In honour of International Women’s Day: from Fanny Burney to Phillis Wheatley

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.

Pocahontas and her London street name connection

A belated Happy New Year, overdue apologies for my long absence from these pages, and thanks to loyal followers who have continued to support me during my times of unexplained disappearance.

There was a story on the BBC this morning about Pocahontas and her resting place at St George’s Church in Gravesend, Kent, and that has pushed aside for now the theme I had all planned for today’s post. A ceremony at the church marked the 400th year since the death of Pocahontas (also known as Rebecca Rolfe, and was attended by US Ambassador Matthew Barzun, as well as a direct descendant of Pocahontas, John Rolfe.

Pocahontas provides one theory behind the name of La Belle Sauvage Yard, which no longer exists, but the name of which – like that of Bleeding Heart Yard – has fascinated people for centuries and generated many theories.

That font of London historical knowledge, John Stow, believed that the earliest occupant of the inn was one Arabella Savage, known as Bell Savage, and that her name provided inspiration for an imaginative sign painter. There is evidence that Savage was a local name: in 1380 a certain William Lawton was sentenced to an hour in the pillory for trying to obtain money, by means of a forged letter, from William Savage of Fleet Street.

Another theory came from Joseph Addison, founder of The Spectator, an 18th-century daily publication, who was intrigued by the inn’s sign, which showed a savage man standing by a bell. He was, he said, “very much puzzled by the conceit of it” until he read a French novel in which is described a beautiful young woman who was found in the wilderness and was called ‘La Belle Sauvage’.

Yet another theory is that, in the 17th century, when John Rolph, or Rolfe, brought his bride to England, they stayed at the inn. In honour of the beauty and gallantry of this foreign wife, the name was changed to La Belle Sauvage. The bride in question was Pocahontas.

Pocahontas was 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.

According to a contemporary newspaper report, “To retain the firm’s link with La Belle Sauvage, and that neighbourhood’s own fanciful connection with the Princess Pocohontas, Cassell’s commissioned a larger than life size statue of the ‘Beautiful Savage’ to grace the entrance of the firm’s headquarters.” The statue was removed in the 1980s and sold to a private buyer in the 1990s.

The sculptor Grinling Gibbons used to live in the yard and is said to have carved a pot of flowers that shook with the motion of passing coaches. John Evelyn saw the carving and was so impressed that he recommended its creator to Charles II.

The yard was also home to an inn, once one of the most splendid of London’s coaching inns. At one time it had 40 rooms and stabling for 100 horses; by the 19th century the capacity for horses had increased to 400.

The inn was also a place for all kinds of entertainment, serving roles as disparate from coffee house to a centre for bull baiting, and a place where plays were performed before the advent of theatres. One of the favourites who acted there was Richard Tarlton (or Tarleton) the actor and clown said to be the basis for the character of Yorick in Hamlet.

Another famous person associated with the inn was the William Banks (or Bankes); a prosperous vintner of Cheapside, and also a showman, who was mentioned by Tarleton. Banks’s most famous act involved a trained gelding called Marocco.

Marocco could play dead, identify certain members of the audience (such as those wearing glasses), distinguish between certain colours, and even urinate on command. He could also count: if coins were collected from spectators, Marocco, by stamping his hoof, could indicate from whom the coins came and how many came from each person.

Banks and Marocco later moved to Paris, where Banks was arrested and accused of sorcery; he had to reveal that the horse’s tricks were in the main accomplished through subtle gestures. From there the pair went to Orléans where Banks was again arrested for sorcery and sentenced to burn at the stake. He was given one last chance and, to redeem himself, Banks taught Marocco to kneel down before a cross, proving that he was not a devil.

One account of Banks suggest that, following Marocco’s death in 1605, he worked in James I’s stables, and later trained horses for George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham.

Earlier in the inn’s history, it marked the end of Wyatt’s 1554 rebellion: it was here that he turned back and rested when he discovered that the people would not support him.

A tribute to Gene Wilder with wild street names

Gene WilderWe interrupt this programme, which should be carrying on with London’s culinary street names, to pay tribute to the great Gene Wilder, of whose passing I read with immense sorrow last night.

