Little slices of London's history

Garlic, a ghost, and leathersellers

Garlick Hill cropContinuing on our virtual Moonwalk route, from Poultry it is a short hop to another culinary street or, rather, hill. Garlick Hill, to be precise and yes, indeed, garlic features here – the hill was named for the hythe, or wharf, where shipments of garlic were landed on the Thames.

Or, if you prefer, from the hythe, or hill, at the foot of which garlic was sold in vast quantities. It is not unlikely that enough garlic would have been sold in medieval times to warrant an entire parish being called Garlickhythe.

Seasoning was important both for the rich, who ate lavishly of beef and venison, and for the poor, who had a rather less interesting diet in need of spicing up. Strong spices also played their part on the frequent occasions when meat had begun to spoil before it reached the consumer, a fact that had to be heavily disguised.

Jimmy Garlick Church
The church of St James Garlickhythe

The parish church of St James Garlickhythe had a somewhat chequered career. It was built in 1326, later destroyed in the Great Fire and then rebuilt by Wren. After suffering some damage during the blitz of World War II, it was again restored. In 1984 remains of a 1st-century timber building were discovered near the church.

Through all this, one of the church’s occupants remained virtually unscathed – an unidentified person known as Jimmy Garlick. Jimmy is an almost perfectly mummified corpse, discovered in 1839 when workmen were closing up the old vaults. It is possible that he is (or, rather, was) either Richard Rothing, who built the original church, or one of the six early Lord Mayors of London who were buried there.

In any case, Jimmy Garlick was somewhat unceremoniously relegated to a small closet until his coffin was jolted by a bomb and his spirit began to roam around, frightening the tourists. He was, for a time, rehoused in a glass-fronted coffin in the vestibule of the church and he then ceased his practice of appearing to unwary visitors.

In 2004, Jimmy Garlick featured in a television documentary series that used modern analytical techniques including carbon dating and x-ray analysis. This established that he had died between 1641 and 1801 and that he suffered from osteo-arthritis.

Leathersellers' Hall
An 18th-century engraving of Leathersellers’ Hall

Physical examination by the Discovery team indicated that he appeared to be balding and suffered tooth decay at the time of death, both consistent with an older person. He has now been removed from the public gaze and sits in the church’s tower in a specially made case.

Garlick Hill is also the home of the Leathersellers Company, one of the ancient Livery Companies of the City of London, and ranked fifteenth in the order of precedence. It was founded by royal charter in 1444 with authority to control the sale of leather within the City.

3 responses to “Garlic, a ghost, and leathersellers”

  1. […] in medieval times to warrant an entire parish being called Garlickhythe and the parish church is St James Garlickhythe. During some building work in the church in 1839, an almost perfectly mummified corpse was […]

  2. […] Garlick Hill, where the The Worshipful Company of Leathersellers’ Company is based. The company is ranked fifteenth in the order of precedence and was founded by royal charter in 1444 with authority to control the sale of leather within the City. […]

  3. […] of the spice for the city dwellers. Apart from its colour, it was – like the garlic that gave Garlick Hill its name – useful for disguising meat that may have seen its […]

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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