Here we have the seamier, sewer-ridden side of London street names.
Hold your nose and enter our selection of scatological street names and stories.
CARTING LANE (aka Farting Lane)
The name of this lane was changed – in the mid 19th century – in deference to the residents’ sensibilities: it was once Dirty Lane. The new name probably reflects the traffic of carts bringing goods to and from the wharfs at the end of the lane.
However, towards the end of the same century, a Mr Joseph Edmund Webb patented an invention that may have offended the local residents’ sensibilities in a far more base manner: the sewer gas destructor lamp. This dual-purpose lamp was designed both to reduce the hazards (and odour) of explosive methane gas that built up in sewers, and also to cast light on the streets of England’s cities.
With a flame generated by burning the normal gaslight gas, sewer gases were drawn up and burnt off along with the regular gas to produce less unstable (and less smelly) carbon dioxide and water vapour. The invention was hailed as a brilliant innovation, and Webb soon sold thousands of lamps worldwide. One of his masterpieces even stood in Carting Lane, next to the nearby Savoy, and cast its light on the rich and famous guests of the day (whose waste also helped to power it).
The lamp, not unnaturally, also gave rise to the nickname of ‘Farting Lane’.
The Webb lamp cast its light for several years despite increasing nervousness, on the part of the council, regarding its safety. The problem of whether or not to stop using it was solved by a motorist in the 1950s who ran into the lamp. The lamp was restored and a replica still stands in Carting Lane.
PASSING ALLEY (aka Pissing Alley)
Some sources would argue that this was an alley without tradesmen, and serving merely as a passage from one street to another (in this case, from St John’s Street by Smithfield market to St John’s Lane).
In fact, the name was not always Passing Alley and was changed (as were so many street names) for the sake of decency. The original name, which succinctly stated the popular use of the lane, was Pissing Alley.
At one end of the the alley, in St John’s Lane, was a tavern called the Baptist’s Head where prisoners on their way from Clerkenwell to Newgate were allowed to pause for refreshment. Presumably they then also stopped in Pissing Alley for relief.