As will have become clear from the previous sequence of posts on the Saffron Hill Murder, the Worms family was much involved in the case — as victims, as neighbours, as witnesses, and — in some degree — as unravellers of the mystery and the saviours of an innocent man. The family had been living in the vicinity of Saffron Hill, on the borders of Clerkenwell and Holborn, since about 1815, and remained there through at least six generations, until the middle of the twentieth century. Several of the family still living know it as a workplace.
This year’s family walk around these old streets was obviously restricted by regulations on size of gatherings, etc. Most people were unable to take part at all — and this post is principally for them — but we did manage to organise three small groups of family and friends on three separate walks — two in late September and one in October. The route evolved over the course of the walks, and questions asked and new things learnt added extra colour as we went along. The presence of the estimable Tim and Pinda Bryars of Bryars & Bryars on the final walk introduced an element of London map-trade history to run alongside the family narrative — and this in turn led to an altogether different walk, a walk across central London in search of globemakers, which is now featured on the University of London Society of Bibliophiles blog for anyone who might be interested.
The route this year commenced at Farringdon Station and the map (1) shows the area we were to traverse as it stood in 1862. The blank space in the middle of the map shows where the station and the railway line were about to be built in the old Fleet Valley — a dip in the landscape between the City and the West End caused by the River Fleet, also known as the Hol Bourne, which used to flow through here on its way to the Thames. The river has been culverted underground since the eighteenth century, but we had a sense of the depth of the valley by looking down at the railway tracks. Just around the corner is the Holborn Viaduct (2), built in the 1860s so that the horse-drawn traffic no longer had to negotiate the difficult slopes.
The weight of traffic on London streets even at that time was becoming impossible and Victorian engineers, with their customary genius, realised that this was an ideal place to start a bold project to build railways that ran under the ground. It was right in the middle of town and somewhat lower than the surrounding area, and that is why Farringdon Station became the oldest underground station in the world. The original station (3) was opened on 10th January 1863 — the terminus of the original Metropolitan Railway, the world’s first underground line. It ran from here to Paddington, a distance of about four miles. The wood engraving (4) depicts a trial run with invited (and excited) guests.
From the present station, or this part of it (5) dating back to 1922, we headed eastwards along Cowcross Street, so named either because this was the route by which cattle crossed the Fleet to get to Smithfield Market — or because a mediaeval market cross once stood just up ahead. The street has been called Cow Cross for hundreds of years — the detail on the map (6) dates from the 1560s, with Cow Cross clearly named (top left). In the days before refrigeration, cattle, sheep and pigs had to be brought live to market along the ancient drove roads, of which this was one.
We began here because in 1850 the Post Office Directory (7) gave the occupant of No. 23 Cowcross Street as Solomon Worms (1806?-1883) — the Solomon also known as Saul who featured in the murder case. He was the man who told the police they had got it all wrong on the very night of the murder and he and his immediate family were the focus of this year’s walk. Born in Wapping, he bought and sold second-hand goods of one kind or another throughout his career. He was listed in the Directory as an appraiser and was probably working with his brother, Lewis Worms (1800-1875), at that time. Lewis was a broker-cum-auctioneer and held some of his auctions just here in Cowcross Street.
Before a later change in numbering, No. 23 stood five doors west of White Horse Alley. It is probably the building partly depicted to the extreme left of the Victorian watercolour (8) — just about by the black telephone box in the modern photograph (9). A little further along the street, a group of older buildings still standing on either side of Peter’s Lane (10) retains the flavour of an earlier era.
ST. JOHN STREET
At the end of Cowcross Street, to the south of the junction with St. John Street, are the Victorian buildings of the new indoor Smithfield Market, also built in the 1860s (11). There has been a market here for a thousand years. St. John Street — another ancient street named on the early map — was once the principal road into the London from the north. It too was a drove road, so there would have been more cattle, sheep and pigs coming from this direction. Chaos was not unknown (12).
The street numbering of St. John Street (13) has also changed, but we have an image from John Tallis’s London Street Views (1838-1840) showing the original numbering (14). To the left was No. 62 — a couple of doors south of the White Bear. Here is the present White Bear (15) — different building, same spot — so just about here in the 1830s we would have found Solomon’s bother Lewis in his junk shop. Here is his flyer (16). He dealt in everything — rags, iron, rope, metals, bottles, buttons — “Old books, waste paper & horse-hair — How much you bring I do not care”. Gratifying to see that old books have always been prized in the family.
