A Clerkenwell Miscellany

It is has been some time since there has been a new post added from boz with the months of May and June being sadly lacking in discourse.

Much of this time has been taken up in the district of Clerkenwell and in particular the Craft Central building Pennybank Chambers 33-33 St. John’s Square. One of the fruits of a series of exhibitions has been a new screen illustrating the environs of Clerkenwell that LondonKillsMe are currently hawking.

City North print

During many visits to Clerkenwell sketchesbyboz has begun tentative probings into the history of the district. Beginning with St. John’s Gate as a result of a commission more of which at a later date, and inspired by small observations en route. As yet such musings as have been gathered are unsorted and form no coherent narrative, hence for the time being an anthology of miscellaneous snippets. Informed followers of this blog are thoroughly encouraged to contradict where necessary any errors that may be chanced upon.

Beginning with St. John’s Gate it was with great interest to discover it to be the childhood home of William Hogarth from 1701 to 1709 whose father had opened an unsuccessful coffee house in the building in 1703.  Also the home of Edward Cave St. John’s Gate became the first offices and printing house of The Gentleman’s Magazine founded 1731 and thus sometimes workplace of Samuel Johnson from 1737.

Old images found randomly on the internet employing the usual disorganised fashion of research favoured tell of business and trade activity in the building.

St. John's Gate c.1860

This earlier picture c.1860 shows the Jerusalem Tavern to the left of the picture. To the right S. Wickens Coffee and Dining Room which you can just make out etched onto the glass of the window above. Did Uggins sell Old Ale or where they in fact Huggins Timber – see the door on the right – Photoshop has yet to reveal what B. Foster were purveyors of and attempts at cross reference in Kelly’s Directory and the like have been little help thus far.

St. John's Gate c.1873

In the slightly later picture c.1873 from  London Transport Museum archive these have been replaced by the French Glass Grooming Works and Spectacle Eye Glass Factory of Maurice M. Grunfield.



Another Tavern of interest which appears to have met a sad demise is just around the corner off St. John Street in Compton Street is Comptons Bar.

Compton's Bar

We know nothing about this establishment other than pausing to take a photograph of the very nice building which contains it. It is hoped to uncover more before it is purchased by developers and turned into something dreadful in the name of luxury apartments. It would be a great to delight to hear from anyone who ever went there in the times it was a thriving concern.

Clerkenwell these days of course is a very desirable and fashionable part of town. To see it now you would be surprised to learn it was one of the biggest areas of concern for the Royal Commission for Housing the Working Classes 1884-85.  Charles Booth’s Poverty Map and Notebook of 1898 George Duckworth finds St. John Square to be coloured Purple a mixture of comfortable and poor with Jerusalem Court (leading off from the Tavern) as black:

“The blackest spot of all, you can’t paint it black enough, ‘savages’ said Zenthon a danger to the police” Survey into Life and Labour in London Notebook B353 pp150-151 (1898)

George Gissing’s publication of The Nether World (1889) also focused on Clerkenwell as an abject slum whilst presenting the new model dwellings to the area in a very unsatisfactory light. It is understood that Pennybank Chambers now artisan studios was originally a model dwelling which these pages intend to show more of.

We will be back in Clerkenwell on Monday 11 and Wednesday the 13 July next week for a further perambulation. This opportunity has arisen from taking part in a recycling exhibition at the Craft Central Showcase 33-35 St. John’s Square, EC1M 4DS


Do come and have a look but be careful if you encounter LondonKillsMe they may try to sell you a slate pot printed with Clerkenwell whether you want one or not.