This short passageway owes its origins to the Clerkenwell Priory that dominated the area and was home to the Monastic Order of the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem (and try saying that in a hurry).

Running between a couple of the monastery buildings was a covered passage known as the “long entry” and following the dissolution when the land was sold off, the old passageway was reused as a public route, which it remains to this day.

Slowly developed, by the 1780s, the passageway was lined on both sides by shops on the ground floor and flats above.

Although this passageway is linked with the priory, the name is indirect, as it comes instead from an old pub that stood on the corner, the St. John of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem Passage used to be narrower, but when the buildings on the eastern side, on top of the old Bishops Court, were cleared in 1912, the passage was widened slightly in 1915 as part of the rebuilding work. It cost Finsbury Borough Council £550 to buy the land to widen the passage.

There also used to be a building of some sort at the northern end of the passage, which blocked off about half the width. That was demolished at some point between the 1890s-1940s.

Something that does survive at the northern end, and you have to look up to find it — is a green plaque telling you that this is where “Thomas Britton (1644-1714) the musical coalman” once lived.

Although Britton started out as a coal merchant in London, he had a fine singing voice, and his income from coal and his fame from signing meant he was able to build up his own library, and became well known to literary sorts of the time. In 1678, he turned the loft of his house into a small concert hall, which turned out to be very popular, and even Handel turned up to perform at times. He died in 1714, when a friend played a practical joke on him, so scaring him that he died a couple of days later, and was buried in the nearby St James’s Church.

Following his death, Britton’s widow sold his collection of music, which was mostly purchased by Hans Sloane.

There also used to be a Jerusalem Tavern in the passageway but seems to have closed sometime in the 1790s, possibly related to the rebuilding of the passageway from small homes into shops and flats. Another Jerusalem Tavern opened just down the road inside the remains of St John Gate, but closed in 1915.

Neither of them are anything to do with the much-loved Jerusalem Tavern a few streets away, as that pub didn’t open until 1992. Originally a recreation of an 18th-century coffee house, it changed into a pub in 1996. It’s recently been sold and rebranded to the Holy Tavern.

So after many centuries of the area boasting a peripatetic Jerusalem Tavern, it’s finally lacking one.

It’s not without booze though, as there’s the Dovetail bar in the passage, which opened 25 years ago, in 1998 and specialises in Belgian beers and food.

As a bar and restaurant, they will doubtless hope to avoid the fate of a restaurant in 1936, which was sold by Mr Galvani to Mr Casali, but 14 years later they were still arguing over who owned five large mirrors in the restaurant.

In 1950, it came to court, and the judge ruled that the mirrors improved the restaurant, so should be considered part of the building. Like long running disputes between neighbours over trivialities, the Case of the Five Mirrors was to cost Mr Galvani dear as he lost the case, and had to pay legal costs.

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One comment
  1. Dan says:

    Do we know what the practical joke was?!

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