Pocahontas and her London street name connection

A belated Happy New Year, overdue apologies for my long absence from these pages, and thanks to loyal followers who have continued to support me during my times of unexplained disappearance.

There was a story on the BBC this morning about Pocahontas and her resting place at St George’s Church in Gravesend, Kent, and that has pushed aside for now the theme I had all planned for today’s post. A ceremony at the church marked the 400th year since the death of Pocahontas (also known as Rebecca Rolfe, and was attended by US Ambassador Matthew Barzun, as well as a direct descendant of Pocahontas, John Rolfe.

Pocahontas provides one theory behind the name of La Belle Sauvage Yard, which no longer exists, but the name of which – like that of Bleeding Heart Yard – has fascinated people for centuries and generated many theories.

That font of London historical knowledge, John Stow, believed that the earliest occupant of the inn was one Arabella Savage, known as Bell Savage, and that her name provided inspiration for an imaginative sign painter. There is evidence that Savage was a local name: in 1380 a certain William Lawton was sentenced to an hour in the pillory for trying to obtain money, by means of a forged letter, from William Savage of Fleet Street.

Another theory came from Joseph Addison, founder of The Spectator, an 18th-century daily publication, who was intrigued by the inn’s sign, which showed a savage man standing by a bell. He was, he said, “very much puzzled by the conceit of it” until he read a French novel in which is described a beautiful young woman who was found in the wilderness and was called ‘La Belle Sauvage’.

Yet another theory is that, in the 17th century, when John Rolph, or Rolfe, brought his bride to England, they stayed at the inn. In honour of the beauty and gallantry of this foreign wife, the name was changed to La Belle Sauvage. The bride in question was Pocahontas.

Pocahontas was 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.

According to a contemporary newspaper report, “To retain the firm’s link with La Belle Sauvage, and that neighbourhood’s own fanciful connection with the Princess Pocohontas, Cassell’s commissioned a larger than life size statue of the ‘Beautiful Savage’ to grace the entrance of the firm’s headquarters.” The statue was removed in the 1980s and sold to a private buyer in the 1990s.

The sculptor Grinling Gibbons used to live in the yard and is said to have carved a pot of flowers that shook with the motion of passing coaches. John Evelyn saw the carving and was so impressed that he recommended its creator to Charles II.

The yard was also home to an inn, once one of the most splendid of London’s coaching inns. At one time it had 40 rooms and stabling for 100 horses; by the 19th century the capacity for horses had increased to 400.

The inn was also a place for all kinds of entertainment, serving roles as disparate from coffee house to a centre for bull baiting, and a place where plays were performed before the advent of theatres. One of the favourites who acted there was Richard Tarlton (or Tarleton) the actor and clown said to be the basis for the character of Yorick in Hamlet.

Another famous person associated with the inn was the William Banks (or Bankes); a prosperous vintner of Cheapside, and also a showman, who was mentioned by Tarleton. Banks’s most famous act involved a trained gelding called Marocco.

Marocco could play dead, identify certain members of the audience (such as those wearing glasses), distinguish between certain colours, and even urinate on command. He could also count: if coins were collected from spectators, Marocco, by stamping his hoof, could indicate from whom the coins came and how many came from each person.

Banks and Marocco later moved to Paris, where Banks was arrested and accused of sorcery; he had to reveal that the horse’s tricks were in the main accomplished through subtle gestures. From there the pair went to Orléans where Banks was again arrested for sorcery and sentenced to burn at the stake. He was given one last chance and, to redeem himself, Banks taught Marocco to kneel down before a cross, proving that he was not a devil.

One account of Banks suggest that, following Marocco’s death in 1605, he worked in James I’s stables, and later trained horses for George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham.

Earlier in the inn’s history, it marked the end of Wyatt’s 1554 rebellion: it was here that he turned back and rested when he discovered that the people would not support him.

Not London street names: palings, slaughters, and chipping

Pale Lane: I saw that sign on the way out of Birmingham today, and I thought I’d stray away from London street names for a moment to look at some other quirky names.

I presume that ‘pale’ in this instance is nothing to do with light and dark, but to do with the obsolete use of the word as a post, as in paling, or to impale Dracula with a wooden stake. The expression ‘beyond the pale’ derives from the fact that often fences (made with pales) would enclose a house or neighbourhood, so anything beyond that was a potential danger.

Before the trip to Birmingham, I had my brother and sister-in-law over from Australia and we did a fair amount of sightseeing together. During a day out in the Cotswolds we saw signs for Upper and Lower Slaughter and naturally that gave rise to some discussion. Was it likely that those villages were the site of some massacre? I hated to be a wet blanket, but I said I was pretty sure not.

Indeed, ‘slaughter’ in this case comes from slohtre, which is an Old English term for a muddy place. Something that resonated with the Australian visitors, as it rained nearly the entire time they were here so most places they saw had been pretty muddy.

