From Billingsgate to Pall Mall: women in London street names on International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day and, as promised, here are some more – and even more tenuous women’s links to London street names, starting with possibly the most tenuous: Janis Joplin and Kensington Gore.

Kensington Gore is the address of the Royal Albert Hall, where Janis Joplin once performed in concert. Texan-born Janis began singing blues and folk music at high school and later became one of the most successful and widely known female rock stars of her era. Her posthumously-released album Pearl (became the biggest-selling album of her career and featured her biggest hit single, a cover of ‘Me and Bobby McGee’, originally sung by Kris Kristofferson. She died of a accidental heroin overdose at the age of 27, within days of Jimi Hendrix’s death at the same age. This led many people to attribute significance to the death of musicians at the age of 27.

(When I was a teenager I was often told I looked like Janis Joplin; I think it was the long hair, centre part, and glasses of that time. Those three features meant that occasionally I was also told I looked like John Lennon, which was less preferable to a self-conscious teenaged girl.)

But I digress.

Back to Kensingon Gore: the ‘gore’ part of the name is innocent of anything gruesome: it comes from the Old English word ‘gara’, which was a triangular piece of land left after irregularly shaped fields and been ploughed. This could be the triangle formed by Knightsbridge, Queen’s Gate and the Brompton Road. Aretired British pharmacist, John Tinegate, used to make fake blood for the stage and screen and it was trademarked Kensington Gore.

We move on to Allgood Street and Henrietta Wentworth. Henrietta was the 6th Baroness Wentworth and, though due to marry Richard Tufton, 5th Earl of Thanet, took up with the already-married Duke of Monmouth. Monmouth, the natural but illegitimate son of Charles II, sought to overthrow his uncle, King James II of England and James VI of Scotland, younger brother and heir of Charles II.

Monmouth’s rebellion was ultimately unsuccessful and he was executed at Tower Hill. Henrietta had used her jewels and wealth to help fund Monmouth and she died the year after Monmouth’s execution, supposedly from a broken heart. Her mother had an elaborate monument built to Henrietta’s memory in the church at Toddington, the Wentworth’s estate in Bedfordshire. However, a more personal and touching memorial existed in the form of her name, carved by Monmouth, on an oak tree in the Toddington estate. The tree became known locally as the Monmouth.

Allgood Street in East London was previously called Henrietta Street but was later renamed after a local antiquarian, HGC Allgood, who published a history of Bethnal Green in 1894. 

Birdcage Walk, which runs along St James’s Park, also involves a broken-hearted woman; in this case she adhered to the principle of ‘don’t get mad, get even’. The walk really once did involve birds, cages, and walking: 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). Charles is also credited with creating the post of Hereditary Grand Falconer to look after his birds and until 1828 only members of the royal family and the Hereditary Grand Falconer were allowed to ride alongside the aviary in carriages – everyone else had to walk.

In 1848 Annette Meyers, an unemployed housemaid from Belgium, killed her lover, Henry Ducker of the Coldstream Guards, in Birdcage Walk. Ducker was an unpleasant character whose affection for his various girlfriends was in direct proportion to the amount of money with which they could provide him. He kept borrowing money from the out-of-work Annette on a never-fulfilled promise of marriage.

Desperately afraid she would lose Ducker to a rival who was lucratively employed in prostitution, Annette purchased a gun, shot Ducker, and surrendered to the authorities, denying nothing. Annette’s trial for wilful murder was of great interest to the public. Her love letters were read out in court, providing an indication of her infatuation and desperation, and there was some suggestion that Ducker may have infected her with a venereal disease. 

Annette was found guilty of wilful murder with a recommendation for mercy but she was sentenced to death and incarcerated in Newgate prison awaiting execution. Following petitions for her release, calls for mercy, and campaigns against capital punishment, her sentence was eventually commuted to imprisonment. After two years she was sent to Van Diemen’s Land, now known as Tasmania.

