Tag Archives: Clerkenwell

St James Clerkenwell

It is 11:30 on a sunny Sunday morning, the 6th September 1953 and my father is in Clerkenwell Green and took the following photo looking down Clerkenwell Close towards the church of St James Clerkenwell.

St James Clerkenwell

One of the doors to the church is open, perhaps there is, or has been a Sunday service. I doubt the man walking his dog would have attended, he was probably more interested in when the pub on the corner would open.

And this is the same view in the summer of 2017 (although a week day rather than a quiet Sunday morning).

St James Clerkenwell

A wider view of the area:

St James Clerkenwell

The church of St James Clerkenwell we see today was built between 1788 and 1792. It replaced a much earlier church, parts of which dated back to the twelfth century. Prior to the reformation there was an Augustinian nunnery dedicated to St Mary on the site, and after the reformation parts of the building were used by the parish as the parish church. The following print from Old and New London shows the old church of St. James.

St James Clerkenwell

The old church originally had a steeple but appears to have suffered a common problem of London’s churches, due to their age and poor maintenance of the fabric, as the steeple collapsed in 1623 and there was a later second collapse due to poor construction of the replacement. Repair work was carried out and the church was left with the squat tower shown in the above print rather than a steeple.

I am always fascinated by the growth of London and how parts of the city were once on the boundary. The following map produced in 1720 for Stowe’s Survey of London shows the parish of St James Clerkenwell. The red ring marks the location of what at this time would have been the original church and not much further north were open fields.

St James Clerkenwell

The street in the centre running from top to bottom of the map is St. John Street which retains the same name today. In 1720 St. John Street was labelled as “the road to Chester” which is an interestingly distant location to mark on a parish map.

The new church was designed by the architect James Carr. It cost nearly £12,000 and was consecrated by Bishop Porteus in 1792.

St James Clerkenwell in 1812, twenty years after completion (©Trustees of the British Museum) .

St James Clerkenwell

In my father’s 1953 photo there is a pub on the corner of Clerkenwell Green and Close and the pub is still there today and does very well on a summer’s day.

St James Clerkenwell

This is the Crown Tavern and occupies the corner plot, but if you look at the above photo, the houses on the right and left of the pub are of exactly the same style and construction – these buildings were originally part of the pub and although internally they have been subject to major reconstruction, externally they maintain the link. These building are of mid 19th century construction with some reconstruction in the late 1890s.

The Crown Tavern is allegedly where Lenin and Stalin first met in 1905.

Although the front of the church and main entrance is on the end of the church where Clerkenwell Close bends around the church, the entrance today is the side entrance looking back towards Clerkenwell Green. A flight of steps lead up to the church entrance, which as can be seen in the photo below, is well above street level.

St James Clerkenwell

The interior of the church was subject to Victorian “restoration” so is very different to the original interior. Today the church appears to rent out work space so I thought it best to avoid walking round the church taking photos and disturb those working. This is the view from the entrance.

St James Clerkenwell

There is still a large churchyard surrounding the church, although any original gravestones are long gone.

On a summer day, the churchyard is now a major lunchtime attraction for local workers.

St James Clerkenwell

The church is surrounded by a number of mature trees which help to distance the churchyard from the surrounding busy streets.

St James Clerkenwell

One of the trees has a sculptural installation of bird boxes by London Fieldworks and dating from 2011.

St James Clerkenwell

Before leaving St. James, it is good to see that the tower and steeple still rise above the surrounding buildings. Too many central London churches are now in the shade of their surroundings. This is the view of the church from Clerkenwell Road.

St James Clerkenwell

St James Clerkenwell and the area around Clerkenwell Green deserves a much longer write up, however I have had too many other commitments this past week so I shall have to return in the future – perhaps on a Sunday morning at 11:30.

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Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

This is one of the scenes photographed by my father in 1947 that is to me, a fascinating photo being 70 years old, however I am not sure if there was a specific reason, point of interest etc. to take this particular photo. The scene is Clerkenwell Close with the steps leading up to Robert’s Place at the end of the close, adjacent to the Pear Tree Court and Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate.

