Little slices of London's history

From Ham Yard to Poultry: renaming London’s streets

Cockspur Street signI think it’s time for another PETA-inspired blog post. The last one was when the animal rights group said that Britain’s oldest pub, Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in St Albans, should change its name to Ye Olde Clever Cocks, “in recognition of society’s growing compassion for animals and in celebration of intelligent, sensitive chickens”. You can read that post here, in which we run through the names of Cockspur Street, Bear Gardens, and Birdcage Walk, with a nod at Soho.

Since that post I have learned that the group uses the Trump tactics of saying outrageous things to get the media attention. As with their claim a little while ago that the village of Wool should be renamed Vegan Wool. (The name comes from an old word meaning ‘well’ and is nothing to do with wool.)

Today we will jump on that bandwagon and propose some animal-friendly changes to existing London street names.

EAS_4080First off is Poultry, which was once called Scalding Alley, from the poulterers who lived there and scalded the poultry they sold. Scalding, either with hot water or steam, was a way of treating the carcasses to make the removal of feathers easier. The poulterers were eventually joined by grocers, haberdashers, and upholsterers and, by the time of the Great Fire of 1666, Poultry had become famous more for taverns than anything else.

Let’s change Poultry to Poetry to commemorate the poet Thomas Hood. The house where Hood was born was at what is now number 31 Poulty, and was immortalised in his most famous poem, ‘I Remember, I Remember’.

I remember, I remember
The house where I was born,
The little window where the sun
Came peeping in at morn;
He never came a wink too soon
Nor brought too long a day;
But now, I often wish the night
Had borne my breath away.

Another possible name change is from Poultry to Reform. Poultry was also home to Elizabeth Fry, a notable prison reformer, who lived there from 1800 to 1809. Mrs Fry, of an old Quaker family, was horrified at the conditions under which as many as 300 women and children could be packed into Newgate. She worked hard at improving conditions but was forced to give up philanthropy when her husband became bankrupt.

We move on to Dog Kennel Hill in East Dulwich, which I propose we change to De Canel Hill.

One theory for the name is that Prince George of Denmark had kennels for his hounds here. However, Edward Alleyn, the Elizabethan actor, owned much of what was, at the time, the manor of Dulwich and some of the land here was recorded as Kennels, Kennoldes Croft and Kennold’s Acre. That means a more likely theory is that an earlier landowner (date unknown), one Monsieur de Canel, resided there, and Dog Kennel is a heavily anglicized version of his name. 

Haunch of Venison Yard cropHaunch of Venison Yard in Mayfair takes its name from a tavern that stood at the entrance of the yard from the 1720s to the early part of the 20th century. The sign is one that was more commonly found near royal hunting forests: though ‘venison’ now means only deer meat, the word derives from the Latin venari, to hunt, and was originally used for the edible flesh of any animal that had been captured and killed in a hunt.

Perhaps, instead of Haunch of Venison, this could be named Running Deer Yard.

Ham YardA bit further east, in the heart of the West End, is Ham Yard. Food played a large part in the naming of taverns – and hence London streets; often the speciality of the house would be featured in the sign. There was a Ham tavern in this small yard in the heart of the theatre district as early as 1739 and there was also once a Tudor mill in this area (commemorated in Great Windmill Street). The Ham tavern became the Ham and Windmill, was renamed the Lyric in 1890 and still stands there today.

Instead of Ham, we could hark back to Lyric and it could become Lyric Yard.

Still on food and pub specialities, there is Cat and Mutton Bridge in East London. There is still a Cat and Mutton pub located here, but which came first and what the original name was is not clear. 

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; there is also a Sheep Lane nearby that ties in with the mutton side of things. 

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

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


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

Another theory behind the name 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”.

It would seem, whatever inspired the name, that a shoulder of mutton featured in there somewhere. We could rename it Cat and Mouse, but anyone who has seen a cat in action will know that cruelty to animals features prominently in that combination. How about Clever Cat?

Let’s draw a line under the renaming of London streets for now. I am off to investigate Europe-inspired street names…

2 responses to “From Ham Yard to Poultry: renaming London’s streets”

  1. I enjoyed your playful consideration of renaming streets, Elizabeth.
    i have actually stood on every street mentioned today, at one time or another. The history behind those names is rich and varied indeed, and will hopefully never succumb to any future political correctness. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.

    1. As ever, Pete, your kind remarks are greatly appreciated. I also love it that you have stood on, or have a connection with, just about every street that I mention.

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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