Allgood Street to Soho Square: Welsh connections in London streets

Today, for a variety of reasons, I want to focus on streets in London with connections to Wales. Before we start, here are the various reasons for today’s theme:

  • On the 7th of September I will be taking on the Wye Valley Mighty Hike, in aid of Macmillan. It is a 26-mile hike that takes place in Wales, starting in Chepstow and finishing in Monmouth. I’ve mentioned it a few times before; my training has kept me away from the blog and if anyone else would like to sponsor me, my fundraising page is here.
  • My maternal grandmother was of Welsh ancestry.
  • The wonderful Victor Spinetti was born in Wales; he would have been 90 today and I discovered recently that he was the uncle of a friend of mine. There is a charming mini biography of Victor here.

Let’s start with Allgood Street in East London: though named for a a local antiquarian, HGC Allgood, it was previously called Henrietta Street after Henrietta Wentworth, the 6th Baroness Wentworth.

Henrietta, due to marry Richard Tufton, 5th Earl of Thanet, took up with the (married) Duke of Monmouth, the natural (but illegitimate) son of Charles II. Monmouth sought to overthrow his uncle, King James II of England and James VI of Scotland, who was the younger brother and heir of Charles II.

Monmouth’s rebellion was ultimately unsuccessful and he was beheaded at Tower Hill, once the site of public executions, on 15 July 1685. The story of Monmouth’s execution is a particularly grisly one: the executioner, Jack Ketch, had a bad day (though not quite as bad as Monmouth’s): he took five attempts with his axe to complete the job and even then had to finish it with a knife. 

Henrietta had used her jewels and wealth to help fund Monmouth’s unsuccessful attempts to capture the throne and she died the year after Monmouth’s execution, supposedly from a broken heart.

My more regular readers will know that I am not averse to exceedingly tenuous connections, and I should not disappoint with the next two streets.

Amen Corner is a tiny lane near to St Paul’s cathedral and one of a group of streets with religious names. One explanation is that, before the Reformation, there was a regular procession of the clergy around the cathedral; this involved reciting the Lord’s Prayer in Paternoster Row, the Hail Mary in Ave Maria Lane, the Credo in Creed Lane, and the Amen in Amen Corner.

The Welsh connection is that there was a 1960s Welsh pop group called Amen Corner, whose biggest UK chart hit was ‘(If Paradise is) Half as Nice’ which stayed in the charts for 16 weeks in 1969, two of them at the No 1 spot. The band took its name from a club in Cardiff.

We now move north to Black Boy Lane in Harringay; this name was common in the 17th and 18th centuries for tobacconists and coffee houses as well as taverns. The name referred to Charles II’s nickname: it is said that, when Charles was born, he was nicknamed the Black Boy by his mother, Queen Henrietta Maria, because of his dark hair and eyes and swarthy appearance.

The Welsh connection? The Black Boy pub in Caernarfon, in the Snowdonia area of North Wales, is thought to date back to 1552, and is one of the oldest surviving inns in the area. There is also a theory that the pub’s name may have come not from Charles II’s nickname, but from a black buoy in the harbour.

From north to south, and Black Prince Road in Lambeth, which takes its name from Edward, the Black Prince, eldest son of Edward III of England and Philippa of Hainault. Edward III gave the manor of Kennington to his son in 1337.

The Black Prince, whose name may have come from the colour of his armour, has the unenviable claim of being the first English Prince of Wales (Welsh connection) not to become King of England, having predeceased his father. He was considered one of the most successful English commanders during the Hundred Years’ War, being regarded by his contemporaries as a model of chivalry and one of the greatest knights of his age.

(The Black Prince makes an appearance as Sir William Colville in the movie A Knight’s Tale, though I am informed that historical accuracy takes second place to drama in this case.)

The road was previously called Lambeth Butts. Butts is a not uncommon street appellation, and usually features in lists of rude street names. However, it comes from archery: a butt is an archery shooting field, with mounds of earth used for the targets. The name originally referred to the targets themselves, but over time came to mean the platforms that held the targets as well.

A marginally less tenuous Welsh connection comes with Clothier Street near Houndsditch. It has a connection to the rag trade that goes back to Elizabethan times when it was famous as a gathering area for sellers of old apparel. An official Clothes Exchange was established there in 1875 and the current name was assigned in 1906.

