London’s bird-related street names, from Cock Lane to Wild Goose Drive

Birdcage WalkI was driving in the lovely Forest of Dean area today, and I saw signs for a Sparrow Dive and Lark Rise (to Cinderford, maybe?), which seemed rather fitting, given yesterday’s Wren-related post. Guess what? That made me think of bird-themed London streets and, oh, yes, there are many.

(Incidentally, the name Wren does come from the bird: according to the surname database, many early English surnames derived from nicknames bestowed because of a perceived resemblance to various creatures. “The nickname ‘Wren’, derived from the Olde English pre 7th Century word ‘wrenna’ or ‘wraenna’, in Middle English ‘wrenne’, was probably used of a small, busy and quick-moving person.” )

Cock HillTo start with, we have Bird in Bush Road, Bird in Hand Court, Bird Street, and Birdcage Walk. Bird Street takes its name from Thomas Bird, who built the street in 1763, while Bird in Bush Road comes from a local field name, and Bird in Hand is from an old inn sign.

Birdcage Walk near Buckingham Palace is the site of an aviary started by James I and enlarged by Charles II (though some sources give Charles the credit for establishing it). It was also the site of a royal cockpit used for the grisly purposes of cock fighting.

Cockspur Street signThis deplorable ‘sport’ also gave us Cock Lane and Cockspur Street. Cock Lane probably took its name from the fact that it was the site of a breeding ground for fighting cocks. Far more interesting, however, are the facts that it also housed a famous (but fraudulent) ghost, it was where the Great Fire of London halted, and it was, in the Middle Ages, the only place where the City’s prostitutes could live.

Cockspur Street is so named because the spurs with which the birds were equipped to ensure even greater flow of blood were made and sold there. Cock Hill may have taken tis name from some connection with cock fighting, but it has a big state of a ram, so who knows? It is, however, part of the Middlesex Street Conservation Area. Middlesex Street being, of course, Petticoat Lane.

EAS_4114From cocks to hens and chickens, which takes us to Hen and Chicken Court off Fleet Street, named after a tavern called the Hen and Chicken. Hen and chicken were terms for pewter pots used to hold alcohol; they were also symbolic in Christian art of God’s providence, and therefore made a useful image for signs.

A particularly delightful bird street name is Wild Goose Drive (connected to Swallow Close). Although the term ‘wild goose chase’ now means a fruitless or absurd mission, it originally implied an erratic course. The drive is indeed, not straight, which may have suggested the name.

EAS_3977Some of the many other bird street names are Cygnet Street, Dove House Gardens, Dove Road, Drake Street, Duck Lane, Eaglet Place, Emu Road, Falcon Lane, Finch Lane, Goose Yard, Heron Road, Ibis Lane, Lark Row, Magpie Alley, Mallard Way, Nightingale Avenue, Partridge Green, Peacock Street, Pigeon Lane, and Raven Row.

(I could squeeze Chicksand Street and Heneage into this category, which is cheating even by my standards but there is a bird connection and we’ll look at that another time.)

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London’s streets: cock fighting, bear baiting, and hunting

Cock HillI see in the news that an animal rights group has asked (or demanded, depending on whose report you read or listen to) that Britain’s oldest pub, Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in St Albans, change its name to Ye Olde Clever Cocks, “in recognition of society’s growing compassion for animals and in celebration of intelligent, sensitive chickens”.

People have accused me on occasion of being cynical (yes, really), and I guess they might accuse me of it again when I say that my first thought was, “Is this a joke?” and then, “Is this a publicity stunt? If so, who for? Or both parties?”

But let me get relatively swiftly to the subject of this blog post. The whole cock fighting thing –naturally – made me think of London’s street names and how many of them the animal rights group should look to change.

Staying with the cock fighting theme, straightaway we have Cock Lane near Smithfield, probably named because it was a breeding ground for cocks. The fighting kind. The intersection of Cock Lane and Giltspur Street marks the spot where the Great Fire of 1666 finally halted. The spot is commemorated by the statue of a fat little boy (the Golden Boy of Pye Corner).

Cockspur Street signHeading west, we get to Cockspur Street, off Trafalgar Square. That is so named because the spurs with which the birds were equipped to ensure even greater flow of blood were made and sold there. Incidentally, the gilt spurs that gave the Giltspur Street its name were those used by knights on horseback so arguably could fit into the cruelty to animals category.

(There are a lot of ‘cock’ street names in London but maybe not all of them are related to cock fighting so would be able to keep their names. One I like is Cock Hill, which has a statue of a large ram overhead.)

Birdcage WalkMoving on, again a little further west, we arrive at Birdcage Walk, which is the site of an aviary started by James I (ok, to give him his full titles, James VI and I) and enlarged by his grandson, Charles II. However, the site also once housed a royal cockpit. Cock fighting, incidentally, is said to be the world’s oldest spectator sport.

