In November 2017 one of London’s most famous Roman sites reopened to the public after spending several years hidden away in storage. The Mithraeum, a subterranean temple dedicated to the god Mithras, has had an eventful afterlife since its celebrated rediscovery in 1954. Moved from its original site to make way for a new office development, it was reconstructed at a new location nearby before the great wheel of redevelopment turned again and offered the chance for the Mithraeum to be reinstated at its original location on the banks of the now-underground river Walbrook. The Mithraeum offers modern Londoners a glimpse into one of the Roman period’s more unusual elements: the secretive cult of Mithras, and the work to restore its ruins to the banks of the Walbrook also gave archaeologists an incredible opportunity to discover more about Roman-era Londinium.
Chiswick Old Burial Ground is a large extension to the old churchyard at St Nicholas, Chiswick, close to the River Thames in west London. The Georgian graves clustered closest to the church (including the grand tomb of the artist William Hogarth) give way to Victorian and more modest headstones, filling a site that’s just under 7 acres in size. Unlike some of London’s larger Victorian cemeteries, most of the memorials here are fairly modest in scale and ornamentation, made from stone or occasionally marble. But one incongrous memorial catches the eye, despite being tucked away near the cemetery’s northern boundary wall: a striking copper tomb turned green by the passing of the years, which marks the burial place of two artists.
As it is International Women’s Day today, I’d thought I revisit briefly some of the women who have appeared in this blog by virtue of a connection, however tenuous, with London and its street names.
Let’s start with Phillis Wheatley, who was the first published African-American female poet. Born in West Africa and taken to the US in 1761, she was bought by a wealthy Boston merchant and tailor John Wheatley (and given his name as was the custom of the time). Phillis was schooled by Wheatley’s daughter Mary and accompanied his son Nathaniel to London, where she had an audience with the Lord Mayor of London and met with other significant members of British society.
The Boston publishers of the 18th century did not want to be associated with a book written by a slave so her work Various Subjects, Religious and Moral was published by a company based in Aldgate.
Margaret Cavendish (born Margaret Lucas and later the Duchess of Newcastle), who was born in 1623, was a poet, philosopher, essayist, and playwright who had her works published under her own name, unusual for women of the time. She wrote The Blazing World, one of the earliest examples of science fiction, she was an early opponent of animal testing, and she argued philosophy and science with the great minds of the time.
One of Margaret’s brothers, John Lucas, was an original member of the Royal Society and, in 1667, Margaret asked permission to attend a session of the Society. This request caused a great deal of argument and dissatisfaction, but was eventually granted, and she became the first woman to attend a session. (The Royal Society, which was once based in Crane Court, was founded in 1660, but women were not permitted by statute to become fellows until 1945.)
Fanny Burney, later Madame D’Arblay, was an extraordinary woman; she was a talented and gifted – and largely self-taught – 18th century writer, but she should also go down in history as a woman of huge courage. Fanny was a breast cancer survivor and wrote the earliest known patient’s perspective of a mastectomy – in her case, performed without anaesthetic.
Fanny married Alexandre-Jean-Baptiste Piochard D’Arblay on 28 July 1793, relatively late in life. Her father did not attend the wedding, having expressed disapproval of his daughter marrying a penniless foreigner. The couple remained happily married and had one son.
There is memorial window to her at Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey, and London’s oldest surviving plaque for a woman was erected in 1885 at her residence in Mayfair’s Bolton Street. According to English Heritage, “It is a sign of the times in which it was made that its inscription gives greater prominence to her married name – Madame D’Arblay – than to the one by which posterity knows her.” There is also a D’Arblay Street, and Fanny lived in Half Moon Street.
Lola Montez, universally described as an adventuress, also lived in Half Moon Street, where she was arrested for bigamy in 1849. Lola was born Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert in Limerick, Ireland. She later claimed to be Spanish, adopted the name Lola Montez, and became a dancer whose dancing apparently involved more enthusiasm than talent. Her most renowned dance was the Tarantula, in which she searched for an imaginary spider in her clothes.
Lola is perhaps better known for her lovers, among the more famous of whom was Ludwig, King of Bavaria, who was dominated by the strong-willed Lola and became a strong political force. Her meddling in politics sparked off riots that eventually led to her banishment and the king’s abdication. Another famous lover was the equally temperamental Franz Liszt.
Mary Frith, otherwise known as Moll Cutpurse, was born around 1584 and lived and died in Fleet Street. She was described by the Newgate Calendar as “A famous Master-Thief and an Ugly, who dressed like a Man, and died in 1663”. She is considered to have been, at least in part, inspiration for Daniel Defoe’s book Moll Flanders.
