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OS Grid Reference:Template:Gbmappingsmall
County:Greater London
Region:Greater London
Ceremonial County:Greater London
Traditional County:Middlesex
Post Office and Telephone
Post town:LONDON
Dialling Code:020

Clerkenwell (pronounced "clarkenwell") is a locality in the southermost part of the London Borough of Islington.

Clerkenwell has a long history. It took its name from the Clerk's Well in Farringdon Lane. In the Middle Ages, the London Parish clerks performed annual mystery plays there, based on biblical themes. Part of the well remains visible, incorporated into a later (19th or perhaps early 20th century) building called Well Court.

Clerkenwell had strong monastic traditions. The nuns of St Mary's, Clerkenwell, lived on the site of the present St James' Parish Church. The Monastic Order of the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem had its English headquarters in Clerkenwell. (The Blessed Gerard founded the Order in order to give medical assistance during the crusades.) St John's Gate (built by Sir Thomas Docwra in 1504) survives in the rebuilt form of the Priory Gate. Its gateway, erected in 1504, and remaining in St John's Square, served various purposes after the suppression of the monasteries, being, for example, the birthplace of the Gentleman's Magazine in 1731, and the scene of Dr Johnson's work in connexion with that journal. In modern times the gatehouse again became associated with the Order, and was in the early 20th century the headquarters of the St John's Ambulance Association. An Early English crypt remains beneath the neighbouring parish church of St John, where the notorious deception of the "Cock Lane Ghost," in which Johnson took great interest, was exposed. Adjoining the priory was St Mary's Benedictine nunnery, St James's church (1792) marking the site, and preserving in its vaults some of the ancient monuments. The Charterhouse, near the boundary with the City of London, once served as a Carthusian monastery. The Charterhouse later became a school and almshouse, which latter still remains.

In the 17th century Clerkenwell became a fashionable place of residence. A prison erected here at this period gave place later to the House of Detention, notorious as the scene of a Fenian outrage in 1867, when it was sought to release certain prisoners by blowing up part of the building. Before Clerkenwell became a built-up area, it had a reputation as a resort where Londoners could disport themselves at its spas, tea gardens and theatres. Sadler's Wells has survived, after rebuilding, as heir to this tradition.

Clerkenwell Green and St James' church
Clerkenwell Green and St James' church
Missing image
Mount Pleasant postal sorting office

The Industrial Revolution changed the area was greatly. It became a centre for breweries, distilleries and the printing industry. It gained an especial reputation for the making of clocks and watches, which activity once employed many people from around the area. Flourishing craft workshops still carry on some of the traditional trades, such as jewellery-making. The owners of many former industrial buildings have recently converted them into loft dwellings.

Clerkenwell Green lies at the centre of the old village, by the church, and has a mix of housing, offices and pubs. In conveying some impression of its history it probably gives the appearance of one of the better-preserved village centres close to central London.

In 1902, Vladimir Lenin moved the publication of the Iskra (Spark) to the British Social Democratic Federation at 37a Clerkenwell Green, and issues 22 to 38 were indeed edited there. In 1903 the newspaper was moved to Geneva. Clerkenwell's tradition of left-leaning publication continues today, with The Guardian having its headquarters a short walk away.

Clerkenwell contains the Mount Pleasant postal sorting office, the largest in London.

The first gastropub, The Eagle, opened in Clerkenwell in 1991.

Nearest places

Nearest tube station

External links


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