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 thoughts on “Hugs, roman baths, and banks

  1. Debra O October 11, 2021 / 7:07 pm

    Thaanks for writing this

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