We left off our culinary posts at Honey Lane, about which which one of my readers and helpful critics has commented: “I’ve always been suspicious of Honey Lane’s etymology. Honey just doesn’t seem a sufficiently high volume commodity to name a street after. Bread, Milk, Fish, Wood, Candles and even Poultry would be bought most days by the citizens but honey …? Maybe.
“Ekwall agrees that the honey was made there but this seems unlikely too. Even in medieval times, the area around Cheapside would have yielded slim pickings in terms of wild flowers compared to the countryside just a couple of miles away.”
So I guess I’ll keep looking into the etymology of Honey Lane.
Another of my ‘systems’ has been upset: I had been considering doing culinary (food) and then bibendiary (drinks) but I’m not sure there are enough of the latter so I’ll include them all in together.
And we start with Hop Gardens, off St Martin’s Lane. According to the Survey of London (as published by the London County Council, not the one written by John Stow), “Prior to 1649 it was known as Jenefer’s Alley from the occupant of a house at the western end, Roland Jenefer.” It was later called Fendalls Alley, and then from 1656 The Flemish Hop Garden, so it was presumably named for a tavern of that name.
This one is cheating big time (as we not only have a brand name but one that is not spelled quite right) and I have covered it a few times before, but I can’t resist at least mentioning Kitcat Terrace. This commemorates the Reverend Henry James Kitcat, rector of St Mary’s Bow from 1904 to 1921. The name derives from Kitcott, a place name in Devon. So it’s nothing to do with the chocolate bar, but there was once a Kit-Kat Club comprised of Whig Patriots dedicated to ensuring that Protestants would continue on the throne after the reign of William III.
Lavender Hill in south London (and I can feel MattF reading over my shoulder as I write this) is so named because of the lavender was grown in the area’s 18th-century market gardens. There are also a Lavender Road, Lavender Sweep, Lavender Terrace, and Lavender Walk nearby. That’s a lot of lavender.
From hops and lavender to limes, but not the edible kind: Lime Street, an ancient street that is serves as the location of headquarters of Lloyd’s of London.
The street was Limestrate in the 12th century, and one of the documents in which it appears also mentions one ‘Ailnoth the limeburner’, so it seems safe to assume that it was a street where lime was burned and sold. (There is also a Limeburner Lane in London, presumably named for similar reasons.)
There is, as ever, a conflicting theory and that is that the name derives from a row of lime trees that ran along it. Possibly, but somehow a row of lime trees does not seem likely in 12th-century London.
In the 17th century there was a famous robbery, and subsequent execution of the thief, one Colonel James Turner, in Lime Street. According to the Newgate Calendar, “There was one Mr Francis Tryon, a great merchant, who lived in Lime Street, whom Colonel Turner knew to be very rich”. Turner and his accomplices bound and gagged Tryon in his bed and stole jewels from the warehouse and cash from the house, all to the tune of five thousand nine hundred and forty-six pounds four shillings and threepence.
It appears that Turner was very charismatic and, though his guilt was proved conclusively, “all who knew him wondered at the fact”.
Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary on the day of Turner’s execution that he sent his wife to his aunt’s house, in the area of Lime Street, to save him a good place for viewing the execution. He estimated that 12,000-14,000 people were in the street to watch.
When the time came, says Pepys, “And there I got for a shilling to stand upon the wheel of a cart, in great pain, above an houre before the execution was done; he delaying the time by long discourses and prayers one after another, in hopes of a reprieve; but none came, and at last was flung off the ladder in his cloake. A comely-looked man he he was, and kept his countenance to the end: I was sorry to see him.”
Not, presumably, sorry enough to have held off watching the execution.
Today’s post on culinary streets starts with explicit content, so those of you with delicate sensibilities should look away now and skip to Green Lettuce Lane.
We start with Grape Street off Shaftesbury Avenue; the street, once called Vine Street, was named from a house called ‘Le Vyne’ that belonged to the leper hospital of St Giles in the Field. The church of St Giles in the Field started as a chapel of the parish of Holborn attached to a monastery and leper hospital founded by Matilda of Scotland, the wife of Henry I.
It is likely that that a vineyard once stood on this spot as the area was particularly fertile and the vines were mentioned in the Domesday Book. In fact, there were once many vineyards in London and many Vine Streets in London; there is still a Vine Street near Piccadilly.