There are many compilations of naughty place names, many of which include the word ‘bottom’, but we want to be a bit more intellectual than that. So what about two of the place names that most delighted me when I first came to the UK: Stoke Poges (stockaded place) and Ashby-de-la-Zouche (ash tree farm belonging to the La Zouch family). I’ve visited one, and it was charming, and drove through the other, which was not.

I’ve also been to Christmas Common in Oxfordshire; apparently the origin of that name is unclear. It could either be because holly trees were grown there; because there was a Christmas family with local connections, or because of a 1643 Christmas Day truce during the English Civil War.

In Devon, apart from Westward Ho! you can find Ottery St Mary and Rattery, presumably not necessarily where pet otters and rats are boarded. Rattery may be a variant of ‘red tree’ and Ottery St Mary is from a church on the river Otter. Westward Ho! takes its name from Charles Kingsley’s novel.

But I guess I can’t really write a whole post without mentioning London at some point, so how about all the place names that include ‘Chipping’? Chipping Camden, Chipping Norton, and Chipping Sodbury, for instance. It is likely, or at least possible, that the word derives from the Old English word meaning ‘market’ – as does Cheapside.

London’s lost streets: La Belle Sauvage Yard, Pocahontas, and a dancing horse

Another of those streets with a wonderful name and colourful stories to with it but which, unfortunately, no longer exists: La Belle Sauvage Yard. The name of the yard has had an “incredible quantity of ink” shed over it, and theories range from forgers to pub landladies by way of Pocahontas.

There is no disputing the fact that the yard was once home to an “antient inn” and one theory was that the yard was named in honour of Pocahontas, who was a guest at the inn and who later became the symbol for the publisher Cassell, once based in the yard.

By happy coincidence, I was reading up some more on La Belle Sauvage Yard and someone asked me what happened to a statue of Pocahontas that had been commissioned by Cassell. It appears that the statue, originally situated in Red Lion Square when the publisher moved there, was removed in the 1980s and sold to a private buyer in the 1990s.

But back to the inn, which marked the end of Wyatt’s 1554 rebellion; it was here that he turned back and rested when he discovered that the people would not support him. It was also one of the most splendid of London’s coaching inns. At one time it had 40 rooms and stabling for 100 horses; by the 19th century the capacity for horses had increased to 400.

The inn was also a place for all kinds of entertainment, serving roles as disparate from coffee house to a centre for bull baiting, and a place where plays were performed before the advent of theatres.

One of the favourites who acted there was Richard Tarlton (or Tarleton) the actor and clown said to be the basis for the character of Yorick in Hamlet. (And the the source of one of the most quoted misquotes. It is, correctly: “Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him, Horatio” but is often quoted: “Alas poor Yorick, I knew him well”.)

The sculptor Grinling Gibbons used to live in the yard and is said to have carved a pot of flowers that shook with the motion of passing coaches. John Evelyn saw the carving and was so impressed that he recommended its creator to Charles II.

Another famous person associated with the inn was the William Banks (or Bankes); a prosperous vintner of Cheapside, and also a showman, who was mentioned by Tarleton. Banks’s most famous act involved a trained gelding called Marocco.

Marocco could play dead, identify certain members of the audience (such as those wearing glasses), distinguish between certain colours, and even urinate on command. He could also count: if coins were collected from spectators, Marocco, by stamping his hoof, could indicate from whom the coins came and how many came from each person.

Banks and Marocco later moved to Paris, where Banks was arrested and accused of sorcery; he had to reveal that the horse’s tricks were in the main accomplished through subtle gestures. From there the pair went to Orléans where Banks was again arrested for sorcery and sentenced to burn at the stake. He was given one last chance and, to redeem himself, Banks taught Marocco to kneel down before a cross, proving that he was not a devil.

One account of Banks suggest that, following Marocco’s death in 1605, he worked in James I’s stables, and later trained horses for George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham (who gave his name to, among others, Of Alley).

Pudding Lane: fire and culinary London streets

FIsh Street Hill EC3“By and by Jane comes and tells me that she hears that above 300 houses have been burned down tonight by the fire we saw, and that it was now burning down all Fishstreet by London Bridge.” So wrote Samuel Pepys on 2 September 1666, following the start of the Great Fire of London in the early hours of that morning.The fire started in the house of the king’s baker, in Pudding Lane, which we have looked at in a recent post on the grosser names of London’s streets. It does lead to another category – that of culinary London, with comestibles and potables from seafood in Albacore Cresent to herbs in Yarrow Cresent by way of Milk Street.

