Little slices of London's history

A king, the plague, and Dickens

This day in London history: on the 10th of November 1683 George II, king of England from 1727 to 1760, was born. In Golden Square there is a statue of him decked out in a Roman toga.

Golden Sq statue3
Golden Square with George II in his toga

The site upon which Golden Square stands was known as Gelding’s Cross in the early 17th century when the land was used for farming. Building work on the square was begun in the 1670s and, as it was designed for the gentry, a rather more refined name was needed.

During the Great Plague of 1665/6, the site played an important, albeit somewhat gruesome, role.

Originally dogs and cats were blamed for spreading the plague. They were therefore killed off, leaving the real villains – grey rats – without any predators. The rats were thus able to wreak even more havoc with the disease, and it is estimated that around 15% of London’s population died of bubonic plague. At times the graveyards could not hold all the dead bodies and victims of the plague were dumped into large pits and communal graves. Golden Square stands on the site of one such pit.

Famous residents of the square include Thomas Jefferson; surgeon John Hunter, considered to be the founder of scientific surgery; Sebastian de Carvalho, Portuguese statesman and ambassador; and Nicholas Nickleby’s rich but unpleasant uncle, Ralph Nickleby.

Photograph: Fin Fahey

6 responses to “A king, the plague, and Dickens”

  1. […] Lane is close to Golden Square, the site of one of London’s plague […]

  2. […] Pardon Street in Clerkenwell takes its name from a churchyard, established in the 14th century by Ralph de Stratford, Bishop of London. During the ravages of the 1348 Black Death, victims of the diseases were treated somewhat cavalierly: grave diggers eventually refused to bury the bodies properly. Corpses were then dumped unceremoniously into large communal pits, such as that in Golden Square. […]

  3. […] Golden Square, which works for London’s gemstones and precious metals street names category, yet to come in this blog, is also nothing to do with what the name suggests. The site upon which the square stands was known as Gelding’s Cross in the early 17th century when the land was used for farming. (Like Bunhill Fields, the square was also a plague burial pit). […]

  4. […] on August 29, 2014 | Leave a comment Yesterday we ended with a quick look at Golden Square, which is more to do with castrated animals than precious metals. So today let’s look at more […]

  5. […] mentioned in that account was Hand Alley, near to Houndsditch. The alley, like Bunhill Row and Golden Square, stood on the site of one of the many communal pits for victims of the Great Plague in […]

  6. […] far as the ground bit goes, there has been a bit of a debate about Golden Square and whether it was really a plague pit. Some sources say it was, others are adamant that it was […]

About Me (and my Obsession)

My obsession with London street names began in the early 90s when I worked in the Smithfield area and happened upon Bleeding Heart Yard. In my wanderings around London, I kept adding to my store of weird and wonderful street names. Eventually it was time to share – hence my blog. I hope you enjoy these names as much as I do.
– Elizabeth


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