Now popular with creative firms, gastropubs and smart apartment blocks, Clerkenwell is rich in history. This Clerkenwell walk covers London’s oldest church, St. Bartholomew’s, Smithfield Market dating back many centuries, Cloth Fair, a maze of narrow streets and London’s oldest hospital, St. Bartholomew’s or Barts as it is more commonly known. Discover this and more with our Clerkenwell walk.
Travel Essentials – Clerkenwell walk
Directions | Duration | Distance | Difficulty
Start point: Angel underground station – Zone 1. Northern line.
Finish point: Barbican underground station – Zone 1. Circle line.
Map: TfL Tube Map.
Duration: 2 hours.
Distance: 4km (2.49 mile).
Notes: The Museum of London is at the end of the walk.
Quick facts about Clerkenwell
- Oliver Cromwell lived at Clerkenwell Close, near the Green.
- Vladimir Lenin resided on Percy Circus and drank at The Crown Tavern.
- Smithfield is one of London’s oldest markets.
- Once known as Little Italy due to the large Italian population in the 1900s.
- St John’s Gate represented Islington as a landmark for the London 2012 Olympics.
Clerkenwell walk – Points of Interest
- Wild Kong sculpture.
- The squares, New River Head and Rosebury Avenue.
- Exmouth Market.
- Spa Fields.
- St. James’s Church.
- Clerks’ Well.
- St. John’s Square and St. John’s Gate.
- Smithfield Marke area
- St. Bartholomew’s Hospital.
- Smithfield Ambulance Station.
- St. Bartholomew the Great.
- Cloth Fair.
Route map of Clerkenwell walk
1. Wild Kong sculpture
Leaving Angel underground station take a left onto Pentonville Road. On the right-hand side, just past Baron Street, is the Wild Kong sculpture by the French sculptor Richard Orlinski. The sculpture is impossible to miss, a bright red, larger-than-life gorilla standing in front of a block of flats. A 14-inch version sells for about £3,500.
2. The squares, New River Head and Rosebury Avenue
Turn left into Claremont Square at the statue, passing the square on the left. It has two reservoirs, collecting water from New River Head. The Harry Potter films use the square as 12 Grimmauld Place. Continue along Mylne Street and past St. Mark’s Church which lies in Myddelton Square Gardens. Both squares originate from the 1820s.
Continue and cross River Street into Myddelton Passage. Walking through the gate leads to New River Gate, a public viewing area overlooking New River Head. It brought water from 20 miles away in Hertfordshire. Here are the remains of an old windmill.
Walking back out of the gate, head along Myddelton Passage, and turn right into Arlington Way. On the left is the Sadler Wells Theatre, a world-leading performing arts venue. It started in 1653 and now houses a 1500 seat auditorium and several rehearing rooms.
Walking along Rosebery Avenue, on the left is Spa Green garden, a peaceful place where you can find the bronze Finsbury War Memorial. The estate is a 1930s plan for social regeneration using Modernist architecture.
Along Gloucester way on the corner of Rosebury Avenue and Garnault Place is the Urdang Academy. Originally a ballet school, it is now an independent performing arts academy and the old Finsbury Town Hall site.
3. Exmouth Market
Take the turning for Gsrnault Place and at the end is Exmouth Market. It consists of outdoors stalls, cafés, restaurants and gift shops. Nearly every eaterie has an outdoor area with covers, and this is a nice spot to take a break. The name comes from the Exmouth Arms pub on the corner and the street featured in Filth and Wisdom, a 2008 film directed by Madonna.
4. Spa Fields
At the end of the street is an open space, Spa Fields. The 1816 Spa Fields riots took place here when fighting broke out at a parliamentary meeting, resulting in a walk to the Tower of London.
Walking along Northampton Street, there is evidence of regeneration. Industrial premises and workspaces now promote innovation and business ideas. Historically, Clerkenwell produces clocks and watches. At the end of the street, veer left into Sans Walk. On the corner is the former Clerkenwell Prison.
5. St. James’s Church
Take the next right into St. James Walk and on the right is St. James’s Church. Burials occurred here with a long history, including Matthew King in 1737, the English highwayman and accomplice accidentally shot by Dick Turpin during a robbery.
The church has memorials victims of the Fenian Conspiracy in 1867, after a foiled escape plot from Clerkenwell Prison, killing 12 and injuring 120. The group blew a hole in the wall attempting to release two of their members.
The church crypt is popular for exhibitions, conferences, and filming locations for films such as About a Boy starring Hugh Grant. The courtyard is a serene place to take a break, with a kiosk offering refreshments.
6. Clerks’ Well
Turning left at the main entrance to the church, head towards Clerkenwell Green. Wells Court is an office block between St. John’s Priory and St. Mary’s nunnery in Farringdon Lane. Clerkenwell, named after the original Clerks’ Well, became popular for radicalism and revolutionists.
