From French Ordinary Court to Great Scotland Yard: the six nations in London’s street names

I don’t know why this theme hasn’t occurred to me before, but let me set my stall out immediately and say I was delighted with the Welsh victory on Saturday. For those of my readers overseas who may not get the reference, Wales beat England in the six nations rugby tournament. Emotions run high when those two teams play each other. The other four nations are Scotland, Ireland, France, and Italy.

I wasn’t born in this country, there is Welsh ancestry on my maternal grandmother’s side, and I live close enough to the border that my nearest town is Wales rather than England, so I feel justified in supporting Wales. Not so much my husband, who is English, though he prefers to see a good game than pin his hopes on either team winning. Given the aforementioned proximity to the Wales-England border, there was great support for both sides in our local pub; in fact, I would say red shirts outnumbered white ones.

But I digress. Given the Welsh victory, let’s start with Petty Wales near Tower Hill. The name probably comes the fact that it was the settlement of a Welsh centre (from ‘petit’, French for ‘little’). There is also Petty France, not far from St James’s Park, named similarly for the settlement of French people in the area, but more fun is French Ordinary Court, an intriguing name with a simple explanation.

This small street was given its name because in the 17th century the Huguenots were allowed by the French Ambassador, who had his residence in Crutched Friars, to sell coffee and pastries. They also served fixed price meals; in those days such a meal was called an ‘ordinary’. French Ordinary Court is in good company for interesting names, being not far from Crutched Friars, Seething Lane, and Savage Gardens, among others. But they are all for another time.

And on to Great Scotland Yard, near Whitehall. The term ‘Scotland Yard’ conjures up images of policemen and detective novels and, indeed, London’s Metropolitan police force has long been known as Scotland Yard or just ‘the Yard’. However, the modern building called New Scotland Yard, which serves as headquarters for the police force, is nowhere near Great Scotland Yard.

This name comes from the fact that the Palace of Westminster, which no longer stands, once served as the main residence for the English monarchs – that is, until Henry VIII decided that Whitehall Palace (also gone) would suit him better. A parcel of land belonging to the palace, including a house given by King Edgar to Kenneth III of Scotland in the 10th century, was reserved for royal Scottish visitors and their retinues. Some of the names for spaces between the houses, which had begun to proliferate on this parcel of land known as Scotland were, unimaginatively, things like Great, Middle and Little Scotland Yard. 

England’s Lane in Hampstead in named for one James England, who leased land there from Eton College. Or it could be a corruption of ‘ing-land’ from the Old English ‘ing’, a strip of meadowland. 

There is an Ireland Yard, named for William Ireland, who owed a house there which he sold to William Shakespeare in 1612 (or 1613, depending on who you believe). The house was conveniently close to Playhouse Yard, named for the theatre opened in 1596 by James Burbage. Shakespeare owned a share in the theatre and wanted to be close by for the performances of his plays. By coincidence, there was another William Ireland (known as Samuel Ireland), born in 1775, who was famous – or infamous – as a forger of Shakespearean documents and plays.

I started with Wales, which I support because of my ancestry, so I will finish with Italy. (I feel obliged to support them in sporting matches because my mother’s parents were Italian.) This is a bit embarrassing, though, as I can’t find any Italy or Italian street names in London, so I shall go off on a complete tangent for this one.

Roman Bath Street, once located off Newgate Street between St Martin’s Le Grand and King Edward Street, was originally called Pentecost Lane. In 1679 a Turkish merchant built London’s first Turkish bath here, and the street’s name was changed to Bagnio (Italian for bath) Court. The bath was famous and, as historian John Strype describes it, “Near unto Butcher Hall Lane is the Bagnio, a neat contrived Building after the Turkish mode for that purpose; seated in a large handsome Yard, and at the upper end of Pincock Lane. Much resorted unto for Sweating, being found very good for aches, etc., and approved of by our Physicians.”

Bagnio Court later became Bagnio Street and then Bath Street. In 1885 for some reason it was named Roman Bath Street despite there being no Roman bath connections. In 1869 the houses on the east side were removed for new Post Office buildings and the court has since been engulfed by the BT Centre.

Legge, Skin, and Bleeding Heart: more of London’s body part streets

Skinners Lane

Further to yesterday’s post, I think that Legge Street, which I didn’t have on my original body parts list (Pete to the rescue again) must have taken its name from Thomas Legge, who in 1354 became the first Lord Mayor of London. This was his second term, the first having been when the title was still Mayor of London. (The City of London, that is, not Greater London.) In 1354 King Edward III granted the title of Lord Mayer to Legge, who was a member of the Skinners’ Company. As well as being the first Lord Mayor of London, he was the first Skinner to hold that post.

