Not strictly speaking a village green, Clerkenwell Green was open space between St John's Priory and St Mary's Nunnery and was once the centre of the village. In the C17th houses of the nobility and the wealthy were built here and the Green was planted with trees, which later blew down in 1796. By the C18th there was a pound, pillory and watch house here, with a turnstile at the entrance of Clerkenwell Close.
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Clerkenwell is so called after the Clerks' Well, which was rediscovered in 1924 and is now within an office block in Farringdon Road. The parish clerks of London were said to have performed mystery plays here each year. Nearby is Clerkenwell's parish church of St James (q.v.). Clerkenwell became a meeting place for radicals after the Spa Fields Riots of 1816 and the Clerkenwell Riot of 1832. A meeting by the London Patriotic Club in 1887 at the start of a march to Trafalgar Square ended with the deaths of two people as crowds were dispersed by police. From 1872-92 No. 37a Clerkenwell Green was the headquarters of the London Patriotic Society. The house was built in 1738 as the Welsh Charity School; from 1892-1922 it was used by Twentieth Century Press and Lenin used an office here in 1902-3 and edited the socialist paper. It is now the Marx Memorial Library, which was founded in 1933. The 1779-82 Middlesex Sessions House was built on the Green to serve nearby prisons and was used as such until 1920, the building now the London Masonic Centre.
As the local population increased substantially Clerkenwell ceased to be a fashionable place and became overcrowded, insanitary and a place of much crime. In Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist, the Artful Dodger taught new recruits how to pickpocket at Clerkenwell Green.
Andrew Duncan, 'Walking London' (New Holland, London, 1999 ed); Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert, 'The London Encyclopaedia' (Macmillan revised ed. 1993); Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 4: North (Penguin, 1998) p624