Search

Bloody Valentine: Clerkenwell guides’ alternative tour through history

09:44 14 February 2016

Simon Jones and Denise Gillard-Parrin at St Johns gate

Simon Jones and Denise Gillard-Parrin at St Johns gate

Archant

The course of true love never really did run smooth. Sophie Inge discovers Clerkenwell’s gruesome ‘romantic’ past with a tour guide

Smithfields marketSmithfields market

To most people, Valentine’s Day probably means a box of chocolates, a bunch of red roses or a special meal out with a partner.

But the origins of the day aren’t quite so romantic – in fact, it’s a memorial to the gruesome beheading of St Valentine. His crimes? Trying to convert the Roman Emperor to Christianity and performing marriages for young soldiers in secret.

So if you’re looking for an authentic Valentine’s experience, then skip the fancy restaurants and consider a trip to Clerkenwell.

Denise Gillard-Parrin of Islington and Clerkenwell Guides has organised a special Valentine’s Day walk through the area with fellow guide Simon Jones. Here, Simon gives three of the highlights of their bloody and dramatic tour.

The Bleeding Heart TavernThe Bleeding Heart Tavern

Smithfield’s Market

Just down the road from Farringdon station is historic Smithfield’s Market – where butchers have been flogging their meat for centuries.

Rewind to the 17th century, however, and it was a meat market in more than one sense – feminists, look away now.

Gravestone of the Steinberg family at St James churchGravestone of the Steinberg family at St James church

With divorce off the cards for all but the wealthiest couples, husbands would instead publicly auction their wives off at the market.

“Men would actually parade them with a halter around their necks so people could have a good look at the women – a bit like a slave auction,” says Mr Jones.

“Five shillings was the going rate for a sale, which was actually probably quite a lot back in the 1600s.”

Not only were the wives flogged off to the highest bidder: husbands also had the right to humiliate “disobedient” or “disorderly” wives. In practice, their misdemeanours could be anything from adultery to “nagging”.

And for that, they’d be tied to a so-called “ducking stool” before being unceremoniously dunked into a foul pond in Smithfield.

Bleeding Heart Yard

Walk on west to Greville Street, and you’d be forgiven for missing a tiny cobbled courtyard with a pub called “Bleeding Heart Yard”.

Today, few couples who meet for dates at the Bleeding Heart Tavern will have any idea about the gruesome story behind its name.

Legend has it that Lady Hatton – wife of Sir Charles Hatton, whose family owned the area around Hatton Garden – had made a pact withthe devil to get wealth, position and a new mansion.

When the mansion was completed, the couple threw a housewarming party. Among their guests was their benefactor – the devil himself, who tore out Lady Hatton’s heart. The following morning, her heart was found in this very yard. It was still beating.

The story is immortalised in a Thomas Ingoldsby poem: Of poor Lady Hatton, it’s needless to say/ No traces have ever been found to this day/ Or the terrible dancer who whisk’d her away/ But out in the court-yard — and just in that part/ Where the pump stands – lay bleeding a LARGE HUMAN HEART!

“That’s just a legend,” says Mr Jones. “But there is in fact another Hatton called Christopher who wanted some land from the Bishop of Ely. He was a favourite of Elizabeth I and they apparently danced around a cherry tree with her and she agreed to give half the land to him.”

This very tree is said to be that showcased at the nearby Ye Old Mitre pub in Ely Place.

St James’ Churchyard

Not scary enough for you? St James’ Churchyard in Clerkenwell Close is the resting place of the tragic Steinberg family.

Apparently, 45-year-old German whip-maker Johan Nicholas Steinberg murdered his wife and children in cold blood at their Islington home in 1834, before slitting his own throat.

An inquest was later held in the Three Kings pub nearby, and Steinberg’s wife and children were buried in St James’ Churchyard.

“Charles Steinberg was actually buried in a pauper’s grave in Ray Street across Harrington road upside down with a stake through his heart – as was customary for a murderer and suicide victim,” says Mr Jones.

And their house? When a new tenant moved in, he purchased some wax models to represent the family and dressed them in their real blood-stained clothes.

“He made a lot of money apparently and would charge members of the public a penny each to go in,” says Mr Jones.

“It was only when the neighbours kicked up a fuss that they had to close it down.”

For more information on the tour click here and to find out more and Clerkenwell and Islington Guides click here.

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Islington Gazette visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Islington Gazette staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Islington Gazette account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

Latest Islington News Stories

Yesterday, 16:29

A sexual predator who randomly attacked a teenage girl as she walked to school in Highbury has today been jailed for six years.

Yesterday, 15:38

Theodore Johnson, 63, appeared at the Old Bailey this morning charged with murdering the 51-year-old last month.

Yesterday, 14:23

Green-fingered youngsters could be growing their own fruit and veg if their school wins a £5,000 grant.

Yesterday, 10:38

The Cally’s Westbourne Estate celebrated its 40th anniversary on Saturday. the Gazette hears how it was reclaimed from the hands of drug dealers.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

A self-styled devil worshipper who locked a teenager in his Barnsbury flat and raped her has been jailed for nine years.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The leader of Islington Council believes plans for a new academy will address the shortage of primary schools places in the area.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Divisive Highbury Grove head Tom Sherrington, who came under fire last year over job cuts, finances and discipline, has left the school with immediate effect.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Traditional cars will be banned from parking and loading in a number roads around Old Street in the hope of cleaning up Shoreditch’s filthy air.

Education and Training

cover

Read the
Education and Training
e-edition today

Read Now

Newsletter Sign Up

Most read news

Digital Edition

cover

Enjoy the
Islington Gazette
e-edition today

Subscribe

Education and Training

cover

Read the
Education and Training
e-edition today

Read Now