Clerkenwell Tales

A walk from Charterhouse Square to the Clerks’ Well

There’s something in the atmosphere of the City fringe that draws me in around midwinter and the turning of the year. That once dubious territory outside the old Roman walls where rivers ran off the rising ground into the Fleet and the Thames. It’s a place of stories. So on New Years Day I set out to capture some of the magic and the mysteries between Charterhouse Square and the Clerks’ Well.

The draw at the beginning was the medieval priory and almshouses of the Charterhouse, but to get there you pass over the buried remains of around 40,000 victims of the Black Death. The water supply to this 14th Century hermitage of Carthusian monks came along the White Conduit from a source in Barnsbury which later became the celebrated White Conduit House pleasure garden. There’s still a tavern on the site but last time I looked it’d become a restaurant.

Charterhouse, Clerkenwell, London

There were very few people around as I looked for the course of the lost river Faggeswell, that once formed a boundary on the southern edge of Clerkenwell. I’d place the course along where Charterhouse Street runs along one side of Smithfield Market. I could have then picked up the cattle route along Cowcross Street but instead took St. John’s Lane to pass through the majestic St. John’s Gate, built in 1504 – a chunk of medieval London hiding in plain site.

St. John's Gate, Clerkenwell, London
St. John’s Gate

The ancient trackway of Clerkenwell Road is crossed on the way to Clerkenwell Green where I imagined the mystery plays being performed around the Skinner’s Well and the Clerks’ Well. The second of these is remembered in the name it gave to the area and also the plaque in Farringon Lane marking its location. The Skinner’s Well though seems to have been forgotten, a process that started long ago. Writing in 1910, Alfred Stanley Foord remarked;

“Skinners’ Well is there described as lying in the valley between the Nun’s Priory and the Holeburn, in which was a large fish-pond… Strype, in his continuation of Stow’s Survey (1720) say, ‘Skinners’ Well is almost quite lost, and so it was in Stow’s time. But I am certainly informed by a knowing parishioner that it lies to the west of the church (of St. James, Clerkenwell), enclosed within certain houses there.’  The parish would fain recover the well again, but cannot tell where the pipes lie. But Dr Rogers, who formerly lived in an house there, showed Mr Edmund Howard…marks in a wall in the close where, as he affirmed, the pipes lay, that it might be known after his death.”

However, there’s no plaque that I could see around St. James Church and the name lives on solely in the presence of Skinner Street.

Clerkenwell Green with its radical roots felt like an appropriate place to end the walk for the video and to look ahead at 2022. I’ve a good feeling about the coming year.

1 Comment

  1. Christine Slike   •  

    Loved the walk AND the snooring dog but the horn (or whatever it was )correction scared the 💩out of me!

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