Little slices of London's history

Pineapples, lepers, and euphemistic grapes

Pineapple Christchurch Greyfriars
Pineapple detail from the ruined Christ Church Greyfriars near St Paul’s Cathedral, also designed by Wren.

Hello, gentle reader, and forgive the long break in blogging, which has been occasioned by the need to start training seriously for the London Moonwalk 2014. Now it’s time to get back to the blog, and today we look at some fruit, starting with Pineapple Court.

The court, which is no longer in existence,  took its name from the Pineapple tavern, recorded there in the late 18th century. The fruit was introduced to England in the 17th century; its shape and novelty made it popular on signs, especially those of confectioners. Christopher Wren was said to be so taken with the shape that he adopted it in the decorations of all his buildings (though many of them resemble acorns more than pineapples).

There was was once also a Pineapple Place in Maida Vale; the painter George Romney kept a retreat here where he could go to sleep and to have “rural breakfasts”. Romney painted many of the leading society figures of the day, including Emma Hamilton, the mistress of Lord Horatio Nelson and the mother of his daughter.

Emma Hamilton painted by George Romney
Emma Hamilton painted by George Romney

Another street with a fruit name is Grape Street, off High Holborn. It is, the clean version goes, named from a house that belonged to the leper hospital of St Giles ‘Le Vyne’, which was there by the 16th century. It is possible that a vineyard once stood on this spot as the area was particularly fertile and the vines were mentioned in the Domesday Book. The street was once called Vine Street.

There is another derivation of the name Grape Street, as it relates to a lane, now gone, in the parish of St Pancras. Early, non-euphemistic, forms of the name appear, as early as 1276, as ‘Gropecontelane’ and ‘Groppecountlane’. In Oxford, lanes of this name appeared as early as 1230. The name, says one source tactfully, is “an indecent one’. When it wasn’t changed completely, the name was altered to less drastic forms such as Grope Lane and Grape Lane.

2 responses to “Pineapples, lepers, and euphemistic grapes”

  1. Didn’t know until I read this that Romney & Nelson shared a mistress though perhaps not simultaneously. At least that’s what seems to be implied.

    1. Hmm, implication not intended. One painted her; she was the mistress of the other. Thanks for pointing out ambiguities in the wording.

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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