London’s shortest street name

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This day in London’s history: on the 8th of November 1627 the English fleet under George Villiers fails in the attempt to aid his new Huguenot allies besieged at La Rochelle in France; more than 4,000 of a force of 7,000 men were lost.

Villiers gave his name to what was possibly the shortest of London street names: Of Alley, which has since been changed to York Place.

There were two dukes, father and son, who were the first two holders of the title of Duke of Buckingham, and both called George Villiers. The father was the original owner of York House (once the palace of the Archbishop of York) and the surrounding land, but was murdered before he could carry out his plans of restoring the house.

His son, a loyal follower of Charles II, fled the country with his king when England became an unhealthy place for monarchs and royalists. Although his property was confiscated by Cromwell’s Parliament, Villiers regained it after the Restoration of the monarchy and his own return to England.

The son never got around to restoring the house either, and managed to run up so much in the way of debt that he was forced to sell his land. In 1674 it became the possession of a property developer on the condition that the streets built on the land were given Villers’ name.

Every bit of his whole name: George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham.

There were five in total, and they became George Street, Villiers Street, Duke Street (now gone), Of Alley (now York Place), and Buckingham Street.

John Tradescant the elder, the naturalist and gardener who features in Philippa Gregory’s book Earthly Joys, was gardener to the first duke. He in turn gave his name to Tradescant Road in London, as well as to a genus of flowering plants (Tradescantia).

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