Let’s start with Bevis Marks, which leads into Camomile Street in the City of London: the ‘marks’ of the name was just that – a boundary, or something that marked the edge of a property. In this case it was the 12th century mansion and gardens owned by the Abbots of Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. The modern name is a corruption of Bury’s Marks. The abbey is yet another on the long list of those dissolved by Henry VIII.
In keeping with the theme of religion, the nearby Bevis Marks synagogue is the oldest in the UK, though its actual address is Heneage Lane because, according to the synagogue’s official website, “The site of the synagogue was tucked away in a back alley because Jews were not allowed to build on the public thoroughfare. A contract was signed with a builder in 1699 and the synagogue, which has been designated a monument of national importance, was built in 1701.”
There was a synagogue in Creechurch Lane, just off Bevis Marks, at least as early as 1663, when Pepys recorded a visit there.
Petty France takes its name from petit – little – France, because of French settlers there as early as the 15th century. The street, which once housed the Passport Office, is associated with a book of “pernicious tendency”. Other streets were called what they were because, well, that’s what they were, such as Docwras Buildings, from houses built by Thomas Docwra & Son, well-borers. In time others became known as Rents from the people who collected the rents on the buildings, such as Perkins Rents in Victoria, from an unknown Perkins.
Churches were responsible for many other non-street names, including Shad Thames, which is probably a contraction of St John at Thames; the Priory of St John at Jerusalem owned about 25 acres of land here from the 13th century until the Dissolution. In Oliver Twist, Bill Sikes lived and died on Jacob’s Island, east of Shad Thames.
Similarly, Austin Friars takes its name from a dissolved friary of Augustian monks; the friary covered the area between London Wall and Throgmorton Street.
Readers of the excellent Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel will know it as the home of Thomas Cromwell; it is where, when Thomas Cromwell wished to extend his nearby garden, he dug up the house belonging to John Stow’s father, put it on rollers and moved it out of the way without any warning to Stow senior. After Cromwell’s death the Drapers’ Company – the third of the livery companies – took over Cromwell’s house along with the nefariously extended garden.
Crutched Friars, known as Hart Street prior to the 18th century, also takes its current name from a holy order, the Crossed Friars, an Augustinian order that began in Bologna in 1169 and was established in London by Ralph Hosiar and William Sabernes in 1298. The name derived from the friars’ habits, which were blue with, usually, a red cross on the back.
The monastery fell, as did so many others in the reign of Henry VIII (the order was then suppressed by the Pope in 1656). Henry granted the land to Sir Thomas Wyatt who built a mansion on the site. Later it was used as a carpenter’s yard, a tennis court, and the Navy Office where Pepys worked.