When I move to a new area either to live or to work I like to do a bit of reading and find out about the history of the area. I think understanding how a place has changed over the years can really help you understand how it had become the place you know. But, I struggle to read non-fiction history books; I just tend to find them quite dull and instead glean my knowledge from websites, local history sites and walking tours.
When I started working in Farringdon London a number of years ago I had no idea about its rich history and in particular the strong links it has with religious orders and the Church (both Catholic and Church of England). I quickly began spending my lunchtime wandering round the streets, exploring alleyways and picturing what the area would have looked like when Farringdon was a pastoral area on the outskirts of the City of London with the River Fleet running through it.
When chatting with a good friend who is currently training to be a Blue Badge Tour Guide she recommended Rachel Lichtenstein’s book on the history of Hatton Garden and the wider Clerkenwell area. I must admit I was a bit uncertain at first explaining to Sue my difficulty with reading history books. But, she assured me this was a book worth trying and she felt Lichtenstein’s style would be more amenable to me than other historical writers.
And she was right. From the very first page there is something conversational about Lichtenstein’s writing style. Rather than being filled with dates and facts she takes you through the ages with anecdotes and stories often from interviews and conversations she’s had with people with long standing connections to Hatton Garden.
For history buffs or those particularly interested in the growth of the diamond and jewellery trade in Hatton Garden this is a must read book. The characters Lichtenstein introduces you to and the stories you get to hear are incredibly captivating. I would have preferred more information on the religious links, The Priory of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, the Nunnery of St Mary, the Carthusian monastery, and the Bishop of Ely’s palace and grounds. Although touched upon I would like to know more about their influence over the area and people who lived here.
All in all this was a thoroughly fascinating read and I would recommend it to anyone wishing to know more about the Hatton Garden area.