In 2008 Prince Charles, Prince of Wales honoured a debt with the Clothiers Company of Worcester incurred by Charles II in 1651. Prior to the Battle of Worcester in 1651, Charles II commissioned the Clothiers Company to make uniforms for his troops, and promised to pay after winning the battle. However, Cromwell won and Charles fled to Europe, leaving a debt of £453.3s which he did not settle after he acceded to the throne.

The Prince of Wales personally repaid the sum of £453.15 as a gesture of goodwill during a visit to The Commandery, which served as the Headquarters for the Royalists during the battle.

In Covent Garden, Orange Street could be named after William III, William of Orange and grandson of Charles I, who became joint monarch with his wife Mary in 1689. But that’s nothing to do with Wales.

The other explanation is that, when building of the street was begun in the 1670s, the area at that time was a favoured spot for stabling of courtiers’ horses. There were several mews there, including the Green and Blue Mews. The Duke of Monmouth’s stables stood partly on the site of Orange Street; as his coat of arms were orange, it is likely that his stables were called Orange Mews to differentiate from the other colours.

For a real Welsh connection, we can go to Petty Wales near Tower Bridge. The street was probably so called because it was the settlement of a Welsh centre (from ‘petit’, French for ‘little’). There is also a Petty France in London, for many years the home of the London passport office. There were once several ‘foreign’ sectors in London, such as Petty Burgundy and Petty Calais, though one of them is nothing to do with the nationality of its inhabitants.

Soho Square has two connections with the unfortunate Duke of Monmouth; the square was built in the late 17th century and was originally called King’s Square, after Charles II. When building began in 1681, apparently there were only a few residents, one of whom was the Duke of Monmouth.

The square eventually took its name from the area, known as Soho or Sohoe. The name is generally accepted to have come from an ancient hunting cry; apparently ‘tally ho!’ is the cry when a fox breaks cover and ‘soho!’ is when huntsmen uncouple the dogs. The Duke of Monmouth used ‘Soho!’ as a rallying cry for his troops at the Battle of Sedgemoor, the final battle in his rebellion.

Since the Duke of Monmouth has featured so much in this post, I should finish with Monmouth Street, one of the streets at Seven Dials, which was an early exercise in town planning. 

In 1693 the Master of the Royal Mint, Sir Thomas Neale, purchased a meadow in what is now the heart of London’s Soho. He planned seven streets radiating from a central point where there was a six-sided column with a sun dial on each face. Some say the seven comes from the column itself; others that the column was commissioned before a change of plan meant there were seven streets instead of six.

The column was taken down 1773 when a false rumour circulated to the effect that money was hidden in the base and it was relocated elsewhere. The street names have changed over the years: what was originally Little Monmouth Street is now Mercer Street; what was Monmouth Street is now Shaftesbury Avenue; and what was St Andrew’s Street Great & Little is now Monmouth Street.

I’m thinking of an Italian connection post some time soon: there was a great deal of Italian immigration to Wales, and there are Welsh festivals in Italy and Italian festivals in Wales, so that would lead on nicely from a Welsh theme. And my mother’s parents were Italian.

Now that I have finished the serious training for Saturday, I am hoping I’ll have more time now to resume this blog but I may start off with weekly or even fortnightly posts as I recover from my walk.

Maiden Lane and other London street connections with Lillie Langtry,

Lillie Langtry was known as The Jersey Lily

My recent absence from this blog has been due to a sojourn in the Channel Islands. Naturally, as ever, I wondered what connections I could draw with London and its street names. This may be cheating slightly, as we didn’t go to Jersey (our island-hopping took in the Isle of Wight, Alderney, Guernsey and Herm Island) but I know that Lillie (or) Lily Langtry, who was born on Jersey, has London connections. I have written about her before on this blog but that was a while ago, so I’ll revisit that particular post, which was inspired by hearing The Who’s song ‘Pictures of Lily’ on the radio.

Lillie, born Emilie Charlotte Le Breton, was an actress and socialite and, perhaps most famously, the mistress of the Prince of Wales, Albert Edward (Bertie), later Edward VII. They would dine privately upstairs in Rules restaurant in Maiden Lane, the oldest restaurant in London.

