London Westminster & Middlesex Family History Society

Clerkenwell Parish church of St James, Clerkenwell Green (1551-1945)  


StJames Clerkenwell

The origin of the name is simple, Clerks' Well. The well was located where 18 Farringdon Road now stands. It was rediscovered during excavations on an adjoining site. The well was found nearly 3 feet below a wood and stone floor which was covered by brick rubbish, earth and pieces of chalk. John Strype wrote in 1720; 'I was there and tasted the water and found it extremely clear sweet and well-tasted. The Parish is much displeased that it is thus gone to decay and think to make some Complaint at a Commission for Charitable Uses, hoping by that means to recover it to common use again, the Water being highly esteemed thereabouts; and many from these Parts send for it.' In 1800 a pump was installed allowing the water to be made available for the inhabitants of Clerkenwell. A tablet was discovered during demolition bearing the following inscription:

A.D. 1800. William Bound, Joseph Bird, Church Wardens: For the better accommodation of the neighbourhood this pump was removed to this spot where it now stands. The spring by which it was supplied is situated 4 feet eastward and round it as history informs us, the parish clerks of London in remote ages annually performed sacred plays. That custom caused it to be denominated Clerks' well and from whish this parish derives its name. The water was greatly esteemed by the Prior and Brethren of the Order of St John of Jerusalem and the Benedictine nuns of the neighbourhood. The well was finally closed in 1857, having become polluted.

The Proiry of St John of Jerusalem was founded by Jordan Briset in 1140. The priory land covered 10 acres, being bounded by Clerkenwell Green to the north, St John's Lane in the south, St John's Street in the east and Red Lion lane to the west.Guests of the priory include King John in 1212, Queen Eleanor of Castile in 1265 and King Henry IV spent two weeks just before his coronation. In 1381 the church was burnt and badly damaged by the rebels led by Wat Tyler. It was not until 1723 that the church was reconstructed as the parish church of St John's, Clerkenwell.

Henry VIII during dissolution took over all lands belonging to the Order of St John Jerusalem. Those knights that did not flee, mainly to Malta, were executed. On her accession Queen Mary invited the knights to return. The nave and tower of the church had been destroyed and the choir had no roof. In 1557 the Order was revived with all its ancient privileges only to be dissolved again by Elizabeth and the property of the knights to be seized.

Other churches:
(Holdings at London
Metropolitan Archives)
St John, Pentonville Road (1723-1930)
St Mark, Myddelton Square (1828-1931)
St Peter, St John Street (1871-1880*)
St Silas, Penton Street (1865-1880*)
* adult baptisms.

StMark MyddeltonSquare