There was once also a Grape Street that was a lane, now gone, in the parish of St Pancras. Early, non-euphemistic, forms of the name appear, as early as 1276, as ‘Gropecontelane’ and ‘Groppecountlane’. In Oxford, lanes of this name appeared as early as 1230. The name, says one source tactfully, is “an indecent one”. When it wasn’t changed completely, the name was altered to less drastic forms such as Grape Lane, thus disguising the prostitution activities of the street.
Green Lettuce Lane (in 1556, “the lane called grene lettyce”) is cheating slightly, because it is now called Laurence Pountney Hill. In fact it’s cheating completely because it is nothing to do with the edible lettuce but is, apparently, a corruption of Green Lattice Lane and comes from a lattice gate that opened into what is now Cannon Street.
Another, much jollier, explanation is that, although lattice in its corrupted form does play a part, it was not a gate. In earlier days taverns were designed so that customers could see out without being observed by people going past. This was sometimes achieved with latticework over the window, traditionally painted green or red.
The lane was mentioned in the 18th-century bankruptcy courts with a reference to “Richard Bruce of Green Lettuce Lane, Cannon Street, London, insurance broker and merchant (dealer and chapman), bankrupt.”
Ham Yard has a culinary connection: food played a large part in the naming of taverns – and hence London streets; often the speciality of the house would be featured in the sign. There was a Ham tavern in this small yard in the heart of the theatre district as early as 1739 and there was also once a Tudor mill in this area (commemorated in Great Windmill Street). The Ham tavern became the Ham and Windmill, was renamed the Lyric in 1890 and still stands there today.
Ham Yard, by happy coincidence, was once the congregation point for London’s ‘sandwich men’. Those sandwiches were nothing to do with food however: these were the walking billboards of the 19th century. These hardy souls, a result of a tax on advertising posters, would “walk the principal thoroughfares from morning to night with their boards high above their heads, secured to their shoulders by iron slips and a strap”. It was not an easy life, especially when high winds would pose a serious threat to their wellbeing. The sandwich men generally worked from 10am to 10pm with one break.
We can’t leave Ham Yard and sandwiches without mentioning the Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu, who is popularly believed to have created the sandwich because he did not want to move from his gaming table and ordered some meat between two slices of bread so that it would be easier to eat. (Another version is that he came up with the concept when he was working at a desk rather than gambling at a a table.)
The Earl was a member of the notorious Knights of St Francis of Wycombe, also known as the Hellfire Club or the Medmenham Monks, a society founded by founded by Sir Francis Dashwood and largely dedicated to drinking, eating, and fornicating. Allegedly.
Another club member was the radical journalist John Wilkes, who had one of the best comeback lines in history. Wilkes, quick-witted and acerbic, is one of the people to whom the following is attributed: when Sandwich said to him, “Sir, I do not know if you will die on the gallows or of the pox,” Wilkes replied, “That, my lord, depends on whether I embrace your lordship’s principles or your mistress.”
Haunch of Venison Yard derives from a tavern that stood at the entrance of the yard from the 1720s to the early part of the 20th century.
The sign was more commonly found near royal hunting forests: though ‘venison’ now means only deer meat, the word derives from the Latin venari, to hunt, and was originally used for the edible flesh of any animal that had been captured and killed in a hunt.
The yard is not far from the Soho area, once grazing farmland and then taken by Henry VIII as a royal park for the Palace of Whitehall, so that may have had some influence in the name.
Another culinary connection is that the sign was also once used by Robert Wills, Confectioner and Pastrycook, whose shop was near St Paul’s cathedral.
Herbal Hill, near Hatton Garden, is also as it sounds. This area of London was an extremely fertile one, abounding with gardens and vineyards (as with Grape Street above) and the hill was once a herb garden attached to the palace of the Bishops of Ely. In the late 1930s the hill, formerly known as Little Saffron Hill was renamed Herbal Hill after the work of John Gerard.
Gerard was a skilled herbalist, and lived in the area. He carefully tended his garden and in 1596 published a list of all the plants that grew in it. His Herball or Generall Historie of Plants was of great interest, being the first catalogue of any one garden, public or private.
(Although some scholars claim that the original book was essentially a translation of a popular earlier Flemish herbal.)The first edition of the Herball was published in duodecimo; only one copy is known to be in existence and it is housed in the British Museum.