Maiden Lane, says Isaac Disraeli in his book Curiosities of Literature, takes its name from a statue of the Virgin Mary which once stood on the corner of the lane. Far more probable, albeit less glamorous, is that the name actually derives from the ‘middens’ – dung heaps – that proliferated in the area.

A plaque in Maiden Lane commemorating JMW Turner

There are many literary and artistic connections with the lane. The poet Andrew Marvell lived here in 1677; Voltaire, the French poet and satirist, lived here for a year and the artist JMW Turner was born here where his father had a barber shop. Rules has also had an impressive list of famous literary clients over the years, including Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray, John Galsworthy and H G Wells. Many actors of stage and screen have also graced the tables here, such as Henry Irving and Laurence Olivier, Clark Gable and Charlie Chaplin, and it has appeared in many a novel.

More gruesomely, a celebrated actor of the 19th century, William Terriss, was murdered as he was entering the Adelphi Theatre through the stage door in located in Maiden Lane. His killer was a mentally unstable actor, Richard Archer Prince, who bore a grudge against Terriss for having him dismissed. Prince was found guilty but not responsible for his actions and was sent to Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum where he lived the rest of his life.

Pont Street and Inverness Terrace also have Lillie connections: she lived at number 21 Pont Street, now the Cadogan Hotel, for five years from 1892 to 1897. The building became a hotel in 1895 but she always stayed in her former bedroom. The hotel was also where, shortly after it opened, Oscar Wilde was arrested. Pont Street features in John Betjeman’s poem, ‘The Arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel’:

To the right and before him Pont Street
Did tower in her new built red,
As hard as the morning gaslight
That shone on his unmade bed,

Pont Street takes its name from the word pont, the French for bridge; the street was built to bridge the river Westbourne. This river formed the Serpentine in Hyde Park after Queen Caroline (George II’s wife) suggested it be dammed up to form a 40-acre lake. People have offered up the theory that Bridge Street might not have sounded upmarket enough to properly developers.

There is also a hotel in Inverness Terrace, off Bayswater Road, where Lillie is supposed to have performed in a theatre when she was the mistress of the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII. However, the Theatres Trust, a National Advisory Public Body for Theatres in the UK, declares icily that:

“There is a persistent tradition that the theatre was created for Lillie Langtry by her Royal patron. Their affair was notorious twenty years earlier when he was Prince of Wales but by 1905 he was king. No evidence has been found to support the story but without positive disproof it is likely to go on running.”

Boot Street to Mincing Lane: London’s shoe-related streets

Following on from the recent post about sewing-related London street names, there’s one more street that relates not just to sewing but also to fashion in footwear and fiction: Mincing Lane, home to Minster Court. This complex of three office buildings made a cameo appearance, renamed Munster Court, in Disney’s 101 Dalmatians as the exterior of Cruella De Vil’s fashion house.

The lane is nothing to do with mincing in any form: the word derives from Old English feminine of ‘monk’, and the name dates back to the 12th century. John Stow tells us it was once “Mincheon lane, so called of tenements there sometime pertaining to the Minchuns or nuns of St Helens in Bishopsgate.”

In the 15th century the land was sold to the Shearmen, a body that would later join with the Fullers to form the Clothworkers Company. Founded by Royal Charter in 1528, the original purpose of The Clothworkers’ Company was to protect its members and promote the craft of cloth-finishing within the City of London.

The company has had its hall in Mincing Lane since then, though it has had to be rebuilt a few times. The current building is the sixth hall; the fourth was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 and the fifth during bombing in World War II.

The Cordwainers, shoemakers who make “fine soft leather shoes and other luxury footwear articles”, also make their home in the Clothworkers’ Hall. To use the full and lovely name, the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers dates back to at least 1272, making it one of the oldest Liveries in the City.

The company takes its name from the soft leather, or cordwain, that its members used; this originated from Cordoba in Spain. The leather makers eventually formed their own guilds, but the shoemakers retained the cordwainer name. (Jimmy Choo is a member of the Company and here’s a confession: when I very first heard his name I didn’t realise it referred to a person; I thought it was some kind of rhyming slang.)

Speaking of leather, there is Leather Lane, which is now home to a multi-faceted weekday market, but once did house leather sellers. The market, according to the Friends of Leather Lane Market, was born of yet another of Charles II’s bad debts (see the previous post for more detail). Charles II, upon his return from exile, owed £500 on a gambling debt; instead of repayment, the man to whom he owed the money asked for a charter to set up a market and one penny on each customer.

