Tothill Street: burial grounds and ping pong

From Marylebone to Westminster; I read an article today about a Tothill-fields bridewell prisoner dying of starvation in 1817. (Bridewell: a place of correction, from one that was originally near St Bride’s church in Fleet Street.) So let’s head off to Tothill Street to discover the origin of the name.

Tothill Street takes its name from Tothill Fields near Westminster Abbey and there are a number of theories as to the origin of the name itself. The most likely is that, as the highest point in Westminster, it was a ‘toot’ or beacon hill. Another theory is that it was from the Druid divinity Teut.

Tothill Fields was a once burial ground; following the Battle of Worcester – the final battle of the English Civil War – many of Charles II’s Scottish allies were either buried here or (for those remaining alive), “driven like a herd of swine through Westminster to Tuthill Fields” where they were sold to merchants and sent to the island colony of Barbados.

It later, during the Great Plague of 1665-1666, became a communal burial ground and Samuel Pepys noted in his diary with some dismay that, “I was much troubled this day to hear at Westminster how the officers do bury the dead in the open Tuttle Fields, pretending want of room elsewhere”.

An indication of how many people were buried in pits, and not just during the Plague years, was highlighted during the Crossrail excavations, which unearthed thousands of skeletons in the Bedlam burial ground near Liverpool Street station.

On a lighter note, the first table tennis tournament was held on 14 December 1901 at the The Royal Aquarium and Winter Garden in Tothill Street.

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