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Stories Of Clerkenwell Old & New

April 7, 2018
by the gentle author

Each Saturday, we shall be featuring one of Adam Dant’s MAPS OF LONDON & BEYOND from the forthcoming book of his extraordinary cartography to published by Spitalfields Life Books & Batsford on June 7th.

Please support this ambitious venture by pre-ordering a copy, which will be signed by Adam Dant with an individual drawing on the flyleaf and sent to you on publication. CLICK TO ORDER A SIGNED COPY OF MAPS OF LONDON & BEYOND BY ADAM DANT

1. 1390. The annual Clerkenwell Mystery Play “Matter from the Creation of the World” is performed by parish clercs whose well can be be seen at 14 Farringdon Lane.

2. 1246. The Knights Templars of St John’s Priory return from the Crusades to present Henry III with a crystalline vase containing “blood of the saviour.”

3. 1290. Wat Tyler, leader of the Peasants’ Revolt is killed in Smithfield by Mayor William Walworth whose sword can be found at the Fishmongers’ Hall and on the City of London flag.

4. 1381. In the reign of Edward I, the water from the Fleet river is already so impure and containing such noxious exhalations and miasma that it kills many hooded brethren.

5. 1527. Sir Thomas Docwra, the last grand prior of the English Knights’ Hospitallers and architect of St John’s Gate is buried in the prior church.

6. 1123. Rayer, Henry I’s jester founded St Bartholomew’s Hospital.

7. Through the ages, great crowds have arrived at Smithfield for the St Bartholomew Fair, tournaments and for public burnings, such as Queen Mary’s two hundred and twenty-seven victims.

8. 1613. Some of the earliest female performers appear on stage at the Red Bull Theatre, Woodbridge St.

9. Nearby Bagnigge Wells House, home of Nell Gwyne, a black woman called Woolaston sells spring water from a fountain known as “Black Mary’s Hole.”

10. 1617. Seventeen bowling alleys at Bowling Green Lane are licenced by James I.

11. Charles I stops to enjoy a Dorset delicacy, “the pickled egg,” at Crawford’s Passage or “Pickled Egg Walk.”

12. Jack Adams, “The Clerkenwell Green Simpleton,” is regularly mentioned in pamphlets during Charles II’s reign.

13. 1747. The last tree on the North side of Clerkenwell Green is blown down during a storm.

14. The level of Cloth Fair remains much higher, even today, due to the accumulation of rubbish, dust and ashes.

15. 1610. Hick’s Hall, in the middle of St John’s St, was the last purpose-built sessions house, the point from where all distances from London were calculated and where criminals were dissected.

16. 1600-12. Shakespeare’s revels are rehearsed in the Great Hall at St John’s.

17. 1636. Henry Welby, the Hermit of Grub St, unseen by any human for forty years dies having bought, read, and mostly rejected all new books published.

18. 1641. Fleet Prison is reserved for debtors. 1726. Hogarth immortalises, in his engraving, the ghastly disclosures of witnesses, “fettering, spunging, damp and stench.”

19. 1709. Christopher Preston, bear gardens proprietor, is attacked and almost devoured by one of his own bears.

20. 1743. Henry Carey, for some time considered author of “God Save the King,” pens “Sally in our Alley” in Great Warner St.

21. Thomas Britton, “the musical smallcoal man,” whose musical club hosts Handel concerts is scared to death by a ventriloquist’s trick premonition.

22. 1737-41. Dr Johnson toils for Edward Cave’s “Gentleman’s Magazine” in St John’s Gate, where Garrick makes his London theatrical debut in Fielding’s “Mock Doctor.”

23. 1740. “Scratching Fanny,” the celebrated “Cock Lane Ghost” promises to manifest itself to Dr Johnson and friends at St John’s church.

24. Popular pamphleteer, Daniel Defoe is pelted with flowers rather than the usual household waste when put in the pillory for publishing ” The Shortest Way with the Dissenters.”

25. 1812. Once occupied by Colonel Magniac, maker of automaton-clocks for the Emperor of China, the birthplace of John Wilkes is pulled down.

26. 1908. The vast roof of the GPO sorting office is used as a rifle club shooting range.

27. 1820. Thistlewood and the Cato St conspirators are kept at Coldbath Fields Prison, home of the first treadmill.

28. 1903. Lenin meets a young Stalin at the Crown & Anchor pub (The Crown.)

29. Clerkenwell’s Italian community erect a life size “presepe” nativity scene every Christmas at St Peter’s Italian church.

30. TV presenter Graham Norton collects the empties at pioneering “gastro-pub”  The Eagle.

31. 1917-19. Zeppelin raids destroy buildings in Passing Alley and St John’s Lane.

32. 2006. Rock star Pete Doherty is banned from The Malmaison after trashing a room at a cost of four thousand pounds to the Charterhouse Sq Hotel.


Adam Dant’s MAPS OF LONDON & BEYOND is a mighty monograph collecting together all your favourite works by Spitalfields Life‘s cartographer extraordinaire in a beautiful big hardback book.

Including a map of London riots, the locations of early coffee houses and a colourful depiction of slang through the centuries, Adam Dant’s vision of city life and our prevailing obsessions with money, power and the pursuit of pleasure may genuinely be described as ‘Hogarthian.’

Unparalleled in his draughtsmanship and inventiveness, Adam Dant explores the byways of English cultural history in his ingenious drawings, annotated with erudite commentary and offering hours of fascination for the curious.

The book includes an extensive interview with Adam Dant by The Gentle Author.

3 Responses leave one →
  1. Greg Tingey permalink
    April 7, 2018

    Erm …: “Rahere – more of a priest than a jester & more of a wizard than either”
    R. Kipling – “The tree of Justice”

  2. Chris H permalink
    April 10, 2018

    Looks very nice and I may well get one – but…

    Item 15 “the point from where all distances from London were calculated”. Don’t think so – it was one of about nine different points depending on destination. If you used the Barnet road you’d be measuring from there; but going to Essex it’d be from Whitechapel Church; to most of the northwest from Tyburn Turnpike; and so on. A little mistake but it makes one a bit twitchy about other facts.

    Hopefully item 31 is just a typo in the post and not in the book as it seems unlikely that Zeppelins were bombing London in 1919 well after the armistice and in any case there weren’t any airship attacks on London after late 1917 anyway. Perhaps the Zeppelin Building in Farringdon Rd and also Bartholomew Close should have got a mention as they are on the map and were bombed as early as 1915

    Item 10 – Somehow it seems more likely to me that Bowling Green Lane was named after bowling greens rather than bowling alleys which I think of as being indoor wood-floored places, especially as the Ogilby and Morgan map (1676) shows bowling greens there, and Vol 46 of the normally well-researched Survey of London mentions only bowling greens.

    Item 3 – there are plenty of flag sites that say the sword on the City flag is the sword of St Paul (that’s the sword that martyred him not a sword he had). The City had a page that said that too, and specifically said that it couldn’t be a sword that killed Wat Tyler as the design pre-dated his death. Not on their site now, but the lovely internet archive has a copy

    Item 28 – I always think it’s polite to include a “reputedly” when repeating things that are most likely urban legends, and certainly not documented fact.

  3. Richard permalink
    December 7, 2019

    Item 7 – ‘Queen Mary’s two hundred and twenty-seven victims’. Why is it that this figure is perpetually trotted out yet no mention is ever made of the thousands murdered by her father and sister? Catholic bias perhaps?

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