However, the naming of this lane may be nothing to do with leather sellers. As early as 1233 the name appeared as ‘Le Vrunelane’; later forms of the name were Loverone Lane, Lither Lane, and Liver Lane.

There are a number of theories as to how the lane got its original name. One is that it is from the Old French ‘leveroun’, a greyhound. The greyhound (a heraldic reference of the Dukes of Newcastle) was a common tavern sign. Another theory is that it derives from ‘Leofrun’, which was an Old English girl’s name, and yet another is that it was the name of a local merchant whose last name was some form of ‘Leofrun’. 

Or it could be that, at the time the lane was formed and named, there was a landowner of Flemish extraction in the area. The Flemish ‘Vroon’ means a manor and so ‘le Vrunelane’ was a lane that led to the nearby manor of Portpool.

Continuing the theme of footwear, let’s return to Shoe Lane, which I mentioned in passing last time. The name, unfortunately, doesn’t really come from a dropped shoe. An early reference to it as ‘Scholanda’ (Show-land) is taken to mean that the lane was once a place for the setting out and showing of water-borne merchandise to tax collectors and customers. Scholanda could also, however, have meant ‘land shaped like a shoe’; the lane itself is not shoe-shaped but it may have led to a piece of land that was. Alternatively, it could have taken its name from an ancient well – Showelle – at the north end of the lane.

There’s also a Boot Street in Islington, about which I have little information other than the fact that it appears in the movie The Crying Game. The exterior of the Metro Pub, where Dil sings the title song, was an empty property behind the pub on the corner of Coronet Street and Boot Street.

From Fashion to Threadneedle: London street names and the Great British Sewing Bee 

It seemed only logical that, having written a post on baking-related themes for the final of the Great British Bakeoff last October, the recent final of the Great British Sewing Bee should also prompt me to find street names related to sewing and fashion. (First, I should apologise for the hiatus in posting. I apologise.)

The most obvious is Fashion Street in Spitalfields and I have to go off on a slight tangent here: I was excited, in double-checking something for this post on Wikipedia, to discover that one of my posts is cited as a reference for Flower and Dean Street. But I digress.

Fashion Street is nothing to do with clothes or sewing: it was so named when it was built in the 1650s; the land upon which it stands belonged to the Fasson brothers – Thomas and Lewis, skinner and goldsmith respectively. By 1708 Fasson Street had been corrupted to Fashion Street. They also owned the land upon which stood Flower and Dean Street, where two of Jack the Ripper’s victims lived, and that street was named for bricklayers John Flower and Gowen Dean. 

For a long time Fashion Street – and, indeed, the whole area – was a dirty and dangerous place to live. Jack London lived in Flower and Dean Street in 1902-3 and wrote a book, The People of the Abyss, about the state of life in the Whitechapel and Spitalfields areas of London.

Another obvious sewing street name is Threadneedle Street, home of the Bank of England. The Bank of England. The derivation of the name is not as straightforward as might first appear. Thread and needle certainly make contextual sense, but the street was originally Three Needle Street and was known as such for a long time.

The name is likely to derive from the arms of the The Worshipful Company of Needlemakers, whose coat of arms includes three needles, but the sewing connections don’t end there. The Merchant Taylors, who began life as the Company of Tailors and Linen-Armourers, have had their hall here since 1347, and once owned almshouses in Threadneedle Street for its aged members.

Petticoat Lane belongs to this category, even though it is no longer called that; the lane was covered in a recent post about names that aren’t what they seem, and you can read that here. This name could derive from the fact that secondhand clothes dealers established this as the centre of London’s used clothes district, or from the English form of the French petit court, a “little short lane”.

There is Cloak Lane, which is one of those nice-sounding but icky names, like Maiden Lane, which takes its name from ‘midden’ or dung heap. Cloak in this instance is likely to derive from the Latin cloaca, or sewer. The lane was once called Horseshoe Bridge and led over the Walbrook; there was probably a sewer draining into the brook at that point.

