Elbow Lane, Dick Whittington, and Savage Gardens

In yesterday’s post about Hand Court, I promised more body parts. Although anatomy does not play a very big role in London street names, there are some instances besides Hand Court, such as Head Street in Stepney, Knee Hill in Greenwich, and Elbow Lane in the City of London. (And of course, one of my favourites, Bleeding Heart Yard.)

After my enthusiastic promise of more information on these, so far I have been able to find information only on Elbow Lane, which intersects Cloak Lane. It could be argued that even that example is cheating as it is now, less interestingly, called College Street and in fact it has been covered in an early post about Dick Whittington, who founded the college after which the street is now named.

Savage GdnsI hang my head in shame for having promised and not delivered. So to make up for it, and for no reason other than it is a great sounding name, I give you the poetically named Savage Gardens.

This takes its name from Sir Thomas Savage, who was created Viscount Savage in 1626. He married Elizabeth Darcy, who deserves admiration above all for having provided her husband with eleven sons and nine daughters. Unluckily for Elizabeth, her father and her husband (both of whom she survived) had strong ties to George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, and to Charles I.

Elizabeth suffered the price of being a Catholic at the time: her houses were looted and her belongings confiscated by parliament. Although she did receive popular support from Catholics and Protestants alike, she is said to have incurred losses of £100,000 and eventually died bankrupt.

The term Savage Garden was used in an Anne Rice novel The Vampire Lestat, when Lestat says: “Beauty was a Savage Garden”. The phrase was later adopted by an Australian pop duo.

If I wanted to cheat I could always turn to a number of streets named after pub signs with body parts, such as various queens, kings and nobles with their arms and heads but I’ll admit graceful defeat and return in the next post with something completely different.

Hand Court, shop signs and plague pits

Yesterday’s post involved Tokenhouse Yard, mentioned in Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year; another street mentioned in that account was Hand Alley, near to Houndsditch. The alley, like Bunhill Row and Golden Square, stood on the site of one of the many communal pits for victims of the Great Plague in 1665.

In Defoe’s book he says: “The upper end of Hand Alley, in Bishopsgate Street, which was then a green field, and was taken in particularly for Bishopsgate parish, though many of the carts out of the city brought their dead thither also, particularly out of the parish of St All-hallows on the Wall.”

There is still a Hand Court in London, near Chancery Lane. As with many streets, the name could have come from a sign. In the days when the majority of people could not read, it was important for shopkeepers to have unequivocal signs (unlike taverns, where memorable and unusual signs were popular).

The hand was often used in conjunction with other items: a hand with a coffee pot was the sign of a coffee house; and hand in a glove meant a glover; and a hand and shears was the sign for a tailor. There were also occasions where the use of a hand on a sign had a special significance.

According to the 19th century writer John Camden Hotten: “where the sign is painted with a woman’s hand in it, ‘tis a bawdy house”.

Signs with a hand and heart, or hand in hand, were common in the Fleet Street of the 18th century, as it was an area with many marriage brokers. The Hand in Hand sign was then adopted by many taverns and it is possible that the court took its name from one such tavern.

There are not many body parts in London street names, but there are a couple, so more of that in a later post.

Tokenhouse Yard, the Royal Society, and the Great Plague

Tokenhouse Yard copyYesterday’s post made reference to Tokenhouse Yard and, as promised, here is some more on that City of London street. The derivation of the name is fairly straightforward: there once stood in the yard a house where tokens were issued.

Simple. But, yes, there is more to the story.

The tokens were issued by tradesmen in London and other cities to provide a means of offering currency in smaller amounts. For centuries there was no copper coinage in England: Elizabeth I was, apparently, particularly biased against copper coins. Although copper coins were issued at various times, it was not until 1672, in the reign of Charles II, that copper coins (halfpence and farthings) were declared legal tender and tokens were no longer permitted.

According to Charles II’s proclamation at the time copper coins were finally made legal, anyone who sought to counterfeit any of the new halfpence or farthings were to be considered “utterly inexcusable”. Their contempt of his law and government should cause them to be “chastised with exemplary severity”.

The yard was built by Sir William Petty, an English economist, scientist and philosopher who served under Oliver Cromwell and was able to survive through the reigns of Charles II and James II. He was a charter member of the Royal Society.

Defoe_Journal_of_the_Plague_YearTokenhouse Yard features in Daniel Defoe’s fictionalised account of the Great Plague of London, A Journal of the Plague Year. He writes: “Passing through Tokenhouse Yard, in Lothbury, of a sudden a casement violently opened just over my head, and a woman gave three frightful screeches, and then cried, ‘Oh! death, death, death!’ in a most inimitable tone, which struck me with horror, and a chilliness in my very blood.”

