London’s feline streets: Cat and Mutton Bridge to Pope’s Head Alley

Catherine Wheel AlleyIt seemed only fair, after a dog-related post, to include our feline friends; it has been a bit of a challenge, however, and I have had to stretch tenuous to new lengths.

Suitably feline is Cat and Mutton bridge in Hackney, where there is still a Cat and Mutton pub. One version of the name is that it was originally Shoulder of Mutton and Cat from the ‘cats’ or coal barges that would have gone under the bridge on the nearby Regents Canal. Another version (on the pub’s own website) is that it was originally the Cattle and Shoulder of Mutton; also from the “many drovers and agricultural workers arriving in London to sell there various beasts in the markets in what now is known as the city”.

The old inn sign, at one time, had two verses on it:

Pray, Puss, do not tare,
Because the mutton is so rare

and

Pray, Puss do not claw,
Because the mutton is so raw

In the recent saintly street signs post, we looked at Catherine Wheel Alley, which takes its name from a tavern. During the time of the Puritans, when overtly religious symbols were frowned on, most landlords of such taverns changed the name to the Cat and Wheel.

Kitcat Terrace in Bow commemorates the Reverend Henry James Kitkat, rector of St Mary’s Bow from 1904 to 1921. The name derives from Kitcott, a place name in Devon. There was once a Kit-Kat Club, founded in 1700 by a bookseller called Jacob Tonson, and taking its name from the proprietor (Christopher (Kit) Kat, whose name is also given as Cat, Katt, and even Catling ) of a pastry-house in Shire Lane off Fleet Street, where the members used to dine.

Alexander Pope whimsically referred to the club and its name in verse:

Whence deathless Kit-Cat took its name
Few critics can unriddle
Some say from Pastry Cook it came,
And some from Cat and Fiddle

Sadly, there is no Cat and Fiddle street.

EAS_4066Bow brings us nicely to the first tenuous cat connection: Elbow Lane in the City of London, now called, less interestingly, College Street. In the 16th century it a street that ran west and then suddenly turned south, according to London historian John Stow, and was “therefore of that bending called Elbow Lane”.

The reason it was named College Street was to commemorate a college founded by Dick Whittington or, properly, Sir Richard Whittington, Lord Mayor of the City of London.One legend about him is that attempted to flee the city in order to escape a menial job where he was beaten and that he was persuaded to return by the sound of the Bow Bells promising him that he would be Mayor of London. And everyone knows the other legend: that he went to London with his faithful cat to seek his fortune.

EAS_4093During the reign of King Edward IV, there was a kind of ‘engrave-off’ between English goldsmiths and their foreign rivals, which took place at the Pope’s Head tavern (now Pope’s Head Alley). According to Old and New London, “The challenge was to engrave four puncheons of steel (the breadth of a penny sterling) with cat’s heads and naked figures in high relief and low relief; Oliver Davy, the Englishman, won, and White Johnson, the Alicant goldsmith, lost his wager of a crown and a dinner to the Company.”

And the last of the very tenuous cat links: the writer Eleanor Farjeon, best remembered for writing children’s books, was born in Buckingham Street. Perhaps her most famous work was the hymn ‘Morning has Broken’, popularized in the 1970s by the singer known then as Cat Stevens.

London’s shape streets: from Acre Lane to Kensington Gore

Recently I did a ‘size matters’ theme of London street names – more length than size, actually, which included Long Acre. As I sat here today mentally chaining myself to my computer (I will get this licked into shape so it is a publishable book) I thought, ‘what about Acre Lane?’ And are there other area-related streets, I wondered. There are certainly many shape-related streets, of which this is one.

The derivation of the name is uncertain but it could have indicated the size or shape of a particular plot of land upon which the lane now stands.

In any case, it is also one of the many streets of London with a gruesome past.

On 9 May 1923, near the junction of Acre Lane and Baytree Road, Jacob Dickey, a taxi driver, was attacked in his cab and shot fatally. The murderer escaped by leaping over a fence leading to the back gardens of the Acre Lane houses and forcing his way through one of those houses into the street. An unusual walking stick left by the body eventually led police to an Alexander Mason, though evidence against him was less than watertight.

