So, here we go again with the tenuous connections, and leap straight to Nell Gwyn (or Gwynne). The city of Hereford claims to have been the birthplace of Nell Gwyn, mistress of Charles II, and supporters of that theory point to the fact that Gwyn is a name of Welsh origin and Herefordshire borders Wales.
It is, however, considered more likely that she was born in London, in Coal Yard Alley off Drury Lane. The alley did actually lead to an old coal yard; in the 19th century it was described as “a row of miserable tenements”. Much of the ‘facts’ about Nell Gwyn are largely a matter of speculation: Pepys records that Nell said she was “brought up in a bawdy-house to fill strong water to the guests”.
Incidentally, there is a Hereford Road in West London; the land in this area was developed by a Mr William Kinnaird Jenkins, a Herefordshire lawyer and landowner (with a Welsh name) who named many streets after places in Herefordshire and the neighbouring Welsh area.
But back to Nell, who was described as the “indiscreetest and wildest creature that ever was in court”; it was also said of her that “the King loved more for her wit than the attractions of her person … it was difficult to remain long in her company without sharing her gaiety”. Indeed, Charles II’s last words were reputed to have been “Let not poor Nellie starve.”
Nell did not try to hide her humble beginnings or her status as a concubine; one example of her wit was when she was bing booed by people mistaking her for Louise Renée de Penancoët de Kérouaille, another of Charles’s mistresses, Nell said, “Pray, good people, be civil – I am the Protestant whore.”
Nell spend the last years of her life in Pall Mall, where she spent her last years and where she had a solid silver bed in a room lined with mirrors.
And even more – not even that tenuous – connection: Nell was reputed to have sold oranges outside of the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane; the actor and playwright David Garrick managed the theatre for nearly 30 years. Oh, yes, and Garrick was born in Hereford.