London’s money-related streets: Allfarthing Lane to Pound Lane

There have been passing mentions to money, coins and other currency in this blog, but I don’t seem to recall a specifically money-themed post. Now that I am over my shame about King Cole and Ursula (I recovered quickly), let’s look at the filthy lucre in London’s streets.

First of all, we have Allfarthing Lane in Wandsworth; nothing to do with money, this lane derives its name from the manor of Alferthyng, upon which site it is located. Healf-feorthung in Old English means ‘half a fourth’ and was an indication of a small piece of land.

EAS_4102Change Alley, mentioned recently in the nautical-themed post as the street where the Marine Society was formed, is an abbreviation of ‘Exchange Alley’ – from the Royal Exchange. Towards the end of the 17th century, the Exchange was so crowded that many of the brokers transacted their business in local coffee houses, Jonathan’s Coffee House (the setting for the South Street Bubble) in particular.

Coin Street in Lambeth takes its name from a royal mint established here around 1543 at the home of Henry VIII’s brother-in-law Charles Brandon. (Brandon was consoled for the loss of his home with a town house, which formerly belonged to the Bishop of Norwich, in the Strand.) In 1833 a number of coins were found in a nearby field. The nearby Mint Street also marks the royal mint, which was used until its demolition in 1557; smaller houses were then built in the area.

Until the early 18th century the Mint area was a criminal quarter, a recognized sanctuary for thieves and debtors, and a haunting ground for marriage brokers. In John Gay’s 1728 The Beggars’ Opera, there was a character referred to as Matt of the Mint.

Clink Street
View of Clink Street

Farthing Alley, on the edge of Bermondsey, is the sole survivor of a pair of quaintly-named pair of alleys: Farthing and Halfpenny. The names, like Allfarthing Lane, were an indication of their size. Or, if you prefer, it was named for Aleyn Ferthing, a Southwark representative in the 14th-century.

New Change near Cheapside was formerly Old Change, originally just Change (it became Old in 1293); it took its name from a building where bullion was stored before being taken to the Mint to be coined.

Pennyfields, in Poplar, was recorded as Penny Field in 1663; the name was probably an indication of the rental level. At the turn of the century the Limehouse area, centring around Pennyfields, was London’s Chinatown, considered to be be a hive of crime and opium dens.

The writer Arnold Bennett visited the area, in the company of a police inspector, in 1925. “We saw no vice whatsoever,” he remarked. The worst that he saw was tea-drinking in restaurants at around eleven o’clock in the evening . The people looked decent, he added, and there were a few “nice-looking prostitutes”.

EAS_3905Pound Lane in Willesden has an affluent-sounding name is nothing to do with money: it was the location of a pound for stray animals, and was once called Petticote Stile Lane.

I am going to cheat and include Clink Street in Southwark, on the basis that money clinks. This is a centuries-old name that still lives on in modern idiom when people talk about being put ‘in the clink’, or in prison. The name dates back to the prison there as early as the 14th century, but there is no clear derivation of the name.

The most popular theory is that ‘clink’ was the sound made when the irons when the blacksmith’s hammer secured the irons around the wrists or ankles of the prisoners. Another theory is that the Flemish word ‘klink’ means ‘latch’, and may have referenced that on the door of the prison.

The nautical connection between Change Alley and Strand

Marine Society
Photo from

My recent absence from these pages has been largely to do with boating matters, so I thought that a nautical theme might be appropriate to mark my return to blogging, and what more nautical than the Marine Society, the world’s first charity dedicated to seafarers

That society was formed by Jonas Hanway, whom we have mentioned before on this blog, but more for his eccentricities than for his philanthropy. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography calls him a philanthropist and a merchant and in 1756, when Britain was on the brink of war with Europe, Hanway was concerned that his crew would be poached to fight in the King’s navy.

He therefore came up with what would today be called a win-win solution: he recruited boys from poor backgrounds and gave them naval training so they were equipped to fight on the King’s ships. This not only helped him protect his business interests, it also opened up career prospects for those boys who would otherwise be limited in terms of job prospects.

EAS_4102Hanway’s philanthropic activities also embraced the Foundling Hospital, which received a £50 donation from him (the largest single donation he was ever to make to any charity, according to the ODNB); the Stepney Society, designed to apprentice poor boys to marine trades; the Troop Society, which provided clothing and shoes to British soldiers in Germany and North America; and the Magdalen Hospital for Penitent Prostitutes. He also raised funds to relieve victims of foreign fires: one in Montreal in 1765 and another in Bridgetown, Barbados, in 1766.

What does any of this have to do with London street names: First, the King’s Arms Tavern, where the Marine Society was founded, was in Change Alley. That is nothing to do with metamorphosis, but is an abbreviation of ‘Exchange Alley’ – from the Royal Exchange.

EAS_3851Hanway also lived in Red Lion Square, which takes its name from the Red Lyon tavern, “in olden times the most important hostelry in Holborn”, and developed by Nicholas Barbon; and for a time he lodged with his sister in lodgings in Strand – a name, apparently, of Saxon origin.

New year London names: from New Scotland Yard to Newgate

Well, loyal reader(s), it’s been a while. Long enough that it’s too far after Christmas to continue that theme (and I was coming to a bit of a dead end on that anyway). But it’s still sort of the New Year, so let’s take a quick look at ‘new’ names – that is, names with new in them.

