The Streets Of London – Part Thirty Six
February 19, 2016
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Bleeding Heart Yard, EC1
When I was the possessor of a corporate credit card and long lunches were not so infra-dig, one of my favourite restaurants was the Bleeding Heart in the eponymous cobbled yard, just off Greville Street, which intersects Farringdon Road and Hatton Gardens.
There are two versions of how the yard came to get its name – one prosaic and the other more romantic. To deal with the prosaic version it is thought that there was a public house on nearby Charles Street which was called the Bleeding Heart and which showed on its sign the Virgin Mary’s heart pierced by five swords.
The more charming story was told by R.H Barham in his The Ingoldsby Legends which were written in the late 1830s and more specifically the poem, The House warming: A Legend of Bleeding Heart Yard. The poem relates the cautionary story of Lady Hatton who entered into a pact with the devil to secure wealth, position and a mansion in Holborn. At the house warming party for the mansion, the devil turned up, danced with the maker of the Faustian pack and tore her heart out. The stable lad found it next day in the courtyard still pumping out blood. As Barham relates, “Of poor Lady Hatton, needless to say/ No traces have ever been found to this day/ or the terrible dancer who whisk’d her away;/ But out in the court-yard – and just in that part/ Where the pump stands – lay bleeding a large human heart”. It is said that Lady Hatton’s ghost returns to remove all traces of her blood from the cobbles but on my visits the only spirits encountered were ingested.
Charles Dickens wrote about the yard in Little Dorrit (chapter twelve), placing the home of the Plornish family there. He described it thus, “a place much changed in feature and in fortune, yet with some relish of ancient greatness about it. Two or three mighty stacks of chimneys and a few large dark rooms which had escaped being walled and sub-divided out of the recognition of their old proportions, gave the Yard a character. It was inhabited by poor people who set up their rest among its faded glories…”
The topography of the Yard has clearly changed since Dickens wrote Little Dorrit because he goes on to say, “the ground has so risen about Bleeding Heart Yard that you go into it down a flight of steps..” There are no steps today and, indeed, the Yard is on the same level as the adjacent streets. But a vivid imagination can still conjure up a vision of how it might have looked in Dickens’ time.
Today the majority of the buildings in the Yard are occupied by the Bleeding Heart bistro – if you go there looking for heart on the menu you will be sorely disappointed – and at the south end there is a gate which leads on to Ely Place. If you follow Greville Street you will end up at Saffron Hill which Dickens made the home of Fagin, so watch your pockets!