From health and love to worship: London’s abstract noun streets

I forgot to mention in the last (Groundhog Day inspired) post that someone has already tackled the thorny issue of the name of Punxsutawney Phil’s home: Gobbler’s Knob. Which generally causes amusement in Britain and not in America. You can read more here on that issue.

But back to noun streets. The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that the last post was limited to concrete nouns. That’s partly because they have better names and stories, and – full disclosure here – I had more pictures of those street signs. (And I have more information on them.)

I can offer you, however, a couple of abstract noun street names, including the Vale of Health in Hampstead, which was once marshy land and anything but healthy. According to Volume 9 of A History of the County of Middlesex, “The name the Vale of Health, recorded in 1801, may have originated as a euphemism which was exploited or as a new name invented in a deliberate attempt to change the image of the place.”

By the 19th century the area had become more fashionable; Leigh Hunt lived there and attracted a circle of literary friends including Byron and Shelley. DH Lawrence lived in the Vale, as did Edgar Wallace.

Building in the Vale was halted towards the end of the 19th century when the 1871 Act for the Preservation of the Heath decreed that development in the Vale could not encroach on the heath.

From health to love, or something like it: there is a Love Lane near London Wall, which – is so called, John Stow wrote candidly in his Survey of London, “of wantons.” Bawdy street names were not uncommon in early London, and you can read more about them here.

There were once other Love Lanes in the City of London (and there is still one in Greenwich), and a more innocent connotation was that the name referred to a sort of lovers’ lane where courting couples used to stroll.

Worship Street (one known as Hog Lane), has a name that, technically, is nothing to do with worship. There was once a merchant tailor called John Worshop who owned over six acres of land in the area. It is likely that the street was named for him, and then corrupted to its present form. Happily, though, the street contained an old foundry once used as a place of worship by John Wesley.

There is a Retreat Place in Hackney, which takes its name from almshouses. In 1812 Samuel Robinson founded and funded almshouses for twelve poor widows. The houses were called ‘The Widow’s Retreat’ and the street that ran past it was similarly named.

Along those lines, Asylum Road in Peckham takes its name from the Victuallers Asylum, built in the 19th century to aid distressed members of the Victuallers Trade or their wives.

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London’s fishy streets: from Fish Street Hll to Shad Thames

Albacore Crescent
Photo: streatsoflondon

‘Why not fish?’ Paxview enquired of me, making reference to Shadwell. Why not indeed? I hadn’t made the Shadwell – or Shad Thames – connection with fish before, but once the fishy idea was in my head it was like an earworm, so I rushed off to my favourite culinary street name resource, streatsoflondon.

Borrowing heavily (with prior permission, of course) from that site, I can give you the following: Albacore Crescent, Bream Street, Brill Place, Coley Street, Dace Road, Drum Street, Grayling Road, Ling Road, Mullet Gardens, Perch Street, Pike Close, Roach Road, Salmon Place, Shad Thames, Sturgeon Road, Tench Street, Trout Road, and Whiting Avenue.

And, if we’re not being purist about fish rather than seafood, we can also include Oyster Row and streets that are precluded from inclusion on that website, such as Bream’s Buildings, Fish Street Hill and Pickle Herring Street, more of which shortly, but – as is my wont – let’s start on a bit of a tangent with Billingsgate, originally one of the old water gates of the City of London.

That doesn’t have a fishy name but is certainly loaded with fish associations. According to John Stow, the market was originally a general market for a number of goods including corn, coal, iron, wine, salt, pottery – and fish, and by the 16th century had become a specialist fish market. The cries of the vendors gave their name to an expression of vulgar language, as in swearing like a fishwife, particularly a Billingsgate fishwife.

Fish Street Hill 2Near to Billingsgate is Fish Street Hill, once New Fish Street, the main road leading to London Bridge. 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. Samuel Pepys mentions it in his description of the Great Fire of 1666:

“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.”

We’ve touched on Pickle Herring Street, before; this, sadly, no longer exists, having given way to modern developments in the Tooley Street area. The name could be because the street was on the site of one of the Thames River’s old wharves – where cargoes of pickled herrings were shipped.

