An actor, horses, and a beheading

Kean_(Giles_Overreach)
Edmund Kean as Sir Giles Overreach

The actor Edmund Kean was born in London on this day in 1737 (though some sources say otherwise). Kean was a regular patron of the Coal Hole tavern near Carting Lane (or Farting Lane, if you prefer), and his early schooling took place in Orange Street, near Leicester Square.

Orange Street was nothing to do with fruit. it is not the site of a former orchard or an orange-sellers’ haunt. One explanation is that it was named after William III, William of Orange and grandson of Charles I, who became joint monarch with his wife Mary in 1689. (Coincidentally, William was also born on the 4th of November, in 1650; he and Mary were married on the 4th of November 1677.)

Another explanation is that building of the street was begun in the 1670s and 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 stables of James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, stood partly on the site of Orange Street;  it is likely that his stables were called Orange Mews to differentiate from the other colours.

The development of the street was finished in the 1690s; by then the unfortunate Monmouth would have had no interest in his horses, having been beheaded in 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. The post of public executioner was a hated, albeit lucrative, one; Ketch, who held the post for more than two decades, was particularly loathed. After his death in 1686 his name was used to refer to all public executioners. It can also be used to refer to death or the devil.

A royal wedding

Today in London’s history: On the 4th of November 1677, a tearful 15-year-old girl was married in St James’s Palace to her first cousin who was  older, shorter, and bisexual.

That girl was Mary II, eldest daughter of James, Duke of York, the future James II and her cousin was William III, William of Orange and grandson of Charles I, who turned 27 the same day. The couple later became joint sovereigns, much to the relief of anti-Catholics.

There is an Orange Street in London, near Leicester Square, which takes its name from William of Orange.

Famous names associated with the street include the actor Edmund Kean, who went to school here and who, coincidentally, shared a birthday with William – albeit 137 years apart.

Thomas Holcroft was born in Orange street in 1743, and in the late 18th century there was a small chapel in the street where Augustus Toplady – who wrote the hymn ‘Rock of Ages’ – was minister for a short time.