Little slices of London's history

Maids a-milking in London’s street names

EAS_4059Regular readers may feel this is kind of cheating: both Maiden Lane and Milk Street have been covered in earlier posts, but they fit nicely with the eight maids a-milking in our 12 days of Christmas in London streets.

Milk Street leads off Cheapside, which was an early shopping street. It was one of the busiest thoroughfares in London and the city’s main food market. The medieval grocery shopper would have gone there for staples such as bread, milk, honey, poultry, and fish, and the streets that lead off Cheapside were named for their specialities.

Sir Thomas More was born in Milk Street, as was Mrs Beeton (née Isabella Mayson), possibly, the original domestic goddess; she was the author of Beeton’s Book of Household Management, a bible of domestic information from Victorian times to the present. Despite her modern reputation, however she, however, was not a regular and a recipe for soup was the only recipe in the book that was hers – all the rest came from other sources.

Isabella also died very young – just short of her 29th birthday. She died of peritonitis and puerperal fever eight days after the birth of her son Mayson, her fourth child and only the second to survive infancy. (Some biographers believe that her husband Samuel contracted syphilis from a prostitute and passed it on to his wife; this, they believe, accounted for the fact that Isabella had several miscarriages; if so, perhaps the condition contributed to her death.)

EAS_3935Maiden Lane in Covent Garden, according to Disraeli (Isaac, not Benjamin), took its name from a statue of the Virgin Mary which once stood on the corner of the lane. However, it is more likely that the name actually derives from the ‘middens’ – dung heaps – that once proliferated in the area.

The artist JMW Turner was born in Maiden Lane; Benjamin Disraeli and Voltaire lived here, and apparently Edward
VII and Lily Langtry dined here.

EAS_3937More gruesomely, a celebrated actor of the 19th century, William Terriss, was murdered as he was entering the Adelphi Theatre through the stage door, located in Maiden Lane. His killer was a mentally unstable actor, Richard Archer Prince, who bore a grudge against Terriss for having him dismissed. Prince was found guilty but not responsible for his actions and was sent to Broadmoor where he lived the rest of his life.

Incidentally, there is a Maiden Lane in Manhattan’s financial district (apparently unrelated to dung heaps) that inspired a 1936 crime film, 15 Maiden Lane.

One response to “Maids a-milking in London’s street names”

  1. Nothing to add this time, Elizabeth, but I have been to Rules Restaurant in Maiden Lane, where Lily Langtry famously dined with her royal lover. It is a wonderfully atmospheric English restaurant, popular with tourists. It is also eye-wateringly expensive, so special occasions only!
    Best wishes, Pete.

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, 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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