Piclle Herring StreetOn the other hand, the name may also have come from the fact that Sir John Falstofe, who gave his name to Shakespeare’s Falstaff – and was once a fish merchant – lived on this spot in 1447. Incidentally, though herrings were pickled in England as far back as the 14th century, it was more of a Dutch speciality. There is a record, in 1584, of a ‘Peter Van Duraunte alias Pickell Heringe’ being buried in Bermondsey; he was actually a brewer, but he may have had an inn called the Pickled Herring.

As you can see in the map section pictured left, Pickle Herring Street led into Shad Thames under the Tower Bridge Road, so we can stop being tangential and lead into Shad Thames ourselves.

Shad ThamesAnd, surprise, surprise, the name is nothing to do with fish. It is, instead, probably a contraction of St John at Thames; the Priory of St John at Jerusalem owned about 25 acres of land here from the 13th century until the Dissolution. In Oliver Twist, Bill Sikes lived and died on Jacob’s Island, east of Shad Thames.

(Incidentally, while I am singing the praises of other blogs such as Paxview and streatsoflondon, and we are on the subject of Charles Dickens, you could do worse than have a look at another great London-related blog, David Perdue’s Charles Dickens Page.)

On to another fish name that has nothing to do with fish: Salmon Lane in Limehouse. This takes is name from the church of St Dunstan’s in Stepney. Work that one out. No, don’t bother, I’ll tell you: ‘Salmon’ in this instance is a corruption of ‘sermon’; this was the closest church for Limehouse residents until 1729 when St Anne’s church was built in Newell Street. So the lane was the route people would walk to church to hear a sermon.

Salmon Lane
Photo: streatsoflondon

See? Easy when you know. Incidentally, the church of St Anne’s was designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, contemporary of Sir Christopher Wren; he also contributed to the design of St Paul’s Cathedral and Blenheim Palace.

While I’m not sure about Bream Street, Bream’s Buildings, which leads off Chancery Lane, was once a cul-de-sac. In 1877 it was extended into Fetter Lane; it may have been named after the landowner or builder. The name itself may come from the word ‘breme’ meaning fierce or energetic. Likewise, Coley Street is named for a person rather than a fish: Henry Coley was a 17th-century astrologer and mathematician. That name comes from ‘colig’, meaning dark or swarthy.

Back, briefly to Shadwell – the reason for this entire blog. When I was first in the UK there was a TV comic program called ‘Naked Video’ and one of the regular characters was geeky Welsh Siadwell (pronounced Shadwell). I thought it was one of the funniest things I’d ever seen even though, as a recent arrival to these shores, I understood very few of the references. Does anyone else remember Siadwell? I seem to recall that he was always being threatened with a kicking by the school bully.

London’s occupational streets: from apothecaries to wrestlers

London’s street names are full of those relating to, or seeming to relate to, occupations, and an earlier post looked at the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker, as well as Dean Street, Pardoner Street, and Pimp Hall Park.

Today let’s look at some more occupations, trades, and titles in London street names, starting with Apothecary Street, south of Fleet Street. Many ‘trade’ streets take their name from an association with one of the City Livery Companies, and Apothecary Street is one of them.

The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London was founded in 1617 by James I to prevent unqualified people from making medicine. His Royal Apothecary established the first hall here in 1633. It was destroyed over 30 years later in the Great Fire of London, which started in Pudding Lane, and was rebuilt in Blackfriars Lane in 1786.

Czar Street in Deptford was named for Peter the Great, Czar of Russia, who lodged here at the end of the 17th century, supposedly learn shipbuilding at the local shipyard, famous since the reign of Henry VIII. His – originally delighted – landlord was the diarist John Evelyn, who had moved to Deptford to escape the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire.

Evelyn had let the propery, Sayes Court, to Captain (later Admiral) John Benbow, which he began to regret, writing that he had “the mortification every day of seeing much of my former labours and expense there impairing for want of a more polite tenant”.

To make matters worse, Benbow in turn sublet the property to the Czar of Russia who delighted in being trundled in a wheelbarrow through Evelyn’s holly hedge. Evelyn’s manservant wrote that the house was “full of people, and right nasty”.