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

The same scene in 2017:

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

A view that has hardly changed apart from the two trees, cars and the buildings at the far end around and behind the steps.

To find this location, head north from Clerkenwell Road to Clerkenwell Green, then follow Clerkenwell Close around the edge of the church of St. James where you will find the site of the above photos. I have marked this with an orange circle in the 1940 map below (the streets here have hardly changed):

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

Going up from the orange circle, there is a road to the left, this is Pear Tree Court. Just above this junction are the steps at the far end of the photos which lead up to Robert’s Place and then into Bowling Green Lane.

This is one of the photos were I can work out exactly where the original was taken, leaning up against the wall underneath the Clerkenwell Close sign.

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

The buildings seen in the photo are part of the Clerkenwell Estate built by the Peabody Trust. The estate runs along Clerkenwell Close and Pear Tree Court, and consists of a number of Victorian five storey blocks clustered around a central courtyard. Each block given a letter rather than a number which, along with their appearance, does give the impression of blocks of barracks. The entrance to block C from Clerkenwell Close:

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

The view along Pear Tree Court:

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

The Clerkenwell Estate was one of six estates built by the Peabody Trust in the late 19th century. The Peabody Trust emerged from the The Peabody Donation Fund which was set up by the American, George Peabody in 1862. He was born in Massachusetts in 1795 but moved to London in 1837 where he remained for the rest of his life.

Peabody wanted to do something to help alleviate the poverty that he saw across London. It was suggested to him that people needed better living conditions with an affordable rent so he set up the Peabody Donation Fund with the first housing being built in 1864 at Commercial Street, Spitalfields.

The Clerkenwell Estate came about through the clearance of a number of slum sites under the Artisans and Labourers Dwellings Improvement Act of 1875 which allowed the Metropolitan Board of Works to buy up and clear six sites across London. The area around Pear Tree Court had already been condemned as unfit for human habitation.

The architect of the new estate was Henry Darbishire. The model used for each of the blocks consisted of units of five flats around a central staircase. In the late 19th century it was still standard practice for many facilities to be shared so each unit of five flats had shared lavatories and sculleries.

Entrance to Block C:

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

Block E – I do like the brick construction, however they do present a rather institutionalised appearance.

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

Block D:

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

On the side of the estate towards Farringdon Lane, there is an obvious change in construction where to the left a short terrace of two storey buildings run to the left. This terrace is the site of Block G which was badly damaged (along with Block H) by bombing in December 1940 with 12 people being killed in the attack.

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

Entrance to Block A – flowers and sunlight and I am startng to really appreciate these buildings.

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

The site is built on a considerable slope as can be seen in the photo below. The site slopes down towards Farringdon Road and the old route of the River Fleet.

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

Looking across the courtyard towards Blocks E and F. An air-raid shelter could still be found in the courtyard until 1985. The area is now occupied by a children’s playground.

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

The steps at the end of Clerkenwell Close were not that old in 1947 having been built as part of the Peabody development. Clerkenwell Close was extended towards the current position of the steps and a wall that blocked the route onward towards Bowling Green Lane was demolished to allow a route through via Robert’s Place.

There is much to discover in both Clerkenwell Close and the surrounding area which I hope to write about in more detail in the future. For example, the street was originally known as St. Mary’s Close after the old Benedictine Nunnery of St. Mary, part of which was latter incorporated into the church of St. James on the corner of the close. Clerkenwell Close has also had a number of well known inhabitants including Oliver Cromwell and there is a story that the death warrant of Charles I was signed in his house on Clerkenwell Close.

Oliver Cromwell’s house:

Pear Tree Court And Clerkenwell Close Peabody Estate

I am still no wiser as to why my father took the original photo, what interested him in the scene, although I am pleased he did as it is ordinary street scenes that I find so fascinating and they always lead me into looking at an area in a bit more detail.

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