Well, dear reader(s), you could be forgiven for thinking I don’t know my way around the alphabet. Last time we left off at Poultry and here I am backtracking again to pickles, starting with Pickled Egg Walk. This walk which, alas, no longer exists, was once apparently a “place of low amusements” and took its name from the Pickled Egg tavern. The tavern, in its turn, took its name from the fact that the proprietor had a particularly delectable recipe for pickled eggs.
The story goes that Charles II (though some version say it was his father, Charles I) once stopped there, sampled that delicacy for the first time, and enjoyed it. Royal pleasure was something that any canny landlord would capitalize on and this proprietor was no exception, promptly naming the inn for his speciality.
There was once also a Pickle Herring Street – again, sadly, no longer there, having given way to modern developments in the Tooley Street area. The easy explanation for its name is that the street was on the site of one of the Thames River’s old wharves – where cargoes of pickled herrings were shipped. The area was once known as ‘London’s larder’, from its use as the primary storage area for butter, cheese and, later, canned meat.
As always, there are other possible explanations: though herrings were pickled in England as far back as the 14th century, it was more of a Dutch speciality. There is a record, in 1584, of a ‘Peter Van Duraunte alias Pickell Heringe’ being buried in Bermondsey. Van Duraunte was actually a brewer, so the nickname is not obvious, unless he had an inn called the Pickled Herring; such an inn may have given rise to the street name.
The name may also have come from the fact that Sir John Falstofe – who gave his name to Shakespeare’s Falstaff – lived on this spot in 1447. Falstofe was once a fish merchant, so it could have been his pickled herrings that gave the street its name.
(Incidentally, Tooley Street comes from St Olave’s Street, with a connection to London Bridge falling down, so maybe there could be a nursery rhyme theme coming up in the future.)
From pickles to fruit, and Pineapple (strictly speaking, Pine Apple) Court, another tavern-derived name. The Pineapple tavern was recorded there in the late 18th century and its name reflects the fashions of the times. The fruit was introduced to England in the 17th century; its shape and novelty made it popular on signs, especially those of confectioners. Christopher Wren was said to be so taken with the shape that he adopted it in the decorations of all his buildings (though many of them resemble acorns more than pineapples).
There was was once also a Pineapple Place in Maida Vale; the painter George Romney kept a retreat here where he could go to sleep and to have “rural breakfasts”. Romney painted many of the leading society figures of the day, including Emma Hamilton, the mistress of Lord Nelson and the mother of Nelson’s daughter, Horatia. (Emma has links to various London streets, including Pall Mall with its stories of celestial beds.)
And on to where we should have been alphabetically, with Pudding Lane (once called Red Rose Lane), entrenched as it is in London’s history. Straight away, you need to ut aside any notion of cakes or desserts that this name may bring to mind: the truth is far from appetising. The lane, once part of the meat centre of London, was on the route where the ‘puddings’ – parcels of offal – were transported to be thrown into the river. Stow explains it most eloquently:
“Red Rose lane, of such a sign there, now commonly called Pudding Lane, because the butchers of Eastcheap have their scalding house for hogs there, and their puddings, with other filth of beasts, are voided down that way to their dung boats on the Thames.”
Pudding Lane is most famous for being where the Great Fire of 1666 first broke out, causing the destruction of 13,000 houses and 14 streets – though, amazingly, only 11 deaths. The street was a narrow one with pitch-covered wooden houses and led to the riverside warehouses full of oil and combustible materials such as hay, coal, and timber.
But let’s not leave it there with a tenuous link. There is a tenuous dessert connection: the fire started in the house of a man called Faynor (or Farryner), the king’s baker.
Pudding Lane was the site of the original first Apothecaries Hall, established there in 1633 by the Royal Apothecary of James I. The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London was founded in 1617 by James I to prevent unqualified people from making medicine. The Apothecaries Hall was destroyed in the Great Fire of London and was rebuilt in Blackfriars Lane in 1786.
In 2013, six students studying Game Art Design at DeMontfort University in Leicester took part in a new competition called ‘Off the Map’. They established Pudding Lane Productions, took part in the competition, and won with a 3D reproduction of 17th-century London.
From puddings to spices with Saffron Hill. In 1290, John Kirkby, who had been awarded the bishopric of Ely, bequeathed his estate to the see of Ely to be used as a palace. The gardens there were famous for, among other things, vines and strawberries – and herbs, including saffron, the main source of the spice for the City dwellers. Apart from its colour, it was, like garlic, useful for disguising meat that may have seen its best.
Saffron was widely used in ancient times, as a dye, a spice, a deodorant, and a healing drug. Romans would put in on their beds on their wedding night, giving rise to the expression ‘having slept in a bed of saffron’ (dormivit in sacco croci), to be light of heart, or enlivened.
From light heart to light pockets: according to the Victorian London historian Walter Thornbury in his Old and New London, Saffron Hill “once formed a part of the pleasant gardens of Ely Place, and derived its name from the crops of saffron which it bore. But the saffron disappeared, and in time there grew up a squalid neighbourhood, swarming with poor people and thieves”.
Dickens wrote about many of the streets in this area, including Little Saffron Hill, a herb garden attached to the palace of the Bishops of Ely. That features in Oliver Twist, when Bill Sikes is seem drinking in a sleazy dive there with the unfortunate Bulls-eye: “in an obscure parlour, of a low public-house, in the filthiest part of Little Saffron Hill…sat, brooding over a little pewter measure and a small glass…Mr William Sikes”.
Little Saffron Hill was renamed Herbal Hill in the 1930s, in honour of the 16th-century herbalist John Gerard and his work.
I should have added more photos to this post but I am in Scotland at the moment and the internet connection is kind of slow. I’ll add them later.
5 responses to “London’s culinary streets: Pickled Egg Walk to Saffron Hill”
I hope that you are enjoying your trip to Scotland, and that the weather has not been too unkind.
(My Mum worked in Tooley Street until 1948, in the offices of Hays Wharf. It even managed to continue through WW2, despite the bombing and trade restrictions. She could walk to work in minutes, from the nearby family home in Dockhead.)
Best wishes, Pete.
By the way, I can really recommend this book, which I have owned for years. It is available used from Amazon for £0.1p plus £2.80 post and packing. Well worth it.
Best wishes, Pete.
Thanks, Pete. Glad to hear that there is a family connection with the recent post! Scotland was fine, short visit and now in the Lake District gearing up for a walk in the not-too-bad weather. Thanks also for the tip on the book. I have one called Lost Rivers of London, but hadn’t heard of the one you mention. I’m off to Amazon now! All the best. Elizabeth
I am going to Keswick with a mate in October. Taking the dog too, and doing some hill-walking. The book will show you what has long gone. The real riverside of my youth and memories.
There’s a coincidence; we are staying in Borrowdale and were in Keswick yesterday. Great town for dogs. That book is now on order.