Secrets | This is Shakespeare’s year

Our regular page revealing the lesser-known stories, people and intrigues of EC1

Yes, yes, this is Shakespeare’s year – it being the 450th anniversary of his birth. But let’s not overlook another key actor of the day, Thomas Heywood. Heywood was the main actor-playwright for The Queen’s Servants, the company of players active at Clerkenwell’s Red Bull theatre, off St John Street, in the early 17th century. Shakespeare took the same role in his company, The King’s Men, at the Globe. Heywood sounds a bit of a character; talented, energetic, comedic and possibly prone to embellishment… He claimed to have had “an entire hand, or at least a main finger, in two hundred and twenty plays”.

According to theatre historian Eva Griffith, Heywood lived on Clerkenwell Hill (possibly today’s Saffron Hill). He was buried, in 1641, at St James’s church on Clerkenwell Green. Griffith, a local resident, is no stranger to the stage herself. She has acted in theatre productions with Helen Mirren and Judi Dench. Aged just nine, she appeared alongside Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in the film Divorce His, Divorce Hers. Aged 11, she starred in the 1975 Disney movie Ride a Wild Pony.

“A Jacobean Company and its Playhouse: The Queen’s Servants at the Red Bull Theatre (c.1605-1619)” by Eva Griffith is published by Cambridge University Press

Any square foot of turf in London makes “a green space”. If you think about it, despite there being no obvious local park, we have quite a few public places in which to hang out this summer. There’s Spa Fields, the garden of St James’s Church, Postman’s Park…

A new book from Black Dog Publishing, London Out of Sight, explores the city’s hidden green spaces. It adds to our little list above: Gray’s Inn, Bunhill Fields, St Paul’s Cathedral gardens and St Alphage gardens (on the Moorgate side of the Barbican, surrounded by Roman remains of the London Wall – see feature, page 23). It also mentions the West Smithfield Rotunda, with its centre-stage statue of Peace. There’s a surprising amount of interest in this small garden. There’s a fig that actually fruits, two Caucasian Wingnut trees (the nuts are apparently edible if cooked), an award-winning insect hotel and an architectural concrete bench.

In Victorian times, the park was known informally as “the winkle garden” – the ramp surrounding the garden, by which the market horses brought up the meat deliveries from below ground, being likened to the conical shape of the shellfish. Of course, such a phrase conjures up in one’s mind all sorts of modern imagery…

Clerkenwell has always been a breeding ground for innovators and reformers. One such example is Thomas Goff Lupton, who was born here in 1791. You probably haven’t heard of him. He was well known in his day, however, for being a top-class engraver. Engraving and mezzotinting (a particular way in which a print is made from an engraved plate) was for a long time the only way in which pictures could be reproduced – in books and suchlike.

Goff Lupton was employed by famous painters to create engravings of their work – one of whom was JMW Turner. Turner, as you can imagine, was not hands-off; he was known to do the first etching into the metal plate himself. Clients, eh. It was in the area of the plates themselves that Goff Lupton changed his industry forever. He was the first engraver to use soft steel. Around 1,500 prints could be made from one steel plate, as opposed to around 50 from copper plates (previously favoured).

If you can engrave a faithful copy of a Turner painting, then surely you’re as talented at drawing as the great man himself? Perhaps it was some sort of retribution that his youngest son, Nevil, was awarded the “Turner” Gold Medal for his work at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1867.