Farringdon Without History of the Most Interesting Places, Leading Events; and Some Account of the Eminent Men connected therewith, since the year 1600

Francis, Adolphus Decimus


Farringdon Street

Is built on what was formerly the bed of the river Fleet, which became subsequently the Fleet Ditch, and still courses on its weary way beneath the street as the Fleet Sewer; the Fleet gave its name to the street and the prison. It was an important stream, and derived its name from its rapid current; it likewise means the place where the tide comes up.

It took its rise east of Hampstead Hill. We are told by old chroniclers, it carried on its bosom at one time eight ships abreast to Holborn Bridge, where they traversed the


watery highway. It is even said that the remains of a ship were found embedded in this ancient river, near Camden Town. Willows grew along and lined its sedgy banks, and it was fed by numberless small streams or brooks, which swelled its rapid current, and it emptied itself into the mighty Thames, near the foot of Blackfriars Bridge.

On the western side of Farringdon Street is Farringdon Market, formerly the site of St. Andrew's workhouse and burying-ground: it covers the remains of the ill-starred and ill-fated, but highly-gifted boy poet, Thomas Chatterton, who, reduced to the greatest distress, at his lodgings in Brooke Street, Holborn, in a fit of despair poisoned himself. Farringdon Market, designed for the sale of fruit and vegetables, was built by the Corporation of the City of London, at a cost of £ 250,000, and extends over an acre and a half of ground, but it has never achieved that success which its centrality seemed to promise. Nos. 22 and 23, Farringdon Street, were formerly the "Wheatsheaf Inn," a noted carrying house, but a still more notable marrying shop, where marriages were effected, called "Fleet marriages" (i.e., clandestine marriages performed in the Fleet prison and in its neighbourhood), between any two persons, male and female, who chose to present themselves in the chapel or parlour set aside in these premises for that purpose. The ceremony was performed by itinerant parsons who dwelt in the locality, and who C


frequently carried about them books in which they registered the performance of the rite, and this was frequently the only registry vouchsafed to such marriages. Nearly every inn in the locality, situate on or near the banks of the Fleet river, had its chapel for this purpose, and this barbarous usage, paralleled only by the mummeries enacted until very recently at Gretna Green, continued until , when the reformation swept it away; but so great was the fascination for this legal illegality, that on the last day such marriages as were performed under this "custom," could be held to be legal, 217 unions took place at one marrying shop in one day. A curious style of entry occasionally is seen where it was intended to keep secret the rites that had been performed; as thus: " Ed. and Eliz. were married, and would not let me know their names. The man said he was a weaver, and lived in Bandy-leg Court, Boro'-Pr. E. Ashwell." The Fleet Prison was situated on the eastern bank of the river Fleet, and was a large and pretentious-looking building, having a fosse running completely round it, on whose banks the willows grew luxuriantly, and into whose waters were freely turned the entire sewage of the locality, and public latrines were erected on the outer side. The Fleet was pre-eminently the Star Chamber prison. Here Prynne lost his ears, and was pilloried; the most


frightful tortures were enacted towards the poor victims who became prisoners in the Fleet. Hogarth has immortalized its horrors in his notable picture of " Bainbridge, one of its warders, under examination," wherein a prisoner is supposed to recite the horrors and cruelties he suffered at his hands.

Subsequently to its being abolished as a state prison it was used only for the confinement of debtors; and Charles Dickens has, in his " Pickwick Papers," with that graphic naturalness that is all his own, painted in undying colours the sufferings and privations endured by the poor debtors even under the new regime. The Fleet was abolished by act of Parliament in .

The Fleet sewer, which runs beneath Farringdon Street and New Bridge Street, is one of the most important sewers in the kingdom. It drains an area nearly seven times as large as the whole City of London, and receives its tributaries of sewerage from far-off suburban districts.