Speaking of skin, that brings us nicely back to body parts, so let’s have a look at the Skinner’s Company. 

In the order of the twelve great livery companies, The Worshipful Company of Skinners, which obtained their first charter from King Edward III in 1327, alternates the position of six and seven with the Merchant Taylors. That gave rise to the expression ‘at sixes and sevens’.

Skin Market Place in Southwark was named for the skin trade. The market itself appears on maps in the late 1700s but is gone by the turn of the century, though the name continued. 

There is also Skinners Lane, near Garlick Hill, once known as Maiden Lane and renamed because it was a central location for the fur trade.

EAS_3921

Skinner Street is Clerkenwell was part of eight acres of land that were bequeathed to the Worshipful Company of Skinners in 1630 by John Meredith. It was not, however, until two hundred years later that the street was built by James Whiskin, who gave it the name. Whiskin, a plumber by trade, became a prominent figure in local affairs and a substantial businessman. He was a vestryman from 1815, a JP from 1835, and became Deputy Lieutenant for Tower Hamlets in 1846.

No-one has commented on the fact that I omitted Bleeding Heart Yard from my list of body parts; I didn’t forget it (and I should have mentioned it) but it always seems to deserve a post all of its own. That was not only the street that started my quest for information on street names, but it has also piqued the curiosity of many others.

The name is probably from a sign, but (in short) a better story is that a beautiful woman sold her soul to the devil; when the time came for him to collect he carried her off from a party and the her bleeding heart was later discovered by horrified partygoers.

All of which reminds me that someone once suggested myth and legend in London street names and I don’t think I ever followed up on that, so watch this space.

Pearl Street to Tongue Yard: gemstones and body parts in London streets

EAS_4093Pearl Street is another gemstone London street name that I overlooked in my list yesterday; blogmate Pete (he of beetleypete.com and the generous sponsorship) pointed that out to me. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find any stories behind the name, but perhaps, like Ruby, it was a person’s name. By coincidence, yesterday was my brother’s pearl wedding anniversary, which is an interesting fact but gets me no closer to finding out why Pearl Street is so called – and is nothing to do with today’s theme of body parts.

Why body parts? Why not? I made a vague connection between feet and my training for the Wye Valley Mighty Hike (yes, you’ll be reading a lot about that in the next few months). That, of course, led to me wondering if there were feet in London street names.

It turns out there are, and there are (or were) some other body parts, from Hand and Head to Elbow and Knee. 

So, starting with feet, there is Footscray Road, which is an area as well as a street. Foots Cray in Bexley, named in the Domesday Book, takes its name from the river Cray and a local landowner called Godwine Fot. Fot, or foot, was likely to have been a nickname for someone with particularly large or oddly shaped feet.

No longer in existence, there was once a Fyefoot Lane. There was a time when lanes and streets had to fulfil certain minimum width requirements, and a lane had only to be wide enough for two men to roll a barrel along it – hence Five Foot, or Fyefoot, Lane.

Another lost name, though the street is still there, is Elbow Lane, now called, less interestingly, College Street. In the 16th century it was a street that ran west and then suddenly turned south. This bend gave rise to the name of Elbow Lane; the lane later became Great and Little Elbow Lanes and then, in 1839, was renamed College Street to commemorate the college established by Sir Richard Whittington.

For heads, there is Pope’s Head Alley off Cornhill, which takes its name from a 15th century tavern that was destroyed in the Great Fire and then rebuilt. There was a home with the Pope’s Head sign as early as 1318, and there is a record of a dwelling house called ‘Le Popeshead’ in 1415. In the 15th century Cornhill had the dubious distinction of being a fence’s paradise, and a drinker’s haven: there were many taverns where wine could be bought by the pint for a penny and bread came free with it. Such a tavern was the Pope’s Head.

One of the earliest mentions of the tavern occurs in the fourth year of Edward IV’s reign (1465). There was a wager between two goldsmiths, one English and from from Alicant, to the effect that “Englishmen were not so cunning in workmanship of goldsmithy as Alicant Strangers”. There was a test of the workmanship of the two men involved and the wager was declared in favour of the Englishman.

From head to hand. There was once a Hand Alley, near to Houndsditch, which stood on the site of one of the many communal pits for victims of the Great Plague in 1665; it is mentioned in Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year.