If you prefer a more romantic story, then let’s look to the recently-posted tale of Bleeding Heart Yard, which you can read here. As Saint Nick was carrying off the beautiful gypsy maid who had sold her soul to him, her heart fell in Bleeding Heart Yard, her cloak in Cloak Lane, and one of her shoes in Shoe Lane.

Some might argue that shoes fit in the fashion category, but I am sticking with the clothing and sewing side of fashion and we can look at shoes another time.

Cloth Fair takes name from Bartholomew Fair; this three-day event was held in the Smithfield area from the 12th century to the 19th century. The fair was, early on, essentially a trade fair for the woollen and drapery industries, with Italian and Flemish cloth merchants, and money charged on tolls for goods was a source of income for the priory of St Bartholomew. The nearby Cloth Court and Cloth Street also took their name from the fair.

Bartholomew Fair gradually attracted more and more people, and soon the speciality of cloth was virtually overlooked. Ben Jonson, who immortalised it in the comic play Bartholomew Fair, first staged on 31 October 1614.

Clothier Street in Houndsditch, which was known previously as Crab Court and Carter Street, has a connection to the clothing industry that goes back to Elizabethan times when it was famous as a gathering area for “sellers of old apparel”. An official Clothes Exchange was established there in 1875 and the current name was assigned in 1906.

There isn’t a City of London worshipful company of clothiers, but there is Worshipful Company of Clothiers in Worcester.

In 2008 Prince Charles visited the city of Worcester and paid £453.15 to the Company, thus settling a Royal debt dating back to 1651. Prior to the Battle of Worcester that year, Charles II commissioned the Company to make uniforms for his troops, promising to pay after winning the battle. However, Cromwell won and Charles II fled to Europe, leaving a debt of £453.3s which he did not settle after he acceded to the throne. That is what you call serious welshing on a deal. (And before any Welsh readers complain about me feeding into negative stereotypes, don’t forget I supported Wales in the Six Nations.)

Haberdasher Street in Shoreditch takes its name from a bequest by Robert Aske, silk merchant and member of the Haberdashers’ Company. He left land and money to the Company; it was used to establish a school in 1690. The Haberdashers’ Company maintains a strong tradition of supporting schools.

Silk merchant takes us onto Silk Street, which was built either in 1799 or 1879 and takes its name from silk weaving in 17th-century London, which was carried on largely by French refugees who settled in the Spitalfields area. By the 19th century they had been joined by their English counterparts from the north, who set up silk factories. Many of them lived in this street, which was finally named in recognition of that fact. (Since there’s always one in every crowd, the theory has also been put forward that the name may have come from a builder.)

Something completely different: from Suck Stone to Stoney Street 

The Suck Stone in the Forest of Dean

For those of you who read this blog just for London street names, there are some of those but first, a little self-indulgence about my training walk on Monday.

I set off early Monday morning in search of the Forest of Dean’s Suck Stone (or Suckstone) – yes, that is its name, though I have yet to discover the origin of the name. The stone is one of many that surrounds the village of Staunton, near the England/Wales border, and is, says Wikipedia, “The largest piece of detached conglomerate or puddingstone rock in England and Wales and has been estimated to weigh maybe 14,000 tons.”

According to local myth, those who climb the Suckstone are visited by the mischievous and capricious Fairy of the Rock, who will grant certain visitors superhuman powers. Notable people who have encountered this woodland spirit are said to include the artist JMW Turner, who visited the area when he was a boy, and playwright Dennis Potter, who was a Forest of Dean man.

All of which is nothing (yet) to do with London street names, although JMW Turner did spend his last days in Cheyne Walk, which featured in the most recent post on this blog and can be read here.

I did find the Suck Stone, which is more impressive than it looks in the photo, and is not the most famous stone in the area: that distinction goes to the Buck Stone, or Buckstone, so named because it used to rock back and forth on its base. When Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton visited the nearby Welsh town of Monmouth, it was painted white in their honour.

For a London street name connection, there is an earlier post on Pall Mall, which features Lady Hamilton in her younger and more daring days, and you can read that here.

In 1885, a part of travelling actors who had partaken too much of fine wines in Monmouth and managed to dislodge the stone. It crashed downhill and split into several pieces. It was hauled back up the hill and cemented in place to prevent further vandalism, so it no longer rocks.

Snow Hill is the site of another example of drunken mischief from earlier centuries, and you can read more about that here. 

