London 1746 Rocques map
You can search the London and Pub history sites by name, address OR street names

Chapter 15. Lambs Conduit. - John Ashton 1888

This London history site is a wiki of early London streets.

Then, close by (still keeping up its title of the River of the Wells) was Lamb's Conduit, on Snow Hill, which was fed from a little rill which had its source near where the Foundling Hospital now stands, its course being perpetuated by the name of Lamb's Conduit Street, where, according to the "Old English Herbal," watercresses used to flourish. "It groweth of its own accord in gardens and fields by the way side, in divers places, and particularly in the next pasture to the Conduit Head, behind Gray's Inn, that brings water to Mr. Lamb's Conduit in Holborn."

William Lamb was a citizen of London, and of the Guild of Cloth-workers, besides which, he was some time Gentleman of the Chapel to Henry VIII. He benefited his fellow-citizens by restoring a conduit in 1577, which had been in existence since the fifteenth century; and, after the Great Fire, the busy Sir Christopher Wren was employed to design a covering for the spring, which he did, putting a _lamb_ on the top, with a very short inscription on the front panel, to the effect that it was "Rebuilt in the year 1677 S^r Tho^s Davis Kn^t L^d Mayor."

It is curious to learn how the suburbs of London have grown within the memory of living men. Take, for instance, the following, from _Notes and Queries_ (April, 1857, p. 265), referring to Lamb's Conduit. A correspondent writes that "About sixty years since, I was travelling from the West of England in one of the old stage coaches of that day, and my fellow-travellers were an octogenarian clergyman and his daughter. In speaking of the then increasing size of London, the old gentleman said that when he was a boy, and recovering from an attack of smallpox, he was sent into the country to a row of houses standing on the west side of the present Lamb's Conduit Street; that all the space before him was open fields; that a streamlet of water ran under his window; and he saw a man snipe-shooting, who sprung a snipe near to the house, and shot it."

It was no small gift of William Lamb to the City, for it cost him L1,500, which was equivalent to thrice that sum at present, and, to make it complete, he gave to one hundred and twenty poor women, pails wherewith to serve and carry water, whereby they earned an honest, although a somewhat laborious, living. Lamb left many charitable bequests, and also founded a chapel, by Monkwell Street, now pulled down. This Conduit existed until about 1755, when it was demolished, and an obelisk with lamps erected in its place, but, that being found a nuisance, was, in its turn, soon done away with.

LAMB'S CONDUIT, SNOW HILL

[Illustration: LAMB'S CONDUIT, SNOW HILL.]

Lamb was buried in the Church of St. Faith's, under St. Paul's, and on a pillar was a brass to his memory, which is so quaint, that I make no apology for introducing it.

"William Lambe so sometime was my name, Whiles alive dyd runne my mortall race, Serving a Prince of most immortall fame, Henry the Eight, who of his Princely grace In his Chapell allowed me a place. By whose favour, from Gentleman to Esquire I was preferr'd, with worship, for my hire. With wives three I joyned wedlock band, Which (all alive) true lovers were to me, Joane, Alice, and Joane; for so they came to hand, What needeth prayse regarding their degree? In wively truth none stedfast more could be. Who, though on earth, death's force did once dissever, Heaven, yet, I trust, shall joyn us all together. O Lambe of God, which sinne didst take away; And as a Lambe, was offred up for sinne, Where I (poor Lambe) went from thy flock astray, Yet thou, good Lord, vouchsafe thy Lambe to winne Home to thy folde, and holde thy Lambe therein; That at the day, when Lambes and Goates shall sever, Of thy choice Lambes, Lambe may be one for ever. I pray you all, that receive Bread and Pence, To say the Lord's Prayer before ye go hence."

It is said, also, that the old verses, so well known, were appended to the brass, or, rather, engraved on his tombstone.

"As I was, so are ye, As I am, you shall be, That I had, that I gave, That I gave, that I have. Thus I end all my cost, That I felt, that I lost."

But there is one well must not be lost sight of; for, in its small way, it was tributary to the Fleet--and that is Clerk's Well, or Clerkenwell, which gives its name to a large district of London. It was of old repute, for we see, in Ralph Aggas' Map of London, published about 1560, a conduit spouting from a wall, into a stone tank or trough. This is, perhaps, the earliest pictorial delineation of it; but FitzStephen mentions it under "_fons Clericorum_" so called, it is said, from the Parish Clerks of London, who chose this place for a representation of _Miracle Plays_, or scenes from Scripture realistically rendered, as now survives in the Ober Ammergau Passion Play. This little Company, which still exists as one of the City Guilds, has never attained to the dignity of having a livery, but they have a Hall of their own (in Silver Street, Wood Street, E.C.), and in their time have done good service in composing the "Bills of Mortality;" and gruesome pamphlets they were--all skulls, skeletons, and cross-bones--especially during the great Plague.

