Located on (or should that be under?) Chancery Lane in the City of London, the subterranean complex of underground chambers now known the London Silver Vaults was initially opened by the Chancery Lane Safe Deposit Co in 1876.

Originally intended to provide strong rooms for Londoners to store their valuables – things like jewellery, household silver and important documents, the vaults also proved popular with businesses, such as jewellers and diamond and silver dealers from nearby Hatton Garden, both for storage and eventually for selling directly out of.

The building above was bomb damaged during World War II and when it was rebuilt, the vaults  – at the request of the silver dealers who had previously rented space there – were reconfigured as retail units and re-opened in its current form in 1953.

Featuring 3.9 foot (1.2 metre) thick walls, the vaults proved popular among US servicemen who purchased silver to take home to their families, and film and music stars as well as royalty have all apparently shopped here.

There are just under 30 specialist shops in the complex, claimed to be home to the largest collection of antique silver in the world including everything from cutlery to jewellery and candlesticks. Many of the businesses housed within have been passed down within families.

And, according to the management, the vaults have never been burgled.

WHERE: London Silver Vaults, Chancery Lane (nearest Tube is Chancery Lane); WHEN: 9am to 5.30pm Monday to Friday/0am to 1pm Saturday; COST: free; WEBSITE: silvervaultslondon.com

PICTURES: Matt Brown under license CC BY 2.0.

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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.

Hatton_Garden_Road_SignSir 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).

Prudential-Assurance-Building

The origins of the name of this part of central London, to the west of the City, lie in the fact that the Fleet River runs through the area (albeit, since the 18th century, underground).

Mentioned as far back as the 950s, the name Holborn comes from the Old English “hol” or “holh” (“hollow”) and “burne” or “bourne” (“stream”) and means the “stream in the hollow” with the hollow in this case being the valley over which the Holborn Viaduct was built in the 1860s.

The term ‘Holburne’ was either used to refer to a tributary of the Fleet or part of the river itself. There was a bridge which apparently bore the same name and spanned either the Fleet or its tributary up until the river was covered.

The street now known as High Holborn – the main street in the area – was originally a Roman road and by the 19th century had become a centre for the entertainment industry featuring theatres, restaurants and pubs (including one of our favorites, the Cittee of Yorke).

The street is also home to the Holborn Bar, which marked the boundary of the City of London and was once site of a toll gate – it’s now the site of the Royal Fusilier’s War Memorial.

Other famous monuments in the area include an equestrian statue of Prince Albert – the City of London’s official statue of him – which was removed from its position in the centre of Holborn Circus in the east of the area to a new position on the western side of the intersection during a renovation last year.

Now dominated by offices and some shopping precincts (these include a street market in Leather Lane), among other notable buildings are pre-Great Fire of London survivor Staple Inn (see our earlier post here), churches including St Andrew Holborn, and St Alban the Martyr, Holborn, and, to the east, St Etheldreda’s Church (see our earlier post here) and Ye Olde Mitre pub (see our earlier post here).

The area is also home to the Inns of Court Lincoln’s Inn and Gray’s Inn and the Grade II*-listed Prudential Assurance Building (pictured above), constructed on the former site of Furnival’s Inn in the late 19th century/early 20th century, as well as Hatton Garden, famous for being the centre of London’s jewellery trade.

A ship-builder and New World colonist of some renown, Thomas Coram is primarily remembered now as the founder of London’s Foundling Hospital.

While details of Coram’s early life are sketchy, it is known that he was born in Dorset, possibly in Lyme Regis, in 1668 and was believed to be the son of a merchant seaman, John Coram.

Coram’s mother apparently died while he was still young and he went to sea at the age of just 11. Following his father’s remarriage, however, the family moved to Hackney in East London and it was after that move that Coram was apprenticed to a shipwright working beside the Thames.

In 1694, having previously worked for the Government auditing troop and supply ships, a group of merchants asked Coram to establish a new shipyard in Boston, Massachusetts. He did so and spent the next 10 years building ships in Boston and Taunton. But, a staunch Anglican living among Puritans, he apparently make some enemies while doing so (this led to lawsuits and even apparently an attempt on his life). It was during this time that he also married a Bostonian, Eunice Wait.

Following his return to England in 1704, Coram found further success as a merchant and was soon commanding merchant ships during the War of the Spanish Succession (it is believed it was during this time that he acquired the title of captain). Throughout the following years he continued to conduct business in the New World colonies – particularly Massachusetts and Maine – as well as in London.

It was after he had moved to Rotherhithe in 1719 that Coram’s eyes were opened to the plight of abandoned children – he would apparently see them when travelling into London – and, his heart obviously moved, he began to advocate for the creation of a foundling hospital similar to those he had seen on the continent during his travels.

While his efforts initially came to nothing, Coram eventually received the backing of Queen Caroline, wife of King George II – an important step for the plain-speaking seaman. Having presented numerous petitions to the king, His Majesty finally signed the Foundling Hospital Charter on 14th August, 1739. The first meeting of the governors – which included notables such as artist William Hogarth and prominent physician Dr Richard Mead – was held at Somerset House that November.

A temporary hospital opened it’s doors at Hatton Garden on 25th March, 1741, and the first foundlings were baptised Thomas and Eunice Coram. But it was only four and a half years later – in October, 1745 – that a purpose-built hospital opened its doors in an area known as Bloomsbury Fields. As well as Hogarth (who painted Coram in 1740 – the picture can still be seen in the Foundling Hospital today), the hospital also attracted the support of composer George Frideric Handel.

Coram’s role in the governance of the hospital effectively came to an end in 1741-1742 (he is said to have made some indiscreet comments about some of his fellow governors) but – despite being still engaged in numerous business activities – he continued to visit the hospital regularly and, as well as being Godfather to more than 20 of the foundlings, the story goes that he found the time to sit in an arcade at the hospital and pass out pieces of gingerbread to the children.

Captain Thomas Coram died on 29th March, 1751, in lodgings on Spur Street near Leicester Square (his wife Eunice had died earlier, in July 1740, and the couple had no children). He was buried in the Foundling Hospital chapel.

One of the best places to visit to find out more about Captain Coram and his life is the Foundling Museum, housed in part of the former hospital. For our previous story on the hospital, follow this link. A statue of Coram (pictured above) stands outside in Brunswick Square.