Acorn Lane, SW2: From an inn sign, nothing to do with oak trees. The acorn was used in signs because it was an attractive design; there is also the theory that it was an indication of the landlord’s intention to grow his business to impressive proportions, however small the beginnings, like the proverb ‘Great (or mighty) oaks from little acorns grow’.
Birdcage Walk, SW1: This really once did involve bird cages: it is the site of an aviary started by James I and enlarged by his grandson, Charles II (though some sources give Charles the credit for establishing it). James was fond of animals and in addition to the birds had a comprehensive menagerie, including crocodiles and an elephant. Charles expanded the aviary considerably with a collection of exotic birds; he was also to be seen strolling through the park, feeding the ducks and playing with his dogs, “affable even with the meanest of his subjects”, according to the Welsh traveller and writer Thomas Pennant.
Cinnamon Street: The name appears at the end of the 17th century and probably comes from the fact that the spice was sold there.
It was in this street, at the culinarily appropriately named 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 Ratcliff Highway Murders. These murders, which pre-dated the activities of Jack the Ripper, caused the Wapping area as much error and confusion.
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.
Pall Mall: takes its name from a French game, paille-maille (also known as palla a maglio), mentioned as early as the reign of James I, who recommended the game for his eldest son, Prince Henry. The game was similar to croquet, involving a “wooden hammer set to the end of a long staff to strike a boule with”. Pall Mall was allegedly constructed by Charles II especially for the playing of this game.