Stories of the Streets of London

Baker, H. Barton


CHAPTER VI: Ely Place--Hatton Garden, Etc.

CHAPTER VI: Ely Place--Hatton Garden, Etc.


THERE had been a time when the foul Fleet of Pope, Gay and Swift was a clear river, taking its rise in the springs of Caen Wood, and flowing down through Kentish Town; always turbid on account of its fleet current, and given to flooding its banks, for which riotous conduct, however, much blame was attached to the River of Wells, a branch of which rose at Holborn Bars (to give its modern name) and rushed with the force of a torrent down Oldbourne, or Hilbourne, and swelled the waters of the northern stream at Oldbourne Bridge. But even as early as , Lacey, Earl of Lincoln, complained that whereas in times past the course of water running under Oldbourne and Fleet Bridges into the Thames had been of such breadth and depth that ten or twelve ships at once were with merchandise once able to come up to those bridges, the course was now so filled up with the filth of tanners and such others and the raising of wharves and the diversion of currents for mills that


this was no longer possible. In answer to this plaint the river was cleansed, though it could never again be brought to its former depth. It was cleansed again and again in the succeeding centuries, until the nuisances increasing beyond control it was left to its destiny.

As late as the reign of Elizabeth the slopes of Oldbourne on the north side were covered with fair gardens, the memories of which still linger in the names of Saffron Hill, Vine Street, Field Lane, names so strangely incongruous with such hideous rookeries. Further north the rural character of the banks of the Fleet survived to a much later date, for at Bagnigge Wells Nell Gwynne had a delightful country residence, lying in charming grounds which were afterwards converted into a spa and place of public resort, where fashionable London came to drink the waters of a chalybeate spring, as they did at Sadler's Wells.

The gardens in which the saffron and the vines and fruit trees flourished, and the strawberries were so excellent, belonged to Ely Place, founded by John de Kirkeby, Bishop of Ely, in the latter part of the thirteenth century. It was not exclusively inhabited by ecclesiastics, as John of Gaunt died within its walls. [1]  And in after reigns the Earl of Sussex and the Earl of Warwick lived there. But its most celebrated inhabitant was that high favourite of


Queen Elizabeth's, Sir Christopher Hatton. How curious it reads at the present day that one of the stipulations in the lease by which he held it was that the bishops should have the privilege of walking in the gardens and gathering twenty baskets of roses yearly !

Sir Christopher spent a large sum upon beautifying the house and grounds, and lived in high state and splendour. It is said that he won the queen's favour by his handsome person and graceful dancing, at all events she doted on him and raised him to the dignity of Lord Chancellor. Elizabeth's avarice, however, was even greater than her amourousness; Sir Christopher was indebted to her £40,000, which he hoped she would forego, but Her Majesty pressed so hard for payment that it broke her lover's heart. In her remorse, it is said, she came herself to his sick bed; yet not even the royal presence could heal the wound, and the good knight passed away in .

All that remains of Ely Place and its magnificence is the beautiful old chapel of St. Etheldreda.[2]  It was probably built at the close of the fourteenth or beginning of the fifteenth century. The destruction of the gardens is marked by an entry in Evelyn's Diary, 7th June, : " To London, to take leave of my brother, and see the foundations now laying for a long street and buildings in Hatton Garden, designed


for a little town, lately an ample garden." There are pictures of Ely House, however, standing on a
grassy lawn and shaded by trees, taken in the second half of the eighteenth century.

The shade of Charles Dickens hovers over the


whole of this neighbourhood. The old Saracen's Head on Snow Hill, which has given place to a modern hotel, was the scene of Nicholas Nickleby's first meeting with Mr. Squeers, and was the house at which John Browdie and his wife put up on their honeymoon trip. Field Lane and Saffron Hill are reminiscent of Fagin and his pupils and of Oliver Twist. No. 54 Hatton Garden was the old police court presided over by Mr. Lang, the Fang of the novel, before whom the poor little parish boy was arraigned. Bleeding Heart Yard is an important background in some of the scenes of Little Dorrit.

