It had rained over night but now the sun had come out though it was colder than I liked. Did I mention how much I hate the cold? Numerous times, I think…
The low winter sun, reflecting off the wet ground lit an otherwise shaded street. We cut through here, across Amwell Street and into Baron Street. If you are an arachnophobe, skip the next picture.
Love them or hate them, you have to admire spiders for their industrious nature. This one had built a fine large web. Only the direction of the light made the threads visible. I imagine spiders have a hard time of it in the winter when there are few insects about. Judging by his size, this one was a successful individual and probably has a good chance of surviving the cold season.
On our way down Skinner Street we spied a pub called the Bleeding Heart with this old cobbled courtyard behind it, named Bleeding Heart Court. These buildings, with some of the hoists still in place, would once have been warehouses, but today they are occupied by restaurants and offices.
Some claim that the name comes from the brutal murder in 1626 of Lady Elizabeth Hatton, wife of Sir William Hatton who owned much of the surrounding area. In fact, it is more likely that the name derives from the sign of a pub called the Bleeding Heart which showed the heart of the Virgin Mary pierced with swords.
We walked down to Hatton Garden, London’s famous centre for precious stones and jewellery. Given the fame of this area, you might be disappointed by its appearance. But for the unusual density of jewellers’ shops, it looks like so many other streets where the buildings are occupied by offices, studios and workshops.
The name comes from Sir Christopher Hatton (c.1540-1591), who was one of the favourites of Queen Elizabeth I. He held a number of important posts, including commander of her bodyguard and Lord Chancellor. It is said that the Queen was first attracted to him by his elegant style of dancing. She coerced the Bishop of Ely into ceding Ely Place to Hatton and it became his residence.
On the corner of Cross Street with Hatton Garden stands this notable building. It was originally built around 1670 to replace St Andrew’s Holborn after the Great Fire of 1666. In about 1696 it became a Chantry School. During the Second World War, the interior of the building was gutted by incendiary bombs and has now been rebuilt as offices with the exterior restored to its original design.
Above the door is this pair of statues representing scholars dressed in 18th century costume. They were removed to Bradfield College in Berkshire during the war to avoid possible damage – a wise move as it turned out. The boy holds in his right hand what looks like a prayer book or possibly a Bible (there is a cross on the cover), while the girl holds a document. I don’t know what was originally written on it but today the lettering reads as follows:
WERE DECORATED ON
BEHALF OF JOHNSON
1968 PAINTED BY A. WALLIS
1979 “ “ “
1988 “ “ A. WISE
1994 “ “ P. POOLE
In a complete contrast of artistic styles, on the opposite corner above the door of the Johnson Building, is Tom Dixon’s 2006 work entitled “Ingot”. Down one side, perhaps reflecting the hall-marks that would appear on a real ingot, is a row of ten icons. These were designed by a graphic design studio called Mind Design and represent various historical aspects of the area. Note that the bottom icon represents a mouse pointer – a reference to the Garden’s other main industry, design.
At number 53 in nearby Leather Lane (guess what they used to produce there!) stands this double-fronted shop, a survival from a previous age. Today there is a barber’s on one side and a charity shop on the other. What attracted my attention, however, was the virtually complete floor mosaic whose motif reminded me of the spider and web we saw earlier. Imagine the time and work that goes into making such a mosaic as this. No wonder they are no longer made in our day.
On the corner of Leather Lane with Hatton Wall stands a mid-19th century Grade II listed pub with a clock prominently displayed. Not surprisingly, the pub was once called the Clock House, an appropriate and colourful name. Unfortunately, it has been taken over by an outfit called the Craft Beer Co who have renamed the pub boringly after themselves. It is such a pity when this happens and a perfectly good name is lost. Let’s hope the pub will soon find new owners with better taste and regain its old name. There is a picture of the pub in its previous incarnation on the Pub History site.
In Hatton Wall is Black Bull Yard, named after the Black Bull Inn that once stood hereabouts. Today, what was once warehousing has been converted into an apartment block but in the 19th century there would have been stables here, and thereby hangs a tale.
