London - Holborn

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Juerg's London

Holborn Area

Union Jake flag

Holborn is the area between the business and entertainment areas of London. The name means "the stream in the hollow", which refers to the river fleet valley.

Fleet Street

Fleet Street runs from Temple Bar in The Strand to Ludgate Circus. It dates back to pre medieval times. It is named after the fleet river, which now runs under Farringdon St. and New Bridge St.The street was renowned for it's connection with New papers and the press, there have been print here since 1500, when Wynkyn de Worde, one of Caxtons assistants, set up a printing press in the street.

Going from the Strand at r west towards Ludgate Circus.

At 1 Fleet St. stands Childs Bank, the oldest in London, it was established in 1671.

Middle Temple - Fountain CourtThe Temple

The area here between Fleet St. and the Victoria Embankment is known as the Temple, it is one of the Inns of court. The area gets its name from the Knights Templar, who had their headquarters here. When the order was dissolved in 1312 the land passed to the crown. The crown gave it to the Knights Hospitallers in 1324, who leased it out to various lawyers.

There are in fact 2 Inns here the Inner and Middle Temple.

Temple ChurchThe entrance from Fleet Street to Middle Temple is known as the Gate House. The current building dates from 1684. The original Temple Hall, was built in 1320, the current one was opened in 1576 by Elizabeth I. The dining tables are said to have come from Drake's ship the Golden Hind. In 1602 Shakespeare and his company performed Twelfth Night here. To the north is Fountain Court, were Ruth and Tom Pinch had their trysting place in Dickens Martin Chuzzlewit. Pump Court, to the north and west sides stem from about 1680.

Inner TempleTemple church is shared by both Inns. It was originally built by the Knights Templar in 1185, and was extended in 1240. In 1682 Wren added further to the church.

In the Inner Temple is King's bench walk which has some fine building from the 17 century designed by Wren. The Gateway, another entrance from Fleet St., is a half timber house built in 1610. On the first floor is Prince Harry's Room with it's famed plaster ceilings.

Prince Harry's RoomSome of the more famous members of the Inn where Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir John Hawkins, William Congrave, Henry Fielding, Edmund Burke, Thomas Moore, Thomas de Quincey, W. M. Thackeray, Oliver Goldsmith, Charles Dickins and Judge Jeffreys.

Fetter Lane Area

Further along is the Cock Tavern, there has been a pub on this site since the 16 century. Regulars included Pepys, Tennyson and Dickins.

St. Dunstan-in-the-westOn the north side of Fleet St. stands St. Dunstan-in-the-west, built in 1185. The church was rebuilt in the 13 century. In 1666 the Great Fire was contained in the yard. As an offering of thanks the parishioners erected a clock in 1671. It was the first clock in London to have a minute hand and 2 faces. A statue of Queen Elisabeth I, that was taken from Ludgate when it was torn down, now stands in the church.

St. Dunstan-in-the-westBetween Fetter Lane and Shoe Lane there are lots of small courtyards including Crane Court where the Royal Society had its headquarters from 1710-80. Johnson's Court is where Dr. Johnson used to live but Gough Square is where his House stands, this was his office and here he wrote his Dictionary (1755). In Wine Office Court is the Chesire Cheese pub, among its visitors were Johnson, Reynolds, Gibbon, Garrick, Boswell, Carlyle, Tennyson, Dickins, Forster, Hood, Thackeray, Wilkie Collins, Twain, Theodore Roosevelt, Conan Doyle, Beerbohm, Chesterton, Yeats and many more.

On the south side runs Whitefriars St., which takes its name from the Carmelite monastery that used to stand here. This section of the street used to be the home for the national press in Britain. The former offices of many of the papers can still be seen.

St BridesSt. Brides Church

Towards the end of Fleet St., to the south stands St. Brides Church or the wedding cake church, as it has become known. The current building dates from 1670-84 and was rebuilt by Wren. The origins of the church are uncertain, but it may have been a place of worship in Roman times. The first Christian church may date from the 6 century and was probably founded by Irish immigrants, Bride being a derivation of Bridget. It is believed that in 1210 King John summoned Parliament to meet here. After the rebuilding, the spire led a local baker to build wedding cakes that had a similar form, and this type of cake has now become traditional. Samuel Pepys was christened here in 1633 and Wynkyn de Worde was buried in 1535.

Further along on the north side is the former site of the Fleet Prison, one of the most notorious in London.

