The London Explorer No. 1
For your delectation, a slender book in my possession, priced 2/6d, Peter Jackson’s ‘The London Explorer’ contains more of his wonderful oddities about London from the author of the much-loved ‘London Is Stranger Than Fiction’ column that used to run in the Evening News. Here are Jackson’s remarks on the district of Clerkenwell. Remember, these books reprinted the columns in the 1950s, and I have a horrible feeling that most of the oddities presented in them have now been smashed to bits by the developers.But I thought I’d dip into the two volumes over the next few weeks, and as we have a few Londonheads out there, you might be able to provide some clues about what happened to the things mentioned in the strips. So let’s get a bit interactive here.
After each post from the books, I’ll pose one of the questions taken from Jackson’s pages. If you already own these wonderful books (still cheaply available secondhand) don’t answer! And one day I’ll compare the facts in the books by going around London and seeing what’s still there. Until then, here are some parts of Clerkenwell that may or may not still be there…
Clerkenwell is named after a well, referred to in 1174 as the site where scripture plays were produced. It was built over in 1857, forgotten, then rediscovered in 1924. The book says ‘it can be seen by applying to the library in Skinner Street’.
Clerkenwell is the site of the ‘famous Exmouth Street daily book market.’ Yes, it was until six years ago, when the hundred year-old market vanished with the last sale of the stall holdings.
Clerkenwell is the home of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, and the circle of stones in the road outlines the nave of their priory church, destroyed by Wat Tyler. ‘It can be seen through the railings of St John’s Church’. Not any more, it can’t, because the church was bombed in the war. But is the ring still there?
Clerkenwell has an old stone tablet which tells us ’4 Furlongs 205 Yards From Holborn Barrs Down Holborn Up Snow Hill Cow Lane and Through Smithfield’. Well, Snow Hill is still there but Cow Lane has gone, and Smithfield is about to be redeveloped. What we need there is a real market for fresh meat and fish, not more ‘retail opportunities’. Is there tablet still around?
And the question: Why are there stone pineapples on Lambeth Bridge?