UK Genealogy Archives logo

Clerkenwell, Middlesex

Historical Description

Clerkenwell, a parish in Middlesex. It lies in the metropolis, W of Islington, NE of Lincoln's Inn Fields, 1 mile NW of St Paul's. Acreage, 380; population in 1841, 56,756; in 1861, 65,681; in 1881, 69,076; in 1891, 66,216. Most of the area is densely covered with tSquares and numerous streets, inhabited chiefly by watch and clock makers. A well still in existence at a pump in Eay Street was anciently frequented by the incorporate clerks of the city, took thence the name of Clerken-well —" clerken " being the ancient plural for " clerks " —and eventually gave its name to the parish. Other wells here also were notable, and gave their names, such as Islington Spa, White Conduit, Bagnigge Wells, New Tunbridge Wells, and Sadler's Wells, to famous houses built over or beside them. The New River Waterworks here were completed by —Sir Hugh Middleton, a member of the Goldsmiths' Company, for the supply of the city of London and the northern suburbs at the rate of 25,000,000 gallons a day, but the area formerly occupied by the reservoir is now filled up, levelled, and built over. Middleton Square is named after Sir Hugh Middle-ton, Granville Square is named after Granville Sharp, and Wilmington Square stands on the Spa Fields, where Hunt's riots occurred in 1817. Clerkenwell Sessions House on Clerkenwell Green was built in 1778-82 by Rogers, ranks next in importance to the Old Bailey, and has a fine James I. mantelpiece removed from the previous law court. Hicks' Hall, the previous court, stood in St John Street, and was built in 1612 by Sir Baptist Hicks, the founder of the Noels-Clerkenwell Prison or County House of Detention, which was formerly appropriated to persons committed for trial at the assizes or the sessions and on summary convictions, but has long since been disused, and a large board school, which was opened by the Prince of Wales in 1893, has been erected on the site. Other noticeable buildings are Lady Owen's free grammar school, founded in 1613, and rebuilt in the Tudor style; the Sadler's Wells Theatre, dating from 1683, and famous for the performances of Grimaldi.

A Benedictine nunnery was founded about the year 1100 on the ground now occupied by St James' Church by Sir Jordan Brisset, and given at the dissolution first to the Duke of Norfolk, and afterwards to Sir Walter Henley and John Williams. It is popularly known as St John's Gate. A commandery of the Knights Hospitallers of St John was founded at St John's Square about the same time by the same person, held the paramount place over all the precep-tories and other houses of the order in England, and was given at the dissolution to Viscount Lisle. Most of this edifice, including a fine bell tower, was demolished in the time of Edward VI., but a gateway of it still stood, became Cave's printing office, whence he issued the Gentleman's Magazine, has always figured on that periodical's cover, and has been restored. Aylesbnry House belonged to the com-mandery, and was given to the Bruces. Northampton House, on the site of Northampton Square, was a seat of the Comp-tons. Albemarle or Newcastle House, in Newcastle Place, was the deathplace of the Duchess of Montague. Cromwell is said to have lived, and Sir T. Challoner resided, in a house in St John's Close. Burnet had a house in St John's Square. Lady Huntingdon resided in a house adjoining her chapel. Swedenborg, the founder of the sect of Swedenborgians, died in Great Bath Street. Dibdin had a cottage near Sadler's Wells. Johnson and Goldsmith frequented a house called the Baptist's Head. Dubourg and Handel frequently played at Britton's house in Jerusalem Passage. The Red Bull Theatre of the time of Elizabeth was in Woodbridge Street. Hock-ley-in-the Hole bear garden was in Ray Street. The incorporate clerks performed a play before Richard II. in 1391 at the original Clerkenwell. Cobham the martyr was burnt here in 1417. Edward IV. was proclaimed king here in 1461. A new road to welcome the entry of James I. was formed through hills around the site of Northampton Street.

The parish is ecclesiastically divided into St James or Clerkenwell proper, St John the Baptist, formed in 1723, St Mark in 1828, St Philip in 1840, St James, Pentonville, in 1854, St Silas in 1867, St Peter in 1871, and the Holy Redeemer in 1882. St John is a rectory, the Holy Redeemer a perpetual curacy, and the remainder vicarages, all being in the diocese of London. The gross yearly value of St James is £350; of St John, £440 with residence; of St Mark, net yearly value, £300; of St Philip, net yearly value, £150 with residence; of St James, Pentonville Road, gross yearly value, £276; of St Silas, £229 net with residence; of St Peter, £295 gross; of the Holy Redeemer, £265 net. St John's Church was one of Queen Anne's fifty new churches, occupies the site of the Knights Hospitallers' commandery, and has the old crypts underneath.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountyMiddlesex 

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Church Records

We have transcribed the Marriages 1837-1839.

Civil Registration

For general information about Civil Registration (births, marriages and deaths) see the Civil Registration page.

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Clerkenwell from the following:

Land and Property

A full transcript of the Return of Owners of Land in 1873 for Middlesex is online.


Online maps of Clerkenwell are available from a number of sites:

Villages, Hamlets, &c

CountyGreater London
Postal districtEC1R
Post TownLondon