Little slices of London's history

Edgar Allen Poe, Will Ferrell, and the Grand Old Duke of York

Seething Lane signToday’s post is in honour of Edgar Allan Poe, who died on this day in 1849; perhaps his most famous poem was ‘The Raven’. Although it no longer exists, there was once a Black Raven Passage, which led out of Seething Lane.

Will Ferrell fans will appreciate the Scandinavian symbolism of the raven, which was sacred to Odin: in Anchorman, Ron Burgundy exclaims, “Great Odin’s raven!” Despite its worldwide reputation as a bird of ill omen, the raven in Christian symbolism represents God’s providence – an allusion to the raven that fed Elijah.

The raven was also an old Scottish badge and a Jacobite symbol, and is significant in many cultures – not least of which is London. There is a superstition surrounding the famous ravens of the Tower of London: “If the Tower of London ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and Britain with it.” For more on those ravens, there is a great article in the Fortean Times.

Mary Anne Clarke wikipedia
Mary Anne Clarke

The passage may have been the birthplace of the scandalous Mary Anne Clarke, who was, eventually, the mistress of Frederick, the Grand Old Duke of York.

Mary Anne, the daughter of a bricklayer, married a man called Clarke, whom she left when he went bankrupt. It appears that she was able to work her way into the circle of the rich and famous through liaisons with various well-to-do men.

By 1803 she had taken a large house in London and was entertaining in lavish fashion, using the name of Mrs Clarke. Once she had become Frederick’s mistress, and he did not keep her in the style that she felt was her due, Mary Anne began to obtain money from officers in the army in return for using her influence with the Duke of York, who was then Commander in Chief of the army.

A scandal ensued and charges were brought, though not proved against the Duke. He resigned his post (but was later reinstated) and broke it off with Mary Anne. She threatened to publish the letters he had written to her, and 10,000 copies of her memoirs were printed.

The Duke, however, paid her debts and gave her £400 to burn the books.

Cusack The Raven
John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe

Back, briefly, to the raven: it seems that Shakespeare mentions the raven more than any other bird and, by happy coincidence, the screenplay of a 2012 US thriller movie based on Poe’s poem was co-written by Hannah Shakespeare.

(And, à propos of nothing other than blogger’s prerogative, that movie stars John Cusack, a particular favourite.)

2 responses to “Edgar Allen Poe, Will Ferrell, and the Grand Old Duke of York”

  1. Some fascinating background to that passage and lane. A very enjoyable read. I like Cusack too, especially in ‘The Grifters’, a personal favourite.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    1. Ah, The Grifters…also one of my favourite Cusack roles.

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


%d bloggers like this: