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Clerkenwell has a long history. It took its name from the Clerk's Well at Farringdon Lane. In the Middle Ages, the London Parish clerks performed annual mystery plays there, based on biblical themes.

Clerkenwell had strong monastic traditions. The nuns of St Mary's, Clerkenwell, lived on the site of the present St James' Parish Church. The Monastic Order of the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem, had its English headquarters in Clerkenwell. It was founded to give medical assistance during the crusades. St John's Gate is still there, in the rebuilt form of the Priory Gate. Carthusian Monks lived at the Charter House, near the boundary with the city. The Charter House later became a school and almshouse, which still remains.

Before Clerkenwell became a built up area, it was famous as a resort where Londoners could disport themselves at its spas, tea gardens and theatres. Sadler's Wells has survived, after rebuilding, as heir to this tradition.

The area was greatly changed by the Industrial Revolution. It became a centre for breweries, distilleries and the printing industry. It was best known for clock and watch making, which once employed many people from around the area. Flourishing craft workshops still carry on some of the traditional trades, such as jewellery making. Many former industrial buildings have recently been converted into residential dwellings, and the area is undergoing a constant transistion.

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