Little slices of London's history

St Patrick’s Day and green street names

Let’s not miss out on the green theme for today: London has a fair number of green street names, so here are a few, starting with Emerald Street. This street was originally called Green Street, presumably either because it was close to a bowling green, or it was named after a local resident. Towards the end of the 19th century there were far too many Green Streets in London and it was renamed.
Another green street that was renamed is Green Lettuce Lane, now called Laurence Pountney Hill; the name is nothing to do with salad leaves but is, apparently, a corruption of Green Lattice Lane and comes from a lattice gate that opened into what is now Cannon Street.
A much jollier explanation is that, although lattice in its corrupted form does play a part, it was not a gate. In earlier days taverns were designed so that customers could see out without being observed by people going past. This was sometimes achieved with latticework over the window, traditionally painted green or red.
A couple of streets that have remained green include Green Man Lane in West London. The Green Man was once a common in sign and, presumably the origin of this street name, a reference to that of an ancient figure in folk customs: Jack-in-the-Green. He was originally part of the traditional May procession, and represented one aspect of the summer. The Jack was a man enclosed within a wicker cage, which was covered by green leaves and boughs. (A darker take on this tradition was immortalized in the 1973 movie The Wicker Man with Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee, remade in 2006 with Nicolas Cage.)
Later on, Jack-in-the-Green became associated with chimney sweeps, who were traditionally supposed to be carriers of good luck, and during their May Day celebrations, the street procession would include a boy dressed in the wicker costume.
Moving back east, we come to Greenhills Rents near Smithfield Market. There was a time when many lanes and alleyways were built either by one person or with one person’s money, and given the name of ‘buildings’ or ‘rents’. The latter were buildings built specifically to be rented out.
John Greenhill was an 18th-century landowner; he and his wife Agnes owned, among other land and property, the Castle tavern (still there) on Cowcross Street. In 1736 John applied unsuccessfully for a market to be built on his land; the last of his property was sold by Edith Minnie Greenhill in 1920.
Finally, moving north of London, there is a street in Hull called Land of Green Ginger; although this is the title of a book by Winifred Holtby, no-one has been abel to come up with a definitive reason for the street name. A blue plaque attests to the fact by stating, “ One of the oddest street names in the country. Land of Green Ginger was the title of a Winifred Holtby novel. The name’s origina remains a mystery.”

4 responses to “St Patrick’s Day and green street names”

  1. A feast of Greens Elizabeth. I can think of another, Green Street in Mayfair, running east-west off Park Lane. But I am sure you knew that one!
    Best wishes as always, Pete(I was born at 10pm on 16th March. I missed being named Patrick by just over two hours!)

    1. Happy Belated birthday, Pete-almost-Patrick! I probably should have included Green Street to balance out Emerald Street. I’ll see if I can find anything interesting about it other than it was named after someone called Green.

  2. […] but is Short was named for a 19th-century carpenter, Samuel Short, who built the street. Similarly, Greenhills Rents near Smithfield market was nothing to do with scenery but was named for John Greenhill, an […]

  3. […] a disclaimer: I’m not including colours in this, but there are colourful streets here and here, or the old and new type of street names. There are more than enough adjectives, of which I can […]

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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