Old Fish StSurprisingly, when it comes to these culinary names, they are often logical. More logical than so many of London’s street names, in any case. The Fish Street that Pepys writes about was once the main road leading to London Bridge, and was called New Fish Street (as opposed to Old Fish Street, which was demolished in 1870). In the 13th century it became the centre for fishmongers who settled there because of its proximity to the main fish market of Billingsgate; the street was one of the authorized spots for retail fish sales.

Today’s Fish Street Hill leads past the Monument; the reminder for everyone of the Great Fire. It is 202 feet high (202 feet said to be the distance to the spot where the fire broke out).

Monument 2The streets that lead off of Cheapside also say exactly what they were. Cheapside was an early shopping street: it was one of the busiest thoroughfares in London and the city’s main food market. The name comes from the Anglo-Saxon ‘ceap’, to buy or barter and it was originally known as West Cheap to distinguish it from Eastcheap. The medieval grocery shopper would have gone there for staples such as bread, milk, honey, poultry, and fish, and the streets that lead off Cheapside were named for their specialities.

Edward I decreed in 1302 that bakers could sell bread only from Bread 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. The street also became famous (or infamous) for its prison, or compter. The warden was so harsh on his prisoners that he was sent to Newgate Prison. The poet John Milton was born in this street and one entrance of the famous Mermaid Tavern led onto Bread Street while the other was on Friday Street.

Bread StArtichoke Hill, east of Tower Bridge, has a name that derives from an inn sign; the artichoke was adopted because of its comparative rarity and unusual shape, which lent itself well to signs. Artichokes were introduced in England in the 16th century, during the reign of Henry VIII, and the sign of the artichoke became a symbol for gardeners and was a common one for inns in garden areas.

Camomile StreetIn the 12th and 13th centuries, houses were built no closer than about five metres from the old London Wall and the land along the line of the wall was allowed to grow wild. Two of the wild flowers that grew here were camomile and wormwood, and this is reflected in the two streets of this name that still exist. Wormwood, used to flavour vermouth and absinthe, was said to have gained its name because it grew up in the path followed by the serpent when he was evicted from Paradise.

Saffron Hill was given its name because, among other things, it was grown in the gardens here belonging to John Kirkby, who had been awarded the bishopric of Ely and bequeathed his estate to the see of Ely to be used as a palace. Saffron was the main source of the spice for the City dwellers: apart from its colour, it was useful for disguising meat that may have seen its best.

Continuing the herbs and spices theme, Cinnamon Street is a name that appears at the end of the 17th century and probably comes from the fact that the spice was sold there. It was in this street, at the culinarily appropriately named Pear Tree Inn, that John Williams was staying when blood-stained knife was discovered among his belongings and suspicion fell upon him in relation to the Ratcliff Highway Murders.

Garlick HillGarlick Hill also has a slightly gruesome history, but first the name: yes, indeed, garlic features here. The hill was named for the hythe, or wharf, where shipments of garlic were landed on the Thames. It is not unlikely that enough garlic would have been sold in medieval times to warrant an entire parish being called Garlickhythe and the parish church is St James Garlickhythe. During some building work in the church in 1839, an almost perfectly mummified corpse was discovered, and nicknamed Jimmy Garlick.

Pineapple Christchurch GreyfriarsFinally, Pineapple Court. The fruit was introduced to England in the 17th century; like the artichoke, its shape and novelty made it popular on signs, especially those of confectioners. Christopher Wren was said to be so taken with the shape that he adopted it in the decorations of all his buildings (though many of them resemble acorns more than pineapples).

This is by no means intended to be a comprehensive list of London’s culinary street names; it is more just to give a flavour of how important food was in early London.

However, for a complete list of London’s culinary street names, there is a great website called Streats of London, which identifies 495 London streets and images of 147 street signs. It provides not only a comprehensive list but a great graphic representation of the culinary street names of London and is the work of Mykal Shaw, who cycled 3,000 miles throughout London to photograph the signs.

Celebrating Milk Street on Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk Day

Mrs Beeton's book11 February is Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk Day, so what better day to celebrate Milk Street in London? Incidentally, to continue the culinary theme, in 1836 Mrs Beeton (née Isabella Mayson) was born in Milk Street. Mrs Beeton was, possibly, the original domestic goddess; she was the author of Beeton’s Book of Household Management, a bible of domestic information from Victorian times to the present. Sir Thomas More was also born in Milk Street, in 1478, and more of him later.

Milk Street was one of the Cheapside market streets, named for its speciality. Cheapside comes from the Anglo-Saxon ‘ceap’, to buy or barter and it was originally known as West Cheap, as it was known, to distinguish it from Eastcheap.

EAS_4059Cheapside was an early shopping street: it was one of the busiest thoroughfares in London and the city’s main food market. The medieval grocery shopper would have gone there for staples such as bread, milk, honey, poultry, and fish, and the streets that lead off Cheapside were named for their specialities.