In 1597 a folio volume of this Herball, dedicated to Lord Burghley, was published and made Gerard’s name a household word. The book is charmingly written in a chatty tone; for instance, he describes sugar cane, which grows in warm climates: “my selfe did plant some shoots thereof in my garden, and some in Flanders did the like, but the coldness of our clymat made an end of mine, and I think the Flemish will have the like profit of their labour”.
Honey Lane is another Cheapside grocery street: it is where the medieval shopper would go there to buy honey in times when sugar was an expensive luxury that only the rich could afford. Modern researchers believe that the lane was also where the beekeepers lived, and was therefore one of the shopping lanes of Cheapside.
John Strype says of it, “”Adjoining to this street, on the north side, is Honey Lane, being now, as it were, an alley with a Freestone pavement, serving as a passage to Honey Lane Market ; the former Lane, and other buildings, being since the fire of London converted into this market. Among which buildings, was the Parish Church of St Allhallow’s, Honey Lane ; and, because it was thought fit not to rebuild it, the parish is united to St. Mary-le-Bow.”
John Stow’s charming, though somewhat far-fetched, theory for the name is that it was “so called, not of sweetness thereof, being very narrow, and somewhat dark, but rather of often washing and sweeping, to keep it clean”.
Ok, I’m cheating (because it’s out of alphabetical order): I forgot Cat and Mutton Bridge. There is a pub here, and given the number of pub names in London streets, it is likely that the pub gave its name to the bridge.
There are two main theories about the name, the first being that it was originally Shoulder of Mutton and Cat from the ‘cats’ or coal barges that would have gone under the bridge on the nearby Regents Canal; there is also a Sheep Lane nearby that ties in with the mutton side of things.
Another version is that it was originally the Cattle and Shoulder of Mutton, also from the “many drovers and agricultural workers arriving in London to sell there various beasts in the markets in what now is known as the city”.
Coley Street (it’s a kind of fish, and there was a fish-related streets post a while ago; you can read it here) is named for a person rather than a fish: Henry Coley was a 17th-century astrologer and mathematician. That name comes from ‘colig’, meaning dark or swarthy.
And on to Crisp Road in Hammersmith which is also cheating slightly as ‘crisp’ really only has the connotation of potato chip in the UK. It is, naturally, not anything to do with food: it takes its name from Sir Nicholas Crisp. Sir Nicholas was a remarkable man; Samuel Johnson said of him that he was “a man of loyalty that deserves perpetual remembrance”.
Crisp was a native of Hammersmith, and his loyalty was to Charles I – he was a dedicated Royalist and spent over £100,000 in the cause of his king. Crisp managed to escape too dire a fate at the hands of Cromwell, but was severely fined for the mere fact of his existence and affiliation.
Crisp built Grand House, later known as Brandenburgh House (at one point the home of Caroline of Brunswick, consort of George IV), and paid for the east window in St Mildred’s church in Bread Street (the church was destroyed during the Second World War). The window was divided into five parts, depicting the Spanish Armada, the Gunpowder Plot, Elizabeth I, the 1625 plague and the Crisp family with their coat of arms.
Another of the Crisp monuments is a bust of Charles I in the Hammersmith parish church of St Paul’s. The bust sits atop a black and white marble column and is marked by an inscription which reads:
“This effigy was erected by the special appointment of Sir Nicholas Crispe, Knight and Baronet, in a grateful commemoration of that glorious martyr, King Charles the First, of blessed memory.”
Not being content with this token of loyalty, Crisp also directed that his heart be placed in an urn under the effigy of his king. The heart was to be refreshed annually with a glass of wine; this service was performed for around a century until the heart became too much decayed. And what then? Let us hope that a century of wine provided enough alcohol for the spirit of Sir Nicholas.
Incidentally, Crisp’s body was buried under a tomb at the aforementioned church in Bread Street; in the 19th century it was removed and reunited with his heart in Hammersmith. I learned this from a charming website with a wealth of information about the church of St Paul’s and its monuments.
Fish Street Hill was once the main road leading to London Bridge, and brings us back to street names that do have a food connection. (Oh, yes, it was called New Fish Street as opposed to Old Fish Street, which was demolished in 1870.)
In the 13th century the hill became the centre for fishmongers who settled there because of its proximity to the main fish market of Billingsgate; the street was one of the authorized spots for retail fish sales. Samuel Pepys mentions it in his description of the Great Fire of 1666:
“By and by Jane comes and tells me that she hears that above 300 houses have been burned down tonight by the fire we saw, and that it was now burning down all Fishstreet by London Bridge.”
