Diamond Street: the hidden world of Hatton Garden (Hamish Hamilton, 2012) intimatley describes London's secretive and mysterious jewellery quarter.
In this 'fascinating' and 'sparkling book' you’ll meet diamond dealers and goldsmiths, jewellers and lapidaries as well as sewer flushers, artists, geologists and visionaries such as Iain Sinclair, as Rachel Lichtenstein reveals the history and stories that bring this vibrant Clerkenwell street and its environs to life.
Intimately connected to the area both personally (through family) and professionally (as an archivist of London streets), Lichtenstein is uniquely placed to explore the extraordinary stories of this historic part of old London.
She visits the London diamond bourse, underground gold vaults and Dickensian-looking jewellery workshops, as well as subterranean rivers, ancient burial sites and medieval crypts.
Moving beyond the street itself into parts of Clerkenwell, Holborn and Farringdon, Lichtenstein follows the ancient perimeter of the original Hatton Garden estate, which once bordered the lost River Fleet.
Crossing the same territory repeatedly, guided on her walks by different experts, she gathers new layers of the story with each journey. The result is a brilliantly immersive and multi-layered portrait; both a documentary and a secret history of a vanishing world.
'My main memory of Hatton Garden during the 1930s was of seeing deals being conducted on the street. You would see men huddled together in clusters on the pavement, heads together, magnifying glass out, examining some tiny object, usually a rough diamond….we would sweep up the gold, silver or platinum dust onto the floor and put it in the sweeps. If you went out in the day you had to wash your hands in a bowl of water and then at the end of the day this water was poured into another bowl, with a sacking across the top, and the wet metal dust was all collected.'
'Although Hatton Garden is no longer the centre of the world jewellery market, it remains a major player and still houses the lar- gest cluster of jewellery-based businesses in the UK, with over 300 separate companies that support the trade in the immediate area, and nearly sixty retail shops in the street itself. From the Holborn to the Clerkenwell end of the road, rows of jewellery shops line the road on both sides. Another network of hidden spaces exists both above and below these places: heavily guarded underground vaults filled with wholesale stores of gold and silver, workshops where specialist items are painstakingly made to order, small rooms where precious-gem dealers operate and Hasidic diamond merchants sit examining glittering stones, held tightly between silver tweezers.'
'Standing at the bottom of the River Fleet, liquid history, I thought back up, above ground, to Hatton Garden and the stories I had uncovered. After years of researching, crossing the same territory repeatedly, listening and gathering memories, whispers, shards, weaving together fragmentary histories, trying to understand the multiple transitions of the area, I felt that with Hatton Garden, a place so rich in memory-traces, lost landscapes and sacred architecture, I had only just begun to scratch the surface.'
Diamond Street reveals the ever-changing social currents and waves of immigration that have always been one of the characteristics of the great city at whose heart it lies. Lichtenstein lunches with the children of Italian grocers, has tea with the descendants of Belgian Chasidic diamond dealers, talks to historians, archaeologists and poets, gathering all these “memories, whispers, shards” from a history “so rich in memory-traces, lost landscapes and sacred architecture.
Lichtenstein employs the micro-history of the London street as a point of entry into past and present lives....The interviews with retired diamond traders and goldsmiths provide a generous heartbeat to the book, as do the testimonies from inhabitants of Little Italy....Diamond Street is a lively and rewarding addition to the Capital’s rich history.
Lichtenstein is an artist, writer, local historian and archivist and her multi-faceted approach makes fascinating reading. Among her many talents is her ability to make us look with a fresh eye at familiar urban spaces.
Vivid and amusing, containing so many sparkling things, elegantly organized. Lichtenstein consulted a whole gang of glorious characters, collecting tales, history and lore on her way. An overwhelming trove of stories with a multiplicity of facets to intrigue.
Having written about Whitechapel and Brick Lane, Rachel Lichtenstein now takes on Hatton Garden and its famously secretive Jewish jewellery community. She walks the streets, digs through the archives, interviews its oldest surviving characters and even succeeds in getting a guided tour of the subterranean Victorian sewers. She uncovers a world with a rich history, not just of “underground rivers, lavish gardens and forgotten palaces”, but one which still retains a distinctively Eastern European shtetl atmosphere, even though it has long ceased to be top dog in the diamond world. Lichtenstein’s family, including her grandfather, father and husband, have all worked there over the years and she weaves her childhood memories in brilliantly.