Martyrs, abbeys, and fogs

Well, Gentle Reader, we’re now on the other side of the Christmas festivities and it’s catch-up time on the London history events. Normal transmission should now resume, and for those who are new to the site, this blog provides background, insight and peripheral information for a book I am writing, called ‘What’s So Funny About Ha Ha Road’ – all about the stories behind some of London’s weirder and more wonderful street names. It also takes in, along the way, stories and myths about residents, buildings, and events. The plan is to see the book published in 2014 and, in the meantime, provide something every day based on events in London history.

Starting from yesterday (today’s event in history will follow later) and working back to the 23rd, which is when the last post went up:

On 29 December 1170 Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, also known as Thomas à Becket and later a saint and a martyr, was murdered inside Canterbury Cathedral by followers of King Henry II.

Becket was born at the Cheapside end of Ironmonger Lane, known as ‘Ysmongeres Lane’ around the turn of the 12th century and the haunt of ironmongers. The Ironmongers Company had their original hall here until the 15th century, when they acquired buildings in Fenchurch Street and moved there, along with most of the ironmongers.

Becket was baptised in a church in Old Jewry, St Mary Colechurch. (For more information on Old Jewry, see the 25 December entry below.)

On 28 December 1065 Westminster Abbey was consecrated; the name Westminster probably comes from a minster that would have been one of a series of religious buildings on the site, and would have been the ‘west’ minster to distinguish it from St Paul’s in the east. The Palace of Westminster nearby had originally been the official residence of the monarchs until Henry VIII decided he liked the official residence of the Bishops of York better.
27 December 1813 saw the Great Fog of London, caused by the burning of coal for domestic and industrial use. This fog lasted for eight days and reportedly extended well south of the city.

This was not the first time such as event had occurred in London: in 1952 London experienced the Great Smog, and as early as 1661 the burning of seacoal was such a problem that the diarist John Evelyn wrote a pamphlet about it – the Fumifugium – thought to be one of the earliest treatises on air pollution.

On 26 December 1716, Thomas Gray, the English poet who penned ‘Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard’, was born in Cornhill. The street was, says our invaluable source John Stow, named for “a corn market, time out of mind there holden”. Given that Stow was writing in the 16th century, time out of mind for him was indeed a long time ago and, in fact, the name can be traced as far back as 1100. The name was, as is the case in so many London street names, a simple statement of what went on there.

Gray’s ‘Elegy’ is considered to be one of the most widely quoted poems in the English language. One of the famous lines from this poem gave Thomas Hardy the title of one of his books: “Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife”.

On 25 December 1006, William the Conqueror (also known as William the Bastard) was crowned King of England. One of his acts was to invite Jewish financiers into the country, thus bringing about, albeit indirectly, the street name Old Jewry.

In the reign of Richard I, the anti-semitism, as portrayed by Shakespeare in The Merchant of Venice, began to take hold. Many of the Jews were murdered and their homes destroyed. The next king – John – developed a dislike for the Jewish money lenders when they couldn’t supply him with substantial enough loans , while Henry III carried on the tradition of anti-semitism by making all Jews wear white linen squares. Edward I changed the colour of these squares from white to yellow, banned the financiers from lending money and charging interest, and finally expelled all Jews from the country in 1291.

The Jewish settlement in the City of London was then destroyed and the street that ran through it was renamed Old Jewry.

On 24 December 1515, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey was appointed English Lord Chancellor. Wolsey, much of the power behind Henry VIII’s throne, had many accomplishments and achievements too numerous to list here. However, he was, indirectly, involved in the name of one of London’s most euphonious street names: Pace Place.

The street is named for Richard Pace, acknowledged as his contemporaries as “an amiable and accomplished man”. He was a diplomatist and dean of St Paul’s, as well as chief personal secretary to Henry VIII. Pace held several church appointments, including one of his earliest as secretary to Bishop Bainbridge who was murdered in Italy. It was his loyalty to the bishop and his attempts to discover the identity of the murderer which first brought him to the attention of the king and Cardinal Wolsey (whose admiration later allegedly turned to resentment).

Pace’s health and success in diplomacy failed him in later life – among his less successful efforts were trips back and forth to Italy in order to argue the case for Wolsey’s papacy every time a pope died.

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