Investigating Clerkenwell’s medieval roots with CBA London
On Saturday 1st December 2018, CBA London trustee Rob Whytehead led a fascinating walk around Clerkenwell. After the group met outside a local pub, the first point of call was the Clerks’ Well; a feature dating back to the 1500s that gave Clerkenwell its name.
We then walked back up Clerkenwell Green and around to the modern entrance to St James’ Church, which has been a parish church since 1176. Excavations and the examination of historic maps have provided insight into the floor plan of the church, and locations of features such as the cloister, gatehouse, kitchen and nun’s hall. An Iron Age ditch had also been excavated just across the road from the church, possibly indicating a fort or other man-made structure. The only remnants of the cloister at St James’ are the church garden, and the original cloister wall still visible underneath the more modern church boundary walls.
After a walk around the immediate area surrounding the church (which had previously contained buildings such as prison, workhouses, factories and workshops), we walked down to Clerkenwell Green; a road famous for its political activism. Over the years this has included protests, demonstrations, and the founding of the Marx Memorial Library & Workers’ School in the 1930s.
The next port of call was the Priory Church of the order of St John, where the group took shelter from the rain underneath the gatehouse!. The original building had been destroyed after the dissolution, but the original curved wall of the nave is still marked on the pavement today. We then walked around the gate of the inner precinct, taking note of the former clockmakers building on St John’s name and the many plaques of clockmakers that worked in the area from the 17th century onwards.
The last location we travelled to was the Charterhouse Square. Several human bodies have been excavated here, that had been buried in the 14th century after the outbreak of the black death. The Charterhouse, built in 1371, was once home to a strict order of Carthusian monks. It is now a museum, which you can learn more about here. The walk ended at the entrance of the Queen Mary University of London Charterhouse Square campus. Several of the buildings now owned by the university were also once part of the original Charterhouse.