Baking themes in London’s street names

I’ve just been watching the Great British Bakeoff Final, so what better theme for a post than that of baking?

We can start with the obvious: Baker Street, which is probably most famous as the the literary location of 221b – the residence of that brilliant detective, violinist, cocaine user, and misogynist Sherlock Holmes. Number 221b was never a genuine address in Baker Street, and was carefully chosen by Conan Doyle for that very reason.

That has not stopped people over the years from writing to Holmes: the first letter was in 1890 when an American tobacconist wrote asking for a copy of Holmes’s monograph ‘Upon the Distinction Between the Ashes of the Various Tobaccos’, which was referred to in various cases. Whether or not he was serious, he started a craze and other people were soon also writing to Sherlock Holmes.

These letters were, for many years, fended by the Abbey National Building Society whose Abbey House stood on the spot where 221b would have been. At one time, up to 400 hopeful correspondents would received a polite reply explaining that Mr Holmes had vacated his room and his current whereabouts were unknown. 

The street stands on the Portman Estate – in 1553 Sir William Portman bought nearly 300 acres of land in the area; 200, years later development of the Portman estate began. The name does not come from any prevalence of bakers in the area. It commemorates a person called Baker, though opinion has been fiercely divided as to which particular Baker. 

Peter William Baker is one candidate: he was the Portman agent; others are Sir Edward Baker of Ranston was a friend of the Portmans; John Baker was also said to be a friend of the Portmans; and Sir Robert Baker, a Bow Street magistrate who helped quell the riots at Queen Caroline’s funeral in 1821.

Next we have Pudding Lane, with a baking connection: the lane is most famous for being where the Great Fire of 1666 first broke out, starting in the house of a man called Faynor (or Farryner), the king’s baker. The lane was a narrow one with pitch-covered wooden houses and led to the riverside warehouses full of oil and combustible materials such as hay, coal, and timber. Once the fire got going, it caused the destruction of thirteen thousand hoses and fourteen streets – though, amazingly, only eleven deaths.

Incidentally, the pudding part of Pudding Lane is nothing to do with baking or desserts: the lane, once part of the meat centre of London, was on the route where ‘puddings’ – parcels of offal – were transported to be thrown into the river.

Piccadilly can also be brought into the baking theme, although the name, first recorded in 1623, may come from a ‘pickadil’, defined as “that round hem or several divisions set together about the skirt of a garment.

The popular theory is that the name of the street itself arose from one Robert Baker, an early 17th century tailor, who bought a plot of land in what was still far from being central London. He built a large house and, four years after his purchase, he was referring to himself as a ‘Gent’ – a source of amusement to those who thought of tradesmen as being tradesmen and not gentry.

The house was thus dubbed ‘Pickadilly Hall’ in honour of those items that had brought him his money (and, presumably, to remind him of his origins). The name, as that sort of thing does, gradually stuck.

Oh, yes, and of course there is Bread Street, which gets its name from the fact that it was one of the many ‘shopping’ streets, connected with the Cheapside market, which were named for their speciality. Edward I decreed in 1302 that bakers could sell bread only from this street. Before that, the “leprous women of St James’s” were allowed a tenement here in 1204; part of the street was later destroyed by fire in 1263.

Incidentally, I haven’t forgotten the challenge thrown down by one reader to be fair regarding the World Series and mention the Dodgers, aka the losing team. Did I mention the Red Sox won? I haven’t been able to find anything Dodger-like yet, but the closest I can come for now is another Oliver Twist character: Bill Sikes. In Dickens’ time, Saffron Hill was an evil slum, and features in Oliver Twist: “in an obscure parlour, of a low public-house, in the filthiest part of Little Saffron Hill…sat, brooding over a little pewter measure and a small glass…Mr William Sikes”.

Advertisements

London’s streets: what’s in the name?

Pepys St Tower view copyI was having a grumpy old lady moment recently about things named for large global companies; I can’t remember what specifically sparked it off, but something like the O2 Arena.

Isn’t it a pity, I thought, that so many venues and sporting events are now named after big corporations. How long, I wondered, before airports, instead of being named John Lennon, John Wayne, or Sir Grantley Adams, were called The [insert name of large global corporation] Airport? And then, of course, I wondered further when that would happen to streets.

