Clerkenwell’s Mystery Wall Carvings

Pay attention in EC1 and around head height on Myddleton Passage you’ll spot Clerkenwell’s Mystery Wall Carvings.

Clerkenwell's Mystery Wall Carvings

Originally a footpath between Sadler’s Wells and Amwell Street, the Passage in the 18th and 19th centuries was nowhere near as well-lit or overlooked as it is today. In fact during the Victorian era it was considered a dark, dangerous and crime-riddled alley.

It even had a reputation notorious enough to feature in George Gissing’s 1889 novel, The Nether World as the setting for a violent assault on a character named Pennyloaf Candy:

“Pennyloaf turned into Myddelton Passage. It is a narrow paved walk between brick walls seven feet high” there was a punch up with Between her and Clem Packover, with Pennyloaf’s “hysterical cries and the frantic invectives of her assailant made the Passage ring.”

Look Closer

Today, the far safer Myddelton Passage shouldn’t alarm passersby but if you take a closer look you’ll spot a peculiar feature of the bricks…

Each brick has been carved with seemingly random numbers and the occasional letter, often a ‘G’.

A common theory / urban myth was that the wall was constructed with bricks from a destroyed prison harbouring soldiers from the Napoleonic Wars, and the scratchings were remnants of prisoners’ scrawls.

However, the mystery was finally solved in 2006 thanks to Peter Guillery of English Heritage after a mammoth research project with Historic London and the Metropolitan Police Archives.

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They date from the mid to late 19th century and it turns out they were put there by police officers. The numbers indicating the unique set of digits representing their collar numbers and the ‘G’ refers to the Finsbury Division.

Some officers went even further, leaving their initials next to their number, meaning we can identify some of the policemen today; 365 Plymouth turned out to be Frederick Albert Victor Moore, who joined G Division in 1886 and TK 1913 may have been Thomas Kirkpatrick, a gamekeeper from Dumfries who joined in 1910.

The Metropolitan Police was only founded in 1829 so perhaps this anxious young force were nervously carving a memorial. Or maybe they were just bored on long nights on patrol?

So another London mystery is solved!

Have you ever walked through Myddleton Passage? Take a closer look next time!

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Clerkenwell's Mystery Wall Carvings

1 Comment

  • Adrian Butters

    Reply

    Hi
    Yes, Clerkenwell wall carvings, very interesting, especially now known and understood. Often ‘unofficial’ carvings on various places can be very interesting, often in an historical way, for example, often found at the top of terraced housing back entry alleys. Sometimes political, sometimes amusing, and sometimes unrepeatable ( and sometimes all three ! ) I usually do look for this type of carving, as sometimes info contained that is not to be found in any book, and often a very interesting social commentary of the time the carving was made. Well worth looking out for.

    October 7, 2020 at 10:07 pm

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