London’s Wren-connected streets: from Wren Street to Pineapple Court

As today is Sir Christopher Wren’s birthday, let’s take a look at some of the London streets with a connection, obvious or not so obvious, to him. First, speaking of obvious connections, as @oldmapman pointed out, there is a Wren Street in Bloomsbury, so named because Wren once lived there.

St Mary at Hill takes its name from the church there, which dates back to at least the 12th century and was called ‘on the hill’ because of the steep ascent from the Thames. It was damaged in the Great Fire of 1666, and was rebuilt by Wren.

Not a street, but a building: the Royal Hospital, now home to the Chelsea Pensioners, was built by Wren. For many years, there was a rumour that Nell Gwynn had beseeched Charles to build the hospital after she heard had been moved by the story of an injured soldier. Once the hospital had been built, old soldiers there would toast Nell as their benefactress.

Lamb’s Conduit Street involves a conduit provided for the residents of the area by 16th-century William Lambe, “a rich citizen and clothworker”. He spent a vast sum of his own money to have several springs connected to form a head of water, which was then conveyed by a lead pipe around 2,000 yards long to Snow Hill where a derelict conduit was rebuilt. The conduit was damaged in the Great Fire of London and rebuilt the following year from a design by Sir Christopher Wren.

Czar Street in Deptford was named for Peter the Great, Czar of Russia, who lodged here at the end of the 17th century, a tenant (by means of various sublets) of the diarist John Evelyn, who had moved to Deptford to escape the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire. The Czar did not treat the house or garden in a seemly manner and Evelyn later wrote 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 those repairs that were possible.

The church of St Peter’s Cornhill 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. The church is possibly more famous for its view of 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.

Queen Victoria Street (named for Queen Victoria), which runs from Cheapside to Victoria Embankment (also named for the queen) and is roughly parallel to the Thames, was originally part of Wren’s plans for rebuilding the City of London after the Great Fire of 1666. However, it was more than two centuries before the street was built; it was officially opened in 1871 and was fitted with the first permanent electric lighting system in the City.

The parish church of St James Garlickhythe was yet another building destroyed in the Great Fire and then rebuilt by Wren. The church is home to Jimmy Garlick, an almost perfectly mummified corpse, discovered in 1839 when workmen were closing up the old vaults. It is possible that he is (or, rather, was) either Richard Rothing, who built the original church, or one of the six early Lord Mayors of London who were buried there.

From the obvious connection of Wren Street to the tenuous link (yes, I had to get one of those in) of Pineapple Court, which took its name from the fruit, which was introduced to England in the 17th century;. Like the artichoke, its shape and novelty made it popular on signs, especially those of confectioners. Christopher Wren was said to be so taken with the shape that he adopted it in the decorations of all his buildings (though many of them resemble acorns more than pineapples).

Advertisements

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.

London’s coffee connections

EAS_4101As it is International Coffee Day today (National Coffee Day in the US), let’s have a look at coffee and London. Coffee follows on nicely from our last post on London’s singleton street names, as 1652 saw London’s first coffee house open in St Michael’s Alley, off Cornhill. Coffee was advertised as “a very good help to digestion, quickens the spirits, and is good against sore eyes”.Cornhill, according to London historian John Stow, takes its name “of a corn market, time out of mind there holden”. The street has literary connections including Charlotte Bronte, Daniel Defoe, and Thomas Gray. It was also once a place dear to the hearts of fences and drinkers.

EAS_4102One of London’s strongest coffee connections, at Change Alley in the City of London, the name of which is an abbreviation of ‘Exchange Alley’ – from the Royal Exchange. Towards the end of the 17th century, the Exchange was so crowded that many of the brokers transacted their business in local coffee houses, Jonathan’s Coffee House in particular. Jonathan’s was also the scene of the disastrous ‘South Sea Bubble’ scheme, speculation that ruined the purses and lives of thousands of investors.

Samuel Pepys (who pre-dated the Bubble) mentions the coffee house in his diary: “At noon by coach to the ’Change with Mr. Coventry, thence to the Coffee-house with Captain Coeke”.

Another coffee connection lies in Dean Street, where Number 33 was the site of a coffee house known as Jack’s, which was frequented by artists and writers such as Samuel Johnson, Joshua Reynolds, and Oliver Goldsmith. It later became Walker’s hotel, where it is alleged that Nelson slept the night before he sailed to the battle of Trafalgar.

In the 18th century, part of St John’s Gate was a coffee house run by Richard Hogarth, father of the painter William Hogarth. It was also the base for the Gentleman’s Magazine, a publication edited by Edward Cave and which provided the first use of the word ‘magazine’ as we know it today. Some of the more frequent visitors of the time (and contributors to the magazine) were Samuel Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith, and David Garrick.

And, last but not least, the inn at La Belle Sauvage Yard once also served as a coffee house.

Incidentally, there is, alas, no Coffee Street, Lane, Yard or anything else in London, though there are many scattered about the US.

