Rebels, Radicals and Rough Justice: Historic Clerkenwell
St John's Square
Stop here for a moment and look at the semicircle of cobblestones in the ground.
These mark the original round nave of the 12th Century Priory Church of St John's, which is the brick building on this small square.
Turn away from Jerusalem Passage, and look across the busy road ahead. Can you see the arched Tudor gateway? Its set in a structure that with small castle-like turrets. The priory stretched from the top of Jerusalem Passage to that open gate.
It was founded for the Knights of St John. They were known as the Knights Hospitalier, and they cared for the pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. They later replaced the Knights Templar as warrior knights, when the Templars were disbanded in 1307 by Philip IV of France.
The original round church was destroyed in the Peasant's Revolt of 1381, but was then rebuilt. The Norman crypt from 1100s still survives. The church was bombed in the Second World War. It has been rebuilt in the Gothic style by the firm of Seeley and Paget, who restored many bombed buildings in the 1940s and 1950s. If you have time later, you can come back here to visit the church and crypt.
Now walk on down to the imposing grey Tudor Gateway that I pointed out just now.. Cross the road ahead with care, while I tell you about John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated President Lincoln.
The Wilkes family set up a gin distillery in the 1700s, and lived on the site at the entrance to the Square from Jerusalem Passage. Although the genealogy is not clear, it seems that there was a marriage linking them to the Booth family and one of their offspring was John Wilkes Booth. The Booth's owned a distillery in Turnmill Street. Booth's Gin is still produced today. So it could be said that Lincoln's death was caused by Gin.
The most famous member of the Wilkes family was John Wilkes, an 18th century radical. He was known as 'The Friend of Liberty'. He would certainly not have approved of Lincoln's assassination by a distant relative.
Keep on walking until you reach the Tudor Gateway. I’ll meet you there.