Thursday, December 27, 2018


This is the 23rd station I've visited on the Circle Line.

 The world's first underground railway ran between Farringdon and Paddington in January 1863 as part of the Metropolitan Railway.The gas lit wooden carriages were pulled by steam locomotives. The station was originally called Farringdon Street and was a short distance away from here. Extending the line in 1865 meant relocating the station to its present position.
The station was renamed Farringdon and High Holborn in 1922 and you can still see the old name at the top of the station.

There is a new National rail station building opposite the 1922 building. The stations are on Cowcross street. The street was named after a cow market at the end of the street which existed from at least the 12th century. There was also a horse and cattle market at Smithfield and  so related activities such as butchery, tanning and leatherwork took place around here. Now it is filled with cafes and bars.
However by 2023, Farringdon will be one of the country's busiest stations. Three major rail development projects are in progress at Farringdon. The new Elizabeth Line, improvements and new developments on Thameslink and the resignalling of the Circle, Hammersmith and City, and Metropolitan Underground lines are all taking place here. It is estimated that 200 trains per hour will depart from Farringdon when all the work has been completed.
Despite all the new building work going on, the early 20th century station building still looks good. Not just the Metropolitan Railway name at the front but round the side you can clearly see the sign for a parcel office.

The area around the station is known as Clerkenwell.

 Turned off down a small alleyway and came to St John's garden, the former burial ground of the Priory of St John Of Jerusalem, founded in 1144. Originally the priory covered an area of 10 acres. The Priory was rebuilt after its total destruction during the 1381 Peasants Revolt.

On the corner opposite the garden is this distinctive house. Built in 1987 on a former bomb site, it was built for the journalist and broadcaster Janet Street Porter. It was built as Janet's 'dream representation of a medieval castle' Its blue roof and odd shaped windows met with a lot of controversy. However, it has now been given listed status as a post modernist house by Historic England. With the recent rebuilding in the area it perhaps doesn't look so out of place.

Mountford House was originally erected for the Booth Distillery Company in 1899 in Turnmill Street. With the redevelopment of the site the whole facade was moved to Britton Street and rebuilt in the mid 1970s. It is adorned with five Portland stone figurative panels illustrating gin manufacturing.

In the 12th century all this land was part of the Benedictine priory of St John of Jerusalem, which is why this pub is so named. The tavern dates back to the 14th Cent and has occupied different sites in the area. This current building was originally a merchant's house and then a watch and clock workshop. The present shop front dates to the early 19th Cent.

It has a small and intimate interior.

Leaving the Tavern I walked through the narrow St John's Path which brought me out near St John's Gate.

St John's gate is the entrance to the former Priory of the Knights of St John.  Next to the gate is the museum of St John which tells the story from  the order of St John in Jerusalem to the role of St John's Ambulance  today.

It is a small museum but very informative charting the history of the order. The order of St John was founded in Jerusalem to care for pilgrims travelling to the Holy land. As the order grew they were given lands in England and other parts of Europe which provided food, money and people for their work. The order of St John has occupied land here in Clerkenwell since 1140 when the land was donated to the Knights for the building of their Priory which became the Knights English headquarters. Three religious communities resided here - the Priory of St John, the Nunnery of St Mary and later the Charterhouse.

Just across the Square from St John's Gate and the museum  is the Priory Church of the order of St John of Jerusalem. It was consecrated in 1185 but destroyed by enemy action in 1941. However the 12th cent crypt still remains.

When Henry VIII  broke from the church of Rome and became Head of the Church of England in 1534 he began to close religious houses and communities throughout England and Wales with all their wealth transferring to the Crown.

In 1540 King Henry VIII took the order's property including the Priory at Clerkenwell.

In 1874 Sir Edmund Lechmere, a member of the modern British order of St John's, bought St John's Gate and had it renovated. It was from here that the work of the Order and St John Ambulance around the world began. In 1888 Queen Victoria granted a Royal Charter to the British Order of St John and it became a Royal Order of Chivalry.