As Moll Cutpurse the pickpocket, she was successful and made a great deal of money. Eventually, a spell in various prisons, and having her hand burned (a punishment for theft) four times, she took to highway robbery instead. When she grew tired of, or nervous about, stealing, Moll turned to a variety of activities, including fencing stolen goods and running a bawdy house.
Mary, or Moll, died of dropsy when she was in her seventies, was interred in St Bridget’s churchyard, and it is believed that John Milton wrote her epitaph, though the headstone was destroyed in the Great Fire of London.
Phoebe Hessel, who gives her name both to Amazon Street and Hessel Street, is another woman who was famous for dressing as a man; in her case she disguised her gender to enlist as a man in the 5th Regiment of Foot, supposedly to be with her lover, Samuel Golding. She hid her secret successfully even from her comrades-in-arms, that is, until Golding was wounded and invalided home. Phoebe then revealed her secret to the wife of the commanding officer; once her secret was out, she was discharged and returned to the UK where she married Golding and bore nine children.
On Golding’s death, Phoebe moved to Brighton where she married William Hessel and became something of a local character. The then Prince Regent, later George IV, granted Phoebe a small pension and invited her to his coronation parade. She died in 1821, at the alleged age of 108 and was buried in the parish churchyard with honours.
follow her lover into battle, and served overseas as a man, having was later a local character in Brighton, becoming a favourite of George IV, Price Regent and living to the ripe old age of 108.
Lady Elizabeth Hatton provides one of the many, many theories behind the name of Bleeding Heart Yard: she was the basis of a legend about a beautiful gypsy who made a deal with the devil in order to be able to capture the heart of a rich lord. The devil then appeared unexpectedly at a ball one night and carried her off, after which revellers at the ball were revolted to discover a bleeding human heart in the courtyard.
Elizabeth, who died in 1646, was indeed a woman to inspire legends. The young and beautiful (and rich) woman was the toast of 17th-century London society; her Annual Winter Ball in Hatton Garden was one of the highlights of the London social season, and invitations were much sought after. Her suitors were many and varied, including Sir Francis Bacon and Sir Edward Coke.
Coke won Elizabeth’s heart – possibly to his detriment, because the two quarrelled virtually throughout their long marriage. Elizabeth retained the Hatton name and the couple lived in separate houses for much of their marriage. There were indeed rumours of Elizabeth being carried off by the devil – after defying him to do so if she could not open the door to the wine cellar which thwarted the efforts of her servants.
Another real woman to provide a theory behind a London street name (in this case, La Belle Sauvage Yard) is Pocahontas, a Native American who was captured by the English during Anglo-Indian hostilities in 1613, and held for ransom. During her captivity, she converted to Christianity, took the name Rebecca, and chose to remain with the English. In April 1614, she married tobacco planter John Rolfe in what is the first recorded inter-racial marriage in North American history.
The Rolfes travelled to London to seek investment for their tobacco farm, and the couple became celebrities. When the couple set sail to return to Virginia, Pocahontas became ill, died at the age of 21, and was buried in Gravesend.
The printing works of Cassell, Petter and Galpin were based at one point in the yard, and Pocahontas became the symbol for what became today’s publishing company of Cassell’s. There was once a statue of Pocahontas in Red Lion Square, commissioned by the company when it moved there.
Apart from the the fun of learning about London street names – and passing on what I’ve learned – a large part of the fun of a blog is being to ramble about the subject of my choice. So brace yourself for a couple of musings, ending up in London street names.
First: Apple Tree Yard. “I’m reading a book I can’t put down,” a friend told me recently. My first thought was, “Is that a real street name?”, and I rushed to my A-Z. It is, indeed, really a street – yard – in the Palaces of Westminster area.
However, I regret to report, I am unable to find out what, if any, is the connection to apple trees.
I did find out that it was once called Angier Street (not, as I thought on first reading, Angler Street). The name is from John Angier who, by 1676, had built a house in St James’s square on the site of what is now the East India Club. The club, originally known as the East India, Devonshire, Sports and Public Schools’ Club, has “a long tradition as a gentlemen’s home from home”.
According to the Survey of London (not John Stow’s, but an initiative founded in the 1890s to provide an official history of London’s buildings), Angier’s name was “given to the access-street running at the back of the houses on the north side of the square (now Ormond Yard and Apple Tree Yard)”.