This was once the main road leading to London Bridge, and. In the 13th century it became the centre for fishmongers who settled there because of its proximity to the main fish market of Billingsgate; the street was one of the authorized spots for retail fish sales.
Stow said that Edward, the Black Prince, son of Edward III, had a house there, though not many modern sources appear convinced of that fact. Oliver Goldsmith did lodge here. Edward, whose name is likely to have come from the colour of his armour, makes an appearance as Sir William Colville in the movie A Knight’s Tale, though historical accuracy takes second place to drama.
Another main feature of Fish Street Hill is that it leads past the Monument; the reminder for everyone of the Great Fire. It is 202 feet high (202 feet said to be the distance to the spot where the fire broke out) and, unfortunately, until the balcony was enclosed in an iron cage, it was a favoured spot for suicide leaps.
Garlick Hill also delivers a culinary connection: this hill was named for the hythe, or wharf, where shipments of garlic were landed on the Thames. Or, if you prefer, from the hythe, or hill, at the foot of which garlic was sold in vast quantities. It is not unlikely that enough garlic would have been sold in medieval times to warrant an entire parish being called Garlickhythe.
Seasoning was important both for the rich, who ate lavishly of beef and venison; and for the poor, who had a rather less interesting diet in need of spicing up. Strong spices also played their part on the frequent occasions when meat had begun to spoil before it reached the consumer, a fact that had to be heavily disguised.
The parish church of St James Garlickhythe had a somewhat chequered career. It was built in 1326, later destroyed in the Great Fire and then rebuilt by Wren (at a cost of under £5,500). Although suffering some damage during the blitz of the Second World War, it was again restored. In 1984 remains of a 1st-century timber building were discovered near the church.
Through all this, one of the church’s occupants remained virtually unscathed – an unidentified person known as Jimmy Garlick. Jimmy is an almost perfectly mummified corpse, discovered in 1839 when workmen were closing up the old vaults. It is possible that he is (or, rather, was) either Richard Rothing, who built the original church, or one of the six early Lord Mayors of London who were buried there.
In any case, Jimmy Garlick was somewhat unceremoniously relegated to a small closet until his coffin was jolted by a bomb and his spirit began to roam around, frightening the tourists. He was, for a time, rehoused in a glass-fronted coffin in the vestibule of the church and he then ceased his practice of appearing to unwary visitors.
In 2004, Jimmy Garlick featured in the Discovery TV documentary series ‘Mummy Autopsy’ which used modern analytical techniques including carbon dating and x-ray analysis, establishing that he died between 1641 and 1801 and that he suffered from osteoarthritis, a disease that afflicts older people. Physical examination by the Discovery team showed that the mummy appeared to be balding and suffered tooth decay at the time of death, both consistent with an older person. The mummy now sits in the tower in a newly made case.
Well, readers, I appear to have painted myself into a corner with trying to be too specific with categories of culinary street names (see yesterday’s post) and now I’ve messed up the alphabetical order of them. Since even I need some kind of system I am throwing categories to the wind and backtracking to the letter ‘b’. Starting with Bacon’s Lane in Highgate, and Bacon Grove in Bermondsey.
Bacon’s Lane is not really about bacon: it is named after Sir Francis Bacon; it marks the spot of the house where he died, a victim of his own thirst for knowledge: he contracted pneumonia after investigating the principles of refrigeration, a pursuit that involved him stuffing a fowl with snow to see if it would preserve the meat.
Incidentally, Bacon’s other connections to London streets include the Strand (or just Strand, if you prefer), where he was born, and Bleeding Heart Yard. He was an unsuccessful suitor of Lady Elizabeth Hatton, who is the source of one of the theories behind the name of Bleeding Heart Yard.
Bacon Grove is also not about bacon; however, it does not take its name from Francis Bacon. It is from Josiah Bacon, a 17th-century leather merchant whose will provided for the foundation of Bacon’s School (later a City Technology College, and now an Academy called Bacon’s College), along with an endowment of £150 per year.
In the interest of full disclosure I should say that there is also a Bacon Street in East London, but I still don’t know the derivation of that particular name.
Bunhill Row is definitely not really a culinary street name as it it nothing to do with buns. It is, more disgustingly, from the nearby fields of the same name, originally Bone Hill Fields.
