Little slices of London's history

Maiden Lane and other London street connections with Lillie Langtry,

Lillie Langtry was known as The Jersey Lily

My recent absence from this blog has been due to a sojourn in the Channel Islands. Naturally, as ever, I wondered what connections I could draw with London and its street names. This may be cheating slightly, as we didn’t go to Jersey (our island-hopping took in the Isle of Wight, Alderney, Guernsey and Herm Island) but I know that Lillie (or) Lily Langtry, who was born on Jersey, has London connections. I have written about her before on this blog but that was a while ago, so I’ll revisit that particular post, which was inspired by hearing The Who’s song ‘Pictures of Lily’ on the radio.

Lillie, born Emilie Charlotte Le Breton, was an actress and socialite and, perhaps most famously, the mistress of the Prince of Wales, Albert Edward (Bertie), later Edward VII. They would dine privately upstairs in Rules restaurant in Maiden Lane, the oldest restaurant in London.

Maiden Lane, says Isaac Disraeli in his book Curiosities of Literature, takes its name from a statue of the Virgin Mary which once stood on the corner of the lane. Far more probable, albeit less glamorous, is that the name actually derives from the ‘middens’ – dung heaps – that proliferated in the area.

A plaque in Maiden Lane commemorating JMW Turner

There are many literary and artistic connections with the lane. The poet Andrew Marvell lived here in 1677; Voltaire, the French poet and satirist, lived here for a year and the artist JMW Turner was born here where his father had a barber shop. Rules has also had an impressive list of famous literary clients over the years, including Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray, John Galsworthy and H G Wells. Many actors of stage and screen have also graced the tables here, such as Henry Irving and Laurence Olivier, Clark Gable and Charlie Chaplin, and it has appeared in many a novel.

More gruesomely, a celebrated actor of the 19th century, William Terriss, was murdered as he was entering the Adelphi Theatre through the stage door in located in Maiden Lane. His killer was a mentally unstable actor, Richard Archer Prince, who bore a grudge against Terriss for having him dismissed. Prince was found guilty but not responsible for his actions and was sent to Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum where he lived the rest of his life.

Pont Street and Inverness Terrace also have Lillie connections: she lived at number 21 Pont Street, now the Cadogan Hotel, for five years from 1892 to 1897. The building became a hotel in 1895 but she always stayed in her former bedroom. The hotel was also where, shortly after it opened, Oscar Wilde was arrested. Pont Street features in John Betjeman’s poem, ‘The Arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel’:

To the right and before him Pont Street
Did tower in her new built red,
As hard as the morning gaslight
That shone on his unmade bed,

Pont Street takes its name from the word pont, the French for bridge; the street was built to bridge the river Westbourne. This river formed the Serpentine in Hyde Park after Queen Caroline (George II’s wife) suggested it be dammed up to form a 40-acre lake. People have offered up the theory that Bridge Street might not have sounded upmarket enough to properly developers.

There is also a hotel in Inverness Terrace, off Bayswater Road, where Lillie is supposed to have performed in a theatre when she was the mistress of the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII. However, the Theatres Trust, a National Advisory Public Body for Theatres in the UK, declares icily that:

“There is a persistent tradition that the theatre was created for Lillie Langtry by her Royal patron. Their affair was notorious twenty years earlier when he was Prince of Wales but by 1905 he was king. No evidence has been found to support the story but without positive disproof it is likely to go on running.”

6 responses to “Maiden Lane and other London street connections with Lillie Langtry,”

  1. I worked for the Met Police close to Maiden Lane from 2004-2012, and have eaten in Rules. I thought it was overrated, but worth the experience for the history. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.

    1. I have walked past it so many times over the years but never when I thought I could afford it 😀

  2. Tonight I decided to do a thorough internet search and found your article. There was a hotel on Inverness Terrace that certainly had something that would match the believers of the story.
    I worked at the Park Plaza Hotel in around in 1973/74 I was a junior receptionist, my first full time job. We used to have tour groups staying and we used to be on good terms with the reps. I loved history and talking one evening with one of the tour guides. He said he would show me somewhere few people knew about.
    We taxied to Inverness Terrace and entered one of your typical multiple occupancy hotels, all tiny lift, balsa wood doors to rooms, psychedelic carpets on sloping creaking floors.
    At the reception the guide asked for the key to the room, I don’t remember what it was called.
    Can’t remember which floor it was on but walked down a long corridor, with the psychedelic carpet and creaking sloping floors, to a nondescript door at the end of the corridor. The guide unlocked the door which opened into a porch area that was about 3 feet deep and 6/7 feet wide. There was quite an ornate set of dark wood doors, when unlocked led into the past. Dark wood balustrades and walk way to a bedroom with a small double four poster bed, much smaller in length than ours nowadays. The furniture was the same colour as the posts. I don’t remember seeing any mirrors. We walked to another door and you were in the theatre, a perfectly formed miniature Edwardian theatre. The stage wasn’t very deep and probably about 9/10 feet wide with seating, I think for about 10 people. It was all stunning and beautifully preserved. I touched the post of the four poster and stood on the stage. I was told at the time, it had been built for Lillie Langtry by the Prince of Wales so he could watch her performances in private. You would never have guessed that the hotel would have had something like this within its walls. It is only as I am getting older I have wondered if it still existed, or when it would have been removed/destroyed.

    1. That is a wonderful story, Sharon. Thank you so much for sharing it. I will have to incorporate that into my text. Incidentally, what was the subject of your thorough internet search? All the best, Elizabeth

  3. […] my blog post about Maiden Lane and other streets with Lillie Langtry connections (you can read that here), I mentioned that there was a hotel in Inverness Terrace, off Bayswater Road, where Lillie is […]

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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