A street and small district based just to the north of Holborn in the Borough of Camden, the origins of Hatton Garden’s name stem from the Elizabethan-era courtier Sir Christopher Hatton.
Sir Christopher, Lord Chancellor during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and one of her favourites, acquired land here in the 1570s after the Queen forced the bishops of Ely to rent him some of the land they owned which was attached to their London residence, Ely Palace (commemorated today in nearby Ely Place, still home to London’s oldest Catholic church).
Hatton, whose annual rent was apparently fixed at £10, 10 stacks of hay and a red rose at midsummer, subsequently built a property, Hatton House, on the garden.
This survived until the mid-1600s when a series of properties were laid out on the site, centred on what is now the street known as Hatton Garden (Sir Christopher, who was buried in Old St Paul’s Cathedral, had died in 1591). Wren House, originally apparently a chapel and later a charity school, which still stands in Hatton Garden, was built around this time.
The houses were mostly replaced in the mid 18th century with new homes built for prosperous merchants but, as the years passed, while the street itself remained home to some of the wealthy, the same could not be said of some other streets nearby, like Saffron Hill, which became notorious slums.
In the early 1800s artisans started moving into Hatton Garden – London’s Little Italy was born around this time just to the north when Italian craftsmen started moving in (the St Peter’s Italian Church opened in 1863 in Clerkenwell Road) – and the area was gradually transformed into a commercial district.
Jewellery and watch-makers, who had long been based in Clerkenwell, started moving in and the street soon became particularly noted as a centre for cutting diamonds, initially those from India. It was an association which only grew stronger following the discovery of diamonds in South Africa’s Kimberley diamond field in the 1870s.
Today, the street known as Hatton Garden – which runs between Holborn and Clerkenwell Road – still contains the most concentrated cluster of jewellery retailers in the UK (as well as apparently an extensive subterranean network of tunnels and passageways as well as many heavily guarded underground vaults) and is still the centre of London’s diamond trade.
Incidentally, the street was also home to workshops at number 57 which, from 1881, produced the rapid firing Maxim Gun following its invention by Sir Hiram Maxim (and, of course, it was also the location of last year’s safe depository robbery and another famous jewellery robbery back in 1993).
A short side note – it was the wife of Sir Christopher Hatton’s nephew, Lady Elizabeth Hatton, who become associated with Bleeding Heart Yard (you can revisit that story in our earlier post here).