There still is a Hand Court near High Holborn; the court probably took its name from a sign. Signs with a hand and heart, or hand in hand, were common in the Fleet Street of the 18th century, as it was an area with many marriage brokers. The Hand in Hand sign was then adopted by many taverns and it is possible that the court took its name from one such tavern.

In the days when the majority of people could not read, it was important for shopkeepers to have unequivocal signs. The hand, therefore, was often used in conjunction with other items: a hand with a coffee pot was the sign of a coffee house; and hand in a glove meant a glover; and a hand and shears was the sign for a tailor. 

There were also occasions where the use of a hand on a sign had a special significance. According to the 19th century writer John Camden Hotten: “where the sign is painted with a woman’s hand in it, ‘tis a bawdy house”.

There is a Knee Hill but the origin of the name is, as yet, a mystery to me. However, there is a stone plaque that commemorates the fact that William Morris passed the spot regularly to and from Abbey Wood Station. 

A list of renamed London street names shows that there was once a Great Tongue Yard E1, renamed Tongue Alley, and a Little Tongue Yard, renamed Tongue Court, but I have yet to find any information on either old or new versions of these names or what happened to the streets themselves.

Don’t forget, if you want to sponsor me on my Wye Valley Mighty Hike in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support, and in memory of my cousin, this is my fundraising page: 

www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Elizabeth-Steynor

Hidden and not-so-hidden gems of London street names

But first, a big thank you to my blogmate Pete, blogger supreme – check him out at beetleypete.com, who has made a generous sponsorship pledge for my Wye Valley Mighty Hike in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support and in memory of my cousin.

Yesterday’s post was green-themed to fit in with the Macmillan colour scheme, and one of the streets was Emerald Street, once called Green Street and renamed. I mentioned at the time that there are other precious stone London street names, so today let’s look at a few.

Following on from Emerald Street, renamed because of a plethora of Green Streets, we have Diamond Street in south London. One theory for this name is that the street forms one side of a small ‘square’ that could be considered roughly diamond-shaped.

There was once, evidently, another Diamond Street, built in 1890. This was, intriguingly, given its name because the plumber who built it was able to do so because of a diamond – however, any details of the plumber and his diamond have been lost in the mists of time. Maybe there is some connection with the Flanders and Swann song ‘Down Below’ about Hatton Garden in which a sewer worker says:

Hatton Garden is the spot, down below
Where we likes to go a lot, down below,
Since a bloke from Leather Lane,
Dropped a diamond down the drain

Ruby Street, also in south London, has a name that is unrelated to precious stones. This is believed to have been named after Ruby Hahn, the daughter of the area’s landlord.

Garnet Street in Wapping, despite its current name, started off nothing like precious stones. The street was originally called New Gravel Lane and the present Wapping Street was Old Gravel Lane because they were part of the routes for carrying sand and gravel inland from the riverside. The name was changed to honour Thomas Garnett, an ordained priest who was suspected of involvement in the Gunpowder Plot.

Other gemstone names, the derivation of which I confess to being ignorant, include Agate Road, Amethyst Road, Coral Street, Crystal Terrace, Opal Street, and Sapphire Road. If anyone can pass on any information about these names, I’d be most grateful.

If you want to sponsor me for the Wye Valley Mighty Hike, my fundraising page is http://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Elizabeth-Steynor.

London’s green streets and hiking for Macmillan

I’ve signed up for the Wye Valley Mighty Hike – a 26-mile hike in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support – which I will be undertaking in memory of my cousin Pat who lost a short but brave battle with pancreatic cancer. My welcome pack arrived recently and the training shirt is a very bright green, so in honour of Macmillan and my cousin, I thought I would have a green-themed post.

Let’s start with Bowling Green Lane near Farringdon. I used to work near there, and this is one of the streets, along with Bleeding Heart Yard, that started me on my quest of finding out more about weird and wonderful street names. The lane was so called because in the 17th century there were two bowling greens here, the last of which was closed in the 19th century. John Stow disapproved of bowling – he thought it distracted archers from their proper pastime.

Less than a mile away we have Emerald Street, which reflects the ingenuity of some of those responsible for naming and renaming streets. It was originally called Green Street, possibly after a local resident. Towards the end of the 19th century there were far too many Green Streets in London and so it was given a name that allowed it to take its place in the rank of precious stone streets, such as Diamond Street and Ruby Street. But precious stones are for another time.

Also in that general area is Greenhills Rents. Back in the day, many lanes and alleyways were built either by one person or with one person’s money, and given the name of ‘buildings’ or ‘rents’. The latter, unsurprisingly, were buildings built specifically to be rented out. John Greenhill was an 18th-century landowner; he and his wife Agnes owned, among other land and property, the Castle tavern on Cowcross Street. In 1736 John applied unsuccessfully for a market to be built on his land; the last of his property was sold by Edith Minnie Greenhill in 1920.

