Allgood Street to Soho Square: Welsh connections in London streets

Today, for a variety of reasons, I want to focus on streets in London with connections to Wales. Before we start, here are the various reasons for today’s theme:

  • On the 7th of September I will be taking on the Wye Valley Mighty Hike, in aid of Macmillan. It is a 26-mile hike that takes place in Wales, starting in Chepstow and finishing in Monmouth. I’ve mentioned it a few times before; my training has kept me away from the blog and if anyone else would like to sponsor me, my fundraising page is here.
  • My maternal grandmother was of Welsh ancestry.
  • The wonderful Victor Spinetti was born in Wales; he would have been 90 today and I discovered recently that he was the uncle of a friend of mine. There is a charming mini biography of Victor here.

Let’s start with Allgood Street in East London: though named for a a local antiquarian, HGC Allgood, it was previously called Henrietta Street after Henrietta Wentworth, the 6th Baroness Wentworth.

Henrietta, due to marry Richard Tufton, 5th Earl of Thanet, took up with the (married) Duke of Monmouth, the natural (but illegitimate) son of Charles II. Monmouth sought to overthrow his uncle, King James II of England and James VI of Scotland, who was the younger brother and heir of Charles II.

Monmouth’s rebellion was ultimately unsuccessful and he was beheaded at Tower Hill, once the site of public executions, on 15 July 1685. The story of Monmouth’s execution is a particularly grisly one: the executioner, Jack Ketch, had a bad day (though not quite as bad as Monmouth’s): he took five attempts with his axe to complete the job and even then had to finish it with a knife. 

Henrietta had used her jewels and wealth to help fund Monmouth’s unsuccessful attempts to capture the throne and she died the year after Monmouth’s execution, supposedly from a broken heart.

My more regular readers will know that I am not averse to exceedingly tenuous connections, and I should not disappoint with the next two streets.

Amen Corner is a tiny lane near to 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.

The Welsh connection is that there was a 1960s Welsh pop group called Amen Corner, whose 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. The band took its name from a club in Cardiff.

We now move north to Black Boy Lane in Harringay; this name was common in the 17th and 18th centuries for tobacconists and coffee houses as well as taverns. The name referred to Charles II’s nickname: it is said that, when Charles was born, he was nicknamed the Black Boy by his mother, Queen Henrietta Maria, because of his dark hair and eyes and swarthy appearance.

The Welsh connection? The Black Boy pub in Caernarfon, in the Snowdonia area of North Wales, is thought to date back to 1552, and is one of the oldest surviving inns in the area. There is also a theory that the pub’s name may have come not from Charles II’s nickname, but from a black buoy in the harbour.

From north to south, and Black Prince Road in Lambeth, which takes its name from Edward, the Black Prince, eldest son of Edward III of England and Philippa of Hainault. Edward III gave the manor of Kennington to his son in 1337.

The Black Prince, whose name may have come from the colour of his armour, has the unenviable claim of being the first English Prince of Wales (Welsh connection) not to become King of England, having predeceased his father. He was considered one of the most successful English commanders during the Hundred Years’ War, being regarded by his contemporaries as a model of chivalry and one of the greatest knights of his age.

(The Black Prince makes an appearance as Sir William Colville in the movie A Knight’s Tale, though I am informed that historical accuracy takes second place to drama in this case.)

The road was previously called Lambeth Butts. Butts is a not uncommon street appellation, and usually features in lists of rude street names. However, it comes from archery: a butt is an archery shooting field, with mounds of earth used for the targets. The name originally referred to the targets themselves, but over time came to mean the platforms that held the targets as well.

A marginally less tenuous Welsh connection comes with Clothier Street near Houndsditch. It has a connection to the rag trade that goes back to Elizabethan times when it was famous as a gathering area for sellers of old apparel. An official Clothes Exchange was established there in 1875 and the current name was assigned in 1906.

In 2008 Prince Charles, Prince of Wales honoured a debt with the Clothiers Company of Worcester incurred by Charles II in 1651. Prior to the Battle of Worcester in 1651, Charles II commissioned the Clothiers Company to make uniforms for his troops, and promised to pay after winning the battle. However, Cromwell won and Charles fled to Europe, leaving a debt of £453.3s which he did not settle after he acceded to the throne.

The Prince of Wales personally repaid the sum of £453.15 as a gesture of goodwill during a visit to The Commandery, which served as the Headquarters for the Royalists during the battle.