To the south on the banks of the Fleet river stood Bridewell Palace. In 1522 Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire stayed here, he actually slept on the other side of the river in the Blackfriars monastery. This area is believed to have been a Roman burial ground.


Cheshire Cheese
Old Bank of England
Old Bell Tavern
El Vino

St Paul's

Ludgate Hill

Until 1864 there used to a be bridge across the Fleet river connecting Fleet St. to Ludgate Hill, at which time the river was covered and turned into a sewer. The site of the crossing is now known as Ludgate Circus. At the junction of Ludgate Circus and Ludgate hill is the site of the former offices of the Daily Courant, the first daily newspaper, which was first published in 1702. On the north west side there is a plaque to Edgar Wallace.

According to tradition Ludgate is named after Lud gate, which was built in 66 BC by King Lud.

Apothecaries HallA little further along Ludgate Hill stands St Martin-Within-Ludgate. The current church was rebuilt by Wren after the fire in 1677. The first church on the site was, according to legend, founded by the Welsh hero Cadwallader in the 7 century. The first reference to the church dates from 1138.

To the north runs Ave Maria Land, on the left there is a gateway that leads to Amen Court, a quite courtyard with some buildings from the 17 century.

To the south on Blackfriars Lane is the Apothecaries Hall, built in 1688 and modified in 1779. This used to be the site of the Blackfriars Monastery founded in the 13 century. In 1311, 1450 and 1529 Parliament met here. In 1382 an earthquake was recorded. In 1522 the Emperor Charles V stayed in the monastery. In 1529 Monastery was the site of the court that heard the divorce case of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. With the dissolution of the monasteries, the buildings were destroyed.

Irland YardQueen Victoria Street

Playhouse Yard is where the Blackfriars playhouse stood. It was first opened in 1577, in 1596 James Burbage bought it and started to convert it to a public theater that could hold between 600 and 700 people. On James Burbage's death it passed to his son Richard Burbage. Later Shakespeare become a member of the company and many of his plays where performed here. In 1642 it was closed by the Puritans. Playhouse Yard leads onto Ireland Yard, which is the remains of the graveyard of St. Ann's Blackfriars. Shakespeare bought a house close by in 1613.

Blackfriars railway bridgeFurther south stands Blackfriars bridge. The current one stems from 1869, but there has been a bridge across the Thames here since 1760. It was under this bridge that the body of Roberto Calvi was found hanging in 1982. There actually is a missing bridge, half the railway bridge was demolished, but the pontoons could not be removed as that would have undermined the other half.

Further east on Queen Victoria St stands St Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe, this was the last of Wrens churches. It was also destroyed in 1940 and not very faithfully rebuilt. It gets it names from the Kings Wardrobe that stood nearby, which was where the regalia of state used to be stored.

St BenetsFurther along is St Benet Paul's Wharf. It is one of Wren's prettiest churches. The church was founded in the 12 century, but destroyed in the fire. In 1683 it was rebuilt. Inigo Jones was buried in the chancel of the old church upon his death in 1651.

On the other side of the road is the College of Arms, the current building dates from 1671 and is one of the few secular buildings of the period just after the Great Fire that survive.

The next church is St Nicholas Cole Abbey, this was the first church Wren rebuild after the fire in 1671. It was completed in 1677, but there has been a church here since at least 1144. The name comes from coldharbour, meaning a shelter, there was never any abbey here.

St  Pauls CathedralIn Huggin Hill the remains of Roman baths where found.

St Paul's Cathedral

At the entrance to the Cathedral is St Paul's Churchyard. This was once a place of execution, the Gunpowder plot conspirators were hung, drawn and quartered here. The Chapter house at 67 was built by Wren in 1712, the Deanery in Dean's Court was also built by Wren.

The current St Pails is the 5th to stand on this site. The first building here was a temple to Diana, the first Christian church was built in 604 by St Ethelbert, King of Kent. This church burned down sometime between 675 and 685 and was rebuilt. This second church was destroyed by the Vikings in 926. The replacement church was burned down in 1087. The church that replaced it, often called Old St Paul's, was far larger than the current one. It fell victim to the Great Fire.

After the fire it was felt that the old church should be rebuilt, it took much persuading and cheating on behalf of Wren for his new church to be built. In fact the plan that Wren submitted and was approved had no resemblance to the church he was going to build. During the building scaffolding and covers were left in place far longer than needed so a to hide the truth. The current building was erected between 1675-1710. It is undoubtedly Wrens masterpiece. The church has grown into the role of the National Church, the passing of all Nation events are marked with a service in the Cathedral.

