From Adam & Eve to the World’s End

EAS_4123This day in London history: on 5 January 1840, there were 95,820 licensed public houses accounted for in England. In 1841 there were 15.9 million people in the country, so that’s roughly one pub for every 165 man, woman, and child. By way of contrast, in 2010 there were approximately 52,000 pubs in all of the UK for an estimated 62.3 million people, or close to 1,200 men, woman, and children fighting for entry to each pub.

As now (though these figures are stark confirmation of the fact that the local pub is becoming an endangered species), the tavern was an important part of early London life and commerce, and many of their names, as well as the names of other types of business, live on in the street names of the city.

EAS_3907So today, street names from taverns include, among many others, Adam and Eve Mews, Bleeding Heart Yard, Cat and Mutton Bridge, Dog and Duck Yard, Elephant and Castle, Fox and Knot Street, Green Dragon Court, Haunch of Venison Yard, Man in Moon Passage, Nags Head Court, Panyer Alley, Shoulder of Mutton Alley, and World’s End Passage.

EAS_3842World’s End Passage takes its name from an old tavern, located at the far end of Chelsea, and approachable only by very bad roads. The sign was a common one for those inns that were the last ones on the outskirts of a town, and subsequently had reputations ranging from dubious to evil. This particular tavern was especially popular during the reign of Charles II.

As an inn sign, it provided a challenge for sign painters: in 1825 the sign depicted “a fractured globe on a dark background, with fire and smoke bursting through its rents”. Sometimes it was represented by a horse rearing over the edge of a flat earth, or by a couple together with the line: “I’ll go with my friend to the world’s end”.

Cardinal Cap Alley crop
From the Cardinal Cap brothel

Shops (including brothels), as well as taverns were often identified by a painted sign for the benefit of the not-so-literate could identify the nature of a business or the name of an inn. Signs were often given nicknames that reflected public opinion on the merits, or at least representational accuracy, of the painter.

For instance, one proud shopkeeper had a sign painted, showing a human leg with a garter and a star (possibly to reflect the fact that he had received the Order of the Garter). To his chagrin it was not long before he discovered that his sign was referred to as the Leg and Star.

Goose and Gridiron
The Goose and Gridiron

Another common change in signs was the Swan and Harp, which was generally reduced to the Goose and Gridiron, and then became a sign in its own right. There was once a Goose and Gridiron (though this name is considered to be a corruption, or parody, on the arms of the Swan and Lyre, a musical society) near St Paul’s, where a feast was held in 1717 to commemorate the first Grand Lodge of Freemasons.


Martyrs, abbeys, and fogs

Well, Gentle Reader, we’re now on the other side of the Christmas festivities and it’s catch-up time on the London history events. Normal transmission should now resume, and for those who are new to the site, this blog provides background, insight and peripheral information for a book I am writing, called ‘What’s So Funny About Ha Ha Road’ – all about the stories behind some of London’s weirder and more wonderful street names. It also takes in, along the way, stories and myths about residents, buildings, and events. The plan is to see the book published in 2014 and, in the meantime, provide something every day based on events in London history.

Starting from yesterday (today’s event in history will follow later) and working back to the 23rd, which is when the last post went up:

On 29 December 1170 Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, also known as Thomas à Becket and later a saint and a martyr, was murdered inside Canterbury Cathedral by followers of King Henry II.

Becket 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.

Becket was baptised in a church in Old Jewry, St Mary Colechurch. (For more information on Old Jewry, see the 25 December entry below.)

On 28 December 1065 Westminster Abbey was consecrated; the name Westminster probably comes from a minster that would have been one of a series of religious buildings on the site, and would have been the ‘west’ minster to distinguish it from St Paul’s in the east. The Palace of Westminster nearby had originally been the official residence of the monarchs until Henry VIII decided he liked the official residence of the Bishops of York better.
27 December 1813 saw the Great Fog of London, caused by the burning of coal for domestic and industrial use. This fog lasted for eight days and reportedly extended well south of the city.

This was not the first time such as event had occurred in London: in 1952 London experienced the Great Smog, and as early as 1661 the burning of seacoal was such a problem that the diarist John Evelyn wrote a pamphlet about it – the Fumifugium – thought to be one of the earliest treatises on air pollution.

On 26 December 1716, Thomas Gray, the English poet who penned ‘Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard’, was born in Cornhill. The street was, says our invaluable source John Stow, named for “a corn market, time out of mind there holden”. Given that Stow was writing in the 16th century, time out of mind for him was indeed a long time ago and, in fact, the name can be traced as far back as 1100. The name was, as is the case in so many London street names, a simple statement of what went on there.

