In honour of International Women’s Day: from Fanny Burney to Phillis Wheatley

As it is International Women’s Day today, I’d thought I revisit briefly some of the women who have appeared in this blog by virtue of a connection, however tenuous, with London and its street names.

Let’s start with Phillis Wheatley, who was the first published African-American female poet. Born in West Africa and taken to the US in 1761, she was bought by a wealthy Boston merchant and tailor John Wheatley (and given his name as was the custom of the time). Phillis was schooled by Wheatley’s daughter Mary and accompanied his son Nathaniel to London, where she had an audience with the Lord Mayor of London and met with other significant members of British society.

The Boston publishers of the 18th century did not want to be associated with a book written by a slave so her work Various Subjects, Religious and Moral was published by a company based in Aldgate.

Margaret Cavendish (born Margaret Lucas and later the Duchess of Newcastle), who was born in 1623, was a poet, philosopher, essayist, and playwright who had her works published under her own name, unusual for women of the time. She wrote The Blazing World, one of the earliest examples of science fiction, she was an early opponent of animal testing, and she argued philosophy and science with the great minds of the time.

One of Margaret’s brothers, John Lucas, was an original member of the Royal Society and, in 1667, Margaret asked permission to attend a session of the  Society. This request caused a great deal of argument and dissatisfaction, but was eventually granted, and she became the first woman to attend a session. (The Royal Society, which was once based in Crane Court, was founded in 1660, but women were not permitted by statute to become fellows until 1945.)

Fanny Burney, later Madame D’Arblay, was an extraordinary woman; she was a talented and gifted – and largely self-taught – 18th century writer, but she should also go down in history as a woman of huge courage. Fanny was a breast cancer survivor and wrote the earliest known patient’s perspective of a mastectomy – in her case, performed without anaesthetic.

Fanny married Alexandre-Jean-Baptiste Piochard D’Arblay on 28 July 1793, relatively late in life. Her father did not attend the wedding, having expressed disapproval of his daughter marrying a penniless foreigner. The couple remained happily married and had one son.

There is memorial window to her at Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey, and London’s oldest surviving plaque for a woman was erected in 1885 at her residence in Mayfair’s Bolton Street. According to English Heritage, “It is a sign of the times in which it was made that its inscription gives greater prominence to her married name – Madame D’Arblay – than to the one by which posterity knows her.” There is also a D’Arblay Street, and Fanny lived in Half Moon Street.

Lola Montez, universally described as an adventuress, also lived in Half Moon Street, where she was arrested for bigamy in 1849. Lola was born Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert in Limerick, Ireland. She later claimed to be Spanish, adopted the name Lola Montez, and became a dancer whose dancing apparently involved more enthusiasm than talent. Her most renowned dance was the Tarantula, in which she searched for an imaginary spider in her clothes.

Lola is perhaps better known for her lovers, among the more famous of whom was Ludwig, King of Bavaria, who was dominated by the strong-willed Lola and became a strong political force. Her meddling in politics sparked off riots that eventually led to her banishment and the king’s abdication. Another famous lover was the equally temperamental Franz Liszt.

Mary Frith, otherwise known as Moll Cutpurse, was born around 1584 and lived and died in Fleet Street. She was described by the Newgate Calendar as “A famous Master-Thief and an Ugly, who dressed like a Man, and died in 1663”. She is considered to have been, at least in part, inspiration for Daniel Defoe’s book Moll Flanders.

As Moll Cutpurse the pickpocket, she was successful and made a great deal of money. Eventually, a spell in various prisons, and having her hand burned (a punishment for theft) four times, she took to highway robbery instead. When she grew tired of, or nervous about, stealing, Moll turned to a variety of activities, including fencing stolen goods and running a bawdy house.

Mary, or Moll, died of dropsy when she was in her seventies, was interred in St Bridget’s churchyard, and it is believed that John Milton wrote her epitaph, though the headstone was destroyed in the Great Fire of London.