All that glisters is definitely not gold in London street names

Yesterday we ended with a quick look at Golden Square, which is more to do with castrated animals than precious metals. So today let’s look at more precious metals and gemstones in London street names. Or not, as the case may be.
There was once a Silver Street in the City of London which did actually have a name that made sense: it was named, says Stow, from the silversmiths who lived there, and earlier forms included ‘Silvernestrate’. Shakespeare took lodgings, around 1602, on the corner of the street. Silver Place in the West End, however, may have been called that because it is close to Golden Square.
There is an Ironmonger Row in Islington, 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. Another hangout for the ironmongers was an Ironmonger Lane (near Cornhill), which was known as ‘Ysmongeres Lane’ around the turn of the 12th century.
From metals to rocks: Emerald Street reflects the ingenuity of some of those people responsible for naming and renaming streets. It was originally called Green Street, presumably either because it was close to a bowling green, or it was after a local resident. Towards the end of the 19th century there were far too many Green Streets in London and so it was given its new name.
Diamond Street in Peckham, is named, so some believe, because it forms one side of a small ‘square’ that could be considered roughly diamond-shaped. There was once another Diamond Street, built in 1890; this was, intriguingly, given its name because the plumber who built it was able to do so because of a diamond. Sad to say, any details of the plumber and his diamond have been lost in the mists of time.
(There is also a Diamond Street in Brent near to a Sapphire Road and Ruby Street; a Ruby Street in Peckham is believed to have been named after Ruby Hahn, the daughter of the area’s one-time landlord.)
Coal can be turned into diamonds and in one case gravel was turned into a garnet. Garnet Street in Wapping was upgraded into the gemstone category in 1938. The street was originally New Gravel Lane and the present Wapping Street was Old Gravel Lane. They were so called because they were part of the routes for carrying sand and gravel inland from the riverside – also taken to sea as ballast.
There is still a Gravel Lane near Houndsditch; this, along with its neighbour Stoney Lane, was probably so named because of the fact that it had, unusually, a surface other than mud. Up until the 17th century, this was relatively rare – certainly rare enough to be registered in a name.
Finally, in contrast to all these shiny metals and stones, there is Rust Square in Camberwell. That is nothing to do with oxidized metal. It is, supposedly, named for George Rust, the Bishop of Dromore, though it is not clear what his connection with the area was, Dromore being a town in Northern Ireland.

Some other stones and metals represented in London street names include Agate Road, Amethyst Road, Bronze Street, Copper Close, Coral Street, Crystal Terrace, Flint Street, Glass Street, Granite Street, and Opal Street.

 

Virgins, churches, chickens, and a philanthropist

St Mary Axe plaque cropFollowing on from yesterday’s Moonwalk-themed story about Undershaft, we will take a fleeting glance at nearby St Mary Axe, which is covered in more detail here before we move on to Poultry.

The street takes its name from a church that was known in full as St Mary the Virgin, St Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins. Apparently there was an axe there, which gave the church its shorter name.

The church was converted to warehouses after its suppression in the 16th century and the parish was united with that of St Thomas Undershaft.

EAS_4101Moving further west, by way of Leadenhall Street and Cornhill, we come to Poultry. This was once a London speciality street where 14th-century shoppers would go for their – yes, poultry. 

Poultry was once called Scalding Alley, says John Stow, from the poulterers who dwelt there and “their poultry, which they sold at their stalls, were scalded there. The street doth yet bear the name of the Poultry”.

Elizabeth Fry plaqueThere is a plaque in Poultry to commemorate the Quaker, prison reformer and philanthropist Elizabeth Fry. In 1800 Elizabeth (Betsy) Gurney married fellow Quaker Joseph Fry, a banker, and the couple moved to St Mildred’s Court just off Poultry, where they lived for nine years.

Mrs Fry, of an old Quaker family, was horrified at the conditions under which as many as 300 women and children could be packed into Newgate. She worked hard at improving conditions but was forced to give up philanthropy when her husband became bankrupt. Since 2001 Fry has been depicted on the reverse of Bank of England £5 notes.

Thomas Hood plaque
Photo: Openplaques.org

At number 22 Poultry was Dillys, the booksellers where Boswell’s Life of Johnson was published; Johnson had dined there with John Wilkes and found him to be “excellent company”.

Poultry was also the location of the “house where I was born” – the poet Thomas Hood, who penned the immortal lines “I remember, I remember, the house where I was born,” was born in a house at what is now 31.

Back to the Moonwalk: if you want to support Walk the Walk and its efforts on behalf of breast cancer charities, you can sponsor me by visiting my fundraising page here.

Corn markets, Charlotte Bronte, and an architect’s revenge

EAS_4118Continuing our magical mystery Moonwalk London tour, let’s look at Cornhill, not very far from the eastern end of the proposed route and the highest point in the City of London. It was so called, according to Stow, “of a corn market, time out of mind there holden”.

Given that Stow was writing in the 16th century, time out of mind for him was indeed a long time ago and, in fact, the name can be traced as far back as 1100. The name was, as is the case in so many London street names, a simple statement of what went on there.

The poet Thomas Gray, who penned one of the most widely quoted poems in the English language: Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, was born in Cornhill. One of the famous lines from this poem gave Thomas Hardy the title of one of his books: “Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife”.

Daniel Defoe had a hosiers shop there, and it was also where he was pilloried in 1703 for his unappreciated pamphlet, ‘The Shortest Way with the Dissenters’.

The publishers Smith and Elder had an office in Cornhill in the 19th century; many authors crossed their doorstep, including two sisters who had to appear in person to prove that they were Anne and Charlotte Bronte rather than Acton and Currer Bell. Today marks the 198th anniversary of the birth of Charlotte Bronte.

Charlotte Bronte
Charlotte Bronte

In the 15th century Cornhill had the dubious distinction of being a fence’s paradise, and a drinker’s haven: there were many taverns where wine could be bought by the pint for a penny and bread came free with it.

St Peter’s Cornhill 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. It also possesses 19th-century gargoyles, on the street side of the church, which are an architect’s revenge on an obstreperous rector.

Building plans, which the rector said encroached on church land, were forced back to the drawing board. As a result, one of the three gargoyles, known as the Cornhill Devils, was given the face of the determined man of the cloth.

Don’t forget: if you want to support Walk the Walk and its efforts on behalf of breast cancer charities, you can sponsor me by visiting my fundraising page here.