The fields were a burial ground dating from 1549 when a thousand carts full of bones from the over-crowded charnel houses at St Paul’s dumped their loads there. The name was in use before then, so it seems likely that people had historically taken advantage of the marshy land there for dumping various items, including bones.
In the 17th century it was intended as a burial ground for victims of the 1665 plague; it was never used for that purpose, nor was it ever consecrated, leading it to become a popular burial ground with the non-conformists. Following the Burial Act of 1852, allowing such places to be closed when they became full, the last burial that took place there was in 1854 when a 15-year-old girl was laid to rest.
Among the bones of 120,000 people who were interred in Bunhill Fields were John Bunyan, William Blake, and Daniel Defoe. There is a memorial, erected in 1870, to mark Defoe’s resting place; the money was obtained from a collection taken up by local schoolchildren. There is also an adjoining Quaker churchyard that contains the body of George Fox.
John Milton had a house in Bunhill Row from 1662 until his death in 1674.
Happily, Bunhouse Place (not Funhouse, as my computer is convinced) in Chelsea does relate to food – Chelsea buns, what else? Mr and Mrs Hand established the Chelsea Bun House near here in the 18th century. Jonathan Swift was sold a stale bun one day and he wrote in a letter dated 1711, “Pray, are not the fine buns sold here in our town; was it not Rrrrrrrrrare Chelsea buns? I bought one to-day in my walk; it cost me a penny; it was stale, and I did not like it…”
Despite Swift’s disappointment, Bun House did a storming trade, and was patronized by royalty; there were said to be as many as 50,000 people waiting outside on Good Fridays to buy hot cross buns, traditionally eaten on that day. This caused some consternation among the neighbours and in 1793 Mrs Hand declared that she would not sell any hot cross buns on that day.
This was made clear (or maybe not) in a notice on the shop window, which read:
“Mrs. Hand respectfully informs her friends and the public, that in consequence of the great concourse of people which assembled before her house at a very early hour, on the morning of Good Friday last, by which her neighbours (with whom she has always lived in friendship and repute) have been much alarmed and annoyed; it having also been intimated, that to encourage or countenance a tumultuous assembly at this particular period might be attended with consequences more serious than have hitherto been apprehended; desirous, therefore, of testifying her regard and obedience to those laws by which she is happily protected, she is determined, though much to her loss, not to sell Cross Buns on that day to any person whatever, but Chelsea buns as usual.”
Despite the fact that business began to decline in 1804, there were still nearly a quarter of a million buns sold on Good Friday 1839, the year when the Bun House finally closed.
In 1592 it was made illegal to sell hot cross buns except at burials, on Good Friday, or at Christmas. Those who ignored the edict had to forfeit their buns to the poor.
It’s been a shamefully long gap between blog posts, for which I can only apologize whole-heartedly. As ever, my wonderful readers have slapped me into action, and this time it was my Twitter buddy PaxView Jeff (@JR_justJR), whose delightful blog you can read here. He directed me to an article on how London’s food and drink streets got their name; most of the ones listed there have been featured in this blog so it seems a good time to go through the culinary streets of London.
There are three kinds of culinary streets, or so I have broken them down: the ones with straightforward names that seem, and are, obvious; the ones with less straightforward names that are, nonetheless, still obvious; and the ones that seem straightforward and obvious but are neither.
Let’s start with a street that is, surprisingly for many London street names, what it sounds like. Artichoke Hill in East London takes its name from an inn sign. The artichoke was adopted as a sign because of its comparative rarity and unusual shape, which lent itself well to artistic representation; it became a symbol for gardeners and was a common one for inns in garden areas.
Artichokes were introduced to England in the 16th century, during the reign of Henry VIII, and as much as a century later they were still rare enough to command a high price.
There is an Artichoke inn in Devon, dating from the 13th century, which was purportedly used as a headquarters for the Crusaders who were thought to have brought an artichoke back with them.
Bread Street, off Cheapside, also takes its name from bread. Cheapside itself comes from the Anglo-Saxon ‘ceap’: to buy or barter. West Cheap, as it was known (to distinguish it from Eastcheap), was one of the busiest thoroughfares in London and the city’s main food market.
