The Secret Door

Here’s an opportunity to discover Narnia in London, by going through a secret door and find that you are in a different world. Well, not quite a portal to a different world, in a wardrobe, with a magical lion and an evil White Witch. But you do step into the Fens of East-Anglia – well, almost.

First, we start this journey in London, walking up Grenville Street, away from the huge building site of Farrington Station.

[N]ear the brow of the incline is the start of this adventure, Bleeding Heart Yard on the left. Enter this nondescript small square surrounded by office blocks, and it’s hard to visualise its history.

Legend has it that this gruesome sounding, nightmare instigating name comes down to the unvirtuous Lady Elizabeth Hatton. The story goes that she entered into an alliance with the prince of darkness. Unfortunately, her faithfulness was lacking, with the consequence that he became increasingly dischuffed with her and on a gloomy night in 1646, while she was walking in the Yard, the Devil took his revenge. The following morning Lady Hatton was nowhere around, but it is said that a stable lad about his morning chores found her heart in the middle of the Yard, still pumping blood over the cobblestones. It is a spooky thought, but they say that to this day her ghost still returns to remove all traces of blood from the shiny cobbles.

Bleeding Heart Yard sprang to immediate fame when Dickens stumbled on it one day and installed Mr Plornish in a house at the far end. He was quite evidently enthralled by the place and could not resist the temptation to give Daniel Doyce a workshop here. Dickens described the Yard as:

A place much changed in feature and in fortune, yet with some relish of ancient greatness about it.

Things have obviously changed a great deal since the biography of Little Dorrit was written; ‘the ground had so risen about Bleeding Heart Yard that you got into it down a flight of steps . . .’ There are no steps here now; the Yard is on a level footing with the surrounding streets, but despite the changes, with a little imagination, you can still savour the Dickensian atmosphere.

Enough of this gruesome history of the little yard, we’re off to recreate Lucy, Peter and Edmund’s adventure. Walking past the Bleeding Heart Restaurant, ignoring the gastronomic delights on offer, enter the passage lined with al fresco diners, and at the end, you’ll find a dark-grey gate.

Taking courage push open the gate and enter another county. Cambridge, or to be precise in Ely. For this is Ely Place, owned by the Bishops of Ely.

It is overseen by private security, and was once beyond the long arm of the Metropolitan Police, as it was deemed to be in a different jurisdiction.

Unfortunately, this urban myth is not true, nor is it the land of perpetual winter ruled by the Snow Queen.

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