The Great and the Good of Hatton Garden

Posted August 24, 2012

The new residents of Hatton Garden after the Great Fire of London were mostly the new merchant classes – solid and respectable but not fashionable.  Notable residents included Sir Moses Montefiore at number 87, partner and brother to Baron M. N. Rothschild, whose house later became the Diamond Club until it was demolished in 1999.

John Stanley, a blind composer and friend of Handel, lived here;  Dr Flamsteed, the Astronomer Royal, was also an early resident and Captain Corum who established the Foundlings Hospital in Corum’s Fields, also lived in Hatton Garden in 1740.


The child poet, Chatterton, moved to number 39 Brooke Street from Bristol, hoping to make his fortune from his writing.  Chatterton came from a humble background – his father died before he was born and he was educated at charitable institutions, where he developed a love of poetry.  At 14 he worked for a law firm as a clerk copying documents, but in his spare time he continued to write.  He became famous when he claimed to have discovered the poems of a 15th century monk called Thomas Rowley hidden in the vaults of a local church.  The poems were described by the literary community as magnificent – until it was discovered that they had been written by Chatterton and Rowley did not exist.  He then tried to earn a living as a poet, subsidizing his income by writing political features. He was a pauper when he died, committing suicide by swallowing arsenic, and his body was thrown into a mass grave.  Keats and Coleridge described him as a romantic rebel and Wordsworth called him “the marvelous boy”.  None of his poems were published in his lifetime.  He was just 17 years old.

Lord Brooke, Fulke Greville, a famous 16th century literary figure, advisor to the Queen and James I and patron of Ben Jonson and William Shakespeare, owned Brooke House and Brooke Street and Greville Street were named after him.  Charles Lamb described him as one of the

“persons one would wish to have seen”

 “His style is apocalyptical, cabalistic …”

His own epitaph states

 “ Subject of Queen Elizabeth;

counsellor to King James;

friend of Sir Philip Sydney”

Sir Fulke Greville, was murdered by his servant in Brooke House.

It was not just the noble poets and literary figures which influenced those who named the streets in and around Hatton Garden.  On a more rustic note, Baldwin’s Gardens was named after Mr. Baldwin, one of Queen Elizabeth’s gardeners.

In 1697, Walter Baynes discovered a spring in a field just north of Hatton Garden called Sir John Oldcastle’s Field and named after the Lollard martyr who lived in the area.  Many medicinal properties were reputed to lie within the soil and the plants that grew there.

On a romantic note, the Countess of Drogheda, whom the poet and dramatist, Wycherley met in a bookshop in Tunbridge Wells looking for a book titled “The Plain Dealer”, also lived in Hatton Garden.  Shortly afterwards, the she married Wycherley in secret, fearing the wrath of King Charles II, but it was an unhappy relationship – the Countess did not trust her new husband would not allow him of her sight.  Eventually they found a compromise and Wycherley was allowed to meet his friends and business acquaintances at a tavern opposite the house in Bow Street, close enough for her to continue to observe his activities.

The 17th century was the age of the highwaymen.   They generally preferred to operate on the outskirts of the city and in rural areas from where they could make a rapid escape.  However, James Dalton is reputed to be the first highwayman to stop coaches in the centre of London and was known to have conducted his crime in and around Hatton Garden and the Inns of Court.  He was caught in Leather Lane after a failed attempt to rob the coach of Dr. Mead as he was driving past Furnivall’s Inn.  His pistol miss fired and was taken to Black Bull (later pulled down to make way for Gamages store) to be searched.  On that occasion there was not enough evidence to convict him but he was later caught red-handed and was hung at Tyburn in 1731.

Crime was rife and the law enforcement was insufficient to protect the wealthy citizens of Hatton Garden.  On 29th December 1678, a gang of 20 young men presented themselves at a house in Hatton Garden, to “a gentleman of considerable fortune and quality”, and “pretended they had an order from authority to search the house for dangerous persons, making use of the public distempers of the times to colour their wicked design.”  The robbers escaped with their booty but were captured two days later and the stolen goods return to their rightful owner.

Amongst the other citizens of note were Mr. Rogers who kept the public baths at number 32 and let a small part of the same house to Samual Plimsoll who ran a coal agency.  Later, Mr. Plimsoll became the MP for Derby and introduced the compulsory loading line for ships – the Plimsoll Line.

In the 19th century, Charles Dickens lived and worked in Holborn and the museum dedicated to his life and works is situated at number 48 Doughty Street.  Many of the characters and events described in his books took place in the area.  Oliver Twist was taken to the Court House at 52 Hatton Garden for stealing Mr. Brownlow’s handkerchief.   The area around Saffron Hill had an evil reputation and is thought to have been the site of Fagin’s notorious Thieves Kitchen. The famously complex law suite of Jarndyce versus Jarndyce is believed to have been based on the complex chancery case of the Hatton Garden Estate that occurred on the death the last Lord Hatton and the executor of the will, the Earl of Nottingham.

Hatton Garden is in the parish of St, Andrew’s and a church on the present site at Holborn circus was first mentioned in 951.  In 1348, John Thane left houses and shops “to maintain for ever the fabric of St. Andrews Church”.  The fund still maintains the church and its property.  It was re-built by Christopher Wren in 1684 to 1690 and is the largest of his parch churches.  One winters’ night in 1827, Dr. William Marsden found a young girl dying of exposure in his churchyard.  He could not find a hospital to take the poor sick child and was so horrified by the incident that he founded the Royal Free Hospital that admitted the poor without any of the usual formality.

Mazzini – the Italian nationalist and patriot, founder of the Young Italy movement that was committed to Italian unity and independence – lived at Number 2 and the area still has a large a vibrant Italian community, sometimes known as Little Italy. Charles Barry, a young architect who purchased one of the new properties in Ely Place, designed the catholic church of St Peter’s in Clerkenwell Road that as opened in 1832 and is famous for the magnificent procession that takes place every summer.


Image: The death of Thomas Chatterton, painted by Henry Wallis;  the young George Meredith was reputed to have beed the model for the artist.  The painting can be seen in Tate Modern.