From Brook Street to Quaggy Walk: river-related London street names

Given the recent activity of the River Wye, during which it was in closer proximity to my house that I would have liked, I thought I would take a short break from Hogarth and focus on a few of the London street names with river connections. London’s rivers, part of the transportation system, provided boundaries for ecclesiastical property in Saxon times and were a source of water for much of the city.

Let’s start with Fleet Street, which takes its name from ‘flēot’, an Anglo-Saxon word meaning a tidal inlet. The Fleet still flows, but underground, and it is used as a sewer. This continues a practice started in the 14th century when butchers used the river for cleaning out animal entrails and others followed suit by dumping refuse into it. Pudding Lane was once part of the meat centre of London and was known earlier as Red Rose Lane; its newer name arose from the face that it was on the route where the ‘puddings’ – parcels of offal – were transported to be thrown into the river.

While ‘fleet’ was nothing to do with speed, Quaggy River was so called because it moved sluggishly – like ‘quagmire’. The river, which was part of the bounds of the Manor of Bankhurst, gives its name to Quaggy Walk in Blackheath. The name is relatively recent: until 1863 it was known as Lee Water.

There was an Effra River in South London; technically, there still is but it is now underground. It gives its name to Effra Road (also Effra Court and Parade) in Brixton. The name is another relatively recent one, and there are varying opinions as to its derivation. One view is that it is is a corruption of ‘Heathrow’, a former manor of some 70 acres south of present day Coldharbour Lane and east of present day Effra Road. The name Heathrow meant just that: a row of houses along a heath.

Coldharbour Lane is a fairly common place and street name in the UK. In this case it is in memory of an ancient manor called Coldherbergh – Cold Abbey. ‘Harbour’ derives from the Middle English word meaning ‘shelter’, and cold harbours are considered to have been wayside shelters that provided for travellers a roof over their heads, and nothing more.

Knightsbridge takes its name from a bridge which stood, for centuries, over the Westbourne river. In earlier times ‘knight’ was simply a generic term for ‘young man’, usually servants of barons and lords. It was known as a dangerous area, with highwaymen, robbers and cutthroats targeting travellers on the western route out of London. By the 19th century it was well on its way to becoming the affluent area that it is today.

The Westbourne river was originally known as the Kilburn, which in turn derives either from the old English term ‘cyne-burna’ (royal stream) or ‘cyna-burna’ (cattle stream). Or it could have been from ‘Kilnbourn’ because of tile-making in the area. The river enters Hyde Park at what is now the Serpentine. The Serpentine lake was formed in 1730 by building a dam across the Westbourne at the instigation of Queen Caroline, wife of George II, to beautify the royal park.

Jacob’s Well Mews was named for a local resident, Jacob Hinde, who also gave his name to nearby Hinde Street; there was a Jacob’s Well tavern at the end of the mews until 1893. The Tyburn river flowed through the area, which is probably where the water for the well came from. It was in a house in this mews that the young Michael Faraday lived.

The Tyburn River (from ‘teoburna’, or boundary stream) is where a gallows was erected and which served as London’s place of public execution until the 19th century. The site of the old gallows is marked on the ground at Marble Arch, where the Bayswater and Edgware roads meet. (Tyburn features in the recent post on Hogarth and hanging-related streets, which you can read here.)

There is a Tyburn Brook, which is a tributary of the Westbourne; some sources say it is the brook that gives its name to Brook Street, others that it is from the Tyburn River. Former music-related residents of Brook Street include Jimi Hendrix, George Frideric Handel, and the Bee Gees: Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb.

Horseferry Road takes its name from a horse ferry, supposedly older than London Bridge, and the only one of its kind allowed in London. At one time communication between the north and south banks of the River Thames was not easy, especially without bridges. The ferry was supposed to have been established when St Peter himself was taken across to consecrate Westminster Abbey and there is a story that once, when Oliver Cromwell was being taken across the river, his coach sank in mid-stream.

Cuckold’s Point to Tyburn: Hogarth-related hanging streets

An earlier post about Hogarth-related streets featured fictional and lost names; today I thought we could look at some street and place names with hanging connections, starting with Cuckold’s Point, which features in the Hogarth series ‘Industry and Idleness’.

The series charts the parallel lives of two apprentices, recognisably named Francis Goodchild and Tom Idle: one is industrious and virtuous and becomes Mayor of London while the other is lazy and morally corrupt, eventually being hanged for murder.

