Our regular page revealing a trio of lesser- known stories from EC1.
1: LONDON STONE
You may have read about London Stone moving to Clerkenwell. Who? No, not a musician you’ve never heard of but a rock star of a different sort: the famous slab of limestone from the city’s history. London Stone (never “THE” London Stone) has taken up temporary residence at the Museum of London while building work is carried out at the site of its home at 111 Cannon Street.
It will probably relish its new, more fitting abode; 111 Cannon Street is a former WH Smith, where the stone has sat, hidden behind an iron grille, since the Sixties. Unbecoming, indeed, of something imbued with such mystery and significance.
For, though it is simply a hewn boulder (undoubtedly part of a larger landmark), it has, over time, been considered to be: a Roman milestone; the stone in which Excalibur was embedded; a Druidic altar for human sacrifice; and a trophy brought from Troy by Brutus, legendary founder of Britain. The truth isn’t known. But we do know that it has been around since medieval times, it was struck by the rebel leader Jack Cade in 1450, in defiance of Henry VI, and it was used in the 17th century by members of The Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers to destroy a faulty batch of glasses.
2: WILLIAM DUELL
We all know what it’s like to wake up with a hangover – but imagine waking up after a hanging. In 1740, a 17-year-old named William Duell was convicted of rape and sentenced to death. After a spell in Clerkenwell’s notorious Newgate Prison (located where the Old Bailey is today), he was hanged at the infamous Tyburn gallows (in Marble Arch) for 20 minutes. When he was cut down, he was sent, as was sometimes the practice in those days, to a medical college for dissection by the students.
Stripped and laid on a board, his body was ready for the first incision when, incredibly, it was noticed that he was still breathing. Duell was immediately sent back to Newgate and by the following day had fully recovered – though probably with the mother of all headaches.
Not only that, the poor conditions in Newgate meant Duell had been suffering from delirium and a bad fever when he was sent to the gallows, and he remembered nothing of his own execution. His case caused a stir in London and, in response, the authorities decided to spare his life and change his sentence to penal transportation. While that was hardly a soft option in the 18th century, Duell was probably the only convict on the ship thanking his lucky stars.
3: THIS LIFE
Remember Miles, Anna, Milly, Egg and Warren? If you do, you’re certainly over the age of 35, as This Life, the seminal BBC 2 drama about young lawyers in which they appeared, is 20 years old this year.
And what a cult programme it was. Written by Amy Jenkins, it was pure Nineties Zeitgeist, and full of sex, drugs and Britpop tracks. Miles and Anna’s love-hate, on-off relationship, Egg’s dreams of dropping out of the law to run a café and write novels, Milly’s affair with her older, married boss, Miles’s HIV scare, Warren’s coming out as gay, Ferdy’s liaisons with Lenny, the Scottish plumber…
Though it was set in south London, much of it was filmed in Clerkenwell. The sign for Benjamin Street is shown in the opening scenes to be the location of the house the characters all shared (in reality, it was in Anchor Terrace on Southwark Bridge Road), and the entrance to Gray’s Inn on Theobald’s Road was where many of the characters went to work.
The series, which was included in the “BFI TV 100” (the British Film Institute’s list of 100 greatest British TV programmes of all time, compiled in 2000), starred Jack Davenport, Andrew Lincoln, Daniela Nardini and Tanita Tikaram’s brother Ramon. Ricky Gervais was credited as a “music advisor” for the series – he commissioned the theme tune.