Historic Holywell Lane, Shoreditch

For a very long time, I have been slightly obsessed with a particular ancestor of mine – Rebecca Monksfield. She was convicted of Larceny in 1829 and subsequently transported to Tasmania. I’ve been slowly writing her life story, and at some point hope to publish it. Recently, I started a course with the brilliant Joe Saunders at Pharos Tutors on the subject of Local History. I’ve always fancied conducting a One Place Study (if you don’t know what they are, check out BALH.org.uk and One-Place-Studies.org), but was never sure where to start, or even which ‘place’ to choose. Joe’s course required me to focus on a particular area to practice the skills being taught, and after much deliberation I finally settled on the rather specific King John’s Court, Holywell Lane, Shoreditch. Yes I know that is quite precise, but to study the whole of Shoreditch seemed rather daunting, so I though I’d start off small and perhaps expand my study over time.

My choice of place came from an article relating to Rebecca’s parents, Joseph and Rebecca Monksfield. In 1824, Rebecca senior gave birth to triplets, a boy and two girls. The family home was reported as 7 Blinksford Buildings, King John’s Court, Holywell Lane, Shoreditch.

Morning Advertiser Wednesday May 19 1824
Birth of triplets, born to Rebecca and Joseph Monksfield.

I will reveal more about the Monksfields another time, but for now I’d like to concentrate on my place. There are innumerable resources out there to help you with studying a place – one of my favourites is maps. TheUndergroundMap.com is a project creating street histories within London, and has some wonderful maps of my place from 1750 to the present day. It’s an interactive map, with pins marking various points of interest, offering further details and history when you click on them. One of the best things about maps is the ability to compare a place over time. Here are two maps, a century apart, showing Holywell Lane.

Holywell Lane, Shoreditch, 1750 and 1850 TheUndergroundMap.com

As you can see, not much had changed; but just a few decades later in 1880, a map of the area shows the new train line ploughing straight through King John’s Court. (The address still exists today, but I suspect it has been moved slightly to make way for the railway).

1880 Map of Shoreditch

When researching a place, in addition to maps (and the treasure trove of records lurking in local archives), there is plenty of information to be found online in the form of news reports/blogs/photos etc. I will be continuing my one place study over the next year, and look forward to sharing my findings with you. However, I’d like to end (for now) with a little taster of the history of art and culture in and around King John’s Court.

According to TravelAndLeisure.com ‘Shoreditch is one of London’s trendiest neighborhoods, attracting young Londoners and visitors alike with its ever-expanding art scene and vibrant nightlife. Here, you’ll find endless street art, clubs, bars, and restaurants featuring cuisines from across the world.’ A great blog from TheCultureMap.com details lots of Shoreditch street art, including this (in my actual place of King John’s Court) which is one of the largest murals in London.

One of the largest murals in London.  This piece of street art is at King John's Court, Holywell Lane, Shoreditch.
Street Art in Shoreditch.

This image was one of many I discovered on Geograph.org.uk. You can explore their map to find/view photos from locations across Britain and Ireland.

Over 400 years ago, artistic culture was just as much the centre of the community when local resident James Burbage built the first ever permanent theatre in England (a mere minute’s walk from King John’s Court). From 1576-1598, ‘The Theatre’ staged productions from various playwrights including The Bard himself – William Shakespeare! Following financial difficulties, and disagreements with the landlord over terms of the lease, The Theatre was closed and dismantled; much of the timber was reconstructed to form part of The Globe theatre.

The Theatre by Walter C. Hodges (Courtesy of Cambridge University Press)

I have been thrilled to discover so much about the place my ancestors once lived, and can’t wait to find out more about King John’s Court, Holywell Lane, and the wider community of Shoreditch. If you have anything you’d like to share with me about this place, please do get in touch. And if this blog has inspired you to start your own One Place Study, I’d love to hear all about it.

The amazing illustration at the top of this blog is by Adam Dant. A narrative of his map can be found at the wonderful website Spitalfields Life

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