History of Hatton Garden
The land was owned by the Bishop of Ely who was so powerful within the church that the state decided he needed a palace, chapel and grounds in central London.
Hatton Garden takes its name from Sir Christopher Hatton, who acquired the land here from the Bishops of Ely in the 1570s. Hatton was both knighted and made chancellor by Elizabeth I, who had originally been attracted to him by his graceful dancing at a ball. Hatton was also a major sponsor of Francis Drake’s round the world voyage. Drake renamed his flagship in honour of his patron, whose family crest featured a golden hind.
Prompted by a shortage of funds and the rapid growth of London’s population, the Hatton family began to build houses on their Ely estate from the 1660s. The first properties lined what was then Hatton Street, now Hatton Garden, and then filled a grid spreading out from there.
With the death of the last direct Hatton descendant in 1760, the estate was sold off and new houses were built, mostly for prosperous merchants. For another century Hatton Garden retained a favourable reputation as a place of residence, while neighbouring streets deteriorated to become the criminalised slums depicted in Oliver Twist.
The authorities built new roads and widened others throughout the neighbouring area in the 1850s and 60s, partly to remedy problems of traffic congestion but also to try and clear the area of its underclass. During this period Hatton Garden was transformed into a commercial locality, with all kinds of businesses taking over its houses. Clerkenwell had long been a centre for jewellery craftsmen, watch and clock makers and these trades began to spread into Hatton Garden at this time.
Soon afterwards, the street became a cutting centre for Indian diamonds and then added a trade in gold and platinum. The diamond business peaked in 1885, when 67 precious stone merchants were recorded in Hatton Garden and its adjacent streets.
Two specialist banks managed the merchants’ accounts and stored their precious metals and gems, and the Diamond Club acted as a jewel trading centre and stock exchange.
During the nineteenth century Johnson Matthey developed their gold and platinum business and the diamond trade expanded dramatically following the Kimberley diamond rush.
Since the 1870's, the Hatton Garden area became established internationally and was known as the most reputable Jewellery Quarter in London. To start with and into the first half of the 20th century – Hatton Garden’s merchants and workshops marketed their wares only to the trade. Precious stones were a Jewish specialty and it was not uncommon to see rough diamonds being sold in the local kosher restaurants.
The bombs of the Blitz and post-war austerity resulted in the loss of most of the locality’s remaining Georgian houses.
Today there is still a prosperous and active diamond trade. Although in recent years the number of workshops has dwindled, many workshops still flourish here and there is a growing range of ambitious talented craftsmen and designers who believe in the new potential and re-invention of the area.