London’s bird-related street names, from Cock Lane to Wild Goose Drive

Birdcage WalkI was driving in the lovely Forest of Dean area today, and I saw signs for a Sparrow Dive and Lark Rise (to Cinderford, maybe?), which seemed rather fitting, given yesterday’s Wren-related post. Guess what? That made me think of bird-themed London streets and, oh, yes, there are many.

(Incidentally, the name Wren does come from the bird: according to the surname database, many early English surnames derived from nicknames bestowed because of a perceived resemblance to various creatures. “The nickname ‘Wren’, derived from the Olde English pre 7th Century word ‘wrenna’ or ‘wraenna’, in Middle English ‘wrenne’, was probably used of a small, busy and quick-moving person.” )

Cock HillTo start with, we have Bird in Bush Road, Bird in Hand Court, Bird Street, and Birdcage Walk. Bird Street takes its name from Thomas Bird, who built the street in 1763, while Bird in Bush Road comes from a local field name, and Bird in Hand is from an old inn sign.

Birdcage Walk near Buckingham Palace is the site of an aviary started by James I and enlarged by Charles II (though some sources give Charles the credit for establishing it). It was also the site of a royal cockpit used for the grisly purposes of cock fighting.

Cockspur Street signThis deplorable ‘sport’ also gave us Cock Lane and Cockspur Street. Cock Lane probably took its name from the fact that it was the site of a breeding ground for fighting cocks. Far more interesting, however, are the facts that it also housed a famous (but fraudulent) ghost, it was where the Great Fire of London halted, and it was, in the Middle Ages, the only place where the City’s prostitutes could live.

Cockspur Street is so named because the spurs with which the birds were equipped to ensure even greater flow of blood were made and sold there. Cock Hill may have taken tis name from some connection with cock fighting, but it has a big state of a ram, so who knows? It is, however, part of the Middlesex Street Conservation Area. Middlesex Street being, of course, Petticoat Lane.

EAS_4114From cocks to hens and chickens, which takes us to Hen and Chicken Court off Fleet Street, named after a tavern called the Hen and Chicken. Hen and chicken were terms for pewter pots used to hold alcohol; they were also symbolic in Christian art of God’s providence, and therefore made a useful image for signs.

A particularly delightful bird street name is Wild Goose Drive (connected to Swallow Close). Although the term ‘wild goose chase’ now means a fruitless or absurd mission, it originally implied an erratic course. The drive is indeed, not straight, which may have suggested the name.

EAS_3977Some of the many other bird street names are Cygnet Street, Dove House Gardens, Dove Road, Drake Street, Duck Lane, Eaglet Place, Emu Road, Falcon Lane, Finch Lane, Goose Yard, Heron Road, Ibis Lane, Lark Row, Magpie Alley, Mallard Way, Nightingale Avenue, Partridge Green, Peacock Street, Pigeon Lane, and Raven Row.

(I could squeeze Chicksand Street and Heneage into this category, which is cheating even by my standards but there is a bird connection and we’ll look at that another time.)

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London’s streets: cock fighting, bear baiting, and hunting

Cock HillI see in the news that an animal rights group has asked (or demanded, depending on whose report you read or listen to) that Britain’s oldest pub, Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in St Albans, change its name to Ye Olde Clever Cocks, “in recognition of society’s growing compassion for animals and in celebration of intelligent, sensitive chickens”.

People have accused me on occasion of being cynical (yes, really), and I guess they might accuse me of it again when I say that my first thought was, “Is this a joke?” and then, “Is this a publicity stunt? If so, who for? Or both parties?”

But let me get relatively swiftly to the subject of this blog post. The whole cock fighting thing –naturally – made me think of London’s street names and how many of them the animal rights group should look to change.

Staying with the cock fighting theme, straightaway we have Cock Lane near Smithfield, probably named because it was a breeding ground for cocks. The fighting kind. The intersection of Cock Lane and Giltspur Street marks the spot where the Great Fire of 1666 finally halted. The spot is commemorated by the statue of a fat little boy (the Golden Boy of Pye Corner).

Cockspur Street signHeading west, we get to Cockspur Street, off Trafalgar Square. That is so named because the spurs with which the birds were equipped to ensure even greater flow of blood were made and sold there. Incidentally, the gilt spurs that gave the Giltspur Street its name were those used by knights on horseback so arguably could fit into the cruelty to animals category.

