London, Volume 3

Knight, Charles


LIX. Clerkenwell.

LIX. Clerkenwell.




Sir Walter Scott, in the last chapter of


while alluding to the imperceptible gradations by which national and political changes are wrought, remarks,

Like those who drift down the stream of a deep and smooth river, we are not aware of the progress we have made until we fix our eye on the now distant point from which we have been drifted.

As with political changes, so is it with the topographical features of a country, a district, or a parish. We may see houses and streets springing up around us; we may see green fields turned into brick-fields, and pleasant paths into paved streets; we may find a little road-side inn transformed into a dazzling


and direction-posts and mile-stones replaced by gas-lamps; the stagecoach may be superseded by the


and the omnibus, and the drowsy and decrepit watchman by the active policeman. These changes, if watched as they proceed, become familiar to us: we are rendered accustomed to change before another occurs; and, like the growth of a brother or sister with whom we live, we are hardly conscious that the change is really occurring. But if we direct a glance back to a former period, forgetting the steps by which the present has resulted from the past--if we

fix our eye on the now distant point from which we have been drifted

--we regard the amount of change as something almost inexplicable, and wonder how such things can be.



Those who reside in the outskirts of London have such changes as these presented to them in a very marked degree. North, south, east, and west-- on all sides a period of years is sufficient to change the whole appearance of the border of London, if such a border can be found. The parish of CLerkenwell was, generations ago, a part of this border; for it was separated very decidedly from the village of fields and country paths forming the communication from to the other. But now where are the fields or the paths? And where are the fields and gardens which, even or years ago, lay at the north and the west of the ? They are gone, or going so rapidly that we can scarcely trace them. Let every now look around him from the


at , and remember that it was this spot which was thus alluded to in :--

It was customary for travellers approaching London to remain all night at the

Angel Inn

, rather than to venture after dark to prosecute their journey along ways which were almost equally dangerous from their bad state and their being so greatly infested with thieves.

Let him then turn his attention to the western end of Perceval Street, in Street Road: here, in ,

persons walking from the City to


in the evening waited near the end of

St. John's

Street, in what is now termed

Northampton Street

(but was then a rural avenue, planted with trees, called

Wood's Close

), until a sufficient party had collected, who were then escorted by an armed patrole appointed for that purpose.

[n.130.1]  Not only has this important highway ceased to present the discouraging characteristics here mentioned, but the whole vicinity on both sides has since become crowded with streets.

Although the parish of Clerkenwell extends beyond the New or Paddington Road towards the north, yet the district to which the name of Clerkenwell was more particularly attached in past times is that immediately surrounding , the Close, and . The village of Clerkenwell ramified from the Priory of St. John as a centre, and was for many ages included within a small circuit around it: nearly all which is northward of the Close may be regarded as modern. Before taking a rapid glance at the changes which this part of London has undergone, and showing its chief peculiarities at the present day, it may be well to mention the limits within which Clerkenwell as a parish is bounded. The Road, from the to the


at , forms the eastern boundary of the parish; the northern boundary lies at about - of a mile northward of the Paddington Road, from , , or rather the , to near : the River Fleet then forms the western limit of the parish, from (once ) to ; and an irregular line from , past the south-end of , to the Garden, completes the boundary.

This district is supposed to have been formerly a continuation of the great moor or morass which extended from Spitalfields to and Finsbury; not itself actually a morass, but a succession of gentle pastures and slopes, bounded on the east by the morass, and on the west by the

River of Wells,

afterwards the

River Fleet,

then the

Fleet Ditch,

and, finally, the common


sewer.[n.131.1]  There is evidence, from a consideration of the relative levels of the surrounding spots, that there must have been here a pleasant alternation of hill and dale: the River of Wells flowing along a depressed channel between hills, where are now the abodes of filth and wretchedness; and the Holeburne or Oldbourne, with vineyards on its banks, flowing into the former at the spot now known as Bridge. Fitzstephen, in the year , speaks of the

open, pleasant meadows, the flowing rivulets, and the noise of the water-wheels,

in the suburbs on the northern side of the City wall.

