Allgood Street to Soho Square: Welsh connections in London streets

Today, for a variety of reasons, I want to focus on streets in London with connections to Wales. Before we start, here are the various reasons for today’s theme:

  • On the 7th of September I will be taking on the Wye Valley Mighty Hike, in aid of Macmillan. It is a 26-mile hike that takes place in Wales, starting in Chepstow and finishing in Monmouth. I’ve mentioned it a few times before; my training has kept me away from the blog and if anyone else would like to sponsor me, my fundraising page is here.
  • My maternal grandmother was of Welsh ancestry.
  • The wonderful Victor Spinetti was born in Wales; he would have been 90 today and I discovered recently that he was the uncle of a friend of mine. There is a charming mini biography of Victor here.

Let’s start with Allgood Street in East London: though named for a a local antiquarian, HGC Allgood, it was previously called Henrietta Street after Henrietta Wentworth, the 6th Baroness Wentworth.

Henrietta, due to marry Richard Tufton, 5th Earl of Thanet, took up with the (married) Duke of Monmouth, the natural (but illegitimate) son of Charles II. Monmouth sought to overthrow his uncle, King James II of England and James VI of Scotland, who was the younger brother and heir of Charles II.

Monmouth’s rebellion was ultimately unsuccessful and he was beheaded at Tower Hill, once the site of public executions, on 15 July 1685. The story of Monmouth’s execution is a particularly grisly one: the executioner, Jack Ketch, had a bad day (though not quite as bad as Monmouth’s): he took five attempts with his axe to complete the job and even then had to finish it with a knife. 

Henrietta had used her jewels and wealth to help fund Monmouth’s unsuccessful attempts to capture the throne and she died the year after Monmouth’s execution, supposedly from a broken heart.

My more regular readers will know that I am not averse to exceedingly tenuous connections, and I should not disappoint with the next two streets.

Amen Corner is a tiny lane near to St Paul’s cathedral and one of a group of streets with religious names. One explanation is that, before the Reformation, there was a regular procession of the clergy around the cathedral; this involved reciting the Lord’s Prayer in Paternoster Row, the Hail Mary in Ave Maria Lane, the Credo in Creed Lane, and the Amen in Amen Corner.

The Welsh connection is that there was a 1960s Welsh pop group called Amen Corner, whose biggest UK chart hit was ‘(If Paradise is) Half as Nice’ which stayed in the charts for 16 weeks in 1969, two of them at the No 1 spot. The band took its name from a club in Cardiff.

We now move north to Black Boy Lane in Harringay; this name was common in the 17th and 18th centuries for tobacconists and coffee houses as well as taverns. The name referred to Charles II’s nickname: it is said that, when Charles was born, he was nicknamed the Black Boy by his mother, Queen Henrietta Maria, because of his dark hair and eyes and swarthy appearance.

The Welsh connection? The Black Boy pub in Caernarfon, in the Snowdonia area of North Wales, is thought to date back to 1552, and is one of the oldest surviving inns in the area. There is also a theory that the pub’s name may have come not from Charles II’s nickname, but from a black buoy in the harbour.

From north to south, and Black Prince Road in Lambeth, which takes its name from Edward, the Black Prince, eldest son of Edward III of England and Philippa of Hainault. Edward III gave the manor of Kennington to his son in 1337.

The Black Prince, whose name may have come from the colour of his armour, has the unenviable claim of being the first English Prince of Wales (Welsh connection) not to become King of England, having predeceased his father. He was considered one of the most successful English commanders during the Hundred Years’ War, being regarded by his contemporaries as a model of chivalry and one of the greatest knights of his age.

(The Black Prince makes an appearance as Sir William Colville in the movie A Knight’s Tale, though I am informed that historical accuracy takes second place to drama in this case.)

The road was previously called Lambeth Butts. Butts is a not uncommon street appellation, and usually features in lists of rude street names. However, it comes from archery: a butt is an archery shooting field, with mounds of earth used for the targets. The name originally referred to the targets themselves, but over time came to mean the platforms that held the targets as well.

A marginally less tenuous Welsh connection comes with Clothier Street near Houndsditch. It has a connection to the rag trade that goes back to Elizabethan times when it was famous as a gathering area for sellers of old apparel. An official Clothes Exchange was established there in 1875 and the current name was assigned in 1906.

In 2008 Prince Charles, Prince of Wales honoured a debt with the Clothiers Company of Worcester incurred by Charles II in 1651. Prior to the Battle of Worcester in 1651, Charles II commissioned the Clothiers Company to make uniforms for his troops, and promised to pay after winning the battle. However, Cromwell won and Charles fled to Europe, leaving a debt of £453.3s which he did not settle after he acceded to the throne.