On May 12th 1831 at the Old Bailey, one George Smith was indicted of the theft of a brown mare from the stables attached to the Black Bull. The horse was found to be missing between 3 and 4 am on the night of April 29th and was later recovered at Barnsbury Mews. Smith was singularly unlucky because his progress from the Black Bull to the Mews was seen at various points by several police officers who eventually became suspicious. Smith was seen going into the mews upon the horse, lost from sight therein, but arrested as he emerged on foot. The stolen horse was found locked in a stable, to which the key, of slightly unusual design, was found in Smith’s pocket.
In the face of such a weight of evidence, defence counsel could do no more than have recourse to conspiracy theory, suggesting that the officers’ testimonies were not independent but the result of collusion in preparation for the trial. Maybe they were right for the officers do seem to have been unusually observant. Whatever the truth of the matter, the stratagem failed; Smith was convicted and received the death penalty. It seems shocking to us today that horse theft, burglary and similar crimes received a mandatory death sentence but so it was at the time.
It was particularly unfortunate for George Smith because the death penalty for horse stealing and such lesser crimes was repealed the following year, in 1832. However, because many magistrates considered the death penalty unduly harsh punishment for these crimes, sentence was often commuted after the event even when the court records show that a capital penalty was handed down. It is possible, then, that instead of hanging, George suffered some lesser punishment such as transportation. We shall probably never know.
A rather different sort of dwelling is to be found off Leather Lane, to which the above photo shows one of the entrances, obviously designed in the days of horse-drawn transport. This is part of the Bourne Estate, designed and built in the Edwardian period by the London County Council. This, the southern part, was built between 1905 and 1909.
The buildings, many parts of which are listed for their perceived historic architectural importance, were designed in-house by the LCC’s architects’ department and are seen as important examples of tenement construction. The official description speaks of the “Free Classical style, with Arts and Crafts touches”.
From the early 19th century onwards, there was a huge influx of Italians into Islington in search of work. So much so, that the area came to be known as Little Italy. Italian churches were built and Italian clubs and cafes proliferated. Descendants of the original immigrants are still to be found, often speaking Italian and following Italian culture. This made the place an obvious safe harbour for Italian political refugees. Giuseppe Mazzini was one of those who spent time here (as well as in other countries) and this plaque in Laystall Street commemorates his time here.
Turning for home, we strayed off the path to explore St Andrew’s Gardens. This land was once the burial ground of the church of St Andrew Holborn but was closed to burials in 1850. The then St Pancras Vestry bought it and another piece of land adjoining it and opened the whole as a public garden in 1856.
As was usual, most of the gravestones were moved to the perimeter, clearing the area for planting and laying paths. Such a dislodged headstone is shown above, belonging to members of the Hilder Family. Some of the larger tombs, mainly box tombs as was the fashion, were left in place because of their historic or other interest. Today, many of these are badly broken or leaning at crazy angles because of subsidence of the ground beneath them.
You may have noticed that I am intrigued by drinking fountains and cattle troughs, especially if I can find out about the person who donated them or to whom they are dedicated. This one, no longer working and badly in need of some care and attention, was donated in 1885, as the inscription tells us, by Emily Bessie Orbell.
Not very much is known about the donor. From London Remembers, we learn that Emily was the second of the 12 children of John and Catherine Orbell of Suffolk and that the family emigrated to New Zealand in 1849. Emily would have been ten years old when Victoria came to the throne and she died just one week before that sovereign on January 15th 1901.
Perhaps she didn’t like New Zealand or missed her country of origin because she later returned to the UK. Seemingly Emily never married and for this reason the name Orbell appears on this fountain and its companion, donated in the same year, sited in St George’s Gardens near the Foundlings Hospital in Coram’s fields.
These two fountains give us something rare – a glimpse into the life of an ordinary person of another era – as intriguing as it is frustratingly sparse. It is such a pity that these interesting historic items, given in a spirit of generosity to the donor’s community, should be allowed to decay and and become clogged with dirt and rubbish. I think their donors deserve better of us.