Bleeding Heart Yard

Nuggets – bite size chunks of London

Bleeding Heart Yard

Bleed­ing Heart Yard is a cul-de-sac lead­ing off Gre­ville Street, near Hat­ton Gar­den. The yard’s name prob­a­bly derives from an old inn sign, the Bleed­ing Heart of Our Lady, which depict­ed the heart of the Vir­gin Mary pierced through by swords. How­ev­er, the san­guinary imagery has inspired sev­er­al colour­ful leg­ends, which Charles Dick­ens sum­maris­es in Lit­tle Dor­rit (1855–7) – where he also sug­gests that the name actu­al­ly relates to “the heraldic cog­ni­sance of the old fam­i­ly to whom the prop­er­ty had once belonged.”

One tale has it that a lovelorn young lady, impris­oned in her bed­cham­ber by her cru­el father, pined away at her win­dow, mur­mur­ing ‘bleed­ing heart, bleed­ing heart, bleed­ing away’ as she expired. Dick­ens says that this sto­ry was “the inven­tion of a tam­bour-work­er, a spin­ster and roman­tic, still lodg­ing in the Yard.”

The gori­est fable sug­gests that some­time in the ear­ly 17th cen­tu­ry the much-wooed Eliz­a­beth Hat­ton was mur­dered here by the Span­ish ambas­sador – whom she had jilt­ed – and was found at dawn with her heart still pump­ing blood onto the cob­ble­stones. Anoth­er angle on this sto­ry, this time fea­tur­ing Sir Christo­pher and Lady Alice Hat­ton and the Dev­il, was set to verse by Richard Barham in his Ingolds­by Leg­ends.

“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 …”

Richard Barham, ‘The House-Warm­ing!!’ (1840)

Bleeding Heart Yard street sign and lamp