Secrets | lesser-known stories from EC1- January 2016
Our regular page revealing a trio of lesser known stories from EC1.
Clerkenwell loves a good murder – according to the makers of the BBC drama Luther, anyway. The hit series returns again and again to familiar locations around EC1.If you haven’t seen it, the James-Bond-tipped Idris Elba plays DCI John Luther, an ace murder detective with a compulsion for the dark side.
His confidante from the criminal underworld, Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson), lives in the Barbican. They hang out, and indeed discuss Paradise Lost, at Milton’s grave in the Barbican church of St Giles’ Cripplegate. And a killing takes place near Smithfield Market.At the end of last year, the hotly awaited fourth series aired. The opening scene was of St John Street, and the St Clements dental practice, at number 10, played a key role. It’s there a murder takes place; the dentist is horribly butchered, eugh.
It’s hardly surprising that the screenwriter, Neil Cross, dreamt up a dentist’s as a scene for a murder – they’re gory torture rooms to most of us at the best of times. We wonder if St Clements will lose a few patients this year…
2: BUNHILL ROW
Though Bunhill Row can boast many famous residents, most of them are below ground– in Bunhill Fields, the old burial site there. Among them, Blake, Bunyan and Defoe. There are a few household names, however, who were connected to the street during their actual lifetimes. Firstly, the poet John Milton, who moved there in 1662 (it was then called Artillery Walk), for relative obscurity. He’d played a prominent role in Cromwell’s Commonwealth and wanted to lie low after the Restoration of 1660.
Secondly, Ronnie and Reggie Kray’s mother, Violet. She owned a flat in Braithwaite House on Bunhill Row. It was at this address that her infamous gangster twin sons were arrested for the last time, on 8 May 1968.
Thirdly, Hester Bateman, an 18th century “mumpreneur”. When her silversmith husband, John, died, he left her not only their six children to bring up by herself, but also his tools in his will. She rose to the challenge and took over his business, at 107 Bunhill Row, turning it into a commercial success. She saw the potential of new machines that were able to mass-produce household items, such as tea sets, from sheet silver. Her company went on to survive, as a family enterprise, for nearly a century, and her work is highly regarded in the silver world.
St Bartholomew House in West Smithfield is where you would now go for a Michelin- starred dinner (it’s Club Gascon), but previously it’s where you would have headed for a quick cuppa and a sticky bun.
The Grade II Listed building, with its striking Art Nouveau details, used to be a Lyons teashop. J Lyons & Co launched its first teashop in Piccadilly in 1894; a chain of more than 200 followed, across the UK. It was the British Starbucks of its time. Then came the famous Lyons Corner Houses: huge restaurants on corner sites, spread over several floors, where orchestras played. The uniformed waitresses here, and at the teashops, were called “Nippies”.
Lyons also ran hotels, made biscuits, and sold… computers. It recognised the need to automate much of its workload and thus created, in 1954, the first business computer: the Lyons Electronic Office I. Two more did-you-knows: Joseph Lyons founded the Territorial Army, and Maggie Thatcher worked for Lyons as a food research scientist in her early career.
The last of the teashops closed in 1981. Lyons lives on in Clerkenwell, however – you can see a Corner House shopfront at the Museum of London, and all the company records are stored at the London Metropolitan Archives.