From parliament to idlers in London’s street names

Praisegod Barebone

Bring back names for parliament, I say. I’m not going to use this blog for political comment, but I thought I would keep it topical today and I did what I usually do: refer to my notes to see what London streets have to offer me on topical items. (Bear with me, street names do feature here eventually.)

Between my notes and Wikipedia, I have come up with the fact that there were 25 parliaments between 1604 and 1690. There are some wonderful names in the list, including the Blessed Parliament, the Happy Parliament, the Useless Parliament, the Rump Parliament, and the Barebones Parliament (also known as the Little, or Nominated, Parliament).

The Rump Parliament was set up following the Civil War when the New Model Army wanted to prevent a treaty to reinstate Charles I. In December of 1648 the army prevented 231 known supporters of the treaty from entering the House, and imprisoned 45 for a short time. The remaining free members then became the Rump Parliament.

However, the Rump Members soon showed that their main concern was to create legislation that would ensure the survival of Parliament. Oliver Cromwell lost patience after learning that Members was attempting to stay in session despite an agreement to dissolve the Parliament. He attended a sitting and lambasted the Rump Members, with a speech often quoted as: “You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately. Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”

Fetter Lane.jpgThe Barebones Parliament was then convened with ‘godly’ men chosen by Cromwell. The name came from one of the members, a godly by name and godly by nature man called Praisegod Barebone, a fierce anti-royalist and supporter of Cromwell. Pamphlets of strong opinion and language usually flew around from and in answer to Barebone. He certainly incurred the disapproval of the local lads: Pepys, in his diary, makes more than one mention of the fact that “the boys had last night broke Barebone’s window”.

And here is where London streets come into it (“Finally!” I hear you cry.): Praisegod Barebones once lived in Fetter Lane, the name of which has many possible sources, including the words faiter, faitour, faytor, felter, and fewter.

The lane was a spot where people in various stages of inebriation would congregate, passing on cheery greetings and advice to passersby. As Stow puts it, the lane was “so called of Fewters (or idle people) lying there, as in a way leading to gardens, but the same is now of latter years on both sides built through with many fair houses”.

The Old French word ‘faitor’ meant a lawyer, and by the 14th century the reputation of that august profession had fallen so far into disrepute that the word was synonymous with idlers. There is also the theory that the name could have come from the ‘faitours’ – fortune tellers who were prevalent in medieval and Elizabeth times.

Shoe Lane.jpgOther theories include the idea that the name may have come from the lance vests worn on cuirasses (also known as fetters): many armourers had workshops in the area. One final theory is that the name derived from ‘felter’ – makers of felt also carried on their business in the lane.

Barebones also lived in Shoe Lane, the name of which also has many interesting theories. An early reference to it as ‘Scholanda’ (Show-land) is taken to mean that the lane was once a place for the setting out and showing of water-borne merchandise to tax collectors and customers. Scholanda could also, however, have meant ‘land shaped like a shoe’; the lane itself is not shoe-shaped but it may have led to a piece of land that was. Alternatively, it could have taken its name from an ancient well – Showelle – at the north end of the lane.

2 thoughts on “From parliament to idlers in London’s street names

  1. I have always believed Fetter Lane to originate with armourers, and Shoe Lane to come from ‘Show Lane’, where goods were displayed for tax purposes. As those explanations are included by you, that adds some weight to those origins. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.

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