Everyone seems to say ‘Willie Wonka’ when you mention his name but I loved him for being Leo Bloom and Frederick (“It’s pronounced Fronkensteen”) Frankenstein. And I was fortunate enough to see him on stage in the West End back in the late 90s.

So what better way to pay my own humble tribute than to throw out a few (tenuously) linked street names?

WIlder 3We can start with a fairly straightforward connection and Wilder Walk in Soho. According to Westminster City Council, which approved the name in 2010, “The naming of a newly constructed pedestrian walkway as ‘Wilder Walk’ is a fitting tribute to the contribution and service provided by the late Ian Wilder to the West End community in his capacity as a West End Ward Councillor.”

Wild Court cropOther than that I can only come up with a couple of others, including Wild Street and Wild Court near Drury Lane. This name is a corruption of Weld, and refers to the wealthy Humphrey Weld who, in the 17th century, had an elaborate mansion in the area. The house had its own chapel and extensive library and, at the time of its construction, enjoyed splendid isolation in what is now the Covent Garden and theatre area. At the time, what later became Wild Street was only a track leading to Weld’s house.

And then, to end a tribute to a comic genius on something of a comic note, there is a Wild Goose Drive in south east London. Finding an explanation for this name is, in itself, something of a wild goose chase. Although the term ‘wild goose chase’ now means a fruitless or absurd mission, it originally implied an erratic course. The drive is indeed, not straight, which may have suggested the name.

The expression itself could have either have stemmed from the fact that wild geese are difficult to catch or from an old game, a horseback form of ‘follow the leader’. In this game, two riders and their horses started off together; the rider who established the lead then set the path and the pace, and the other was obliged to follow.

Back to culinary street names next time.

Rest in peace, Gene Wilder.

London’s culinary streets: Artichoke Hill to Cinnamon Street

It’s been a shamefully long gap between blog posts, for which I can only apologize whole-heartedly. As ever, my wonderful readers have slapped me into action, and this time it was my Twitter buddy PaxView Jeff (@JR_justJR), whose delightful blog you can read here. He directed me to an article on how London’s food and drink streets got their name; most of the ones listed there have been featured in this blog so it seems a good time to go through the culinary streets of London.

There are three kinds of culinary streets, or so I have broken them down: the ones with straightforward names that seem, and are, obvious; the ones with less straightforward names that are, nonetheless, still obvious; and the ones that seem straightforward and obvious but are neither.

artichokehill
Image courtesy of streatsoflondon.com

Let’s start with a street that is, surprisingly for many London street names, what it sounds like. Artichoke Hill in East London takes its name from an inn sign. The artichoke was adopted as a sign because of its comparative rarity and unusual shape, which lent itself well to artistic representation; it became a symbol for gardeners and was a common one for inns in garden areas.

Artichokes were introduced to England in the 16th century, during the reign of Henry VIII, and as much as a century later they were still rare enough to command a high price.

There is an Artichoke inn in Devon, dating from the 13th century, which was purportedly used as a headquarters for the Crusaders who were thought to have brought an artichoke back with them.

Bread St EC4Bread Street, off Cheapside, also takes its name from bread. Cheapside itself comes from the Anglo-Saxon ‘ceap’: to buy or barter. West Cheap, as it was known (to distinguish it from Eastcheap), was one of the busiest thoroughfares in London and the city’s main food market.

Edward I decreed in 1302 that bakers could sell bread only from what became Bread Street. Before that, the prominent historian and writer Sir Walter Besant tells us, “Of Bread Street there is very early mention. In 1204 the leprous women of St James’s received a charter respecting a certain tenement in Chepe, at the head of Bread Street.”

By the 16th century the street had changed. According to John Stow, “Bread Street is now wholly inhabited by rich merchants, and divers fair inns be there, for good receipt of carriers and other travellers to the City.”

It was also inhabited by the city’s petty criminals: Bread Street became the 16th-century site of a ‘compter’, or small prison used mainly for crimes such as drunkenness, prostitution, and not paying one’s debts. The warden of the Bread Street compter, Richard Husband, was so corrupt and harsh on his prisoners that moves were taken to remove him.

However, it was discovered that Husband owned the lease on the prison so could not be disloged. John Stow was a member of the jury enquiring into the affair, which concluded that among his other transgressions Husband was charging thieves and strumpets four pence a night to lodge in the compter, thus hiding from any official who might be pursuing them.

