Little slices of London's history

Poultry and Hen and Chickens Court – names for National Poultry Day

First of all, welcome to the new look website; it is a work in progress as I navigate my way around the various new (to me) editing tools. I decide the site needed to be freshened up a bit and I may have gone a bit too minimal, but it should still show posts, add posts to Twitter, and allow readers to comment. I hope to add more functionality as I go along.

And on to street names: I don’t know who decides these things but an app of mine tells me it is National Poultry Day. Happily, I have at least two poultry-related street names to hand to commemorate this illustrious date.

First, Poultry, once called Scalding Alley, says London historian John Stow, from the poulterers who dwelt there; “their poultry, which they sold at their stalls, were scalded there. The street doth yet bear the name of the Poultry”. Even by Stow’s time, poultry stalls had given way to houses inhabited by grocers, haberdashers, and upholsterers.

Not all poultry sellers traded at Poultry however: a proclamation of 1345 declared that the ‘strangers’ (out-of-towners) had to have their poultry stalls at Leadenhall. This segregation was due to the fact that the non-Londoners were wont to charge too much for their wares; the declaration was equally firm that residents of the city were not to join the outcasts in Leadenhall, but to “sell their poultry at the stalls [in Poultry] as of old”.

By the time of the Great Fire in 1666, Poultry had become famous more for taverns than anything else.

There is a blue plaque here in memory of Elizabeth Fry, a notable prison reformer, who lived in Poultry 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.

From generic poultry to specific hen and chickens. Hen and Chicken Court is one of the alleys and courtyards leading off Fleet Street, and named after a tavern called the Hen and Chicken. Hen and chicken were also terms for the pewter pots used for holding alcohol, but they have a more varied history.

In Christian art they were symbolic of God’s providence, and therefore made a useful image for signs. In the 17th century, the term was applied to the Pleiades – a group of stars in the Taurus constellation (and originally the seven daughters of Atlas); in the 18th century it was used for a compound daisy; and in the 19th century it was a children’s game.

There are also Chicksand Street and Heneage Street in East London, which both lead off Brick Lane, but they are for another time.

One response to “Poultry and Hen and Chickens Court – names for National Poultry Day”

  1. […] of posts have involved street names that derive from signs (Bleeding Heart Yard, Red Lion Square, Hen and Chicken Court…) and I thought it was time to revisit the role of signs in street […]

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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