Gray’s ‘Elegy’ is considered to be one of the most widely quoted poems in the English language. One of the famous lines from this poem gave Thomas Hardy the title of one of his books: “Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife”.

On 25 December 1006, William the Conqueror (also known as William the Bastard) was crowned King of England. One of his acts was to invite Jewish financiers into the country, thus bringing about, albeit indirectly, the street name Old Jewry.

In the reign of Richard I, the anti-semitism, as portrayed by Shakespeare in The Merchant of Venice, began to take hold. Many of the Jews were murdered and their homes destroyed. The next king – John – developed a dislike for the Jewish money lenders when they couldn’t supply him with substantial enough loans , while Henry III carried on the tradition of anti-semitism by making all Jews wear white linen squares. Edward I changed the colour of these squares from white to yellow, banned the financiers from lending money and charging interest, and finally expelled all Jews from the country in 1291.

The Jewish settlement in the City of London was then destroyed and the street that ran through it was renamed Old Jewry.

On 24 December 1515, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey was appointed English Lord Chancellor. Wolsey, much of the power behind Henry VIII’s throne, had many accomplishments and achievements too numerous to list here. However, he was, indirectly, involved in the name of one of London’s most euphonious street names: Pace Place.

The street is named for Richard Pace, acknowledged as his contemporaries as “an amiable and accomplished man”. He was a diplomatist and dean of St Paul’s, as well as chief personal secretary to Henry VIII. Pace held several church appointments, including one of his earliest as secretary to Bishop Bainbridge who was murdered in Italy. It was his loyalty to the bishop and his attempts to discover the identity of the murderer which first brought him to the attention of the king and Cardinal Wolsey (whose admiration later allegedly turned to resentment).

Pace’s health and success in diplomacy failed him in later life – among his less successful efforts were trips back and forth to Italy in order to argue the case for Wolsey’s papacy every time a pope died.

Glitches and gas lamps

We interrupt this programme… we’re experiencing some technical difficulties today so posts are being shuffled, delayed and whisked away into the ether. But in the meantime, we’re working on some new pages for the website, with more snippets about London street names. Starting with the scatological, as in the sewer gas lamp near the Savoy Hotel. (And this page should be under Snippets, not a separate menu item, but that’s just part of today’s fun.)

Hopefully we will resume normal transmission some time today, so please overlook broken links, weird text, and anything else we can blame on technology.

Flower and Dean and Jack the Ripper

This day in London history: on 27 November 1843, Elizabeth (‘Long Liz’) Stride was born; on 30 September 1888 she became the third victim of Jack the Ripper. Stride lived in a lodging house on Flower and Dean Street, which had been built by two bricklayers, John Flower and Gowen Dean, in the 1650s.

FLower and Dean
Flower and Dean street highlighted with three murder sites in red.

The street was a squalid centre for doss houses in the 19th century, particularly favoured by prostitutes. At the height of the Ripper attacks the philanthropist Thomas Barnardo visited the house where Stride lived and, days later, wrote to the The Times, saying, “Only four days before the recent murders I visited No. 32, Flower and Dean-street, the house in which the unhappy woman Stride occasionally lodged.”

The women, he said, were frightened by the Whitechapel murders and one of them said, “Perhaps some of us will be killed next! If anybody had helped the likes of us long ago we would never have come to this!”

How right the anonymous speaker (some say it was Stride herself) was: as Barnardo said, four days later Stride was found in Berner Street (since renamed) relatively unmutilated, compared with the Ripper’s other victims. She had suffered merely a cut throat and a nicked ear – due, the theory goes, that her killer was interrupted at his work by the man who discovered her still-warm body.

Not one to be easily thwarted, the Ripper then proceeded on to Mitre Square where he was able, uninterrupted, to kill Catherine Eddowes – who, coincidentally, also lived in Flower and Dean Street – and perform his customary atrocities.

The satirist, the Virgin Mary, and the dung heaps

This day in London’s history: on 21 November 1694 François-Marie Arouet, known as Voltaire,  a French writer famous for his wit, was born. He wrote over two thousand books and plays and is perhaps best known for his satire Candide. Voltaire lived in London for a time and lodged in a house at 10 Maiden Lane between 1727 and 1728.EAS_3935The name Maiden lane, which goes back at least to the early 17th century as Mayden Lane, is in Isaac Disraeli’s book Curiosities of Literature. According to Disraeli it derives 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 not from the Virgin Mary or even some local maid, but from the ‘middens’ – dung heaps – that proliferated in the area.