Farther along St. John Street we can see No. 49 on the old view (13). It was here that Frances (Fanny) Worms (1814?-1889), Solomon’s youngest sister, died at the age of seventy-five in 1889. She had worked in the fur trade, like all his sisters. No. 49 was just to the right of this curious building (17) — once two separate houses, but now joined together by building over the space between them. There are some details of Fanny Worms’ probate record at (18) — her executrix named as her niece, Julia Robinson, née Carpenter (1842-1905), landlady of the Bricklayers’ Arms in Soho. She left money to two other nieces as well, Matilda Moggridge (1838-1923) and Hannah Traini (1835-1923).
ST. JOHN’S GATE
From St. John Street, we turned westwards through the almost hidden Passing Alley (19) — this is the sanitised version of its name — to St. John’s Lane, once the home of the John Tallis (1792-1842) who published the London Street Views. To our right, as we emerged, was St. John’s Gate (20), one of the oldest surviving structures in London, built in 1504 — the gatehouse to Clerkenwell Priory, the English headquarters of the Knights of the Order of St John (the Knights Hospitallers). It is now a museum — and the headquarters of their descendants, the St. John’s Ambulance Brigade.
The John Rocque map (21) shows the area as it stood in the 1740s. The gatehouse at one time served as a coffee-house, run by the painter William Hogarth’s father. Then it became the office of the Gentleman’s Magazine (22) — Samuel Johnson used to work here. It later became a pub, the Old Jerusalem, much favoured by writers and artists. Charles Dickens used to drink here — it is one of the most evocative spots in all London.
On the first and second walks, we turned south down St. John’s Lane, and then right into Albion Place (still known as George’s Court on the 1746 map), but on the third walk we continued west along Briset Street (formerly Bartlett Street), there to pay respects to the famous mapmaker Thomas Kitchin, (1719-1784), Hydrographer to George III (23), whose first known address in 1742 was in Bartlett’s Court. Kitchin was the subject of my first extended map-trade biography, published in The Map Collector in 1993.
We then turned left into Britton Street (formerly Red Lion Street). When first built in the early eighteenth century it was rather a smart street and a number of the original houses are still standing. This was where another famous mapmaker in Thomas Jefferys (1719-1771) began his career — someone else I have written about, e.g. here. The street was re-named Britton Street in 1937 after the self-taught antiquary, John Britton (1771-1857). When he left his native village in Wiltshire, he had never seen a newspaper or a dictionary, but he died the author of over 100 books and pamphlets.
At the foot of Britton Street, we paused by Albion Place (24). Nothing much to see now, but we have an old photograph (25) of the street decked with bunting for the coronation of Edward VII. Solomon’s younger brother Philip Worms (1811?-1891) was living here in 1837, before moving to Chelsea and becoming an auctioneer, and three of their sisters were here in 1841 — Frances (Fanny), the youngest, whom we have just met, then still in her twenties, with Sarah (1799-1883) and Catherine (1806?-1883). They lived at No. 17, sharing the house with three other households. All three sisters were employed in the fur trade at that time, for reasons that will become clear. Farther back in time, when this short street was still called George’s or George Court, it was for a time the home of the finest of English wood-engravers, Thomas Bewick (1753-1828), as well Christopher Pinchbeck (1670?-1732), the clockmaker and maker of musical automata.
Returning to the route taken on the two earlier walks, we walked westwards along Benjamin Street (26). Here, at No. 12 — the house in the middle of this 1946 photograph (27) — lived the fourth of Solomon’s sisters, Martha Worms (1809?-1881). She had married Joseph Carpenter (1814-1874), a furrier, in 1834, which is why so many of the women in the family worked in the fur trade. The Carpenters were living here with their five children in 1851, again sharing the house with three other households. Over a hundred years earlier, the Welsh mapmaker Emanuel Bowen (1693?-1767), Geographer to the King, the master of both Thomas Kitchin and Thomas Jefferys above, was here in Benjamin Street in 1739 (28). The record of his apprenticeship to the map and globemaker Charles Price (1679?-1733) in 1709, was the first map-trade apprenticeship record I ever unearthed.