Let’s leave cock fighting and head south to Bankside where we arrive at Bear Gardens, once the site of a 17th-century bear pit. Bear baiting involved chaining bears in pits of this type and setting dogs on them. The dogs were replaced if they got too tired or were killed. Sometimes, for extra sport, the bears were released so they could chase the dogs –  or the spectators.

Bear GdnsThe Bear Gardens pit was visited by the diarists Samuel Pepys, who described it as “a very rude and nasty pleasure; and John Evelyn, who noted that it was a “rude and dirty pastime”. However, Henry VIII was apparently a fan of the sport, and had a pit built in the grounds of Whitehall palace so that royalty could watch the sport in comfort from the palace windows. Henry VIII’s daughter, Elizabeth I, was also a big fan and overruled parliament when the members tried to ban bear baiting on Sundays.

Before we leave blood sports generally, it’s worth mentioning that the area of Soho in London is named from a hunting cry, apparently, the cry made by huntsmen when they uncouple the dogs in hunting the hare.

So that’s just a few of the names that may need to be changed to reflect society’s growing compassion for animals.

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.

A quote not to be remembered for making…

Great_Fire_London
The Great Fire; detail from a painting by an unknown artist

“A woman might piss it out…” is how Sir Thomas Bloodworth, the Lord Mayor of London in 1666, dismissed what would become known as the Great Fire of London, which destroyed three-quarters of the city.

On the 5th of September 1666 the fire that had begun in the early hours of the 2nd of September and raged through London finally halted at the intersection of Cock Lane and Giltspur Street.

EAS_3909Cock Lane probably takes its name from having been a breeding ground for cocks, cockfighting being very popular; quite a few of London’s streets have names that refer to the ‘sport’, such as Cockspur Street. Giltspur Street, on the other hand, refers to oneupmanship in the world of knights.

EAS_3911
The Golden Boy of Pye Corner

But back to the Great Fire and where it halted; the spot is marked by the statue of a fat little boy (the Golden Boy of Pye Corner), which originally stood at the front of a tavern that was destroyed in the fire.

Religious fanatics pointed to the fact that the fire began in Pudding Lane and ended in Pie Corner (near Cock Lane) and said it was a symbolic punishment for the greedy people of London. It was deemed appropriate, therefore, to have a greedy-looking little fellow looking out over a substantially changed London.

Another little fellow who looks out over a very different London from the one he originally knew is the one in Panyer Alley.

Panyer Alley signPanyer Alley was named for a 15th century tavern called the Pannier, or bread basket, a relatively common trade sign. Other names for the tavern, also destroyed in the Great Fire, are given as the Panyer on the Hoop and the Panyer Boy.

Panyer Alley Boy
The Panyer Alley Boy

In the 19th century, excavations uncovered the Panyer Boy in Panyer Alley Steps, near St Paul’s Cathedral. This stone relief of a naked boy sitting on a pannier is dated August the 27 1688 and states: “When yet have sought the City round yet this is still the highest ground.” (Purists point out that Cornhill is actually higher.)

One theory is that the boy is a baker’s boy, with his panyer for deliveries, holding out a loaf of bread, but by far more appropriate for a tavern is that of the 19th century writer, F H Habben, who compiled a dictionary of London street names. He argues: “The lad is probably a kind of abstract juvenile Bacchus, holding a bunch of grapes, signifying the vinous liquor to be found within.”

Whatever he is, the poor boy is hard to find and now holds his panyer out to a busy London intersection; he was presented to the Corporation of London by the Worshipful Company of Vintners and re-erected upon his present site in 1964.

Panyer Boy view
The Panyer Alley Boy’s current view

I’ve never met an animal I didn’t like

Horseferry RoadFrom some of London’s eccentric men and wicked women, today is the turn of the animals with a London connection. Yesterday’s blog included Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his menagerie, including a wombat named after the man whom Rossetti had cuckolded.

EAS_3916William Hogarth was another animal-loving painter: he had a succession of pugs, the favourite of which was included in a self-portrait. Apparently Hogarth often commented on the resemblance between himself and the dog, called Trump.

Bear GardensFrom pets to animals that were the target of great cruelty: Bear Gardens in Southwark marks the site of a 17th-century bear pit, where one of the more revolting sports of earlier times – bear baiting – was staged. The pit was visited by the diarists Samuel Pepys, who described it as “a very rude and nasty pleasure”; and John Evelyn, who noted that it was a “rude and dirty pastime”.

Cockspur Street signCock fighting was another very popular sport, and Cockspur Street near Trafalgar Square is one of many London streets whose name reflects the old ‘sport’ of cock fighting. The spurs with which the birds were equipped to ensure even greater flow of blood, were made and sold in this street.

cock laneThere is also a Cock Lane in the City of London, and its intersection with Giltspur Street is where the Great Fire of 1666 finally halted. The spot is marked by the statue of a fat little boy (the Golden Boy of Pye Corner).