In the fifth engraving of the series, Idle is seeking his fortune at sea. He is shown being rowed along the Thames, with a seaman pointing out a gallows that once stood at Cuckold’s Point. The bodies of executed criminals, usually river pirates, were displayed there as a deterrent.

Although not officially listed in many London street atlases, this name still exists: the point is part of a sharp bend in the Thames on the Rotherhithe peninsula, opposite the West India Docks.

The point was once marked by a pole, crowned with a set of horns, which – so the story goes – delineated the boundary of land granted to a miller who had been cuckolded by King John. Legend has it that the miller returned home unexpectedly one day to find his beautiful wife disporting herself with the king. Not unnaturally, the fact that it was royalty in his bed did not stop the miller from being somewhat upset about the whole matter. In order to appease him, King John granted the miller as much land as he could see, and the furthest point he could see was the point that bears the name.

The king also granted the new landowner the privilege of an annual fair but there was, however, a catch (there often was with royal generosity back then). The condition was that, on the day of the fair, the miller should walk to the point wearing a pair of buck’s horns on his head. The miller’s jealous neighbours had to wrest some satisfaction from this downside to his newfound wealth: they dubbed the fair Horn Fair and gave the name of Cuckold’s Point to the termination of the miller’s journey.

Cuckold’s Point is mentioned in the diaries of Samuel Pepys, when he describes a trip on a pleasure boat: “It carried us to Cuckold’s Point, and so by oars to the Temple, it raining hard, where missed speaking with my cosen Roger, and so walked home and to my office; there spent the night till bed time, and so home to supper and to bed.”

Daniel Defoe mentions Cuckold’s Point both in his description of London and in A Journal of the Plague Year, and it is the subject of a painting, ‘A Morning, with a View of Cuckolds Point’ by Samuel Scott.

The pole with the horns stood there in Ben Jonson’s day, and he used the setting in one of his plays, Eastward Ho!, written in conjunction with George Chapman and John Marston.

From one hanging spot to another: in the penultimate scene of this series, Tom Idle is shown in a cart with his coffin, having made the journey from Newgate to the gallows at Tyburn, the location of which is marked by a plaque at Marble Arch. This journey was made by those condemned to be hanged: they would travel from Newgate Prison to Tyburn, leading to the expression ‘going west’, in the context of dying. 

Tyburn once referred to the area now known as Marylebone, taking its name from the Tyburn River, from teoburna, or boundary stream: the Tyburn marked the boundary of Westminster.

But back to Newgate, which was one of the original seven gates within London Wall, and one of the six that date back to Roman times. It was so named because it was, in the 12th century, a new gate, built to replace the original Roman gate. The gatehouse was being used as a prison later that century and Newgate has a place in history as one of the world’s most famous, and infamous prisons. In 1783 the last hanging took place at Tyburn and the gallows were moved to Newgate prison. Prisoners no longer made the long journey west from Newgate to be executed, and could more conveniently be hanged close to their cell.

Before his trip west, Tom Idle was ‘betray’d by his Whore, & taken in a Night Cellar with his Accomplice’. This scene, ninth in the series, is set in Hanging Sword Alley. The name of the alley goes back as early as 1564, when a large Tudor house there was known by the sign of the Hanging Sword. The area was popular with fencing masters and the sign may have referred to this occupation.

The alley was also known at one time by the sinister name of Blood Bowl Alley, after a 14th century inn called Blood Bowl House – the unsavoury and notorious night cellar where Idle meets his doom.

Hanging Sword Alley is also immortalised in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities: Jerry Cruncher, messenger and odd-job man, had lodgings in the alley (“not in a savoury neighbourhood”.)

From Beer Street to Hog Lane: Hogarth-related streets

I recently had the pleasure of a long-overdue visit to one of my favourite museums – the Sir John Soane museum, which owns the ‘Rake’s Progress’ and ‘The Humours of an Election’ series of paintings by William Hogarth. By happy coincidence, my visit fell at the time when all of Hogarth’s other series of paintings and engravings series had been brought together at the museum in an exhibition called ‘Hogarth: Place and Progress’.

The bulk of Hogarth’s work is set in London, so naturally I had a look for Hogarth-themed streets, of which there are quite a few, from fictional to real by way of some streets that are no longer in existence.

Beer Street and Gin Lane feature in engravings that Hogarth produced in support of the Sale of Spirits Act 1750, also known as the Gin Act 1751. (I have checked and can find no Beer or Gin streets, lanes, or otherwise in London, which is a shame.)