We had now come almost full circle and were on Turnmill Street, alongside Farringdon Station (29). This is another ancient street, the name a corruption of Three Mills — water-mills on the Fleet dating back to the Middle Ages. Various members of the family lived here at different times, but at No. 69, the census return of 30th March 1851 (30) provides a snapshot of Solomon and his family. He was living with his second wife, Mary Ann Redman (1807-1868), and five children — sharing a single house with a butcher and his wife, a carpenter and his wife, and a brush-maker and his wife, and their four children.
It would have been a sad household on census night: Solomon’s daughter Mary Ann had died of scarlet fever at the age of five earlier that same day. Baby sister Sarah, aged eleven months on the census return, died the same way the following year — the third of his daughters to die in infancy.
Daughter Emma Margaret Worms (1834-1916) from his first marriage, was then aged eighteen and another seamstress in the fur trade. We shall encounter her again in the workhouse. Son George Thomas Worms (1839-1881) from the second marriage, later suspected of bigamy, we shall also meet again, as well as his little sister Hannah or Hannet (b.1842), then aged eight.
Little Amelia Worms (1847-1915) aged four, was working as a french-polisher by the age of fourteen, had a child at seventeen, married the father at twenty — and was back living with her father at twenty-four. She ended her days as a charwoman.
As for Solomon’s older children — I am not sure where Catherine (1827-1889) was at this time. She was the one who married Alf Rebbeck (1842-1897) after the murder trial. Son Alfred (1830-1884) was a common labourer then living on Saffron Hill with his wife and a little boy, although he later brought his family to Turnmill Street. And Lewis Joseph Worms (1836-1885), the one my branch of the family descends from, had already left home at the age of fourteen and was working as a costermonger — a barrow-boy — and living in lodgings over towards Charterhouse.
At this point on the first walk, we managed a ragged chorus of the favourite old music-hall song, “All me life I wanted to be a barrer-boy, A barrer-boy I always wanted to be” in his memory. (A more polished version by Del the Pearly Minstrel can be found online.
It is difficult now to visualise the terrain before the railway was built, but the map (31) gives an idea. Coming down into the dip from the top of Turnmill Street and Clerkenwell Green, was Brook Hill — called Mutton Lane on the map, the name was changed in the 1820s. It was a street famous for its brokers and furniture-dealers (32) and Lewis the broker spent much of his career here — most of his ten children were born on Brook Hill. Brook Hill became Vine Street on the upslope — there was once a vineyard here — and the bridge across the railway is still called Vine Street Bridge (33), although the street no longer exists. Lewis the costermonger was living in Vine Street when he married Ellen Harrington (1836?-1890) at the age of twenty in 1857. She was of course the sister of Mike Harrington (1823?-1864), the man murdered in the Golden Anchor on Saffron Hill. Their first child, Alice Worms (1859?-1903) — later Lee — was almost certainly born here and the family were still living on Vine Street in 1861, at No. 18.
Crossing the railway by the bridge, across the Farringdon Road and on into Clerkenwell Road, we dropped down the steps into Onslow Street. A nondescript street (34), but here in 1871 was living Hannah (Hannet) Worms, last seen as an eight-year-old in Turnmill Street. She worked as a french-polisher, was married at eighteen to a frame and looking-glass maker (like Serafino Pelizzioni) called James Bender (1840-1876), and had five children with him before he died at the age of thirty-six. Ten years later, in 1881, we find her half-sister Catherine Worms, now married to Alf Rebbeck, also working as a french-polisher and living at No. 6.
Onslow Street leads into Saffron Street, formerly called Castle Street. There is nothing much left to see of the old streets — the Bomb Damage Map (35) explains why. A V1 flying bomb landed just about where we were standing (the circle on the map). The colour coding is black — totally destroyed; purple — damaged beyond repair; dark red — probably beyond repair; light red — probably too costly to repair; and orange — blast damage, but no structural damage. Just here, at No. 1 Castle Street, was the “very small cottage”, with its yard backing on to the Golden Anchor, where Solomon (Saul) Worms was living at the time of the murder in 1864. We know it was a “very small cottage” because of a disparaging reference to it in a report sent by Sir Richard Mayne, head of the Metropolitan Police, to The Times in March 1865. Both Solomon and his cottage enjoyed their five minutes of fame in newspapers at the time. On the corner of Castle Street and Saffron Hill (36) stood the Golden Anchor itself.
