Secrets | November – December

Our regular page revealing a trio of lesser- known stories from EC1.


This November marks the 320th anniversary of William Hogarth’s birth, in Clerkenwell, in 1697. The artist and satirist also grew up in EC1; his father at one time ran a Latin- speaking, and unsuccessful, coffee shop in St John’s Gate, as well as undergoing a spell in the Fleet Prison (on today’s Farringdon Street) for debts. 

In his most well-known self-portrait, Hogarth depicts himself in a brown coat and cap next to his beloved pug. It was called Trump. How many people would call their pet that now? In the same picture, he shows his artist’s palette. On it is a sweeping S-shaped curve and the label “The Line of Beauty”. He outlines his theories about the visually pleasing affects of this particular curve in his famous book The Analysis of Beauty. One of his other palettes was later owned by a JMW Turner, no less. To follow a Hogarth tribute trail around Clerkenwell, check out the London Metropolitan Archives in Northampton Road, which holds a large collection of his engravings, head to the Sir John Soane’s Museum to see his A Rake’s Progress and An Election series, admire his two murals in St Bart’s hospital, and visit the Foundling Museum – he played a large role in the Foundling Hospital (see Post, issue 21).


This time last year, it was all about the Fire of London. Schoolchildren across the land couldn’t fail to know that it was exactly 350 years since the infamous bakery incident. The Museum of London held a blockbuster exhibition called Fire! Fire! – did you go? – which ran for eight months, only closing this April. And our own magazine marked the anniversary with a cover story and extracts from local man Pepys’s diary (issue 28).

This year, it’s the 340th anniversary of the Monument. After the catastrophe, it was decided that some sort of memorial needed to be built and Sir Christopher Wren and Dr Robert Hooke (whose diary is kept in EC1’s London Metropolitan Archives) were called in. Their design was for the huge Doric column in the City which we all know, with 311 steps up to a viewing platform and a copper urn decorated with – it must be said, very elegant and not very ferocious looking – copper flames. The whole thing is 61 metres high to its tip, and it stands exactly 61 metres from the Pudding Lane site where the fire started. Polymath Wren, unable to resist a dual purpose to the memorial, thought it would be great to use it for carrying out some Royal Society experiments – presumably gravity related – until constant vibrations from the traffic below put paid to that idea.


You’ve read the shopping feature about Amwell Street (page 18) – now find out more about its history. First of all, the name Amwell. In the 1600s, Hugh Myddelton, a wealthy friend of Sir Walter Raleigh, undertook the challenge of providing a new water supply for London – much needed as a result of a population boom. A series of canals (given the name the New River) was built to bring in water from springs  40 miles away in Great Amwell in Hertfordshire.

Myddelton was rewarded for his success with a baronetcy and it is his statue you can see on Islington Green. Scroll on a few centuries, to the early 1800s, and another population boom saw the development of the area around the New River. Amwell Street was at that time just an unofficial path, a popular route from north to south. So it was decided to build a proper road and name it after one of the sources of the New River.

The main square built nearby was called Myddelton Squa… You got it. At a similar time, an old pipe yard used by the New River Company to the south end of the street became the new home of the Clerkenwell Parochial school. Founded as early as 1699, it had inhabited several sites in Clerkenwell up to that point. But today it is still in Amwell Street, nearly 200 years after the move. It is thought to be the oldest purpose-built state-school building that is still a place of education in London today.