Although Defoe was only three when the plague broke out, but it is assumed that he based much of the work on the journals of his uncle, Henry Foe. Defoe strove so hard to provide a believable account of the plague that his novel is argued to be more non-fiction than fiction and to be more detailed than Samuel Pepys’s contemporary, first-person account.

Prudence and whalebones

A short blog today, to go with two short passages in the City of London: Prudent Passage and Whalebone Court.

Whalebone CourtWhalebone Court, according to an 18th-century source, was so called because whalebone was boiled there, presumably in preparation for it being made into corsets.

That kind of whalebone is not the bones of whales (which is also called whalebone); the stuff once used for ladies’ undergarments is a horny elastic substance in the mouth of a baleen whale. While the whale is alive and the baleen is still in its mouth, it is used as a filter food from water.

Prudent PassageThe name of nearby Prudent Passage is not quite so obvious; one theory is that it may have been something to do with “the foresight displayed in its construction”.

More entertaining is the theory that it once served the same useful function as Passing Alley, and therefore was a prudent route to take on the way home after spending too many hours in the pub.
Another relatively short passage in the same area is Tokenhouse Yard, and more of that in a future blog post.

Pace Place, diplomacy, and poison

Back to blogging: the Christmas bug is finally behind me and my ailing computer has been given a new lease of life, so let’s get straight into it with the musical Pace Place in Tower Hamlets, near Commercial Road. (Incidentally, Commercial Road, a busy, prosperous street in the early 19th century, was what it sounds like: it was opened by the dock companies so that goods could be taken into the City.)

Pace Place, for pure euphony, cannot be considered on its own: two other comrades-in-sound are Strutt Street and Tay Way. Alas, the second two are not in London; they are, respectively, in Belper in Derbyshire and Romford in Essex.

In London, Pace Place was named for Richard Pace, “an amiable and accomplished man”, diplomatist and dean of St Paul’s, as well as chief personal secretary to Henry VIII. He is perhaps best known for giving a sermon at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in Calais (then English and now French), the site of a meeting between Henry VIII and Francis I of France.

Before that, one of Pace’s first jobs as a diplomatist was being sent to Switzerland, in 1515, on the difficult and somewhat dangerous mission of bribing and persuading the Swiss to help England by attacking France. He was imprisoned more than once during the course of his negotiations and, upon his return in 1516, was appointed secretary of state.

Pace held several church appointments, including one of his earliest as secretary to Bishop Bainbridge, who died in Italy, having been poisoned by one of his own chaplains. It was Pace’s loyalty to the bishop and his attempts to discover the identity of the murderer which first brought him to the attention of the king and Cardinal Wolsey (whose admiration later turned to resentment). His health and success in diplomacy failed him in later life – among his less successful efforts were trips back and forth to Italy in order to argue the case for Wolsey’s papacy every time a pope died.

Another of his clerical appointments was as vicar of St Dunstan’s in Stepney: he was appointed on 12 May 1519 and resigned the post in 1527. Pace eventually retired to Stepney; there were false rumours of his death in 1532 but he remained alive for another four years and was buried in the chancel of St Dunstan’s parish church.

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.

Pageantmasters, Lord Mayors, and quills

EAS_4010Following on from a Twitter snippet provided by @CityandLivery today, let’s take a quick look at Pageantmaster Court. That, happily, takes its name from a Pageantmaster, currently Dominic Reid, and its connection to the Lord Mayor’s Show.

The Lord Mayor’s Show – the largest unrehearsed procession in the world – takes place this year on 8 November, the day after the new Lord Mayor takes up office. The tradition dates back to 1215 when King John allowed the Mayor of London to become one of the first elected offices in the modern world.

A condition of this was that every year the newly-elected Mayor should present himself at court and swear loyalty to the Crown. This duty became a more and more grand affair and, by the 16th century, was known worldwide as the Lord Mayor’s Show. London’s most famous diarist, Samuel Pepys, regularly recorded the event in his diaries, starting in 1660.

Key to the show is the Pageantmaster, who organizes the procession, inspects the route, and ensures that all runs smoothly and to time on the day. The importance of this role is reflected in Pageantmaster Court, a 20th-century name for a court that runs off Ludgate Hill. Every year the Pageantmaster processes past Pageantmaster Court during The Lord Mayor’s Show.

Quill
The quill in question

Incidentally, another duty of the Lord Mayor is to officiate at the Changing of the Quill ceremony, part of the John Stow Memorial Service at St Andrew Undershaft Church in St Mary Axe. This year’s event was presided over by the incumbent Lord Mayor, Fiona Woolf, who is only the second woman to have held the post.