Petty France, Jeremy Bentham, and UCL’s amazing auto-icon

HoundsditchThis blog (and the book-in-progress with which it is associated) promises not just the derivations of London’s street names, but also the ‘rest of the story’: stories of the streets themselves, their residents, and famous (or infamous) people associated with them. So today we are going to look at Jeremy Bentham, who willed his skeleton and body to University College London to be be preserved and displayed.

Bentham, reformer anPetty France cropd philosopher, was born in Houndsditch, lived in Crutched Friars, and died in a house in what is now Petty France (another resident of Petty France was John Cleland, author of the 18th-century erotic novel Fanny Hill). He was a strong believer in the equality of women and a proponent of the theory of Classical Utilitarian, believing that moral virtue lay in the greatest good for the greatest number.

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Photo: commons.wikimedia.org

However, his strongest London links could be considered those with University College London, an establishment of which he is (wrongly) considered to be a founder. He was held in high esteem by the actual founders, and can be viewed as, according to UCL, its spiritual father.

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The auto-icon. Photo: UCL Bentham Project

But on to the amazing auto-icon: Betham willed (shortly before his death) that his body be dissected, and the skeleton preserved to form the basis of an ‘auto-icon’ upon which his mummified head would rest – the whole to be displayed at the University.

The mummification techniques those days were not up to scratch, and the result was not considered suitable for display. A wax head was created for the auto-icon, and Bentham’s own head, supposedly, rested at his feet for some time, later becoming the object of various pranks. Due to the sensitive nature of displaying human remains, the head was removed in 2002 and put into safe storage.

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Bentham’s head. Photo: UCL museums

To this day, Bentham sits at the end of the South Cloisters of the UCL campus, where he can be seen 8am-6pm Monday to Friday. Today was a particularly timely day for this particular blog post, as he was removed from his cabinet for inspection, and was available for member of the public to meet him.

For those unable to meet Mr Bentham in the flesh, the university has developed an amazing virtual auto-icon, which can be viewed here.

 

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Worship Street: tenuous connections to bets, pigs and brothels

Bishopsgate mitreFollowing on from yesterday’s pig-related streets we can go, in a sense, from the ridiculous to the sublime: from hoggish to holy, starting with Worship Street in Shoreditch. The reason for starting with that street? I’m not the queen of tenuous connections for nothing: Worship Street was once called Hog Lane.

And guess what? The name has nothing to do with religion, worship, or prayers. It takes its name from an Elizabethan merchant tailor, John Worsop, who owned over six acres of land in the area. By happy coincidence, however, there was once a foundry there used by John Wesley as a place of worship. Shakespeare is reputed to have once lived here, possibly when it was still Hog Lane.

Then there’s Bishopsgate, which is named after a bishop: according to John Stow, the original London gate was named for Bishop Erkenwald, who became Bishop of London in 675. The site of the former gate is marked by a stone bishop’s mitre and, for the trivia lovers among you, the street is one of the longest in the City of London.

EAS_4093In no particular order or geographical proximity or otherwise, we move to to Pope’s Head Alley, where Lloyd’s of London was first established. The alley takes its name from a 15th-century tavern that was destroyed in the Great Fire and then rebuilt. One of the earliest mentions of the tavern occurs in Edward IV’s reign: a wager took place as to whether a goldsmith from Alicant was as talented as one from England.

Crutched FriarsFrom there we can go to to Crutched Friars (an arbitrary choice as there are various friar-related streets), which takes its name from a holy order, the Crossed Friars. This was an Augustinian order that began in Bologna in 1169 and was established in London by Ralph Hosiar and William Sabernes in 1298. The name derived from the friars’ habits, which were blue with, usually, a red cross on the back.

And on to Dean Street, which I can quite happily count in the ‘occupations’ category as well as this religious category. It is generally agreed (and who am I to argue with historians and scholars?) to have been named as a compliment to Bishop Henry Compton, Dean of the Chapel Royal.

The good bishop was a great philanthropist and gave lie to the notion that charity begins at home. He died a poor man, having spent his money aiding those who were refugees from persecution in foreign countries, helping poor children and rebuilding hospitals and churches.
Two famous names associated with the street are Marx and Mozart.