Among those buried in the church are Wren 1723, Turner, Reynolds, the Duke of Wellington, Admiral Lord Nelson whose coffin is made out of wood from the mainmast of the French flagship the L'Orient, in a sarcophagus that was intended for Henry VIII. Admirals Lord Beatty 1936, Lord Jellicoe (1935) are also interred in the church.


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Staple InnHigh Holborn

High Holborn runs from Shaftesbury Holborn Circus. Starting at the crossing of High Holborn and Kingsway going east.

Lincoln's Inn Field

The area to the south of High Holborn ant to the east of Kingswayis is Lincoln's Inn Field. The area was formally known as Purse Field and Cup Field. They were used as recreational area fro the lawyers from nearby Lincoln's Inn. The fields were outside the city. In 1586 Babington and his 13 accomplices were hanged, drawn and quarted in this area. In 1588 2 further executions were carried out here. The area was also a well know area for duals and robberies. A number of attempts were made to build in the area, but the lawyers of Lincoln's Inn managed to block them until the 1630's. By 1641 the square had been built, but the fights and executions continued. The square was finally enclosed in 1735. The original plan was to build over the entire area, but the local lawyers protested, eventually taking their complaint to Parliament where they won.

On the north side of the square stands the Sir John Soane's Museum. The doorways on the north side of the square are worth noting. At number 3 Ramsey McDonald, the Prime Minister died in 1911. On the west side of the square stands Newcastle House (66) which was built in 1684, the house was rebuilt in 1930. At number 65, built in 1772, William Pitt, the later Prime Minister, had his chambers. Lindsey House, numbers 59 to 60, was built in 1640 probably by Inigo Jones, 57-58 were built much later but in the same style. Number 60 was the home of the Prime Minister Spencer Perceval from 1790-1807. The queens solicitors have their offices at 66. On the south side of the square is the Royal College of Surgeons. Part of this site used to be Lincoln's Inn Theater which first opened its doors in 1660, this was the first theater in London to have a proscenium arch, and to use movable scenery.

At the eastern end of the square is Lincoln's Inn.

Lincoln Inn ChapelLincoln's Inn

Lincoln's Inn was the first of the 4 Inns of Court, it was founded in the middle of the 14th century. The name came from either Thomas de Lyncoln, the King's Sergeant of Holborn or from Henry de Lacy, the earl of Lincoln, who was Edward I's legal advisor. The crest of the Inn is the same as that of the Earl of Lincoln. The Inn moved to its current location some time between 1412 and 1422.

The Inn counts among it's members, Sir Thomas More, who was later elevated to sainthood, John Donne, Oliver Cromwell, later Lord Protector in the time of the republic lived above the gatehouse, William Penn the founder of Pennsylvania, Daniel O'Connell, David Garrick and John Galsworthy. The Prime Ministers Horace Walpole, William Pitt the younger, Benjamin Disraeli, William Gladstone, Canning, Spencer Perceval, Melbourne, Addington and Asquith. Dickens worked as a clerk in New Square, and Old Hall served as the Court of Chancery, in which the case of Jarndyce v Jarndyce from the book Bleak House was heard.

When entering from Lincoln's Inn Field, on the left stands New Hall, which was built in 1843, in it is the Hardwick library. This is the oldest library in England, it was founded in 1497 and currently holds over 100,000 documents. To the north east is the Stone Building, which was built in 1756. To the south is New Square which stems from some time between 1682 and 1693. Further east is Old Building dating from 1524 to 1613. Old Hall was built in 1489 to 1492. On the northern side of the courtyard is the chapel which was built in 1620-23 by Inigo Jones and was restored and enlarged by Wren in 1685. The chapel was damaged by a Zeppelin bomb in 1915. To the east is the Gatehouse which was built in 1518.

On the east side of Lincoln's Inn runs Chancery Lane.

Chancery Lane

The original name was New Street but it was changed 1377 by Edward III when took over the house for converted Jews and later used for the Keeper of the Roles of Chancery. On the north side stands the Public Records Office. Inside is a small museum which has such treasures as the Doomsday Book (1086), the first Pipe Roll (1129), the earliest Plea Roll (1194), Magna Carta (1225), Shakespeare will (1616), the Great Seal of Elizabeth I among many others.

