The Zetter’s neighbourhood is simply dripping in the most incredible history. Through the centuries Clerkenwell has evolved from being the original Roman settlement of “Londinium”; home to London’s crusading knighthood; where Shakespeare’s plays were licensed; the ecclesiastical centre of Europe; victim of the 1381 peasants’ revolt; heartland of the Victorian Chartist movement; and host to both Lenin and Marx...
One of the oldest villages in London, by the 12th century, Clerkenwell was truly put on the map as home to the 12th century Priory of the Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem (also known as Hospitallers). From their base in St John’s Square, they set off to give care and protection to pilgrims visiting the holy site of Palestine. One of its better known guises today is as the St John’s Ambulance Association.
This led the area to become the ecclesiastical centre of the Christian world and through time evolved to become the epi-centre for London’s radicalists, from where speeches were made, marches led and shelter given to all manner of sympathetic neighbours from the Chartists to the early Fenians to Marx himself.
By the 17th Century, Clerkenwell had established itself as a fashionable place of residence (Oliver Cromwell was one famous resident), renowned for its tea gardens, theatres and healing spa springs.
The Industrial Revolution changed the area greatly. It became a centre for breweries, distilleries and the printing industry. Alas, due perhaps in part to no shortage of “grog”, its fortunes declined and by the late Victorian era it was better known for its slums and poverty, as depicted by Charles Dickens in Oliver Twist (Oliver meets the Artful Dodger on Clerkenwell Green).