More of London’s murder streets: Acre Lane and Amen Court

Following on from the previous post, we can look at two more streets in London with gruesome pasts: Acre Lane in Brixton and Amen Court near St Paul’s Cathedral.

Acre Lane has two murders in its past: one 19th century and one 20th century. 

In 1853, an elderly man called William Jones was beaten to death in his home in Acre Lane. His late wife’s niece Elizabeth Vickers, who lived with him as a housekeeper, was apparently prone to drink and to beating Jones, who apparently died from one such attack. A bequest of £1,000 in the old man’s will was considered to be a sufficient motive for murder, but at trial Vickers was found not guilty.

On 9 May 1923, near the junction of Acre Lane and Baytree Road, Jacob Dickey, a taxi driver, was attacked in his cab and shot fatally. The murderer escaped by leaping over a fence leading to the back gardens of the Acre Lane houses and forcing his way through one of those houses into the street. 

An unusual walking stick left by the body eventually led police to an Alexander Mason, though evidence against him was less than watertight. He was sentenced to death but granted a reprieve.

The street name could indicate the size of a particular plot of land upon which the lane in Brixton stands.

At the back of Amen Court, which leads off Amen Corner, is part of a Roman wall that once formed the boundary of Newgate prison’s graveyard. Amen Court was the path leading to the graveyard and for a time had the cheerful sobriquet of Deadman’s Walk.

The court was said to be haunted by the ghost of Amelia Dyer, a Victorian mass murderer known as the Reading Baby Farmer. Dyer collected money to look after unwanted babies and then drowned them in the River Thames. She was executed in June 1896 and took her final stroll along Deadman’s Walk.

Dyer was the subject of a Victorian murder ballad, which included the lines:

The old baby farmer, the wretched Miss Dyer
At the Old Bailey her wages is paid.
In times long ago, we’d ha’ made a big fire
And roasted so nicely that wicked old jade.

There has been some speculation that Dyer, because she was alive at the time of the Jack the Ripper killings, was that murderer, killing prostitutes through botched abortions.

The names of the Corner and Court, as with the many other religious names in the area of St Paul’s Cathedral, are said to come from the fact that, before the Reformation, there was a regular procession of the clergy around the cathedral. This procession involved reciting the Lord’s Prayer in Paternoster Row, the Hail Mary in Ave Maria Lane, the Credo in Creed Lane, and the Amen in Amen Corner.

Advertisements

Worship Street: tenuous connections to bets, pigs and brothels

Bishopsgate mitreFollowing on from yesterday’s pig-related streets we can go, in a sense, from the ridiculous to the sublime: from hoggish to holy, starting with Worship Street in Shoreditch. The reason for starting with that street? I’m not the queen of tenuous connections for nothing: Worship Street was once called Hog Lane.

And guess what? The name has nothing to do with religion, worship, or prayers. It takes its name from an Elizabethan merchant tailor, John Worsop, who owned over six acres of land in the area. By happy coincidence, however, there was once a foundry there used by John Wesley as a place of worship. Shakespeare is reputed to have once lived here, possibly when it was still Hog Lane.

Then there’s Bishopsgate, which is named after a bishop: according to John Stow, the original London gate was named for Bishop Erkenwald, who became Bishop of London in 675. The site of the former gate is marked by a stone bishop’s mitre and, for the trivia lovers among you, the street is one of the longest in the City of London.

EAS_4093In no particular order or geographical proximity or otherwise, we move to to Pope’s Head Alley, where Lloyd’s of London was first established. The alley takes its name from a 15th-century tavern that was destroyed in the Great Fire and then rebuilt. One of the earliest mentions of the tavern occurs in Edward IV’s reign: a wager took place as to whether a goldsmith from Alicant was as talented as one from England.

Crutched FriarsFrom there we can go to to Crutched Friars (an arbitrary choice as there are various friar-related streets), which takes its name from a holy order, the Crossed Friars. This was an Augustinian order that began in Bologna in 1169 and was established in London by Ralph Hosiar and William Sabernes in 1298. The name derived from the friars’ habits, which were blue with, usually, a red cross on the back.

And on to Dean Street, which I can quite happily count in the ‘occupations’ category as well as this religious category. It is generally agreed (and who am I to argue with historians and scholars?) to have been named as a compliment to Bishop Henry Compton, Dean of the Chapel Royal.

The good bishop was a great philanthropist and gave lie to the notion that charity begins at home. He died a poor man, having spent his money aiding those who were refugees from persecution in foreign countries, helping poor children and rebuilding hospitals and churches.
Two famous names associated with the street are Marx and Mozart.