(There are a lot of ‘cock’ street names in London but maybe not all of them are related to cock fighting so would be able to keep their names. One I like is Cock Hill, which has a statue of a large ram overhead.)

Birdcage WalkMoving on, again a little further west, we arrive at Birdcage Walk, which is the site of an aviary started by James I (ok, to give him his full titles, James VI and I) and enlarged by his grandson, Charles II. However, the site also once housed a royal cockpit. Cock fighting, incidentally, is said to be the world’s oldest spectator sport.

Let’s leave cock fighting and head south to Bankside where we arrive at Bear Gardens, once the site of a 17th-century bear pit. Bear baiting involved chaining bears in pits of this type and setting dogs on them. The dogs were replaced if they got too tired or were killed. Sometimes, for extra sport, the bears were released so they could chase the dogs –  or the spectators.

Bear GdnsThe Bear Gardens pit was visited by the diarists Samuel Pepys, who described it as “a very rude and nasty pleasure; and John Evelyn, who noted that it was a “rude and dirty pastime”. However, Henry VIII was apparently a fan of the sport, and had a pit built in the grounds of Whitehall palace so that royalty could watch the sport in comfort from the palace windows. Henry VIII’s daughter, Elizabeth I, was also a big fan and overruled parliament when the members tried to ban bear baiting on Sundays.

Before we leave blood sports generally, it’s worth mentioning that the area of Soho in London is named from a hunting cry, apparently, the cry made by huntsmen when they uncouple the dogs in hunting the hare.

So that’s just a few of the names that may need to be changed to reflect society’s growing compassion for animals.

I’ve never met an animal I didn’t like

Horseferry RoadFrom some of London’s eccentric men and wicked women, today is the turn of the animals with a London connection. Yesterday’s blog included Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his menagerie, including a wombat named after the man whom Rossetti had cuckolded.

EAS_3916William Hogarth was another animal-loving painter: he had a succession of pugs, the favourite of which was included in a self-portrait. Apparently Hogarth often commented on the resemblance between himself and the dog, called Trump.

Bear GardensFrom pets to animals that were the target of great cruelty: Bear Gardens in Southwark marks the site of a 17th-century bear pit, where one of the more revolting sports of earlier times – bear baiting – was staged. The pit was visited by the diarists Samuel Pepys, who described it as “a very rude and nasty pleasure”; and John Evelyn, who noted that it was a “rude and dirty pastime”.

Cockspur Street signCock fighting was another very popular sport, and Cockspur Street near Trafalgar Square is one of many London streets whose name reflects the old ‘sport’ of cock fighting. The spurs with which the birds were equipped to ensure even greater flow of blood, were made and sold in this street.

cock laneThere is also a Cock Lane in the City of London, and its intersection with Giltspur Street is where the Great Fire of 1666 finally halted. The spot is marked by the statue of a fat little boy (the Golden Boy of Pye Corner).

Houndsditch, near Aldgate, has a literal (and disgusting) derivation:: it runs along the site of a moat that bounded the City wall and, according to John Stow, it was where “much filth…especially dead dogs” was Houndsditchthrown. On a happier note, another theory about the name is that hounds (from Old English ‘hund’) were specifically hunting dogs, whereas dogs were just, well, dogs. The City Kennels, where hunting dogs were kept, were located here.

But back to pets and animals more kindly treated. Birdcage Walk near Buckingham Palace 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).

Birdcage WalkJames was fond of animals and in addition to the birds had a comprehensive menagerie, including crocodiles and an elephant. Charles expanded the aviary considerably with a collection of exotic birds; he was also to be seen strolling through the park, feeding the ducks and playing with his dogs

EAS_4123Do mermaids count as animals? There is a Mermaid Court in Southwark, named from an inn. The name was a common one, and especially popular for taverns in areas frequented by sailors, who had long believed in the existence of the beautiful creatures who were half woman, half fish.

Mermaid Court is not far from the south bank of the Thames, and a tavern there could have attracted its fair share of nautical drinkers. (Another, perhaps more famous, Mermaid Tavern was that on Cheapside, where Ben Jonson was a regular.)