Brunswick Square in Bloomsbury was built in 1795 and named after Caroline Amelia Elizabeth of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, known as Caroline of Brunswick, who travelled that year to England to marry her first cousin, the future King George IV. Some sources say it was so named as a compliment to to the reigning royal house of Hanover, as Brunswick in Hanover was their second capital city. This is International Women’s Day, so I say it was named after her.

The union was not a happy one: of the wedding night consummation of their marriage, George wrote, “it required no small [effort] to conquer my aversion and overcome the disgust of her person”. She, on the other hand, said that he was so drunk that he “passed the greatest part of his bridal night under the grate, where he fell, and where I left him”.

George was later to attempt to divorce Caroline and strip her of her title of Queen consort on the grounds of adultery; she was popular with the masses, however, and that effort failed. However, he did succeed in barring her from his coronation service at Westminster Abbey.

Number 79 Pall Mall bears a plaque on the site of the house occupied by Eleanor (Nell) Gwynne in the last 16 years of her life. Nell was (allegedly – Oxford and Hereford also lay claim to be her birthplace) born in one of Covent Garden’s sleazier streets, in a brothel run by her mother. She was orphaned after her father died in prison and her mother drowned in a drunken stupor.  Nell was one of King Charles II’s mistresses and, purportedly, his favourite, particularly as she did not try to dabble in politics, unlike some of his other mistresses. She was firm on one issue however – she was insistent that her child by Charles who, though the son of a king, was illegitimate and so had no rights under law, be given a title.

To ensure this, she dangled the child from a window and threatened to drop him until Charles finally gave in and said, “Nay, Nellie, pray spare the Earl of Burford.”

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.

Noel Street in Soho takes it name from Lady Elizabeth Noel who was married to Henry Bentinck, 1st Duke of Portland. Elizabeth’s father-in-law was Hans William Bentinck, Ist Earl of Portland and a friend of William III. The king gave a great deal of land in Soho to Bentinck and in the 1730s it was Lady Elizabeth who was responsible for developing much of the property. The nearby Marylebone area abounds with street names from the Bentinck family.

Just for the fun of it, let’s throw in Billingsgate, which is a market rather than a street. It was one of the water-gates of London that existed along with the seven main gates that were posterns in the London Wall fortification. Billingsgate is perhaps most closely associated with the fish market, and the cries of the vendors gave their name to an expression of vulgar language, as in swearing like a fishwife, particularly a Billingsgate fishwife. Billingsgate has its own special place in London’s history, as it was where the fire of London started.

London’s Duke of Monmouth street names

Today’s random fact: there is a chemist’s shop in Monmouth; apparently the bow window of this shop, according to John Betjeman, “must never be demolished”.

Never let it be said that I miss the opportunity for tenuous links, so on to James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth (and other titles), illegitimate son of King Charles II, who has connections with a number of London streets and their names.

There is an Allgood Street in London, formerly named Henrietta Street after Henrietta, 6th Baroness Wentworth. Although she was due to marry Richard Tufton, 5th Earl of Thanet, she took up with the already-married Monmouth, and used her jewels and wealth to help fund his unsuccessful attempts to capture the throne.

Monmouth was beheaded for treason in July 1685 and Henrietta died the following year, supposedly from a broken heart. Her mother had an elaborate monument built to Henrietta’s memory in the church at Toddington, the Wentworth’s estate in Bedfordshire. However, a more personal and touching memorial existed in the form of her name, carved by Monmouth, on an oak tree in the Toddington estate. The tree became known locally as the Monmouth Oak.

Then there is Orange Street in the West End. Building of the street was begun in the 1670s and the area at that time was a favoured spot for stabling of courtiers’ horses. There were several mews there, including the Green and Blue Mews. Monmouth’s stables, partly on the site of Orange Street, were probably called Orange Mews (from the colour of his coat of arms).

The development of the street was finished in the 1690s; by then the unfortunate Monmouth would have had no interest in his horses, having been messily beheaded five years before.

We mentioned Soho briefly in yesterday’s post; it was where John Logie Baird first demonstrated the principles of the television. By coincidence, Mozart, who was born on this day in 1756, lived in Frith Street as a youngster.