Thomas More
Sir Thomas More

Back to Thomas More, who was canonized as a martyr in 1935. The young More originally planned to devote his life to the church, and led a highly ascetic life: he wore hair shirts, scourged himself regularly, and slept on the ground with a log as a pillow.

Although More later turned to law, he never lost those ascetic tendencies, or his religious convictions – which would eventually cost him his life. He entered Parliament in 1504, was knighted in 1521 and became Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor in 1529.

More replaced Cardinal Wolsey, who had made the mistake of disagreeing with Henry VIII, a mistake that More would later echo. Wolsey had been unable to have Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled so that Anne Boleyn could become the next queen. He was stripped of his property, accused of treason and ordered back to London. He died en route to the capital, with his last words supposedly being, “If I had served my God as diligently as I did my king, He would not have given me over in my grey hairs.”

EAS_4055More is, perhaps, as famous for his views on social reform and his book Utopia as for his position in Henry VIII’s government. As a judge, he specialized in heresy, which is to say, during his time as Lord Chancellor six heretics were executed – not, relatively speaking, a great number, but possibly more than one would expect from a future saint.

The problems with Henry came to a head when More not only opposed the annulment to Catherine of Aragon, but also refused to take an oath renouncing the authority of the pope over that of the king. That double whammy led to him being tried and convicted of treason, and sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. (A nasty death, as the Gunpowder Plot conspirators were to discover.)

EAS_4080More also made the history books for his death as much as for his life, with his famous last words. When he mounted the dilapidated and shaky scaffold, he said to the attending official, “I pray you, Mr Lieutenant, see me safe up and for my coming down, I can shift for myself.”

On a lighter note, there are two entertaining stories about marriages in the More family. Sir Thomas himself, when presented with John Colt’s three daughters, took a fancy to the middle one. However, according to More’s son-in-law, Sir William Roper, More thought that it would be “great grief and some shame to the eldest to see her younger sister in marriage preferred before her”, and so More settled for marrying the eldest daughter.

William had no such compunction; though his wife Margaret was in actual fact More’s elder daughter, the reason for his choice was not as noble as More’s own. When the time came for a marriage to be arranged between William and one of More’s daughters, the prospective groom was taken by the girls’ father into their bedroom as they slept. More flung back the sheet and the naked girls rolled over in their sleep. William was powerfully attracted to the sleeping Margaret, and patted her naked bottom, saying, “Thou art mine.”

This displaying of future brides was not an uncommon practice: it was one way of proving that they had no marks of a witch.

Milton, London’s early shopping street, and grubs

EAS_3904

This day in London’s history: on 9 December 1608, the poet John Milton was born in Bread Street off Cheapside in London.

EAS_4057Cheapside takes its name from the Anglo-Saxon ‘ceap’, to buy or barter. West Cheap, as it was once known, to distinguish it from Eastcheap, was one of the busiest thoroughfares in London and the city’s main food market. The medieval grocery shopper would have gone there for staples such as Bread, Milk, Honey, and Fish, and the streets that lead off Cheapside were named for their specialities.

In the case of Bread Street, 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.

EAS_4055The poet also lives on in London names in Milton Street, formerly Grub Street. This was known as ‘Grubbestrete’ in the 13th century and could have meant, in the London tradition of not mincing words when it came to street names, ‘street infested with maggots’. It could also have been from ‘grube’, a ditch or drain, or from a personal name – Grub was not an uncommon name in the 13th century.

The street was once largely inhabited by people occupied with archery: according to historian John Stow, in the 16th century, it was “of late years inhabited, for the most part, by bowyers, fletchers, bowstring makers, and such like occupations.” Things started to change, as he also notes with disapproval that archery was giving way to “a number of bowling-alleys and dicing houses, which in all places are increased, and too much frequented”.

Grub Street
19th-century Grub Street

Towards the end of the 17th century, the street became the haunt of poor and hack writers. Another poet, Andrew Marvell, coined the phrase ‘Grub Street’, which became a generic term for sub-standard literary achievements. This use was aided by Dr Johnson’s definition of it in his 1754 dictionary as “a street near Moorfields, much inhabited by writers of small histories, dictionaries, and temporary poems, whence any mean production is called Grub Street”.

Pope and Swift were two other writers who attacked Grub Street and Pope popularized the street’s image in his Dunciad, described by Pope as “a general satire of Dulness, with characters of contemporary Grub Street scribblers”.

The hack writers flourished, however, and it was not until the 19th century that they began to move away. The local residents, weary of the reputation of their street, decided to change the name and in 1830 it became Milton Street.

While it could have been named after the poet, another theory is that it was the name of a local property owner; according to the 19th-century work A Topographical Dictionary of London and Its Environs by James Elmes, “a respectable builder so called, who has taken the whole street on a repairing lease”.