The Prince of Wales personally repaid the sum of £453.15 as a gesture of goodwill during a visit to The Commandery, which served as the Headquarters for the Royalists during the battle.

In Covent Garden, Orange Street could be named after William III, William of Orange and grandson of Charles I, who became joint monarch with his wife Mary in 1689. But that’s nothing to do with Wales.

The other explanation is that, when building of the street was begun in the 1670s, the area at that time was a favoured spot for stabling of courtiers’ horses. There were several mews there, including the Green and Blue Mews. The Duke of Monmouth’s stables stood partly on the site of Orange Street; as his coat of arms were orange, it is likely that his stables were called Orange Mews to differentiate from the other colours.

For a real Welsh connection, we can go to Petty Wales near Tower Bridge. The street was probably so called because it was the settlement of a Welsh centre (from ‘petit’, French for ‘little’). There is also a Petty France in London, for many years the home of the London passport office. There were once several ‘foreign’ sectors in London, such as Petty Burgundy and Petty Calais, though one of them is nothing to do with the nationality of its inhabitants.

Soho Square has two connections with the unfortunate Duke of Monmouth; the square was built in the late 17th century and was originally called King’s Square, after Charles II. When building began in 1681, apparently there were only a few residents, one of whom was the Duke of Monmouth.

The square eventually took its name from the area, known as Soho or Sohoe. The name is generally accepted to have come from an ancient hunting cry; apparently ‘tally ho!’ is the cry when a fox breaks cover and ‘soho!’ is when huntsmen uncouple the dogs. The Duke of Monmouth used ‘Soho!’ as a rallying cry for his troops at the Battle of Sedgemoor, the final battle in his rebellion.

Since the Duke of Monmouth has featured so much in this post, I should finish with Monmouth Street, one of the streets at Seven Dials, which was an early exercise in town planning. 

In 1693 the Master of the Royal Mint, Sir Thomas Neale, purchased a meadow in what is now the heart of London’s Soho. He planned seven streets radiating from a central point where there was a six-sided column with a sun dial on each face. Some say the seven comes from the column itself; others that the column was commissioned before a change of plan meant there were seven streets instead of six.

The column was taken down 1773 when a false rumour circulated to the effect that money was hidden in the base and it was relocated elsewhere. The street names have changed over the years: what was originally Little Monmouth Street is now Mercer Street; what was Monmouth Street is now Shaftesbury Avenue; and what was St Andrew’s Street Great & Little is now Monmouth Street.

I’m thinking of an Italian connection post some time soon: there was a great deal of Italian immigration to Wales, and there are Welsh festivals in Italy and Italian festivals in Wales, so that would lead on nicely from a Welsh theme. And my mother’s parents were Italian.

Now that I have finished the serious training for Saturday, I am hoping I’ll have more time now to resume this blog but I may start off with weekly or even fortnightly posts as I recover from my walk.

From Fashion to Threadneedle: London street names and the Great British Sewing Bee 

It seemed only logical that, having written a post on baking-related themes for the final of the Great British Bakeoff last October, the recent final of the Great British Sewing Bee should also prompt me to find street names related to sewing and fashion. (First, I should apologise for the hiatus in posting. I apologise.)

The most obvious is Fashion Street in Spitalfields and I have to go off on a slight tangent here: I was excited, in double-checking something for this post on Wikipedia, to discover that one of my posts is cited as a reference for Flower and Dean Street. But I digress.

Fashion Street is nothing to do with clothes or sewing: it was so named when it was built in the 1650s; the land upon which it stands belonged to the Fasson brothers – Thomas and Lewis, skinner and goldsmith respectively. By 1708 Fasson Street had been corrupted to Fashion Street. They also owned the land upon which stood Flower and Dean Street, where two of Jack the Ripper’s victims lived, and that street was named for bricklayers John Flower and Gowen Dean. 

For a long time Fashion Street – and, indeed, the whole area – was a dirty and dangerous place to live. Jack London lived in Flower and Dean Street in 1902-3 and wrote a book, The People of the Abyss, about the state of life in the Whitechapel and Spitalfields areas of London.

Another obvious sewing street name is Threadneedle Street, home of the Bank of England. The Bank of England. The derivation of the name is not as straightforward as might first appear. Thread and needle certainly make contextual sense, but the street was originally Three Needle Street and was known as such for a long time.

The name is likely to derive from the arms of the The Worshipful Company of Needlemakers, whose coat of arms includes three needles, but the sewing connections don’t end there. The Merchant Taylors, who began life as the Company of Tailors and Linen-Armourers, have had their hall here since 1347, and once owned almshouses in Threadneedle Street for its aged members.

