1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Holborn

HOLBORN, a central metropolitan borough of London, England, bounded N.W. by St Pancras, N.E. by Finsbury, S.E. by the City of London, S. and W. by the City of Westminster and St Marylebone. Pop. (1901), 59,405. Area 405.1 acres. Its main thoroughfare is that running E. and W. under the names of Holborn Viaduct, High Holborn and New Oxford Street.

The name of Holborn was formerly derived from Old Bourne, a tributary of the Fleet, the valley of which is clearly seen where Holborn Viaduct crosses Farringdon Street. Of the existence of this tributary, however, there is no evidence, and the origin of the name is found in Hole-bourne, the stream in the hollow, in allusion to the Fleet itself. The fall and rise of the road across the valley before the construction of the viaduct (1869) was abrupt and inconvenient. In earlier times a bridge here crossed the Fleet, leading from Newgate, while a quarter of a mile west of the viaduct is the site of Holborn Bars, at the entrance to the City, where tolls were levied. The better residential district of Holborn, which extends northward to Euston Road in the borough of St Pancras, is mainly within the parish of St George, Bloomsbury. The name of Bloomsbury is commonly derived from William Blemund, a lord of the manor in the 15th century. A dyke called Blemund’s Ditch, of unknown origin, bounded it on the south, where the land was marshy. During the 18th century Bloomsbury was a fashionable and wealthy residential quarter. The reputation of the district immediately to the south, embraced in the parish of St Giles in the Fields, was far different. From the 17th century until modern times this was notorious as a home of crime and poverty. Here occurred some of the earliest cases of the plague which spread over London in 1664–1665. The opening of the thoroughfares of New Oxford Street (1840) and Shaftesbury Avenue (1855) by no means wholly destroyed the character of the district. The circus of Seven Dials, east of Shaftesbury Avenue, affords a typical name in connexion with the lowest aspect of life in London. A similar notoriety attached to Saffron Hill on the eastern confines of the borough. By a singular contrast, the neighbouring thoroughfare of Hatton Garden, leading north from Holborn Circus, is a centre of the diamond trade.

Of the ecclesiastical buildings of Holborn that of first interest is the chapel of St Etheldreda in Ely Place, opening from Holborn Circus. Ely Place takes its name from a palace of the bishops of Ely, who held land here as early as the 13th century. Here died John of Gaunt in 1399. The property was acquired by Sir Christopher Hatton, Lord Chancellor under Queen Elizabeth, after whom Hatton Garden is named; though the bishopric kept some hold upon it until the 18th century. The chapel, the only remnant of the palace, is a beautiful Decorated structure with a vaulted crypt, itself above ground-level. Both are used for worship by Roman Catholics, by whom the chapel was acquired in 1874 and opened five years later after careful restoration. The present parish church of St Giles in the Fields, between Shaftesbury Avenue and New Oxford Street, dates from 1734, but here was situated a leper’s hospital founded by Matilda, wife of Henry I., in 1101. Its chapel became the parish church on the suppression of the monasteries. The church of St Andrew, the parish of which extends into the City, stands near Holborn Viaduct. It is by Wren, but there are traces of the previous Gothic edifice in the tower. Sacheverell was among its rectors (1713–1724), and Thomas Chatterton (1770) was interred in the adjacent burial ground, no longer extant, of Shoe Lane Workhouse; the register recording his Christian name as William. Close to this church is the City Temple (Congregational).

Two of the four Inns of Court, Lincoln’s Inn and Gray’s Inn, lie within the borough. Of the first the Tudor gateway opens upon Chancery Lane. The chapel, hall and residential buildings surrounding the squares within, are picturesque, but of later date. To the west lie the fine square, with public gardens, still called, from its original character, Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Gray’s Inn, between High Holborn and Theobald’s Road, and west of Gray’s Inn Road, is of similar arrangement. The fabric of the small chapel is apparently of the 14th century, and may have been attached to the manor house of Portpool, held at that period by the Lords Grey of Wilton. Of the former Inns of Chancery attached to these Inns of Court the most noteworthy buildings remaining are those of Staple Inn, of which the timbered and gabled Elizabethan front upon High Holborn is a unique survival of its character in a London thoroughfare; and of Barnard’s Inn, occupied by the Mercer’s School. Both these were attached to Gray’s Inn. Of Furnival’s and Thavies Inns, attached to Lincoln’s Inn, only the names remain. The site of the first is covered by the fine red brick buildings of the Prudential Assurance Company, Holborn Viaduct. Among other institutions in Holborn, the British Museum, north of New Oxford Street, is pre-eminent. The varied collections of Sir John Soane, accumulated at his house in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, are open to view as the Soane Museum. There may also be mentioned the Royal College of Surgeons, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, with museum; the Royal Colleges of Organists, and of Veterinary Surgeons, the College of Preceptors, the Jews’ College, and the Metropolitan School of Shorthand. Among hospitals are the Italian, the Homœopathic, the National for the paralysed and epileptic, the Alexandra for children with hip disease, and the Hospital for sick children. The Foundling Hospital, Guilford Street, was founded by Thomas Coram in 1739.