Londina Illustrata. Graphic and Historical Memorials of Monasteries, Churches, Chapels, Schools, Charitable Foundations, Palaces, Halls, Courts, Processions, Places of Early Amusement, and Modern Present Theatres, in the Cities and Suburbs of London and Westminster, Volume 2Wilkinson, Robert
The Clerken-Will: in Ray Street, in the Parish of St. James, Clerkenwell.
Some of the most characteristic features of London and its suburbs in their early state, were the waters, springs, and wells, by which they were originally distinguished; and which the improvements and extension of the metropolis have gradually caused to be covered or filled up. Independently of the Thames on the south of Middlesex, the larger waters consisted of the following. The Flete, or River of Wells, flowing down from the north at the western extremity of the City; terminating in the stream afterwards called Fleet-Ditch, and running into the Thames: a smaller water, called the Wall-Brook, rising from heads in Moor-fields, passing through the centre of the City, and also flowing into the Thames: and channels still less, named the Lang-Bourne, and the Old-Bourne: the former of which issued from a spring in the eastern quarter of London, and ran parallel with the Thames into the Wall-Brook, behind the present Mansion-house; and the latter rose from heads about , , and ran east into the River of Wells.
The principal Springs and Wells of ancient London, were in the northern suburbs, and they are thus noticed by Fitz- Stephen, about the year : "Round the City again, and towards the north, arise certain excellent springs, at a small distance, whose waters are sweet, salubrious, and clear; and whose runnels murmur o'er the shining stones. Of these, Holy-Well, Clerken-Well, and Well, may be esteemed the principal; as being much the best frequented, both by scholars from the schools, and the youth of the City, when they are disposed to take an airing."[*] In the immediate vicinity of the Clerken-Well, however, Stow records that there were also situate various other wells; as Skinners' Well, Fag's Well, Tode Well, Loder's Well, and Rad Well: all which having the fall of their overflowing into the Flete River, much increased the stream, and gave it in that place the name of Wells.[*] The water of such springs seems to have been esteemed principally on account of its clear and sparkling appearance, occasioned by its containing considerable quantities of Carbonic-acid gas; whence, as also in those instances where the water has been found remarkably free from saline matter, such springs have been usually distinguished by the name of Holy Wells. On account of that very small quantity of saline matter, their medical properties were in general very inconsiderable; and therefore the decline of the reputation of most mineral fountains has been as rapid as its rise.
From the expressions of Fitz-Stephen it is evident that the Wells of London were places for sports and assemblies; and that the spring called CLERKEN-WELL was of the most eminent of them. In noticing the amusements of the City, he further observes that "London, in lieu of the ancient shews of the scene, has exhibitions of a more devout kind; being either representations of those Miracles which were wrought by holy Confessors, or of those passions and sufferings in which the Martyrs so signally displayed their fortitude."[*] Though there be no actual statement that these sacred histories were exhibited at the Clerken-Well, it is very possible that such was the case; as it is explicitly asserted by Stow,[*] that the fountain derived its name from the dramatic performances of the Clerks of the Metropolis upon that spot. Further than this, it has been suggested that both the name and the practice are even still more ancient: and it is at least remarkable that the , as the title is written by Fitz-Stephen, and the Clarks' Well, as it is rendered by Stow,—is still universally known by an English word much older than either author; being called - Well, with the ordinary Anglo-Saxon plural termination. From these circumstances, the latter name has been entirely referred to an English origin; so that instead of deriving the term Clerk from the Norman-French , it may as fairly be deduced from the Latin , and the Anglo-Saxon , or , as written in the and centuries:[*] which supposition would carry both the title and the custom far beyond the Norman Invasion.[*]
The few positive particulars collected by Stow concerning the Dramatic performances of this place, evidently relate to a very remote period, mentioned in contradistinction to the century. "Clarkes-Well, or Clarkenwell," he observes, "is curbed about square, with hard stone; not far from the west end of Clarken-Well Church, without the wall that encloseth the Church. The said Church took the name of the Well, and For example, , to wit in the year , the of Richard II., I read that the Parish-Clerks of London, on the , played Interludes at Skinners' Well, near unto Clarks' Well; which Play continued days together, the King, Queen, and Nobles being present. Also in the year , the of Henry IV., they played a Play at the Skinners' Well which lasted days, and which was of matter from the Creation of the World: there were to see the same most part of the nobles and gentles in England, &c.[**] Other smaller Wells were many near unto Clarks'-Well: namely, Skinners' Well, so called for that the Skinners of London held there certain Plays, yearly played, of Holy Scripture. In place whereof the wrestlings have of latter years been kept; and are in part continued at Bartholomew-tide."[*] Previously to concluding the very few notices which are now remaining of the early state of the Clerken-Well, it may be mentioned that the ancient Dramatic Mysteries were of principal versions, the Chester and the Coventry; so called from their having been composed and commonly performed in those Cities. They comprised the whole Scripture-history, from the Creation of the World to the Day of Judgment; divided into separate portions, each consisting of a single event, sufficient for day's short performance: and the Prologue recited on the day, declared the subjects intended to be represented in the ensuing exhibitions with their order.[*]