Before we leave today’s multi-region post, the village of Staunton takes its name in part from an Old English word stane, meaning stone, so I thought it only right to point out that Stoney Street in Southwark takes its name from the fact that, unusually for its time, it was paved with stone rather than having a surface comprised mainly of mud. Stones End Street, also in Southwark was so named, presumably, because that’s where the stone paving ended. 

Stonecutter Street off Farringdon Street, however, takes its name from the fact that cargoes of stone were brought to this point along the once-navigable Fleet River. Stonecutters would then have been centred in the area.

There is a Stonefield Street in Islington, named because, well, it was a stony field. 

(As I may have mentioned once or twice before, in September I am taking part in the Wye Valley Mighty Hike: a 26-mile hike along the River Wye, with a few hills here and there. That means I may be blogging a bit less and throwing in more of the occasional post about walk landmarks, but I will try to be less neglectful than of late.)

From Deadman to Paradise: walks in London street names

Walking has been featuring quite a prominently in my life lately, so I thought I would have a  look at some of London’s streets that are a ‘walk’ rather than a ‘street’. Or a road. Or a lane… that could be a post for another time. I’d never noticed before but a high proportion of these are in Chelsea.

Birdcage Walk, the location of a royal aviary and of a murder, features in the recent In the recent women in London street names post, which you can read here.

Deadman’s Walk was once the nickname for Amen Court; at the back of the court was part of a Roman wall that formed the boundary of Newgate prison’s graveyard. Amen Court was the path leading to the graveyard.

Cactus Walk in Acton (or is it White City?) is a fine example of the seemingly arbitrary method of naming streets. Just south of the A40 Westway from Cactus Walk, there is a cluster of streets that are named after plants of various kinds, including the less than comforting Hemlock Road. Others include Byrony Road, Daffodil Road, Foxglove Street, Lilac Street, Old Oak Road, Orchid Street, Primula Street, Wallflower Street, and Yew Tree Road.

(I had to look up ‘byrony’ too: it is a genus of flowering plant in the gourd family, native to western Eurasia rather than western London. But then again, the cactus is native to the Americas rather than western London.)

Cheyne Walk in Chelsea takes its name from Charles Cheyne, First Viscount Newhaven, who bought the manor of Chelsea in 1657. His son, William Cheyne, later laid out Cheyne Walk and Cheyne Row. Famous residents of the walk have included JMW Turner, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskill, Sylvia Pankhurst, Henry James, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Flask Walk in Hampstead takes its name from the fact that the area was once the health centre of London. In the 18th century it was still very much a rural area and waters from the chalybeate springs there were every bit as good as those in Bath. Flasks were filled and sold in Flask Walk, by permission of the trustees of the springs.

Flower and Dean Walk featured in a recent post on London’s murder streets. Flower and Dean Street, just off Brick Lane, no longer exists, but there is now a Flower and Dean Walk. The street was at the heart of the Jack the Ripper activities and it was, and is, considered to be where the Ripper may have lived.

Friendship Walk in Northolt takes its name from an aircraft (the Fokker F27 Friendship); appropriate in view of its proximity to Northolt and Heathrow airport.

Justice Walk in Chelsea was once a leafy avenue lined with trees, and Justice of the Peace Mr John Gregory was said to have taken his perambulations there. This is the less plausible theory, and it is more likely that the Justice referred to is Sir John Fielding, magistrate and brother of Henry Fielding.

Paradise Walk in Chelsea was not always heavenly by nature: the name ‘paradise’ was often used for an enclosed garden or burial ground. In the latter half of the 19th century, the area was a dismal slum, with more than one family often crammed into small houses. Oscar Wilde, who lived in the area and had a window that overlooked the walk, hid the view with a screen.

Quaggy Walk in Blackheath takes its name from the Quaggy River, which flows nearby and was so called because it moved sluggishly (as opposed to the Fleet River. Rivers provided boundaries for ecclesiastical property in Saxon times and the Quaggy was part of the bounds of the Manor of Bankhurst.

Sans Walk in Clerkenwell is not ‘without” anything in particular, French or otherwise. This little passage was named in 1893 to honour Edward Sans, the oldest vestryman in the Finsbury Vestry. There was also a Sergeant Sans in the 39th Regiment of the Finsbury Rifle Corps. Earlier names were Short’s Buildings and Daggs Yard.