Petticoat Lane belongs to this category, even though it is no longer called that; the lane was covered in a recent post about names that aren’t what they seem, and you can read that here. This name could derive from the fact that secondhand clothes dealers established this as the centre of London’s used clothes district, or from the English form of the French petit court, a “little short lane”.

There is Cloak Lane, which is one of those nice-sounding but icky names, like Maiden Lane, which takes its name from ‘midden’ or dung heap. Cloak in this instance is likely to derive from the Latin cloaca, or sewer. The lane was once called Horseshoe Bridge and led over the Walbrook; there was probably a sewer draining into the brook at that point.

If you prefer a more romantic story, then let’s look to the recently-posted tale of Bleeding Heart Yard, which you can read here. As Saint Nick was carrying off the beautiful gypsy maid who had sold her soul to him, her heart fell in Bleeding Heart Yard, her cloak in Cloak Lane, and one of her shoes in Shoe Lane.

Some might argue that shoes fit in the fashion category, but I am sticking with the clothing and sewing side of fashion and we can look at shoes another time.

Cloth Fair takes name from Bartholomew Fair; this three-day event was held in the Smithfield area from the 12th century to the 19th century. The fair was, early on, essentially a trade fair for the woollen and drapery industries, with Italian and Flemish cloth merchants, and money charged on tolls for goods was a source of income for the priory of St Bartholomew. The nearby Cloth Court and Cloth Street also took their name from the fair.

Bartholomew Fair gradually attracted more and more people, and soon the speciality of cloth was virtually overlooked. Ben Jonson, who immortalised it in the comic play Bartholomew Fair, first staged on 31 October 1614.

Clothier Street in Houndsditch, which was known previously as Crab Court and Carter Street, has a connection to the clothing industry that goes back to Elizabethan times when it was famous as a gathering area for “sellers of old apparel”. An official Clothes Exchange was established there in 1875 and the current name was assigned in 1906.

There isn’t a City of London worshipful company of clothiers, but there is Worshipful Company of Clothiers in Worcester.

In 2008 Prince Charles visited the city of Worcester and paid £453.15 to the Company, thus settling a Royal debt dating back to 1651. Prior to the Battle of Worcester that year, Charles II commissioned the Company to make uniforms for his troops, promising to pay after winning the battle. However, Cromwell won and Charles II fled to Europe, leaving a debt of £453.3s which he did not settle after he acceded to the throne. That is what you call serious welshing on a deal. (And before any Welsh readers complain about me feeding into negative stereotypes, don’t forget I supported Wales in the Six Nations.)

Haberdasher Street in Shoreditch 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. The Haberdashers’ Company maintains a strong tradition of supporting schools.

Silk merchant takes us onto Silk Street, which was built either in 1799 or 1879 and takes its name from silk weaving in 17th-century London, which was carried on largely by French refugees who settled in the Spitalfields area. By the 19th century they had been joined by their English counterparts from the north, who set up silk factories. Many of them lived in this street, which was finally named in recognition of that fact. (Since there’s always one in every crowd, the theory has also been put forward that the name may have come from a builder.)

London’s clothing streets: from Boot Street to Whalebone Court

Buckle Street2Before Boot Street (alphabetically speaking) there are various Ascot Houses, Courts, and Lodges, but they are all buildings rather than streets. So let’s move along alphabetically to Boot Street near Old Street station in Islington.

One thing I have learned about this street is that it was used as a location for the filming of The Crying Game: the exterior of the Metro Pub, where Dil sings the title song, was an empty property behind a pub on the corner with Coronet Street.

Buckle Street, in East London (not far from Amazon Street, Batty Street and Coke Street) may, like Bucklersbury, take its name from the Bukerel (or Buckerell or Bucherel) family who were London property owners in the 12th century. The family had a fortified mansion, or bury, on the banks of the Walbrook – one of London’s now subterranean rivers, which gave its name to a ward and to the street that still bears its name.

(By the 13th century it was less than salubrious as it had to keep being cleared of dung.) Stow refers to “a manor and tenements pertaining to one Buckle, who dwelt there, and kept his courts”.

Cloak LaneSpeaking of the Walbrook and dung, that takes us to Cloak Lane, which has featured a few times in this blog and is also included in the ‘scatalogical London’ category. Fittingly, it once led over the Walbrook, when it was called Horseshoe Bridge. The current name first appears in the late 17th century and is likely to have derived from the Latin ‘cloaca’, or sewer.
Clothier Street cropA more glamorous, though unlikely in the extreme, explanation is that it refers to the cloak dropped by Lady Elizabeth Hatton as she was carried away from a party by Old Nick from Bleeding Heart Yard. Similarly, Shoe Lane is supposed to be where she dropped her shoe; again, this is – alas – unlikely. More likely is the theory that an early reference to it as ‘Scholanda’ (Show-land) means that the lane was once a place for the setting out and showing of water-borne merchandise to tax collectors and customers.