Phoebe Hessel, who gives her name both to Amazon Street and Hessel Street, is another woman who was famous for dressing as a man; in her case she disguised her gender to enlist as a man in the 5th Regiment of Foot, supposedly to be with her lover, Samuel Golding. She hid her secret successfully even from her comrades-in-arms, that is, until Golding was wounded and invalided home. Phoebe then revealed her secret to the wife of the commanding officer; once her secret was out, she was discharged and returned to the UK where she married Golding and bore nine children.

On Golding’s death, Phoebe moved to Brighton where she married William Hessel and became something of a local character. The then Prince Regent, later George IV, granted Phoebe a small pension and invited her to his coronation parade. She died in 1821, at the alleged age of 108 and was buried in the parish churchyard with honours.

follow her lover into battle, and served overseas as a man, having was later a local character in Brighton, becoming a favourite of George IV, Price Regent and living to the ripe old age of 108.

Lady Elizabeth Hatton provides one of the many, many theories behind the name of Bleeding Heart Yard: she was the basis of a legend about a beautiful gypsy who made a deal with the devil in order to be able to capture the heart of a rich lord. The devil then appeared unexpectedly at a ball one night and carried her off, after which revellers at the ball were revolted to discover a bleeding human heart in the courtyard.

Elizabeth, who died in 1646, was indeed a woman to inspire legends. The young and beautiful (and rich) woman was the toast of 17th-century London society; her Annual Winter Ball in Hatton Garden was one of the highlights of the London social season, and invitations were much sought after. Her suitors were many and varied, including Sir Francis Bacon and Sir Edward Coke.

Coke won Elizabeth’s heart – possibly to his detriment, because the two quarrelled virtually throughout their long marriage. Elizabeth retained the Hatton name and the couple lived in separate houses for much of their marriage. There were indeed rumours of Elizabeth being carried off by the devil – after defying him to do so if she could not open the door to the wine cellar which thwarted the efforts of her servants.

Another real woman to provide a theory behind a London street name (in this case, La Belle Sauvage Yard) is Pocahontas, a Native American who was captured by the English during Anglo-Indian hostilities in 1613, and held for ransom. During her captivity, she converted to Christianity, took the name Rebecca, and chose to remain with the English. In April 1614, she married tobacco planter John Rolfe in what is the first recorded inter-racial marriage in North American history.

The Rolfes travelled to London to seek investment for their tobacco farm, and the couple became celebrities. When the couple set sail to return to Virginia, Pocahontas became ill, died at the age of 21, and was buried in Gravesend.

The printing works of Cassell, Petter and Galpin were based at one point in the yard, and Pocahontas became the symbol for what became today’s publishing company of Cassell’s. There was once a statue of Pocahontas in Red Lion Square, commissioned by the company when it moved there.

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Sublime and ridiculous in London names: Bleeding Heart Yard and Cripplegate

It’s time for a reality check. I received another I-hope-it-was-a-gentle rebuke from reader MattF, who warned me against taking to heart some of the less likely explanations of why streets are called what they’re called. My aim is to entertain as well as inform, so I like to air as many views as I can find about street name derivations, but equally, MattF has a point so I’ll try to make it clear which theories are probably complete eyewash and which may be plausible.

On that note, I thought it might be fun to look again at some of the weirder street names I’ve come across, and some of the many theories behind those names.

Starting with where my pursuit of London street names began: Bleeding Heart Yard. Dickens helped make the yard famous: there is a chapter in Little Dorrit entitled ‘Bleeding Heart Yard’. “The opinion of the Yard,” said Dickens, “was divided respecting the derivation of its name. The more practical inmates abided by the tradition of a murder.”

The other inhabitants believed that the name came from a young woman was imprisoned by her father for not marrying the man he chose for her. She sighed and wasted away, murmuring, “Bleeding heart, bleeding heart, bleeding away.” Dickens, like MattF, said: “Neither party would listen to the antiquaries who delivered learned lectures in the neighbourhood, showing the Bleeding Heart to have been the heraldic cognizance of the old family to whom the property belonged.”

