Little slices of London's history

An Elizabethan Renaissance man and the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street

This day in London history: on 3 December 1586, Sir Thomas Hariot (also spelled Harriot or Herriot) introduced the potato to England. Hariot, who was primarily a mathematician and astronomer, has been described as a true Renaissance man: an adventurer, anthropologist, astronomer, author, cartographer, ethnographer, explorer, geographer, historian, linguist, mathematician, naturalist, navigator, oceanographer, philosopher, planner, scientist, surveyor, versifier and teacher.

Thomas HariotHariot was hired as a mathematics tutor for Sir Walter Raleigh; he also served as an accountant, navigational expert, ship designer, and – when Raleigh’s men brought two native Americans back from their homeland, was an ethnographer and linguist, devising a phonetic alphabet for their language.

In 1621, Hariot died of skin cancer; at the time of his death he was living with a friend in Threadneedle Street. That street, which takes its name from the arms of the Needle Makers Company, is perhaps best known as the location of the Bank of England, familiarly known as the ‘Old Lady of Threadneedle Street’.

EAS_4091The nickname comes from a cartoon by James Gillray published in 1797 during the wars against Revolutionary France. According to the Bank of England’s website, “The Government had been making continued demands upon the Bank for gold, which led ultimately to the Bank being to suspend payment of its own notes in gold and the issue of £1 and £2 notes for the first time. The Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger, is shown attempting to obtain gold from the Bank, which is represented by an old lady in a dress of the new £1 notes seated on a money chest.”

2 responses to “An Elizabethan Renaissance man and the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street”

  1. […] Sir Thomas Hariot, who introduced the potato to England, died in Threadneedle Street. […]

  2. […] sad story of a bereaved sister. Another tidbit of information about the street is that it is where Sir Thomas Hariot, who introduced the potato to England, […]

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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