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Clerkenwell ( ) is an area of central London in the London Borough of Islingtonmarker. Clerkenwell was once known as London's "Little Italy" because of the large number of Italians living in the area between the 1850s and the 1960s.


Clerks' Well

Clerkenwell took its name from the Clerks' 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. It is visible through a window of that building on Farringdon Lane.

Monastic traditions

The Monastic Order of the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem had its Englishmarker headquarters at the Priory of Clerkenwellmarker. (The Blessed Gerard founded the Order in order to give medical assistance during the crusades.) St John's Gatemarker (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 connection with that journal.
Clerkenwell in 1805.
In modern times the gatehouse again became associated with the Order, and was in the early 20th century the headquarters of the St John Ambulance Association. An Early English crypt remains beneath the neighbouring parish church of St Johnmarker, where the notorious deception of the "Cock Lane Ghostmarker," in which Johnson took great interest, was exposed.

Adjoining the priory was St Mary's Benedictine nunnery, St James's churchmarker (1792) marking the site, and preserving in its vaults some of the ancient monuments. The Charterhousemarker, near the boundary with the City of Londonmarker, once served as a Carthusian monastery. The Charterhouse later became a school and almshouse, which latter still remains.

Fashionable residential area

In the 17th century Clerkenwell became a fashionable place of residence. Oliver Cromwell owned a house on Clerkenwell Close, just off the Green. Before Clerkenwell became a built-up area, it had a reputation as a resort where Londoners could disport themselves at its spa, tea gardens and theatre. Sadler's Wellsmarker has survived, after rebuilding, as heir to this tradition.

Clerkenwell was also the location of three prisons: the Clerkenwell Bridewellmarker, Coldbath Fields Prisonmarker (later Clerkenwell Gaol) and the New Prisonmarker, later the House of Detention, notorious as the scene of a Fenian attempted prison break in 1867, when it was sought to release prisoners by blowing up part of the building.

Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution changed the area 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. Clerkenwell is home to Witherbys, England's oldest printing company. The company, which was established in 1740 and whose shareholding is mainly family-held, produces a wide variety of commercial work from business cards through to Report & Accounts.

Clerkenwell Green

Clerkenwell Green lies at the centre of the old village, by the church, and has a mix of housing, offices and pubs, dominated by the imposing former Middlesex Sessions Housemarker. It was built in 1782, extended by the Victorians, and now used as a Masonic Hall. The name is something of a historical relic - Clerkenwell Green has had no grass for over 300 years. However, in conveying some impression of its history, it gives the appearance of one of the better-preserved village centres in what is now central London. In Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist, Clerkenwell Green is where Fagin and the Artful Dodger induct Oliver into pickpocketing amongst shoppers in the busy market once held there. Indeed Dickens knew the area well and was a customer of the Finsbury Savings Bank on Sekforde Street, a street linking Clerkenwell Green to St John Street.

Local government

Clerkenwell St James was an ancient parish in the Finsbury divisionmarker of the Ossulstone hundred of Middlesexmarker. The parish vestry became a nominating authority to the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1855. The area of the metropolitan board became the County of London in 1889. A reform of local government in 1900 abolished the Clerkenwell vestry and the parish became part of the Metropolitan Borough of Finsburymarker. Alexandra Parkmarker, an exclave of the parish was transferred to Hornseymarker, Middlesex at the same time. Clerkenwell Town Hall, which had been built on Rosebery Avenue in 1895 became Finsbury Town Hall. Finsbury became part of the London Borough of Islingtonmarker in 1965 and the old town hall has been refurbished to house the Urdang Dance Academy.


Clerkenwell Green has historically been associated with radicalism, from the Lollards in the 16th century, the Chartists in the 19th century and communists in the early 20th century. 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. At that time Lenin resided on Percy Circus, less than half a mile north of Clerkenwell Green. In 1903 the newspaper was moved to Geneva. It is said that Lenin and a young Stalin met in the Crown and Anchor pub (now known as The Crown Tavern) on the Green when the latter was visiting London in 1903. In the 1920s and 1930s, 37a Clerkenwell Green was a venue for Communist Party meetings, and the Marx Memorial Librarymarker was founded on the same site in 1933. Clerkenwell's tradition of left-leaning publication continued until late 2008 with The Guardian and The Observer having their headquarters on Farringdon Road, a short walk from the Green. Their new offices are a short distance away in Kings Crossmarker.

Post-war decline and revival

After the Second World War Clerkenwell suffered from industrial decline, though several acclaimed social housing projects were commissioned by Finsbury Borough Councilmarker. Modernist architect and Russian émigré Berthold Lubetkin's listed Spa Green Estate, constructed 1943-1950, has recently been restored. The Finsbury Estatemarker, constructed in 1968, includes flats in a typical Brutalist style.

A general revival and gentrification process began in the 1990s, and the area is now known for loft-living young professionals, nightclubs, restaurants and art galleries. It also houses many professional and business offices as an overspill area for the nearby City of Londonmarker and West Endmarker, alongside social housing.



The Jerusalem Tavern, is in Clerkenwell, in the streets north of Smithfield Market. The Jerusalem Tavern is built on the site of a medieval tavern of the same name. It is the only pub owned by the Suffolk brewery, St. Peter's.

A number of traditional pubs line Smithfield Market and the surrounding warren of streets. Those which serve the Smithfield meat workers are allowed to open at 5.30am. These are Nicholson's former gin palace The Fox & Anchor, The Hope and The Cock Tavern (which is situated under the market itself).

London's first gastropub, The Eagle, opened in Clerkenwell in 1991. The Eagle has been joined by, among others, The Well, The Peasant, The Coach and Horses, The Gunmakers and The Green, Clerkenwell pubs which have since been converted to gastropubs.


Clerkenwell is said to be home to some of London's best restaurants. Examples are St Johnmarker, a traditional English restaurant often listed as one of the best and most influential restaurants in the world and the Spanish/Moroccan restaurant Moro.

Nightclubs and bars

Clerkenwell is the home of one of London's largest nightclubs, Fabricmarker, and several pre-club bars such as Smith's of Smithfield and The Slaughtered Lamb have also flourished in the area. The nightlife is centred on the north side of Smithfield Market, with revellers gathering alongside delivery teams from across Europe at the meat market on nights throughout the week. Until March 2008, Turnmillsmarker also dominated the nightclub scene from its Clerkenwell location. After closing its doors on the morning of 24 March (due to a building lease change), Clerkenwell lost one of its major landmarks, although the area is still immensely popular for its bars and restaurants.

Notable people

Nearby areas

Nearest railway and London Underground stations

Farringdon stationmarker, which provides both mainline rail and tube services, is the only station in Clerkenwell itself. However Angelmarker, King's Cross St Pancrasmarker, Chancery Lanemarker and Barbicanmarker stations all lie near the fringes of Clerkenwell.


  1. Andrew Rothstein, A House on Clerkenwell Green, 1966. A history of 37a Clerkenwell Green and activism in the area.
  2. New York Times article on Clerkenwell's history and restaurant scene

External links

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