We have reason to believe, from details given in a former chapter,[n.131.2]  that the site of the assemblage of streets now forming Clerkenwell was, years ago, a green and pleasant country spot, having numerous springs and wells, which were resorted to in holiday fashion. About the same period were founded those monastic or ecclesiastical establishments, which formed a nucleus for the dwelling-houses built on the spot: we mean the Priory of St. John of Jerusalem, and the Nunnery of St. Mary. These were situated on the opposite sides of what is now , the Priory on the south, and the Nunnery on the north; and Mr. Cromwell gives the following imaginary picture of the scene by which the inmates were surrounded :--

On every side but that towards the City they had the prospect of wooded hills and uplands, intermingled with vales of luxuriant verdure, contiguous was the well-dressed, and;:we will doubt not, richly productive vineyard; and at unequal distances from their precincts, towards the west, the ground fell into those romantic steeps and secluded dells amongst which the river took its course, and created, as it rushed through the numerous mills erected over it, the


sounds which enkindled the descriptive enthusiasm of Fitzstephen. In the contemplation of such a scene, we could for the moment forego all the advantages resulting from that altered state of things which has closed the view of it for ever, and almost sigh for the return of times, when the spread of commerce and the improvements of civilisation had not deprived our suburb of natural beauties of so rich an order.


There is very little evidence remaining to show the rate or the manner in which buildings gradually sprang up around the Priory and the Nunnery. In Aggas's Map of London, dated , very few streets or houses are represented in this neighbourhood, except those immediately contiguous to, or occupying the site of, the monastic buildings. Cow Cross, , and the southern end of , are represented; but bounded on sides by little else than fields. By the year , according to Malcolm, [n.131.4]  a number of fine houses had been built in the district, which were inhabited by persons of rank and fashion. A list of





is given, as having lived in , , , , and , in that year. How large would be the circle, round the same centre, which would include an equal number of the titled and the high-born at the present day?

In the year the number of houses in Clerkenwell were reckoned at ; in , ; and in , . The changes which occurred during these intervals were of kinds, viz. the increase of buildings generally northward of


the site of the Priory; and the departure of titled and wealthy persons to other parts of London. It is probable that we may place at the beginning of the last century, or the latter end of the preceding , the commencement of that remarkable localisation which has ever since distinguished the spot. What was the circumstance which led to the establishment of , and of the metropolis in the parish of Clerkenwell we do not know; nor have we heard any plausible reason assigned by those who, residing on the spot, and carrying on these branches of manufacture,--might be supposed to be best informed on the matter. But be the case what it may, the fact is certain. Although there are dealers in these articles of traffic in other parts of the metropolis, the real are to be-found in Clerkenwell; not without exception, certainly, but with exceptions so few as to render the rule more striking. From to the , and from to , there is scarcely a street which does not contain some artisans in these departments of handicraft; and in many of the streets nearly the whole of the houses are thus occupied. Let any , as a-matter of curiosity, make a tour of inspection, and glance at the door-plates and inscriptions: he will see a curious exemplification of what is here. stated. He must not, when he sees the designations,








&c.,: imagine that these are avocations of totally different kinds from those alluded to above: they all form, as we shall endeavour to show in a future page, only;a small part of the subdivisions to which the watch-manufacture has been subjected. There are not, as in , large buildings and open yards to indicate the nature of the staple manufacture carried on; nor are there, as in Spitalfields, humble private dwellings, whose windows present a characteristic appearance. The house of a Clerkenwell watchmaker is simply a

private house,

in the common English acceptation of the term; having in some cases a workshop constructed in the rear. There are a few of these houses which have an open shop at the ground-story, for the sale of articles connected with watches and jewellery; but in by far the greater number of instances the inscription on the doorplate alone indicates the nature of the business carried on within.

As the present is best illustrated by comparing it with the past, we will take a rapid circuit of the district chiefly occupied by these manufacturers, and shew what are the changes which the principal streets have undergone, and how they are now occupied.

Let us begin at the

spot where Hicks's Hall formerly stood.

There is a part of , not very far from Smithfield, which presents a much greater width than any other portion of the street, and greater than we customarily find in London. It occurs at the spot where terminates at . In what is now the roadway of this wide portion of the street once stood Hicks's Hall, having a carriage-way on all sides of it, in the same manner as, the now has on . This Hall was built in the year , for the accommodation of the Justices of the Peace for the county of Middlesex, who had previously met at a common inn called the


in , where they were much inconvenienced by

carriers, and many other sorts of people.