(Incidentally, one family name that is bandied about in the heraldic cognizance – distinctive emblem – as being the basis of the name is the Douglas family, as in Douglas motorcycles, which has a heart in its crest.)

There are other theories about the name, but the most dramatic – and least likely – is that a beautiful gypsy made a deal with the devil in order to be able to capture the heart of a rich lord. She did so, married him, and then lost her heart – literally – to Old Nick. He appeared unexpectedly at a ball one night and carried her off. As she was whisked through the air, her cloak fell to the ground in what is now Cloak Lane and one of her shoes fell in Shoe Lane. The revellers at the ball were revolted to discover a bleeding human heart in the courtyard.

“So who can doubt the legend?” asked a 19th-century writer who compiled a dictionary of London street names. “And yet those incredulous sceptics, who destroy our beautiful legends one by one, seek to explain the name by the assertion that it was originally Bleeding Hart Yard, a forgotten sign or family cognizance, and I am inclined to think they are right.”

I was also called up (sort of) on the last post for mentioning Newgate and ignoring Cripplegate. To be fair, there are a few London ‘gate’ names and I’ve covered them in various other posts. And even I couldn’t fit Cripplegate into the ‘new’ theme. But that’s another one with theories ranging from plausible to downright weird.

Before I start, let me quote MattF on the derivation of Cripplegate’s name: “…please don’t give any more oxygen to the nonsense that it’s named after cripples.”

Ok, so it’s not the real reason for the name. Here’s the theory anyway: allegedly, when Edmund the Martyr’s body was brought through the gate in 1010, some cripples were miraculously cured.

(Whether it’s relevant or not, Edmund is the patron saint of pandemics. Why do pandemics have a patron saint? Anybody out there know?)

MattF puts the proper explanation for the name very well, so over to him: “It was connected to the Barbican by a “crepel” – a covered tunnel or passage in Old English – and referred to as the Crepelgate back in the 11th century.”

Incidentally, there is a medieval church, St Giles-without-Cripplegate, which is so named because when it was built it was without (outside) the city wall. St Giles is the patron saint of lepers and cripples.

Hatton Garden: diamonds, underworlds, and herbs

Hatton Garden has been much in the news lately following an audacious jewellery raid, so let’s have a look at the name and history of the street, which is named after Sir Christopher Hatton. Hatton was a favourite of Elizabeth I, and was appointed Lord Chancellor.

The queen also formally granted him the Bishop of Ely’s palace in Ely Place, Holborn (much to the Bishop’s dismay and – overruled – protests). The Holborn area of London was an extremely fertile one, abounding with gardens and vineyards, including a herb garden attached to the palace; it was once called Little Saffron Hill.

Gerard's Herball Science Museum London
A 1633 Edition of Gerard’s Herball. Photo: Science Museum London

John Gerard was a skilled herbalist who lived in the area, carefully tended his garden, and in 1596 published a list of all the plants that grew there.

The Herball or Generall Historie of Plants was the first catalogue of any one garden, public or private. (Although some scholars claim that the original book was essentially a translation of a popular earlier Flemish herbal.)

In the late 1930s Little Saffron Hill was renamed Herbal Hill after Gerard’s work.

The gardens of the Bishop of Ely’s palace were also famous for saffron, which was the main source of the spice for the city dwellers. Apart from its colour, it was – like the garlic that gave Garlick Hill its name – useful for disguising meat that may have seen its best.

Saffron was widely used in ancient times, as a dye, a spice, a deodorant, and a healing drug. Romans would put in on their beds on their wedding night, giving rise to the expression ‘dormivit in sacco croci’ (having slept in a bed of saffron), to be light of heart, or enlivened.

Saffron Hill cropFrom light heart to light pockets: Saffron Hill later became 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”.

EAS_3921Nearby is another street – Bleeding Heart Yard – which was highlighted by Charles Dickens, who devoted an entire chapter to it in Little Dorrit. One of the legends behind the name is the story of Lady Elizabeth Hatton, who brings us back to Sir Christopher Hatton.

