We're nearly in respectable Clerkenwell, but not quite. There's still one more dive to go, a low-lying depression once called Hockley-in-the-Hole - a name long since erased from the map. Around 1700 this was where the Fleet crossed the northern edge of London, with fields to the north and squalid slums to the south. Hockley-in-the-Hole soon became an infamous resort of the working classes. Here London's low-life gathered in the natural amphitheatre of the Fleet valley to watch and engage in a bit of heavy blood sport. Violent pastimes such as cock-fighting and bear-baiting may have fallen out favour with the middle classes, but local thugs, riff-raff and (especially) butchers flocked here for a quick fix of gore and death, or maybe just a good street brawl.
About 100 years ago the deep depression at Hockley-in-the-Hole was (at least partially) filled in and the slums were cleared away. Today the ASBO'd classes have moved on, and the area is now more famous as the site of the Guardian newspaper's main offices. The Coach and Horses pub (and the Guardian's car park) now stand on the site of the bloody ring where the dogfights, bullfights and swordfights once took place. It's much more peaceful here now, shielded downslope from the busy Farringdon Road, which is quiet enough for a modern encounter with the lost River Fleet. Stand outside the pub in the middle of Ray Street next to an anonymous-looking metal drain cover and you should still be able to hear the waters of the Fleet rushing along through the sewers, several feet beneath the ground. Well I've heard them anyway, just the once, but this historical phenomenon does rather depend on the weather. And if you're ever riding a number 38Routemaster along Rosebery Avenue, try looking down from the top deck as you cross the bridge over Warner Street (yes, this really is a proper river valley) and see if you can still imagine thugs and vagabonds in the streets below yelling their support for battling bears, or just beating the hell out of each other for a laugh. Following the Fleet: Warner Street, Ray Street