diamond geezer

 Monday, August 22, 2005

Reviewing the Fleet

Last year, as part of the London Architecture Bienalle, I stumbled upon an open-air exhibition in Clerkenwell called Discovering the Fleet. A trail of blue bunting hung from lamppost to lamppost following the course of the old river, while on Vine Street Bridge some arty people had installed a row of tall blue flags, a small sandy 'beach' and a narrow pool in a big blue pondliner. It was chucking it down with rain at the time, and the volunteer manning the exhibition looked semi-drowned in his orange kagoule. As a result all the information sheets pasted on the walls of the bridge were soaking wet, including a map of the lost rivers of London, but I was absolutely hooked. "Ooh", I thought, "I could write something on my blog about the River Fleet, maybe even a big month-long project." If the aim of this small exhibition was to raise awareness about some of London's hidden heritage then it succeeded, because you're reading the result.

Just behind Vine Street Bridge is the hole in the ground that gave Clerkenwell its name. The Clerk's Well was first recorded in the 12th century. It was originally located in the boundary wall of St Mary's Nunnery, and here each year the Parish Clerks of London assembled here on the banks of the Fleet to performed biblical mystery plays. After the Reformation the well was relocated in a basement, and you can still see it (well, sort of) through the window of some chartered accountants' offices at Well Court. (photo)

There's tons I could write about Clerkenwell, because it's well historic, but I'll just mention a few of the western highlights:
Clerkenwell Green: It's barely green at all, more tarmac-grey these days, with a paved seating area in the centre. Absolute hub of trendiness it is, if you like boutiques, gastropubs, fine dining and stuff. (photo)
Marx Memorial Library: The oldest building on the Green, its offices once used by Lenin (while in exile) to edit his Iskra propaganda newspaper. Established as a left-leaning library on the 50th anniversary of Marx's death in 1933, and still the only place in Britain where you can flick through bound volumes containing every single edition of the Morning Star. (sorry, closed August)
Middlesex Sessions House: Big building with Palladian facade, opened in 1782 as the courthouse for the county of Middlesex, more recently reopened as the London Masonic Centre (for aproned folk with trowels). (look inside)
Turnmill Street: In the 16th and 17th centuries this was North London's most prominent red light district. A different sort of hedonism survives today at world-famous club venue Turnmills - still hip but not quite as cutting-edge as it once was. I've never been myself, but Mike seems to have spent several years of his life there and can tell you all about the Trade years. (photo)

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