Edward I decreed in 1302 that bakers could sell bread only from what became Bread Street. Before that, the prominent historian and writer Sir Walter Besant tells us, “Of Bread Street there is very early mention. In 1204 the leprous women of St James’s received a charter respecting a certain tenement in Chepe, at the head of Bread Street.”
By the 16th century the street had changed. According to John Stow, “Bread Street is now wholly inhabited by rich merchants, and divers fair inns be there, for good receipt of carriers and other travellers to the City.”
It was also inhabited by the city’s petty criminals: Bread Street became the 16th-century site of a ‘compter’, or small prison used mainly for crimes such as drunkenness, prostitution, and not paying one’s debts. The warden of the Bread Street compter, Richard Husband, was so corrupt and harsh on his prisoners that moves were taken to remove him.
However, it was discovered that Husband owned the lease on the prison so could not be disloged. John Stow was a member of the jury enquiring into the affair, which concluded that among his other transgressions Husband was charging thieves and strumpets four pence a night to lodge in the compter, thus hiding from any official who might be pursuing them.
In order to get around the fact of Husband owning the lease, says Stow, “In 1555 the prisoners were removed from thence to one other new Compter in Wood Street, provided by the City’s purchase, and built for that purpose.”
Bread Street has many famous associations. The poet John Milton was born here, at the sign of the Spread Eagle; his father was a scrivener (public writer, or public notary) in Bread Street, and the Spread Eagle was the Milton’s armorial ensign.
One entrance of the Mermaid Tavern led onto Bread Street while the other was on Friday Street. It was here, tradition holds, that Sir Walter Raleigh instituted the Mermaid Club, or the Fraternity of Sireniacal Gentlemen. Sadly, Raleigh was, at the time of the club’s founding, imprisoned in the Tower of London, but eminent figures such as Ben Jonson and John Donne were among the Sireniacal Gentlemen and there have been many literary references to the Mermaid over the centuries.
Jonson refers to the tavern in a poem, Inviting a Friend to Supper, when he discusses the relative merits of wine over food:
“But that, which most doth take my Muse, and mee,
Is a pure cup of rich Canary-wine,
Which is the Mermaids, now, but shall be mine”
There was also a belief that Shakespeare was a member of the club; grave doubts have been cast on this idea, but it is certain that Jonson was an habitué of the Mermaid, and at least possible that he was joined on occasion by Shakespeare.
Shakespeare also had a connection with the Mermaid’s landlord, William Johnson. In 1613, when Shakespeare bought the Blackfriars gatehouse (later bequeathed to his eldest daughter), Johnson was listed as a trustee for the mortgage. The gatehouse was near the Blackfriars theatre and it is assumed that Shakespeare lodged there, though there is little evidence of that. Neither gatehouse nor theatre still stand.
Admiral Arthur Phillip, founder and governor of a convict colony in Australia that later became New South Wales was born in the Ward of Bread Street.
Camomile Street probably takes its name from one of the wild plants that grew abundantly near London Wall. In the 12th and 13th centuries, houses were built no closer than about five metres from the wall to keep the defensive line clear and the land along the line of the wall was allowed to grow wild. Camomile, the name of which comes from the Greek for ‘earth apple’, was used to treat ills such as hay fever, insomnia, and upset stomachs.
Cinnamon Street The name appears at the end of the 17th century and probably comes from the fact that the spice was sold there.
It was in this street, at the Pear Tree Inn, that John Williams was staying when blood-stained knife was discovered among his belongings and suspicion fell upon him in relation to the Ratcliffe Highway Murders. These murders, which pre-dated the activities of Jack the Ripper, caused the Wapping area as much error and confusion. (The eminent crime writer PD James co-wrote a book called The Maul and the Pear Tree: The Ratcliffe Highway Murders, 1811.)
The first incident occurred on 7 December 1811 when a draper, Mr Marr, sent his maid out to buy oysters. She was unable to get back into the shop upon her return and summoned help. The house was finally broken into and revealed the bodies of Mr Marr and the shopboy downstairs, and Mrs Marr and their child upstairs. They had been murdered with a maul and a ripping chisel that were found on the floor of the shop.
Less than a week later the landlord of a nearby pub, his wife, and their maid were all found with fractured skulls and cut throats. There was a public outcry, rewards were offered by the government, and over 40 people were arrested for the crimes before the finger of suspicion pointed at Williams. Whether or not he was actually guilty (and there is a modern theory that he was framed) was never proved: he hanged himself before the hearing.
