London: Deaths, Executions, Markets Etc


More wanderings toward the Thames bring me to the Bourne Estate, not the name of a film starring Matt Damon but an Edwardian housing estate in the middle of Holborn that few office workers get to see. Constructed from 1905–1909, it’s regarded as one of London’s best examples of tenement housing. Most of the blocks are listed. The design has international significance because it was the model for Vienna’s houses built after the First World War.

The estate’s arches are covered in tilework, and the whole neighbourhood (which I didn’t know existed, despite living almost on top of it) seems undamaged by bombs, a rarity in central London. It also throws up some unexpected views around corners, like this one featuring a peculiarly narrow church (I can’t recall its name – St Stephens? But it’s not normally seen from this side.)

On to Leather Lane, which on this fine morning was just setting up its market stalls and getting ready for the day’s first customer. But who are its customers? Not the city boys – the residents of the Bourne Estate use it, and there’s a strong sense of local community still here, which is unusual so close to the West End.

Now I’m across the street heading to Hatton Garden, its jewellery shops not yet open. It’s still hard not to think of the old-school diamond robbery that took place there; the senior-age robbers (genuinely pulling one last job) got caught because they didn’t know that digital cameras could read number plates). There’s a fine traditional pub here that no longer appears to have a name other than ‘Public House’. Note the taxation avoiding bricked-up windows.

No two buildings along this stretch of Clerkenwell/Holborn appear to be the same. I love the mismatch, like a tea service that has had cups replaced over time.

As I was so close to the source of the Great Fire of London, I thought I should say good morning to the Golden Boy of Pie Corner, erected to warn against the ‘sin of gluttony’ that caused our fair city to burn to the ground. On September 2, 1666, Thomas Farrinor, baker to King Charles II, forgot to turn the oven off. Its embers ignited some firewood and by 1:00am, three hours after he went to bed, his house in Pudding Lane went up. Farrinor, his wife and daughter, escaped from an upstairs window, but the maid became the Great Fire’s first victim.

I thought I must have walked through every alleyway by now but they still have the power to surprise. Take this one, around the back of St Sepulchre, where little cottages appear to have been transported from the heart of the countryside.

Around the corner, in the ruined church garden, there’s another commemorative piece, but I was a bit rubbish and failed to note what it represents. Anyone?

Two moving items from inside the church; the first is the executioner’s bell from Newgate Prison, which was rung  outside a condemned prisoner’s cell at midnight before their death, just in case they were starting to come to terms with impending oblivion.

And most tragic of all, this poor old cross cobbled together by survivors represented the deaths of 100 soldiers at the Battle of Loos. It stood marking the spot where they fell for three years. It has more dignity and grace than any gold-leafed crucifix knocked up by the Vatican.

The sun is high now, and there’s writing to be done. I return home with a plan for further visits that will actually involve a mode of transport, but to be honest, there are riches enough all around me within walking distance that could keep me going for many years.



13 comments on “London: Deaths, Executions, Markets Etc”

  1. Jo W says:

    Not absolutely sure, but I think that sculpture shows pupils from a Bluecoats Charity School,which educated children of the poor. They had very distinctive uniforms and there are still Bluecoat schools around.

  2. Richard Burton says:

    I’m sure there’s a Margery Allingham story that has little cottages on an alley, with rose gardens. Can’t remember which book though.

  3. Denise Treadwell says:

    Well for one thing, you couldn’t turn off an oven in those days. I have read “Plastic” . I have questions,: What happened to the cat who ate better than June ? The other is who was Mr Rennie’s boss? Couldn’t put it down! Read it all day! You have our heroine looking for the wrong man! Is it ? The man with Wolesley?

  4. admin says:

    There was going to be a sequel, but no readers so, no sequel….*emoji sad face*

  5. Thorpemeister says:

    Spot on Jo W. The school was Christ’s Hospital which used to be on the site of Newgate Prison until it moved to Horsham, Sussex in the early 20th century, I know this because I was a pupil there. I rocked the blue coat, grey knee britches, yellow socks and white bands daily from 11 years old onwards. Local people called us penguins. What with the uniform, rock hard horsehair mattresses, and daily marching to a military band, it was all very character building. The school still marches in the Board Mayor’s parade every year.

  6. Helen Martin says:

    I hope the Bluecoats answer is correct because that is such a cheerful, optimistic piece of artwork with the children striding out into their future.and the boys helping each other.
    Lovely piece of traditional calligraphy next to the bell. It ‘s so nice to see one of pieces of work instead of letterpress (if that’s not a dated reference.
    Agree about “turning off” ovens. Was it raking out coals that were left near the wood? Was the apprentice responsible rushing off to a big meal and thereby indulging in gluttony? Never been sure about the connection and why a little nude boy (not naked, just nude) was the appropriate figure, although he certainly does look well fed.
    Enjoying H of M and laughed for the first hundred pages (not at the roof falling in in chapter one, of course.) Liked Bryant’s putdown of the Rev Trev, too, except for “I’ll think for you” which was a knee jerk answer and a little nasty.

  7. Denise Treadwell says:

    Actually ,ovens were kept going, never put out. People who didn’t have their own used the baker’s ovens on Sunday, to cook their Sunday dinner. It would have taken a long time to reach the correct temperature so they were never put out. . There is a lot of stories of what happened some people believe it was done deliberately. People were taxed by how many hearths they had.

  8. Jan says:

    On the Bourne there are (or were a few years back) the descendents of a guy called Darby Sabbini (or Sarbini can’t quite remember). He ran one of the racecourse gangs back in 1920s.
    They reckon he was the closest the UK ever got to the Mafia. Sort of in the Peaky Blinders era. Whilst you are in church visiting mode go into the Italianate church just near to the Bourne. On opposite side of the road. Apparently DB financed a lot of repair and other works there. He might have been a baddy but that didn’t mean he’d given up all his high hopes of heaven.

    By the way there’s a proper good chippy in Leather Lane.

    Your never going to rent a Boris bike are you ? I might sell tickets for folk to view that little trip. Best wear a cycle helmet or preferably a proper crash hat.

  9. Graham Powell says:

    I wish Mr. Fowler would write a guidebook to London with all the little oddities like the ones he’s been cataloging this week. Guaranteed best-seller.

  10. Jan says:

    Wish Mr F would let me help if he ever gets round to to it

  11. Jo W says:

    I have to correct myself, not Bluecoats school but Christs Hospital School which started off near there,now situated south of Horsham,with a railway station of that name. Ooops. 🙁

  12. John Griffin says:

    I’d agree with Graham! We intend to come down on a cheap day return during the summer, and last time were so taken by the Spitalfields area we vowed to return and see some of the sights Mr F has featured recently.

  13. Ian Luck says:

    I understand that some of the first lot of ‘Boris Bikes’ went missing – and were reported to have been seen by travellers visiting The Congo, in Africa.

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