Esoteric London

No. 988: Benjamin Street, EC1

Posted in Food, Gardens, Graffiti, London Labour by esotericlondon on December 11, 2013

© Roger Dean RED_6001 copy

St Johns Garden, Benjamin Street, London, EC1. Photo © Roger Dean 2013

Toilers in London; or, Inquiries concerning Female Labour in the Metropolis – “British Weekly” Commissioners, 1889:


Imagine for a minute a running stream between two green meadows! Look into the clear water, and see the water-cress moved backwards and forwards by the current! Then picture it in a London market, after it leaves the hamper in which it has been tightly packed for twenty-four hours. See the grimy hands of the cress girl, and watch her carrying it home in her dirty apron. She takes it to a pump, and puts it into a bucket which is used for every imaginable domestic purpose. While she sweeps her room it lies under the bed, with nothing to cover it up. So the filth of the place gives it a relish. Presently she turns it out on an old blanket, or upon the bed, and begins to tie it up with rush. Sometimes she nibbles a green leaf, or bites a stalk, while she arranges it in her basket. At last it is ready for customers. Then she puts on her hat, and carries it out in the street, crying, “Wo-orter cree-ses! fresh wo-orter cree-ses!” in a shrill voice.

[From the plaque attached to the fence around St Johns Garden where the graffiti in the above photograph can be found:

‘St Johns Church Garden is a former burial ground to the east of the Benedictine Priory of St John of Jerusalem, founded in 1144, on land provided by Jordan de Briset for the Knights Hospitaller. Originally the Priory covered 10 acres, within which was an inner precinct reached on the south through the 1504 Gatehouse and via a Postern Gate demolished in 1780 at the northern end of what is now Jerusalem Passage.

The Priory was rebuilt after its total destruction during the 1381 Peasants Revolt and had a chequered history after the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The Gatehouse was used by Henry VIII’s Master of the Revels and parts of the church were used as a private chapel and library for the Earls of Aylesbury.

It was restored in 1722 and became Clerkenwell’s second parish church until 1931, when it was sold to the modern Order of St John only to be bombed in 1941. The Order, having acquired St Johns Gate as their headquarters in 1873, founded the St Johns Ambulance Brigade in 1887. An excellent museum and history of the Order is situated in the Gatehouse Crypt.’


2 Responses

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  1. Jean said, on January 14, 2014 at 5:35 pm

    My Mum lived on Benjamin street in a house that backed on to the garden – Number 15 Benjamin Street during World War II The houses have long since been removed.

    • esotericlondon said, on January 15, 2014 at 9:12 am

      Hi Jean,
      Thanks for getting in touch. That’s very interesting as I have very fond memories of that patch of green myself. I used to cut through there on my way from Farringdon station to Great Sutton Street when I got my first photographic assistant job back in the ’80’s.

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