The founders of St John wanted the organisation to resume the original ethos of caring for the sick as well as being an order of chivalry. The organisation was the first to give medical knowledge to the public in the form of First Aid classes. The founders also set up Britain's first system of care and treatment for victims of accidents. In 1877 St John Ambulance Association was formed.

Today the headquarters of St John Ambulance is  next door to St John's Gate.

From St John's Gate I headed up Jerusalem passage to Clerkenwell Green. This used to be the northern entrance to the priory of St John of Jerusalem, hence the name of the alleyway.

This is the Clerkenwell Green. The focus of political marches and rallies for centuries. The peasants' Revolt leader Wat Tyler rested at the Green in 1381 before his fateful meeting with Richard II at Smithfield when he was stabbed by the Lord Mayor William Walworth. During the 1840s 5000 police were sent to the Green to prevent Chartist meetings. The Social Democratic Federation started meeting here in 1884.
This building is the Marx memorial Library. Opened in 1738 as a charity school it was later used as a mattress and cabinet makers, a pub and a coffee and meeting house. From 1864 the International Workingmen's Association, of which  Karl Marx was a member,  held meetings here. In 1893 the Social Democratic Federation installed its printing press in the building and published early English editions of work by Marx and Engels. Lenin also shared an office here whilst exiled in London.

The library holds classes and lectures on Marxism, trade unionism and the international working class movement. (The missing word from the phrase above  is 'chains'.)

Next to the library is Scotti's snack bar. It has been here for decades and has hardly changed since the 1950s. It is a great place for a cup of tea and a sandwich and a friendly chat with the owner.

On the other side of the road is the old session house that backs onto Clerkenwell Green. Built around 1780 it is probably best known as the court where a young Charles  Dickens was a young court reporter. It was closed as a judicial building almost a hundred years ago  and since then has been the headquarters of a scalemaker and a masonic lodge. Over the last four years it has been renovated and brought back to its former glory. Inside it apparently has a spectacular interior with a magnificent hall and dome. I'll have to keep a look out for an open day to see if I can have a look at the interior.

To the right of the Old Sessions House on Farringdon Lane is this office block, Well Court.

 If you stop and look in through the window you can just about see a well in the basement.

It is known as Clerks' Well after which Clerkenwell is named. The well was named after the parish clerks who gathered here in the Middle Ages to perform mystery plays.

Through the office window I could see into the hall where there is more information about the well.

I returned back to the Green and Clerkenwell Close to have a look at St James' Church.

The old church had a mixture of 16th and 17th century bits and pieces that were built on and around the remains of a medieval nunnery church. It was rebuilt in 1792 and has one or two interesting things to see.

This board high up on the wall gives you an idea of some of the legacies left to support the church.

On the staircase you can see a modesty board which was placed there in the 19th century to prevent men looking up ladies' dresses!

 I continued along Farringdon Lane passing lots of new and converted buildings. Hard to believe this was a slum area where many of the poorest people in London lived. It was round here that Dickens walked and gained an insight for his descriptions of Victorian London for books such as Oliver Twist and Great Expectations
I returned down Farringdon Road, turning right onto Clerkenwell Road to have a look at the Italian Church

St Peter's Italian Church. At the time the church was opened in 1863 this was the only church in Britain designed in the Roman Basilican style. The church was built to serve a large Italian community that had settled here in the early 19th century. The area became known as Little Italy.

