Streets of London: St John Street, EC1
Stretching from Smithfield Market to Angel, St John Street is a riot of architectural styles. Time Out goes walkabout in EC1
Few streets in London can boast the extraordinary variety of Clerkenwell’s historic St John Street. Climbing from Smithfield market at the north-western edge of the City to the busy junction at the Angel, bisecting the entire EC1 postcode en route, it is flanked by properties which span several centuries of socio-economic change. Early nineteenth-century Georgian houses, still intact, nestle up against imposing Victorian factories, in turn neighboured by twentieth-century office blocks. Ornate, century-old redbrick pubs lie in the shadow of post-war housing estates. Each new street number seems to signal a change in architecture.
The Georgian terraces at the north end (Nos 310–324 and 372–390 on the east side, 347–365 and 383–399 on the west) represent the longest stretches of a single style; the rest of the street is an alluring jumble.
This diversity has much to do with the street’s old age (which is also the reason for its wobbly trajectory, apparent on a street map in comparison to nearby Goswell and City Roads). This is one of the capital’s most ancient thoroughfares, dating back at least to the twelfth century. It was historically one of the main routes into the City from the north, frequented especially by drovers escorting their cattle to what was once the livestock market at Smithfield.
The architectural confusion makes it difficult to divide St John Street into natural sections, but, in general, the southern end is dominated by converted factories and warehouses, now largely housing offices and the odd restaurant or pub. The famous St John restaurant (No 26), and Vietnamese eateries Pho (No 86) and recently opened Xích Lô (No 103) are some of the more notable addresses, but there are plenty more places to drink and dine around the junction with Charterhouse St.
Heading north, there is little residential usage until you cross the busy Clerkenwell Road. Past it, converted factories and warehouses still prevail, but some have been turned into apartments as well as offices; the old Scholl shoe factory at Nos 188–212 and Ingersoll watch factory at No 227 are cases in point. Nearby concept-store Homestead (Nos 148–150) is an audacious fusion of vintage furniture shop, art gallery, clothes boutique, café and exhibition space, and gives a picture of the trendy aspirations of those who now live and work hereabouts. Further up on the east side of the street, on the site of the former Allied Brewery, is one of the street’s newest developments at Brewery Square, a formidable ultra-modern five-storey block defined by striking copper and glass panels. It houses 198 apartments of up to three beds; properties for sale and rent appear frequently. A Tesco now occupies part of its ground floor, and has given this part of the street an autonomy – for residents – it did not previously possess.
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