Leather Lane (Stow writes it " Lither") was the western boundary of Ely Place garden, and is very ancient. The clearance made for the new Assurance offices has swept away the Old Bell Tavern, with which a well-known legend of the Commonwealth was associated ; it was one of the last, if not the last, of the old galleried inns of London. And Furnival's Inn, founded in the reign of Henry IV., and associated with memories of Sir Thomas Moore and of Charles Dickens, who there wrote the first numbers of Pickwick, has gone with it.

"That gloomy and depressing thoroughfare, Brooke Street, though it has been lately modernised, has a fund of interesting reminiscences. Upon the spot now covered by St. Alban's Church stood the mansion of Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke. Courtier, statesman, poet, the friend of Sidney, Shakespeare and Ben Jonson, who must often have visited him here, the


author himself of two tragedies, Alaham and Mustapha, which, though ponderous, are not without merit, and of some pleasant poems. Lord Brooke was a man of great importance in the days of Queen Bess and her successor, and great was the consternation when () the news went abroad that he had been murdered by one of his servitors for some imaginary grievance, and that having done the deed, the assassin fell upon his own sword. I cannot discover when the mansion ceased to exist, but in Charles II.'s reign its name was changed to Warwick House, Lord Brooke having been created Earl of Warwick, under which title it is referred to by Pepys (3rd March, ). Twenty-three years later it was inhabited by the Earl of Clare, who had then just quitted his mansion in Drury Lane. [3] 

But the interest attached to Brooke Street is chiefly centred in two dark romances-one of the seventeenth, the other of the eighteenth century. In Fox Court, which, until Gray's Inn Lane was widened, was an ancient and gruesome spot, in the year , a masked lady was brought thither to the house of a midwife and secretly delivered of a child. The mysterious female was the notorious Countess of Macclesfield, her lover was Lord Rivers. Until Mr. Moy Thomas thoroughly investigated the story it was universally believed that that miserable but clever scoundrel-poet, Richard Savage, was the offspring of the amour. He always persisted that his mother was the wicked


countess, denounced her for her unnatural conduct in forsaking him, and, in fine, traded upon his alleged aristocratic bar sinister. Mr. Moy Thomas has indubitably proved that Savage was the son of a cobbler, and that the countess's child died soon after it was christened. Savage was an idle, drunken debauchee. He killed a gentleman at Charing Cross, but was saved from the gallows by Queen Caroline, upon whom he had succeeded in imposing his fabrication, and Her Majesty granted him a small pension, which ceased at her death. Johnson met him when he first came up from Lichfield, and for a while they were brothers in starvation. Savage died of fever in a Bristol gaol at the age of forty-six. Two of his poems, " The Bastard " and " The Wanderer," have much power.

Fielding, in The Covent Garden Journal, tells a good story of Savage, which might be applied to the present day. His poems had found no purchasers until the poet was thrown into Newgate. The next day the bookseller advertised the works of Mr. Savage, now under sentence of death for murder. The whole impression went off immediately. The cunning trader then offered him a good price for his dying speech and confession, which should be made at Tyburn. Savage was pardoned. But nevertheless the speech was written and published-and sold prodigiously.

Far more striking and pathetic is the episode which connects the name of Chatterton with Brooke Street. He had removed from Shoreditch to a house on the western side, which was standing not many years


ago. How he worked and starved I have shown in the previous chapter. And here came the end. Locked in his garret, he had eaten nothing for two days. On the third morning his landlady broke open the door, found the floor strewn with torn papers, and the poor youth lying dead upon his bed. He had poisoned himself with arsenic or opium. Without prayer, or knell, or kindly tear, he was interred in the buryingground of Shoe Lane Workhouse, upon which Farringdon Market was built. He was only eighteen.[4] 

It was at the Hole-in-the-Wall Passage, Brooke Street, that the Cato Street conspiracy () was first concocted to kill Wellington, Canning, Eldon and other cabinet ministers. The arms and powder were kept there.

