The area's first mention is in a charter of Westminster Abbey, by King Edgar, dated to 959. This mentions "the old wooden church of St Andrew" (St Andrew, Holborn). The name Holborn may be derived from the Middle English "hol" for hollow, and bourne, a brook, referring to the River Fleet as it ran through a steep valley to the east. Historical cartographer William Shepherd in his Plan of London about 1300 labels the Fleet as "Hole Bourn" where it passes to the east of St Andrew's church. However, the 16th-century historian John Stow attributes the name to the Old Bourne ("old brook"), a small stream which he believed ran into the Fleet at Holborn Bridge, a structure lost when the river was culverted in 1732. The exact course of the stream is uncertain, but according to Stow it started in one of the many small springs near Holborn Bar, the old City toll gate on the summit of Holborn Hill. This is supported by a map of London and Westminster created during the reign of Henry VIII that clearly marks the street as 'Oldbourne' and 'High Oldbourne'. Other historians, however, find the theory implausible, in view of the slope of the land.
It was then outside the City's jurisdiction and a part of Ossulstone Hundred in Middlesex. In the 12th century St Andrew's was noted in local title deeds as lying on "Holburnestrate"—Holborn Street. The original Bars were the boundary of the City of London from 1223, when the City's jurisdiction was extended beyond the Walls, at Newgate, into the suburb here, as far as the point where the Bars were erected, until 1994 when the boundary moved to the junction of Chancery Lane. In 1394 the Ward of Farringdon Without was created, but only the south side of Holborn was under its jurisdiction with some minor properties, such as parts of Furnival's Inn, on the northern side, "above Bars". The rest of the area "below Bars" (outside the City's jurisdiction) was organised by the vestry board of the parish of St Andrew. The St George the Martyr Queen Square area became a separate parish in 1723 and was combined with the part of St Andrew outside the City of London in 1767 to form St Andrew Holborn Above the Bars with St George the Martyr.
The Holborn District was created in 1855, consisting of the civil parishes and extra-parochial places of Glasshouse Yard, Saffron Hill, Hatton Garden, Ely Rents and Ely Place, St Andrew Holborn Above the Bars with St George the Martyr and St Sepulchre. The Metropolitan Borough of Holborn was created in 1900, consisting of the former area of the Holborn District and the St Giles District, excluding Glasshouse Yard and St Sepulchre, which went to the Metropolitan Borough of Finsbury. The Metropolitan Borough of Holborn was abolished in 1965 and its area now forms part of the London Borough of Camden.
Local politicians include:
Henry VII paid for the road to be paved in 1494 because the thoroughfare "was so deep and miry that many perils and hazards were thereby occasioned, as well to the king's carriages passing that way, as to those of his subjects". Criminals from the Tower and Newgate passed up Holborn on their way to be hanged at Tyburn or St Giles.