Little slices of London's history

Hugs, roman baths, and banks

Huggin HillIn the City of London, near Friday Street and Bread Street is a street popular with canoodling couples who like to pose next to the (unromantic -looking) sign, which is Huggin Hill. There is also a Huggin Court leading off the hill.

Unfortunately, while Huggin may be warm and cuddly-sounding, it has nothing to do with hugging, euphemistically (as with Love Lane) or otherwise. It was called Hoggenlane in the 14th century, from the old English ‘hoggene’ – a lane where hogs were kept. Historian John Stow, however, believed that it was named after Hugan, a 13th-century resident, and that the name was ‘Hugan in the lane’.

The entrance to Highgate’s Holly Village (Photo copyright Nigel Mykura)

In 1964, the remains of a Roman bath were discovered in Huggin Hill; they had been built around 75 AD, and used the vast supply of water from the Thames. The building was enlarged in the early 2nd century, possibly because of a visit from Hadrian, and then was demolished by 200 AD, though the reason for its demolition is unknown.

But back to hogs: there is a Swain’s Lane in Highgate; it is, alas, nothing to do with gallant pastoral gentlemen. In the 15th century it was known as ‘Swayneslane’ but later forms of the name show bluntly its derivation: for a long time it was more commonly known as Swine Lane. Presumably the change to the earlier version was made, as so often happened in London, by residents preferring a less earthy name (see Golden Square).

At the foot of Swains Lane is Holly Village, a group of eight Gothic cottages, all built to slightly different designs. The cottages were build for Baroness Angela Burdett Coutts, who lived in nearby Holly Lodge, and this gave rise to the rumour that the cottages had been designed for the Baroness’s servants. In fact, Holly Village was a middle-class housing estate, and a highly successful commercial development.

Angela Burdett Coutts
Baroness Burdett Coutts

Angela Burdett Coutts, heiress to the Coutts bank fortune, was a great philanthropist, but also inevitably a very eligible bachelorette. In the Ingoldsby Legends, RH Barham wrote about Queen Victoria’s coronation (‘Mr Barney Maguire’s Account of the Coronation’) and mentioned “The famale heiress, Miss Anja-ly Coutts”.

The bank itself was founded in 1692 – the same year as the Salem witch trials began – by John Campbell, a Scottish goldsmith banker, who set up his business on the Strand. Coutts was eventually absorbed by the Royal Bank of Scotland; that institution was, in turn, bailed out by the UK taxpayers a few years ago at the height of the financial crisis. Having, reportedly, lost all the money invested in it by the taxpayers, recent reports suggest that RBS will pay the taxpayers £1.5 billion in order to return to the private sector.

Huggin Court


4 responses to “Hugs, roman baths, and banks”

  1. […] still not what people might think (and probably an equal contender for the Animal London names), is Huggin Hill, a popular sign for cuddling couples looking for a photo opportunity. It is, however, nothing to do […]

  2. […] Lane (from a local landowner) in the 14th century and Hog Lane in the 16th century (because, like Huggin Hill, it ran through a pig […]

  3. […] not strictly speaking gastronomy, there are two other fun ‘pig’ street names: Huggin Hill, which takes its name from hogs rather than hugs, and Swains Lane, which takes its name from swine […]

  4. Thaanks for writing this

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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