Other explanations are that Scholanda could also have meant ‘land shaped like a shoe’ and that the lane led to such a piece of land. Alternatively, it could have taken its name from an ancient well –
Showelle – at the north end of the lane.

Give me Lady Elizabeth any time.

Next, we have Cloth Court, Cloth Fair, and Cloth Street, all of which presumably get their name in the same way. From the 12th century to the 19th century a three-day fair – Bartholomew Fair – was held in the Smithfield area; money charged on tolls for goods was a source of income for the priory of St Bartholomew.

The fair was, early on, essentEAS_4009ially a trade fair for the woollen and drapery industries, with Italian and Flemish cloth merchants, though it later became a rowdy free-for-all. By the early 19th century, pickpockets and brawlers dominated, and the fair was discontinued in 1855.

Incidentally, 41 Cloth Fair, built between 1597 and 1614, is one of the only houses in the City to have escaped the flames and lays claim to being the oldest London house in existence.

From cloth to clothiers: Clothier Street (also known once as Crab Court and Carter Street), near Houndsditch has a connection to the rag trade that goes back to Elizabethan times when it was famous as a gathering area for “sellers of old apparel”. An official Clothes Exchange was established there in 1875 and the current name was assigned in 1906.

Petticoat Lane viewNot far away is Middlesex Street, otherwise known as Petticoat Lane. The earlier, 17th-century, name could be from silk weavers, who would have made petticoats, and who settled in the area; or from the secondhand clothes dealers who had begun to trade in the lane even back then.

Henry Mayhew, a 19th-century social researcher, journalist, and playwright, said of the lane that to look down it was “to look down a vista of many-coloured garments”. Less poetically, FH Habben, a contemporary of Mayhew, and a somewhat curmudgeonly scholar of London’s streets, stated firmly that the name was “The English form, I presume, of petit court, the little short lane.”

Fashion Street is nothing to do with fashion but takes its name from the Fasson brothers, Thomas and Lewis, who owned the land upon which the street was built in the 1650s. On second thought, there is also a clothing connection of sorts: Thomas was a skinner.

Hanger Lane in West London was called Hanger Hill in 1710; it was the site of a wood called ‘le Hangrewood’ in the 14th century. The word comes from the Old English ‘hangra’, meaning a wooded hill with clinging steep slopes.

Hat & Mitre Court, little more than a slight gap between buildings, doubles up on the headgear theme, as ‘mitre’ is an ecclesiastical hat of sorts. The second half of the name comes from an 18th-century tavern called the Mitre, a common tavern name, especially in areas, such as this (the priory of St John was nearby), with a large ecclesiastical population.

Why hat as well is not clear , though it was also common in signs, both for hatters’ shops and for taverns. Possibly a new landlord of the Mitre once had a tavern called the Hat and was reluctant to give up the name and possibly lose customers. Combining the names of two taverns was a ruse often employed for landlords to get the best of both worlds as far as customers went.

From head to foot with Hosier Lane, which is exactly as it sounds. 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.

Keeping up with the clothes theme, in the 18th century, the lane was a resort spot during the time of Bartholomew Fair, when “all the houses were made public for tippling”.

Sadly, Naked Boy Court no longer exists, but takes its name from a sign that was supposed to have been a comment on the rapidly-changing fashions of the time. Apparently the sign painters had so much difficulty keeping up with them that the artist responsible for this one didn’t even try.

Silk Street apparently comes from the silk weaving carried on in 17th-century London largely by French refugees who settled in the Spitalfields area. By the 19th century they had been joined by their English counterparts from the north, who set up silk factories. Many of them lived in this street, which was finally named in recognition of that fact.

Skinners LaneSkin Market Place behind the Globe Theatre takes its names from London’s (legal) skin trade: “the skins from nearly all the sleep slaughtered in London” were sold in the market here. Skinners Lane on the other side of the Thames, was known as Maiden Lane and renamed for much the same reason, except that the skins in this case were furs.

There is also a Skinner Street; although one theory is that in the early 19th century an Alderman Skinner was the driving force behind building the street, it is more likely that it is named because in 1630 eight acres of land were bequeathed to the Worshipful Company of Skinners by John Meredith.

Wardrobe Terrace cropWardrobe Place and Wardrobe Terrace take their name from a house that belonging to Sir John Beauchamp was purchased in 1359 by Edward II for use as the storeroom for the royal clothing worn on state occasions. In Shakespeare’s will he bequeathed, to his daughter, land near the Wardrobe.

Weaver Street, like Silk Street, is named for the weaving industry that became prevalent in this area, especially after the 19th century. There is also a Weavers Lane, on the south bank of the Thames, probably so named for the same reason.

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