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Clerkenwell area guide


Area Guide

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Clerkenwell Area Info

Clerkenwell Area Info

Clerkenwell, in the London Borough of Islington, is widely regarded as one of the most fashionable places to live and sits right next door to the city. However, despite this proximity, you won’t find any gleaming towers dedicated to the pursuit of money and power here. Instead, you’ll find an area laced with cobbled alleys and the old converted warehouses of lost trades and industries.

Mentioned in Shakespeare’s sonnets and popping up in works by Charles Dickens, William Thackeray and William Morris, Clerkenwell has always been a hive of creativity. Today, however, it is young designers and architects who mostly thrive here.

The area’s connectivity is also a powerful draw, with St Pancras International just one stop from Farringdon tube station, perfect for a quick weekend getaway across the Channel. But should you wish to stay closer to home, Farringdon station, being on the Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines, can also get you into the city or central London in just minutes. Farringdon London Thameslink, meanwhile, makes Brighton, Gatwick Airport and Cambridge in easy reach while the imminent arrival of the Elizabeth line, will open up London and the home counties even further.

For those looking to live in Clerkenwell, the world is your oyster, with the area offering an eclectic mix of styles, from converted industrial warehouses, Georgian and Victorian townhouses, new mews houses and modern, high end flats and apartments. Being such a sought-after area, property does not come cheap, but it does put you at the centre of the action.

Residents here mostly tend to be creative professionals and city workers. However, families are also drawn to Clerkenwell, which is relatively quiet and peaceful during the week, but springs into life at the weekends when the bustling markets, restaurants and bars pull in the crowds.

Of the primary schools in the area, Christopher Hatton and St Peter and St Paul are popular choices, with an outstanding and good Oftsed rating respectively. The two nearest state secondary schools, both judged outstanding, are Central Foundation Boys’ School and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School for girls.

Things to do in Clerkenwell

Residents of Clerkenwell are certainly not short of choice when it comes to dining options. For carnivores, we thoroughly recommend St John, a Michelin star restaurant where proprietor Fergus Henderson pioneered the concept of nose to tail dining. If, however, it’s Japanese you’re after, then it’s got to be Sushi Tetsu, one of London’s smallest sushi bars, with just seven seats, but what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in taste. What is often claimed to be London’s first gastro pub, The Eagle, can also be found here, and although still going strong, it now has competition in the likes of The Pheasant and The Easton, each serving up an excellent range of food and drink.

Clerkenwell also happens to be home to some of London’s finest food markets, most notably Exmouth Market, which is located right in the heart of the area, along a street lined with trendy cafés and restaurants, including Café Kick, Santoré, and the highly acclaimed Moro. Smithfield Market, meanwhile, is home to the UK’s largest wholesale meat market, which to see in action, needs to be visited early in the morning. There’s also several good dining options here, including Smiths of Smithfield, which is housed in a cavernous old warehouse and spread over four floors, complete with rooftop bar and outside terrace. As you would expect from its location, meat features fairly heavily on the menu, but pescatarians, vegetarians and vegans are also well catered for here too. A popular haunt of hungry city workers looking for a tasty takeaway lunch is Whitecross Street Food Market where you’ll find everything from Buddha bowls and biryanis to pies and pasta, plus a lot more besides.

For the culture vultures among you, a trip to Sadler’s Wells is a must. One of the world’s best contemporary dance venues that draws in half a million people every year, the theatre showcases new talent alongside well known names and covers all genres, from hip hop and ballet to contemporary and jazz.

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History of Clerkenwell

Clerkenwell’s history is largely a religious one. It’s name comes from the Clerk’s Well in Farringdon Lane. After the hospital and Priory of St John of Jerusalem was founded in 1140, the Sisters of the St Benedictine Order drew water from the well, and annual plays were performed close by, by the London Parish Clerks and City Students, making the well a focal point for the area. Part of the well remains visible today, through the window of a building at 14-16 Farringdon Lane, and can be visited by appointment.

Traders were an important part of Clerkenwell’s heritage. Apart from the famous Smithfield Market since medieval times jewellers, printers, bookbinders locksmiths and horologists would ply their trades. Today, these crafts remain well represented, although now occupying shopfronts instead of warehouses and lofts, which have since been converted into apartments.

In the early 1900’s Clerkenwell formed part of the Borough of Finsbury, later becoming the London Borough of Islington. Clerkenwell suffered badly after the Second World War when many engineering trades deserted the area. This opened up the scope for regeneration when several housing estates cropped up in the post-war years. Fast forward to the 1980’s again the focus was on gentrification, with attention turning to the former industrial buildings. Loft-living became popular in the area, with architects, building professionals and designers flocking in.

Former working mills on the River Lea in the East End of London
Former working mills on the River Lea in the East End of London

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