In order to get around the fact of Husband owning the lease, says Stow, “In 1555 the prisoners were removed from thence to one other new Compter in Wood Street, provided by the City’s purchase, and built for that purpose.”

Bread Street has many famous associations. The poet John Milton was born here, at the sign of the Spread Eagle; his father was a scrivener (public writer, or public notary) in Bread Street, and the Spread Eagle was the Milton’s armorial ensign.

One entrance of the Mermaid Tavern led onto Bread Street while the other was on Friday Street. It was here, tradition holds, that Sir Walter Raleigh instituted the Mermaid Club, or the Fraternity of Sireniacal Gentlemen. Sadly, Raleigh was, at the time of the club’s founding, imprisoned in the Tower of London, but eminent figures such as Ben Jonson and John Donne were among the Sireniacal Gentlemen and there have been many literary references to the Mermaid over the centuries.

Jonson refers to the tavern in a poem, Inviting a Friend to Supper, when he discusses the relative merits of wine over food:

“But that, which most doth take my Muse, and mee,
Is a pure cup of rich Canary-wine,
Which is the Mermaids, now, but shall be mine”

There was also a belief that Shakespeare was a member of the club; grave doubts have been cast on this idea, but it is certain that Jonson was an habitué of the Mermaid, and at least possible that he was joined on occasion by Shakespeare.

Shakespeare also had a connection with the Mermaid’s landlord, William Johnson. In 1613, when Shakespeare bought the Blackfriars gatehouse (later bequeathed to his eldest daughter), Johnson was listed as a trustee for the mortgage. The gatehouse was near the Blackfriars theatre and it is assumed that Shakespeare lodged there, though there is little evidence of that. Neither gatehouse nor theatre still stand.

Admiral Arthur Phillip, founder and governor of a convict colony in Australia that later became New South Wales was born in the Ward of Bread Street.

Camomile Street EC3Camomile Street probably takes its name from one of the wild plants that grew abundantly near London Wall. In the 12th and 13th centuries, houses were built no closer than about five metres from the wall to keep the defensive line clear and the land along the line of the wall was allowed to grow wild. Camomile, the name of which comes from the Greek for ‘earth apple’, was used to treat ills such as hay fever, insomnia, and upset stomachs.

Cinnamon Street The name appears at the end of the 17th century and probably comes from the fact that the spice was sold there.

cinnamonstreet
Image courtesy of streatsoflondon.com

It was in this street, at the Pear Tree Inn, that John Williams was staying when blood-stained knife was discovered among his belongings and suspicion fell upon him in relation to the Ratcliffe Highway Murders. These murders, which pre-dated the activities of Jack the Ripper, caused the Wapping area as much error and confusion. (The eminent crime writer PD James co-wrote a book called The Maul and the Pear Tree: The Ratcliffe Highway Murders, 1811.)

The first incident occurred on 7 December 1811 when a draper, Mr Marr, sent his maid out to buy oysters. She was unable to get back into the shop upon her return and summoned help. The house was finally broken into and revealed the bodies of Mr Marr and the shopboy downstairs, and Mrs Marr and their child upstairs. They had been murdered with a maul and a ripping chisel that were found on the floor of the shop.

Less than a week later the landlord of a nearby pub, his wife, and their maid were all found with fractured skulls and cut throats. There was a public outcry, rewards were offered by the government, and over 40 people were arrested for the crimes before the finger of suspicion pointed at Williams. Whether or not he was actually guilty (and there is a modern theory that he was framed) was never proved: he hanged himself before the hearing.

As well as being a den of 19th-century East End crime, Ratcliffe Highway (later named St George Street and now The Highway), was, according to Walter Thornbury in Old and New London, “The Regent Street of London sailors, who, in many instances, never extend their walks in the metropolis beyond this semi-marine region.”

There were many shops here that sold a remarkable variety of wild animals and, says Thornbury: “The wild-beast shops in this street have often been sketched by modern essayists. The yards in the neighbourhood are crammed with lions, hyenas, pelicans, tigers, and other animals in demand among the proprietors of menageries. As many as ten to fifteen lions are often in stock at one time, and sailors come here to sell their pets and barter curiosities. The ingenious way that animals are stored in these out-of-the-way places is well worth seeing.”

