Little slices of London's history

Random London yard names from Apple Tree to Blue Ball

Apart from the the fun of learning about London street names – and passing on what I’ve learned – a large part of the fun of a blog is being to ramble about the subject of my choice. So brace yourself for a couple of musings, ending up in London street names.

First: Apple Tree Yard. “I’m reading a book I can’t put down,” a friend told me recently. My first thought was, “Is that a real street name?”, and I rushed to my A-Z. It is, indeed, really a street – yard – in the Palaces of Westminster area.

However, I regret to report, I am unable to find out what, if any, is the connection to apple trees.

I did find out that it was once called Angier Street (not, as I thought on first reading, Angler Street). The name is from John Angier who, by 1676, had built a house in St James’s square on the site of what is now the East India Club. The club, originally known as the East India, Devonshire, Sports and Public Schools’ Club, has “a long tradition as a gentlemen’s home from home”.

According to the Survey of London (not John Stow’s, but an initiative founded in the 1890s to provide an official history of London’s buildings), Angier’s name was “given to the access-street running at the back of the houses on the north side of the square (now Ormond Yard and Apple Tree Yard)”.

The distinguished architect Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens had an office at Number 7 Apple Tree yard, where he worked on his designs for New Delhi, chosen to replace Calcutta as the seat of the British Indian government in 1912.

And there you have it. (Incidentally, I read the book, enjoyed it tremendously, and then found that it was being dramatised on the BBC, so I have watched that and enjoyed it almost as much.)

Now a commercial break: I will, of course, have to add Apple Tree Yard to the list of tree-related street names, a post on which you can read here.

From apple trees to baby clothes: I recently learned something about gender stereotyping and colour, namely, that the assignment of pink to girls and blue to boys is a relatively recent phenomenon.

Centuries ago, the dye to make pink cloth was expensive and, as a result, was something of a status symbol. Because of its cost, pink was used by the male elite: during the Renaissance, men and male saints were often depicted wearing pink clothes.

Regrettably, I have been unable to find any pinks in London street names; the closest I could come was a Pinkerton Close in Streatham but that is too far a stretch even for me.

Blue, however, was slightly more rewarding: there is a Blue Ball Yard off St James’s Street (and a short walk from Apple Tree Yard). The yard, which has been in existence since at least 1680, was once called Stable Yard. The name may have been changed to commemorate the Blue (or Blew) Ball Tavern in St James’s street, demolished in the late 18th century. A blue ball sign was often used to denote a tradesman and, sometimes, a fortune teller.

Blue Anchor Yard in Whitechapel also takes its name from that of a tavern name. Blue was common in signs generally, often just to mark the colour of a place of business’s doors or doorpost. The colour was considered to be a symbol of trustworthiness, and the anchor is also representative of hope in Christian symbolism, as in the Hope and Anchor, another common pub sign.

There was once a Blue Anchor Alley in Bunhill Fields, and the Blue Anchor Tavern, which stood in Bunhill Row, is the subject of a painting in the British Museum, ‘Rat-Catching at the Blue Anchor Tavern, Bunhill Row, Finsbury. The description reads:

A Manchester terrier called Tiny the Wonder is shown attempting to kill 200 rats in under an hour at a tavern in Bunhill Row, Finsbury. He achieved this feat twice, on 28 March 1848 and 27 March 1849, “having on both occasions time to spare”. Jimmy Shaw, owner of Tiny and the Blue Anchor Tavern, could store up to 2,000 rats at his establishment.

And there you have today’s ramblings tenuously linked to London street names.

One response to “Random London yard names from Apple Tree to Blue Ball”

  1. Great stuff indeed! I also watched the BBC drama, and loved it, especially Emily Watson. (But I have not read the book.)

    I could not go without mentioning Blue Anchor Lane, in Bermondsey, London SE16. It was the hangout of my youth, with a great fish and chip shop, and also gave its name to the still-working street market that once covered most of the area. We all called it ‘The Blue’, as in “I’m going down the Blue” to refer to a trip to the shops.

    Best wishes as always, 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, 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


%d bloggers like this: