Online Encyclopedia

CLERKENWELL

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V06, Page 497 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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CLERKENWELL, a district on the north side of the city of London, England, within. the metropolitan borough of Finsbury (q.v.). It is so called from one of several wells or springs in this district, near which miracle plays were performed by the parish clerks of London. This well existed until the middle of the 19th century. Here was situated a priory, founded in 1100, which grew to great wealth and fame as the principal institution in England of the Knights Hospitallers of the Order of St John of Jerusalem. Its gateway, erected in 1504, and remaining in St John's Square, served various purposes after the suppression of the monasteries, being, for example, the birthplace of the Gentleman's Magazine in 1731, and the scene of Dr Johnson's work in connexion with that journal. In modern times the gatehouse again became associated with the Order, and is the headquarters of the St John's Ambulance Association. An Early English crypt remains beneath the neighbouring parish church of St John, where the notorious deception of the " Cock Lane Ghost," in which Johnson took great interest, was exposed. Adjoining the priory was St Mary's Benedictine nunnery, St James's church (1792) marking the site, and preserving in its vaults some of the ancient monuments. In the 17th century Clerkenwell became a fashionable place of residence. A prison erected here at this period gave place later to the House of „ „ Detention, notorious as the scene of a Fenian outrage in 1867, 'The accepted English pronunciation, clark, is found in when it was sought to release certain prisoners by blowing up part southern English as early as the 15th century; but northern dialects still preserve the e sound (” clurk "), which is the common pro- of the building. Clerkenwell is a centre of the watch-making and nunciation in America. s' ,eweller's industries, long established here; and the Northamptoll were called minor orders, and in 1350 the privilege was extended to secular as well as to religious clerks; and, finally, the test of being a clerk was the ability to read the opening words of verse z of Psalm li., hence generally known as the " neck-verse." Even this requirement was abolished in 1705. In 1487 it was enacted that every layman, when convicted of a clergyable felony, should be branded on the thumb, and disabled from claiming the benefit a second time. The privilege was extended to peers, even if they could not read, in 1547, and to women, partially in 1622 and fully in 1692. The partial exemption claimed by the Church did not apply to the more atrocious crimes, and hence offences came to be divided into clergyable and unclergyable. According to the common practice in England of working out modern improvements through antiquated forms, this exemption was made the means of modifying the severity of the criminal law. It became the practice to claim and be allowed the benefit of clergy; and when it was the intention by statute to make a crime really punishable with death, it was awarded " without benefit of clergy." The benefit of clergy was abolished by a statute of 1827, but as this statute did not repeal that of 1547, under which peers were given the privilege, a further statute was passed in 1841 putting peers on the same footing as commons and clergy. For a full account of benefit of clergy see Pollock and Maitland, History of English Law, vol. i. 424-440; also Stephen, History of the Criminal Law of England, vol. i.; E. Friedberg, Corpus juris canonici (Leipzig, 1879-1881).
End of Article: CLERKENWELL
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AGNES MARY CLERKE (1842-1907)
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