Houghton Street (1906)
Houghton Street (1906)
A greengrocer’s on the corner of Houghton Street and Clare Market (behind The Strand) in 1906 just before demolition.

The thoroughfare known as Clare Market, leading eastwards into Lincoln’s Inn Fields, was so called in honour of the Earl of Clare, who lived "in a princely mansion" adjacent. His name is inscribed as a parishioner of St. Clement Danes in the ratebooks of 1617. In Howell’s "Londinopolis" of 1657 we read: "Then is there, towards Drury Lane, a new market, called Clare Market; then is there a street and palace of the same name, built by the Earl of Clare, who lived there in a princely mansion, having a house, a street, and a market both for flesh and fish, all bearing his name." It is also mentioned by Strype:- "Clare Market, very considerable and well served with provisions, both flesh and fish; for, besides the butchers in the shambles, it is much resorted unto by the country butchers and higglers. The market-days are Wednesdays and Saturdays."

"This market," says Nightingale, in the tenth volume of the Beauties of England and Wales, "stands on what was originally called Clement’s Inn Fields. In the year 1657 a Bill was passed for preventing the increase of buildings, in which was a clause permitting the Earl of Clare to erect the market, which bore his title, in these fields, to be held on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. The earl, it seems, also erected a chapel of ease to St. Clement’s, which is said to have been converted to dwelling-houses. That these lands were before in the possession of Holles we have already shown under Clement’s Inn. Charles I., in 1640, granted his license to Thomas York, his executors, &c., to erect as many buildings as they thought proper upon St Clement’s Inn Fields, the inheritance of the Earl of Clare, ’to be built on each side of the causeway, leading from Gibbon’s Bowling Alley, at the coming-out of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, to the Rein Deer Yard, that leadeth unto Drury Lane, not to exceed, on either side, the number of 120 feet in length or front, and 60 feet in breadth, to be of stone or brick.’

Charles I issued another license in 1642, permitting Gervase Holles, Esq., to erect fifteen houses, a chapel, and to make several streets of the width of thirty, thirty-four, and forty feet. These streets still retain the names and titles of their founders, in Clare Street, Denzil Street, Holles Street, &c." Rein Deer Yard was, probably, what is now called Bear Yard, and Gibbon’s Bowling Alley was covered by the first theatre erected by Sir William Davenant, whence he afterwards removed to Portugal Street.

When Cromwell revived the prohibition of his predecessor against the erection of new buildings in and near London, imposing even a fine on its violation, an exception, we are told, was made in favour of the new buildings then scarcely finished, in Clare Market. In consequence of this exemption, unfortunately for the healthiness of the locality, they were not made "of brick or stone," or "upright, and without projecting their upper storeys into the street."

Clare Market’s retail area spread through a maze of narrow interconnecting streets lined by butchers’ shops and greengrocers. Butchers would slaughter sheep and cattle for sale. An area was set aside for Jews to slaughter kosher meat. The market mostly sold meat, although fish and vegetables were also sold. An early theatre was in Gibbon’s Tennis Court, in the Clare Market area. A club of artists, including William Hogarth, met at the Bull’s Head Tavern in the market.

The area was not affected by the Great Fire of London, and the decrepit buildings survived until the area, by then a slum, was redeveloped by the London County Council in around 1900 to create the Aldwych and Kingsway.

Parts of the London School of Economics now occupy the site, and the passageways of the campus preserve the layout and names of Clare Market and Houghton Street.

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