London streets: from haunches of venison to shoulders of mutton

Haunch of Venison Yard (twitter)Another two tenuously linked threads: recently a Twitter buddy posted a photo of  Haunch of Venison Yard, which aroused a flurry of interest.

Then, not so long ago, I posted a story about London street names with parts of the body (though, I regret to admit, I neglected to mention a couple of relevant ones, including Haunch of Venison).

So here we go.

Haunch of Venison Yard is a delightful name, deriving from a tavern that stood at the entrance of the yard from the 1720s to the early part of the 20th century.

The sign was more commonly found near royal hunting forests: though ‘venison’ now means only deer meat, the word derives from the Latin venari, to hunt, and was originally used for the edible flesh of any animal that had been captured and killed in a hunt.

The yard is not far from the Soho area, once grazing farmland and then taken by Henry VIII as a royal park for the Palace of Whitehall, so that may have had some influence in the name.

The sign was also once used, incongruously, by Robert Wills, Confectioner and Pastrycook, whose shop was near St Paul’s cathedral, but there seems to be no explanation of why Mr Wills used a name with such meaty connections. Perhaps he specialized in meat pies alongside his confectionery.

More recently, the name was used as an art gallery, later taken over by the prestigious auction house Christie’s. It also opened Haunch of Venison galleries in New York and Berlin; the Berlin gallery was closed and those in New York and London changed for private sale exhibitions.

A similar name, and also one with a body part, is Shoulder of Mutton Alley, which leads off Narrow Street in Limehouse.

This also takes its name from an inn sign, one indicating the food specialities to be had within that particular establishment. In some cases, particularly in villages, the sign could have meant that the innkeeper was also the local butcher.

There is an inn of that name near Milton Keynes; it was once the local slaughterhouse but is thought to have taken its name from the shape of the land upon which it stands.

There was also a Cat and Mutton Bridge in Hackney, named from a tavern formerly called the Shoulder of Mutton and Cat and now called the Cat and Mutton.

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