Today’s stop along our London Moonwalk magical mystery tour is Clink Street, with a centuries-old name that still lives on in modern idiom when people talk about being put ‘in the clink’, or in prison.
The contradictorily named Liberty of the Clink, outside the jurisdiction of the City of London until the 16th century, was attached to the manor of the Bishops of Winchester who occupied much of the land on the south bank of the Thames. (And rented out the brothels there, as in Cardinal Cap Alley.)
The Clink prison, from which the street takes its name, was used for those who contravened the laws governing the ‘stews’, or brothels: as the 16th-century London history John Stow tells us, “for such as should babble, frey, or break the peace on the said bank, or in the brothel houses”. The first prison on this site, dating back to 1127, was a cellar in the Palace of the Bishop of Winchester.
It also housed ‘prisoners of conscience’ – those who disagreed with the religious beliefs of the current monarch. Some of those prisoners of conscience were the founder members of the movement that eventually headed for America as the Pilgrim Fathers.
The Clink prison was destroyed in the Gordon Riots of 1780 and never rebuilt. Much of the rest of the area was also destroyed in the blitz during World War II; when the damage was being cleared up, part of the west wall and the 14th-century rose window of the Bishop’s palace was discovered and preserved.
Today, Clink Street houses the Clink Prison museum, as well as leading to the replica of the Golden Hind – Sir Francis Drake’s galleon.
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