Little slices of London's history

London’s dirty street names: pigsties and gutters

greenwich-pigstyThanks to a new Twitter buddy (PaxView Jeff @JR_justJR) and his excellent post on Greenwich, I have discovered Pigsty Alley in Greenwich, a shocking omission from my own blog post on pig-related street names. I hope he doesn’t mind me borrowing his picture.

(In my defence, however, the name does not appear on any of my reasonably up-to-date London maps and atlases: it is, according to another excellent blog, The Greenwich Phantom, relatively new and is “a revival of an 18th Century name for what remains of a ancient thoroughfare. David, who sent me the photo, tells me that the alley, which runs between Maidenstone Hill and Winforton Street, originally ran much further north but post-war clearances severed it”.)

So pigsties lead us to London’s grubbier streets, come of which have been covered in various posts on this blog, but let’s bring some of them together in a mini muck-fest, starting with Grub Street, though that may be cheating a bit as it is now called Milton Street.

Grub Street was known as ‘Grubbestrete’ in the 13th century and could have meant, in the London tradition of not mincing words when it came to street names, ‘street infested with maggots’. It could also have been from ‘grube’, a ditch or drain, or from a personal name – Grub was not an uncommon name in the 13th century.

EAS_4049From grubby streets to gutters and Gutter Lane. This – and don’t you love London street names? – it is nothing to do with gutters. It is, instead, from a 12th-century, possibly Danish, name, variously Gutherun, Goderun, or Gutherson. The lane was known as Goudron Lane and then Gutheran Lane and, according to Isaac Disraeli, who wrote Curiosities of Literature, the first owner of the lane was a citizen of great trade.

Ha ha sign 5Gutters, ditches – and a ha ha, which in this case is a type of ditch, not an involuntary giggle from yours truly. Ha Ha Road (in Greenwich) inspired the book (and its name) that brought about this blog and on which I am still working and aiming to get published. A ha ha is a sunken ditch, which may have taken its name either from an exclamation of surprise from the person who falls into it or the laughter from observers of said fall.

Carting Lane, which features in the post ‘Scatalogical London: from Farting Lane to Pissing Alley’ could also be considered a mucky street as it was once called Dirty Lane. In the past, there were many streets called things like Dirty Lane, Filth Alley, and Stinking Lane, because they were.

Catherine Wheel AlleyBefore we leave London’s grubby streets, we could include Catherine Wheel Alley which, though perfectly clean in itself, is the location of a famous London pub called Dirty Dicks (now in the process of being refurbished).

3 responses to “London’s dirty street names: pigsties and gutters”

  1. Another fascinating selection, Elizabeth.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  2. Good stuff – If you can’t laugh at good stuff when you travel, or even find humor at home, might as well stay in bed and pull the sheets up over your eyes.

  3. […] and laughs, this fun website has a list of some really bizarre London area street names… […]

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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