As well as being a den of 19th-century East End crime, Ratcliffe Highway (later named St George Street and now The Highway), was, according to Walter Thornbury in Old and New London, “The Regent Street of London sailors, who, in many instances, never extend their walks in the metropolis beyond this semi-marine region.”
There were many shops here that sold a remarkable variety of wild animals and, says Thornbury: “The wild-beast shops in this street have often been sketched by modern essayists. The yards in the neighbourhood are crammed with lions, hyenas, pelicans, tigers, and other animals in demand among the proprietors of menageries. As many as ten to fifteen lions are often in stock at one time, and sailors come here to sell their pets and barter curiosities. The ingenious way that animals are stored in these out-of-the-way places is well worth seeing.”
Jamrach’s Animal Emporium was the largest of these; indeed, probably the largest in the world, run by German-born Charles Jamrach who sold animals to circuses, zoos, and private collectors. In 1857 one of his Bengal tigers broke loose, captured a young boy, and ran off with him. Jamrach pursued the tiger and released the boy; a statue at the north end of Tobacco Dock commemorates event.
On the subject of spices beginning with the letter ‘c’, there is also a Clove Street, E13 and a Coriander Avenue, E14, perhaps also because of the spice trade in East London.
With thanks to Mykal Shaw of the wonderful website streatsoflondon.com for many of the photos.
Once again, I have to ask where I would be without my readers, for constructive criticism, for positive feedback, for further ideas, and for additional information. BeetleyPete (who mentioned Comet Street in Deptford and Mercury Way, New Cross as space-related) thought myth and legend would be a good idea for a future post.
MattF provided the following regarding feline-related streets: “Cateaton street was mentioned by Dickens in The Pickwick Papers but it was replaced by Gresham Street in the 1880s. Its original name of Cattestrate (1271) meant simply a street frequented by cats although it’s not clear why the name changed via the intermediate forms Catteten Streete and Catton Street.” He also thought something on livery companies and their connections to London streets would be good.
Myth and legend is proving even more of a challenge than cats did, so that may have to go on hold for a while.
Regarding the livery companies, I have covered some of them in an earlier post, which touched on, among others, four of the twelve great companies: Drapers, Ironmongers, Mercers, and Merchant Taylors. In total, there are 110 companies (at least last time I checked), which is way too many for one post so let’s look at some of the other eight great companies.
The Grocers, second on the list, started in 1100 with the first record of the Ancient Guild of Pepperers; in 1373 they became the Company of Grossers and in 1376 the Company of Grocers of London. The first Grocers Hall was in Old Jewry, which gets its name from the fact that it was the centre of the former medieval Jewish ghetto, and was destroyed in the Great Fire of London.
There have been other halls, the fourth and most recent of which is located in Princes Street. That street, formed after the Great Fire, was named along with the also new at the time King Street and Queen Street.
Grocers and Drapers we have mentioned in the earlier post, so on to number four in order of precedence, which is the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers. One of the most famous members of the company was Sir William Walworth, who stabbed Wat Tyler during the Peasants’ Revolt.
The company’s current hall, known as Fish Hall (the original was destroyed in the Great Fire), houses the dagger with which Walworth stabbed Tyler. It is located on London Bridge which was originally wood and became famous when it was sold to the Americans and transported to Arizona piece by piece.
Next we have the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, whose original hall stood in the ‘Goldsmithery’ or goldsmiths’ area of the City, was also destroyed in the Great Fire. The current hall stands on Foster Lane in the same area, making it the longest tenure of any livery Company. Foster Lane takes its name from a church dedicated to St Vedast; the name ‘Vedast’ became corrupted to ‘Foster’.
The Worshipful Company of Skinners alternates the position of six and seven with the Merchant Taylors, giving rise to the expression ‘at sixes and sevens’. Skinners’ Hall, which is Grade I listed, and a unique scheduled ancient monument, has been home to the Skinners’ Company for over 700 years.
The hall is located in Dowgate Hill, which takes part of its name from one of the ancient water gates of London; the ‘dow’ appears to be shrouded in mystery. The ever-helpful John Stow said it was derived from Downe Gate because it suddenly descended to the river. Dowgate is also the name of a City of London ward.