Houndsditch, near Aldgate, has a literal (and disgusting) derivation:: it runs along the site of a moat that bounded the City wall and, according to John Stow, it was where “much filth…especially dead dogs” was Houndsditchthrown. On a happier note, another theory about the name is that hounds (from Old English ‘hund’) were specifically hunting dogs, whereas dogs were just, well, dogs. The City Kennels, where hunting dogs were kept, were located here.

But back to pets and animals more kindly treated. Birdcage Walk near Buckingham Palace is the site of an aviary started by James I and enlarged by his grandson, Charles II (though some sources give Charles the credit for establishing it).

Birdcage WalkJames was fond of animals and in addition to the birds had a comprehensive menagerie, including crocodiles and an elephant. Charles expanded the aviary considerably with a collection of exotic birds; he was also to be seen strolling through the park, feeding the ducks and playing with his dogs

EAS_4123Do mermaids count as animals? There is a Mermaid Court in Southwark, named from an inn. The name was a common one, and especially popular for taverns in areas frequented by sailors, who had long believed in the existence of the beautiful creatures who were half woman, half fish.

Mermaid Court is not far from the south bank of the Thames, and a tavern there could have attracted its fair share of nautical drinkers. (Another, perhaps more famous, Mermaid Tavern was that on Cheapside, where Ben Jonson was a regular.)

EAS_3973Many of London’s street names derive from inns and taverns, and sometimes shops and these in turn often featured animals. Some of the quirkier names include Fox and Knot Street in the City, and Cat and Mutton Bridge in East London.

Regarding the Fox and Knot, opinion is divided as to whether the name comes from a tavern (by why the Fox and Knot is a mystery) or from the shop of a furrier who catered to ladies only – and presumably did a good trade in fox furs.

There is still a Cat and Mutton pub at the bridge, but which came first and what the original name was is not clear. There are theories that it was once called either Shoulder of Mutton and Cat or Cattle and Shoulder of Mutton. In either case, the name is likely to have been connected to the nearby canal where drovers would arrive to sell their animals.

One last ‘animal’ London connection (for now): at one point the licensed brothels of London’s Bankside were leased from the Bishops of Winchester, and the working women therein were known as ‘Winchester Geese’.

Before I forget, thank you to Doris Day who provided today’s heading; the full quote is: “I’ve never met an animal I didn’t like, and I can’t say the same thing about people.”

Pissing alleys, meat markets, and revolting peasants

EAS_3912We ended yesterday’s Moonwalk-themed blog post with a passing reference to Passing (once Pissing) Alley, which is near Smithfield Market, and the subject of the post – Knightrider Street – was a route to Smithfield. Guess where we start today?

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Smithfield Market [Photo: James Ketteringham]
Smithfield played an important, albeit gruesome, part in the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. Incensed by unjust taxation, peasants from Kent and Essex marched on London, ransacking buildings and beheading the Archbishop of Canterbury on Tower Hill.The revolt ended abruptly when one of the rebel leaders, Wat Tyler, was slashed by the Lord Mayor William Walworth’s sword and stabbed by an esquire of King Richard II at Smithfield.EAS_3909Before Smithfield became a meat market, it was the Smooth field where jousting tournaments were held; knights rode through Giltspur Street (which was originally called Knightrider Street) to reach the tournament.

EAS_3911
The Golden Boy of Pye Corner

According to one of our favourite London historians, John Stow: “Gilt Spurre, or Knightriders’ street of the knights and others riding that way into Smithfield was replenished with buildings on both sides up to Pie Corner.” (Pie, or Pye, Corner marks the spot at the corner of Giltspur Street and Cock Lane where the Great Fire ended, and there is a Golden Boy there to commemorate it.)

Spurs were an essential part of the knight’s life in medieval times; the expression ‘to win one’s spurs’ – to prove oneself – comes from the fact that originally it meant to obtain knighthood. (The word ‘spur’ itself derives from the Anglo-Saxon spura, to kick.)

Gilt spurs, therefore, would have been a real mark of oneupmanship. It is assumed that there were spurriers’ shops in the street at some point, possibly specializing in gilt spurs, or perhaps an enterprising spurrier wanted his shops to be noticeable as the ‘sign of the golden spur’.

Tyburn
A hanging at Tyburn

Giltspur Street later had a far less glamorous side to it. It was the site of the Giltspur Street Compter (a debtors’ prison), built at the end of the 18th century. When the Wood Street compter was closed in 1791, the prisoners were moved to the Giltspur Street compter, which in turn was demolished in 1855.

The street also formed part of the route from Newgate Prison to Tyburn, leading into the steep ascent of Holborn Hill, sometimes called Heavy Hill. As prisoners on that journey rode backwards, the expressions ‘to ride up Heavy Hill’ or ‘to ride backwards up Holborn Hill’ indicated that someone was on their last journey.

The expression ‘going west’, unlike the ‘go west’ of American pioneering times, referred to that last journey towards Tyburn.