Cardinal CapAnd of course, London street names being what they are, we have to include a little smut with the holy-sounding Cardinal Cap Alley, which in fact takes its name from a brothel, possibly named for Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester. If that seems a bit incongruous, it’s not: the brothels of Bankside, which flourished for centuries, were leased from the Bishops of Winchester.

There are too many streets with churches, cathedrals, temples, and saints in their names for me to go into them here, but we could take a(nother) quick look at the area around St Paul’s Cathedral, where there is a group of streets with religious names. It is argued by some that, before the Reformation (the anti-Catholic movement originating with Martin Luther), there was a regular procession of the clergy around the cathedral.

EAS_4022This procession involved reciting the Lord’s Prayer in Paternoster Row, the Hail Mary in Ave Maria Lane, the Credo in Creed Lane, and the Amen in Amen Corner.

Incidentally, there is a Dean’s Court nearby, as well as Sermon Lane, Friar Street and – but this may be too much of a stretch, even for me – a Godliman Street.

I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s reverential post and now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to dash off to see what I can learn about Godliman Street.

Amen Corner, Dickens, and Bleeding Heart Yard

Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens

This day in London’s history: on 7 February 1812 Charles Dickens was born; he and his writing are an intrinsic part of London’s history and street names. Dickens got the name of Pickwick Papers from a sign in the window of The Bolt in Tun inn off Fleet Street; he had an office in Bell Yard; he stayed in Wood Street when he first arrived in London; and he wrote a whole chapter about Bleeding Heart Yard in Little Dorrit.

From Bleeding Heart Yard to Amen Corner (and there is a connection between both of them and Dickens): a tiny lane, a short way from St Paul’s cathedral, and one of a group of streets with religious names. One explanation is that, before the Reformation, there was a regular procession of the clergy around the cathedral; this involved reciting the Lord’s Prayer in Paternoster Row, the Hail Mary in Ave Maria Lane, the Credo in Creed Lane, and the Amen in Amen Corner.

EAS_3883Another, less colourful but possibly more accurate, theory is that Paternoster Row, the oldest of the streets and dating from the 14th century, is where rosary beads (paternosters) were made. The other names may have followed on naturally in the religious context, especially as clerks who copied religious texts lived there.

There was once also a tiny village near Bracknell in Berkshire called Amen Corner (now it is a suburb of Bracknell and the centre of a number of high-tech industries). The name derives from the prayers which were said during the ‘beating of the bounds’ ceremony; this was common in the days before maps when members of the community would walk the boundaries of the parish, usually led by the parish priest and church officials, in order to maintain knowledge of the parish limits.

(There was also a 1960s pop group called Amen Corner but they were Welsh and took their name from a club in Cardiff. Their biggest UK chart hit was ‘(If Paradise is) Half as Nice’ which stayed in the charts for 16 weeks in 1969, two of them at the No 1 spot.

RIchard Harris Barham
RIchard Harris Barham

But back to the Amen Corner of St Paul’s, which leads to Amen Court, where canons of St Paul’s resided, including the Reverend Richard Harris Barham. He was a minor canon and elder cardinal of St Paul’s, rector of St Augustine’s, Watling Street, and St Mary Magdalen, Knightrider Street. He was also the author of, among other works, The Ingoldsby Legends.

These legends, published originally under the pseudonym Thomas Ingoldsby, were written for his friend and schoolfellow, the publisher Richard Bentley, whose magazine, Bentley’s Miscellany, was first published in 1837 and edited by Charles Dickens. One of the ‘legends’ – many of which were stories invented for the purposes of satirizing topics of the time – was called ‘The House-Warming!!’ and offers an explanation of the story behind Bleeding Heart Yard. Perhaps this is where Dickens got his inspiration for the chapter in Little Dorrit.

At the back of Amen Court is part of a Roman wall that once formed the boundary of Newgate prison’s graveyard. Amen Court was the path leading to the graveyard and for a time had the cheerful sobriquet of Deadman’s Walk. For years it was supposed to be haunted by various spectres, one of which was the Black Dog of Newgate, a creature resembling a large black dog that crawled along the top of the wall and disappeared into the courtyard.

Another ghost said to haunt the court was that of Amelia Dyer, a Victorian mass murderer known as the Reading Baby Farmer. Dyer collected money to look after unwanted babies and then drowned them in the River Thames. She was executed in June 1896 and took her final stroll along Deadman’s Walk.