The place here indicated is the southernmost extremity of Clerkenwell parish, and is not unworthy of notice from the associations connected with its vicinity. Southward of it we have the Priory and Hospital of St. Bartholomew; eastward, the ; and northward the Priory of St. John of Jerusalem-all of which have occupied our attention in former chapters of this work. Within a short distance, too, is the busy market of Smithfield, the supply of which gives rise to some of the busiest scenes which presents. On the evenings of Thursday and Sunday, and on the mornings of Friday and Monday, the whole length of Street, from end to end, is rendered bustling and diversified by the passing of cattle and sheep to Smithfield.[n.133.1] 

The portion of Clerkenwell included between Street and , and terminated at the north by , and on the south by the , comprises probably about - of the area of the parish, the southern half of it being much more ancient than the northern. , leading from of the above-named streets to the other, separates the parish of Clerkenwell from the grounds of the ; and this is the locality of the

Pardon Churchyard,

alluded to in our account of the [n.133.2]  as having had such celebrity soon after the plague of . The streets immediately north of this spot do not partake, in any great degree, of the character which we have assigned to modern Clerkenwell: they are in general small and humble.

When we arrive northward as far as , which is of the numerous streets leading from of the great thoroughfares to the other, we approach a district which, until the present century, presented but a sprinkling of houses here and there, instead of the compact mass of streets now exhibited. The names of Compton, Northampton, Perceval, Spencer, Wynyate, and Ashby, which these new streets, present, are given from various names and titles pertaining to the Marquis of Northampton, the principal ground-landlord of the district. There is still to be seen, at the corner of , a large house which was once the town residence of the Northampton family, and the vicinity of which has undergone singular changes since the period when the house was thus occupied. The plot of ground which now forms was then a garden, or part of a garden, situated behind and belonging to the mansion. On every other side were open fields and rural paths. Now how great is the difference! The house itself has undergone various changes and subdivisions, the garden is an inhabited square, and the fields and paths are transformed into streets which are inhabited principally by the class of persons before alluded to. The sameness, the dulness, the quiet respectability, which distinguish the


streets of Clerkenwell, are nowhere more observable than within the quadrangular space bounded by Road, Wynyate Street, Street Road, and . We may here observe that a small portion of the parish of St. Luke, immediately eastward of the district here described, is occupied in a similar manner.

Immediately adjacent to the Northampton estate, and occupying the principal portion--of the ground from thence to the


at , is a valuable estate belonging to the Brewers' Company, the acquisition of which is traced to a


circumstance tinged with much of the air of a romance. Stow mentions the popular notion entertained on the matter; while subsequent documents have tended to confirm it. In the latter end of the century the spot of ground here indicated was used as a cow-lair. morning a Miss Wilkes, daughter of a gentleman who owned this property, was walking here with her maid, and observing a woman milking a cow, was seized with a whim to try her own skill in a similar manner. She had scarcely stooped in the act of putting her wish into execution, when an arrow, from the bow of a gentleman who was exercising himself in archery in the neighbourhood, pierced and carried away her high-crowned hat. Impressed with an agitated consciousness of the narrow escape which her life had had, she resolved to raise some monument of her gratitude on that same spot, should she ever become its possessor. After an interval of many years, and when she had become the wife of Sir Thomas Owen, of the judges of the Court of Common Pleas, she purchased the field, and built thereon alms-houses, and a free grammar-school, which she afterwards bequeathed to the Brewers' Company. On the gable front of the school were fixed arrows- on the apex, and the other on the corners--as a memorial of the event. That the almshouses and the school were built by Lady Owen, and by her presented to the Brewers' Company, is a matter of no doubt; and the story of the arrow is so pretty a that it deserves to be true likewise.
Let us now pass over to the western side of Street, and see what are the changes which time and manufactures have made. Beginning again at the

place where Hicks's Hall formerly stood,

and passing up , we come to the time-honoured spot which occupied our attention in a former chapter.[n.134.1]  Not only has the building over the Gate, as was there detailed, been transformed into a public-house, but , which was at time part of the Priory precincts, and afterwards a place of residence for the titled and the wealthy, has become a region of watchmakers and jewellers. The

secret springer

and the





and the


have usurped the place of the Hospitallers of St. John: romance and chivalry have departed, and have made way for the apron and the work-bench. Each is fitted for a certain stage in the progress of society; and while we acknowledge that the former wrought some good in their day, we have scarcely a right to regret that such times are passed away.

When passing through the little avenue called

Jerusalem Passage,

which leads from to , or rather to , we have on the left a mass of houses which occupy both sides of the site of the northern wall of the Priory. Imagine to be really a green, bounded on the south by a wall, through a postern-gate in which the priors and monks had ingress and egress; and on the north by the wall of the Nunnery, also with its postern-gate. Imagine also a fine open country on all sides (except perhaps on the south), with vineyards and meadows, and springs and rivulets. We shall then have an idea of what this spot once was. The subsequent changes tell their own tale. , branching out southward from , passes through what was once the garden of the Priory, and exhibits, even to a greater extent than , the peculiar features of modern Clerkenwell. In order to convey to those who are not familiar with this district an idea of the peculiarity to which we have so often alluded, we perhaps cannot do better than instance the street here mentioned. Out of about houses in this street, between and are occupied by manufacturers of clocks, watches, or jewellery, either under those designations, or some of the many subdivisions to which the manufacture is subjected.

