Glimpses of Clerkenwell

Friday, March 6th 2015

My doctor wanted me to submit a blood sample for analysis. I had kept putting it off but finally went this morning to do it. The way it works here is that the doctor issues a docket which specifies what is to be tested for and gives this to the patient. The docket also gives a list of places where you can be tested. I chose the Finsbury Health Centre in Pine Street as this is near to home and you don’t need to make an appointment. You simply walk in, take a ticket from the machine and then sit and watch the number box on the wall until it shows the number on your ticket.

When your number appears, you walk into the room and sit in the big chair. On a previous occasion, the medical technician had been clumsy and I had ended up with a tasteful blue, green and mauve mosaic all down my arm. This time, though, the young lady knew her business and was bidding me hold the pad of cotton wool on the puncture before I was even aware that she had finished.

Really, I wanted to go home and make coffee, because these medical things always unnerve me, but I managed to persuade myself to first go for a little walk around the local area which is Clerkenwell.

Clerkenwell, as you probably guess, takes its name from the well sited in the neighbourhood. There were two monastic foundations here, St Mary’s Nunnery and the Priory of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, and the monks, referred to as clerks or clerics (“clerken” being the medieval plural) gave their name to the well. The clerks’ well was rediscovered in 1924 and can be viewed with difficulty through the window of the building that now contains it, Well Court, or more comfortably by appointment.

The Clerks' Well
The Clerks’ Well

The light shining on the glass made it impossible to photograph it today but I managed to get the above snap on a previous visit. The well today is just a hole in the ground but I imagine that in its heyday it would have have a more impressive sight.

St James Clerkenwell
St James Clerkenwell
Successor of the church of St Mary’s Nunnery

When Henry VIII closed down the religious houses in the 1530s and 1540s, St Mary’s Nunnery was also dispossessed but its church continued in use by the local community. At some point, for reasons that are not clear, it had become dedicated to St James. The church we see today was built in the later 18th century with additions in 1822.

St James Clerkenwell
St James Clerkenwell
Entrance and tower

As is common in the city, the churchyard has been largely cleared and turned into a public garden.

Middlesex Sessions House
Middlesex Sessions House

The heart of Clerkenwell is a large square called Clerkenwell Green. It is no longer green but has been paved. It is dominated at one end by a building that was once the Middlesex Sessions House, the court for justices of the peace. It was built around 1780 but soon surrendered is role as a court to other purposes and is currently awaiting a decision on a planning application.

Sessions House relief
Sessions House relief

This is one of the relief work panels decorating the façade whose symbolism alludes to the dispensing of justice within.

St James from Clerkenwell Green
St James from Clerkenwell Green

Here is a view of the Church of St James as seen from Clerkenwell Green. It sits comfortably amid a cohort of buildings that are both aesthetically pleasing and historically interesting, many of them listed as is the church itself (Grade II*).

Garden of the Priory Church of St John
Garden of the Priory Church of St John

In St John’s Square is the Priory Church of St John of Jerusalem. This, and the nearby St John’s Gate, formed part of the Grand Priory of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, the order of Knights Hospitallers. Whenever I passed this building previously I had found it closed but today it was open and I went in to look around. I knew the museum in St John’s Gate but it seems that this site too has now been opened to the public, also as a museum.

The main church was a mixture of fabric from the 16th and 18th centuries and was badly damaged in wartime bombing, being restored in the 1950s. The crypt, however, is much older being of the 12th century. It was there that, despite the low level of lighting, I was able to take the following three photos.

Crypt of Priory Church of St John

Crypt of the Priory Church of St John

Unknown Knight of St John

The effigy above is of an unknown knight of St John, obviously representing the subject in death. What I found slightly unusual was that the main figure is accompanied by smaller one lying beside his legs. I deduce that this must represent the knight’s squire, devastated by the death of his master.

St John's Gate
St John’s Gate

The part of the complex that is most familiar to passers-by is the Gate of St John. Originally the entrance to the Grand Priory, it has served many purposes during its history and today houses the museum. A plaque on the wall provides a succinct history:

ST JOHN’S GATE.

THIS BUILDING WAS THE MAIN ENTRANCE TO THE
GRAND PRIORY OF THE ORDER OF THE HOSPITAL OF
ST JOHN OF JERUSALEM · THE ORIGINAL GATEHOUSE
WAS ERECTED ABOUT THE YEAR 1148 & WAS BURNT
DOWN BY WAT TYLER IN 1381 · IT WAS RESTORED BY
PRIOR JOHN REDINGTON & AND WAS FINALLY REBUILT IN
ITS PRESENT FORM BY PRIOR THOMAS DOCWRA IN 1504
THE GRAND PRIORY BUILDINGS WERE APPROPRIATED
BY THE CROWN IN 1559 · THE ORDER OF THE HOSPITAL
OF ST JOHN OF JERUSALEM RESUMED POSSESSION
OF THIS GATEHOUSE IN 1873

Door or widow?
Door or window?

Beside the gate I spied this feature. It is soldily blocked by stone but looks very much like an old window. Was it a window lighting the lower levels of the building or perhaps even a door accessed by steps that vanished long ago? Perhaps I shall find out one day but for now the mystery remains.

Copyright © 2015 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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6 Responses to Glimpses of Clerkenwell

  1. Shannon says:

    Oh, I really love that first photo of St James, and the photos taken in the crypt! The panoramic shot of the garden turned out fantastically, as well. Your photos often cause me add to my list of places I want to visit someday, when I make it to that side of the Atlantic and these certainly aren’t an exception. I enjoy the artistry that went into buildings such as these. Artistry that I really feel is lacking in so many modern builds. The details in that relief work, the folds of fabric carved into stone! Sorry. I ramble, but I can’t help but appreciate things like that.

    I’m glad you had a nice walk through Clerkenwell on Friday, after your procedure. I certainly understand being unnerved by medical things. I have tricksy veins that like to roll when anyone tries to jab me with a needle, so enough can’t be said about the value of a technician who can get the job done before you really notice it’s happening, in my opinion.😀

    • SilverTiger says:

      Thanks for your appreciative remarks which certainly encourage me to keep going and trying new things.

      It sounds as though you, like us, prefer the older style buildings in which proportion, elegance, aesthetic appeal and, in a word, beauty, still counted for something as opposed to today’s deliberately ugly buildings. The arts of architecture seem to have been lost or to be being held in abeyance by people whose only ambition is to produce ever more extraordinary and inhuman structures. Architecture is experiencing a “psychotic episode” and I await its return to sanity.

      Where medical matters are concerned, the less I know about it, the better! I am grateful that there are people who can remain steady at the sight if blood but I, alas, am not one of them.

      • Shannon says:

        A psychotic episode, indeed!

        I’m glad that you find me encouraging. I loved your blog straight from the word go for the little glimpses I get into the world around you.

        Oh, and the Saga of Silas, and nail polish for Tigers. 😉

  2. WOL says:

    Lovely photo of the stained glass, and the medieval stone work.

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