This is a cobbled yard in Holborn surrounded on most sides by old warehouse buildings and may have been named after an old pub, or a murder.
The murder legend is that the yard’s name commemorates the murder of Lady Elizabeth Hatton, the wife of Sir William Hatton, or maybe Elizabeth Hatton, Sir William’s daughter. Whichever Elizabeth it was, the story goes that one of them spent the evening of 26th Jan 1626 at Hatton House with the Bishop of Ely, and may have disappeared into the night with the Spanish Ambassador.
The following morning, her body was found “torn limb from limb, but with her heart still pumping blood.”
Now, we can be fairly certain it wasn’t the elder Elizabeth, as she died 20 years later, so the alleged murder could be one of a number of other Elizabeths loitering around the family at the time, as there were quite a few. However, with the exception of the apparent illegitimate daughter of Sir Christopher Hatton, we know the dates of their deaths — so if a murder took place, it’s likely to have been the daughter of Sir Chris.
Incidentally, we’ll overlook the fact that the yard didn’t exist when the murder alluded to above was supposed to have taken place. As that’s just annoyingly awkward when telling ghost stories at night.
Another variant is the appearance in R. H. Barham’s The Ingoldsby Legends, a collection of poems and stories first published in Bentley’s Miscellany beginning in 1837. In one of the stories, The House-Warming: A Legend Of Bleeding-Heart Yard, Lady Hatton, wife of Sir Christopher Hatton, makes a pact with the devil to secure wealth, position, and a mansion in Holborn. During the housewarming of the mansion, the devil dances with her, then tears out her heart, which is found, still beating, in the courtyard the next morning.
While suitably delightful for sharing the story late at night, the more likely, if less fanciful explanation for the name is that it comes from a nearby 16th-century pub called the Bleeding Heart, which was a reference to the heart of the Virgin Mary being pierced with swords, a common image of the Virgin Mary’s suffering.
On the corner of the yard is the Bleeding Heart Tavern, although it’s not clear if that’s the actual Bleeding Heart pub or a later adopter of the name.
Opposite is a formerly rather bland 1970s brick office that recently underwent a remarkable makeover. The whole exterior has been clad in perforated steel panels that make up the appearance of a classic warehouse and office building at would have appeared in the 1920s
I think it looks quite marvellous.
The yard itself owes its origins to pigs and muck.
This part of town was developing from fields by the 1600s, but the yard itself wasn’t developed until the 1680s, and was by Abraham Arlidge, leasing the old dunghill of neighbouring Ely Palace where pigs kept by locals were foraged.
To the south was the Bishop of Ely’s estate, but by 1799, that had been redeveloped into the semi-private road that it is today as Ely Place. Meanwhile, Bleeding Heart Yard shows up clearly on the R Horwood map, with gaps into the two southern roads as well.
By the end of the 19th century, the gaps in the wall to the south appeared to have been bricked up, although, on occasions, a gate is left open between Ely Place and the yard. Not on my visits though.
The rest of the yard is a mix of former industrial buildings that are now offices, and in one corner, a bistro with an outdoor seating area in the cobbled (setts) that line the road. It is however quite picturesque and the sort of place probably eyed up by film crews needing a bit of “victorian london” for their movies.
The yard also makes an appearance in Charles Dickens novel Little Dorritt, as home to the Plornish family.
“a place much changed in feature and 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.”
Oh, and by the way, the Elizabeth line’s westbound railway tunnel runs right under the yard.