Hatton himself never married; his nephew, William Newport, inherited his estate, took the Hatton name and died six years later, leaving Elizabeth a widow. The young and beautiful Elizabeth was the toast of 17th-century London society; her Annual Winter Ball in Hatton Garden was one of the highlights of the London social season, and invitations were much sought after.

Cloak LaneThe story goes that she was carried off by the devil one night after her ball; her cloak fell in Cloak Lane, her shoe in Shoe Lane and her heart in Bleeding Heart Yard.

EAS_4009All of which brings us back to Hatton Garden, still the centre of London’s diamond and jewellery trade.

The street sits atop a network of underground works including ancient passageways rumoured to be built by the monks of Ely, abandoned railway platforms, decommissioned bunkers, and the remains of the Fleet river.

Weird and wonderful street names of London

Yesterday I read a great blog post  by Fun London Tours about the City of London’s 10 most unusual street names. Nearly all of them have been included in this blog, or lined up to be so at some point,  so I thought today I would provide a companion piece by way of some more detail on some of the streets mentioned.

EAS_4029Knightrider Street: This street featured in this blog when I was writing about some of the streets I would be going through or near when I took part in the MoonWalk London 2014. The obvious explanation is that it is from knights riding to riding from the Tower Royal to jousting tournaments at Smithfield but there is more to it than that, with some spoilsports arguing that knightrider is not a word.  (And, Fun London Tours blog points out, “David Hasselhoff has his own little shrine in the adjacent Centrepage pub!”)

Friday StFriday Street: It may have taken its name from Frigdaeges, an Old English name, but most people plump for John Stow’s theory that it was “so called of fishmongers dwelling there and serving Friday’s market”. There was a time in Catholic England when eating meat on Friday was forbidden and, at least one meat eater was executed for that crime. Friday is, it seems, the only day of the week represented in London street names.

French Ordinary Court cropFrench Ordinary Court: Leading off another street unusual name (Crutched Friars), this small street was given its name because in the 17th century the Huguenots were allowed by the French Ambassador, who had his residence in Crutched Friars, to sell coffee and pastries. They also served fixed price meals; in those days such a meal was called an ‘ordinary’.

cock laneLove Lane: There’s no better way of putting it than to quote the inimitabel John Stow, who said bluntly that it was “so called of wantons”. Love, but with a price tag. There are many streets with names that have bawdy and that category could include Cock Lane, as Fun London Tours naughtily suggests.

Cock Lane could take its name from the fact that the only place where the City’s prostitutes could live; it may also have a less lewd (though bloody) explanation for its name. Cock Lane was, perhaps, most famous for its ghost.
Wardrobe Terrace crop

Wardrobe Place: Amazingly, what it seems: in 1359 a house belonging to Sir John Beauchamp was purchased by Edward II and became the storeroom for the royal clothing. The house was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 but the name lives on. The area was mentioned in Shakespeare’s will, when he bequeathed land near the Wardrobe to his daughter.

Cripplegate Street: This takes its name from one of London’s Roman city gates, supposedly thus named because when Edmund the Martyr’s body was brought through the gate in 1010, some cripples were miraculously cured. This theory has its detractors, who claim that the name comes from ‘crepul’ – a tunnel or covered way, which was constructed for the sentries there.

Mincing Lane cropMincing Lane: This Lane, with connections to Jimmy Choo and Cruella de Ville, takes its name from nothing to do with funny walks. The word derives from the Old English feminine of ‘monk’, and the name dates back to the 12th century. According to London historian John Stow, it was once “Mincheon lane, so called of tenements there sometime pertaining to the Minchuns or nuns of St Helens in Bishopsgate.”

EAS_4136St Mary Axe: This name involves an axe and a Saint Mary, and takes its name from the church of the same name, later combined with St Thomas Undershaft. Supposedly Maurius, father of King Cole – gave his daughter Ursula permission to travel to Germany with 11,000 virgins who were subsequently slain by an enraged Attila and his Huns.

