Philobiblon: The lady of Bleeding Heart Yard

Thursday, July 14, 2005

The lady of Bleeding Heart Yard

To a talk last night on Bleeding Heart Yard (a small shared courtyard off Greville St in Clerkenwell). It is at the edge of the area known as Hatton Garden, for it was the yard of the palace of the Bishops of Ely, planted to make an earthly model of the Garden of Eden. At least it was the bishops', until Kit (later Sir Christopher) Hatton, one of the many favourites of Queen Elizabeth I, persuaded her to ensure he got possession of half of the palace and most of the garden.

There's a picture here if you scroll down)of what it looks like today, but the talk focused on the Victorians' view of it. They were typically excited by its name, but had already forgotten the earlier legends that were attached to it.

Some thought that it was named for a plant, known as bleeding heart vine that had grown profusely in this part of the Hattons' garden; others that there'd been a pre-Reformation pub on the site with a sign showing the Holy Virgin's heart pierced by five swords (not something that would make me go into a pub personally) still others that a young maiden had been locked away from her lover here until she had pined away for want of him.

But the real origin of the tale seems to have been an account (wholly fictitious) of the death of Lady Hatton, the wife of the second Sir Christopher Hatton to own the house (he'd been adopted by his uncle and taken the name). This was rediscovered by "Thomas Ingoldsby" (the pen name of Rev. Richard H. Barham), a friend of Dickins, whose Fireside Family stories were rollicking versions of traditional tales.

This has Lady Hatton making a pact with the devil to win her husband's hand, with the inevitable ending seven years later ....

Of poor Lady Hatton, it's 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!
And sundry large stains
Of blood and of brains,
Which had not been wash'd off notwithstanding the rains,
Appear'd on the wood, and the handle, and chains,
As if somebody's head with a very hard thump,
Had been recently knock'd on the top of the pump.

(An alternative version of this tale blames the Spanish ambassador - in English terms then more or less the same as the devil.)

The poem is here and there's a couple more of the Ingoldsby Legends here.

You might wonder why Lady Hatton, who actually died peacefully in her bed, was the subject of this tale; well she was a strong-minded woman who lived for decades in a state of public war with her husband - perfect material for a bit of witch-slander.

If that seems a depressing note to end on, well think of a more cheerful Victorian tale for the Yard; some Italian street musicians who lived there were looking for an easier life, so they trained animals and boys to work together, then leased the animals to the boys for "busking/begging" on the streets.

The price list (per day):
Porcupine 4 shillings
Monkey 2 shillings
Monkey in uniform 3 shillings
Dog and money 3 shillings (the monkey rode on the dog's back)
It is said that some boys made the princely sum of 6 or 7 shillings a day - although whether this was clear profit or before expenses is not clear.

More on this series of walks/talks can be found here.


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