So that’s the tenuous connection between a grumpy moment and London streets. Today we’ll look at some of the streets named after people, particularly those where it’s not as obvious as, say, Pepys Street.

Fashion Street cropFirst of all, Fashion Street, so named when it was built in the 1650s; the land upon which it stands belonged to the Fasson brothers – Thomas and Lewis, skinner and goldsmith respectively. By 1708 Fasson Street had been corrupted to Fashion Street. They also owned the land upon which stood Flower and Dean Street, where two of Jack the Ripper’s victims lived.

Savage GdnsSavage Gardens is nothing to do with vampire novels: it was named for Sir Thomas Savage, who was created Viscount Savage in 1626 and who had strong ties to George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, and to Charles I. He was also married to an admirable woman, Elizabeth, who bore him eleven sons and nine daughters.

As we’ve seen recently, Short Street is nothing to do with length, but is Short was named for a 19th-century carpenter, Samuel Short, who built the street. Similarly, Greenhills Rents near Smithfield market was nothing to do with scenery but was named for John Greenhill, an 18th-century landowner who also owned the Castle tavern on Cowcross Street.

Askew Road isn’t particularly crooked: it takes its name from Anthony Askew, an 18th-century local landowner who studied medicine and later became known more as a classical scholar rather than a doctor, helping to develop people’s tastes for curious manuscripts, rare editions, and well-preserved books.

Batty Street 2Goaters Alley is nothing to do with animals, but relates to John and William Goaters, occupants of a neighbouring farm. Baker Street is nothing to do with an earlier Mary Berry or Paul Hollywood, but is named from someone called Baker (there is disagreement as to which one). Batty Street is (probably) nothing to do with ditziness, but is more likely to relate to a William Batty who developed property in London.

Worship Street’s name is nothing to do with religion (though it does have religious connections): it is probably a corruption of ‘Worsop’ from an Elizabeth merchant tailor, John Worsop, who owned over six acres of land in the area. And Speedy Place nothing to do with swiftness or haste. There was once a tavern, called the Golden Boot, the licence of which was held by the Speedy family. An earlier landlord, and member of the Speedy family, used to meet with the ringleaders of the 1780 Gordon Riots.

And on the subject of things not being what they seem, I leave you with Sly Street. This devious-sounding street has a perfectly innocent reason for its name: in 1890 the St Georges in the East member of the London County Council was a Mr RS Sly.

London street names and the three men in a tub

Lately we’ve looked at a bevy of wicked women, a clutch of bad boys, and a menagerie of animals, all lurking within the pages of London’s history and its names. Now we can turn to some of the occupations that feature in London’s street names, starting with the three men in the tub of the nursery rhyme: the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker.

Baker Street, best known as the residence of the fictional Sherlock Holmes (topical, given that BBC’s drama Sherlock recently won various Emmy Awards), has been covered in an earlier post. Writer and politician Edward Bulmer-Lytton was born here and other, real, residents, included William Pitt the Younger and Dusty Springfield.

Butcher Row, east of the City of London, was once in the heart of a riverside village and provided a route to the north and east. The name could have come from the fact that the row would have played an important part in supplying victuals, particularly meat, to the ships docked at the nearby wharfs. It would, possibly, have been inhabited by foreign meat traders who were not allowed into the City guild and therefore set up business outside of the City limits.

Building along the row had begun by the late 15th century and one of the rows notable points is that part of its surface was metalled (paved) – a feature not common in medieval times.

Ward of CandlewickThere’s not actually a Candlestick Maker Street in London, but there are various Chandler and Chandlers streets, ways, and rows. Possibly the original candlestick maker street, however, was Cannon Street, which took its name not from artillery. As London historian John Stow pointed out, it was originally Candlewright or Candlewick street, so called, “either of Chandlers or makers of candles”. It could also have been named from the wicks of those candles.

In any event, the original name lives on in the Ward of Candlewick.The wards were systems in medieval London that allowed for smaller units within the city to be self-governing and there are still 25 of them in existence.)