Green Dragon Court, near Southwark Cathedral, is named – like so many streets – from a pub; there was a tavern here as early as 1542. 

It may seem like cheating to include Laurence Pountney Hill, but it was once called Green Lettuce Lane. The name is nothing to do with salad; it is, apparently, a corruption of Green Lattice Lane and, some say, comes from a lattice gate that opened into what is now Cannon Street. 

A much jollier explanation is that, although lattice in its corrupted form does play a part, it was not a gate. In earlier days taverns were designed so that customers could see out without being observed by people going past. This was sometimes achieved with latticework over the window, traditionally painted green or red.

Green Man Lane in West Ealing comes from another common tavern sign, a reference to an ancient figure in folk customs: Jack-in-the-Green. He was originally part of the traditional May procession, and represented one aspect of the summer. The Jack was a man enclosed within a wicker cage, which was covered by green leaves and boughs. (Who can think of that without remembering The Wicker Man with Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee?)

Later on, Jack-in-the-Green became associated with chimney sweeps, who were traditionally supposed to be carriers of good luck, and during their May Day celebrations, the street procession would include a boy dressed in the wicker costume.

There is a Greencoat Place, which takes its name from the Green Coat School. In 1624 the Churchwardens of St. Margaret’s, Westminster, established St. Margaret’s Hospital to which Charles I granted a Charter of Incorporation in 1633. As the children of St. Margaret’s were dressed in green, the Hospital became known as The Green Coat School.

But back to Macmillan and my hike: if you would like to sponsor me for this walk, click for my fundraising page.

Metallic London streets from Brass Talley Alley to Silver Street

The revisitation of my Christmas lurgy has halted proceedings on this website for a while but I am now – I hope – beyond the lying on the couch bleating feebly stage and onto the coughing and sounding worse than I feel stage. At least there is a wider audience than my husband and the pets for the latter stage.

But I digress. On to London street names and the wonderful Brass Talley Alley. Thanks to the very interesting blog ‘View from the mirror’, I have learned where that name came from: something that has, for some time, been vexing me.

The abovementioned blog described a project called ‘Brass Tally Men: An Oral History of London’s Dock Workers’. This project, set up by educational charity digital:works, is an oral history focusing on the fascinating history of the people who worked on the docks of London from the 1930s up until the closing of the docks from the 1970s.

Another website, eastlondonhistory.com, has this to say: “”Before the Dock Labour Scheme was created in 1946, bringing with it at least some guarantee of pay, the dockers were each given a brass tally, oval in shape. They would hand this in when given a job for the day, and collect it again when given their pay. If they didn’t get a day’s work they would have to sign on at the local Labour Exchange, bearing their brass tally as proof.”

It all makes sense now. The trouble is, as I have mentioned before, in looking at the map again to see just where the alley is, I found a Needleman Street, a Poolman Street, and a Garter Way. Now I have to fight the urge to dash off and research them.

(Incidentally, apologies to whoever provided me with this photo of the Brass Talley Alley street sign; I can’t for the life of me find a credit for it.)

Instead, let’s have a quick look at some other metal street names, some of which are logical and others which are anything but.

There was once a Silver Street, which no longer exists, but was, says Stow, named from the silversmiths who lived there. Legal evidence, surviving from May 1612, shows that Shakespeare gave evidence in a lawsuit about a marriage dowry of £60. The evidence confirms his presence as a lodger at a house on Silver Street in the Jacobean period.

There is also a Silver Place in the West End, which may have been so named because it is not that far away from Golden Square.

Golden Square, on the other hand, is nothing to do with gold: the site upon which Golden Square stands was known as Gelding’s Cross in the early 17th century when the land was used for farming. Building work on the square was begun in the 1670s and, as it was designed for the gentry, a rather more refined name was needed.

Ironmonger Row, once largely inhabited by ironmongers, was built in the 18th century on land bequeathed to the Ironmongers Company in 1527 by Thomas Mitchell, ironmonger and citizen of London. There is also an Ironmonger Lane in EC2, which was known as ‘Ysmongeres Lane’ around the turn of the 12th century and was also 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.

By way of contrast, there is Rust Square in Camberwell, which is nothing to do with metal, rusty or otherwise. It is, supposedly, named for George Rust, the Bishop of Dromore. Dromore is in Northern Ireland. Go figure.