The Gin Act came about because of concerns about the amount of alcohol being consumed In 18th-century London. Alcoholism was widespread amongst the poor in the 1700s, and a ‘gin craze’ held sway in the city. 

That gin craze was nothing like the modern thirst for expensive and exotically flavoured drinks paired elegantly with similarly exotic mixers. Then, gin referred to any grain-based spirit and it was cheap and potent, helping people to escape the misery of their lives.

In 1726 Daniel Defoe commented: “the Distillers have found out a way to hit the palate of the Poor, by their new fashion’d compound Waters called Geneva, so that the common People seem not to value the French-brandy as usual, and even not to desire it”. It was the introduction of Dutch ‘genever’ to the UK that had led to the production of gin.

By the 1730s, over 6,000 houses (‘dram shops’) in London were openly selling gin to the general public. The spirit was available in street markets, grocers, chandlers, barbers and brothels, and workmen were often given their wages in cheap gin.

In an effort to combat this gin craze, the government introduced the Gin Act of 1736, which imposed hefty fines on licences for drinking houses. People, however, still wanted their gin and the legislation led to rioting. The act seemed to have served little purpose as, by the 1740s, gin consumption in Britain had reached an annual average of over six gallons per person. 

The act was repealed in 1743 and then, in 1750, the Gin Act effectively restricted the distribution of gin. Other methods of attempting to curb gin drinking were to smooth the passage of the import of tea, which, along with coffee, was still beyond the means of most people; and encourage people to drink beer, which was less potent than gin and safer than the unhygienic drinking water of London.

Hogarth issued the engravings Beer Street and Gin Lane in 1751 to support the Gin Act. The prints were designed to be viewed alongside each other, depicting the evils of the consumption of gin, which encouraged drunkenness and led to a rise in crime, in contrast to the merits of drinking beer.

Although they don’t exist, the streets were set in recognisable areas of London: Gin Lane, depicting a drunken mother allowing her child to fall to its death, was set in what is now New Oxford Street but then was a notorious slum area. Nearby is a gin shop sign with the inscription, “Drunk for a penny. Dead drunk for two pence. Clean straw for nothing.”

Beer Street, by contrast, was set in a more prosperous area near to the church of St Martin’s-in-the-Fields. There is bustling industry and commerce with prosperous men merrily quaffing beer from tankards.

Even the use of ‘street’ and ‘lane’ are significant: a street was originally a well-made, paved way, from the Roman ‘via strata’ or ‘paved way’. A lane, by contrast, was narrow and winding and, at one point, had only to be wide enough for two men to roll a barrel along it.

From fictional to extinct names: Hog Lane in Soho features in ‘Noon’ of the Hogarth series ‘The Four Times of Day’. Well-dressed French Hugenouts leave their church while nearby there is a bit of scuffle where, and I quote the catalogue here, “The other side shows a sequence that begins with a black boy grabbing a servant maid’s breasts, causing her to drop something off her tray; this smashes a plate of food held by a little boy, casing the contents to fall on the ground where they are grabbed by another child, all of these occurrences following from an act of unrestrained lust.”

Hog Lane was later called Crown Street and then became part of what is now Charing Cross road. It formed the boundary between the parishes of St Martin in the Fields on the west and St Giles in the Fields on the east. Hog Lane was once a relatively common street name in London, generally signifying that hogs were kept there. The Crown Street name came from the Crown Tavern, one of many inns on the street.

Another lost name is Grub Street, now Milton Street, which is considered to feature in ‘A Harlot’s Progress’, at the end of the sequence when the unfortunate protagonist of the series lies dying in a miserable garret and then is shown in her coffin. surrounded by uncaring onlookers.

Grub Street was known as ‘Grubbestrete’ in the 13th century and could have meant ‘street infested with maggots’, or it could have taken its name from ‘grube’, a ditch or drain, or from a personal name, as Grub was not uncommon in those days. Towards the end of the 17th century, the street became the haunt of poor and hack writers and the poet, Andrew Marvell, coined the phrase ‘Grub Street’, which became a generic term for sub-standard literary achievements.

The name was changed in 1830 in an effort to associate the street with a rather higher standard of literary achievement.

Farthing Alley, Hare Court, and other Parliament-connected London streets

I’ve been holding off but it’s finally time to look at some streets with parliamentary connections of one kind or another.