These plays were, as I have said, extremely realistic. One, played at Chester A.D. 1327,[73] represented Adam and Eve, both stark naked, but, afterwards, they wore fig leaves. The language used in them, would to our ears be coarse, but it was the language of the time, and, probably, men and women were no worse than they are now. But, at all events this Guild, which was incorporated in the 17 Henry III. A.D. 1232, used occasionally to delight their fellow Citizens with dramatic representations in the open air (as have lately been revived in the "Pastoral plays" at Wimbledon) at what was then an accessible, and yet a rural, suburb of London.

Hence the name--but the well, alas, is no more--but when I say that, I mean that it is no longer available to the public. That it does exist, is well known to the occupier of the house where it formerly was in use, for the basement has frequently to be pumped dry. The neighbourhood has been so altered of late years, that its absolute site was somewhat difficult to fix; yet any one can identify it for themselves from the accompanying slight sketch of the locality as it existed over sixty years since. Ray Street (at least this portion of it) is now termed Farringdon Road, and what with Model lodging-houses, and underground railways, its physical and geographical arrangement is decidedly altered.

Early in the last century, in Queen Anne's time, the Spring had ceased to be a conduit, as shown in Ralph Aggas' Map, but had been turned into a pump; and this pump even was moved, in 1800, to a more convenient spot in Ray Street, where it was in existence (which I rather doubt), according to Pink's History of Clerkenwell in 1865. However, there is very good evidence of its being, in an engraving dated May 1, 1822, of the "Clerk's Well"--which shows the pump, and a stone tablet with the following inscription:

"A.D. 1800. WILLM. BOUND} CHURCH- JOSEPH BIRD } WARDEN.

For the better accommodation of the Neighbourhood, this Pump was removed to the Spot where it now Stands. The Spring by which it is supplied is situated four Feet eastward, and round it, as History informs us, the Parish Clerks of London in remote Ages annually performed sacred Plays. That Custom caused it to be denominated Clerks' Well, and from which this Parish derives its Name. The Water was greatly esteemed by the Prior and Brethren of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, and the Benedictine Nuns in the Neighbourhood."

In later days, the Fleet, as every other stream on whose banks houses are built, became a sewer, and "behaved as sich;" so that it was deemed prudent to cover some portion of it, at all events, and that part where now is Farringdon Street, was arched over, and made into the Fleet _Market_. Our ancestors were far more alive to the advantages of ready cash, and consequent keen competition among dealers, than we are, although through the medium of Co-operative Stores, &c., we are beginning to learn the lost lesson, but, at all events, they had the acumen to know that large centres of supply were cheaper to the consumer than small, isolated shops, and _the Market_, was the outcome. It is next to impossible to make a Market--witness in our own times, the Central Fish Market, and Columbia Market, both of which are not absolute failures, but, to use a theatrical slang term, _frosts_--and this was an example.

The Canal, up to Holborn Bridge, was expensive to keep up, and as we saw, by the quotation from Ned Ward, it was next door to worthless. Meantime, sewage and silt played their work, as the stream was neglected, and, becoming a public nuisance, it was arched over, pursuant to an Act 6 Geo. II. cap. 22, entitled "An Act for filling up such Part of the Channell of _Bridewell Dock_, and _Fleet Bridge_, as lies between _Holborn Bridge_ and _Fleet Bridge_, and for converting the Ground, when filled up, to the use of the City of _London_." The works were begun in 1734 and was arched over and finished in 1735; but, as buildings are necessary for a market, it was not opened, as such, until Sept. 30, 1737. For nearly a century it remained a market for meat, fish, and vegetables, although, of course, the largest meat market was Newgate, as being near Smithfield; and for fish, Billingsgate, which still maintains its pre-eminence But in 1829 it was pulled down, in order to make a wider street from Holborn to Blackfriars Bridge; and this part of the Fleet was called, and now is, Farringdon Street.

FLEET MARKET, FROM HOLBORN BRIDGE

[Illustration: FLEET MARKET, FROM HOLBORN BRIDGE.]

