Hatton Garden

Hatton Garden, Camden

London’s prime jewellery quarter, located just north of Holborn Circus

Bluecoated Charity children - geograph-2428485-by-Julian-Osley

Hat­ton Gar­den takes its name from Sir Christo­pher Hat­ton, who acquired the land here from the bish­ops of Ely in the 1570s. Hat­ton was both knight­ed and made chan­cel­lor by Eliz­a­beth I, who had orig­i­nal­ly been attract­ed to him by his grace­ful danc­ing at a ball. Accord­ing­ly nick­named ‘the danc­ing chan­cel­lor’, he was a major spon­sor of Fran­cis Drake’s round-the-world voy­age. Drake renamed his flag­ship in hon­our of his patron, whose fam­i­ly crest fea­tured a gold­en hind.

Prompt­ed by a short­age of funds and the rapid growth of Lon­don’s pop­u­la­tion, the Hat­ton fam­i­ly began to build hous­es on their Ely estate from the 1660s. The first prop­er­ties lined what was then Hat­ton Street, now Hat­ton Gar­den, and then filled a grid spread­ing out from there.

Fol­low­ing the com­ple­tion of the estate, a church was built at 43 Hat­ton Gar­den. Not long after­wards it was tak­en over by a char­i­ty school – hence the fig­ures of a boy and girl in the pho­to­graph above.*

With the death of the last direct Hat­ton descen­dant in 1760, the estate was sold off and new hous­es were built, most­ly for pros­per­ous mer­chants. For anoth­er cen­tu­ry Hat­ton Gar­den retained a favourable rep­u­ta­tion as a place of res­i­dence, while neigh­bour­ing streets dete­ri­o­rat­ed to become the crim­i­nalised slums depict­ed in Oliv­er Twist.

The shop window of AR Ullmann, antique jewellery specialists in Greville Street
The shop win­dow of AR Ull­mann, antique jew­ellery spe­cial­ists estab­lished in Hat­ton Gar­den in 1951 and now based around the cor­ner in Gre­ville Street

To the imme­di­ate north of Hat­ton Gar­den, Lon­don’s Lit­tle Italy took root in the mid-19th cen­tu­ry. Giuseppe Mazz­i­ni, the writer and nation­al­ist, found­ed an Ital­ian lan­guage school in Hat­ton Gar­den in 1841. The instru­ment mak­ers Negret­ti and Zam­bra set up shop in 1850 and the com­pa­ny remained here for 100 years.

The author­i­ties built new roads and widened oth­ers through­out the neigh­bour­ing area in the 1850s and 60s, part­ly to rem­e­dy prob­lems of traf­fic con­ges­tion but also try to clear the area of its under­class. Dur­ing this peri­od Hat­ton Gar­den was trans­formed into a com­mer­cial local­i­ty, with all kinds of busi­ness­es tak­ing over its hous­es. Clerken­well had long been a cen­tre for jew­ellery crafts­men and watch and clock mak­ers and these trades began to spread into Hat­ton Gar­den at this time.

Soon after­wards, the street became a cut­ting cen­tre for Indi­an dia­monds and then added a trade in gold and plat­inum. The exploita­tion of South Africa’s Kim­ber­ley dia­mond field brought a fur­ther boost from the 1870s. The dia­mond busi­ness peaked in 1885, when 67 pre­cious stone mechants were record­ed in Hat­ton Gar­den and its adja­cent streets.

Two spe­cial­ist banks man­aged the mer­chants’ accounts and stored their pre­cious met­als and gems, and the Dia­mond Club act­ed as a jew­el trad­ing cen­tre and stock exchange.

At that time – and on into the first half of the 20th cen­tu­ry – Hat­ton Gar­den’s mer­chants and work­shops mar­ket­ed their wares only to the trade. Pre­cious stones were a Jew­ish spe­cial­i­ty and it was not uncom­mon to see rough dia­monds being sold in the local kosher restau­rants.

The bombs of the Blitz – and the arro­gance of post­war devel­op­ers – result­ed in the loss of most of the local­i­ty’s remain­ing Geor­gian hous­es. The Hat­ton church was gut­ted by a bomb and restored as offices.

Lau­rence Graff claims to have opened Hat­ton Gar­den’s first retail jew­ellers in 1962 – though Hid­den Lon­don is not con­vinced that it had no antecedents. Cer­tain­ly, some trade deal­ers had pre­vi­ous­ly been will­ing to sell to mem­bers of the pub­lic when asked nice­ly. Either way, many more retail­ers soon fol­lowed, some sell­ing local­ly-made wares while oth­ers obtained their mer­chan­dise from far­ther afield or bought and sold sec­ond-hand jew­ellery.

In recent years the num­ber of work­shops has dwin­dled, though sev­er­al still flour­ish here. The retail jew­ellery trade is more active than ever and the local­i­ty now boasts at least fifty dia­mond mer­chants, jew­ellers and repair­ers, inter­mixed with offices and cafés.

Hole drilled through the concrete wall of the vault at Hatton Garden Safe Deposit
Hole drilled through the vault wall at Hat­ton Gar­den Safe Deposit [pho­to: Met­ro­pol­i­tan Police]

In 1993 thieves stole jew­els val­ued at £7 mil­lion from Graf­f’s work­shop in Hat­ton Gar­den. At the time, it was London’s biggest gem rob­bery of the mod­ern era.

Over the East­er week­end in April 2015 thieves broke into the vault at Hat­ton Gar­den Safe Deposit, drilling through a con­crete wall (shown in the pho­to­graph on the right) before ran­sack­ing box­es con­tain­ing cash, jew­els and oth­er valu­ables. All but one mem­ber of the gang were sub­se­quent­ly appre­hend­ed. The four ring­lead­ers plead­ed guilty to con­spir­ing to bur­gle the safe­ty deposit com­pa­ny and two oth­er men were found guilty of the same offence in Jan­u­ary 2016. Police made anoth­er arrest in March 2018.

Hatton Garden served as a backdrop for Guy Ritchie’s heist movie Snatch (2000).

Postal district: EC1
Further reading: Rachel Lichtenstein, Diamond Street: The Hidden World of Hatton Garden, Hamish Hamilton, 2012
See also: Holborn, Bleeding Heart Yard and Ye Olde Mitre

 

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* The picture of bluecoated charity children, Hatton Garden, at the top of this page is adapted from an original photograph, copyright Julian Osley, at Geograph Britain and Ireland, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse is hereby freely permitted under the terms of that licence.