In Covent Garden, Orange Street could be named after William III, William of Orange and grandson of Charles I, who became joint monarch with his wife Mary in 1689. But that’s nothing to do with Wales.

The other explanation is that, when building of the street was begun in the 1670s, 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. The Duke of Monmouth’s stables stood partly on the site of Orange Street; as his coat of arms were orange, it is likely that his stables were called Orange Mews to differentiate from the other colours.

For a real Welsh connection, we can go to Petty Wales near Tower Bridge. The street was probably so called because it was the settlement of a Welsh centre (from ‘petit’, French for ‘little’). There is also a Petty France in London, for many years the home of the London passport office. There were once several ‘foreign’ sectors in London, such as Petty Burgundy and Petty Calais, though one of them is nothing to do with the nationality of its inhabitants.

Soho Square has two connections with the unfortunate Duke of Monmouth; the square was built in the late 17th century and 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 square eventually took its name from the area, known as Soho or Sohoe. The name is generally accepted to have come from an ancient hunting cry; apparently ‘tally ho!’ is the cry when a fox breaks cover and ‘soho!’ is when huntsmen uncouple the dogs. The Duke of Monmouth used ‘Soho!’ as a rallying cry for his troops at the Battle of Sedgemoor, the final battle in his rebellion.

Since the Duke of Monmouth has featured so much in this post, I should finish with Monmouth Street, one of the streets at Seven Dials, which was an early exercise in town planning. 

In 1693 the Master of the Royal Mint, Sir Thomas Neale, purchased a meadow in what is now the heart of London’s Soho. He planned seven streets radiating from a central point where there was a six-sided column with a sun dial on each face. Some say the seven comes from the column itself; others that the column was commissioned before a change of plan meant there were seven streets instead of six.

The column was taken down 1773 when a false rumour circulated to the effect that money was hidden in the base and it was relocated elsewhere. The street names have changed over the years: what was originally Little Monmouth Street is now Mercer Street; what was Monmouth Street is now Shaftesbury Avenue; and what was St Andrew’s Street Great & Little is now Monmouth Street.

I’m thinking of an Italian connection post some time soon: there was a great deal of Italian immigration to Wales, and there are Welsh festivals in Italy and Italian festivals in Wales, so that would lead on nicely from a Welsh theme. And my mother’s parents were Italian.

Now that I have finished the serious training for Saturday, I am hoping I’ll have more time now to resume this blog but I may start off with weekly or even fortnightly posts as I recover from my walk.

From Amen Court to Watling Street: more Ingoldsby-related streets

One last post for February (and it may be a few days before I have the chance to write another post). Before we leave the legend of Bleeding Heart Yard, the writer of The Ingoldsby Legends deserves a mention all of his own. The collection was originally printed in 1837 as a regular series for the magazine Bentley’s Miscellany, which was edited by Charles Dickens. The legends were, supposedly, written by Thomas Ingoldsby of Tappington Manor, a haunted stately home in Kent.

In fact, Ingoldsby was the a pen name of an English clergyman named Richard Harris Barham, a cleric of the Church of England, a novelist, comic poet, and friend of Richard Bentley, publisher of Bentley’s Miscellany. Tappington Hall was the small estate bequeathed to Barham by his father. Barham was the rector of St Augustine’s, Watling Street, and of St Mary Magdalen, Knightrider Street (where he is buried). He was also a minor canon and elder cardinal of St Paul’s, and so resided, as did scribes and other minor canons of the cathedral, in Amen Court.

Amen Court takes its name, as do other streets in the St Paul’s area, from the fact 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 or Court. (The 60s group called Amen Corner took its name from The Amen Corner, a weekly disc spin at the Victoria Ballroom in Cardiff.)

Knightrider Street was part of the route for knights riding from the Tower Royal to jousting tournaments at Smithfield. Simple, eh? However, some wet-blanket scholars dispute the theory on the grounds that there is no recorded instance of the word ‘knightrider’. It could be, the argument goes, that the street was really called ‘Riderstrete’ – rider being a Middle English synonym for knight, and that ‘knight’ was added to the street name in general use.

Watling Street was once the most important street in Roman London, running from Richborough on the coast of Kent, through Canterbury and London, and on to Chester. It’s best if I leave the explanation to our friend Habben: “It pleased the Saxons to connect this with one of their own mythic personages, Waetla, an aptheosised Atheling, or noble and to name it Waetlinga Street, or the road of the Waetlings.” Or Atheling could have meant ‘noble’ and so it was the street of the nobles.

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.

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.