Friends, dispensaries, and Barack Obama

Today is, apparently, Friendship Day, so let’s have a look at London’s amicable streets, starting with Friend Street in Clerkenwell, towards the north end of St John Street – the other end from Passing Alley. It has nothing to do with pals, but takes its name from George Friend.

Mr Friend, gentleman dyer to the East India Company and a Quaker – a member of the Society of Friends – was generous as well as rich. In 1780 he established the Finsbury Dispensary, a free clinic for the neighbourhood’s poorer residents.

James Paget, considered to be one of the founders of scientific medical pathology, was one of the surgeons who worked at the Dispensary, and there is a Paget Street leading off Friend Street.

A Friendship Walk in Northolt takes its name from an aircraft (the Fokker Friendship); appropriate in view of its proximity to two airports (Northolt and Heathrow and there is a Friendship Way in East London, in an area once called Knob Hill, not far from the site of the London 2012 Olympic Stadium. This one is close to Pudding Mill Lane, which takes its name from a mill that was shaped like a pudding.

There are also a Friendly Street and a Friendly Place.

Incidentally, the 4th of August marks a birthday shared by Louis Armstrong, Billy Bob Thornton, and Barack Obama.

Read in the Bathtub Day (but at your peril)

Moorfields Hospital
Moorfields Eye Hospital
UPDATE: Peerless Pool has been nominated for an Islington People’s Plaque 2014.

This day in London’s history: 9 February is, apparently, Read in the Bathtub Day and there is a Bath Street in Clerkenwell, leading to Peerless Street (location of the Moorfields Eye Hospital), which takes its name from a luxury swimming bath that was once a dangerous pond. The name is more of a disguise than an indication of any superlative quality.

The name comes from a spring that overflowed and formed a pond – Perilous Pond – so-called, says London historian John Stow, because “divers youths, by swimming therein, have drowned”. The pond, with its unfortunate propensity for drowning people, was finally closed off.

In 1743, William Kemp, a jeweller, converted the pond to a luxury swimming bath with a well-stocked fish pond next to it. In the winter the pond was used for ice skating. Both were available to visit at the price of one guinea per annum or two shillings per visit; Kemp wisely changed the name from Perilous Pond to to Peerless Pool.

The path alongside the bath was called Peerless Row and later became Peerless Street. The pool was closed in 1850 and then built over.

St Apollonia
St Apollonia

In addition to Read in the Bathtub Day, February 9 is also celebrated (or otherwise noted) in the US as National Bagel Day and National Toothache Day. Entertainingly, some people point to the founding of the Hershey Corporation on 9 February 1894 as being a possibility for the reason behind Toothache Day. More likely is is because 9 February is St Apollonia’s Day; she was a virgin martyr whose torture included having her teeth either broken or pulled out. She is regarded as the patron saint of dentistry and those suffering from toothache.

The eagle, Benjamin Franklin, and Eagle Court

Great SealThis day in London history: on 26 January 1784 Benjamin Franklin wrote to his daughter, expressing dissatisfaction at the choice of the bald eagle as the symbol for the United States. The Great Seal of the US, showing the eagle with arrows, an olive branch, and the motto ‘E Pluribus Unum’ (one from many), had been adopted by Congress on June 20, 1782.

“For my own part,” Franklin grumbled, “I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly.” The eagle looked a bit more like a turkey, Franklin thought, which was no bad thing. “For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”

St John
John the Evangelist outside St. John’s Seminary, Boston Photo copyright John Stephen Dwyer

The eagle has been used as a symbol by many people over the ages. The Romans used it as an emblem on their military standards, other countries have adopted the eagle as a national symbol, and it is also an heraldic symbol. And of course, with Apollo 11‘s famous visit to the Moon in 1969, Neil Armstrong’s phrase “the Eagle has landed” has gone down in history and is used to indicate a mission accomplished.

There is an Eagle Court in Clerkenwell in London: the eagle also formed part of the decoration on church lecterns because it was the symbol of St John. The Bailiff of Eagle is an important office in the Order of St John and the bailiff’s house once stood just outside the Priory of Clerkenwell on the site now commemorated by Eagle Court. Some sources say it should properly be ‘Egle’, but that does not seem likely in view of the significance of the eagle itself.