Barbon Alley was named for Nicholas Barbon, a property developer and the son of Praisegod Barebone, the Parliamentary nominee for the City of London and the man for whom Oliver Cromwell’s Barebones Parliament was named. 

Parliament had been pared down by the simple method used by Colonel Thomas Pride to prevent Parliament from agreeing on the Treaty of Newport to reinstate King Charles I: Pride blocked 231 known supporters of the treaty from entering Parliament and imprisoned 45 of them for a few days. The remaining free members then became the Rump Parliament.

Oliver Cromwell became disenchanted when it became clear that the main concern of the Rump Parliament was to create legislation that would ensure the survival of the Parliament. He lost patience after learning that Parliament was attempting to stay in session despite an agreement to dissolve, and attended a sitting of Parliament to lambaste the Rump Members. “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!” he declared.

Barebone’s Parliament was then established: 144 Members of Parliament who were not elected, but selected by Cromwell’s officers for their religious fervour.

Not far away is Whitehall, location of the palace of Whitehall, which was the main residence of the English monarchs from 1530 until 1698 when most of its structures were destroyed by fire. Henry VIII was a fan of the bear baiting, and had a bear pit built in the grounds of Whitehall palace so that royalty could watch the sport in comfort from the palace windows. Henry VIII’s daughter, Elizabeth I, was also a big fan and overruled parliament when the members tried to ban bear baiting on Sundays.

Bridle Lane in Soho takes its name from John Brydall, a law writer who became secretary to a Master of the Rolls (the second most senior judge in England and Wales after the Lord Chief Justice), who rejoiced in the name of Sir Harbottle Grimston. Sir Harbottle was a Member of Parliament during Charles I’s reign and was a great defender of the privileges of the House of Commons following Charles I’s unsuccessful attempt in 1642 to arrest five members. He made a fiery speech in defence of the rights of MPs in which he spoke of “the drooping Spirits of men groaning under the burthen of tyrannicall oppression inflicted on them unjustly and maliciously by unmercifull and wicked men that have usurped to themselves places and offices of power and authority both in State and Church”.

There is a Farthing Alley in Bermondsey which took its name from Aleyn Ferthing, a Southwark representative in the 14th-century parliament.

Hare Court, part of London’s Inner Temple, was named for Sir Nicholas Hare, who paid for the building of the court. Hare Master of Rolls to Queen Mary whose Parliament, on the 12th of November 1555, re-established Catholicism. (The restoration of Catholicism lasted only a short time; in 1558, on Mary’s death her half-sister Elizabeth I reversed it.)

Milk Street was the birthplace of Thomas More, who entered Parliament in 1504, was knighted in 1521 and became Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor in 1529 following the fall of Cardinal Wolsey. More was later to oppose the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, and also refuse to take an oath renouncing the authority of the pope over that of the king. That led to him being tried and convicted of treason, and sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered.

Let’s finish not with a street, but with a tower: the Elizabeth Tower where Big Ben is located. At the top of the tower is a light that was installed at the wishes of Queen Victoria so that she could see which of her Members of Parliament were sitting after dark.

Bob Marley, Oakley Street and the Welsh connection

I see that a blue plaque commemorating Bob Marley has been unveiled today; it marks where Marley lived with his band the Wailers in 1977 at 42 Oakley Street, in Chelsea. The album contains some of his Marley’s best-known songs, like Three Little Birds, Jamming, and One Love. I wonder how many plaques, as this one was reported to be, have been delayed because the person they were honouring lied about where they lived. Apparently it took a while to finalise this plaque because, apart from the fact that Marley was not registered in phone directories or electoral registers, he gave a different address during an arrest for cannabis possession in 1977 to prevent the police from searching the house in Oakley Street.

Naturally I went to my various sources to find out about Oakley Street and the name and I discovered that this street could have featured in my Welsh connections street names, the text of which you can read here. (But first, I should say I completed the Wye Valley Mighty Hike in aid of Macmillan, and I did so in 9 hours and 12 minutes. Thank you again to everyone who sponsored me as I raised nearly £1,600. My fundraising page is still open so if anyone wants to sponsor me, they can do so here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/elizabeth-steynor.)

It seems that the 9th-century Welshman Elystan Glodrydd, founder of the fifth Royal Tribe of Wales, was also the father of Cadwgan ap Elystan. He, in turn, was the ancestor of the Cadogan family, owners for centuries of much of Chelsea. The Cadogan connection comes from the daughter of Sir Hans Sloane: Sir Hans bought the Manor of Chelsea in 1712 and divided it between his two daughters, Sarah and Elizabeth, and their heirs. Many of the street names in the area are from the family’s names, such as Oakley Street from Lord Cadogan of Oakley, who married Elizabeth.

Sir Hans, who gives his name to Sloane Square, was a member of the Royal Society, and a fellow of the College of Physicians. The British Museum was founded with his collection, which he had spent much of his life accumulating, and he was responsible for introducing cocoa to England. You can read more about Sir Hans in a post about some of his London connections here.

But back to Chelsea; the name of which has vexed various people over the years. The area was once an Anglo-Saxon settlement, and that’s where most people cease to agree. Variations on what it was once called include Chealchythe. Or Caelic hythe. Or Chelchith. In which case the ‘hythe’ ending indicates a wharf or a landing place. Chealchythe is taken to mean ‘chalk landing place’: as in, where chalk was delivered, not a landing place made out of chalk. Caelic hythe means ‘cup-shaped landing place’, while Chelchith could mean ‘cold landing place’.

Finally, it could be from Chesil ea, which means ‘isle of shingle’, and is thought to be the same etymology as Chesil Beach in Dorset.

Allgood Street to Soho Square: Welsh connections in London streets

Today, for a variety of reasons, I want to focus on streets in London with connections to Wales. Before we start, here are the various reasons for today’s theme:

  • On the 7th of September I will be taking on the Wye Valley Mighty Hike, in aid of Macmillan. It is a 26-mile hike that takes place in Wales, starting in Chepstow and finishing in Monmouth. I’ve mentioned it a few times before; my training has kept me away from the blog and if anyone else would like to sponsor me, my fundraising page is here.
  • My maternal grandmother was of Welsh ancestry.
  • The wonderful Victor Spinetti was born in Wales; he would have been 90 today and I discovered recently that he was the uncle of a friend of mine. There is a charming mini biography of Victor here.

Let’s start with Allgood Street in East London: though named for a a local antiquarian, HGC Allgood, it was previously called Henrietta Street after Henrietta Wentworth, the 6th Baroness Wentworth.

Henrietta, due to marry Richard Tufton, 5th Earl of Thanet, took up with the (married) Duke of Monmouth, the natural (but illegitimate) son of Charles II. Monmouth sought to overthrow his uncle, King James II of England and James VI of Scotland, who was the younger brother and heir of Charles II.

Monmouth’s rebellion was ultimately unsuccessful and he was beheaded at Tower Hill, once the site of public executions, on 15 July 1685. The story of Monmouth’s execution is a particularly grisly one: the executioner, Jack Ketch, had a bad day (though not quite as bad as Monmouth’s): he took five attempts with his axe to complete the job and even then had to finish it with a knife. 

Henrietta had used her jewels and wealth to help fund Monmouth’s unsuccessful attempts to capture the throne and she died the year after Monmouth’s execution, supposedly from a broken heart.

My more regular readers will know that I am not averse to exceedingly tenuous connections, and I should not disappoint with the next two streets.

Amen Corner is a tiny lane near to St Paul’s cathedral and one of a group of streets with religious names. One explanation is that, before the Reformation, there was a regular procession of the clergy around the cathedral; this involved reciting the Lord’s Prayer in Paternoster Row, the Hail Mary in Ave Maria Lane, the Credo in Creed Lane, and the Amen in Amen Corner.

The Welsh connection is that there was a 1960s Welsh pop group called Amen Corner, whose biggest UK chart hit was ‘(If Paradise is) Half as Nice’ which stayed in the charts for 16 weeks in 1969, two of them at the No 1 spot. The band took its name from a club in Cardiff.

We now move north to Black Boy Lane in Harringay; this name was common in the 17th and 18th centuries for tobacconists and coffee houses as well as taverns. The name referred to Charles II’s nickname: it is said that, when Charles was born, he was nicknamed the Black Boy by his mother, Queen Henrietta Maria, because of his dark hair and eyes and swarthy appearance.

The Welsh connection? The Black Boy pub in Caernarfon, in the Snowdonia area of North Wales, is thought to date back to 1552, and is one of the oldest surviving inns in the area. There is also a theory that the pub’s name may have come not from Charles II’s nickname, but from a black buoy in the harbour.