Evelyn later writes sadly of his “now ruined garden, thanks to the Czar of Moscovy”. The government later agreed to compensate him and Christopher Wren, along with the King’s gardener, was assigned the job of assessing the situation and supervising the repairs, though much of the damage caused was irreparable. The extent of the damage was assessed at 162 pounds and 7 shillings – an amount that would equate to thousands of pounds today.

Dame Street in Islington was named for Dame Anne Packington (nee Dacres), who is also remembered in nearby Packington Street. This area was once part of Middlesex; when the canons of St Paul’s who owned the land, divided it into six parishes and disposed of much of it, they retained the prebendal land of Islington.

The Clothworkers Company became one of the largest landowners here, especially after Dame Anne’s death in 1563, as she bequeathed 60 acres of land to them.

So far, so good on names making sense, but Dancer Road in Parsons Greet is nothing at all to do with dance, The road was named in 1881 after the Dancer (or Dauncer) family who had connections with the area since the early 17th century.
In 1656 one Nathaniel Dancer or Dauncer) left a fund for the poor of Fulham, to be paid out of two acres of land. The family also had a market garden in this area until 1884.

Goldsmith’s Row and Goldsmith Street do take their name from goldsmiths. The goldsmiths plied their trade in Goldsmith’s Row and Lombard street but, according to Walter Thornbury in Old and New London, “In 1622 the traders of the Goldsmiths’ Company began to complain that alien traders were creeping into and alloying the special haunts of the trade, Goldsmiths’ Row and Lombard Street; and that 183 foreign goldsmiths were selling counterfeit jewels, engrossing the business and impoverishing its members.”

Goldsmith Street is near to where, in 1339, a merchant’s house was purchased; this house was on the site of where Goldsmith’s Hall still stands today. The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths is number five in the City Livery Companies, and by Elizabethan times they owned much of the property in the area.

EAS_4083Grocers’ Hall Court, unsurprisingly, takes its name from the fact that the Grocers Hall Company has been there since 1427. The company, once called the Pepperers, became the Grocers in 1345 and are second in the list of City Livery Companies. They were a powerful company for centuries but their power was diminished somewhat in 1617 when the Apothecaries seceded and took the profitable drug trade with them.

Haberdasher Street takes its name from a bequest by Robert Aske, silk merchant and member of the Haberdashers’ Company. He left land and money to the Company; it was used to establish a school in 1690.

Hosier Lane was a medieval streets with specialized tradesmen. In the 14th century the hosiers lived and worked here, making their age’s equivalent of today’s trousers: fashionable garments that replaced the robes of previous generations. These hose were brightly dyed, often with legs in contrasting colours.

The houses in the lane were, at one time, nearly all built of timber, probably dating back to the 17th century. There was a barber’s shop on the corner, in which was displayed a dagger said to be the one with which Walworth killed Wat Tyler, virtually on that spot.

Ironmonger Row was once largely inhabited by ironmongers, the row was built in the 18th century on land bequeathed to the Ironmongers Company in 1527 by Thomas Mitchell, ironmonger and citizen of London. the bequest involved 10 acres, so there was lots of room for other streets to be built, and others were Mitchell Street, Helmet Row, and Lizard Street.

Jockeys Fields does have an equestrian connection, albeit with a rather more sedate pace than horse racing. The fields in question may have formed part of the route taken by the mayor and other dignitaries – on horseback – to inspect the City Conduit, built in the 13th century to provide drinking water piped from the River Tyburn to the City of London.

This annual event later developed into a grand mayoral hunt, but use of the conduit ceased after the Great Fire of 1666.

Managers Street in the Docklands area does take its name from managers. In this case, the managers of the Metropolitan Asylums Board (MAB), formed by legislation to deal with London’s sick poor. TheThe MAB established floating smallpox hospitals, and Managers Street led to the wharf used for these ships.

EAS_4010Pageantmaster Court takes its name from the Pageantmaster who organizes the procession of the Lord Mayors show. This duty includes inspecting the route and ensures that all runs smoothly and to time on the day.

Ropemaker Street was one of many ‘rope walks’ that existed on the outskirts of medieval London. Lengths of rope were twisted as long as possible, and this street was longer and straighter than many of the time. The ropemakers were living there up until the 17th century. Daniel Defoe died, impoverished and unknown, in lodgings in this street.