Another occupational name is Dean Street, named for Bishop Henry Compton, Dean of the Chapel Royal. Among the famous names associated with the street are Mozart, who played the harpsichord at 21 Dean Street when he was seven years old. (He was, in the interests of equality, we should point out, accompanied by his four-year-old sister.) Another famous resident was Karl Marx, who began to write Das Kapital when he was living at number 28.

There are many other names that come from, or seem to come from occupations, such as Pardoner Street, named for one of Chaucer’s Canterbury pilgrims, and associated with pardons, testicles, and hog’s turds.

One last name for today is the intriguingly named Pimp Hall Park; this seemingly ‘tell it like it is’ name is nothing to do with prostitution or procurement. It is a field name, a variation on ‘Pympis’ or ‘Pympes’, from a Reynold Pympe whose family owned land in the area in the 16th century.

Baker Street: more than Sherlock Holmes

Bulwer-Lytton
Edward Bulwer-Lytton in later life

This day in London history: on 18 January 1873 Edward Bulmer-Lytton died; a writer and politican, Edward Bulmer-Lytton wrote an historical verse drama, Richelieu, which contains what are among his most famous lines:

Beneath the rule of men entirely great
The pen is mightier than the sword.

He also wrote the now-cliched opening line, “it was a dark and stormy night”, and coined the phrase “the great unwashed”.

Bulmer-Lytton was born in Baker Street, a street – like Half Moon Street – associated with many famous fictional characters and real-life residents. Baker Street, in the Marylebone district of the City of Westminster, stands on the Portman Estate – in 1553 Sir William Portman bought nearly 300 acres of land in the area; 200 years later development of the Portman estate began.

Unlike so many of London’s street names – such as those, off Cheapside, which indicate a predominance of occupations – this name does not come from any prevalence of bakers in the area. It commemorates a person called Baker, though opinion is divided as to which particular Baker. Most likely is William Baker, a Gentleman of Marylebone, who leased land from the Portman Estate, and laid out the street in 1755.

However, some sources point to the Portman agent, Peter William Baker, as a candidate; Sir Edward Baker of Ranston, who was a friend of the Portmans; John Baker, also said to be a friend of the Portmans; and Sir Robert Baker, a Bow Street magistrate.

Pitt PlaqueOne of the reason’s for Baker Street’s fame is that it was the home of William Pitt the Younger for one year. Pitt, who became Prime Minister at the age of 24, lived in Baker Street (then called York Place) towards the end of his life, when he had just about been ground down by matters of state and was described as “worn out by the toils, anxieties and vexations that he encountered”.

Other famous residents of the street include Arnold Bennett, Sir Richard Burton (the explorer, not the actor), HG Wells, actress Sarah Siddons, and singer Dusty Springfield. Madame Tussaud’s opened her famous waxwork exhibition in Baker Street; it was later moved to its current location on Marylebone Road.

Sarah Siddons by Gainsborough
Sarah Siddons painted by Gainsborough

Gerry Rafferty wrote a song about it, and there are various musical references to it, but today the street is possibly most famous as the literary location of 221b – the residence of that brilliant detective, violinist, cocaine user, and misogynist Sherlock Holmes. After countless TV and movie adaptations where the detective was given a distinctive face by Basil Rathbone and then Jeremy Brett, the modern face of Sherlock is now Benedict Cumberbatch, after the BBC brought the detective up to date in a TV series set in the 21st century.

Number 221b was never a genuine address in Baker Street, and was carefully chosen by Conan Doyle for that very reason. That has not stopped people over the years from writing to Holmes: the first letter was in 1890 when an American tobacconist wrote asking for a copy of Holmes’s monograph ‘Upon the Distinction Between the Ashes of the Various Tobaccos’, which was referred to in various cases.

Whether or not he was serious, he started a craze and other people were soon also writing to Sherlock Holmes. These letters were, for many years, fended by the Abbey National Building Society whose Abbey House stood on the spot where 221b would have been. At one time, up to 400 hopeful correspondents would receive a polite reply explaining that Mr Holmes had vacated his room and his current whereabouts were unknown.

Another fictional character resides at Flat B, 221 Baker Street, but that street is in Princeton, New Jersey, and the character is Gregory House from the US TV series House M.D. He is played by Hugh Laurie, who also played Bertie Wooster, a fictional resident of Half Moon Street.