Inside Job | Bleeding Heart Yard
Three things you didn’t know about Clerkenwell…
A WINTER’S TALE
With its quiet aspect and quaint cobbles, Bleeding Heart Yard, off Greville Street, has classic Clerkenwell charm. And that’s before you’ve added the obvious appeal of the eponymous French restaurant to which it is home. In the 17th century, however, it was associated with a brutal legend. On 26 January 1626, Lady Elizabeth Hatton was holding her famous Annual Winter Ball, a highlight of the London social scene. The wealthy widow had been married to the nephew of Sir Christopher Hatton, Elizabeth I’s Lord Chancellor, after whom Hatton Garden is named. Her home, Hatton House, stood where the yard is now. She had many admirers.
It was a snowy night and the party was well under way. Suddenly, it stopped dead; a sinister-looking man gatecrashed his way in, strode up to Elizabeth, danced her around the room and, without a word, led her out into the dark garden. Once everyone had had their fill of gossiping, a search party was sent out but it returned unsuccessful. The next day, a stable lad found Elizabeth in a corner of the yard: she had been murdered and mutilated. Her heart was still pumping blood onto the snow. To enhance the story further, the sinister man is described as having a hunched shoulder and clawed right hand. He is said to have been a Spanish ambassador and her former lover, or, for those more prone to hyperbole, the Devil.
There’s not an ounce of truth in the tale; Elizabeth died naturally in 1646. But it makes a good story. In Little Dorrit, Dickens uses Bleeding Heart Yard as the setting for Daniel Doyce’s factory. “At the end of the yard and over the gateway was the factory, often heavily beating like a bleeding heart of iron, with the clink of metal upon metal.”
DRAWN TO EC1
How fitting for a feature about our local secrets to include the artist Geoffrey Fletcher. He was an expert in them. The Bolton-born artist loved lesser-known London – Clerkenwell and Islington in particular. In the Sixties and Seventies, he would walk the streets with his sketchbook, drawing the everyday, changing surroundings. Unsurprisingly, he found Exmouth Market, with all its nooks and crannies, captivating.
For 30 years, he wrote and illustrated a column, London Day by Day, in The Daily Telegraph, but he is probably best known for a book he wrote in 1962 called The London Nobody Knows, which grew out of his self-confessed obsession for wandering around the city. In 1967, the actor James Mason walked the streets mentioned in the book for a TV documentary of the same name. Fletcher had a passion for architectural conservation. He cared about the details – from unusual facades to cast- iron railings. Public lavatories, too. Describing himself as an “experienced conveniologist”, he revealed that in one loo in Holborn, the attendant kept goldfish in the water tank.
One of his greatest triumphs w as securing the preservation of a Victorian gas lamp on Carting Lane, near The Savoy hotel. This is no ordinary gas lamp. It runs on the emissions from a nearby sewer (yes) and is the last of its type still standing in London. It gives a subtle glow…
The Islington Local History Centre on St John Street has a Geoffrey Fletcher special collection.
We at The Clerkenwell Post are proud of our publication, not least because its existence pays homage to the very first magazine – produced in Clerkenwell 282 years ago this month. It was from offices in St John’s Gate that printer and entrepreneur Edward Cave started The Gentleman’s Magazine in January 1731. A monthly digest of all London’s goings-on, it featured births, deaths and marriages, stock prices, political reports, book reviews, poetry, features on astronomy – and plenty of borrowed material from elsewhere. Mags haven’t changed much, have they?
The masthead on the cover consisted of a large engraving of the Gate. Inside, you could read the work of Samuel Johnson, who was a regular and prolific contributor. It was an extremely popular, successful publication and lasted for well over a hundred years. Cave, who went under the pseudonym Sylvanus Urban, was always getting into scrapes. These started at an early age; as a schoolboy, he was accused of selling completed homework to his classmates.
There were other digests at the time but this was the first to call itself a “magazine”. The word, as Johnson’s dictionary will tell you, derives from the Arabic word “machsan”. It means “a treasure”. You can see a copy of the magazine at the Museum of the Order of St John.