EAS_4139With all due respect to the blog that inspired this particular post, it is hard to talk about St Mary Axe without mentioning another weird and wonderful City of London street name: Undershaft.

Crutched FriarsCrutched Friars: A relatively new name (the street was once called, less interestingly, Hart Street), it derives its current name from a holy order, the Crossed Friars, an Augustinian order who wore habits that were blue with, usually, a red cross on the back.

Hanging Sword Alley: This name can be traced back as early as 1564, when a large Tudor house was known by the sign of the Hanging Sword. The area was popular with fencing masters and the sign may have referred to this occupation. The alley was also known at one time by the sinister name of Blood Bowl Alley, after a 14th century inn, depicted in Plate 9 of Hogarth’s ‘Industry and Idleness’ series.

EAS_3921Of course, if we’re looking at gory street names in the City of London, a particular favourite is Bleeding Heart Yard.

Scatalogical London: from Farting Lane to Pissing Alley

EAS_3912Londoners, like New Yorkers, are not afraid to tell it like it is, and many of the city’s street names reflect (or reflected) that forthright quality. Street hygiene centuries ago was not what it could have been, and residents were by no means shy about calling streets by their most noticeable, however unflattering, attributes – such as Dirty Lane, Filth Alley, Pissing Alley, and Stinking Lane.

Many of these names have been changed to protect the innocent minds; others have been corrupted over the years and are no longer as obvious as they once were.

For instance, Passing Alley near Smithfield Market was changed from Pissing Alley, a name that served to sum up the popular use of the lane. At one end of the the alley was a tavern where prisoners on their way from Clerkenwell to Newgate were allowed to pause for refreshment. Presumably they then also stopped in Pissing Alley for relief.

EAS_3935Maiden Lane in Covent Garden, according to Disraeli (Isaac, not Benjamin), took its name from a statue of the Virgin Mary which once stood on the corner of the lane. However, it is more likely that the name actually derives from the ‘middens’ – dung heaps – that once proliferated in the area. Incidentally, there is a Maiden Lane in Manhattan’s financial district (apparently unrelated to dung heaps) that inspired a 1936 crime film, 15 Maiden Lane.

The most charming theory behind the name of Cloak Lane in the City of London is that it is where Lady Elizabeth Hatton dropped her cloak as she was being carried off by the devil and about to leave her heart in Bleeding Heart Yard. Sadly, the name, which first appears in the late 17th century (thus, alas, predating Lady Elizabeth), is more likely to have derived from the Latin ‘cloaca’, or sewer.

Also in the City of London, Addle Hill has at least two different theories as to the derivation of its name: one is that was once King Adele Street, from the grandson of King Alfred. But, for the purposes of this blog, the other theory is that that the name derives from the Old English word adela (translated variously as stinking urine or liquid manure).

EAS_3844
The sewer gas lamp replica in Carting Lane

Carting Lane just off the Strand doubly deserves its place in Scatological London. First of all, it was once called Dirty Lane; the name was was changed during the mid 19th century in deference to the residents’ sensibilities.

However, Carting Lane became Farting Lane to many people because of the sewer gas lamp that once stood in the lane – a replica of which is still there.

Protestations, prisoners, and bleeding hearts

This day in London history: on 30 December 1621, James I tore the Protestation of 1621 from the Commons Journal and ordered the imprisonment of its principal author, Sir Edward Coke. The Protestation of 1621 was a declaration by the House of Commons reaffirming their right to freedom of speech in the face of the king’s view that they had no right to debate foreign policy.

Sir Edward Coke, famous as he was for his politics (as Attorney General he led the prosecution in several notable cases, including those against Sir Walter Raleigh and the Gunpowder Plot conspirators), is even more notable – for the purposes of this blog – for his wife.

EAS_3921Lady Elizabeth Hatton provides one of the many, many theories behind the name of Bleeding Heart Yard, a street name that has been surrounded by massive speculation through the years. The yard itself is a small and unprepossessing little courtyard near to Farringdon Road, showing none of the glamour involved in the theories behind its name.