" Port Pool, or Gray's Inn Lane," writes Stow, so called of the Inn of Court named Gray's Inn, a goodly house there situate, by whom built or first begun I have not yet learned, but seemeth to be since Edward III.'s time, and is a prebend to St. Paul's Church in London. This lane is furnished with fair buildings and many tenements on both sides, leading to the fields towards Highgate and ELY PLACE--HATTON GARDEN, ETC.


Hampstead." Some famous people had inhabited those old, overhanging, gabled-ended houses, which became so gruesome in their squalor and mouldering decay before they fell into the hands of the housebreaker. Here resided both Hampden and Pym, and previous to them James Shirley, the last of the mighty dramatists of the Shakespeare and Jonson age, and other persons notable in their day. Jacob Tonson, the noted bookseller, had a shop just inside Gray's Inn Gate.

This famous Inn of Court was originally the residence of the Lords Grey of Wilton ; the exact date of its foundation has never been discovered. Although Gray's Inn can show a most illustrious roll of great men, who have studied within its walls, including Gascoigne, the great chief-justice who committed Prince Hal to prison for contempt of the law; Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII.'s minister; the great Burleigh, Sir Nicholas Bacon, Chief-Justice Holt, Sir Philip Sidney, Sir Samuel Romilly, and, greatest of all, Francis Bacon ; while it has numbered among its chaplains five famous archbishops of Canterbury, Whitgift, Bancroft, Laud, Juxon and Sheldon; and amongst its residents George Chapman, one of "the Elizabethan" dramatists, and a translator of Homer; Hudibras Butler, William Cobbett, and, for a very short time, Johnson and Goldsmith ; yet nothing like the romance, the interest, and charm of association which pervade the Temple attach to this Inn. The garden, with its noble trees, until very


lately the home of a colony of rooks, and its bright, smooth greensward, bounded south and east by the tall, grey, venerable walls of the Inn, silent remembrancers of the generations and generations of eyes, extinguished in eternal night, that have gazed down upon it from those long narrow windows, is still a grateful and beautiful contrast to the weary desert of dingy brick by which it is encompassed. It was a favourite resort of the great author of the Novum Organum, the man who overthrew that Aristotelian philosophy that had prevailed for nearly two thousand years. Often did he walk and meditate over some of his great work upon that very ground, many of his essays being dated from Gray's Inn. The shade of Francis Bacon overshadows all other memories of the ancient house of " Pourtepole ".

In the seventeenth century the Garden was a fashionable promenade. Mr. Pepys frequently took his walks there. He also notes () a curious incident-a rebellion of the students against the Benchers, who outlawed them, but adds: " now they are at peace again". The Garden is also mentioned as a place of assignation between fine ladies and gentlemen by the dramatists of that period; but at last the doings therein became so disreputable that it had to be put under regulation and closed at certain hours.

The hall, finished in , is very handsome, with fine carvings and portraits and emblazoned windows. Queen Elizabeth held Gray's Inn in high favour,


probably on account of Burleigh's connection with it, as well as for the splendid entertainments they provided for her delectation, not only here but at Whitheall. It is said that the bench tables, now used, were her gift, and on all great occasions her "glorious, pious and immortal memory" is still drunk with much formality, only three benchers rising at a time, and then passing it on to three more, and so finally to the students.

From the reign of Henry VIII. Gray's Inn was celebrated for its Christmas, Twelfth Night and Shrovetide revels, and masquings and mummeries; they were suppressed under the intolerant Puritan regime of his son, but revived with greater splendour in the reign of Elizabeth. The grandest and most costly of all these masques, however, was given in the reign of Charles I., an account of which I shall reserve for my chapter on Whitheall. Of late years the Benchers have on several occasions revived these ancient forms of amusement in "The Masque of Flowers ".