|The dialogue was generally composed in rhyming stanzas, and was probably delivered in a sort of chaunting recitative; which will account for the Parish-Clerks being in so great esteem as actors of such pieces, since they were the principal professers of vocal melody before the Reformation, and their Fraternity had the sole direction of all sacred music in churches. They were also accustomed to attend at all great funerals; in which their office was to walk before the hearse, carrying their surplices, till they came to the Church-door, singing solemn dirges all the way. From the century they were known under the name of the Fraternity of St. Nicholas, by which style they were Incorporated by Henry III. in .[*]|
The circumstance in the modern history of Clerken-Well appears to be that in , George Compton, Earl of Northampton, presented the Parish of St. James with that very Spring for the use of the poor during pleasure. The officers immediately leased it to John Cross, brewer, for years at per annum;[*] and it was in his occupation in , when the Rev. John Strype gave the following account of it. "The Old Well of Clerken-Well, whence the Parish had its name, is still known to the inhabitants. It is on the right hand of a lane that leads from Clerken-Well to Hockley-in-the-Hole, in a bottom. Mr. Crosse, a brewer, hath this Well enclosed: but the water runs from him into the said place. It is enclosed with a high wall, which formerly was built to bound in Clerken-Well Close:[*] the present Well being also enclosed with another lower wall from the street. The way to it is through a little house, which was the watch-house: you go down a good many steps to it. The Well had formerly iron-work and brass cocks, which are now cut off: the water spins through the old wall. I was there, and tasted the water, and found it excellently clear, sweet, and well-tasted. The Parish is much displeased, as some of them told me, that it is thus gone to decay, and thought to make some complaint at a Commission for Charitable Uses; hoping by that means to recover it to common use again, the water being highly esteemed hereabouts, and many from those parts send for it."[*] Since the time of this statement a pump was erected over the Spring, the situation of which was altered in to a more convenient spot; and the water itself now appears to issue from the old wall with great slowness and difficulty, as if some obstruction were at the fountain-head.[*]
The annexed Engraving represents an Inscription upon a cast-iron tablet fixed upon the front of the present Pump, as a memorial of the site and history of this celebrated fountain. Its situation is on the north side of , near the eastern end by Clerken-Well Green, as indicated in the Ground Plan at the side of the View. On the western side of the Pump is the building formerly a watch-house, which in was converted into a prison, for such persons as might be apprehended by the parochial constables for misdemeanours on Sundays: it is now, however, very little used, —seldom, or never, on Sundays,—but occasionally during the week persons are confined in it for offences committed before the watch be set. The Pump itself is of iron, let into the wall of a low shop on the eastern side of it, long noted for the sale of birds; the cages of which are hung round the front so as almost to obscure the white panel with the inscription. Of that inscription, the work whence several of the present notices have been derived, observes that part of the information conveyed by it is not only gratuitous, but unlikely to be accurate. It is there stated, that "the water was greatly esteemed by the Prior and Brethren of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem;" but their House had a copious supply within its own precinct, and had no reason to resort to a finer spring than that immediately without the north wall of the Hospital court, which now supplies the pump before the Charity-School in . It is also further asserted, that "the Spring by which it is supplied is situated feet eastward;" which rightly indicates the place of the , but the There it falls into an oblong receptacle paved with square tiles, extending beneath the former watch-house and the adjoining shop; the dimensions of which receptacle are somewhat more than feet by . An aperture in the floor enables the curious inquirer to descend by a ladder, and view the outlet of the fountain, which is extremely minute; so that in summer, when the water is in the greatest request, the store is frequently exhausted and the pavement left dry.[*] The Spring is approached from its receptacle by steps, over which is a brick arch; most probably erected at the restoration of the well, since the time of Strype.[**]
The situation of the other celebrated Spring of this place called Skinners' Well, is now altogether unknown; and even in the period of Strype was very doubtful. "It is almost," says he, "quite lost; and was so in Stow's time: but I was certainly informed by a knowing parishioner, that it lies on the west of the Church, enclosed within certain houses there. The Parish would fain recover this Well again, but cannot tell where the pipes lie. But Dr. Roger, who formerly lived in a house there, showed Mr. E(dmund) H(oward), late churchwarden, in a wall in the close, where as he affirmed the pipes laid, that it might be known after his death."[*]
[*] Descriptio Nobilissimæ Civitatis Londoniæ, Edit. by the Rev. Samuel Pegge, Lond. 1772, 4to. pp. 27, 61.
[*] Stow's Survey of London, Edit. by the Rev. J. Strype, Lond. 1720. Fol. Vol. I. book i. chap. v. p. 23.
[*] Descript. Nobiliss. Civitat. Londoniæ, pp. 45, 73.