Swan Walk, also in Chelsea, takes its name from a tavern sign; the swan was a common sign for inns, partly because it featured on Henry IV’s coat of arms, and it was especially popular for waterside inns. This Chelsea inn was a common gathering ground for the fashionable set of 17th-century London, of whom Samuel Pepys was one. The Swan was also the finishing post for the famous Doggett Coat and Badge race – the oldest annually contested event in the British sporting calendar.

Watergate Walk, just off the Strand, was an extension to York House, originally the London home of the Bishops of Norwich and later the palace of the Archbishop of York. The house was eventually acquired by George Villiers, the first Duke of Buckingham, who had the watergate built by Inigo Jones.

Well Walk in Hampstead is named for the same reason as Flask Walk: the chalybeate springs there. Legend has it that the springs arose on the spot where a monk, who was carrying a bottle of the Virgin Mary’s tears, tripped and spilled his precious cargo.

Wilder Walk in Soho is so named, according to Westminster City Council, which approved the name in 2010, “The naming of a newly constructed pedestrian walkway as ‘Wilder Walk’ is a fitting tribute to the contribution and service provided by the late Ian Wilder to the West End community in his capacity as a West End Ward Councillor.”

Winchester Walk takes its name from Winchester House, formerly the London house of the Bishop of Winchester. Many shops used as brothels were leased from the Bishops of Winchester, and the working women therein were known as ‘Winchester Geese’.

Oh, yes: the reason walking is featuring so heavily in my life just now is because I am taking on the September Wye Valley Mighty Hike (a 26-mile hike) in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support and in memory of my cousin. It is for a very good cause, so if anyone wants to sponsor me, my fundraising page is here.

 

From Billingsgate to Pall Mall: women in London street names on International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day and, as promised, here are some more – and even more tenuous women’s links to London street names, starting with possibly the most tenuous: Janis Joplin and Kensington Gore.

Kensington Gore is the address of the Royal Albert Hall, where Janis Joplin once performed in concert. Texan-born Janis began singing blues and folk music at high school and later became one of the most successful and widely known female rock stars of her era. Her posthumously-released album Pearl (became the biggest-selling album of her career and featured her biggest hit single, a cover of ‘Me and Bobby McGee’, originally sung by Kris Kristofferson. She died of a accidental heroin overdose at the age of 27, within days of Jimi Hendrix’s death at the same age. This led many people to attribute significance to the death of musicians at the age of 27.

(When I was a teenager I was often told I looked like Janis Joplin; I think it was the long hair, centre part, and glasses of that time. Those three features meant that occasionally I was also told I looked like John Lennon, which was less preferable to a self-conscious teenaged girl.)

But I digress.

Back to Kensingon Gore: the ‘gore’ part of the name is innocent of anything gruesome: it comes from the Old English word ‘gara’, which was a triangular piece of land left after irregularly shaped fields and been ploughed. This could be the triangle formed by Knightsbridge, Queen’s Gate and the Brompton Road. Aretired British pharmacist, John Tinegate, used to make fake blood for the stage and screen and it was trademarked Kensington Gore.

We move on to Allgood Street and Henrietta Wentworth. Henrietta was the 6th Baroness Wentworth and, though due to marry Richard Tufton, 5th Earl of Thanet, took up with the already-married Duke of Monmouth. Monmouth, the natural but illegitimate son of Charles II, sought to overthrow his uncle, King James II of England and James VI of Scotland, younger brother and heir of Charles II.

Monmouth’s rebellion was ultimately unsuccessful and he was executed at Tower Hill. Henrietta had used her jewels and wealth to help fund Monmouth and she died the year after Monmouth’s execution, supposedly from a broken heart. Her mother had an elaborate monument built to Henrietta’s memory in the church at Toddington, the Wentworth’s estate in Bedfordshire. However, a more personal and touching memorial existed in the form of her name, carved by Monmouth, on an oak tree in the Toddington estate. The tree became known locally as the Monmouth.

Allgood Street in East London was previously called Henrietta Street but was later renamed after a local antiquarian, HGC Allgood, who published a history of Bethnal Green in 1894. 