The Worshipful Company of Haberdashers had a hall on the corner of Staining Lane and Gresham Street (formerly Maiden Lane) which was, like so many others, destroyed in the Great Fire. The current hall stands in West Smithfield (named to differentiate it from East Smithfield). Smithfield itself was once ‘smooth field’ where jousting tournaments were held and, incidentally, was where Walworth stabbed Wat Tyler.
The Worshipful Company of Salters started off in Bread Street, which was once the home of many salt traders; their hall is now in Fore Street. This street gets its name from the fact that it was built outside (before) the London city walls.
The Worshipful Company of Vintners has a hall in Upper Thames Street and has done so since the 15th century. The piece of land on which Vintners’ Hall stands was bequeathed to the Vintners’ Company in the will of Guy Shuldham, citizen and Vintner of London, dated 7 November 1446. Upper Thames Street (and Lower Thames Street) formed what was the longest of the medieval City roads. The street was probably once the bank of the river Thames; buildings would have moved it away from the river’s edge.
Although mentioned in Pepys’s diary, Thames Street was first mentioned in 1013 when the Custom-house was founded on the street. During the reign of King Henry VIII, the street contained the London residences of many courtiers, including that of William Compton, where Henry VIII allegedly met his mistresses. (Or so says Wikipedia.)
Last in the Great Twelve, there is the Worshipful Company of Clothworkers, formed by an amalgamation of the Fullers and the Shearmen. It was incorporated by Royal Charter in 1528, and has its hall in in Dunster Court, between Mincing Lane and Mark Lane.
Mincing Lane we’ve covered a few times: it was originally from Mincheon Lane, from the Old English feminine of ‘monk’, and the name dates back to the 12th century.
Mark Lane was once either Mart Lane or Marthe Lane, depending on your source. If Mart, then the theory is that it was part of the area where, in the 15th century, basketmakers were allowed to ‘mart’, or sell, their wares. The other theory is that it was once owned by a lady called Martha.
I heard on the radio that Friday was National Space Day, which is observed annually on the first Friday in May and is dedicated to the extraordinary achievements, benefits and opportunities in the exploration and use of space. How better to commemorate it in my own little way than look for space-related street names?
Comet Street in southeast London and Meteor Street in southwest London are, in fact, nothing to do with astronomical phenomena: they take their names from types of aircraft. According to Wikipedia, the de Havilland DH 106 Comet was the world’s first production commercial jetliner and the Gloster Meteor was the first British jet fighter and the Allies’ only operational jet aircraft during the Second World War.
Half Moon Street has been covered quite a bit in this blog, particularly in light of two of its more notable residents: the admirable and courageous Fanny Burney and the scandalous Lola Montez. The street, which was built in 1730, takes its name from an old ale house that stood at the corner.
Although not quite as common as the sun, the moon is used in many tavern signs. The half moon could be representative of the Virgin Mary: a crescent moon is sometimes shown under her feet in pictures of the Assumption.
Man in Moon Passage is yet another of those wonderful London street names that probably derives from an inn sign. People all over the world have been looking at the man in the moon for a very long time, and on the inn signs he is often depicted with a bundle of sticks, a lantern, and a dog.
Seven Sisters Road in Finsbury Square takes its name from a tavern called the Seven Sisters. The tavern, in turn, commemorated the fact that a circle of trees with a walnut tree in the centre once stood in front of it. The trees, removed in the 1840s, were supposed to have dated back to around the 14th century, planted on the spot where a martyr had been burned.
Or, according to Hector Bolitho and Derek Peel in Without the City Walls, “It is a pity that we have no more than the misty legend, of a merchant in the late 17th or early 18th century who planted seven elms on Page Green, one for each of his seven daughters.”
Space connection: ‘Seven Sisters’ refers to many things, most notably a star cluster called the Pleiades. These were named after the seven daughters of the titan Atlas and the sea-nymph Pleione.
Sun Street Passage, alongside Liverpool Street Station, marks the location of a Sun Street that took its name from a tavern recorded as early as 1650 and was obliterated by the station. There is now a Sun Street nearby off Finsbury Park. Sun Court near Cornhill also takes its name from a tavern.
There are various Star streets, yards and alleys; Star Yard near Chancery Lane takes its name, according to Gillian Bobbington in Street Names of London, from a Starre tavern that was mentioned “in the earliest surviving Licensed Victuallers records”.
There is also a Mercury Way in southeast London, though I can’t find either the derivation of that name, or any other planets that are commemorated in street names.