, now a street of middle-class shops, once boasted of its mansions and its gardens. In the space which now separates this street from once stood Aylesbury House and Gardens, the town-residence of the Earls of Aylesbury in the reign of Charles II. By the year it was spoken of as being

still standing, but let out in tenements;

and a portion of it is still supposed to form the house at the north-east corner of .

But derives something like celebrity from another circumstance, which connects it with the Shaksperian times. In a small street, branching from it on the north, called Woodbridge Street, but formerly known as Red , once stood the celebrated

Red Bull Theatre,

of the many which existed in London during the latter part of the and the beginning of the centuries. It is said to have rivalled in size the


theatre at , and the


near ; and to have excelled all the others. There are many scattered notices of the theatre in the writers of that period, from which it appears to have been held in much repute. During the puritanical furor of a later date, this theatre, like the others, seems to have fallen in the shade: but it was not, like some of them, actually destroyed; for we find that short comic pieces were acted there during the reign of Charles II. In a small octavo volume, of which copies exist at the , called

The Wits, or Sport upon Sport,

written by Francis Kirkman in , there is a frontispiece representing the interior of the Red Bull Theatre, with actors on a square platform, and audience on all sides.

In the preface to the book is a paragraph which throws some light on the


condition of the theatre at that time :--

When the publique theatres were shut up, and the actors forbidden to present us with any of their tragedies, because we had enough of that in earnest, and comedies, because the vices of the age were too lively and smartly represented, then all that we could divert ourselves with were these humors and pieces of plays

(alluding to several which the volume contains),

which, passing under the name of a merry, conceited fellow, called Bottom the Weaver, Simpleton the Smith, John Swabber, or some such title, were only allowed us, and that but by stealth too, and under pretence of ropedancing or the like; and these being all that was permitted us, great was the confluence of the auditors; and these small things were as profitable, and as great get-pennies to the actors, as any of our late famed plays. I have seen the RED BULL playhouse, which was a large


, so full, that as many went back from want of room as entered; and as meanly as you may now think of these drolls, they were then acted by the best comedians then and now in being.

It is supposed to have been at this theatre that the ever acted on the English stage, the female characters having been played by boys and youths till about the time of the restoration; for Thomas Jordan, an actor at the Red Bull, wrote a prologue to introduce



woman that came to act on the stage

as Desdemona. At what time this theatre was destroyed does not clearly appear; but its site is probably now occupied by part of a distillery, which extends from thence into .

At the corner of Jerusalem Passage and , according to Messrs. Storer (Malcolm places it

next to

St. John's


which may perhaps mean the same thing), resided the eccentric Thomas Britton, who was known to high and low as the

Musical small-coal man.

The lower part of his house was a receptacle for small-coal, in which he was a dealer; but the upper floor was a concert-room, where he indulged a taste, or we may properly call it a passion, for music in a very singular way. There were but few concerts in London at that time (about a century and a half ago), and the novelty of the thing was, no doubt, quite as attractive as its excellence. The concert-room, which was ascended by a kind of ladder in the open air, attracted, as Dibdin relates,

all the fashion. of the age, who flocked regularly every week to taste a delight of which the English were grown so fond, that it was considered as vulgar then not to have attended Britton's Concert as it would be now not to have heard Banti.

These concerts were

got up

by certain lovers of music, who, desirous to encourage merit in of humble station, and struck, probably, with the whimsicality of the circumstance, formed themselves into a musical club, whose meetings were held in Britton's house, he himself playing the viol-di-gamba. The celebrated Dubourg, the violinist, made his appearance before the public as a child, standing upon a stool in this room. Britton was not only a lover of music; he was also a collector of drawings, prints, books, manuscripts, and musical instruments of rare or obsolete forms. Some of these he collected for distinguished noblemen, who made him their agent; and he is said to have frequently met his employers in a bookseller's shop at the corner of , on which occasions he would


his coal-sack on a bulk at the door

(for he was an itinerant vendor),

and, dressed in his blue frock, which was necessarily somewhat discoloured by his occupation, step in-and spend an

improving hour with the company.

