London’s culinary streets: from bacon to buns

Well, readers, I appear to have painted myself into a corner with trying to be too specific with categories of culinary street names (see yesterday’s post) and now I’ve messed up the alphabetical order of them. Since even I need some kind of system I am throwing categories to the wind and backtracking to the letter ‘b’. Starting with Bacon’s Lane in Highgate, and Bacon Grove in Bermondsey.

Bacon’s Lane is not really about bacon: it is named after Sir Francis Bacon; it marks the spot of the house where he died, a victim of his own thirst for knowledge: he contracted pneumonia after investigating the principles of refrigeration, a pursuit that involved him stuffing a fowl with snow to see if it would preserve the meat.

Incidentally, Bacon’s other connections to London streets include the Strand (or just Strand, if you prefer), where he was born, and Bleeding Heart Yard. He was an unsuccessful suitor of Lady Elizabeth Hatton, who is the source of one of the theories behind the name of Bleeding Heart Yard.

Bacon Grove is also not about bacon; however, it does not take its name from Francis Bacon. It is from Josiah Bacon, a 17th-century leather merchant whose will provided for the foundation of Bacon’s School (later a City Technology College, and now an Academy called Bacon’s College), along with an endowment of £150 per year.

In the interest of full disclosure I should say that there is also a Bacon Street in East London, but I still don’t know the derivation of that particular name.

Bunhill Row is definitely not really a culinary street name as it it nothing to do with buns. It is, more disgustingly, from the nearby fields of the same name, originally Bone Hill Fields.

The fields were a burial ground dating from 1549 when a thousand carts full of bones from the over-crowded charnel houses at St Paul’s dumped their loads there. The name was in use before then, so it seems likely that people had historically taken advantage of the marshy land there for dumping various items, including bones.

In the 17th century it was intended as a burial ground for victims of the 1665 plague; it was never used for that purpose, nor was it ever consecrated, leading it to become a popular burial ground with the non-conformists. Following the Burial Act of 1852, allowing such places to be closed when they became full, the last burial that took place there was in 1854 when a 15-year-old girl was laid to rest.

Among the bones of 120,000 people who were interred in Bunhill Fields were John Bunyan, William Blake, and Daniel Defoe. There is a memorial, erected in 1870, to mark Defoe’s resting place; the money was obtained from a collection taken up by local schoolchildren. There is also an adjoining Quaker churchyard that contains the body of George Fox.

John Milton had a house in Bunhill Row from 1662 until his death in 1674.

Happily, Bunhouse Place (not Funhouse, as my computer is convinced) in Chelsea does relate to food – Chelsea buns, what else? Mr and Mrs Hand established the Chelsea Bun House near here in the 18th century. Jonathan Swift was sold a stale bun one day and he wrote in a letter dated 1711, “Pray, are not the fine buns sold here in our town; was it not Rrrrrrrrrare Chelsea buns? I bought one to-day in my walk; it cost me a penny; it was stale, and I did not like it…”

Despite Swift’s disappointment, Bun House did a storming trade, and was patronized by royalty; there were said to be as many as 50,000 people waiting outside on Good Fridays to buy hot cross buns, traditionally eaten on that day. This caused some consternation among the neighbours and in 1793 Mrs Hand declared that she would not sell any hot cross buns on that day.

This was made clear (or maybe not) in a notice on the shop window, which read:

“Mrs. Hand respectfully informs her friends and the public, that in consequence of the great concourse of people which assembled before her house at a very early hour, on the morning of Good Friday last, by which her neighbours (with whom she has always lived in friendship and repute) have been much alarmed and annoyed; it having also been intimated, that to encourage or countenance a tumultuous assembly at this particular period might be attended with consequences more serious than have hitherto been apprehended; desirous, therefore, of testifying her regard and obedience to those laws by which she is happily protected, she is determined, though much to her loss, not to sell Cross Buns on that day to any person whatever, but Chelsea buns as usual.”

Despite the fact that business began to decline in 1804, there were still nearly a quarter of a million buns sold on Good Friday 1839, the year when the Bun House finally closed.

In 1592 it was made illegal to sell hot cross buns except at burials, on Good Friday, or at Christmas. Those who ignored the edict had to forfeit their buns to the poor.

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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 waymarking.com

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.

Ham Yard and other pig-related street names

Ham Yard StreatsofLondon
Photo from http://www.streatsoflondon.com

Revisiting Ham Yard: I have a special occasion coming up next week and my research for a special pre-theatre dinner restaurant led me to, among others, a new Japanese restaurant in Ham Yard. (Engawa – anyone heard of it or have any experience of it?)

Ham Yard properly belongs in the ‘gastronomy street names’. Food played a large part in the naming of taverns – and hence London streets; often the speciality of the house would be featured in the sign. There was a Ham tavern here as early as 1739 and there was also once a Tudor mill in this area (commemorated in Great Windmill Street). The Ham tavern became the Ham and Windmill, was renamed the Lyric in 1890 and still stands there today.

Ham Yard was once the congregation point for London’s ‘sandwich men’, which is only a mental hop, skip, and jump to the Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu, who is popularly believed to have created the sandwich because he did not to move from his gaming table and ordered some meat between two slices of bread so that it would be easier to eat. (Another version is that he came up with the concept when he was working at a desk rather than gambling at a a table.)

Still, the Earl was a ‘bit of a one’ as the expression goes, and whether his sandwich came about because of work or play, he was a member of the notorious Knights of St. Francis of Wycombe, otherwise known as the Hellfire Club. Another member was the radical journalist John Wilkes, who had one of the best comeback lines in history.

Wilkes, quick-witted and acerbic, is one of the people to whom the following is attributed: when Sandwich said to him, “Sir, I do not know if you will die on the gallows or of the pox,” Wilkes replied, “That, my lord, depends on whether I embrace your lordship’s principles or your mistress.”

Bacon Street streats
Photo from http://www.streatsoflondon.com

But back to gastronomy and street names; in particular, pig-related streets. In addition to Ham Yard there is also a Bacon Street in East London, described as a ‘drab little turning off Brick Lane’; a Bacon’s Lane in Highgate, and a Bacon Grove in Bermondsey.

Bacon Street, the origin of the name of which I am still investigating, may be most famous for its ‘king’: Charlie Burns, who died in 2012 aged 96. He grew up in the street and ran the family business there, visiting it every day until his death. For a in-depth look at Burns, there is a fascinating article about him on the Spitalfields Life website.

Bacons Lane in Highgate is named after Sir Francis Bacon; it marks the spot of the house where he died, a victim of his own thirst for knowledge: he contracted pneumonia after investigating the principles of refrigeration, a pursuit that involved him stuffing a fowl with snow to see if it would preserve the meat.

Huggin HillBacon Grove takes its name from a Josiah Bacon, a 17th-century leather merchant whose will provided for the foundation of Bacon’s School (later a City Technology College, and now an Academy called Bacon’s College), along with an endowment of £150 per year.

While not strictly speaking gastronomy, there are two other fun ‘pig’ street names: Huggin Hill, which takes its name from hogs rather than hugs, and Swains Lane, which takes its name from swine rather than gallant pastoral gentlemen.

Incidentally, the Ham Yard and Bacon Street signs are compliments of the excellent streatsoflondon.com website, with photos of just about every gastronomic street sign in London.