Wrestlers Court is from, well, wrestlers. Wrestling was a popular sport in London; Pepys mentions it in his diary when he writes, “Thence homewards by coach, through Moorefields, where we stood awhile, and saw the wrestling.”
John Stow writes of it being “against the wall of the city… a large inn or court called the Wrestlers, of such a sign”.

We shouldn’t really end this occupation-themed post without mentioning Occupation Road in south London. This, however, comes from occupation as in occupied by, rather than career. At one time occupation of the land went with rights of access: this was the way to a strip of land, used for cultivation and owned by a Walworth villager.

Stoke Poges, Thomas Gray, and the Cornhill Devils

St Giles church copy
St Giles church, Stoke Poges

Hello, gentle readers, and forgive me for the brief absence from this blog. We were last looking London squares mentioned in University Challenge, and I hope for today you will indulge me in a few moments’ reminiscence. One of the places I have had on my ‘must visit’ list for as longs I can remember is Stoke Poges.

Gray plaque copyWhy, you ask? (Though for some of you it may be obvious.)

Well, one of the very first poems I remember being aware of (after ‘The Goblin Market’ by Christina Rossetti) was Thomas Gray’s ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’. The very first lines I knew of it were: “Full many a flower is born to blush unseen/And waste its sweetness on the desert air.”

Gray tomb copy
Thomas Gray’s final resting place

That churchyard belongs to the parish church of St Giles, where Gray is buried. In the adjacent field there is a large memorial to Gray. So I got to visit Stoke Poges; see the churchyard; see where Gray is buried; and see a memorial to Gray.

Ok, enough indulgence and reminiscence. But Gray does, of course, have London connections: he was born in Cornhill. As far as I know that’s the only real London connection. We’ve visited Cornhill before, in the pages of this blog, but here’s a recap of some of the facts about that ancient street.

Gray memorial copy
The Thomas Gray memorial

Walter Thornbury, author of the first two volumes of Old and New London, said of it that, “Cornhill, considering its commercial importance, is a street by no means full of old memories.” However, there is lots of interesting ‘stuff’ about the street. First of all, it is (despite the claims of Panyer Alley) the highest point in the City of London.

In fact, one of my favourite tidbits of information about Cornhill involves the church of St Peter’s Cornhill, which stands on that highest point. The church was, for a time, considered to be the oldest church in England and has the only chancel-screen known to have been designed by Christopher Wren.

EAS_4101Facing the church, at 54-55 Cornhill, is a building with three 19th-century gargoyles known as the Cornhill Devils. These are, supposedly, an architect’s revenge on an obstreperous rector.

When the buildings in that area were being designed, the rector of the time discovered that one of the buildings would encroach fractionally on church land. He insisted the plans be redrawn so, forced literally back to the drawing board, and facing no small expense as a result, the architect gave one of the gargoyles the face of the rector.

Apart from Gray, Cornhill has some literary connections: the publishers Smith and Elder had an office there in the 19th century; and two sisters had to appear there in person to prove that they were Anne and Charlotte Bronte rather than Acton and Currer Bell.

And Daniel Defoe had a hosiers shop there; in between his writing he was a trader and one of the goods in which he dealt was hosiery.

Ironmonger Row: lizards, Formosans and laudanum

Following on from yesterday’s post about livery companies and their connections with London’s streets, let’s revisit the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers, partly because I gave them such short shrift and partly because of a (tenuous) connection to a great eccentric.

To start with, the company does give its name to Ironmonger Lane near St Paul’s cathedral. It was was once known as ‘Ysmongeres Lane’ around the turn of the 12th century and was also the haunt of ironmongers. The Ironmongers Company had their original hall here until the 15th century, when they acquired buildings in Fenchurch Street and moved there, along with most of the ironmongers.

It also gives its name to Ironmonger Row further north; once largely inhabited by ironmongers, the row was built in the 18th century on land bequeathed to the Ironmongers Company in 1527 by Thomas Mitchell, ironmonger and citizen of London. The bequest involved 10 acres, so there was lots of room for more streets to be built, and others were Mitchell Street, Helmet Row, and Lizard Street.

The derivation of the name Mitchell Street is pretty obvious, but Helmet Row and Lizard Street may give pause to think. Unless you see the coat of arms of the Ironmongers Company, which features two salamanders (lizards) and a helmet.

