Esoteric London

No. 242: Cloth Court, EC1

Posted in Literary London by esotericlondon on February 1, 2011

43, Cloth Fair seen from Cloth Court, London, EC1. Photo © Roger Dean 2011

From Monody on the Death of Aldersgate Station by John Betjeman; from Mount Zion, 1932:

Snow falls in the buffet of Aldersgate station,

Toiling and doomed from Moorgate Street puffs the train,

For us of the steam and the gas-light, the lost generation,

The new white cliffs of the City are built in vain.*

[Aldersgate station was around the corner from Cloth Fair. It was bombed during the war.]

Edward Mirzoeff writes:

John Betjeman moved into 43 Cloth Fair, overlooking the graveyard of St. Bartholemew the Great and within earshot of Smithfield Market, in August 1954. He rented the little house, above a shop, for £200 a year. It was owned by Lord Mottistone who lived at no. 45, with his companion Paul Paget. They were partners at Seely and Paget, the architectural firm that looked after St. Paul’s Cathedral, and their Elizabethan house was one of the few to survive the Great Fire of London. No. 43, was much smaller, with just two rooms. Betjeman loved it. He could work there peacefully with his secretary, and sometimes take her  off early to drink champagne and lunch at Coltman’s Restaurant in Aldersgate.

Four years later his young secretary was Tory Dennistoun, the daughter of a great family friend. Perhaps because her dictation skills were not up to scratch, Betjeman bought her a Stenorette (a primitive tape recorder). One night she forgot to unplug it, and turned up the next morning to find the fire brigade dousing the flames in Cloth Fair. For the next months Betjeman camped out at a hideaway in Rotherhithe lent to him by Tony Armstrong-Jones, the photographer, while his house was repaired and refurbished.

Betjeman stayed on at Cloth Fair, with all his books around him, until 1973. He claimed that he was driven away by the noise of  lorries delivering carcasses to Smithfield during the night, but in truth his health was beginning to fail, and he was under pressure to live near his companion Lady Elizabeth Cavendish. He moved to Chelsea, just off the King’s Road in Radnor Walk – or “dog-mess  walk”, as he used to call it.

43 Cloth Fair is now a holiday house owned by the Landmark Trust.

[Edward Mirzoeff produced several of Betjeman’s documentary essays for the BBC, including 1973’s Metro-Land, Sir John’s celebrated celebration of the Metropolitan Line.]

See also post No. 215

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  1. […] Street, EC4No. 241: Banqueting House, Whitehall, SW1No. 235: Royal Opera House, Bow Street, WC2.No. 242: Cloth Court, EC1 Search […]

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