Cardinal Wolsey used to live at the Holborn end. At 53 stands the London Silver Vault.

Holborn BarGray's Inn

At the end of Chancery Lane on the north side of High Holborn is Gray's Inn.

Gray's Inn is another of the Inns of court, it was originally founded in 1370, and named after the owner of the land Sir Reginald le Gray. Unfortunately it was almost destroyed by bombing during the 2 World War.

On the north side stands the hall which was originally built in 1556-60, Shakespeare's "Comedy of Errors" was first performed here in 1594. It contains a screen that is supposed to have been made out of the wood from a captured galleon of the Armada. There has been a chapel on the site of the current church since 1315. In the garden to the west stand Catalpa trees that are supposed to have been planted by Bacon from cuttings brought back from America by Sir Walter Raleigh.

Some of the famous people who have occupied rooms here are, Francis Bacon,Thomas Cromwell, Sir William Cecil the 1st Lord Burghley and Sir Francis Walsingham.

Staples InnHigh Holborn

The first reference to the street dates from 1249 when it was known as Hole Burn Street. It was first paved in 1417.

At the junction of Grays Inn Rd is Holborn Bar, a stone obelisk with silver griffins on it. This marks the boundary of the City of London. It was originally set up in 1130 and acted as a toll booth as well as a check point to prevent "rogues vagabonds and lepers" entering the City.

On the south side of the street stands Staples Inn. It was built in 1586 and is the only surviving Elizabethan domestic building in London. Dr Johnson used to occupy number 2 from 1759-60. Dickens lived where the Prudential now stands from 1834-7. Farther to the east on the south side of the street is Bernards Inn. Pip and Herbert Pocket in Dickens "Great Expectations" lived here.

Staples InnThe next street running south is Fetter Lane. The name may derive from the old French for lawyer, whose reputation was so low that the word came to mean idler. Another source derives it from the armourers who served the Knight Templars who built their round church on what is now High Circus. Both ends of the street were used as occasional execution and punishment sites. Opposite Fleur de Lis Court lived Elizabeth Brownrigg the notorious midwife who was hanged, for murdering her girls.

To the north runs Hatton Gardens, which is the centre of the diamond trade in London.



Princess Louise
Cittie of Yorke
Melton Mowbray
Viaduct Tavern
Ye Old Mitre Tavern
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St Etheldreda'sSmithfield

At Holborn Circus 6 roads come together, the main ones being High Holborn and Holborn Viaduct.

Holborn Circus

From Holborn Circus just off Charterhouse St is Ely Place. The street used to be outside the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan police, as it belongs to the Bishops of Ely and is therefore technically part of Cambridgeshire. On entering the street there is a little watch house that the beadle use .St Etheldreda's church, which is considered a masterpiece, was built in 1290.

St SepulchreOn the south side of Holborn Viaduct stands St Andrews Church. There has been a church on this site since at least 951. In 1348 John Thavies left some property to cover the maintenance costs of the church, this donation still pays for it's upkeep. In 1446 the church was rebuilt. In 1684-90 it was again rebuilt, this time by Wren. Benjamin Disraeli was christened here in 1817. In 1827 Dr. William Marsden found a young girl dying from exposure in the yard. He could not get her into a hospital and she died. Marsden was so horrified that it led him to found the Royal Free Hospital, where the poor could be admitted and treated without formality. The building was severely damaged during the war, but faithfully restored after.

Old BaileyHolborn Viaduct

The viaduct was built in 1869, it is just under 1/2 kilometre long and spans the Fleet Valley. It was the first overpass in the world.

Further along Holborn Viaduct on the north side is St Sepulcher's. It was founded by crusaders in 1137. It was rebuilt after the Great Fire in 1670-77 by Wren. The church has since been twice poorly restored. Inside is the memorial to Captain John Smith, Governor of Virginia, who was rescued by Pocahontas, he is buried nearby. In recent years it has become associated with musicians.

Old BaileyNewgate Street

The Old Bailey, or the Central Criminal Court, got it's name from the nearby street. The current building dates from 1902-7. Some of the walls are from the notorious Newgate Prison which stood on the site. On top of the dome stands the figure of Justice, star of many films and TV shows. Among those tried here are William Penn, Titus Oates, Daniel Defoe, Lord George Gordon, Oscar Wilde, Dr. Crippen, J. R. Christie, Peter Sutcliff, Frederick Seddon, George Joseph Smith, Edith Thompson and Fredrick Bywaters, William Joyce (Lord Haw-Haw) and many others.