Jamrach’s Animal Emporium was the largest of these; indeed, probably the largest in the world, run by German-born Charles Jamrach who sold animals to circuses, zoos, and private collectors. In 1857 one of his Bengal tigers broke loose, captured a young boy, and ran off with him. Jamrach pursued the tiger and released the boy; a statue at the north end of Tobacco Dock commemorates event.

On the subject of spices beginning with the letter ‘c’, there is also a Clove Street, E13 and a Coriander Avenue, E14, perhaps also because of the spice trade in East London.

With thanks to Mykal Shaw of the wonderful website streatsoflondon.com for many of the photos.

London’s canine streets: from Dog Lane to Soho

HoundsditchOur household has recently increased by one with the addition of an eight-week-old Springer Spaniel puppy, Django. Naturally that made me wonder about dog-related street names; we’ve visited many animal street names before but not specifically dogs. There aren’t very many that I can find, but here’s what I’ve got.

There is a Dog Lane in Neasden (and, entertainingly, it has a Baskerville Gardens), which takes its name from the Old Spotted Dog pub that once stood at the end of the lane. Many streets take their name from tavern signs, and those signs were often given nicknames that reflected public opinion on the merits (or representational accuracy) of the painter. In this case, the spotted dog may have been a leopard from from a family coat of arms.

Dog and Duck Yard is almost certainly from an inn sign, which referred either to the more common form of duck hunting with guns and retrievers, or possibly from one of Charles II’s sports, known in 1665 as the ‘Royal Diversion of Duck Hunting’. The fun of this diversion was to throw ducks, often with pinioned wings, into a pond and watch them try to escape from the spaniels that were sent in after them.

There was once a fair, St James’s Fair, which was of a similar nature to Bartholomew Fair (Cloth Fair), and was suppressed for the third and final time in 1764. Duck hunting was a major attraction of the fair, with bets being placed on the first dog to catch a duck. The nearby tavern was, naturally, called, the Dog and Duck.

By the beginning of the 19th century the pleasure of that type of duck hunting had begun to pall and the sport went out of fashion, leaving only the name behind.

Incidentally, there has been a Dog and Duck pub in Bateman Street since 1734 and, at one point – possibly still, though I can longer find any mention of her – the manager was a delightfully appropriately named Ms Hubbard. According to the pub’s website:

“Many famous historical figures have enjoyed the hospitality of The Dog and Duck, including John Constable, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and George Orwell. Our pub was originally built in 1734 on the site of the Duke of Monmouth’s home. The present building was built in 1897, and is considered to have one of London’s most exquisite interiors of the period, characterised by thousands of highly glazed tiles.”

The name of Dog Kennel Hill in Dulwich does derive from an association with kennels. Prince George of Denmark had kennels for his hounds here and Edward Alleyn, the Elizabeth actor, owned much of what was, at the time, the manor of Dulwich and some of the land here was recorded as Kennels, Kennoldes Croft and Kennold’s Acre.

Another theory is that an earlier landowner, one Monsieur de Canel, resided there, and Dog Kennel is a heavily anglicized version of his name.

Houndsditch is supposed (by some, and I’ve been reprimanded for airing this theory that is considered by others to be eyewash) to take its name from a moat that bounded the City wall and, according to John Stow, was where “much filth…especially dead dogs” was dumped.

Another theory about the name is that hounds (from Old English hund) were specifically hunting dogs, whereas dogs were just, well, dogs. The City Kennels, where hunting dogs were kept, were located here.

In the recent post on money-related streets, we had Pound Lane in Willesden, which was the location of a pound for stray animals, and was originally Petticote Stile Lane.

I can’t leave without a tenuous link, so we have Soho. That 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.

Update to St Mary Axe and an abject apology

Once again I must thank my eagle-eyed readers for keeping me on the straight and narrow. Where, enquired one such reader, did I get the story I mentioned (in relation to St Mary Axe) about King Cole, Marius (not Maurius), and St Ursula? I have to confess that not only do I not know where the story came from, but it appears to be complete nonsense. Mea maxima culpa.

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I am not aiming to produce a scholarly work; this is supposed to be fun and highlight both some of the more interesting of London street names and the weird and wonderful stories behind them. Even if they are not the true derivation of the names, sometimes they are interesting in themselves.

