Little slices of London's history

Ham sandwiches and the Hellfire Club

Ham Yard Cherish London
Photo: Cherish London

Following on from yesterday’s exchange with Twitter buddy Cherish London (@Cherish_London), who posted a photo of the Lyric pub, let’s take a look at Ham Yard in the Soho district.

Gastronomy played a large part in the naming of taverns – and hence London streets: often the speciality of the house would be featured in the sign. There was a Ham tavern here as early as 1739 and there was also once a Tudor mill in this area (commemorated in Great Windmill Street, which intersects Ham Yard).

The Ham tavern became the Ham and Windmill and was renamed the Lyric in 1890.

19th century sandwich men

By happy coincidence, Ham Yard was once the congregation point for London’s ‘sandwich men’. Nothing to do with ham sandwiches, however: these were the walking billboards of the 19th century, described by Charles Dickens as “a piece of human flesh between two slices of paste board”.

These hardy souls, a result of a tax on advertising posters, would “walk the principal thoroughfares from morning to night with their boards high above their heads, secured to their shoulders by iron slips and a strap”. It was not an easy life, especially when high winds would pose a serious threat to their wellbeing. The sandwich men generally worked from 10am to 10pm with one break.

Before we leave Ham Yard and sandwich men, we should point out the most famous of sandwich men: John Montagu, the Earl of Sandwich, popularly believed to have created the sandwich because he did not want to move from his gaming table and so ordered some meat between two slices of bread so that it would be easier to eat.

Hellfire Caves
Modern entrance to the Hellfire Caves

Montagu was a member of the notorious Knights of St. Francis of Wycombe, also known as the Hellfire Club or the Medmenham Monks and founded by founded by Sir Francis Dashwood. The caves where the club would meet to drink and dine lavishly are still open as a tourist attraction and party venue.

One response to “Ham sandwiches and the Hellfire Club”

  1. We visited Sandwich during a trip to Kent in September. Funnily enough, my wife had a ham sandwich there. in a riverside hotel.

    The sandwich-board men were severely curtailed by Westminster Council a few years ago, after numerous complaints. Another familiar sight gone from the streets of London.

    Best wishes, Pete.

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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