This singular character died in the year ; and the site of his

musical small-coal warehouse

is now occupied by a public-house.

We have spoken of a Nunnery which once bounded on the north. This occupied the site of what are now the parish church and the Close; indeed, the latter was the Nunnery Close, and the former, before it was rebuilt about half a century ago, was part of the ancient conventual church. The Nunnery was built nearly at the same period as the adjacent Priory of St. John, and continued in existence till the dissolution by Henry VIII. Scarcely anything is known of its history, its architectural features, or its historical associations; differing very widely, in this respect, from the Priory. After the Reformation, when that great event, as well as the dissolution of the monastic establishments, had rendered necessary a remodelling of the parochial affairs of so many parts of England, the church of Nunnery was made a parochial church, and dedicated to St. James, the other portions of the Nunnery enclosure passing into the hands of the Duke of Newcastle; while the choir of the church of the Priory became known as .

The Duke (then Earl) of Newcastle built a family mansion on the site, and partly out of the ruins, of the Nunnery, a little northward of the old church. Whoever would now look for this, among many large mansions once to be found in Clerkenwell, or rather for the site which it once occupied, must pass from the Close through in the direction of the church, leaving the entrance to the on his left. He will then be standing where Newcastle House stood until about half a century back. The Earl of Newcastle, on whose estates the enormous sum of -quarters of a million sterling was levied by Cromwell's Parliament, and who returned to England from exile at the



spent nearly the whole remainder of his life in the retirement afforded by his seat at Clerkenwell, where he took much pleasure in literary pursuits, and paid some necessary attention to repairing the injuries sustained by his fortune.

On the opposite side of the Close once stood a large house called Cromwell House, said traditionally to have been inhabited by Oliver Cromwell. In the last century, according to Storer, it was

in the occupation of William Blackborow, Esq., many years in the commission of the peace for the County of Middlesex, who died here, at an advanced age,

September 16, 1794

. It was destroyed by fire some years since, and the spot on which it stood is occupied by the modern buildings of

Cromwell Place


All the antiquities of what was once the Nunnery Close are gone,--the Nunnery itself, the old church, Newcastle House, Cromwell House, all have given way to the present narrow streets, filled with the private houses of working tradesmen. The Nunnery Close and are the same; yet how different! The modern St. James's Church and the Clerkenwell are the only erections in or around it worth a glance in respect to aught save manufacturing industry.

There is a narrow belt of the parish of Clerkenwell, which, as we stated in a former page, is bounded on the west by the Fleet ditch; indeed, the ditch separates it from the parish of St. Andrew, . This part of the parish, lying westward of and , differs greatly from most of the districts which we have passed through. There are few




few respectable streets, few associations by which we may look back upon the past through the present. The streets, the houses, and the inhabitants are generally of a humble class. There is, however, a little northward of the on , a spot which has given no less than a name to the whole parish. It must be remembered that the district or belt now under consideration slopes down very rapidly from to the Fleet ditch, as any may see who wishes to reach by this route; and alng this slope the water was wont, in ancient times, to flow from certain springs to the

River of Wells.

of these springs, called

Fay's Well,

is believed to have been situated near the junction of and , and was closed over about the middle of the last century. Westward of this, at a little distance from , in , was the

Clerks' Well,

from which the parish is named. Of the early history of this well, and of the dramatic performances which are said to have been held around its brink, we have before spoken. We need, therefore, here merely state that it was situated just without the western wall of the Nunnery; and was in after years presented to the parish by the then owner of the ground. Whoever would wish to see a record of this ancient well, let him proceed from through towards ; and by the side of a tiny shop, occupied by a

Dealer in singing birds,

he will see a misshapen and rudely-constructed pump, with an inscription denoting that the water which flows from that pump is derived from the

Clerks' Well.

Of those who have witnessed and admired (or perhaps censured) the

Beggar's Opera,

few would now know the locality there mentioned by the name of


It was a situated near the northern end


of what now constitutes ; and as Mrs. Peachum says to Filch,

You must go to Hockley-in-the-Hole, and to Marybone, child, to learn valour,

we may draw a probable inference of the degree of respectability attached to its name.
Westward of this spot, and extending in the direction of , is a district once known as the Jervoise Estate. On the site of the row of houses now called , at the eastern end of , formerly resided Sir John Oldcastle, afterwards Lord Cobham, a distinguished nobleman in the reign of Edward III. He it was who promulgated Wickliffe's writings among the people, an act for which he was burnt in the year . His memory was held in great respect by the public at large, and for a long period afterwards the plot of ground on which his house stood was named after him. At a subsequent period a house of entertainment, called the

Sir John Oldcastle,

was opened on this spot. About years ago a portion of the Cobham Estate was presented by the then proprietor to the trustees of a Small-pox Hospital, the of its kind in Europe. The institution, at its establishment, consisted of buildings: in , at , and the here alluded to; but afterwards the arrangements were confined to Hospitals--that at , , for preparing and inoculating patients; and that on the Cobham Estate, for receiving the patients as soon as the disease appeared, and also those who caught the disease naturally. The Hospital at Coldbath Fields was held in the house formerly known as the

Sir John Oldcastle,

which was itself supposed to comprise a part of the ancient mansion of that nobleman; but a new building was subsequently constructed, and used as a Small-pox Hospital till the year , when the operations of the charity were removed to . The estate, at


a later period, passed into the hands of

Lady Huntingdon's Connexion,

who occupy the neighbouring chapel in . By degrees, streets have been built around the spot once occupied as the Hospital, and the whole neighbourhood is known by the general name of Coldbath Fields.

The name just given, as well as those of , Sadler's Wells, the London Spa, and the


alluded to by the earlier topographers, point to of the distinguishing characteristics of this locality. The tract of ground immediately eastward of the appears to have been singularly rich in springs, many of which were medicinal. A

cold spring

was discovered near the top of , about a century and a half ago, and was, by the proprietor of the estate on which it was found, converted into a bath, which, under the name of the

Cold Bath,

was said to be

the most noted and


about London.

The entrance to the bath may still be seen in a short street branching out of , but its appearance is very different from that represented in a picturesque view of the spot in . Another of these spots, so well known as

Sadler's Wells,

derives its name from a spring which was discovered in the garden of Sadler, who was the proprietor of a


the forerunner of the present theatre. The water was said to be ferruginous, and so valuable for certain complaints, that the well was visited by



six hundred

persons every morning.

A instance is the once famous



situated a little southward of the theatre, in a street leading into Street Road. This spa was opened so long as centuries ago, and was visited by persons of distinction from the west end of the town. of the daughters of King George II. were accustomed to drink the waters there daily. Even to the present day a glimpse may be obtained of the pretty gardens belonging to the



which, like the

Cold Bath,

has not yet lost all its once high reputation. A instance is, or was, afforded by the

London Spa,

a medicinal spring of much repute on the spot now occupied by a public-house of the same name, at the eastern end of . With this may be associated the

New Wells,

situated a little southward of it, where now is ; but both have long ceased to show any evidence of existence. Lastly, we may mention the

Bagnigge Wells


reputed to have been once the country residence of Nell Gwynne, and afterwards celebrated for a medicinal spring discovered there.

Our purpose, in this topographical sketch, being only to notice such matters as illustrate the changes which Clerkenwell has undergone from age to age, and not to offer particular descriptions of churches, prisons, theatres, and private buildings, we shall say but little of the remaining parts of the parish. Nearly all the portion northward of and was open fields until comparatively modern times, the ,[n.140.1]  and the buildings connected with it, being the only occupied spot of any importance from thence to the ; but now there are streets and squares in great number, either built or building; and

Spa Fields,

whose name is unfavourably associated with certain riotous proceedings in bygone days, are no longer to be met with. Valleys and depressions have been filled up; eminences have been lowered; water-pipes, and gas-pipes, and pavements, have been laid down; brick and the fields have been


levelled; churches have been opened; wells and springs, spas and baths, are becoming less and less frequented; and the whole district is losing, by the natural operation of commercial speculation, what little of romance once pertained to it. Of that portion of the parish which is situated northward of the , and which is more generally known by the name of



the same remark may be made: it is entirely occupied by streets of modern houses.

It is scarcely possible to pass through the streets of Clerkenwell without entertaining a wish to know somewhat of the arrangements by which the peculiar manufacture: the district are carried on. If we cannot obtain an answer to the question,

Why are so many manufacturers of


kind assembled in this spot?

we may at least gain a little insight into the commercial economy by which the trade is regulated; and to this we now draw the reader's attention.

Very little is known respecting the early history of the watch and clock manufacture in London, or even in England. It appears to have made a noiseless progress, and to have left but few records of its advancement. A pamphlet, published in , purports to convey the

Reasons of the English Clock and Watch Makers against the Bill to confirm the pretended new Invention of using precious and common Stones about Watches, Clocks, and other Engines;

and another contains

Reasons humbly offered by the Jewellers, Diamond-cutters, Lapidaries, Engravers in Stone, &c., against the Bill for Jewel-Watches.