However, I don’t want to write something that is total rubbish, which the above mentioned story appears to be. Some of the research for this project goes back decades and the sources have been lost in the mists of time and house moves. This is one such: the original text is in my old, faded, original hard copy of which there are no digital records and none of the footnotes or sources remain.

But let me stop beating myself up and move on. St Ursula was, apparently, a princess and the daughter of King Dionotus, ruler of Dumnoia (the modern Dorset, Devon and Somerset). “Today,” says one source dismally, “the story of Saint Ursula is overwhelmingly considered to be fiction.”

Historic UK also puts forward the notion that there were, in fact not 11,000 virgins, saying: “One theory is that there was only one martyr, named Undecimilla, which was incorrectly translated as undicimila, or 11,000, in Latin. Another theory from an eighth century historian is that amongst the martyrs was an 11 year old girl called Ursula and her age, undecimilia, was where the error came from.”

Still, a fun Ursula fact is that Christopher Columbus named the Virgin Islands after her and Magellan named the Cape Virgenes after Ursula and her Virgins.

It also seems that Geoffrey of Monmouth mentions two men who were kings of Britain during the time of the Roman occupation: King Marius and his son Cole (Coelus). But no Ursula, though (according to Wikipedia), Geoffrey may also have based the character of Ursula’s father Dionotus on that of Marcus, a short lived Roman usurper. That could be the ‘Marius’ of my long-lost source, but still no mention of Cole.

London’s saintly names: from Catherine Wheel Alley to St Mary Axe

EAS_4059A while ago, this blog featured a religious-themed post, in which I made the brash statement that, “There are too many streets with churches, cathedrals, temples, and saints in their names for me to go into them here.”

As ever, the readers of this blog make it what it is, and @MattF’s recent comment regarding last week’s post was no exception: “Saint Lawrence Jewry (different church, same saint) has a griddle as a weathervane to signify the manner of Saint Lawrence’s death. Perhaps a future post could look at saints?”

That’s a very good idea, so I shall now eat my words, take a look now at some of the saint streets that have graced this blog and, depending on how that goes, maybe seek out some more in the future.

So let’s start with the above-mentioned church of St Lawrence Jewry. Although it is located in Gresham Street, it is near the former medieval Jewish ghetto, which was centred on the street named Old Jewry – hence the second part of the name. It is one of London’s many buildings that was destroyed in the Great Fire of London and rebuilt by Christopher Wren.

The parish was united with that of St. Mary Magdalen, Milk Street, which was not rebuilt. Milk Street was one of the medieval market streets of London, so probably where milk was sold and Gresham Street takes its name from Thomas Gresham, a merchant and financier. By happy coincidence, Sir Thomas More, who was born in Milk Street, preached in the older church of St Lawrence Jewry.

More himself is considered a saint by the Catholic church; he, like St Lawrence, also had a quip for his executioner (having been sentenced to death after annoying). When he mounted a dilapidated and shaky scaffold, he said to the attending official, “I pray you, Mr Lieutenant, see me safe up and for my coming down, I can shift for myself.”

Before we leave Old Jewry, here is another connection with a saint: Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, also known as Thomas à Becket and later a saint and a martyr, was baptised in the church of Becket was baptised in St Mary Colechurch at the southern end of Old Jewry.

EAS_4075Becket was born at the Cheapside end of Ironmonger Lane, known as ‘Ysmongeres Lane’ around the turn of the 12th century and the haunt of ironmongers. The Ironmongers Company had their original hall here until the 15th century, when they acquired buildings in Fenchurch Street and moved there, along with most of the ironmongers.

On the subject of the recent nautical-themed post, @oldmapman mentioned that the symbol for the parish of St Clement Danes is an anchor and @MattF followed up by saying that the anchor symbolism comes from St Clement having supposedly been martyred by being tied to an anchor and thrown overboard.

St Clement Danes is located on Strand, which takes its name from the Anglo-Saxon for shoreline. So a double nautical connection. Incidentally, the Danes bit comes from (this is one of a few theories) the idea that in the 9th century the Danes colonized the village of Aldwych on the river between the City of London and the future site of Westminster. At the time, half of England was Danish and London was on the dividing line between the English and the Danes.

