Secrets | A legendary event in 1833

Our regular a trio of lesserknown stories from EC1

Bad feeling towards the police is not a new thing – as a legendary event in 1833 proved. A meeting was organised by John Russell, secretary of the National Union of the Working Classes, to protest about the lack of enfranchisement in the Great Reform Act. It was to be held at the Calthorpe Estate in Cold Bath Fields, on 13 May, at 2pm.

Turn-out was good. By midday, there were already 300 people there. As well as a good deal of policemen… No-one knows what, or whom, started the fighting but batons and fists soon flew and many were injured. Among them was Constable Robert Culley, who staggered with a bleeding chest into a nearby pub and fell down dead on the floor. At the coroner’s court, the jury returned a verdict of “justifiable homicide”, on the basis that the crowd had apparently not been given the orders or chance to disperse. Media reports of the riot were, to say the least, on the side of the crowd.

The jury members were instantly elevated to celebrity, even hero, status. Firstly, they were sent, by an anonymous donor, commemorative medallions. They were then taken, along with their families, on a special crowd-pleasing trip up the Thames on the steamer Endeavour, complete with a canon salute at the end. A year later, a banquet was hosted by an MP called Sir Samuel St Swithin Burden Whalley, at which the jurors were each presented with an engraved silver cup.

We’re all fascinated by tunnels, underground passages, catacombs and the like, which is why Claremont Square, off Pentonville Road, is so intriguing. It has a subterranean reservoir. This reservoir dates back to the 17th century, when Sir Hugh Myddelton built the ambitious New River, a series of channels bringing fresh water into London from springs in Hertfordshire.

Some of that water was stored in a dug-out pit known as the Upper Pond, in Claremont Square. Originally open, fi shermen could be found sitting on its banks, but a cholera epidemic in 1846 led to new laws that ruled all reservoirs within fi ve miles of St Paul’s should be covered. So the Upper Pond was drained and a massive new structure was built in its place: an arcaded brick tomb of water, with walls 8 feet thick, rising to a beautiful, barrel-vaulted roof. When full, the water is 6.4 metres deep, creating a veritable lake of 16 million litres.

It’s not entirely underground, however – when it was completed in 1855, half of the structure was above ground level, so the bricks were grassed over to create the raised park we see today. Now owned by Thames Water, the reservoir is still in use – silent, still, and darkly alluring.

Clerkenwell’s long history of gin production is well known but are you aware of its connection with whisky? On Greville Street, among the diamond traders of the Hatton Garden area, you’ll find a place dedicated to arguably another gem; it’s a remote outpost of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society.

Formed in Edinburgh in 1983, the society was the brainchild of Phillip “Pip” Hills, who toured Scotland in the Seventies, sampling his favourite tipple. Its purpose is to buy whole casks of single malt whisky from different distilleries across Scotland (126 to be precise), bottle it up and sell it direct, and exclusively, to its members.

The source of each bottle is kept secret, however, in order to refl ect, the fact that each cask of the stuff is unique; it’s the contents that should be revered, not any brand or place name on the bottle. So, instead, there’s a number-based system of labelling. Open bottle number 15.3, and you’re drinking the third cask bought from distillery number 15 – whichever that is. To aid the drinker, there’s also a rather random-sounding Jilly Goolden-esque tasting note beneath the number, such as “Party in the vineyard”.

Such a secretive club deserves a low-profile home, and who would expect to fi nd tasting rooms in a discreet house in Farringdon? The society has only three premises in the UK, and the other two are in Scotland. Does that sound like a brag?