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Heritage London: a stay at The Rookery Hotel

Nestled into an unassuming corner of Clerkenwell, The Rookery is a glorious boutique London hideaway. Occupying the old houses of St Peter’s Lane, and around the corner from Old Smithfield’s Market, the Rookery is slap bang in the centre of London’s historical market heartland. The present Smithfield’s Market was established by an Act of Parliament in 1860, however meat has been traded in this area for over 800 years, and each street has plenty of (tall) tales to tell. Darting just off the titular delight that is Cowcross Street, the Rookery is a tumble of interconnected houses, winding staircases and hidden landings. With its smoky history, and pertinent cobbles; this old nest has atmosphere in spades. A ‘rookery’ was the colloquial English term given in the 18th and 19th centuries to a city slum, and an area frequented by criminals and their ubiquitous ladies of the night. Dwellings were built with multiple stories, and were often crammed into any area of open ground, creating densely-populated areas of gloomy narrow streets and alleyways. Smithfields and its surrounds was a notorious such rookery, but it has come a long way since then and is now enjoying a quiet City gentrification. Despite the increasing frequency of law firms, banks and advertising agencies, the area retains a strong identity with a number of independent establishments, bequeathing a bohemian charm to the increasingly proximate financial district. The rooms are resplendent with heavy oak carved beds, thick braided curtains, wood-panelling and dark plum furnishings. Each room has been put together with historical loving care by antique dealers Peter McKay and Douglas Blain (also founding members of the Spitalfield Trust). No heritage detail is overlooked, including the plumbing which intricately climbs up the wall in polished copper pipes. The hotel has 33 rooms (although you won’t believe it is that big), each unique and named after former raffish inhabitants or owners. Perched in the rooftops, you are rewarded a marvellous (and enormously evocative) view over London’s chimney pots. This is the heartland of Mary Poppins’s London. Shutters open above the roll-top bath (only a hand-held shower here chaps (note copper pipe references above)), and Turner-esque landscapes primed in thick gilt frames hang proudly side by side. There is a nod to the modern, with a small television should you wish to acknowledge the technological age. We embraced the magical, and preferred to clamber into our enormous four-poster and read periodicals by atmospheric, (imagined to be), candlelight. In terms of amenities, there is limited ‘fuss’ at the Rookery. There is no restaurant in the hotel, however there is a small honesty bar in the front parlour room, and an extensive breakfast menu for the morning (room-service only). That said, this part of Clerkenwell is teeming with great supper joints and bars (notably the ever-favoured Hix), so you won’t have to go far for fodder. If you are a City-phile, you can’t beat the Rookery’s location; it is only a stone’s throw from Bank, St Paul’s and Fleet Street. For those seeking long, lost London; the Rookery is something of a gem.

Harriet Dedman

A freelance journalist and documentary photographer, Harriet is currently based between London and New York. Specialising in grass-roots and vintage luxury travel brands, Harriet is constantly on the look out for the alternative and the boutique. Happiest with big vistas, heritage hideaways, and her Nikon DSLR, you can normally find her espousing the glories of golden weekends in Wales.

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