Diagonally opposite the church across Clerkenwell Road is Saffron Hill, a reference to the days when saffron was grown here in the 18th century.   In the days of Dickens the narrow Saffron Hill was notorious as a rookery (a dense collection of overcrowded, dilapidated housing) and home to Fagin's Den.
“A dirtier of more wretched place he had never seen. The street was very narrow and muddy, and the air was impregnated with filthy odours. There were a good many small shops; but the only stock in trade appeared to be heaps of children, who, even at that time of night, were crawling in and out at the doors, or screaming from the inside. The sole places that seemed to prosper amid the general blight of the place, were the public-houses; and in them, the lowest orders of Irish were wrangling with might and main. Covered ways and yards, which here and there diverged from the main street, disclosed little knots of houses, where drunken men and women were positively wallowing in filth; and from several of the door-ways, great ill-looking fellows were cautiously emerging, bound, to all appearance, on no very well-disposed or harmless errands.” (Oliver Twist)

How the area has changed over the years. It is now full of offices and apartments. Perhaps its most well known building is the Ziggurat building, once an art deco print works, it is now an expensive apartment block.

At the other end of Saffron Hill is The One Tun

The One Tun started trading as an ale house in 1759 and although rebuilt in 1875 it has always traded on this site under the same name. The name refers to the largest of the range of casks used to store beer or wine. It can hold 252 gallons. Charles Dickens used tp drink here between 1833 and 1838. The pub was mentioned in his book Oliver Twist under the fictional name of The Three Cripples.

I went back up Saffron Hill and took a left turn onto Greville Street to have a look at Bleeding Heart Yard.

There are a number of stories about the derivation of the name. The most probable is an old inn sign of the Bleeding Heart of Our Lady. The most colourful is the story  of the murdered body of Lady Hatton whose heart was still pumping blood when she was found in the yard. 
Elizabeth Hatton was the wife of Sir Christopher Hatton, who gives his name to the nearby Hatton Garden.

Hatton Garden is famous as London's jewellery quarter and the centre of the UK diamond trade. In April 2015 four elderly, experienced thieves  burgled the underground Hatton Garden safe deposit company and walked away with £200,000,000! It became known as the largest burglary in English Legal history.The men were caught and pleaded guilty. A film about the heist was released in 2017.

Also on Hatton Garden is this 17th century charity school

A plaque on the wall tells us:
This building, reputed to be from the designs by Sir Christopher Wren was erected as a church by Lord Hatton to serve the needs of the neighbourhood after St Andrew's Holborn had been destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. It was adapted for use as a charity school about 1696, was severely damaged by incendiary bombs during the 1939-45 war and has since been reconstructed internally to provide offices. The original facades being restored and retained. The figures of the scholars in 18th century costume taken down and sent for safe keeping during the war to Bradfield College, Berkshire have been replaced in their original positions as a memorial of the former use of the building.

This doorway between numbers 8 and 9 Hatton Gardens leads onto an alley where you stumble across this small pub, Ye Old Mitre Tavern

The date of 1546 displayed on the board outside refers to the establishment of the Inn by Bisop Goodrich for his servants. I walked past the pub and came out on Ely Place.

Ely Place is a private  road of 18th century houses. In the late 13th century this was the site of the London residence of the Bishops of Ely. John of Gaunt moved to Ely house when his Savoy Palace was destroyed by Wat Tyler's rebels in 1381 and died there in 1399. Shakespeare mentions the house in two of his plays: Richard II and Richard III. The house became the Spanish Embassy in 17th cent but was demolished in 1772.
Squeezed between the large Georgian townhouses of Ely Place is the oldest Roman Catholic church in England, St Etheldreda. It was built in 1250 on land owned by the bishops of Ely. They owned 58 acres of orchards, vineyards and lawns which stretch as far as the River Thames. The land was administered y the See of Ely, 100 miles away in Cambridgeshire. Being under the rule of the Ely bishops it was beyond the jurisdiction of the City of London and became a favourite place for criminals on the run.

Henry VIII and his wife Catherine of Aragon enjoyed a five day feast here in the crypt in 1531.

The Stuart coat of arms.
The church was much restored by George Gilbert Scott in 1874 and again following WW2.

The stained glass is modern but the window tracery is said to be the finest in existence.

With dusk falling it was time to return to the station and make my way home.