7. St. John’s Square and St. John’s Gate
Leaving Clerkenwell Green, turn left into Aylesbury Street and the right into Jerusalem Passage. A green plaque for Thomas Britton (1644-1714) is on the corner, a coalman who held weekly concerts about his workshop. Great musicians, such as George Frideric Handel, played here. The passage leads to St. John’s Square, where The Knights of St. John and The Knights Templar were based. The new order launched St. John Ambulance Brigade in 1877 at this site.
Cross Clerkenwell Road and continue through the gate to St. John’s Lane. On the left, just after the arch, is The Frövi Showroom with a plaque describing the destruction of German aircraft on 18th December 1917. At the end, turn right onto St. John Street, which leads to Smithfield Market.
8. Smithfield Market area
Sometimes known by its official name, London Central Markets, Smithfield Market is the largest wholesale meat market in the UK and one of Europe’s largest markets. The Square Mile of the City of London has been operating here for over 800 years.
Since it has been around since medieval times, there is plenty of history, such as executions, religious protests and trading. For example, over 200 Protestants were burned alive in the 1550s. It was also London’s primary live cattle trading market until 1855.
Sir Horace Jones designed Smithfield, in addition to other London markets. His most famous work is Tower Bridge, working on the initial stages of construction.
Walk through the market and then straight ahead into Smithfield Rotunda Garden. Here, jousts, exhibitions and smaller markets were held in the 14th and 15th centuries. There is a bronze drinking fountain in the centre, representing peace. Beneath the garden was once an underground station, the ramp is still visible.
9. St. Bartholomew’s Hospital
Next to the Smithfield Rotunda Garden is St Bartholomew’s Hospital, or Barts, primarily a teaching hospital founded in 1123. It is the oldest hospital in the UK, still providing medical services on the original site.
Walk through the archway beneath the black-and-white half-timbered building to reach the hospital. At the second-floor level is St. Bartholomew’s statue holding a knife, which killed him on a missionary journey to Armenia. Behind the main entrance gate is a statue of King Henry VIII, his only remaining one in London.
10. Smithfield Ambulance Station
Walking out of the hospital ground with the Smithfield Rotunda Garden directly in front, to the left, is the tiny, oddly located Smithfield Ambulance Station. The white building behind is the Old Pathology building from where Sherlock Holmes fell.
11. St. Bartholomew the Great
Walking past the black-and-white half-timbered building on the left and the William Wallace memorial is a gateway leading to the parish church of St. Bartholomew the Great.
As London’s oldest church and, with St. Barts hospital chapel, is the only surviving part of Augustinian priory from 1123. It was demolished in 1542 but survived the Great Fire of London. However, squatters lived there during the 18th century, yet luckily survived The Blitz. On the left, towards the benches, cut across the courtyard and out onto Long Lane.
12. Cloth Fair
Cloth Fair is a maze of narrow streets and alleyways surrounding St. Bartholomew the Great. During the 1500s, cloth and textiles were the primary sources of England’s wealth. As a result, St. Bartholomew Fair used to be England’s biggest cloth fair, with merchants travelling from all over Europe.
Looking back along Long Lane, with St. Bartholomew the Great on the left, is a Tudor symmetrical-looking sandstone building and the oldest house in the City of London.
At The Hand & Shears pub on the right, turn left to The Olde Red Cow pub, where Peter Ustinov was a regular, and go through the archway into Hayne Street. Cross Charterhouse Street into Charterhouse Square.
This pentagonal garden square is mostly Tudor architecture, restored after The Blitz. In 2014, workers on the Crossrail Project found a large burial pit for victims of The Black Death in 1348.
The famous Charterhouse School takes up one side of the square, initially a monastery and now public school charging fees up to £40,000 per year for boarders. In 1872 it moved to Godalming in Surrey. Former pupils, referred to as Old Carthusians, features many prominent people.
Walking to the right is Rutland Place, leading to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical School. Next to Rutland Place is the Grade II-listed Florin Court, built in 1936 this art deco style building has an impressive curved façade which is striking in design. The building featured in Agatha Christie’s Poirot was Hercule Poirot’s fictional residence, Whitehaven Mansions.
Turn left into Charterhouse Square, and at the end, straight ahead, is the 16-storey Blake Tower on the Barbican Estate, a Brutalist apartment building, formerly the Barbican YMCA. The unusual external fire escape stairs give it a distinctive look. Turn right and proceed 50m to Barbican underground station, where the walk ends.
The verdict – Clerkenwell walk
The Clerkenwell Walk explores some of the lesser-known parts of London. Trendy cafes and indie shops line Exmouth Market with plenty of outdoor seating. There is a twice-weekly street-food market too.
This walk covers the remains of three medieval monasteries, two Georgian squares, London’s oldest hospital and oldest church and a market going back several centuries.
Architecture is also prominent in the area, and Clerkenwell is home to various creative practices, including architects, branding agencies and craft studios. The walk finishes in Barbican, an area famed for Brutalist architecture and regeneration following the Second World War. Extend the walk to The Barbican Centre, which is a performing arts centre, and the largest of its kind in Europe. Taking over 10 years to build, the Queen opened it in 1982.
Cabin Bags Only rating: 7.5/10
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