London’s feline streets: Cat and Mutton Bridge to Pope’s Head Alley

Catherine Wheel AlleyIt seemed only fair, after a dog-related post, to include our feline friends; it has been a bit of a challenge, however, and I have had to stretch tenuous to new lengths.

Suitably feline is Cat and Mutton bridge in Hackney, where there is still a Cat and Mutton pub. One version of the name is that it was originally Shoulder of Mutton and Cat from the ‘cats’ or coal barges that would have gone under the bridge on the nearby Regents Canal. Another version (on the pub’s own website) is that it was originally the Cattle and Shoulder of Mutton; also from the “many drovers and agricultural workers arriving in London to sell there various beasts in the markets in what now is known as the city”.

The old inn sign, at one time, had two verses on it:

Pray, Puss, do not tare,
Because the mutton is so rare

and

Pray, Puss do not claw,
Because the mutton is so raw

In the recent saintly street signs post, we looked at Catherine Wheel Alley, which takes its name from a tavern. During the time of the Puritans, when overtly religious symbols were frowned on, most landlords of such taverns changed the name to the Cat and Wheel.

Kitcat Terrace in Bow commemorates the Reverend Henry James Kitkat, rector of St Mary’s Bow from 1904 to 1921. The name derives from Kitcott, a place name in Devon. There was once a Kit-Kat Club, founded in 1700 by a bookseller called Jacob Tonson, and taking its name from the proprietor (Christopher (Kit) Kat, whose name is also given as Cat, Katt, and even Catling ) of a pastry-house in Shire Lane off Fleet Street, where the members used to dine.

Alexander Pope whimsically referred to the club and its name in verse:

Whence deathless Kit-Cat took its name
Few critics can unriddle
Some say from Pastry Cook it came,
And some from Cat and Fiddle

Sadly, there is no Cat and Fiddle street.

EAS_4066Bow brings us nicely to the first tenuous cat connection: Elbow Lane in the City of London, now called, less interestingly, College Street. In the 16th century it a street that ran west and then suddenly turned south, according to London historian John Stow, and was “therefore of that bending called Elbow Lane”.

The reason it was named College Street was to commemorate a college founded by Dick Whittington or, properly, Sir Richard Whittington, Lord Mayor of the City of London.One legend about him is that attempted to flee the city in order to escape a menial job where he was beaten and that he was persuaded to return by the sound of the Bow Bells promising him that he would be Mayor of London. And everyone knows the other legend: that he went to London with his faithful cat to seek his fortune.

EAS_4093During the reign of King Edward IV, there was a kind of ‘engrave-off’ between English goldsmiths and their foreign rivals, which took place at the Pope’s Head tavern (now Pope’s Head Alley). According to Old and New London, “The challenge was to engrave four puncheons of steel (the breadth of a penny sterling) with cat’s heads and naked figures in high relief and low relief; Oliver Davy, the Englishman, won, and White Johnson, the Alicant goldsmith, lost his wager of a crown and a dinner to the Company.”

And the last of the very tenuous cat links: the writer Eleanor Farjeon, best remembered for writing children’s books, was born in Buckingham Street. Perhaps her most famous work was the hymn ‘Morning has Broken’, popularized in the 1970s by the singer known then as Cat Stevens.

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4 thoughts on “London’s feline streets: Cat and Mutton Bridge to Pope’s Head Alley

  1. Cateaton street was mentioned by Dickens in The Pickwick Papers but it was replaced by Gresham Street in the 1880s. Its original name of Cattestrate (1271) meant simply a street frequented by cats although it’s not clear why the name changed via the intermediate forms Catteten Streete and Catton Street.

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