The fact that Clerkenwell Road was once called Liquorpond Road, because of the number of breweries and distilleries which stood nearby, is perhaps the most interesting thing about one of London's least interesting thoroughfares. But at least a stroll along Clerkenwell Road does have the virtue of offering one or two glimpses of some adjoining delights. For example, the walker crosses over not only the first stretch of Underground railway, opened in 1863, but also the Fleet river which runs in pipes underneath Farringdon Road.

Further on is Clerkenwell Green; not much greenery but instead a former Welsh Charity School of 1737 where Lenin worked early this century when it was a socialist printing press. Now housing the Marx Memorial Library, the building looks across to the fine old Sessions House, which today is a conference centre.

For those who keep walking, there comes a sudden sighting of London's least-known mediaeval gem, St John's Gate. Built in 1504, it was originally part of the priory of St John, which was to meet a terminal fate at the hands of Henry VIII. The Gate then housed the Master of Revels, the Elizabethan theatre censor. Which means that William Shakespeare, no less, must have come here to argue the toss over those bits of bawdy theatre which curious schoolchildren ask their teachers about but never receive a reply.

In the 18th century, the Gate contained a tavern run by William Hogarth's father, Richard, before he was carted off to the Fleet debtors' prison because he could not pay his bills. No doubt the young Hogarth honed his acute powers of observation here in the tavern, watching his father's customers.

The Gate was then occupied by one of Britain's first ever periodicals, the Gentleman's Magazine. Samuel Johnson was a contributor but because he was in love with the sound of his own voice he rarely met the deadline. Edward Cave, the magazine's proprietor, hit upon the perfect solution. He locked Johnson in an upstairs room until he had finished the article.

In the late 19th century the Order of St John was refounded here. Its best-known offspring was the St John Ambulance Brigade. The Order still runs both the Gate and the surrounding buildings which includes an excellent museum.

The Gate is off Clerkenwell Road, at the northern end of St John's Lane.

(Photograph omitted)

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