Birdcage Walk, which runs along St James’s Park, also involves a broken-hearted woman; in this case she adhered to the principle of ‘don’t get mad, get even’. The walk really once did involve birds, cages, and walking: it is the site of an aviary started by James I and enlarged by his grandson, Charles II (though some sources give Charles the credit for establishing it). Charles is also credited with creating the post of Hereditary Grand Falconer to look after his birds and until 1828 only members of the royal family and the Hereditary Grand Falconer were allowed to ride alongside the aviary in carriages – everyone else had to walk.

In 1848 Annette Meyers, an unemployed housemaid from Belgium, killed her lover, Henry Ducker of the Coldstream Guards, in Birdcage Walk. Ducker was an unpleasant character whose affection for his various girlfriends was in direct proportion to the amount of money with which they could provide him. He kept borrowing money from the out-of-work Annette on a never-fulfilled promise of marriage.

Desperately afraid she would lose Ducker to a rival who was lucratively employed in prostitution, Annette purchased a gun, shot Ducker, and surrendered to the authorities, denying nothing. Annette’s trial for wilful murder was of great interest to the public. Her love letters were read out in court, providing an indication of her infatuation and desperation, and there was some suggestion that Ducker may have infected her with a venereal disease. 

Annette was found guilty of wilful murder with a recommendation for mercy but she was sentenced to death and incarcerated in Newgate prison awaiting execution. Following petitions for her release, calls for mercy, and campaigns against capital punishment, her sentence was eventually commuted to imprisonment. After two years she was sent to Van Diemen’s Land, now known as Tasmania.

Brunswick Square in Bloomsbury was built in 1795 and named after Caroline Amelia Elizabeth of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, known as Caroline of Brunswick, who travelled that year to England to marry her first cousin, the future King George IV. Some sources say it was so named as a compliment to to the reigning royal house of Hanover, as Brunswick in Hanover was their second capital city. This is International Women’s Day, so I say it was named after her.

The union was not a happy one: of the wedding night consummation of their marriage, George wrote, “it required no small [effort] to conquer my aversion and overcome the disgust of her person”. She, on the other hand, said that he was so drunk that he “passed the greatest part of his bridal night under the grate, where he fell, and where I left him”.

George was later to attempt to divorce Caroline and strip her of her title of Queen consort on the grounds of adultery; she was popular with the masses, however, and that effort failed. However, he did succeed in barring her from his coronation service at Westminster Abbey.

Number 79 Pall Mall bears a plaque on the site of the house occupied by Eleanor (Nell) Gwynne in the last 16 years of her life. Nell was (allegedly – Oxford and Hereford also lay claim to be her birthplace) born in one of Covent Garden’s sleazier streets, in a brothel run by her mother. She was orphaned after her father died in prison and her mother drowned in a drunken stupor.  Nell was one of King Charles II’s mistresses and, purportedly, his favourite, particularly as she did not try to dabble in politics, unlike some of his other mistresses. She was firm on one issue however – she was insistent that her child by Charles who, though the son of a king, was illegitimate and so had no rights under law, be given a title.

To ensure this, she dangled the child from a window and threatened to drop him until Charles finally gave in and said, “Nay, Nellie, pray spare the Earl of Burford.”

Pall Mall takes its name from a French game, paille-maille (also known as palla a maglio), mentioned as early as the reign of James I, who recommended the game for his eldest son, Prince Henry. The game was similar to croquet, involving a “wooden hammer set to the end of a long staff to strike a boule with”. Pall Mall was allegedly constructed by Charles II especially for the playing of this game.

Noel Street in Soho takes it name from Lady Elizabeth Noel who was married to Henry Bentinck, 1st Duke of Portland. Elizabeth’s father-in-law was Hans William Bentinck, Ist Earl of Portland and a friend of William III. The king gave a great deal of land in Soho to Bentinck and in the 1730s it was Lady Elizabeth who was responsible for developing much of the property. The nearby Marylebone area abounds with street names from the Bentinck family.

Just for the fun of it, let’s throw in Billingsgate, which is a market rather than a street. It was one of the water-gates of London that existed along with the seven main gates that were posterns in the London Wall fortification. Billingsgate is perhaps most closely associated with the fish market, and the cries of the vendors gave their name to an expression of vulgar language, as in swearing like a fishwife, particularly a Billingsgate fishwife. Billingsgate has its own special place in London’s history, as it was where the fire of London started.