Another death associated with the lane is that of William Jones; his late wife’s niece Elizabeth Vickers lived with him as a housekeeper. Vickers was apparently prone to drink and to beating Jones, who eventually died from one such attack. A bequest of £1,000 in the old man’s will was considered to be a sufficient motive for murder, but at trial Vickers was found not guilty.

(Incidentally, I overlooked Baytree Road in the post on tree-related street names. It takes its name from a house that was called Baytrees, presumably because there were some.)

Streets that take their name from size or shape include (apart from Long Acre and Acre Lane) Bow Street, Diamond Street, and Turnagain Lane, to mention but a few. These have all been covered elsewhere in this blog, but in brief:

Bow Street was built in 1637 and given its name because it looked like a bent bow. (Bow Lane has nothing to do with its shape: the church was originally called St Mary de Arcubus from the arches upon which it was built.)

Diamond Street could take its name from the fact that it forms one side of a small ‘square’ that could be considered roughly diamond-shaped.

Turnagain Lane was once called ‘Windagain Lane’ according to that font of knowledge John Stow, because “it goeth down west to Fleet dike, from whence men must turn again the same way they came, for there it stopped”.

There was also once an Elbow Lane which, like Turnagain Lane, was a street that ran west and then suddenly turned south and, according to Stow, was “therefore of that bending called Elbow Lane”.

I know I joke about tenuous links but even I would go so far as to include names that are [Something] Cresent, [Something] Square or [Something] Circle, but there is a Triangle Place not that far from Acre Lane.

Triangles take us to Kensington Gore and Gore Street. The word ‘gore’ in this case is innocent of anything gruesome. It comes from the Old English word ‘gara’, which was a triangular piece of land left after irregularly shaped fields had been ploughed.

Happily, there is blood involved, albeit indirectly, in a name crying out for it: a retired British pharmacist, John Tinegate, used to make fake blood for the stage and screen and it was trademarked Kensington Gore. The term has now become a generic term for fake blood.

And, finally, there is The Square in Hammersmith (which is in the shape of a square) and Pentagram Yard in Bayswater, but I have no idea where that name came from.

Elbow Lane, Dick Whittington, and Savage Gardens

In yesterday’s post about Hand Court, I promised more body parts. Although anatomy does not play a very big role in London street names, there are some instances besides Hand Court, such as Head Street in Stepney, Knee Hill in Greenwich, and Elbow Lane in the City of London. (And of course, one of my favourites, Bleeding Heart Yard.)

After my enthusiastic promise of more information on these, so far I have been able to find information only on Elbow Lane, which intersects Cloak Lane. It could be argued that even that example is cheating as it is now, less interestingly, called College Street and in fact it has been covered in an early post about Dick Whittington, who founded the college after which the street is now named.

Savage GdnsI hang my head in shame for having promised and not delivered. So to make up for it, and for no reason other than it is a great sounding name, I give you the poetically named Savage Gardens.

This takes its name from Sir Thomas Savage, who was created Viscount Savage in 1626. He married Elizabeth Darcy, who deserves admiration above all for having provided her husband with eleven sons and nine daughters. Unluckily for Elizabeth, her father and her husband (both of whom she survived) had strong ties to George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, and to Charles I.

Elizabeth suffered the price of being a Catholic at the time: her houses were looted and her belongings confiscated by parliament. Although she did receive popular support from Catholics and Protestants alike, she is said to have incurred losses of £100,000 and eventually died bankrupt.

The term Savage Garden was used in an Anne Rice novel The Vampire Lestat, when Lestat says: “Beauty was a Savage Garden”. The phrase was later adopted by an Australian pop duo.

If I wanted to cheat I could always turn to a number of streets named after pub signs with body parts, such as various queens, kings and nobles with their arms and heads but I’ll admit graceful defeat and return in the next post with something completely different.