This day in London history: on 22 January 1561, Sir Francis Bacon was born at the Strand (or Strand, if you prefer) in London. This blog has dealt with both Sir Francis Bacon and the Strand in other posts, and the Strand is probably now more famous as the location of the Savoy Hotel than as the birthplace of Bacon, so here are a few historical snippets about the Savoy. Including its contribution to the nickname – Farting Lane – of a nearby passageway.
The Savoy stands on the site of a palace built in 1245 by Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester but later granted by Henry III to Peter of Savoy. A nice bit of nepotism as Savoy was the uncle of Eleanor of Provence, Henry’s queen; it was not a complete gimme, however, as Savoy had to give “yearly at the Exchequer three barbed arrows for all services”.
The palace was also once the London residence of John of Gaunt but, according to the wonderful Walter Thornbury in Old and New London (Volume 3), “the palace of the Savoy was fired, pillaged, and almost demolished with gunpowder by a lawless mob of rebels, led by Wat Tyler, in 1381”. It was “for the malice which they bore to John of Gaunt and his principles”, which principles being, as Tyler saw it, the introduction of the poll tax. It was not the only building to suffer because of the poll tax; the Priory of Clerkenwell was another.
Later on, and before the Savoy Hotel was built, it was restored by Henry VII, dedicated to St John, and opened in 1512 for use as a hospital for the poor. The hospital closed in 1702 and the area, once full of grand residences, became something of a sleazy neighbourhood and was the site of the Dog and Duck tavern where those behind the Gunpowder Plot would meet. By the 19th century, the building was in ruins.
Enter impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte; the money he made from the Gilbert and Sullivan operas enabled him to build the country’s first luxury hotel, with features like electric lights throughout, and bathrooms in some of the more lavish rooms. The Savoy opened in 1889 and is still a name synonymous with luxury.
That is not to say, however, that it didn’t play its part in the sewer gas lamp innovation of Mr Joseph Edmund Webb. The grand hotel was able to provide fuel for these lamps, and a replica of one still stands next to the hotel in Carting Lane. Not unnaturally, given the nature of these lamps, the lane was nicknamed Farting Lane by local residents.
The Coal Hole tavern, the sign of which can be seen next to the sewer gas lamp replica was, according to the pub’s website, once the coal cellar for the Savoy Hotel. The website goes on to say: “In the Victorian era, the pub was a ‘song and supper’ club where regulars were encouraged to sing comical songs and sentimental ballads. Gilbert and Sullivan regularly performed here in Edwardian times, the Shakespearean actor Edmund Kean started the Wolves’ Club here for oppressed husbands forbidden to sing in the bath!”