From French Ordinary Court to Great Scotland Yard: the six nations in London’s street names

I don’t know why this theme hasn’t occurred to me before, but let me set my stall out immediately and say I was delighted with the Welsh victory on Saturday. For those of my readers overseas who may not get the reference, Wales beat England in the six nations rugby tournament. Emotions run high when those two teams play each other. The other four nations are Scotland, Ireland, France, and Italy.

I wasn’t born in this country, there is Welsh ancestry on my maternal grandmother’s side, and I live close enough to the border that my nearest town is Wales rather than England, so I feel justified in supporting Wales. Not so much my husband, who is English, though he prefers to see a good game than pin his hopes on either team winning. Given the aforementioned proximity to the Wales-England border, there was great support for both sides in our local pub; in fact, I would say red shirts outnumbered white ones.

But I digress. Given the Welsh victory, let’s start with Petty Wales near Tower Hill. The name probably comes the fact that it was the settlement of a Welsh centre (from ‘petit’, French for ‘little’). There is also Petty France, not far from St James’s Park, named similarly for the settlement of French people in the area, but more fun is French Ordinary Court, an intriguing name with a simple explanation.

This small street was given its name because in the 17th century the Huguenots were allowed by the French Ambassador, who had his residence in Crutched Friars, to sell coffee and pastries. They also served fixed price meals; in those days such a meal was called an ‘ordinary’. French Ordinary Court is in good company for interesting names, being not far from Crutched Friars, Seething Lane, and Savage Gardens, among others. But they are all for another time.

And on to Great Scotland Yard, near Whitehall. The term ‘Scotland Yard’ conjures up images of policemen and detective novels and, indeed, London’s Metropolitan police force has long been known as Scotland Yard or just ‘the Yard’. However, the modern building called New Scotland Yard, which serves as headquarters for the police force, is nowhere near Great Scotland Yard.

This name comes from the fact that the Palace of Westminster, which no longer stands, once served as the main residence for the English monarchs – that is, until Henry VIII decided that Whitehall Palace (also gone) would suit him better. A parcel of land belonging to the palace, including a house given by King Edgar to Kenneth III of Scotland in the 10th century, was reserved for royal Scottish visitors and their retinues. Some of the names for spaces between the houses, which had begun to proliferate on this parcel of land known as Scotland were, unimaginatively, things like Great, Middle and Little Scotland Yard. 

England’s Lane in Hampstead in named for one James England, who leased land there from Eton College. Or it could be a corruption of ‘ing-land’ from the Old English ‘ing’, a strip of meadowland. 

There is an Ireland Yard, named for William Ireland, who owed a house there which he sold to William Shakespeare in 1612 (or 1613, depending on who you believe). The house was conveniently close to Playhouse Yard, named for the theatre opened in 1596 by James Burbage. Shakespeare owned a share in the theatre and wanted to be close by for the performances of his plays. By coincidence, there was another William Ireland (known as Samuel Ireland), born in 1775, who was famous – or infamous – as a forger of Shakespearean documents and plays.

I started with Wales, which I support because of my ancestry, so I will finish with Italy. (I feel obliged to support them in sporting matches because my mother’s parents were Italian.) This is a bit embarrassing, though, as I can’t find any Italy or Italian street names in London, so I shall go off on a complete tangent for this one.

Roman Bath Street, once located off Newgate Street between St Martin’s Le Grand and King Edward Street, was originally called Pentecost Lane. In 1679 a Turkish merchant built London’s first Turkish bath here, and the street’s name was changed to Bagnio (Italian for bath) Court. The bath was famous and, as historian John Strype describes it, “Near unto Butcher Hall Lane is the Bagnio, a neat contrived Building after the Turkish mode for that purpose; seated in a large handsome Yard, and at the upper end of Pincock Lane. Much resorted unto for Sweating, being found very good for aches, etc., and approved of by our Physicians.”

Bagnio Court later became Bagnio Street and then Bath Street. In 1885 for some reason it was named Roman Bath Street despite there being no Roman bath connections. In 1869 the houses on the east side were removed for new Post Office buildings and the court has since been engulfed by the BT Centre.

2 thoughts on “From French Ordinary Court to Great Scotland Yard: the six nations in London’s street names

  1. I am well-acquainted with these, especially Scotland Yard. At least the former building in Broadway, SW1. It was then called New Scotland Yard, in the premises of the old Midland Bank. I went there many times, during my years working for the Met Police, from 2001-2012.
    There is Portugal Street WC2 of course, off Kingsway, close to the London School of Economics. India Street, EC3, near Tower Hill. And Greek Street in Soho, which I know is a language, not a country. 🙂
    Norway Dock, Finland Street, Finland Quay, Swedish Quays (another language) and Russia Dock Road, all in Rotherhithe, SE16,
    If I think of any more, I will let you know.
    No comment on the rubgy. I don’t follow sport, and don’t care who wins. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.

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