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.

Gin, lions, and the Black Prince

According to that hugely fun website, Party Excuses, today is National Gin Day (World Gin Day is June 14), and an 18th-century act, which had its own effect on London’s street names, features in our post that includes Black Lion Lane.

Following on from an act of 1736 that imposed phenomenal fines on licences for drinking houses, there was The Sale of Spirits Act 1750 (commonly known as the Gin Act 1751), which effectively restricted the distribution of gin to larger distillers and retailers.

Other, less drastic, methods of attempting to curb gin drinking were to smooth the passage of the import of tea, and encouraging men to drink beer.

So, after all that discussion about black being a popular colour for taverns, it seems that, though there was a Black Lion inn recorded in the lane in 1668, it was probably a heraldic reference to Philippa of Hainault, queen of Edward III; her coat of arms includes black lions.

Philippa was mother of Edward, the Black Prince who gave his name to Black Prince Road in Lambeth and who, having predeceased his father by one year, has the unenviable claim of being the first English Prince of Wales not to become King of England.

Edward, whose name is likely to have come from the colour of his armour, makes an appearance as Sir William Colville in the movie A Knight’s Tale, though historical accuracy takes second place to drama.