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North of Smithfield, south of Islington, this area is in walking distance of the West End and the City and is said to have more design studios that anywhere else in the world. Overspill from Smithfield has certainly given it lots of good eateries – a return to the days when it was known as ‘Little Italy’ for its strong Italian community.

Tube: Farringdon/Barbican

Any comments - or a suggestion for a London secret? Please e-mail me.

Clerkenwell

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St John’s Gate

This gatehouse of 1504, is a last remnant (above ground) of the Priory of Clerkenwell, home to the Knights of
St John (see right) and once the richest monastery in England. The painter Hogarth lived here as a child and Samuel Johnson often visited his publisher’s offices here. Now part of the headquarters of the St John Ambulance.

St John’s Gate EC1

St John’s Museum

Given a major £1.5million makeover in 2010, this hidden gem tells the 900-year history of the order of the Knights of St John. Famed for their defence of Malta in 1565, arms and equipment from that great battle are on display. Join the guided tours (Every Tue, Fri and Sat) to get the best out of a visit.

St John’s Gate EC1
Tel: +44 (0)20 7324 4005
www.museumstjohn.org.uk

National Penny Bank

The National Penny Bank’s 13 branches were all sited on 'the main thoroughfares of the metropolis' (The Times, 1879). Founded in 1875 and based on the successful Yorkshire Penny Bank, this was a typical Victorian self-help idea. Open in the evening, it accepted deposits of less than a shilling so working class people could have savings put away.

33-35 St John's Square EC1

Craft Central

A space with workshops and an exhibition/display space for artists and designers, tenants include fashion designers, jewellers, photographers and ceramic, glass or metal workers. See or buy a quirky piece in the display area or commission a one-off from an emerging new talent.

33-35 St John's Square EC1

Tel: +44 (0)20 7251 0276
www.craftcentral.org.uk

St Ali

Ali ibn Umar al-Shadhili was reputedly the first man to make coffee, and this ‘patron saint’ of the holy bean lends his name to this coffee shop, London outpost of a famous Melbourne brand. Good food, fine wine and hot chocolate are also on the menu but the seasonal coffees roasted on the premises are central.

27 Clerkenwell Road EC1
Tel: +44 (0)20 7253 5754
www.stali.co.uk

St Peter’s Italian Church

The oldest church for Italians in London dates to 1873. The Italian community in this area opened many cafes here and in Soho but WWII internment dispersed them. The SS Arandora Star Memorial in the foyer marks the death of some 800 London internees on their way to Canada when their ship was torpedoed in 1940.

136 Clerkenwell Road EC1
www.italianchurch.org.uk

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Clerks’ Well

The well that gives the area its name was lost in a basement for decades and rediscovered in 1924 during building work. You can see it through a window in Wells Court or visits can be arranged by appointment. The well was first mentioned in 1174, and the area was also the scene of Medieval miracle plays.

14-16 Farringdon Lane EC1
Tel: +44 (0)20 7527 7988
www.islington.gov.uk

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Betsey Trotwood

Named after a character from Charles Dickens' 1850 novel David Copperfield, this pub serves good British food, with organic ingredients from Borough Market. Fine ales, too, with Asahi among the beers on tap. It is also a music venue with a wide range of events, including folk and alt.country as well as comedy.

56 Farringdon Road EC1
Tel: +44 (0)20 7253 4285
www.thebetsey.com

Marx Memorial Library

Dedicated to the study of Socialism, the shop stocks busts of Karl Marx and Che Guevara. Lenin worked here from 1902-1903 when in exile. Home to archives such as the full run of the Daily Worker and Morning Star, The International Brigade Archive, Bernal Peace Library and the Klugnmann Collection.  

37a Clerkenwell Green EC1
Tel: +44 (0)20 7253 1485
www.marx-memorial-library.org

Mount Pleasant Royal Mail Sorting Office

This massive sorting office is the site of the former Coldbath Fields Prison, a ‘house of correction’ from 1794 to 1889. Known for its harsh conditions, its prisoners were forbidden to talk to each other and did hard labour.The site now also hosts the British Postal Museum & Archive.

Mount Pleasant EC1
www.postalheritage.org.uk