The month of May marks Clerkenwell Design Week in the Design Industry.
A few days where over 100 showrooms in the area open their doors to display their wares to those of us keen to explore what’s new and trending right now. Coupled with that there are also pop-up brands dotted throughout the area showcasing textiles, furniture, office storage solutions, plants for a better working environment, flooring, tiles, and hospitality to name but a few.
It’s 3 days of pure indulgence. There are Conversations At Clerkenwell, a series of talks with creatives, commissioned Installations especially for the festival and scheduled workshops around the area.
But what enhances all of this is the history of the area. Did you know that Clerkenwell was well known for its Gin? During the early 18th century there were loads of gin shops in the area and it was even sold from wheelbarrows in the streets. There’s an interesting story around the gin distillers during that time, from the bootleg sellers who illegally diluted the gin, mothers ruined by their consumption, riots and even deaths caused by the concoctions.
As well as the showrooms to visit there were also buildings of historical interest that were opened to the public as part of the festival.
Clerkenwell, revolving around the Priory of St John of Jerusalem, is believed to have been named after a fresh water spring in the area where in the Middle Ages, sacred plays were performed by the parish clerks – Clerks Well. Lost for many years the well was rediscovered during building in the area in 1924 and can now be seen in the the building, Well Court on Farmington Lane.
Another building is The House of Detention, a prison building that dates back to 1844. This prison was built on the site where two other previous prisons existed. Clerkenwell Bridewell, which closed in 1794 and the New Prison, rebuilt in 1818 and again in 1847 to become the House of Detention. Now only open to the public occasionally, we get to experience the space for the design week.
Spooky, dark and dank winding corridors where prisoners awaiting trial were kept, is a surprisingly great backdrop for the treasures that lay within for Clerkenwell Design Week, as it’s stark interior allowed the exhibits to shine. Numerous brands were installed in the small spaces, exhibiting anything from ceramics to office furniture.
And surprisingly, did you know that Finsbury Health Centre was once an innovative medical centre? The building dates back to 1938 – not the most attractive of buildings but was recognised for its modernist architectural features – where previously there was a maternity centre for the local area situated on the site along with shops and houses. The vision was for a centre bringing together a wealth of medical services to the poverty, disease ridden area. A magnificent building for its time on the premise that ‘Nothing is too good for the ordinary people.”
Providing clinics and a health club to combat issues such as rickets and lice infestation, it predated the National Health Service by 10 years and was seen as a model for the new public health care.
Other interesting areas are: Passing Alley, a small passageway between buildings, known as Pissing Alley in its day, as the dark discreet place allowed for a sneaky ‘wee’, for those on their way home after a night (or day) of drinking; St. John’s Gate, the south gate of St. John of Jerusalem; St James Church Garden; Smithfield Market, a meat market since 1846 and Jerusalem Passage, where Thomas Britton (known as ‘The Music Coalman’) created a tiny concert hall for informal concerts in the loft space of his coal shop.
There are so many interesting buildings and areas around Clerkenwell that I couldn’t do it justice in the time I was there.
If you’re interested in learning more about the area, Lansdown London (www.lansdowns.london) run tours throughout the year.
Collections from @the_monkeypuzzletree, @annahaymandesigns, @samuelheathofficial, @glas_design, @kei_tominaga, veronica_einloft, @samlander.maker, @studio9191, @christinahesford, @tropeldesigns, @lansdownlondon & spitfirefurniture.co.uk.
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