Buying jewellery in Hatton Garden, If like Dr Johnson, you enjoy anecdotes and secret histories. Make sure you take the opportunity to explore this unique part of the city fringe in central London. Start with the Dragons, outside Chancery Lane station. This marks the position of the barriers that were the City of London’s outer gates at Holborn Bars in 1222. High Holborn was originally an old Roman road. It later became a route for criminals convicted in the City Courts. They were taken by tumbrel to the present Centre Point site in Tottenham Court Road. Nathaniel Hawthorne visited England in the 1850s. He wrote about the quiet green spaces and peaceful atmosphere of the Inns of Court. Visit nearby Gray’s Inn and the Staple Inn to see these secluded places, which still exist today.
Turn left into Brooke Street, where a plaque marks the site of number 39. In 1770, the Bristol boy poet Thomas Chatterton committed suicide in the garret when he was only 17 years old. Chatterton was described by Wordsworth as “the Marvellous Boy” and is immortalised in Henry Wallis’ famous Pre-Raphaelite painting. Continue up to Brooke Street towards the Church of St Alban the Martyr. This is where the Tower and Clergy House survive from William Butterfield’s original 1863 design. The church suffered bomb damage in World War II. It was rebuilt to designs developed by Adrian Gilbert Scott in 1961. A dramatic sculpture by Hans Feibusch welcomes you to an unexpected small courtyard.
Return to Holborn and stop at the massive red-brick complex designed for the Prudential Assurance Company by famous architect John Waterhouse. The first part of the building was completed in 1879 and the second in 1909. The design, materials and craftsmanship have earmarked this impressive and beautiful edifice as a Grade 1 listed building. The courtyard is open during the week and allows you to admire the architecture more easily. You can also view the plaque that identifies it as a site where Charles Dickens once lived. Ten minutes away you’ll find a museum dedicated to Dickens’ life, at 48 Doughty Street off Theobalds Road. Dickens knew this area well and it inspired the scenes for many of his novels. Gray’s Inn featured in David Copperfield and Bleeding Heart Yard in Little Dorrit. The Magistrates Court in Hatton Garden and Saffron Hill (Fagin’s Den) both featured in Oliver Twist.
From Waterhouse Square, turn into the narrow street Leather Lane which was mentioned in John Sow’s survey of London in 1598. The bustling street market has been here for over 100 years and now serves the local workers at weekday lunchtimes. Visitors are welcome to walk through and join in the exciting hunt for bargains. At the top of Leather Lane on Clerkenwell Road, look around for signs in Hatton Garden’s Italian quarter. You will find a wine shop, the food store and the driving school. The Italian Church of St Peter was opened in 1863 and still draws its congregation from all over London. Since 1883, it has held a procession every July to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Plaques commemorating Giuseppe Mazzini, the Italian patriot. These plaques can be seen at Laystall Street and also at the far end of Hatton Garden.
It is hard to believe these days that this area was once famous for its gardens. See the clues in the street names of Vine Hill and Saffron Hill. John Gerard published his Generall Historie of Plantes in 1597, also had a Holborn garden. Hatton Gardens historical background is part of our national heritage. The land was owned by the Bishop of Ely who was so powerful within the church. The state decided he needed a palace, chapel and grounds in central London. Elizabeth I admired and promoted a courtier who was a fine dancer. In 1576 Christopher Hatton, seeking somewhere to live, asked the Queen to give him a house in Ely Palace. Elizabeth 1 granted Hatton a lease. Fixing his rent at £10 per annum plus ten loads of hay and aros
Hatton Garden is the place to buy precious jewellery made with a long tradition of craft skills. There is a sparkling selection of the best in both traditional and contemporary jewellery designs. Which will help you celebrate every important occasion in your life. Take a brief stroll down Greville Street into Bleeding Heart Yard, the street of an unlikely Ingoldsby legend. One night in 1626, Lady Elizabeth Hatton went dancing with a mysterious stranger. Her body was discovered the next morning, lying on the cobblestones. It had been torn limb from limb, and her still-bleeding heart lay throbbing within. There are even rumours that her ghost still haunts the street. The yard is now home to the very fashionable Bleeding Heart Restaurant, with its excellent French cuisine. With over 400 different wines, another good reason to celebrate in Hatton Garden. The once-famous garden now features a private housing development.
Back in Hatton Garden itself, don’t miss a chance to appreciate the fine stone carvings of Treasure House at numbers 19-21. Look out for the narrow alley of Mitre Court where the Mitre Tavern was built by the Bishop of Ely. The latter still contains a piece of the cherry tree around which Elizabeth 1 who danced around the maypole. Ely Place, one of London’s last private roads, whose residents included the poet William Cowper and architect Charles Barry. In Shakespeare’s Richard III, Gloucester mentions the delicious strawberries in the Bishop’s garden. There is a popular Strawberry Fayre is held here in June each year.
The Gothic Church of St Etheldreda was built in the thirteenth century. It is the serving Chapel of the Bishop of Ely and was returned to the Roman Catholic Church in 1874. The ancient crypt can still be seen, as can the modern stained-glass windows and beautiful statues of local martyrs. They were erected in the 1960s following the bomb damage in World War II. Opposite the Church of St. Andrew is the tomb of Thomas Coram. He founded his famous home for orphaned and abandoned children in Hatton Garden in 1739. The Coram Foundation art treasures can be seen at 40 Brunswick Square, a 15-minute walk away.