Less than twenty years ago the church of St. Bartholomew the Great, Smithfield, was partially occupied as a fringe factory and in another corner there was a blacksmiths’ forge. St Bartholomew’s Close, which includes part of the Fabric Fair, reflected the fallen state of the church, whose old houses were mainly given up to poverty and bleak shops. The house of the Earl of Warwick, which still carries the weapons of Warwick, is released into individual apartments.
Over the past ten years, business has improved somewhat in the Close, and many of the picturesque little features of the labyrinth of courtyards and alleys are illuminated with new paint, and flowers struggle in windows and tiny fenced gardens with green small paved dead ends in Stone.
At Cloth Fair, Le Soeur, the sculptor of King Charles, lived, Milton hid for a space waiting for the Act of Oblivion, and Franklin tells in his diary of his life in the lodgings here. The Fabric Fair is almost as old as the Priory Church. In Elizabethan times, livestock and general merchandise took the place of cloth and the fair extended to Smithfield (Thackeray’s “Smiffle”) beyond. At the Bartlemy fair the festival survived the middle of the last century.
The most interesting of the many old wood and plaster buildings in this picturesque purlieu is the 500-year-old Dick Whittington tavern and is said to be the oldest tavern in the city of London. It is almost certainly the oldest building occupied as a tavern, but its current license cannot go back much more than fifty years ago, since Shepherd has a print as a hairdresser, and there is a previous print in the Grace Collection which reveals it in the hands of a butcher. The building, however, is very characteristic and has characteristics to arouse the curiosity of the antique dealer. The wooden bracket that supports the upper floor is carved in a grotesque Gothic ornament reminiscent of the famous Star Inn in Alfriston in Sussex. The room on the street level where the tavern is conducted has an internal plaster dome, not very old, but very unusual.
Dick Whittington and other interesting relics in Cloth Fair are now threatened with destruction. The change is ultimately putting a hard finger on the old neighborhood and the topographers are already busy on their doorstep to take measures for a new artery from Long Lane to Aldersgate-street.