Crossing Holborn we come upon the most unique piece of ancient domestic architecture left in London, Staple's Inn, with its oak-beamed frontage, overhanging storeys, latticed windows, pointed roofs and quaint chambers, which have housed centuries of students. The Inn is as old as the reign of the fifth Harry, and is said to have been originally an hostelry for the reception of the merchants of the wool staple. The hall, or portions of it, date back to , but most of


the quadrangle is not older than the last century. Here again we meet with the two ubiquitous names of London, Dickens and Johnson. Here were the chambers of Mr. Grewgious, of Edwin Drood-the entrance to which is marked on a stone above the doorway P. J.T. . -and here the doctor wrote Rasselas. Barnard's Inn is very old, and here again the irrepressible Boz confronts us in the persons of Pip and his friend Hubert (Great Expectations). Yet more ancient is little Thavie's Inn, for Mr. Thavie, its patron, founded it in . The old place was burned down in a later decade of the eighteenth century, and houses were erected upon the site.

West of Staple's Inn and Holborn Bars, in the reign of Henry I., the Knights Templars, whose order was then just established, raised the first Temple, which, Stow tell us, was built of Caen stone, and round in form like the later one by . It seems to have been abandoned in .

Great interest attaches to Southampton Buildings, which adjoin Staple's Inn, as having been the site of the magnificent mansion of Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, Shakespeare's loving patron, to whom the poet dedicated Venus and Adonis, and The Rape of Lucrece. Previous to Southampton's time the Earls of Lincoln, who gave their name to the famous Inn of Court, resided there; much of the ground upon which the old Temple stood must have been covered by this house. A noble and gallant young gentleman was this Henry Wriothesley, who stood by Essex in


his mad revolt, not for the love of the treason but of the man. He once gave Shakespeare £ , a very large sum in those days, to complete the purchase, either of his share in the Blackfriars and Globe Company, or of New Place, Stratford. And "Gentle Will " must have been as frequent a visitor at Southampton House as at Brooke House, and often walked in the garden of Staple's Inn, which adjoined that of his patron and friend, over that very ground, which, still uncumbered by bricks or stones, has felt the impress of his feet.

The house was demolished about , in the time of the fourth earl, who, being an exiled royalist, probably had to sell the property to supply his needs, and private tenements were built upon the site.

William Hazlitt, the essayist, lived at No. 9 Southampton Buildings, where he wrote some of his best work, and fell frantically in love with a very commonplace young woman, his landlord's daughter, whom he has celebrated in the Liber Amoris. Lamb for a time lived in apartments close by, and these two formed a tavern coterie at The Southampton, which then stood next to the Patent Office, at which Hone, Porson and George Cruickshank assisted. Many of the great humorist's caricatures were designed there; dipping a finger into his beer he would, with a few strokes of his wet digit, sketch his conceptions upon the table. In Took's Court, Cursitor Street, stood Sloman's sponging house, to which the hero of Disraeli's Henrietta Temple, Captain Armine, and


Rawdon Crawley of Vanity Fair were taken; and to those books I refer the reader for a description of the notorious den and its keeper.

Turning our faces eastward, the old Swan Distillery calls up yet another reminiscence of Dickens, as the house in which Mr. Haredale took refuge from the Gordon rioters in Barnaby Rudge. Vast changes were made in the topography of Holborn and its neighbourhood by the construction of the viaduct, and it is difficult to conjure up a picture of , Snow Hill and Skinner Street as they stood previous to those improvements. As, for instance, Wren's Church, St. Andrew's, which is now in a hollow, was then approached by a flight of steps. Stillingfleet and Dr. Sacheverell, the famous High Church champion, are numbered among the rectors of St. Andrew's, and the latter is buried there: so is John Emery, the celebrated Yorkshire comedian, and Strutt, the author of the book on Sports and Pastimes. The tower is all that is left of the ancient church, destroyed by the zeal of Edward VI.'s reformers, the present building having been raised on its site in . There is a tradition that John Webster, the author of the Duchess of Malfi, was parish clerk of St. Andrew's, but no record confirms it.