These documents seem to point to the period when the jewelling of watches was introduced a term which relates, not to the outward adornment by means of jewels, but to the use of hard stones as a material in which to make pivot-holes for a watch movement. It is plain that the manufacture of a watch must have attained a considerable stage of advancement before such a refined improvement as this would be thought of; and we may reasonably conclude that the trade of watchmaking was an important in England nearly a century and a half ago.

From time to time parliamentary inquiries have been made into matters affecting in a greater or less degree this branch of manufacture; and from these sources we gain a little information concerning the internal arrangements of the fraternity. The peculiar construction of a pocket-watch, whereby its qualities cannot be estimated by the purchaser except by experience, led to the custom of engraving the name of the maker on some part of the watch as a guarantee of its excellence; and there were enactments making a neglect of this precaution a punishable offence. The trade was also placed under the control of a company, which was thus described by a witness examined before a Committee of the in :--

All the clockmakers and other persons using that trade within London and


miles compass therefrom, are incorporated into


body politic, with powers to make bye-laws for the government of all those persons who should use the trade throughout England, and to control the importation of foreign clocks and watches into this country, and mark such as were imported.

By the custom of thus marking foreign watches with the stamp of the Clockmakers' Company-by the custom of marking the works of each English watch with the name of the maker, and by the custom of stamping the gold or silver cases at Goldsmiths' Hall, the number of watches produced in England became tolerably well ascertained, although the number of men employed therein appears never to have been determined. Mr. Jacob (

On the

Precious Metals

) estimates the average annual number of watches which pass through Goldsmiths' Hall at gold and silver. This estimate is a good deal under that which is given in a Report of the Committee of the , made in . It is there stated that in the year there were watches marked at Goldsmiths' Hall; but that in consequence of the imposition of a duty on clocks and watches, and also of a licence-duty for the sale of watches, the number marked was reduced, by the year , to ; from which it was estimated that watches less were made in London in than in . These enactments were afterwards repealed, but the number never again reached the standard of .

An ordinary gold or silver watch passes through considerably more than hands, each workman performing a part of the operation to which his whole attention is directed, and differing from that of every other. It is perhaps still more surprising that this minute subdivision relates, after all, only to what may be termed the finishing of a watch; for the watch


are made almost wholly in Lancashire. On opening a pocket-watch, we see that there are parallel brass-plates, having between them the greater portion of the wheels belonging to the watch: this portion is known by the manufacturers under the general name of the


and is that to which we here refer. Whether it is that the Lancashire watch-movements excel those which could be made in Clerkenwell in excellence or in price, we shall not attempt to decide; but certain it is that almost every English watch, of whatever quality, has its


made in Lancashire.

Let us follow the


in its progress towards completion. On its arrival in London it is purchased by the


a tradesman who hires the services of the numerous sub-branches alluded to above. It is to be supplied with the


or mechanism in connection with the hands; with a


and connecting mechanism; with an


or apparatus for insuring the uniform


of the watch; with a


generally of silver or gold; with a


generally enamelled, but sometimes of chased metal; with a


and with other appendages. The manufacturer gives these various parts to be made by certain persons who undertake definite portions; and these parties further subdivide to a degree of minuteness scarcely credible. The


for instance, so far from being workman who manufactures everything relating to an escapement, may be a

duplex-escapement maker,

or a

lever-escapement maker,

or a

horizontal-escapement maker;

he may also have under him many workmen, each of whom is employed in, and is competent only to the manufacture of, some particular part of some kind of escapement. The enamelled dial of the watch, too, instead of being perfected by man, passes through the hands of several: man forms the dial out of sheet copper; another coats it with the beautiful enamel; a paints the letters and figures in enamel colours; and a adjusts the dial to the other parts of the watch. The case, in like manner, passes through many hands; for besides the workmen employed in actually making it, there is the


who forms the mechanism by which the halves of the case close together; the


who engraves those curious devices which ornament the cases of some watches; the


who constructs the loop and apparatus by which the watch is suspended from the chain, guard, or watch-ribbon. The


of the watch form a branch of the manufacture totally distinct from the others; so does that of the

watch-key ;

and even that of the little


by which we regulate the


of the watch when too fast or too slow. Some of the wheels of the watch are considered so far distinct as to have their teeth formed by workmen who do not cut the teeth of other wheels. The


likewise, a conical piece of brass on which the chain is wound by the watch-key from the barrel, is made by who is wholly employed as a