EAS_3973Many of London’s street names derive from inns and taverns, and sometimes shops and these in turn often featured animals. Some of the quirkier names include Fox and Knot Street in the City, and Cat and Mutton Bridge in East London.

Regarding the Fox and Knot, opinion is divided as to whether the name comes from a tavern (by why the Fox and Knot is a mystery) or from the shop of a furrier who catered to ladies only – and presumably did a good trade in fox furs.

There is still a Cat and Mutton pub at the bridge, but which came first and what the original name was is not clear. There are theories that it was once called either Shoulder of Mutton and Cat or Cattle and Shoulder of Mutton. In either case, the name is likely to have been connected to the nearby canal where drovers would arrive to sell their animals.

One last ‘animal’ London connection (for now): at one point the licensed brothels of London’s Bankside were leased from the Bishops of Winchester, and the working women therein were known as ‘Winchester Geese’.

Before I forget, thank you to Doris Day who provided today’s heading; the full quote is: “I’ve never met an animal I didn’t like, and I can’t say the same thing about people.”

Pugs, wombats, birdcages, and murder

The Painter and his Pug 1745 by William Hogarth 1697-1764
The Painter and his Pug by William Hogarth

20 February is Love Your Pet Day (no details on who or why decided that), so let’s honour some animals, famous and otherwise, and their London connections. For instance, Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s favourite pet (and he had a huge menagerie, much to the annoyance of his Chelsea neighbours) was a wombat called Top.

London artist William Hogarth owned many pugs and painted a self-portrait that included his pet pug Trump. (Apparently Hogarth often commented on the resemblance between himself and the dog.)

Ivan the Terrible kept bears, which have been referred to as pets, but it is more likely that his only real affection for them was the damage they could do on the people that Ivan threw to them for his own amusement. There is a Bear Gardens in London, which commemorates one of the more revolting sports of earlier times: bear baiting. Bear Gardens marks the site of a 17th-century bear pit visited by the diarists Samuel Pepys, who described it as “a very rude and nasty pleasure; and John Evelyn (1620-1706), who noted that it was a “rude and dirty pastime”.

EAS_3842The expression ‘a bear garden’ is used to refer to something full of noise, confusion, and argument. For years the Bear Gardens housed a museum of Elizabethan theatre. It is now in the centre of the modern Bankside area, the location of the rebuilt Globe Theatre.

Monarchs James I and his grandson Charles II were fond of animals and had a number of pets: Birdcage Walk near Buckingham Palace is the site of an aviary started by James I and enlarged by Charles II (though some sources give Charles the credit for establishing it). James was fond of animals and in addition to the birds had a comprehensive menagerie, including crocodiles and an elephant.

EAS_3973Charles expanded the aviary considerably with a collection of exotic birds; he was also to be seen strolling through the park, feeding the ducks and playing with his dogs, “affable even with the meanest of his subjects”, according to the Welsh traveller and writer Thomas Pennant.

Birds of a different kind were also connected with the walk: it was once a royal cockpit; the ‘sport’ of cock fighting is said to be the world’s oldest spectator sport.

Continuing the theme of bloodshed, the walk was also the site of murder in 1848. Annette Meyers, an unemployed housemaid, killed her lover, Henry Ducker of the Coldstream Guards. 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.

EAS_4123The out-of-work Annette was desperately afraid she would lose Ducker to a rival who was lucratively employed in prostitution. She purchased a gun, shot Ducker, and meekly surrendered to the authorities, denying nothing. Initially sentenced to death, Annette was given a reprieve and was sent to Van Diemen’s Land – Tasmania – in 1851.

Sympathy for Annette was strong, and there was a ballad written about her, referring to her as a “sad young woman doomed to die”, Jane Carlyle, wife of the essayist Thomas Carlyle, visited Annette in prison and reported in a letter that she was the “sauciest looking commonplace little creature that ever played the part of a Heroic Criminal”.

EAS_3990Unrelated to animal, but related to the Carlyle couple, one of Samuel Butler’s many witty comments was that “It was very good of God to let Carlyle and Mrs Carlyle marry one another, and so make only two people miserable and not four.”

London generally is not short of animal street names even if they are more from inn signs than from pets.

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