Revisiting Ham Yard: I have a special occasion coming up next week and my research for a special pre-theatre dinner restaurant led me to, among others, a new Japanese restaurant in Ham Yard. (Engawa – anyone heard of it or have any experience of it?)
Ham Yard properly belongs in the ‘gastronomy street names’. Food 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). The Ham tavern became the Ham and Windmill, was renamed the Lyric in 1890 and still stands there today.
Ham Yard was once the congregation point for London’s ‘sandwich men’, which is only a mental hop, skip, and jump to the Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu, who is popularly believed to have created the sandwich because he did not to move from his gaming table and ordered some meat between two slices of bread so that it would be easier to eat. (Another version is that he came up with the concept when he was working at a desk rather than gambling at a a table.)
Still, the Earl was a ‘bit of a one’ as the expression goes, and whether his sandwich came about because of work or play, he was a member of the notorious Knights of St. Francis of Wycombe, otherwise known as the Hellfire Club. Another member was the radical journalist John Wilkes, who had one of the best comeback lines in history.
Wilkes, quick-witted and acerbic, is one of the people to whom the following is attributed: when Sandwich said to him, “Sir, I do not know if you will die on the gallows or of the pox,” Wilkes replied, “That, my lord, depends on whether I embrace your lordship’s principles or your mistress.”
But back to gastronomy and street names; in particular, pig-related streets. In addition to Ham Yard there is also a Bacon Street in East London, described as a ‘drab little turning off Brick Lane’; a Bacon’s Lane in Highgate, and a Bacon Grove in Bermondsey.
Bacon Street, the origin of the name of which I am still investigating, may be most famous for its ‘king’: Charlie Burns, who died in 2012 aged 96. He grew up in the street and ran the family business there, visiting it every day until his death. For a in-depth look at Burns, there is a fascinating article about him on the Spitalfields Life website.
Bacons Lane in Highgate is named after Sir Francis Bacon; it marks the spot of the house where he died, a victim of his own thirst for knowledge: he contracted pneumonia after investigating the principles of refrigeration, a pursuit that involved him stuffing a fowl with snow to see if it would preserve the meat.
Bacon Grove takes its name from a Josiah Bacon, a 17th-century leather merchant whose will provided for the foundation of Bacon’s School (later a City Technology College, and now an Academy called Bacon’s College), along with an endowment of £150 per year.
While not strictly speaking gastronomy, there are two other fun ‘pig’ street names: Huggin Hill, which takes its name from hogs rather than hugs, and Swains Lane, which takes its name from swine rather than gallant pastoral gentlemen.
Incidentally, the Ham Yard and Bacon Street signs are compliments of the excellent streatsoflondon.com website, with photos of just about every gastronomic street sign in London.