Difficult to envisage it now, with its blocks of smart flats and offices (37), but Saffron Hill was once one of the poorest and meanest streets in London. As Dickens wrote in Oliver Twist, “A dirtier or more wretched place he had never seen. The street was … narrow and muddy, and the air … impregnated with filthy odours. There were a good many small shops; but the only stock in trade appeared to be heaps of children” (38). A number of the family lived and worked here on the hill at various times. Solomon himself had a second-hand shop here in 1832; again in 1842 (No. 25), where Hannah (Hannet) was born, then sharing the premises with his brother Morris Worms (1810?-1872), a furniture dealer; and again in 1861, variously at Nos. 54 and 57, before moving round the corner to Castle Street. His brother Morris had previously been at No. 57 in 1838 — the year in which Oliver Twist was published. The trade in second-hand furniture, which all four of the brothers engaged in at various times, was a large one — hence the number of french-polishers in the family.
Our route now took us northwards, back across the Clerkenwell Road and down Herbal Hill (formerly Little Saffron Hill). The site is said originally to have been a herb garden attached to Ely Palace. To the left still stands the old St. Peter’s Italian School (39), where four of Solomon’s great-great-grandchildren were educated — my father, Thomas (Bill) Worms (1917-1999), his sister Martha (Jane) Worms (1912-1985), and his brothers Henry (Harry) Worms (1913-1978) and George Worms (1914-1967). No room for a playground in these cramped streets, so games were played up on the flat roof. The stanchions where netting was put up when football was in progress are still visible from the street.
At the foot of Herbal Hill (40), we were reminded that earlier in history this was the site of the notorious Hockley-in-the-Hole — a venue on the edge of the built-up area of London known for its popular if barbaric entertainments — bull-baiting, bear-baiting, dog-fights, cockfighting — the animals baited with dogs and fireworks. On the first and second walks, we headed on up Crawford Passage from here, but rumour had reached us by the third walk that if we were to stand above an inconspicuous drain outside The Coach public house on Ray Street, we would be able to hear the sound of the River Fleet tumbling over a weir below ground. Our scepticism proved unfounded — indeed we could — and very clearly.
Back in the eighteenth century, Crawford Passage was known as Pickled Egg Walk — a fact which elicited that at least one of the walkers has an unrequited passion for pickled eggs. The eponymous Mr Crawford was apparently a publican from the West Country with a secret recipe for pickled eggs which brought customers from all over town. This is said to be the narrowest street in London at one point (42) — and useful to know that you are not allowed to park a car here, even if the car is wider than the street. At the top of the passage, we turned right into Baker’s Row — a name which has endured since at least the seventeenth century. It was once the northernmost point of the built-up area and all was open country to the north.
Turning back on ourselves, we now headed southwards down the Farringdon Road for a short way. On the site of this late Victorian office-block (43) by Alfred Waterman, there used to stand something much worse: the infamous Coppice Row Workhouse (44). The workhouse was demolished in 1883: a few years earlier it had been condemned in The Lancet as “fit for nothing but to be destroyed”. Ill-planned, cramped, poorly ventilated, the fetid air alive with the shrieks of lunatics — one in seven of the 600 or so inmates was insane.
Various members of the family knew it well as inmates. This is where Solomon’s daughter Emma had an illegitimate daughter in 1856. She later married the Saffron Hill dealer John Richards in 1861: she could write her name, he apparently could not. She was the one who later sold fish in Leather Lane, whom we encountered on the 2019 walk — and the one that Solomon went to live with in his old age. She had twelve children in all, six of them still alive in 1911, when she was living just beyond Exmouth Market, where the walk was set to conclude. She died in hospital in 1916 at the age of eighty-one.
