Holborn is an area of central London and also the name of the area’s principal street, known as High Holborn between St. Giles’s High Street and Gray’s Inn Road (the junction being roughly where Holborn Bar – the entrance to the City of London – once was) and then Holborn Viaduct between Holborn Circus and Newgate Street.
The area’s first mention is in a charter of Westminster Abbey, by King Edgar, dated to 959 AD. This mentions “the old wooden church of St Andrew” The name Holborn may be derived from the Middle English “hol” for hollow, and bourne, a brook, referring to the River Fleet as it ran through a steep valley to the east.
In the 18th century, Holborn was the location of the infamous Mother Clap’s molly house but in the modern era High Holborn has become a centre for entertainment venues to suit more general tastes: 22 inns or taverns were recorded in the 1860s and the Holborn Empire, originally Weston’s Music Hall, stood between 1857 and 1960, when it was pulled down after structural damage sustained in the Blitz.
Charles Dickens took up residence in Furnival’s Inn, on the site of the former Prudential building designed by Alfred Waterhouse now named “Holborn Bars”. Dickens put his character “Pip”, in Great Expectations, in residence at Barnard’s Inn opposite, now occupied by Gresham College. Staple Inn, notable as the promotional image for Old Holborn Tobacco is nearby. The three of these were Inns of Chancery. The most northerly of the Inns of Court, Gray’s Inn, is in Holborn, as is Lincoln’s Inn: the area has been associated with the legal professions since medieval times, and the name of the local militia (now Territorial Army unit, the Inns of Court & City Yeomanry) still reflects that.
Hatton Garden, the centre of the diamond trade, was leased to a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, Sir Christopher Hatton, at the insistence of the Queen to provide him with an income. Behind the Prudential Building lays the Anglo-Catholic church of St Alban the Martyr. Originally built in 1863 by architect William Butterfield, it was gutted during the Blitz but later reconstructed, retaining Butterfield’s west front. The current vicar is the Rev. Christopher Smith. On the southern side lie Chancery Lane and Fetter Lane.