[*] This ancient and very curious tract of Gulielmus Stephanides, or William Fitz-Stephen, was first printed and translated by Stow at the end of his Survey of London, 1598, 4to., as being an author "more choice than any other for the ancient estate of this City;" and also because "the said author being rare, I have in this place thought good by impression to impart the same to my loving friends."
[*] Dictionarium Saxonico et Gothico-Latinum, by Edw. Lye, Edit. by the Rev. Owen Manning, Lond. 1772, Fol. Vol. I.
[*] This ingenious conjecture appears in a meritorious work entitled a History and Description of the Parish of Clerkenwell, by J. and H. S. Storer, and T. Cromwell, Lond. 1828. 8vo. pp. 10, 41.
[**] The latter performance appears to have been succeeded by "a royal jousting in Smithfield, between the Earl of Somerset and the Seneschal of Hainault, Sir John Cornwall, Sir Richard Arundel, and the son of Sir John Cheyney, against certain Frenchmen." Strype's Stow's Survey of London, Vol. I. book iii. chap. xii. p. 239.
[*] Strype's Stow's Survey of London, Vol. I. book i. chap. v. p. 24, chap. xxix. p. 247.
[*] The fullest particulars on the subject of the old English Mysteries are contained in the following works: the Introduction attached to an edition of the Chester Mysteries of Noe's Flood and the Slaughter of the Innocents, privately printed for the Roxburghe Club in 1818, 4to. by J. H. Markland, Esq., which introduction was published with the Prolegomena prefixed to the late Mr. James Boswell's edition of Malone's Shakspeare, Lond. 1821, 8vo. A Dissertation on the Pageants, or Dramatic Mysteries, anciently Performed at Coventry; by Thos. Sharp, Covent. 1825, 4to. In the Cottonian Collection of MSS. is a volume of the Coventry Mysteries, extending from the Creation of the World to the Ascension of Jesus Christ, written about the reign of Edward IV.; it is marked Vespasian A. VIII.
[*] Strype's Stow's Survey of London, Vol. II. book v. chap. xiv. p. 231.
[*] Hist. of Clerkenwell, p. 85.
[*] The close alluded to belonged to the Priory of St. Mary, for Nuns of the Benedictine Order, founded at Clerken-Well soon after the year 1100; the western wall of which is known to have taken this direction, leaving the reservoir of the fountain still farther to the west on the outside. In the large Plan of London published by Radulphus Aggas, about the year 1562, the water of the Clerken-Well is shewn rushing in a considerable stream through a circular aperture in the wall of a house on this spot into a kind of square basin, or receptacle within three low walls built out from the house. Another representation of the Springs upon this spot, still more ancient, is a drawing by George Vertue executed for the Society of Antiquaries, from an old parchment roll belonging to Nicholas Mann, Esq., shewn by Mr. Birch in 1747; consisting of a survey of the Wells and Waters of St. John. Clerken-Well, and of the Charter House, with a plan of that edifice, the cells, and the Chapter house, originally made in 1511. In the Plan of St. James's Parish, Clerken-Well, of 1720, inserted in Strype's Stow's Survey of London, Vol. II. book iv. chap. iii. p. 63, the street in which the Spring is situate is without a name; but the north-west part of it which terminates in the fields is marked Town's End Lane. After that time it was named Rag Street, from the number of dealers in rags and old iron who resided in it; but since 1774 it has been called Ray-street, as it is at present. History of Clerkenwell, p. 261.
[*] Strype's Stow's Survey of London, Vol. II. book iv. chap. iii. p. 69.
[*] Hist. of Clerkenwell, p. 265.
[*] The flow of water issuing from these Springs, appears to have been always uncertain and liable to fail. When the Earl of Exeter resided in St. John's Square, in 1637, and required to be furnished from the White-Conduit which supplied the Charter-house, the governors of that establishment refused to let him have the water from the fountain-head, but allowed him a pipe from the water-house of the Hospital, carrying at the rate of two gallons an hour. The pipes which conveyed this water to the Charter-house were cleaned in 1654; but the supply was then so much reduced, that the governors ordered the New River water to be adopted instead.
[**] Hist. of Clerkenwell, pp. 263, 264, 287.
[*] Strype's Stow's Survey of London, Vol. II. book iv. chap. iii. p. 69. The other wells of Clerken-Well were dammed up in the time of Stow; "And so remained," adds Strype, "and altogether unknown, till within these forty years or thereabouts (1680), when, upon some occasion, they or some of them were new discovered: and being found mineral waters, of the nature of Tunbridge, they became greatly frequented by Citizens, and used as chalybeate waters for correcting hypochondriacal distempers." It is stated in The History of Clerkenwell, p. 266, that the position of another of the wells mentioned by Stow near the Church, had been recently discovered in 1827.
Title page of Vol. 2 reads: Theatrum illustrata. Graphic and historic memorials of ancient playhouses, modern theatres and other places of public amusement in the cities and suburbs of London & Westminster with scenic and incidental illustrations from the time of Shakspear to the present period.