BOWLING GREEN LANE
Just below the site of the workhouse, we changed direction again into Bowling Green Lane. There had been bowling greens here since the Middle Ages: some are clearly marked on this seventeenth-century map (45). The lawns were of both grass and gravel — the games played equating to our crown bowls and the French boules, and there was also a game with hoops, a precursor of croquet. A handful of older buildings on the south side (46) give an indication of what the lane must have looked like when Hannah (Hannet) Worms was living at No. 11 with her second husband, John Jones, a boiler-maker not much older than her eldest son.
From Bowling Green Lane, we dropped down the steps of Roberts Place into Clerkenwell Close (47). This whole area was once occupied by the mediaeval nunnery of St. Mary. After the Dissolution there were some fine houses here — the Elizabethan Duke of Newcastle built Newcastle House, and Oliver Cromwell had a mansion here, but the area deteriorated over time. The slums and alleys on the western side were swept away in the 1880s and replaced by the Clerkenwell Estate of the Peabody Trust (48), built by George Peabody, the American banker who founded the first housing association. They were intended for the “respectable” working classes and we do not seem to have a record of any of the family ever having lived in them.
But to the south of the Close, close by the church at No. 5, Lewis the broker’s wife Elizabeth Jackson (1801-1879) and her two youngest daughters, Sophia Worms (1841-1927) and Emily Worms (b.1843), were living in 1861. Elizabeth seems to have lived apart from her husband in later life, but daughter Sophia later took over her father’s broking business before switching to the fur trade and becoming a successful wholesale furrier. Her sister Emily, who worked as a fancy puff-maker, married twice, outlived both husbands, and had eight children in all.
ST. JAMES CLERKENWELL
There are many family connections with the parish church of St. James Clerkenwell (49 & 50). Solomon’s nephew Philip Worms was baptised here in 1830, his niece Frances in 1833, nephew Joseph in 1834, and niece Hannah Worms (1835-1923) in 1835 — she is the one who married Giacomo Traini (1826?-1906) in 1857, when Pietro Bordessa was a witness. These were all children of his brother Lewis. Another brother, Philip Worms, already encountered in Albion Place, married one of the Munro sisters here in 1837 (brother Morris married her sister the following year). Solomon’s niece Julia Worms (1832?-1900) married here in 1857 — she had previously been acting as an assistant at the School for Ladies which Solomon’s sister Sarah had started just round the corner on Clerkenwell Green.
Apart from the nephews and nieces, Solomon’s daughter Emma and son Lewis the costermonger were both baptised here in a double-ceremony on 30th June 1837.
ST. JAMES WALK
Just beyond the church to the east lies St. James Walk, rather a desirable address now (51), although probably not so in the nineteenth century. Here Solomon’s grandson, Alfred James Worms (1863-1904), a hawker and general dealer, great-grandfather to the oldest on the walk, was living at No. 13 in 1897. The local newspaper headline ran simply “Bad Rabbits” (52). Alf Worms had been selling rabbits for eating in Leather Lane Market: they were “flabby, and in some cases green and evil-smelling” — condemned as “unfit for the food of man”. His excuse made it little better: he claimed the rabbits had been fresh when he bought them the night before, but a thunderstorm had made them go off.
CLERKENWELL CLOSE (2)
Dipping back into the maze of Clerkenwell Close, we looked at where Solomon’s son George Thomas, last encountered in Turnmill Street, died in 1881 (53 & 54). Rather a puzzling figure — a conviction for larceny by the time he was fourteen — and then he must have gone to sea. He appears to have had a wife, Jane, in Barbados, and another one, Elizabeth, here in London. I am not sure what happened to either of them — or their children — but he married again (another Elizabeth) in the 1870s. He was a labourer in a chemical works and aged just forty-two when he died. His son Philip from the third marriage, born on Saffron Hill in 1875, changed his name to Jones — his mother’s name — and his descendants are still trying to puzzle things out.