Soho Square, which was built in the late 17th century, was originally called King’s Square, after Charles II. When building began in 1681, apparently there were only a few residents, one of whom was the Duke of Monmouth. The word ‘soho’ comes from an ancient battle cry; Monmouth used ‘Soho!’ as a rallying cry for his troops at the Battle of Sedgemoor, the final battle in his rebellion.

London’s tree streets: from One Tree Hill to Nine Elms Lane

greenwich-onetreehillToday let’s go back to Greenwich and the blog that gave us Pigsty Alley and inspired our recent theme of London’s grubby streets. Paxview’s ‘A day in Greenwich’ also discusses One Tree Hill, which gave me the idea of London’s tree-related streets, of which there are many. Starting, naturally, with One Tree Hill – and thank you to @JR_justJR for the photograph, which he took half way between One Tree and the Royal Observatory.

The hill, which is the site of an oak tree, was once called Five Tree Hill; what happened to the other four is uncertain. The one tree was Honor Oak, which took its name from the fact that it marked a boundary of the ‘Honor of Gloucester’ – land belonging to the 12th-century earls of Gloucester.

The tree itself, however, is supposed to date far earlier than that, and there are several stories attributed to it. Queen Boudicca (was supposed to have been defeated here in battle in the year 61. Queen Elizabeth dined under it on the last May Day (for more on May Day celebrations, see )of her life, and Dick Turpin used it as a lookout.

In the late 19th century the oak was destroyed by lightning and another planted close by. The tree was used for the prayers involved in the local beating of the bounds, as with Gospel Oak, and the last of the ceremonies took place there in 1899.

George Cruikshank, cartoonist and satirist, mentions the area in his Comic Almanack):

Then won’t I have a precious lark
Down One Tree Hill in Greenwich Park

(We’ve already covered Gospel Oak which is an area rather than a street, but never mind. There would, at one time, have been an oak tree on or near the boundary between two parishes, in this case, the parishes of Hampstead and St Pancras. The tree, sadly, no longer exists, having last been recorded on an 1801 map. The name itself comes from an old custom of ‘beating the bounds’ and part of this custom was a gospel reading under a large tree.)

Since mighty oaks from little acorns grow, let’s look at Acorn Lane (which no longer exists, alas, but there are Acorn Court, Acorn Parade and Acorn Walk). This name come from an inn sign: the acorn was used in signs partly 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.

The oak itself has long been a common tavern sign as well, Royal Oak being particularly popular. The heart of the oak was used in shipbuilding, and the expression ‘heart of oak’ is used for someone of exceptional bravery. In the language of plants, bravery and hospitality are said to be the qualities of the oak tree; this was particularly true for King Charles II, as he hid in the Royal Oak at Boscobel in Shropshire after losing losing the Battle of Worcester in 1651. Boscobel House is now part of English Heritage and is open to visitors who can see a descendant of The Royal Oak.

Another oak tree that has a London street connection is Allgood Street. In the words of Mae West, “goodness had nothing to do with it” and this street, named for a local antiquarian, HGC Allgood, was previously called Henrietta Street and had somewhat scandalous associations. The Henrietta refers to Henrietta Wentworth, mistress of the married Duke of Monmouth, natural son of Charles II.

Henrietta used her jewels and wealth to help fund Monmouth’s unsuccessful attempts to capture the throne from James II. Monmouth was beheaded in July 1685 and Henrietta died the following year, supposedly from a broken heart. Her mother had an elaborate monument built to Henrietta’s memory in the church at Toddington, the Wentworth’s estate in Bedfordshire. However, a more personal and touching memorial existed in the form of her name, carved by Monmouth, on an oak tree in the Toddington estate. The tree became known locally as the Monmouth Oak.

From acorns to cherries, because of Mary Poppins, who was the magical nanny to the Banks family who lived at Number Seventeen Cherry Tree Lane in London. While there is no real Cherry Tree Lane in central London, there is one in Romford in Essex. In the capital itself, there are at least one each of a Cherry Tree Close, a Cherry Tree Drive, a Cherry Tree Road, and a Cherry Tree Way.

