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Secret Clerkenwell: tour guide Sean Patterson chooses his top five historical spots

Posted at 9:15 am, August 25, 2013 in Secret London, Top 5
st john's gate

Today is Spa Fields Festival in Clerkenwell from 1-7pm (expect a bouncy castle, a rock’n’ roll jumble sale and food galore) and to mark the occasion, we asked tour guide and history buff Sean Patterson for some Clerkenwell insider info. Sean leads walks around Clerkenwell and Deptford (and very soon Whitechapel) which draw inspiration from Charles Booth’s famous poverty maps so he is well placed to tell us five historical spots in Clerkenwell. Over to you Sean…

St John’s Square was the centre of the priory of The Knights Of St John Of Jerusalem until the dissolution. The original round knaved church was destroyed by Wat Tyler’s poll tax protesters in 1381 because the Prior Robert Hales had set the tax. Underneath the present unremarkable church is a real London secret, the original crypt from 1140 with arches that mark the progression from Romanesque to Gothic architecture.

St John’s Gate (pictured above) was built by Prior Thomas Docwra in 1504. Since the dissolution it has played host to William Shakespeare, Samuel Johnston, and an infant William Hogarth. In the eighteenth century the Gentleman’s Magazine was published here which was the first publication to use the term Magazine, an Arabic word meaning storehouse.

Smithfield market credit Paula Glassman

The Southern end of St John’s St. There are a host of interesting buildings to see from here including Sir Horace Jones’ magnificent Smithfield Market, the only one of the Victorian markets in central London still being used for its original purpose, and the Farmeloe building, the interior of which features in the recent Batman movies. The building above Pret A Manger was the headquarters of William Harris The Sausage King of London who had sixty sausage outlets in the late Victorian Period. He called all his three sons William to make sure his name was carried on. His four daughters were all called Elizabeth but fortunately three of them were nicknamed Betty, Betsy and Bess. Amazingly there is a Bratwurst shop next door.

Ray Street at the bottom of Back Hill was once known as Hockley in the Hole and Oliver and the Artful Dodger walk up here on their way to Fagin’s den in Oliver Twist. In 1898 Charles Booth describes the Italian Organ Grinders and Ice Cream makers who lived here and comments that ‘stabbing cases generally come from here’. Go to the drain in the middle of the road outside the pub and you can hear the Fleet River gushing below on its way to the Thames at Blackfriars.

Clerkenwell Green has the beautiful Middlesex Sessions House where unlucky souls were sentenced to transportation. Charles Booth notes that a courtyard off it is ‘one of the worst parts of the subdivision. All doors open, children dirty and pale’. The oldest building is from 1737 and houses the Marx Memorial Library. Vladimir Lenin had an office in the building in 1901 and liked to pop over the road to the excellent Crown pub as he was fond of British beer.

For further information on these locations and guided walks around historical locations around the capital, contact Sean Patterson’s Charles Booth Walks on 07957222070.

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