The first prison on this site dates from before the 12 century. It was rebuilt in 1423 with funds donated by Dick Whittington. It burned down during the Great Fire and was rebuilt in 1672. It was again rebuilt in 1770-8, it was then stormed and destroyed during the Gordon riots. It was rebuilt in 1780-3, and Lord Gordon was one of it's inmates. It was finally demolished in 1902. Throughout it's history the prison was always notorious for the appalling conditions, some called it a "prototype for hell", while, due to the rampant corruption, for others it was "the most expensive place on earth". There were frequent outbreaks of Goal fever, a virulent form of typhoid, and to this day the judges of the Old Bailey still wear nose gays on the first day of the judicial year. Public executions took place here from 1783 to 1868, when it replaced Tyburn Gallows.

St BartsFurther along is Christ Church, rebuilt in 1677- 91 by Wren, it was bombed out in 1941, and turned into a lawn. The first church on this site was built by the Franciscan Friars in 1291. Margaret the wife of Edward I was buried her before the high alter in 1318. Queen Isabella, wife of Edward II, was also buried here in 1358 along with her daughter Joan de la Tour, Queen of Scotland, who died in 1362.


The area now known as West Smithfield or smooth field, was a large open space used for tournaments and markets. Since the time of Henry I in 1123 until 1855 the Bartholomew's Fair was held here on Bartholomew Tide (24 August). It was originally a cloth fair, in the 16 century it became a pleasure fair that lasted 2 weeks. The area was also the main horse and cattle market from 1150 until 1855. The show continues to this day in Earls Court as the Smithfield Show. The expression "bull in a china shop" stems from the habit that drovers had of stampeding their herds to the market. In 1851 the current market buildings where erected, it included an underground railway station, that was linked to the main London railway stations, for the transportation of livestock.

St Barts the  GreaterIn the 12 century and for the next 400 years, it also was the chief execution ground. In the 15 century this became the execution ground for heretics, they of course were burnt. Among some of the victims were William Wallace (as in Brave heart) and Roger Mortimer, who murdered Edward II. In 1381 Wat Tyler was stabbed here by Sir William Walworth, the mayor, in front of Richard II. Walworth was later executed in the nearby hospital.

St Bartholomew's Hospital is the oldest in London, it was founded in 1123 by Rahere a courtier of Henry I, who made the land available. He founded the Hospital in order to fulfil a vow he made while suffering from malaria during a pilgrimage to Rome. The charter stipulated the at all times there had to be someone there "to wait upon the sick". The first record of medical students dates from 1662. The gateway was built in 1702. In 1730-59 the hospital was rebuilt by Gibbs. Among the many discoveries made here, the most famous is probably that of the circulation of the blood by James Harvey (1609-43).

St Bartholomew the GreatWithin the grounds of "Barts" stands the church of St Bartholomew the Lesser. It was founded in 1184 as the hospital chapel. The tower and its arches date from the 15 century. In 1573 Inigo Jones was christened here.

At the same time as the hospital was founded so was the church of St Bartholomew the Great, it is the second oldest parish church in London. It is the only part of the priory that still remains. Much of the church has been rebuilt but it still keeps its Norman appearance.

Cloth Fair to the north of the church has the only building, 41, in the City that predates the Great Fire of 1666


To the north of Smithfield Market is Charterhouse.

In 1348-9 Sir Walter de Manny who was one of Edward III knights, bought 13 acres of land and gave it to the city as a burial ground for plague victims. In 1370 Manny founded a Carthusian priory on the site. In 1372 Manny died and was buried before the high altar. In 1611 Thomas Sutton bought the land and turned it into a school for 44 poor boys and a hospital for 80 poor men. Sutton was later buried here. In 1872 the school moved out of London. The building were severely damaged during the last war.

St Johns GateSt John's Lane

On St John's Lane stands St John's Gate, which used to be the entrance to the priory of the Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem, better known as the Knights Hospitallers, founded in the 11 century. The buildings were burnt down in 1381 by the Wat Tylers rebels. St John's church was built in 1185 and rebuilt in 1721 and again in the 18 century.


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Copyright 1998 - 2012 Juerg Mueller. Date last modified: Monday, 24-Sep-2007 00:22:08 CEST