New Scotland YardBut first a bit of a cheat with New Scotland Yard, which is a building rather than a street. And it isn’t even in Great Scotland Yard, which is what it was named for. That name came about because the Palace of Westminster, which no longer stands, once served as the main residence for the English monarchs –and a parcel of land belonging to the palace, including a house given by King Edgar to Kenneth III of Scotland in the 10th century, was reserved for royal Scottish visitors and their retinues.

Great Scotland YardIn 1829 the Metropolitan Police Force was formed and the new force (consisting of around 600 men, six of whom were discharged on the first day for being drunk) set up headquarters in Great Scotland Yard (Little and Middle had by then combined to become Whitehall Place). Scotland Yard (or the ‘Yard’ then became the name by which the police force was known.

From police to prisons, and Newgate, one of the original gates of London. (The others were Aldersgate, Aldgate, Bishopsgate, Cripplegate, Ludgate, and Moorgate.) Newgate was so named because it was new: in the 12th century, a new gate, built to replace the original Roman gate.

Newgate is perhaps best known for Newgate Prison, possibly one of the world’s most famous, and infamous prisons and the gatehouse was indeed used as a prison later in the 12th century. When the gate was rebuilt again in the 15th century, Dick Whittington (or, to give him his proper title, Richard Whittington, Lord Mayor of London) provided money for the prison to be extended.

The prison was eventually demolished to make way for the Central Criminal Courts, known as Old Bailey, taking their name from the street on which they stand). In the 18th century Newgate became not just a prison but the location of public executions: the gallows at Tyburn were moved to the prison in 1783 and prisoners no longer made the long journey west from Newgate to be executed.

EAS_3968From prisons to fetters, or manacles for prisioners. There is a Fetter Lane and a New Fetter Lane and on the corner of these two streets is a statue of John Wilkes, a journalist and member of the notorious Hellfire Club.

The word ‘fetter’ in this instance, however – you guessed it – is nothing to do with manacles. Many alternative spellings include faitor, fewter, felter, and faitour.

As the historian John Stow puts it, the lane was “so called of Fewters (or idle people) lying there, as in a way leading to gardens, but the same is now of latter years on both sides built through with many fair houses”. (The Old French word faitor meant a lawyer, and by the 14th century the reputation of that august profession had fallen so far into disrepute that the word was synonymous with idlers.)

The name could have derived from ‘felter’ – makers of felt also carried on their business in the lane, or from ‘faitour’ – a type of fortune teller prevalent in medieval and Elizabeth times. As well as all the iidlers, the area did have workers in the form of the armorers whose workshops were located there. and the name may have come from the lance vests worn on cuirasses (also known as fetters).

EAS_3905And finally, from lawyers to bankers: New Change was formerly Old Change, originally just Change (it became Old in 1293); it took its name from a buiEAS_4102lding where bullion was stored before being taken to the Mint to be coined. (There is also a Change Alley; that takes its name from the Royal Exchange, founded in 1565 by Sir Thomas Gresham to act as a centre of commerce for the city, and officially opened by Queen Elizabeth I.)


London’s coffee connections

EAS_4101As it is International Coffee Day today (National Coffee Day in the US), let’s have a look at coffee and London. Coffee follows on nicely from our last post on London’s singleton street names, as 1652 saw London’s first coffee house open in St Michael’s Alley, off Cornhill. Coffee was advertised as “a very good help to digestion, quickens the spirits, and is good against sore eyes”.Cornhill, according to London historian John Stow, takes its name “of a corn market, time out of mind there holden”. The street has literary connections including Charlotte Bronte, Daniel Defoe, and Thomas Gray. It was also once a place dear to the hearts of fences and drinkers.

EAS_4102One of London’s strongest coffee connections, at Change Alley in the City of London, the name of which is an abbreviation of ‘Exchange Alley’ – from the Royal Exchange. Towards the end of the 17th century, the Exchange was so crowded that many of the brokers transacted their business in local coffee houses, Jonathan’s Coffee House in particular. Jonathan’s was also the scene of the disastrous ‘South Sea Bubble’ scheme, speculation that ruined the purses and lives of thousands of investors.

Samuel Pepys (who pre-dated the Bubble) mentions the coffee house in his diary: “At noon by coach to the ’Change with Mr. Coventry, thence to the Coffee-house with Captain Coeke”.

Another coffee connection lies in Dean Street, where Number 33 was the site of a coffee house known as Jack’s, which was frequented by artists and writers such as Samuel Johnson, Joshua Reynolds, and Oliver Goldsmith. It later became Walker’s hotel, where it is alleged that Nelson slept the night before he sailed to the battle of Trafalgar.

In the 18th century, part of St John’s Gate was a coffee house run by Richard Hogarth, father of the painter William Hogarth. It was also the base for the Gentleman’s Magazine, a publication edited by Edward Cave and which provided the first use of the word ‘magazine’ as we know it today. Some of the more frequent visitors of the time (and contributors to the magazine) were Samuel Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith, and David Garrick.

And, last but not least, the inn at La Belle Sauvage Yard once also served as a coffee house.

Incidentally, there is, alas, no Coffee Street, Lane, Yard or anything else in London, though there are many scattered about the US.