Home » Hidden London » Hidden London: The Strange Story of Bleeding Heart Yard

Hidden London: The Strange Story of Bleeding Heart Yard

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean
There are places in London that on the surface are quite ordinary and not worth a second glance but scratch below the surface and you may be surprised by what you find.
© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean
Bleeding Heart Yard is one of these places, it is a fairly anonymous cobbled courtyard off Greville Street in the Farringdon area of the City of London. The courtyard was probably named after a 16th-century inn sign displayed on a pub called the Bleeding Heart. It was said that the sign showed the heart of the Virgin Mary pierced by five swords.
© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean
There is still a Bleeding Heart Tavern in front of the courtyard and visitors will notice the heart motif as they wander around. It is not by accident because the area was known for the gruesome ‘murder’ of Lady Elizabeth Hatton, relative of Sir Christopher Hatton (known as the dancing ‘Chancellor’ during the reign of Elizabeth I). He lived in nearby Ely Place and owned much of the area around Hatton Garden. It is said that her body was found here in 1626, “torn limb from limb, but with her heart still pumping blood.”
The origins of the legend is not known but a well known version of the story was published in the early 19th century as one of the Ingoldsby Legends by Richard Barham. In a story entitled  The House-Warming!!: A Legend Of Bleeding-Heart Yard.
In this version, Sir Christopher Hatton marries Alice Fanshawe, who is suspected of having made a deal with the Devil so that her husband will have success at the court of Elizabeth I. Sir Christopher success leads to him becoming Lord Chancellor, and the Queen forces the Bishops of Ely to give Sir Christopher the keys to their London residence at Ely Place.
© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean
However, when the Hattons celebrate their good fortune at their housewarming they have an unwelcome visitor who wants to dance with Alice, the Devil it seems wants Alice to pay her part of the contract.
Of poor Lady Hatton, it’s needless to say,
No traces have ever been found to this day,
Or the terrible dancer who whisk’d her away;
But out in the court-yard — and just in that part
Where the pump stands — lay bleeding a LARGE HUMAN HEART!
And sundry large stains
Of blood and of brains,
Which had not been wash’d off notwithstanding the rains,
Appear’d on the wood, and the handle, and chains,
As if somebody’s head with a very hard thump,
Had been recently knock’d on the top of the pump.
Like many legends, there are elements of truth and more than a splash of fantasy. While it was true that Sir Christopher Hatton did benefit from Queen Elizabeth’s patronage and did receive Ely Place from the Bishop of Ely.
Other parts of the story are a confusion of the various Christopher Hattons and Lady Hattons, no Lady Hatton was murdered in Bleeding Heart Yard in 1626.
© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean
Richard Barham was not the only author attracted to this peculiar corner of London, Bleeding Heart Yard features in the Charles Dickens novel Little Dorrit as the home of the Plornish family. Dickens describes the yard and its name.
Bleeding Heart Yard was to be found; a place much changed in feature and in fortune, yet with some relish of ancient greatness about it. Two or three mighty stacks of chimneys, and a few large dark rooms which had escaped being walled and subdivided out of the recognition of their old proportions, gave the Yard a character. It was inhabited by poor people, who set up their rest among its faded glories, as Arabs of the desert pitch their tents among the fallen stones of the Pyramids; but there was a family sentimental feeling prevalent in the Yard, that it had a character.
As if the aspiring city had become puffed up in the very ground on which it stood, the ground had so risen about Bleeding Heart Yard that you got into it down a flight of steps which formed no part of the original approach, and got out of it by a low gateway into a maze of shabby streets, which went about and about, tortuously ascending to the level again. At this end of the Yard and over the gateway, was the factory of Daniel Doyce, often heavily beating like a bleeding heart of iron, with the clink of metal upon metal.
The opinion of the Yard was divided respecting the derivation of its name. The more practical of its inmates abided by the tradition of a murder; the gentler and more imaginative inhabitants, including the whole of the tender sex, were loyal to the legend of a young lady of former times closely imprisoned in her chamber by a cruel father for remaining true to her own true love, and refusing to marry the suitor he chose for her. The legend related how that the young lady used to be seen up at her window behind the bars, murmuring a love-lorn song of which the burden was, ‘Bleeding Heart, Bleeding Heart, bleeding away,’ until she died.
© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean
The Bleeding Heart Yard of today is more sedate than its fictional past but there are still reminders of the legends of the past.
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