The distinguished architect Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens had an office at Number 7 Apple Tree yard, where he worked on his designs for New Delhi, chosen to replace Calcutta as the seat of the British Indian government in 1912.
And there you have it. (Incidentally, I read the book, enjoyed it tremendously, and then found that it was being dramatised on the BBC, so I have watched that and enjoyed it almost as much.)
Now a commercial break: I will, of course, have to add Apple Tree Yard to the list of tree-related street names, a post on which you can read here.
From apple trees to baby clothes: I recently learned something about gender stereotyping and colour, namely, that the assignment of pink to girls and blue to boys is a relatively recent phenomenon.
Centuries ago, the dye to make pink cloth was expensive and, as a result, was something of a status symbol. Because of its cost, pink was used by the male elite: during the Renaissance, men and male saints were often depicted wearing pink clothes.
Regrettably, I have been unable to find any pinks in London street names; the closest I could come was a Pinkerton Close in Streatham but that is too far a stretch even for me.
Blue, however, was slightly more rewarding: there is a Blue Ball Yard off St James’s Street (and a short walk from Apple Tree Yard). The yard, which has been in existence since at least 1680, was once called Stable Yard. The name may have been changed to commemorate the Blue (or Blew) Ball Tavern in St James’s street, demolished in the late 18th century. A blue ball sign was often used to denote a tradesman and, sometimes, a fortune teller.
Blue Anchor Yard in Whitechapel also takes its name from that of a tavern name. Blue was common in signs generally, often just to mark the colour of a place of business’s doors or doorpost. The colour was considered to be a symbol of trustworthiness, and the anchor is also representative of hope in Christian symbolism, as in the Hope and Anchor, another common pub sign.
There was once a Blue Anchor Alley in Bunhill Fields, and the Blue Anchor Tavern, which stood in Bunhill Row, is the subject of a painting in the British Museum, ‘Rat-Catching at the Blue Anchor Tavern, Bunhill Row, Finsbury. The description reads:
A Manchester terrier called Tiny the Wonder is shown attempting to kill 200 rats in under an hour at a tavern in Bunhill Row, Finsbury. He achieved this feat twice, on 28 March 1848 and 27 March 1849, “having on both occasions time to spare”. Jimmy Shaw, owner of Tiny and the Blue Anchor Tavern, could store up to 2,000 rats at his establishment.
And there you have today’s ramblings tenuously linked to London street names.
I recently spent some time wandering around Mayfair or, rather, a small section of Mayfair, during which time I found a few more of London’s ‘misnomers’. There is a charming 19th-century poem (more of which later) by James Smith that spells out many of London’s misnomers, so let’s start with Brook Street, which is “wanting in water”.
Though the street may have been (and still is) wanting in water, there was a brook: the now underground River Tyburn; it flowed from Tyburn across Piccadilly, leading to the neighbourhood being called Brookfield. The earliest published use of the name was an ad in the London Gazette of September, 1688: “His Majesty [Charles II] has been graciously pleased to grant a market for live cattle to be held in Brookfield, near Hyde Park Corner, on Tuesday and Thursday in every week”.
When the land became more desirable for buildings than for cattle markets, the designers and architects descended on the area and building was at its height in the 18th century. The principal street at the time was called Brook Street, though early on it was sometimes referred to as Lower Brook Street to distinguish it from Upper Brook Street, and part of it was known as Little Brook Street.
From fields to farms, and Farm Street, where building began around the 1740s. This street does take its name from a farm in the area, called Hay Hill Farm, which seems pretty straightforward; however, the Hay is not hay as such. The name was a late 17th-century corruption of Ayehill, from the nearby Aye (or Eye) Brook, a tributary of the Tyburn.
In 1927 Tallulah Bankhead bought a house in Farm Street, four years after she had first moved to London.
The farm also gave its name to the nearby Hay Hill and Hay’s Mews; of Hay Hill Smith writes: “And (tho’ it abuts on his garden) Hay Hill/Won’t give Devon’s duke the hay fever”. This is a reference to Devonshire House, originally Berkeley House, from John Berkeley, 1st Baron Berkeley of Stratton, who built it. The name was changed to Devonshire House when it was purchased by William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Devonshire. Hay Hill and many other streets in the area, formed part of the gardens of the house.
