Pickled eggs, Charles II, and Falstaff

Charles II coronation robes
Charles II in his coronation robes

This day in London history: on 6 February 1685 King Charles II died of apoplexy, having suffered a fit four days earlier. While his last words are popularly considered to be, “Let not poor Nellie starve,” it seems that they weren’t his very last words as, after that, he told his courtiers, “I am sorry, gentlemen, for being such a time a-dying.”

There are many things for which Charles II could and should be remembered, but one that may escape the notice of some people is his indirect contribution to one of London’s quaintly-named (and sadly no longer existing) streets, Pickled Egg Walk.

This walk – a “place of low amusements” – took its name from the Pickled Egg tavern. The proprietor, who was not a Londoner, had a particularly delectable recipe for pickled eggs. The story goes that Charles II (though some versions say it was his father, Charles I) once stopped there, sampled that delicacy for the first time, and enjoyed it. Royal pleasure was something that any canny landlord would capitalize on and this one was no exception, promptly naming the inn for his speciality.

There was once also a Pickle Herring Street – again, sadly, no longer there, having given way to modern developments in the Tooley Street area (from St Olave’s Street, with a connection to London Bridge falling down). The easy explanation for its name is that the street was on the site of one of the Thames River’s old wharves – where cargoes of pickled herrings were shipped. The area was once known as ‘London’s larder’, from its use as the primary storage area for butter, cheese and, later, canned meat.

Falstaff
A 19-century depiction of Falstaff

As always, there are other possible explanations: though herrings were pickled in England as far back as the 14th century, it was more of a Dutch speciality. There is a record, in 1584, of a ‘Peter Van Duraunte alias Pickell Heringe’ being buried in Bermondsey. Van Duraunte was actually a brewer, so the nickname is not obvious, unless he had an inn called the Pickled Herring; such an inn may have given rise to the street name.

The name may also have come from the fact that Sir John Falstofe – who gave his name to Shakespeare’s Falstaff – lived on this spot in 1447. Falstofe was once a fish merchant, so it could have been his pickled herrings that gave the street its name.

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3 thoughts on “Pickled eggs, Charles II, and Falstaff

  1. “Pickle(d) Herring” is also a minor ( and easily expendable, if numbers require) character in several versions of “St. George and the Dragon”, a English mummer’s play traditionally given during the Christmas season (and occasionally on or around St George’s Day).

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