EAS_4133Although it has been featured a few times in this blog, how can we have a saint theme without St Mary Axe? Boringly, some consider the name to have come from a shop with the sign of an axe. But what fun is that? Much better is that the name comes from the church of St Mary the Virgin, St Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins (converted to warehouses after its suppression in the 16th century).

An ancient king of England – Maurius, father of King Cole – gave his daughter Ursula (presumably King Cole’s sister) permission to travel to Germany with her large and chaste retinue (the aforementioned 11,000 virgins) who were then beheaded by Attila and his Huns. Using axes. Apparently an axe was once stored in the church, and gave it the less cumbersome name of St Mary Axe.

Tooley StreetTooley Street is a corruption of St Olave’s Street – which is how it was recorded at the end of the 16th century; it then became St Tooley’s Street and later Towles Street. St Olave, or Olaf, was king of Norway and later became a saint. Before his canonization, however, as king of Norway he was at war with the aforementioned colonizing Danes.

The story goes that in 1014 Olaf’s fleet, on its way up the Thames, was stopped at the heavily Danish-fortified London Bridge. Olaf had his ships covered with protective wicker work, moved in close to the bridge, attached ropes to the piles and sailed off, bringing the whole thing down. It is, unfortunately, possible that this story is not entirely true. However, it sounds good and it is also considered by some to be the basis for the nursery rhyme ‘London Bridge is falling down’.

Catherine Wheel 2Catherine Wheel Alley takes its name from a once-popular inn sign. (During the time of the Puritans, when overtly religious symbols were frowned on, most landlords changed the name to the Cat and Wheel.)

The Catherine Wheel, adopted as part of the arms of the Worshipful Company of Turners’ Company, was a representation of the martyrdom of St Catherine of Alexandria, a Christian virgin, who was martyred in the early 4th century.

Despite the tradition of the Catherine wheel, she was not actually tortured on a wheel, though was the plan of the emperor Maxentius. He was enraged by her refusal to marry him and condemned her to death on a spiked breaking wheel but, at her touch, the wheel was miraculously destroyed. Not to be thwarted in his evil plan, Maxentius finally had her beheaded.

Barley Mow Passage takes its name, some say, from from a relatively comment inn sign – ‘mow’ in this case is a heap, and barley is a major ingredient of beer. Others, however, think that it is a corruption of Bartholomew: the land in the area once belonged to the priory of St Bartholomew. The Priory Church of Saint Bartholomew the Great is London’s oldest surviving church and it is located in Cloth Fair.

From the 12th century to the 19th century a three-day fair – Bartholomew Fair – was held in the Smithfield area; money charged on tolls for goods was a source of income for the priory of St Bartholomew. The fair was, early on, essentially a trade fair for the woollen and drapery industries, with Italian and Flemish cloth merchants.

Bartholomew Fair gradually attracted more and more people, and soon the speciality of cloth was virtually overlooked. Unfortunately, as was not uncommon with many fairs, Bartholomew Fair degenerated into a riotous occasion. By the early 19th century, pickpockets and brawlers dominated, and the fair was discontinued in 1855. (41 Cloth Fair is one of the only houses in the City to have escaped the flames and lays claim to being the oldest London house in existence.)

There is a Bolt Court, which takes its name from the rebus of the Bolton family, who owned a great deal of local property. The 16th-century Prior William Bolton was one of those who did a great deal to restore the nearby church of St Bartholomew: he installed the oriel window (supposedly so that he could keep an eye on the monks).

The rebus is a device once commonly used to denote names by the pictorial representation of words and the Bolton rebus was a birdbolt (a short blunt arrow used to kill birds without piercing them) through a tun (a large barrel or fermenting vat). There is still an example of this rebus in the church.

One last saint reference – there are many more, so this theme can be revised several more times if required or desired – can go to St Peter. Cross Keys was a popular tavern sign (there is a Cross Keys Close in Marylebone), deriving from Christian heraldry as the keys of St Peter (crossed keys appear on the papal arms), or the keys to heaven.

The sign of the crossed keys was once used for one of the Bankside brothels, and there was once a Cross Keys tavern in Wood Street, where the young Dickens was sent on his arrival in London.

The close in Marylebone may have been named from an inn that once stood there; it may also have been named in view of the fact that a carpenter called Philip Keys built the close in the late 18th century.