In the


of a watch, some men are employed in preparing the stones, and others in making the pivot-holes. Thus we might go on dissecting a watch to its minutest parts, and showing that the more we do so, the more numerous shall we find the subdivision of workmen who made the watch.





is a tradesman who understands the relative positions and the combined action of all the parts of a watch, and is therefore competent to bring into whole all the various parts which have been thus made. They are generally persons possessing some considerable capital, as occupying the channel through which the purchaser deals with the actual makers. The watch-manufacturers of Clerkenwell are the class to which we here more particularly allude; for many of the retail dealers in watches in other parts of London merely purchase the articles in a finished state, to sell again at a profit.

We are now enabled to form an idea of the manner in which this system of manufacture gives rise to the present condition of Clerkenwell, as the centre of the watch-trade. There are not or men employed in a large factory, to make a watch throughout; but there are or distinct classes of tradesmen, comprising, perhaps, times that number of minor subdivisions, all living and working at their own homes, and contributing the various parts to a watch, which is finally completed by the


Some of these or are men possessing sufficient capital to employ in their workshops a considerable number of workmen, among whom they can carry out the principle of the division of labour to a still greater extent; while others are humble artizans who work at their own homes, taking no more work than they can execute with their own hands, or perhaps with an apprentice. A writer on the clockmanufacture, some years ago,[n.143.1]  makes the following observations on of the results to which this system of minute subdivision is likely to lead :--

The custom of working by piecemeal from established models, which, it must be allowed, contributes greatly to expedition and cheapness, has no doubt conduced to exclude calculation and geometrical principles from the workshops of the present day. Whence it arises that, if we wish to be introduced to the workman who has had the greatest share in the construction of our best clocks, we must often submit to be conducted up some narrow passage of our metropolis, and to mount into some dirty attic, where we find illiterate ingenuity closely employed in earning a mere pittance, compared with the price which is put on the finished machine by the vendor.



It is curious to compare the condition and habits of life of the Clerkenwell watch-makers with those of the Swiss artisans. There are some districts in Switzerland, the inhabitants of which are almost wholly occupied in the watch manufacture. Dr. Bowring, in his Report on Swiss Manufactures (), states:

The Jura mountains have been the cradle of much celebrity in the mechanical arts, particularly in those more exquisite productions of which a minute complication is a peculiar character. During the winter, which lasts from




months, the inhabitants are, as it were, imprisoned in their dwellings, and occupied in those works which require the utmost developement of skilful ingenuity. Nearly a

hundred and twenty thousand

watches are produced annually in the elevated regions of Neufchatel. In Switzerland, the most remarkable of the French watchmakers, and among them


who has lately obtained the gold medal at Paris for his beautiful watch-movements, had their birth and education; and a sort of honourable distinction attaches to the watch-making trade.

Without entering far into the question of the alleged injury which the English manufacturer has been said to suffer from the importation of foreign watches, there is a remark which was made to Dr. Bowring by of the principal watch-manufacturers of Geneva, which seems to us too important to be omitted:--

The watches of English manufacture do not come into competition with those of Swiss production, which are used for different purposes, and by a different class of persons. Notwithstanding all the risks and charges, the sale of Swiss watches is large, and it has not really injured the English watch-making trade. The English watches are far more solid in construction, fitter for service, and especially in countries where no good watchmakers are to be found, as the Swiss watches require delicate treatment. English watches, therefore, are sold to the purchaser who can pay a high price: the Swiss watches supply the classes to whom a costly watch is inaccessible.


It may perhaps be right to state that the making of a clock is not subjected to so many minute divisions as that of a watch; but be they few or many, the part of the metropolis to which we must look for most of the makers of both these specimens of human ingenuity is .


[n.130.1] J. and H. S. Storer, and T. Cromwell, History and Description of the Parish of Clerkenwell, --a book to which we shall be much indebted in the following pages.

[n.131.1] See London, Chap. xiii.; Underground, p. 229.

[n.131.2] Ibid. p. 226.

[n.131.3] History of Clerkenwell, p. 13.

[n.131.4] Londinium Redivivum, vol. iii. p. 225.

[n.133.1] See London, Smithfield.

[n.133.2] London, vol, ii. p. 114.

[n.134.1] London, Chapter XXXIV., St. John's Gate.

[] Vol. i. p. 226.

[n.140.1] See vol. i. p. 238.

[n.143.1] Rees's Cyclopaedia, Clock.

[n.144.1] Report, p. 98.