Thursday, 10 April 2008

19th October 2007 - Very Old Holborn - Buildings from Before the Fire (1666)

Anyway as it's Friday - it's another history lesson - as you may have guessed by now history was my favourite subject at school!

Today's walk was entitled - Very Old Holborn - Buildings from Before the Fire (1666).

As usual our Guide was Aly. We walked down to Gate Street to start our walk - and stopped outside No.4. This is currently a modern looking gift shop but behind it's modern facade lies a very old building. Originally called Newton Buildings it was built between 1642 and 1666. The Rate Book shows the first tenant was a Richard Sherborne who lived there in 1667. However one of the neighbouring houses' Rate Book shows it's first tenant living in the property in 1659. So we can safely assume that Newton Buildings was built circa 1658. The building has been greatly altered over time and has been used as a workshop, Millers Restaurant and a gift shop. During the second world war, Miller's Restaurant survived two massive bombs which destroyed the famous Holborn Empire Theatre which was just a short distance away. A bookshop and a card shop now stand on the site of the theatre. Click HERE for more information on the Holborn Empire.

We then walked through Lincoln's Inn Fields (past my office building Built 1640) to Portsmouth Street, and stopped in front of The Old Curiosity Shop. This wonderful building dates from 1567 and actually has three floors although you can only see the ground floor and the first floor from the front. It is the oldest surviving shop in England, as it has never been anything else since it was built. It was originally a dairy and then an antique shop but now sells shoes - both modern and antique.

Of course the Old Curiosity Shop was immortalised by Charles Dickens in his novel of the same name. However, the original Old Curiosity Shop on which the book is based was actually nearer to Leicester Square. This shop only took on the name about 30 years after the book was published. It is also the only surviving building from the old Clare Market area. All the remaining buildings were demolished about 1900 as it had become a slum area. This was about the same time that they built Kingsway.

Next we move onto Carey Street to The Seven Stars Pub. This is a very popular hostelry with the Legal profession as it is right across the road from The Royal Courts of Justice. Built in 1602 it was originally called the Leg and Seven Stars Leg is a shortform of League. It was named for the seven provinces of the Netherlands, after the many Dutch sailors who lived in the area at that time.

We then walked along Chancery Lane up on to High Holborn and then to Staple Inn. Staple Inn was one of the nine Inns of Chancery. The Inns of Chancery were established to support the four Inns of Court. They are Inner Temple, Middle Temple, Lincoln's Inn and Gray's Inn. Each Inn of Chancery provided approximately 100 students with accommodation and training in the law. Staple Inn was linked to Gray's Inn.

The original meaning of Staple means 'a pile of goods for sale' or in this case a pile of wool for sale. Inn was in fact a dwelling place rather than a pub or hostelry so

Staple Inn = a house of wool and in fact it was the Wool Customs House.

There is an inscription in the alleyway to the side of the Inn which says: "Original building erected between 1545 - 1589 by Vincent Engane & another. Rear Elevation cases in brick 1821. Front restored 1886. Reconstructed in 1937 keeping the original front."

Staple Inn in 1886

When it mentioned "front restored 1886" what it actually refers to is the removal of the unsightly plasterboards that had been put on the frontage to cover the beautiful black and white half timbered structure. The Victorians were ashamed of having medieval buildings still in use in London - this was during the expansion of the Empire and they wanted to project London as a new modern city.

Beneath the overhanging frontage, the shops at street level have the feel of the 19th century. Through an arched entrance is a courtyard, with some 18th century buildings. Staple Inn's courtyard has long been known as a secluded haven away from the noise and congestion of the capital. The 19th century American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote, 'there was not a quieter spot in England that this', and Charles Dickens included its tranquility in 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood'.

Staple Inns buildings were used as an illustration on tins and pouches of 'Old Holborn'
tobacco. It now holds the offices of The Institute of Actuaries.

Well that was the end of this weeks walk. I hope you have enjoyed reading it!


Beckster said...

Awesome blog! I'm a Londoner, come check out the historic Tudor market town of Kingston Upon Thames (where the King's Stone is located!) if you get the chance. 20 mins from Waterloo, bit far for a lunch break though! You've inspired me. I used to live in Clerkenwell but haven't delved into London's history in a while, thanks for the inspiration

Orlicat said...

Thank you for your kind comments - I was in Kingston last year but didn't have a chance to check it out properly. I will try to at some point!