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Hatton Garden film project: Part 1

The brief:

Student Chris Townsend tells us how he and 11 fellow students partaking in a jewellery course at Kensington Chelsea College are embraking on a project in which they will film interviews with a host of Hatton Garden craftsmen and tradesmen, providing insight into the jewellery hub’s colourful past and present.

With a film crew from digital-works (www.digital-works.co.uk) the 12 students will, over the next six weeks, be filming interviews with various craftsmen and traders in Hatton Garden, finally creating a complete film.

It will be the first film to be produced about Hatton Garden.

Eventually, the film will be premiered at a launch event at the Renoir Cinema in Central London, which students and people working in Hatton Garden will be invited to. The film will then be made available online and copies of the DVD will be given to colleges, libraries and interested groups across London.

This blog track will track the stages in the development of the film and the work carried out by the students…

A starting point
If you type the coordinates 51° 31’12.28N 0°06’30.12W in to Google Earth, you will navigate to an aerial view of London. The part of the displayed map that we are interested in covers an area roughly equivalent to 14 football pitches. If Google Earth was able to travel through time and show us this same view in 1576 what would we see in this area?

Fields of crocuses are waiting to be harvested by monks for their stamens of saffron. A swift running river second only to the Thames in size would run its course in its valley. A medieval estate would sit in this area, including fountains, olive groves and vineyards, gifted to its new owner by Queen Elizabeth 1 for the fee of £10 per annum plus ten loads of hay… and a rose at midsummer!

Let’s fast forward to Victorian times, what do we see now? We have the lair of Fagin plying his criminality below the wheeling rooks in the imagination of Charles Dickens. In pits dug for this purpose, dogs bait bears for the entertainment of jeering locals. The once swift river has turned into a stinking sewer shuttered in on both sides by tall, decrepit buildings. As time passes these buildings will cover the river and it will sink lower and lower in to the earth, until its course becomes subterranean and it is forgotten as one of London’s lost rivers. What do these things have in common? They are all a part of the past history that makes up the site that is today Hatton Garden, the centre of the UK Jewellery trade since medieval times.

Hatton Garden

Hatton Garden


Hatton Garden on film
Since the beginning of this year an exciting new project has started. In conjunction with digital-works www.digital-works.co.uk, 12 jewellery students from across London, many from Kensington Chelsea College (KCC), will be producing a documentary film exploring the history of Hatton Garden, the historic jewellery quarter of London. The 12 students will be working with jewellery course leader Jenny Macdonald and Sav Kyriacou and Matthew Rosenberg from digital-works to produce the film.

The participants will learn about the history of Hatton Garden through a series of talks and walks through the area before going on to meet the many craftsmen and women working in the maze of workshops and shops in the area. Many of the people and businesses in Hatton Garden date back several generations. Their stories are the stories of the jewellery business in London. The production team will decide on the direction that the film will take and the questions that will be asked of the craftsmen and women in Hatton Garden, when interviewed by students. The film will show how immigration and skilled workers, fleeing conflict during the two World Wars, settled in Hatton Garden and how the mixing of cultures and skills combined to create a unique area. During the 19th century a gold and platinum refining business was set up in Hatton Garden by Johnson Matthey. This combined with the Kimberley diamond rush and the influence of Cecil Rhodes, the founder of diamond company De Beers, saw a dramatic increase in Hatton Garden’s influence as an international jewellery quarter.

Hatton Garden is a fascinating place, a hive of hidden activity, full of jewellery workshops often crammed two or three to an average-size sitting room, where clever, dexterous fingers use raw unformed precious metals and glittering stones that have come from countries scattered across the globe, including Africa, Brazil, India and Russia, to create exquisite pieces of jewellery that are displayed in the 60 jewellery stores in Hatton Garden itself.

Getting started
The project started with a fascinating and illuminating talk at KCC by historian Rachel Lichtenstein who has recently published a book on Hatton Garden called Diamond Street published by Hamish Hamilton. Rachel has a unique insight into Hatton Garden because her family runs a jewellery business there. Rachel spent five years researching her book, criss crossing Hatton Garden with archaeologists, sewer flushers, artists, goldsmiths and geologists to gather together the many fascinating stories that make up the book. Her talk gave those that attended a wonderful insight into the many layered history of Hatton Garden. After the talk, students that attended went on a history walk around Hatton Garden with Rachel. We visited historic sites and streets that join together through alleyways and hidden doors that lead to the ancient inns and famous squares of Hatton Garden. Rachel will soon be launching an interactive App for smartphones and tablets called the Diamond Street App. The App plays audio soundscapes and oral history through headphones as you walk around Hatton Garden. The location of the listener is plotted by GPS on their smartphone and a location specific piece of audio is played to them through their headphones, which provides an immersive insight into Hatton Garden. The students that attended were able to sample this App on Rachel’s phone during the walk.

Jewellery students listening to the App

Jewellery students listening to the App

Rachel’s talk and walk showed us that the Hatton Garden site was originally owned by the Bishop of Ely, who had a palace, chapel and grounds, which were the gardens themselves. We visited St Etheldreda church, located in Ely Place, which was the chapel of the London residence of the Bishop of Ely. Entering the chapel and going down into the crypt gives you a feeling of stepping back in time as you stand in the dark vaulted space that is lit by glowing stained glass windows. In the crypt is a model showing the original lay out of the estate.

Stained glass window inside St Etheldreda Church

Stained glass window inside St Etheldreda Church

St Etheldreda Church

St Etheldreda Church

Ely Place

Ely Place

In 1576 a handsome courtier, Christopher Hatton, much admired by Queen Elizabeth I, requested living quarters in Ely Place. The Bishop of Ely had no say in the matter and Elizabeth I granted him the estate, for the previously mentioned fee of £10 per annum plus 10 loads of hay, and a rose at midsummer! Over time the area became known as Hatton Garden. In the mid-17th century, the once-famous garden was used to create an estate of streets and houses that now host the jewellery stores and workshops of Hatton Garden.

Rachel showed us places where non-descript buildings squat over underground reinforced vaults that hold hoards of cut and un-cut diamonds, she showed us street corners where Jewish diamond dealers used to trade openly in the street while catching up and eating from the Kosher Bakeries located nearby. We heard stories of characters like Mitzy, an old man who appeared to be a frail old tramp but who was, in fact, a powerhouse with immense physical strength gained by pulling gold thread through a draw plate day after day to make beautiful wedding bands, which were much in demand in Hatton Garden while he worked there. We walked single file down the narrow alley of Mitre Court to the Mitre Tavern, built in 1546 by the Bishop of Ely for his servants (this pub is now the unofficial headquarters of the production team!). The Tavern still contains a piece of Cherry tree around which Elizabeth I was said to have danced the maypole. We also stood over the spot where the lost River Fleet still follows it course deep in the earth. These are the threads of stories that stitch together to make up the blanket of history that lies over Hatton Garden. The aim of this unique film project is to lift this blanket to give a peek at the complex history of Hatton Garden past and present.

Ye Old Mitre pub

Ye Old Mitre pub

On completion the film will be premiered at a launch event in the Renoir Cinema in Central London to which students and people working in Hatton Garden will be invited. The film will then be made available online and copies of the DVD will be given to colleges, libraries and interested groups across London.

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