Clerkenwell is an area of central London in the London Borough of Islington. It was named after the Clerks' Well in Farringdon Lane, which was rediscovered in 1924. Part of the well remains visible, incorporated into a 1980s building called Well Court. Known as ‘Little Italy’ due to the large number of Italians that made Clerkenwell their home in the 1850s, a regeneration of the area was spurred by the influx of an overspill from the City and West End during the 1990s. This saw the first ever ‘gastro pub’, serving the local Exmouth and Smithfield markets. The Industrial revolution was responsible for a huge change in the area, and breweries, distilleries, and printing businesses flocked there. Clerkenwell used to be the heart of industrial London, its impressive warehousing now houses trendy apartments and design agencies and its midweek after-work buzz is significant, and centred around its many pubs and bars.
The first ever 'gastro pub', The Eagle, opened in Clerkenwell in 1991
Clerkenwell and its neighbours provide excellent retail experiences. Exmouth Market houses lifestyle, fashion, health, book and interior design shops. Leather Lane market, no longer selling much leather, instead focuses on clothing, electrical goods, toiletries, and food. The world-famous Smithfield Market is London's largest wholesale meat market and is where numerous London eateries stock their fridges from, providing they are happy to get up at 4am for the privilege! Hatton Garden is a short stroll away, and is renowned for diamonds, and is home to a large proportion of the London Jewellery Trade.
Clerkenwell is home to some of the best restaurants in London, all of which help to give it the reputation of a gastronomic destination. The pub scene is thriving as well, with establishments that serve the Smithfield Market meat workers allowed to open at 5.30am during the week.
Clerkenwell is full of architects and publishers, and has been cited by Government as the site of a new East London Hub for technology-based businesses. Amongst other sectors, there is a notable concentration of design professions around Clerkenwell, and supporting industries such as high-end designer furniture showrooms. It is claimed that the area has the highest concentration of architects and building professionals in the world. Many of London's leading architectural practices have offices in the area.
The buildings that now house the engineering, print publishing and meat and food trades sat empty for many years following the war, until the local council commissioned some new housing estates in the area during the 1950s and 60s and it started to come back to life. Some of the buildings were developed into trendy warehouse loft apartments during the 1980s and 90s, bringing with them an influx of young professionals moving away from the City and the West End.
Clerkenwell is a fabulous place to live, with all that London has to offer on the doorstep, and a cosmopolitan and thriving local community. There are few tourist destinations, and even fewer hotels, leaving this area with a slightly deserted feeling at weekends. As a result of continued development, many new bars and restaurants have opened in Clerkenwell, and development looks likely to continue at a fair pace. As with anywhere in Central London, Clerkenwell’s property prices have seen an immense boom in the last 20 years. A house will cost anything up to £6 million, whereas two bedroomed flats in the area are reaching up to £1 million.
The area is full of history, with most of the older buildings telling interesting stories. Myddelton Square Park offers the closest green space as well as a small children’s playground. There are some gorgeous churches and a huge range of museums focusing on local history within walking distance. Somerset House and the Cortauld Institute provide easily accessible art exhibitions, as well as popular seasonal events, such as Somerset House’s open air summer film season and winter ice rink. Those with a thirst for knowledge can enjoy lectures at Gresham College and the London School of Economics, most of which are free. Local fiery debates are held at Home of the National Secular Society and the South Place Ethical Society at Conway Hall, which is also a theatre and concert venue.
As with most central London districts, Clerkenwell is well-served by London transport services, black cabs and cycle hire, known colloquially as Boris Bikes and sponsored by Santander.
London black cabs pass through the streets regularly and can be hailed to travel by road. Driving can be challenging as parking is in short supply, traffic can be heavy, and congestion charges apply on weekdays.
Kings Cross St Pancras, with train links to mainline Europe via the Channel Tunnel, borders Clerkenwell. Trains to most destinations in the UK can be caught from here, or Euston, which also sits on the edge of the district. The district is serviced by three tube stations: Holborn, Chancery Lane and Farringdon, providing quick links to the rest of London. Clerkenwell is in Zone 1 of the London Underground System.
London buses are also plentiful and regular, the network offering access to all major stations and London boroughs.
Tubes go direct from Holborn to Heathrow airport, which is the UK’s largest airport for both long and short haul flights. London’s City Airport, popular for short hop European connections, is also close by.