There are a couple of thoroughfares that claim some little attention before I pass on to the stories of Fleet Street-Shoe and Fetter Lanes. The quaint name of the former is at least as old as Stow's time: previous to the Holborn Valley improvements it was narrow


and ancient throughout. In mediaeval times the bishops of Bangor had a town house there, a part of which was standing in , and is kept in remembrance by Bangor Court, a wretched collection of hovels, strange successors to the splendours of papal bishops.

In Gunpowder Alley died, of actual want, that sweet and noble cavalier-lyrist, Richard Lovelace, who, in the poem To Althea in Prison, wrote the world-famous couplet:- Stone walls do not a prison make, Nor iron bars a cage. He lies in St. Bride's Church, close by. In this alley also lived Lilly, the astrologer, prophet, wizard and almanac maker, much consulted during the Civil War by royalists, including the king, as well as by the Puritans, who likewise employed him as a spy. The houses in the alley are so ancient that the veritable dwellings of these two men may yet survive.

Another curious survival of ancient times is Poppin Court, originally Poppingay Alley. It was the sign of the Inn of the Abbots of Cirencester, who were formerly housed there when they visited London.

In Fetter or Fewter[5]  Lane resided for a while John Dryden; his reputed dwelling, opposite the Record Office, has not been pulled down many years; his vis-a-vis was Otway, the dramatist; Praise-God Barebones was a leather seller at the corner of Crane Court; Lamb and his sister went to school in a house in the passage which connects the lane with


Bartlett's Buildings; Hobbes wrote his famous Leviathan in Fetter Lane. No. 96 was, until very recently, a noted dissenting chapel, founded in , and rebuilt in . It was in the original building that the accession of George I. was first proclaimed. When Queen Anne was dying, that perfervid Whig, Bishop Burnet, was summoned on Sunday morning to her deathbed; on his way to the palace he met Thomas Bradbury, the minister of this chapel, told him the news and arranged that as soon as all was over he would despatch a messenger to the conventicle with orders to place himself in the gallery exactly opposite the preacher and drop a handkerchief. The queen passed away as was anticipated, the signal was given, and Bradbury was not only the first to proclaim her decease but her successor as well.

A reminiscence of quite another kind is attached to a ruinous old house at the corner of Fleur de Lys Court; it was there that the terrible Mrs. Brownrigg, a midwife to St. Dunstan's Workhouse, perpetrated those horrible cruelties upon two apprentice girls which have made her name notorious for ever, and for which she was executed at Newgate. I have often looked down through the gratings into the dismal cellar where the poor girls were flogged and cut with scissors, and otherwise tortured.

There were some notable old taverns in Fetter Lane: the Magpie and Stump, and the White Horse, once a well-known posting house, about which many memories clung, but they have all vanished.


[1] See Shakespeare's Richard II., Act ii., Scene I, and Richard III., Act iii., Scene 4.

[2] Etheldreda was the daughter of a king of the West Saxons who did much towards founding Ely Cathedral, of which she was elected patron saint.

[3] See Clare Market.

[4] This is no place to enter into the question as to who was to blame for the sad catastrophe. Much odium was thrown upon Horace Walpole; but what man would have acted differently to what he did when convinced that the Rowley poems were a forgery ? Here was the deceit by which Chatterton destroyed himself; and it was one of the most curious aberrations of intellect on record. Had he admitted himself to be the author of those wonderful poems, written by a schoolboy, there is little doubt that, even in that Boeotian age, he would have been taken by the hand and acclaimed a genius.

[5] A Norman form of the French foutre, a vagabond, of which species this thoroughfare was anciently a resort.