As we left Clerkenwell Close, we stopped to look at the Clerkenwell Workshops (55), originally built in the 1890s as the old London School Board’s central depot for school supplies — furniture, stationery, and needlework. To the right is the old Hugh Myddleton School (56). It stands on the site of the former Middlesex House of Detention — the local prison, closed in the 1880s and another grim institution (57). This was probably where Lewis the costermonger spent thirty days in 1867 for allegedly assaulting a police-officer. The only witnesses were other police-officers and the magistrate refused to allow him to produce witnesses of his own. It sounds uncomfortably like what happened to Rocco Angelinetta at about the same time (see previous post) — badly beaten up by the police in reprisal for his vocal part in the Saffron Hill Murder case. Lewis had testified at the final trial and had been with Harrington at the hospital when Inspector Potter claimed that Harrington had definitely identified Pelizzioni as his assailant. I suspect Lewis had refused to substantiate what Potter had said — it is very noticeable that the prosecution chose not to question him on this.
From Clerkenwell Close, we headed up Northampton Road (58) alongside the London Metropolitan Archives (59), repository of so much of London’s history, towards Spa Fields (60). Living at No 19 Northampton Road, from at least 1917 until 1932, was Martha Worms, née Titsell (1863-1940), widow of Alf Worms — he of the bad rabbits — and great-grandmother to the oldest of us. Mother of six, she lived there with her two youngest children, Louis Joseph Worms (1899-1959) and Emily Elizabeth Worms (1902-1990). Another of her daughters, Mary Ann Worms (1897-1979), was by then married to George Sabini (1895-1977), brother of the notorious gangster “Darby” Sabini (1888-1950).
There was once a burial ground at Spa Fields (61) and this was the final resting place of Mary Thorncraft (1807-1837), born in Holborn, Solomon’s first wife, great-great-great-great-great-grandmother to the youngest walker. She died of brain fever at the age of thirty and was buried here on Boxing Day 1837, leaving Solomon a widower with four small children. Also buried here was his niece Matilda Worms (1825-1839), one of brother Lewis’s daughters, who died horribly burned in an horrific accident, widely reported in the press, at the age of thirteen.
There are no graves in Spa Fields now, and a question posed was as to where they had been moved. An innocuous enough question, but one which led to a nightmare story of body-snatchers, illicit exhumations, and nightly burnings of the dead to create more space. A graveyard intended to house something under 3,000 graves saw some 90,000 people interred there. There was a huge scandal in the 1840s, written up in George Alfred Walker’s Burial-Ground Incendiarism : The Last Fire at the Bone-House in the Spa-Fields Golgotha (1846), and there is now a memorial notice (62) by one of the gates to the park. The graveyard was rapidly closed down, but by then all the gravestones were missing.
From here we wandered through a modern development (63) named after Catherine Griffiths (1885-1988), “The Last Suffragette”. The daughter of a Welsh miner, she served as Mayor of Finsbury in 1960-1961. Our route was taking us to Vineyard Walk (64 & 65), where in the Middle Ages there was indeed a vineyard on this south-facing slope above the city. In 1895, it was the home of Alf Worms. At this time, he was dealing in fish, which given his record with rabbits is a slightly alarming thought. We know this because he and his wife, Martha Titsell, got their names in the local newspapers — fined for being drunk and disorderly in Exmouth Market. She, incidentally, died of natural causes in an air-raid shelter in Myddelton Passage, just beyond the market, at the height of the Blitz in 1940.
From Vineyard Walk, it is just a short step along a needlessly redeveloped Pine Street (66) to the Market in Exmouth Street, which some of us can recall when it was genuinely a street-market (67). Perhaps worth remembering also, in these times, that Exmouth Street is named after Edward Pellew, First Viscount Exmouth (1757-1833), the man who bombarded Algiers in 1816 when the Bey refused to abolish the huge trade in the trafficking and slavery of European Christians.
Our various walks at an end, a few of us sat down to eat enjoyably at the Santoré restaurant in the middle of the market. Pleasingly, there was no repeat of the drunk and disorderly precedent set by Alf and Martha. Just as pleasingly, we found ourselves seated almost opposite No. 56, where a blue plaque (68) commemorates that Joseph Grimaldi (1778-1837), the famous clown — the subject of a biography by Dickens himself (69) — once lived here. It would be gratifying to think that one day a further plaque might be added — one to commemorate the greatly gifted James Richard Barfoot (1796-1863), nineteenth-century artist and outstanding designer of map-games and puzzles (70), who lived in the same house a few years later.
The route for next year’s walk is already being mapped out – and hopefully all those that missed out this year will be able to join in a grand family reunion in May.