Elder Street, near Shoreditch High Street, is named for the flowering plant Sambucus nigra, otherwise known as an elder tree. It is part of an estate developed by the Tillard family, Huguenots who acquired land and developed the estate in the 1720s.

Gertler plaque
Photo from

The elder tree is surrounded by a multitude of beliefs and superstitions – for instance, it was thought at one time to be the tree from which Judas Escariot hanged himself, and also to be the wood from which the Cross of Calvary was made, giving rise to its reputation as a symbol of death and sorrow. (Still, the elderflower and the elderberry make great country wines, and I speak from experience of both making and drinking them.)

The painter Mark Gertler, who served as the basis for DH Lawrence’s character Loerke in Women in Love lived in Elder Street from 1911 to 1915.

And on from One Tree Hill to Seven Sisters Road in north London. This takes its name from a tavern called, the Seven Sisters, which in turn commemorated the fact that, in front of it, stood a circle of elm trees with a walnut tree in the centre. The trees, removed in the 1840s, were supposed to have dated back to around the 14th century, planted on the spot where a martyr had been burned.

The seven sisters is a term that refers to the Pleiades, and to the cliffs on England’s Sussex coast, from Cuckmere Haven to Beachy Head, and to a loose association of seven liberal arts colleges in the Northeastern United States that are historically women’s colleges. It also refers to a set of cannons used in the Battle of Flodden, a 16th-century conflict between the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland.

Singer Dame Shirley Bassey was a resident of Seven Sisters Road during the 1950s before she became famous and Rob Fleming, the main character in Nick Hornby’s book High Fidelity, lives in Seven Sisters Road. (The book was(made into a movie with the wonderful John Cusack, but it is set in Chicago rather than London.)

Counting up to nine and Nine Elms Lane, which is now more of a major road than a lane, running on the south bank of the Thames and past the New Covent Garden market. It was, however (yay! it makes sense) once a country lane which did run past nine elm trees.

There was once a Nine Elms train station which opened in 1838. Nine – appropriately enough – days after it opened it was over-run by more than 5,000 racing fans who rushed there for the eight special trains going near Epsom for the Derby Day. The station was closed to the hoi polloi ten years later; it was, however, still used by Queen Victoria and other worthies such as Giuseppe Garibaldi, who visited England only once, in 1864. When he arrived by special train at Nine Elms station, there was such a huge reception for him that his journey by carriage to Piccadilly (a little over two miles) took six hours.

After being damaged during the World War II, Nine Elms station was finally closed in the 1960s.

EAS_4053Wood Street could be considered cheating, but wood is from trees. This name dates back to the 12th century, supposedly from the fact that all the houses there were built of wood. Some sources have it that, as one of the Cheapside streets, it was given the name because timber and firewood were sold there.

Others, including John Stow, also point to the fact that there was a Thomas Wood, Sheriff of London, who lived in the street and built a row of houses there (“the beautiful row of houses over against Wood street end”), but as he was there in 1491 the name would seem to be more happenstance than commemoration.

There is another tree connection: Wordsworth immortalized the street in his poem ‘The Reverie of Poor Susan’. Susan, a homesick country girl, passes a plane tree at the end of Wood Street, and the song of a thrush emanating from the tree reminds her of her rural life:

At the corner of Wood Street when daylight appears
Hangs a thrush that sings loud, it has sung for three years
Poor Susan has passed by the spot, and has heard
In the silence of the morning, the song of the bird.

Tyburn tree wikicommons
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

And to end on a grisly note, we shouldn’t really overlook one of London’s most infamous trees: Tyburn Tree, the site for centuries of London’s public hangings. Prisoners were originally hanged from trees near the Tyburn River, and in the 16th century an ingenious gallows that could handle several prisoners at once was erected on the spot still marked by a plaque.

Yes, there are lots of yew, acacia and other tree names in London but they are, in the main, just named because the area has been given a lot of horticultural names.