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Hatton Garden: looking north from Holborn Circus, 1895

​Hatton Garden: looking north from Holborn Circus, 1895. Collage reference: 72573

​Diamond Street: The Hidden World of Hatton Garden

Intimately connected to the area both personally (her family run a jewellery business there) and professionally (as an artist archivist of London's streets), Rachel Lichtenstein gives us an insight into her exploration of Hatton Garden and adjacent places such as Holborn Viaduct, with specific reference to sources held at London Metropolitan Archives (LMA).

At LMA I tried to find out more about the early residents of the street by joining the many patient researchers, who sit for hours daily trawling through records, looking for the names of distant relatives, ancient burial sites, demolished addresses. In the St Andrew’s parish register for burials, from 1768 to 1785 I found the names of former 18th century Hatton Garden residents who had been buried in the churchyard: Robert Greenway Esq, 1784, Walter Copper, 1769, Mary Pickering, 1770… The 1781 parish records from Saint Andrew’s Church for christenings revealed the names of former residents of Hatton Street who had been christened at the church: Ellen, daughter of Francis and Catherine Thornborough, John, son of Joseph and Elizabeth Baker, James, son of James and Elizabeth Bachelor - a brief summoning of the dead.

There are 17th and 18th century London Directories which I hoped could tell me more about early residents of Hatton Garden, but they are organised via lists of surnames instead of street names, making them notoriously difficult documents to extract information from about a place. The helpful staff at the archives encouraged me to push my search further. ‘You can look through wills, rate books, livery company, parish and land tax records and find out more,’ they said enthusiastically. If I had the time I could have possibly found more names, but instead I tried to find a way of seeing inside the original Georgian houses of Hatton Garden.

The only document I came across which allowed a brief glimpse of an early interior was a catalogue for an exhibit called The Panelled Room of Hatton Garden, which was shown at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) after being extracted from number 26 in 1907, then exhibited in the Palace of Decorative Art at the Franco-British Exhibition and given to the museum in 1912. The panelled dining room, installed in the first half of the 18th century and photographed in situ in Hatton Garden before it was removed, had mahogany doors, molded plaster cornices, decorative shields, elaborate gilded foliage carvings, carved wooden cornices and pinewood panelling, which would have originally been painted in hues of olive green and duck egg blue. When the room was first brought to the museum the surface of the panelling was covered with ‘paint added, layer upon layer, for nearly two hundred years, so that neither shape of moldings nor crispness of carving could be seen.’ The original room would have had ‘paintings and sconces on the walls and curtains of velvet or damask hanging at the window.’ I contacted the V&A, hoping to see this room for myself, but sadly it is now packed up in a crate and stored below the streets of South Kensington. The original house at 26 Hatton Garden was demolished in 1907, when the room was removed. In 1851 number 26 and 27 Hatton Garden became the home of The City Orthopedic Hospital, with a purpose built operating theatre and an early X-ray department. The hospital closed down in 1907.

The Liberty of Saffron Hill, Hatton Garden and Ely Rents

‘All about this foul stream during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries gathered a maze of narrow streets, courts and alleys, in which lived some of the most desperate characters of the metropolis. The most notorious of these haunts was Chick Lane, better known as West Street, that ran near the end of Field Lane. The Red Lion Tavern, which stood there within the last fifty years, and was a very ancient house, was supposed to have been one of the abodes of the infamous thief-taker, Jonathon Wild. It had sliding panels, secret hiding places and trap doors opening over the river, convenient for the disposal of murdered victims… most of this foul neighbourhood was swept away by the Smithfield improvements ... and by the Metropolitan Railway.’

Stories of the Streets of London by H.Barton Baker, 1899 (Chapman and Hall Ltd)

At LMA, I had been lucky enough to view some extraordinary photographs of Holborn Viaduct being built. Putting on protective cotton gloves, I carefully took the images out of their acid free box to photograph them for myself: hundreds of workmen, staring into the camera, tools at rest, stood on the as yet unfinished bridge. Another showed the large tent erected for the celebrations, another the royal procession, with thousands of people waving flags and handkerchiefs as the Queen passed by.

Holborn Viaduct was opened in 1869 by Queen Victoria during a grand ceremony, attended by ‘an immense assemblage of people.’ The Royal procession came down Farringdon Street, stopping beside the bridge, which had been decorated with flags and streamers, and then moving up to the viaduct. Vast crowds were kept back by hoards of police and soldiers. A huge pavilion was erected on the viaduct, while the street was strewn with yellow sand and lined with large banners and seating for the guests of the Corporation. 

After the viaduct opened it blended quickly into the new cityscape. The lost river, hills and slums of the Liberty of Saffron Hill, Hatton Garden and Ely Rents vanished from living memory, although residual traces of the ancient topography of the area can still be found. The depth of the distance between the road below and the viaduct above is a measure of the former steepness of Holborn Hill. At Holborn Circus, looking up towards the City, or down towards Smithfield, the slopes of the former Fleet Valley are still evident and the street names of Saffron Hill and Hatton Garden, retain a faint echo of the former uses of that land.

To explore further

25 October 2012
Last Modified:
05 September 2018