From north to south, and Black Prince Road in Lambeth, which takes its name from Edward, the Black Prince, eldest son of Edward III of England and Philippa of Hainault. Edward III gave the manor of Kennington to his son in 1337.

The Black Prince, whose name may have come from the colour of his armour, has the unenviable claim of being the first English Prince of Wales (Welsh connection) not to become King of England, having predeceased his father. He was considered one of the most successful English commanders during the Hundred Years’ War, being regarded by his contemporaries as a model of chivalry and one of the greatest knights of his age.

(The Black Prince makes an appearance as Sir William Colville in the movie A Knight’s Tale, though I am informed that historical accuracy takes second place to drama in this case.)

The road was previously called Lambeth Butts. Butts is a not uncommon street appellation, and usually features in lists of rude street names. However, it comes from archery: a butt is an archery shooting field, with mounds of earth used for the targets. The name originally referred to the targets themselves, but over time came to mean the platforms that held the targets as well.

A marginally less tenuous Welsh connection comes with Clothier Street near Houndsditch. It has a connection to the rag trade that goes back to Elizabethan times when it was famous as a gathering area for sellers of old apparel. An official Clothes Exchange was established there in 1875 and the current name was assigned in 1906.

In 2008 Prince Charles, Prince of Wales honoured a debt with the Clothiers Company of Worcester incurred by Charles II in 1651. Prior to the Battle of Worcester in 1651, Charles II commissioned the Clothiers Company to make uniforms for his troops, and promised to pay after winning the battle. However, Cromwell won and Charles fled to Europe, leaving a debt of £453.3s which he did not settle after he acceded to the throne.

The Prince of Wales personally repaid the sum of £453.15 as a gesture of goodwill during a visit to The Commandery, which served as the Headquarters for the Royalists during the battle.

In Covent Garden, Orange Street could be named after William III, William of Orange and grandson of Charles I, who became joint monarch with his wife Mary in 1689. But that’s nothing to do with Wales.

The other explanation is that, when building of the street was begun in the 1670s, the area at that time was a favoured spot for stabling of courtiers’ horses. There were several mews there, including the Green and Blue Mews. The Duke of Monmouth’s stables stood partly on the site of Orange Street; as his coat of arms were orange, it is likely that his stables were called Orange Mews to differentiate from the other colours.

For a real Welsh connection, we can go to Petty Wales near Tower Bridge. The street was probably so called because it was the settlement of a Welsh centre (from ‘petit’, French for ‘little’). There is also a Petty France in London, for many years the home of the London passport office. There were once several ‘foreign’ sectors in London, such as Petty Burgundy and Petty Calais, though one of them is nothing to do with the nationality of its inhabitants.

Soho Square has two connections with the unfortunate Duke of Monmouth; the square was built in the late 17th century and was originally called King’s Square, after Charles II. When building began in 1681, apparently there were only a few residents, one of whom was the Duke of Monmouth.

The square eventually took its name from the area, known as Soho or Sohoe. The name is generally accepted to have come from an ancient hunting cry; apparently ‘tally ho!’ is the cry when a fox breaks cover and ‘soho!’ is when huntsmen uncouple the dogs. The Duke of Monmouth used ‘Soho!’ as a rallying cry for his troops at the Battle of Sedgemoor, the final battle in his rebellion.

Since the Duke of Monmouth has featured so much in this post, I should finish with Monmouth Street, one of the streets at Seven Dials, which was an early exercise in town planning. 

In 1693 the Master of the Royal Mint, Sir Thomas Neale, purchased a meadow in what is now the heart of London’s Soho. He planned seven streets radiating from a central point where there was a six-sided column with a sun dial on each face. Some say the seven comes from the column itself; others that the column was commissioned before a change of plan meant there were seven streets instead of six.

The column was taken down 1773 when a false rumour circulated to the effect that money was hidden in the base and it was relocated elsewhere. The street names have changed over the years: what was originally Little Monmouth Street is now Mercer Street; what was Monmouth Street is now Shaftesbury Avenue; and what was St Andrew’s Street Great & Little is now Monmouth Street.

I’m thinking of an Italian connection post some time soon: there was a great deal of Italian immigration to Wales, and there are Welsh festivals in Italy and Italian festivals in Wales, so that would lead on nicely from a Welsh theme. And my mother’s parents were Italian.

Now that I have finished the serious training for Saturday, I am hoping I’ll have more time now to resume this blog but I may start off with weekly or even fortnightly posts as I recover from my walk.

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.”