Hockley Hole, AKA Central Saint Martins. Photo & text: David Secombe.

Back Hill, 2010. © David Secombe.

From The Fascination of London: Holborn and Bloomsbury, edited by Sir Walter Besant 1903:

The lower part of Saffron Hill was known at first as Field Lane, and is described by Strype as “narrow and mean, full of Butchers and Tripe Dressers, because the Ditch runs at the back of their Slaughter houses, and carries away the filth.” Just here, where Back Hill and Ray Street meet, was Hockley Hole, a famous place of entertainment for bull and bear baiting, and other cruel sports that delighted the brutal taste of the eighteenth century. One of the proprietors, named Christopher Preston, fell into his own bear-pit, and was devoured, a form of sport that doubtless did not appeal to him. Hockley in the Hole is referred to by Ben Jonson, Steele, Fielding, and others. It was abolished soon after 1728. All this district is strongly associated with the stories of Dickens. In later times Italian organ-grinders and ice-cream vendors had a special predilection for the place, and did not add to its reputation.

David Secombe writes:

One might add that in the 20th century, the area described above became associated with the photographic profession: at one time Clerkenwell was said to have more darkrooms and studios per square foot than anywhere else in the world. As a coda to yesterday’s post remembering the great Johno Driscoll, here’s a picture of ‘found art’ posted to the wall of John’s old premises, Holborn Studios, which is now a campus for Central Saint Martins art college. The building is situated within ‘the Hole’ – although the site of the bear-pit itself is now occupied by the pub opposite, The Coach and Horses. (Allegedly, the pub once afforded access to the Fleet river from its cellars, providing 18th Century fugitives with an escape route to the Thames.) Somehow, it seems right and proper that one of the most disreputable spots in 16th and 17th Century London should have gone on to be associated with photography, fashion, and art: the favoured trades of chancers, ne’er-do-wells and diamond geezers.

… for The London Column. See also: Little Jimmy, King of Clerkenwell.

2 Comments on “Hockley Hole, AKA Central Saint Martins. Photo & text: David Secombe.”

  1. John Finn says:

    Great stuff, David. Did you know that the building currently occupied by Central St Martins (or the University of the Arts as we are asked to call it these days) was once the printing works for one of the biggest-selling weeklies of the 1950s? The Daily Mirror-owned tabloid ‘Reveille’ was published from here twice-a-week at the height of its circulation. Back Hill then must have been full of vans and lorries, delivering reels of paper and tanks of ink, and carrying off bundles of copies to stations, wholesalers and shops. In fact, the circulation became so big that they operated another factory south of the river in Stamford Street, now occupied by King’s College. In the 1960s the Back Hill building was used by the North-Western Polytechnic School of Printing, where I went once a week for technical training, as a compositor apprentice and later as a typographic designer. Then, the Old Holborn tobacco factory opposite, on the corner of Hatton Garden, was still in operation and the whole area was bathed in a sweet, ‘apple pie’ aroma.

  2. Thanks John. Please say hello to Susan for me. I will be emailing her shortly. Best, David.