Little slices of London's history

Virgins, churches, chickens, and a philanthropist

St Mary Axe plaque cropFollowing on from yesterday’s Moonwalk-themed story about Undershaft, we will take a fleeting glance at nearby St Mary Axe, which is covered in more detail here before we move on to Poultry.

The street takes its name from a church that was known in full as St Mary the Virgin, St Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins. Apparently there was an axe there, which gave the church its shorter name.

The church was converted to warehouses after its suppression in the 16th century and the parish was united with that of St Thomas Undershaft.

EAS_4101Moving further west, by way of Leadenhall Street and Cornhill, we come to Poultry. This was once a London speciality street where 14th-century shoppers would go for their – yes, poultry. 

Poultry was once called Scalding Alley, says John Stow, from the poulterers who dwelt there and “their poultry, which they sold at their stalls, were scalded there. The street doth yet bear the name of the Poultry”.

Elizabeth Fry plaqueThere is a plaque in Poultry to commemorate the Quaker, prison reformer and philanthropist Elizabeth Fry. In 1800 Elizabeth (Betsy) Gurney married fellow Quaker Joseph Fry, a banker, and the couple moved to St Mildred’s Court just off Poultry, where they lived for nine years.

Mrs Fry, of an old Quaker family, was horrified at the conditions under which as many as 300 women and children could be packed into Newgate. She worked hard at improving conditions but was forced to give up philanthropy when her husband became bankrupt. Since 2001 Fry has been depicted on the reverse of Bank of England £5 notes.

Thomas Hood plaque

At number 22 Poultry was Dillys, the booksellers where Boswell’s Life of Johnson was published; Johnson had dined there with John Wilkes and found him to be “excellent company”.

Poultry was also the location of the “house where I was born” – the poet Thomas Hood, who penned the immortal lines “I remember, I remember, the house where I was born,” was born in a house at what is now 31.

Back to the Moonwalk: if you want to support Walk the Walk and its efforts on behalf of breast cancer charities, you can sponsor me by visiting my fundraising page here.

3 responses to “Virgins, churches, chickens, and a philanthropist”

  1. […] were horrific, with overcrowding the norm and disease rife. The 19th-century prison reformer Elizabeth Fry played a strong role in having the conditions of Newgate improved and, later in the 19th century, […]

  2. […] of the Quill ceremony, part of the John Stow Memorial Service at St Andrew Undershaft Church in St Mary Axe. This year’s event was presided over by the incumbent Lord Mayor, Fiona Woolf, who is only the […]

  3. […] St Mary Axe, where the the John Stow Memorial Service is held in the church of St Andrew Undershaft. Stow was a member of the Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors and that august body organizes the biannual service, which includes the ceremonial changing of the quill. […]

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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