London’s neighbourhoods are not always clear cut. Clerkenwell straggles, like a rather randomly assorted charm bracelet, from Clerkenwell Green with its pristine classicism and village feel, to the decidedly urban Exmouth Market. Some of its most interesting corners are well off the main drag – streets running down towards Farringdon, for instance. Come to think of it, where Clerkenwell ends and Farringdon begins is difficult to work out…
Clerkenwell has come up in the world since I first knew it. Then, it was still the kind of place you’d find genteel businesses that made no money at all; bookbinders, art framers, architectural ironmongers. Rather old fogey businesses if the truth be told. When you went into a shop you’d feel you had disturbed the dust all around you. Nowadays you’re rather more likely to find an art gallery or a graphic design bookshop, but the area still feels a little secluded, a little apart from the more ‘buzzy’ areas of Islington or Farringdon. It’s still the commercial London of small wholesalers and craft businesses, slightly trendified – there’s enough of its gritty past to keep it alive.
Do take a wander down the Clerkenwell Road if you want an interesting walk. Start at Barbican Station, for instance, and wander the 60s concrete stickleback towers of the Barbican for half an hour beforehand, or look at the huge carp in the Barbican’s ponds. (Someone told me that a pike had been introduced by some malefactor, and ate about half the goldfish before being caught; I have no idea whether it’s true, or whether it’s just a rather weird urban myth.) And end up perhaps at Gray’s Inn, and the respectability of legal London. It’ll take you a couple of hours, assuming you want to look down side streets and wander about a bit, and if you get tired, you can hop on a 55 bus.
Photo credit: Richard Pope on Flickr