It just occurred to me: I could include Leadenhall Street in this post. Leadenhall is basically as it sounds – from a grand mansion with a lead roof. The mansion, built by Sir Hugh de Neville, was eventually acquired by Dick Whittington, otherwise known as Sir Richard Whittington, Mayor of London, who then granted it to the City.

Pelicans, phoenixes and other royal street name references

Given the current meteorological conditions I should be focusing on snow but I covered Snow Hill recently, and you can read that post here. I was, however, enjoying the snow today when I went out with the dogs and I discovered two things.

First, that it’s not easy making snow angels with two springer spaniels (snowdogs) who want to get involved. Second, negotiating the more slippery bits along the river bank was easier if I adopted a peculiar, penguin-like waddle.

And that, faithful readers, leads me nicely into today’s bird-themed post, which is following up on my current pelican obsession.

After the last post on Pelican Stairs and The Prospect of Whitby, I continued my research into why a pub – and Francis Drake’s ship – would be named after a bird that is not indigenous to the UK. I did find out quite a lot about the use of pelicans in heraldry and religious allusions, but I have now learned more, and possibly the answer to my original questions.

But first, this is how my research into London street names started; it went something like this?

Q: Why are Pelican Stairs called that? 
A: They are named after a pub.
Q: Ok, but why name a pub The Pelican?
A: ?

I wanted to know more (though the street that set me off originally was Bleeding Heart Yard), so I started looking into pub names, then I would learn something about a resident in a particular street, or some reason that a particular pub had a special place in history. And it went from there. Then I reasoned that I couldn’t be the only person who wanted to know the rest of the story. (A nod here to Paul Harvey and his radio programme ‘The Rest of the Story’ of which my mother was a dedicated listener.) Why not write a book, I thought.

And here we are. I need to learn how to balance chasing after these tangents with actually pulling all my research and text into a publishable form. I keep finding new street names and new interesting facts, so the blog is supposed to be a way of channeling that information while I work on the book in the background.

What about the pelicans? I hear you cry.

It suddenly occurred to me that a well known insurance company uses a pelican as its logo and I checked the company’s website. That website informed me that the pelican generally has royal connotations.

Then I learned, from the Royal Museums Greenwich website, that the pelican was a favourite symbol of Elizabeth I. In times of food shortages, mother pelicans were believed to pluck their own breasts to feed their dying young with their blood and save their lives; Elizabeth used this symbol to portray her motherly love for her subjects.

That certainly could explain why pubs and Drake’s ship would pay homage to the pelican. Yay. That’s Pelican Stairs out of the way for now.

But wait – it didn’t stop there. I discovered that another favourite symbol of Elizabeth’s was the phoenix. There are a pair of portraits of the queen, painted on wood panels that scientific analysis has shown to be from the same two oak trees. The portraits, also painted in the same workshop, are called the Phoenix and Pelican portraits because in each of them she is wearing jewels depicting each of these birds.

A little more research uncovered some more of the queen’s favoured symbols, which are all used in another portrait, the Armada Portrait. These are pearls, a mermaid, and the globe.

Now I can view the pelican research not as wasted time but as a jumping off point for more London street names.

Phoenix Street, for instance, in the West End; this is said to take its name from the Phoenix cockpit that is also commemorated in Cockpit Alley, the site on which the Drury Lane theatre was later built. That’s one theory. The other is that it takes its name from a pub.

Near Mount Pleasant, which we will look at another time, there is a Phoenix Place that took its name from an iron foundry – now a car park – and a Phoenix Road near King’s Cross that was named for a tavern. Mythical creatures such as the phoenix and the mermaid, were popular for signs.

Which, happily, brings us to another Elizabethan symbol: the mermaid. There is a Mermaid Court in Southwark, once known as Mermaid Alley. It takes its name from a pub, which is turn could have taken its name either from the mythical creature or from the fact that, given the once-dubious nature of the area south of the river, ‘mermaid’ could have been used in its not uncommon 16th-century meaning of a courtesan. Or, bluntly, a prostitute.

A more famous Mermaid Tavern (dating back to 1411, so possibly another prostitute reference) was that with one entrance on Bread Street and one on Friday Street. It is supposedly where where Sir Walter Raleigh instituted the Mermaid Club (or Friday Street Club). Members are said to have included Ben Jonson and William Shakespeare.

There is a Pearl Street not far from Pelican Stairs, but I am still trying to find out where that name came from.

Finally, there are various Globes, including Globe Road and Globe Street, both named for taverns. The latter may commemorate the original Globe Theatre. But more of that another time.