Two weeks to go till I take part in the London Moonwalk 2014 and today we can look at another street that is near, if not actually on, the route of the 26.2 mile walk, and that is Knightrider Street near St Paul’s Cathedral.
Knightrider Street, surprisingly for a London street name, actually has a very simple derivation: the street was part of the route for knights riding from the Tower Royal to jousting tournaments at Smithfield.
But of course it’s not that easy and some wet-blanket scholars, however, dispute the theory on the grounds that there is no recorded instance of the word ‘knightrider’. It could be, their argument goes, that the street was really called ‘Riderstrete’ – rider being a Middle English synonym for knight – and that ‘knight’ was added to the street name in general use.
There is a blue plaque in the street to commemorate the fact that Thomas Linacre lived there. Linacre was a distinguished physician whose patients included Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey. Sir Thomas More was also a patient and a friend.
Linacre established the Royal College of Physicians in 1518 and was its first president; early meetings were held at his house in Knightrider Street. In 1520 he took up holy orders and gave up practising medicine.
The Horn tavern in Knightrider street was mentioned in Dickens’ Pickwick Papers and, before it was damaged by fire in 1866 and demolished, the church of St Mary Magdalen stood at the corner of the street. RH Barham, the author of The Ingoldsby Legends, a work that includes a story about Bleeding Heart Yard, was rector there from 1824 to 1842 and was buried in the church.
There is also a Knightrider Court, once called Dolittle Lane. This was not, originally, named for a person, famous or otherwise: even more logically it appears that, as John Stow theorized and most people accept, it was so called because it served no actual purpose.
As Stow put it, “a place not inhabited by artificers or open shopkeepers, but serving for a near passage from Knightriders’ street to Carter lane”.
In other words, it was good only for getting from one place to another – what some people would have us believe is the reason behind the name of Passing Alley – but that is altogether another, more scatological, story.
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