19-21 dates from 1907 and is embellished with a fine set of carvings relating to the gold trade.
The southern end of Hatton Garden forms one of the spokes of Holborn Circus. Heading west from here along Holborn (A40) we pass this statue of Prince Albert before turning right up Leather Lane.
It’s been some years since I last visited Leather Lane market and I have to say it seems to have headed downmarket (so to speak) in the intervening time. Though in fairness the stallholders were packing up as I got there and my memory may be putting a bit of a gloss on its former status.
I did quite like the idea of the pie-minister though.
Having dipped in and out of St. Cross Street we exit the north end of Leather line by Portpool Lane and in doing so pass through the middle of the Bourne Estate. Constructed during the Edwardian era between 1905 and 1909 the estate represents one of London’s best examples of tenement housing and a number of the housing blocks have been Grade II listed. The Bourne Estate is the third of the three key estates built by the London County Council in the years of its greatest innovation. In Britain the Bourne Estate is the least known, but it has an international significance as the model for the much admired and highly influential public housing erected in Vienna immediately after the First World War.
Portpool Lane terminates on Gray’s Inn Road and taking a left turn southward we call in on Verulam Street before taking the next left which is Baldwin Gardens. This brings us to the massive, and yet extremely well-hidden, Church of St Alban the Martyr. This one was originally built in 1859 to a design of William Butterfield. After being “burnt out” in 1941 it was restored during 1959-61 under the guiding hand of Adrian Gilbert Scott. The large mural behind the altar, The Trinity in Glory (1966) and the paintings of the stations of the cross down the side are by Hans Feibusch, an artist of German Jewish extraction who after fleeing to Britain in in 1933 produced murals for 28 different Anglican churches. St Alban, incidentally, was beheaded by the Romans in Britain some time in the 3rd or 4th century A.D.
Baldwin Gardens takes us back to Leather Lane and then via Dorrington Street, Beauchamp Street and Brooke Street (with an “e”) we work our way back to Holborn and the site of the building called Holborn Bars but perhaps better known as the Prudential Assurance Building. This impressively monumental terracotta edifice in the Gothic Revival style was built in 1879 to the designs of Alfred Waterhouse (after whom the square which it surrounds came to be named). The Pru still own the building but since 1999 they no longer occupy it. In 1986, when they did, I had a temporary placement here and still remember the woman who sat opposite me and talked incessantly of nothing but her future wedding which was more than a year away. It was one of the longest weeks of my life.
This has been a bit of a marathon posting so well done if you’ve stuck with it right the way through. We’ve reached the final stop, you’ll be relieved to hear, which is Gresham College on the other side of Holborn. Gresham College was founded in 1597 and has been providing free public lectures throughout the more than 400 years since. From 1542 to 1959 the site which it occupies now, Barnards Inn, was home to the independent school operated by the Worshipful Company of Mercers.