London’s (watery) culinary streets: Water Lane to Watergate Walk

EAS_3924Before I continue with a few more culinary street names, I must stand corrected, with thanks to MattF, as to Salmon Lane. Once again, I have let myself get carried away with a name derivation that is more fun than accurate.

According to the delightfully named Hector Bolitho and Derek Peel in their book Without the City Walls, the lane is named after Captain Robert Salmon, Master of Trinity House at the time of the Spanish Armada. But we can’t leave it there; that’s what sparked the idea for this book in the first place: not just where names came from but what the story is behind the derivation.

By the way, though I missed Salmon Lane the first time around, Bolitho and Peel were one of my sources in the early days of my research, and I was fortunate enough to acquire a copy recently at not too great an expense. The book is charmingly written, in a tone chatty enough that you can imagine you are walking along with the couple as they stroll the streets of London, listening to them muse about streets and their names. A great deal of well-researched information backs up this musing, which makes the book a good read as well as a useful resource.

But on to Trinity House: this, says the official website, a charity dedicated to safeguarding shipping and seafarers, providing education, support and welfare to the seafaring community with a statutory duty as a General Lighthouse Authority to deliver a reliable, efficient and cost-effective aids to navigation service for the benefit and safety of all mariners. It started with Henry VIII, whose charter led to the formation of what was, in 1513, the Trinity House Corporation. The Corporation was not a military body, but has served, on occasion, a military function and Salmon was involved in one of them.

When Elizabeth I became concerned about the threat of a Spanish invasion she ordered Trinity House to prepare for war, as part of its charter. It was then that Salmon stepped in, telling the queen’s advisor, Lord Burghley, that Trinity House could fit out 30 merchant ships in four days for the use of the Lord High Admiral, Lord Henry Seymour.

As it happened, none of the Trinity House ships were used in battle; however, the flag taken from the Spaniards by Sir Francis Drake was display at Trinity House in Water Lane, but was lost in 1715 when fire destroyed Trinity House.

Once again, taking liberties with the alphabet and its order since water fits in so nicely here, Water Lane takes us neatly back to culinary street names, though for some reason the latter part of the alphabet seems to favour those that are bibendiary rather than culinary.

Water Lane in Stratford, the former location of Trinity House, was the setting for an old Roman bath, popular at one time with visitors to London, and described by Dickens in David Copperfield.

A Water Lane (which no longer exists) in the City was, in medieval times, called Sporiars Lane and took its name from the spur makers of the time. The name was changed in the 15th century with the erection of a water gate in the lane; 20th century development destroyed the lane completely.

There is also a Water Street, WC2, near to the Thames, which is the only survivor of a number of similarly names streets that led to the river before the Embankments made access easier. According to John Strype in his Survey of London, it was “a Place much pestered with Carts and Carrs, for the bringing of Coals and other Goods from the Wharfs by the Water side.

EAS_3928The watergate of Watergate Walk, just off the Strand, was an extension to York House, originally the London home of the Bishops of Norwich, later the palace of the Archbishop of York, and eventually acquired by George Villiers, the first Duke of Buckingham, who had the watergate built. Villiers was a favourite of James I; it was the 2nd Duke of Buckingham who gave his name to Of Alley.

York House was one of several mansions that lined the Strand; those on the south side were the more desirable, having as they did direct access to the Thames (especially if you had your own watergate). The watergate is now part of Embankment Gardens and is an indication of much the river bank has moved.

While for me, as a university student in the US during the 1970s, Watergate had a completely different connotation, the name has since acquired more pleasant associations: you can sit outside Gordon’s Wine Bar in Watergate Walk. The wine bar itself has a rich history: the house in which the bar is situated was home to Samuel Pepys in the 1680s and Rudyard Kipling lived in the building in the 1890s. It was here that he wrote ‘The Light That Failed’.

London’s shortest street name

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This day in London’s history: on the 8th of November 1627 the English fleet under George Villiers fails in the attempt to aid his new Huguenot allies besieged at La Rochelle in France; more than 4,000 of a force of 7,000 men were lost.

Villiers gave his name to what was possibly the shortest of London street names: Of Alley, which has since been changed to York Place.

There were two dukes, father and son, who were the first two holders of the title of Duke of Buckingham, and both called George Villiers. The father was the original owner of York House (once the palace of the Archbishop of York) and the surrounding land, but was murdered before he could carry out his plans of restoring the house.

His son, a loyal follower of Charles II, fled the country with his king when England became an unhealthy place for monarchs and royalists. Although his property was confiscated by Cromwell’s Parliament, Villiers regained it after the Restoration of the monarchy and his own return to England.

The son never got around to restoring the house either, and managed to run up so much in the way of debt that he was forced to sell his land. In 1674 it became the possession of a property developer on the condition that the streets built on the land were given Villers’ name.

Every bit of his whole name: George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham.

There were five in total, and they became George Street, Villiers Street, Duke Street (now gone), Of Alley (now York Place), and Buckingham Street.

John Tradescant the elder, the naturalist and gardener who features in Philippa Gregory’s book Earthly Joys, was gardener to the first duke. He in turn gave his name to Tradescant Road in London, as well as to a genus of flowering plants (Tradescantia).