Beau Brummell is supposed to have had a sentimental connection to Hay Hill, which is adjacent to Berkeley Square. Thomas Raikes, a London dandy and friend of Brummell’s, recorded this in his journal:
“At five o’clock on a fine summer’s morning, in 1813, [Brummell] was walking with me through Berkeley Square, and was bitterly lamenting his misfortunes at cards, when he suddenly stopped, seeing something glittering in the kennel. He stooped down and picked up a crooked sixpence, saying, ‘Here is an harbinger of good luck.’ He took it home, and before going to bed drilled a hole in it, and fastened it to his watchchain. The spell was good: during more than two years he was a constant winner at play and on the turf, and, I believe, realised nearly £30,000.”
Brummell was also a friend of the future King George IV, who had less fortunate associations with Hay Hill. Despite – or perhaps because of – the area’s wealth and luxury in the 18th century, it was infested with highwaymen and footpads. George IV, then the Prince of Wales, and his brother, the Duke of York, were apparently stopped one night by highwaymen on Hay Hill, whilst riding in a hackney coach, and robbed of what valuables they had about them”.
Hay’s Mews (once spelled Hayes Mews), which also takes its name from the farm, is adjacent to Charles Street (a family name of the Berkeley family). On the corner of Charles Street and Hay’s Mews is a pub, originally called I Am the Only Running Footman(supposedly the longest pub name in London), and later The Running Footman.
Back in the day, a running footman did just that – he ran ahead of his master’s coach to clear people out of the way, pay tolls, and perform other essential tasks to ensure a hassle-free journey. Apparently, at the beginning of the 19th century only one such running footman remained, employed by William Douglas, 4th Duke of Queensberry. The Duke lived in Piccadilly, so why a pub in Hay’s Mews should have been named after his footman is something of a mystery.
The pub now calls itself, alas, just The Footman.
Hill Street, which crosses Farm Street, was so named because there was a hill there (as was Hay Hill). Elizabeth Montagu – social reformer, patron of the arts, literary critic, and writer – lived in Hill Street, She helped organize and lead the Blue Stockings Society, and hosted a literary salon at her house. Her circle was known as the Blue Stockings Society and Doctor Johnson called her the “Queen of the Blues”.
The bluestockings were not restricted to women; one regular attendee of the meetings was botanist and published Benjamin Stillingfleet. The story goes that Stillingfleet once attended a meeting in the blue woollen stockings normally worn by working men, instead of the more formal silk stockings. The term was taken up to refer to the informal quality of the gatherings and the emphasis on conversation over fashion.
In contrast to Hay Hill and Hill Street, Mount Row and Mount Street are not particularly hilly; however, there was once an earthwork there, known as Oliver’s Mount. According to Old and New London, this mount was part of a “line of fortification so hastily drawn round the western suburbs in 1643, by order of the Parliament, when an attack from the royal forces was expected”. The attack didn’t happen and the mount was flattened at some point, but the name lived on in Mount Field, on which the streets were built.
And on to Orchard Street, which does contain some trees, but not what you would call an orchard. There is an Orchard Street near Westminster Abbey, and that takes its name from the fact that it was built on land once part of the Abbey’s orchard. This orchard, however, is from Orchard Portman in Somerset, part of the country estates of the Portman family who developed much of the Marylebone area.
Oh, yes, I promised more about that poem, and here it is:
From Park Lane to Wapping, by day and by night,
I’ve many a year been a roamer,
And find that no lawyer can London indict,
Each street, ev’ry lane’s a misnomer.
I find Broad Street, St. Giles’s, a poor narrow nook,
Battle Bridge is unconcious of slaughter,
Duke’s Place cannot muster the ghost of a duke,
And Brook Street is wanting in water.
I went to Cornhill for a bushel of wheat,
And sought it in vain ev’ry shop in,
The Hermitage offered a tranquil retreat,
For the jolly Jack hermits of Wapping.
Spring Gardens, all wintry, appear on the wane,
Sun Alley’s an absolute blinder,
Mount Street is a level, and Bearbinder Lane
Has neither a bear nor a binder.
No football is kicked up and down in Pall Mall,
Change Alley, alas! never varies,
The Serpentine river’s a straightened canal,
Milk Street is denuded of dairies.
Knightsbridge, void of tournaments, lies calm and still
Butcher Row cannot boast a cleaver,
And (tho’ it abuts on his garden) Hay Hill
Won’t give Devon’s duke the hay fever.
The Cockpit’s the focus of law, not of sport,
Water Lane is affected with dryness,
And, spite of its gorgeous approach, Prince’s Court
Is a sorry abode for his highness.
From Baker Street North all the bakers have fled,
So, in verse not quite equal to Homer,
Methinks I have proved what at starting I said,
That London’s one mighty misnomer.