But back to Ironmongers Row and perhaps its most eccentric inhabitant: George Psalmanazar, who was, perhaps, as famous for being an enthusiastic user of laudanum as for being a fraud. He claimed to be the first Formosan (Formosa being Taiwan today) to visit Europe and wrote extensively about the country in his book An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa, an Island subject to the Emperor of Japan.

As the name alone suggests, it was as fictional as it was detailed. A couple of its highlights were the ‘facts’ that men walked naked except for a gold or silver plate to cover their genitals and that Formosans were polygamous and husbands had a right to eat their wives for infidelity.

Psalmanazar lived to be eighty-four and attributed his good health to the “ten or twelve spoonfuls of laudanum, and very often more” that he drank every night.

Threadneedle Street and a tenuous connection with Cromwell

30 January marks two executions in history: one genuine and one ceremonial. On 30 January 1649 Charles I was beheaded, following the Rump Parliament declaring him guilty of treason. On 30 January 1661 the remains of Oliver Cromwell, the man behind the the Rump Parliament and the king’s execution, were exhumed from Westminster Abbey and ceremonially executed.

There’s already a post on streets with Cromwell connections, but I’m working to an ongoing challenge to find ever-more tenuous connections between historical figures or events and London streets, and there’s a Cromwell association I missed before. It is tenuous, so bear with me.

The City Livery Companies of London play an important role in the city’s history and street names, and one of them, the The Worshipful Company of Needlemakers, was granted livery in 1656 by Oliver Cromwell. The coat of arms of the Company includes three needles, which probably give its name to Threadneedle Street – originally known as ‘three needle’ street, according to John Stow.

The Bank of England is known as the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street, but the nickname comes not from the institution’s age but from the sad story of a bereaved sister. Another tidbit of information about the street is that it is where Sir Thomas Hariot, who introduced the potato to England, died.

White Horse Street, hill figures, and a dragon

John Rocque, one of London’s most famous cartographers, had a print shop near White Horse Street in Mayfair. The street takes its name from a royal emblem used in tavern signs; this was from the royal house of Hanover, which adopted a galloping white horse, dating from the accession of George I in 1714. The sign itself, however, was in use long before that as the emblem of ancient Saxons and, later, the emblem of Kent.

There are several chalk figures – mainly horses – in the UK, carved into hillsides; although they are not uncommon, only a handful have been dated before 1700. One of the oldest (possibly the oldest) and most famous is in the Vale of the White Horse at Uffington in Oxfordshire.

The age of this horse is uncertain: it was once said to commemorate the victory of King Alfred over the Danes in 871, but it dates back long before that – some say to at least 50 BC. It does not look very much like a horse, and its lines are suggestive of prehistoric cave drawings.

Two notable points about the white horse are that it is the only hillside figure to face to the right, and one of its legs is in the wrong position. Because it is cut on a slope, the earth continually moves from the top of the horse and settles at the bottom, giving rise to the legend that ‘While men sleep the horse climbs up the hill’.

Two of the most famous authors to have immortalized this horse were GK Chesterton and Thomas Hughes. Chesterton wrote the ‘Ballad of the White Horse’ which draws on the story of Alfred and the Danes. Alfred rides past the hill,

“And when he came to White Horse Down
The Great White Horse was grey
For it was ill scoured of the meed,
And lichen and thorn could crawl and feed
Since the foes of settled house and creed
Had swept old works away”

Hughes mentions the horse in Tom Brown’s Schooldays, and it is the centre of his 1857 book The Scouring of the White Horse, which describes the festivities surrounding the cleaning of the figure. The tradition of scouring is an old one whereby the neighbouring residents were responsible for keeping the grass from growing over the horse; when Hughes wrote about it in 1857 it was a revival of the old custom.

One of the stories behind the horse is that it commemorates St George’s slaying of the dragon; a smaller mound near to the horse – Dragon Hill – is free of growth on its top and has twisting trails of chalk down the side which are equally bare. This is supposed to be where the dragon’s venomous blood was spilled and trickled down the side, so that nothing could grow there.

Not related to the street, but to white horses: it was at an country inn called the White Horse that George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, spent his last few years.