Bleeding Heart Yard

After two more chapters of ‘Little Dorrit’ I scanned two more of Charles Keeping’s excellent illustrations.

In ‘He ate all that was put before him’, Keeping has accurately depicted the character Christopher Hibbert described as the ‘one truly evil character in the book’.

‘You got out of the Yard by a low gateway into a maze of shabby streets’. Keeping has accurately represented the yard that Dickens knew.

‘Bleeding Heart Yard is a cul-de-sac leading off Greville Street, near Hatton Garden. The yard’s name probably derives from an old inn sign, the Bleeding Heart of Our Lady, which depicted the heart of the Virgin Mary pierced through by swords. However, the sanguinary imagery has inspired several colourful legends, which Charles Dickens summarises in Little Dorrit (1855–7) – where he also suggests that the name actually relates to “the heraldic cognisance of the old family to whom the property had once belonged.”

One tale has it that a lovelorn young lady, imprisoned in her bedchamber by her cruel father, pined away at her window, murmuring ‘bleeding heart, bleeding heart, bleeding away’ as she expired. Dickens says that this story was “the invention of a tambour-worker, a spinster and romantic, still lodging in the Yard.”

The goriest fable suggests that sometime in the early 17th century the much-wooed Elizabeth Hatton was murdered here by the Spanish ambassador – whom she had jilted – and was found at dawn with her heart still pumping blood onto the cobblestones. Another angle on this story, this time featuring Sir Christopher and Lady Alice Hatton and the Devil, was set to verse by Richard Barham in his Ingoldsby Legends.

“Of poor Lady Hatton, it’s needless to say,
No traces have ever been found to this day,
Or the terrible dancer who whisk’d her away;
But out in the court-yard – and just in that part
Where the pump stands – lay bleeding a large human heart …”

Richard Barham, ‘The House-Warming!!’ (1840)’ (

The Elizabeth Hatton story is thoroughly dismissed in

My own acquaintance with this historic street is detailed in

The lamp in my photograph is very similar to that in Mr Keeping’s drawing.

This afternoon, the winds of three day storm Christoph having desisted, Jackie drove us to Ferndene Farm Shop. So smooth was the shop that my wait in the car was just a four page one, after which we diverted on our journey home via Forest Road, giving me the opportunity to wander among the ponies in

the soggy woodland alongside.

The damp, muddy, matted shaggy haired animals bore the effects of days in the wind and rain,

one adding the battle scars of torn out tufts.

Jackie photographed a helicopter flying overhead as I approached the ditch I needed to cross to enter the woodland.

The minute I returned to the car heavy rain set in once more.

This evening we dined on roasted sturdy chicken thighs, extremely tasty parsnips, and crisp potatoes; Yorkshire pudding, sage and onion stuffing; firm carrots, cauliflower, and broccoli, and flavoursome gravy, with which Jackie drank Hoegaarden and I drank vin de Bourgogne Macon 2019.


  1. Thank you Derrick for this fascinating piece …

    “was set to verse by Richard Barham in his Ingoldsby Legends”.

    “Of poor Lady Hatton, it’s needless to say,
    No traces have ever been found to this day,
    Or the terrible dancer who whisk’d her away;
    But out in the court-yard – and just in that part
    Where the pump stands – lay bleeding a large human heart ……

  2. I would love to see how Charles Keeping would have illustrated the “sturdy chicken thighs” you dined on!

    Hey, stop drinking that other wine, get back to the Australian offerings, and also those from New Zealand. Do your bit for our economy, Derrick.

      1. Wouldn’t it be fun to see that sturdy thigh, and I’d love to hear your cackle, little chook! (Do you know that word “chook”?) <3

  3. I’m laughing over Yvonne’s comment about how Charles Keeping would have illustrated the sturdy chicken thighs–while I’m wondering what character names Dickens would give you and Jackie. ?

    Thanks for sharing the stories of the vividly named cul-de-sac. I’m not sure if the ponies look content or resigned.

  4. Aw, on the tale of the lovelorn young lady. 🙁 Catchy name for the cul-de-sac!
    Wowza! Mr. Keeping’s detailed faces and flow-y clothes are fab…and how he creates the buildings just fascinates me!
    Aw, even shaggy and soggy the ponies are sightly!
    Jackie…Superb photos of the helicopter! And splendid photo of The GP! 🙂
    (((HUGS))) 🙂
    PS…better for chickens to have sturdy thighs than puny wobbly thighs! 😉 😛

  5. I see you’re back to your lockdown pass time of scanning those excellent books. Love them.

    Christoph is still howling outside my bedroom window and the balcony doors are leaking again.

  6. Keeping’s drawing of Christopher Hibbert reminded me of Daniel Day-Lewis in “Gangs of New York.” *shudder* I was drawn to Jackie’s helicopter photos. Of yours, my favorite is the white pony nearly obscured by trees. It has a mystical quality to it.

    1. Thank you so much, Liz. Once again you have picked my favourite. That white pony was so obscured that I thought I would be lucky to get it in focus. Daniel Day-Lewis was certainly evil enough in that film

  7. When I read the title to this post, I thought, oh no, he’s going to write about a yard like mine. That’s what someone who likes order and straight edges might call my yard referring to the expression, “bleeding heart liberal.” Ha!. It’s nice to see the shaggy ponies again. I’m glad you got back to the car before the heavy rains set in!

  8. It is always good to see the ponies again! Thank you both for going out on a dismal day and taking their pictures. 🙂

    The Legend of Bleeding Heart Yard sounds like it would make a good ghost story, too!

  9. The Bleeding Heart turned out to be a long journey with detours to the point where ‘all is flux, nothing stays still’. WP seems to have changed its policies and haven’t cared to check what they have broken in their resolute march towards Nirvana. It is no more possible to meander from a post through its links to other posts and comment unless you login again (at least on an iPhone). As you say, “All is flux, nothing stays still.”

  10. And, I love both the description of and the illustration of the soup-eater…”his mustache came up under his nose and his nose went down over his mustache!” Ha!!!

    1. OMG. There a dozens of them I haven’t read. I had no idea he had written so many books. How could I not know that? I’ve just read the best known ones. Have you read them all?

  11. I enter a Charles Darwin book as if entering a new landscape, a history I didn’t know but now am fully involved in. But I admit, I never read Little Dorrit. But from your example here and comments, I think I must. And you’re right, the illustrations are masterful. Thanks for the info on where “bleeding heart” came from. Gruesome and sad. But then you lighten us all up with your photos and the description of an exceptional dinner. It’s 8 a.m. here and I’m wishing for dinner, but it won’t be as incredible as what Jackie makes! Maybe you need to begin a “recipe” blog also! 🙂

  12. I think we have been very lucky but I don’t think we have had anywhere near the rain some poor folk have had. The conditions at the Man City v Aston Villa match on Wednesday, for example, were amazing.

  13. Derrick, I was so uplifted by your title, and (being greatly afflicted by a one-track gardener’s mind), I came here expecting to see bleeding heart flowers! Instead, a gory story about an actual bleeding heart and other legends! (smile) I wish you and Jackie a lovely evening.

  14. Fortune seems to smile on you – the rain holding off until you reached the car, the sturdy chicken thighs…

    I confess I was half hoping for a photo captioned “And this is Jackie’s photo of me clambering out of the ditch…”

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