The more sensible, but less romantic, theories are that the name derives Mary 2either from an inn sign or family crest. There was, apparently, an inn nearby that depicted the Virgin Mary with five swords piercing her heart, to represent the five sorrowful mysteries of the rosary. Pictures also often show seven swords, representing the seven dolors of Mary.

Another contender is the Douglas family crest with its bleeding heart. A heart is the only internal organ used in heraldry, and examples can be found as early as the 14th century.

Sir James Douglas was a trusted friend of Robert Bruce, King of Scotland in 1309. The king had never been able to go to the Holy Land and fight against the Saracens, so he gave instructions that on his death his heart should be embalmed and taken to Jerusalem to be interred in the Holy Sepulchre. (Opinion is divided as to whether Robert Bruce actually died from leprosy – the original theory – or from syphilis, as later scholars claim.)

Sir James was chosen to undertake this grisly delivery, and in due course set off with his king’s embalmed heart in a casket which he wore on a chain round his neck. Unfortunately, in a diversion to assist Alfonso XI in battle against the Moors of Granada, Douglas himself was killed. The king’s heart and Douglas’s bones (in the custom of the time, they had been separated from his flesh by boiling his remains) were taken back to their homeland, and the bleeding heart (later crowned) was adopted on the Douglas crest.

Little DorritDickens helped make the yard famous and propounded yet another theory: in Little Dorrit, there is a whole chapter entitled ‘Bleeding Heart Yard’. “The opinion of the Yard,” says Dickens, “was divided respecting the derivation of its name. The more practical inmates abided by the tradition of a murder; the gentler and more imaginative inhabitants…were loyal to the legend of a young lady of former times closely imprisoned in her chamber by a cruel father for remaining true to her own true love, and refusing to marry the suitor he chose for her.”

The girl could be seen behind the bars of her prison, sighing to herself and constantly murmuring, “Bleeding heart, bleeding heart, bleeding away,” until she finally expired in a manner fit for any Dickens heroine and, Dickens continues, “Neither party would listen to the antiquaries who delivered learned lectures in the neighbourhood, showing the Bleeding Heart to have been the heraldic cognizance of the old family to whom the property belonged.”

EAS_4009The definitive, and far more exotic, story behind the name is about a beautiful gypsy who made a deal with the devil in order to be able to capture the heart of a rich lord. She did so, married him, and then lost her heart – literally – to Old Nick. He appeared unexpectedly at a ball one night and carried her off. As she was whisked through the air, her cloak fell to the ground in what is now Cloak Lane and one of her shoes fell in Shoe Lane. The revellers at the ball were revolted to discover a bleeding human heart in the courtyard.

This legend was based on Lady Elizabeth Hatton, who died in 1646, and whose life was noteworthy enough to hold its own against any legend. In the 16th century, Sir Christopher Hatton was a favourite of Queen Elizabeth and established an estate in Holborn – then still a partly rural area. Although he himself never married, his nephew, William Newport, inherited Sir Christopher’s estate, took the Hatton name and died six years later, leaving a widow, Elizabeth. The young and beautiful (and rich) Lady Elizabeth Hatton was the toast of 17th-century London society; her Annual Winter Ball in Hatton Garden was one of the highlights of the London social season, and invitations were much sought after.

Her suitors were many and varied, including Sir Francis Bacon and Sir Edward Coke. Coke won Elizabeth’s heart – possibly to his detriment, because the two quarrelled virtually throughout their long marriage. Elizabeth retained the Hatton name and the couple lived in separate houses for much of their marriage. There were indeed rumours of Elizabeth being carried off by the devil – after defying him to do so if she could not open the door to the wine cellar which thwarted the efforts of her servants.

A 19th century writer, F H Habben, who compiled a dictionary of London street names, speaks rather wistfully of the Lady Hatton theory: “So who can doubt the legend? And yet those incredulous sceptics, who destroy our beautiful legends one by one, seek to explain the name by the assertion that it was originally Bleeding Hart Yard, a forgotten sign or family cognizance, and I am inclined to think they are right.”