Cardinal CapAnd of course, London street names being what they are, we have to include a little smut with the holy-sounding Cardinal Cap Alley, which in fact takes its name from a brothel, possibly named for Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester. If that seems a bit incongruous, it’s not: the brothels of Bankside, which flourished for centuries, were leased from the Bishops of Winchester.

There are too many streets with churches, cathedrals, temples, and saints in their names for me to go into them here, but we could take a(nother) quick look at the area around St Paul’s Cathedral, where there is a group of streets with religious names. It is argued by some that, before the Reformation (the anti-Catholic movement originating with Martin Luther), there was a regular procession of the clergy around the cathedral.

EAS_4022This procession 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.

Incidentally, there is a Dean’s Court nearby, as well as Sermon Lane, Friar Street and – but this may be too much of a stretch, even for me – a Godliman Street.

I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s reverential post and now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to dash off to see what I can learn about Godliman Street.

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.

Doubling up on London street names

London WallHere’s another fun type of London street names: ones that aren’t the singleton, but are not an alley, road, yard, or any other street-sounding name. For instance, Austin Friars, Bevis Marks, Crutched Friars, London Wall, Perkins Rent, Petty France, and Shad Thames, to name but a few.

Let’s start with Bevis Marks, which leads into Camomile Street in the City of London: the ‘marks’ of the name was just that – a boundary, or something that marked the edge of a property. In this case it was the 12th century mansion and gardens owned by the Abbots of Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. The modern name is a corruption of Bury’s Marks. The abbey is yet another on the long list of those dissolved by Henry VIII.

Bevis MarksIn keeping with the theme of religion, the nearby Bevis Marks synagogue is the oldest in the UK, though its actual address is Heneage Lane because, according to the synagogue’s official website, “The site of the synagogue was tucked away in a back alley because Jews were not allowed to build on the public thoroughfare. A contract was signed with a builder in 1699 and the synagogue, which has been designated a monument of national importance, was built in 1701.”

There was a synagogue in Creechurch Lane, just off Bevis Marks, at least as early as 1663, when Pepys recorded a visit there.

Petty France cropPetty France takes its name from petit – little – France, because of French settlers there as early as the 15th century. The street, which once housed the Passport Office, is associated with a book of “pernicious tendency”. Other streets were called what they were because, well, that’s what they were, such as Docwras Buildings, from houses built by Thomas Docwra & Son, well-borers. In time others became known as Rents from the people who collected the rents on the buildings, such as Perkins Rents in Victoria, from an unknown Perkins.

Shad ThamesChurches were responsible for many other non-street names, including Shad Thames, which is probably a contraction of St John at Thames; the Priory of St John at Jerusalem owned about 25 acres of land here from the 13th century until the Dissolution. In Oliver Twist, Bill Sikes lived and died on Jacob’s Island, east of Shad Thames.

Similarly, Austin Friars takes its name from a dissolved friary of Augustian monks; the friary covered the area between London Wall and Throgmorton Street.

Drapers plaqueReaders of the excellent Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel will know it as the home of Thomas Cromwell; it is where, when Thomas Cromwell wished to extend his nearby garden, he dug up the house belonging to John Stow’s father, put it on rollers and moved it out of the way without any warning to Stow senior. After Cromwell’s death the Drapers’ Company – the third of the livery companies – took over Cromwell’s house along with the nefariously extended garden.

Crutched FriarsCrutched Friars, known as Hart Street prior to the 18th century, also takes its current name from a holy order, the Crossed Friars, an Augustinian order that began in Bologna in 1169 and was established in London by Ralph Hosiar and William Sabernes in 1298. The name derived from the friars’ habits, which were blue with, usually, a red cross on the back.

The monastery fell, as did so many others in the reign of Henry VIII (the order was then suppressed by the Pope in 1656). Henry granted the land to Sir Thomas Wyatt who built a mansion on the site. Later it was used as a carpenter’s yard, a tennis court, and the Navy Office where Pepys worked.