The Vegetable Market, for it had come to that only, was swept away, and a site found for it, nearly opposite the Fleet prison. It is still so used, but it is not much of a financial help to the City, as it only brings in an annual income (according to the last return I have been able to obtain) of between L700 and L800. It was thought that trade might be encouraged, and revived, if it were worthier housed, so what is now, the Central Fish Market, was erected; but, before the vendors of vegetables could enter into possession, a great cry had arisen as to the supply of fish to London, and the monopoly of Billingsgate, and the market was given over to the fishmongers. But it is not a success in a monetary point of view; is a great loss to the City, and, as a fish market, a very doubtful boon to the public.

The Fleet Prison, which was on the east side of Farringdon Street, will be noticed in its place; and, as we have seen, the river was arched over from Holborn to Fleet Bridge, after which it still flowed, an open sewer, into the Thames.

But, before going farther, we must needs glance at a curious little bit of Fleet history, which is to be found in "THE SECRET HISTORY of the RYE HOUSE PLOT, and Monmouth's Rebellion," written by Ford. Lord Grey who was a party to the plot, addressed it to James the Second, 1685, but it was not printed until 1754. In p. 28 it states, "About the latter end of Oct. Monmouth s'd to Sir Thos. Armstrong and Lord Grey, that it was necessary for them to view the passage into the City, which, accordingly they did, from the lower end of _Fleet-ditch_, next the river, to the other end of it, by Snow Hill." And again (p. 34): "Sunday night was pitched upon for the rising in London, as all shops would be shut. Their men were to be armed at the Duke of Monmouth's in Hedge Lane, Northumberland House, Bedford House, and four or five meeting houses in the City.

"The first alarm was designed to be between eleven and twelve at night, by attacking the train bands at the Royal Exchange, and then possessing ourselves of Newgate, Ludgate, and Aldersgate. The first two gates we did not design to defend, unless we were beaten from Fleet Bridge and Snow Hill, where we intended to receive the first attack of the King's Guards. At Snow Hill, we intended to make a Barricade, and plant three or four pieces of Cannon, upon Ship's Carriages; at Fleet Bridge we designed to use our Cannon upon the carriages, and to make a breast-work for our musqueteers bridge next us, and to fill the houses on that side the ditch with men who should fire from the windows, but the bridge to be clear."

As a matter of fact, there seem to have been two bridges over the Fleet, crossing it at Fleet Street and Ludgate Hill, both side by side, as at Holborn. Crosby, upon whose collection I have so largely drawn, says that it is so, from personal observation, one bridge being 24 ft. 6 in., and the other, 24 ft. wide, making in all, a roadway of 48 ft. 6 in. presumably including parapets. From his measurements, the span of the bridge was 12 ft., and the height of the arch was 11 ft. 6 in., but he does not say whence he takes his measurement--from the bottom of the Fleet, or from the river level.

To this measurement hangs a tale, which is best told in Crosby's own words, from a memo of his in the Guildhall Library:--

"FLEET BRIDGE, _Tuesday_, July 28th, 1840. As I could not depend upon the admeasurements which, at the beginning of the year, I had taken in a _hurried manner_, at Fleet Bridges, while bricklayers were placing in a brick bottom in place of the original one of alluvial soil, I determined to obtain them the first opportunity. This evening, therefore, at ten o'clock, I met Bridgewater, one of the workmen employed in constructing the New Sewer from Holborn Bridge to Clerkenwell, by appointment, at the Hoard there, water boots being in readiness. I lighted my lamps, and, assisted by the watchmen, King and Arion, we descended the ladder, and got into that branch of the sewer which joins Wren's bridge, at Holborn. We then walked carefully till we reached Fleet Bridge. I suspended my Argand lamp on the Breakwater of the Sewer, and with my Lanthorn light we proceeded towards the Thames. We got a considerable distance, during which the channel of the Sewer twice turned to the right, at a slight angle, the last portion we entered, was barrelled at the bottom, the middle so full of holes, and the water so deep, as we approached the Thames, that we thought it prudent to return to Fleet bridge." (Here they lit up and took measurements). "All went well till about a quarter to twelve o'clock, when to our surprise we found the Tide had suddenly come in to the depth of two feet and a half. No time was to be lost, but I had only one more admeasurement to make, viz., the width of the north bridge. I managed this, and we then snatched up the basket, and holding our Lamps aloft, dashed up the Sewer, which we had to get up one half before out of danger. The air was close, and made us faint. However we got safe to Holborn Bridge...."