From Ham Yard to Poultry: renaming London’s streets

Cockspur Street signI think it’s time for another PETA-inspired blog post. The last one was when the animal rights group said that Britain’s oldest pub, Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in St Albans, should change its name to Ye Olde Clever Cocks, “in recognition of society’s growing compassion for animals and in celebration of intelligent, sensitive chickens”. You can read that post here, in which we run through the names of Cockspur Street, Bear Gardens, and Birdcage Walk, with a nod at Soho.

Since that post I have learned that the group uses the Trump tactics of saying outrageous things to get the media attention. As with their claim a little while ago that the village of Wool should be renamed Vegan Wool. (The name comes from an old word meaning ‘well’ and is nothing to do with wool.)

Today we will jump on that bandwagon and propose some animal-friendly changes to existing London street names.

EAS_4080First off is Poultry, which was once called Scalding Alley, from the poulterers who lived there and scalded the poultry they sold. Scalding, either with hot water or steam, was a way of treating the carcasses to make the removal of feathers easier. The poulterers were eventually joined by grocers, haberdashers, and upholsterers and, by the time of the Great Fire of 1666, Poultry had become famous more for taverns than anything else.

Let’s change Poultry to Poetry to commemorate the poet Thomas Hood. The house where Hood was born was at what is now number 31 Poulty, and was immortalised in his most famous poem, ‘I Remember, I Remember’.

I remember, I remember
The house where I was born,
The little window where the sun
Came peeping in at morn;
He never came a wink too soon
Nor brought too long a day;
But now, I often wish the night
Had borne my breath away.

Another possible name change is from Poultry to Reform. Poultry was also home to Elizabeth Fry, a notable prison reformer, who lived there from 1800 to 1809. 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.

We move on to Dog Kennel Hill in East Dulwich, which I propose we change to De Canel Hill.

One theory for the name is that Prince George of Denmark had kennels for his hounds here. However, Edward Alleyn, the Elizabethan actor, owned much of what was, at the time, the manor of Dulwich and some of the land here was recorded as Kennels, Kennoldes Croft and Kennold’s Acre. That means a more likely theory is that an earlier landowner (date unknown), one Monsieur de Canel, resided there, and Dog Kennel is a heavily anglicized version of his name. 

Haunch of Venison Yard cropHaunch of Venison Yard in Mayfair takes its name from a tavern that stood at the entrance of the yard from the 1720s to the early part of the 20th century. The sign is one that was more commonly found near royal hunting forests: though ‘venison’ now means only deer meat, the word derives from the Latin venari, to hunt, and was originally used for the edible flesh of any animal that had been captured and killed in a hunt.

Perhaps, instead of Haunch of Venison, this could be named Running Deer Yard.

Ham YardA bit further east, in the heart of the West End, is Ham Yard. Food played a large part in the naming of taverns – and hence London streets; often the speciality of the house would be featured in the sign. There was a Ham tavern in this small yard in the heart of the theatre district as early as 1739 and there was also once a Tudor mill in this area (commemorated in Great Windmill Street). The Ham tavern became the Ham and Windmill, was renamed the Lyric in 1890 and still stands there today.

Instead of Ham, we could hark back to Lyric and it could become Lyric Yard.

Still on food and pub specialities, there is Cat and Mutton Bridge in East London. There is still a Cat and Mutton pub located here, but which came first and what the original name was is not clear. 

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; there is also a Sheep Lane nearby that ties in with the mutton side of things. 

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

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


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

Another theory behind the name 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”.

It would seem, whatever inspired the name, that a shoulder of mutton featured in there somewhere. We could rename it Cat and Mouse, but anyone who has seen a cat in action will know that cruelty to animals features prominently in that combination. How about Clever Cat?

Let’s draw a line under the renaming of London streets for now. I am off to investigate Europe-inspired street names…

London’s culinary streets: Oat Lane to Poultry

But first, a slight diversion. Kind of. The other day I saw a big arctic lorry advertising the country’s favourite meat auctioneer. That set me off wondering about meat auctions: do you bid, along the lines of the restaurant at the end of the universe, on the meat while it’s still walking around? If not, what’s the window of opportunity? How soon do you have to bid on meat and then get it to the customer? What happens if the air conditioning breaks down?

Oat Lane
Photo courtesy of streatsoflondon

None of which is particularly relevant, but what’s the point of a blog if you can’t muse at your reader(s)? Of course, meat has featured in this culinary theme: so far we’ve had bacon (Bacon’s Lane); mutton (Cat and Mutton Bridge); ham (Ham Yard); and venison (Haunch of Venison).

And now on to a vegetarian option: Oat Lane. That name is probably nothing to do with oats; it was known at various times as Sheers Alley and Bulls Head Passage (ooh, back to the meat) and, in the 16th century, the one that has stuck: Oatelane.

It is possible that it could have been so named because it was where oats were sold, but that is not the popular theory. “It appears,” says the 19th century London street name expert and opinionated FH Habben, “to be indebted for its name to the owner or builder. The neighbourhood never had any connection with grain.

Orange Street is, perhaps not surprisingly, nothing to do with fruit. One explanation is that it was named after Charles I’s grandson William III, William of Orange, who became joint monarch with his wife Mary in 1689.

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. The name Jack Ketch can also be used to refer to death or the devil.

Back briefly to Orange Street: some of the famous names associated with the street include the dramatist Thomas Holcroft who was born in Orange Street. 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.

Perhaps the most famous person with an Orange Street connection is the actor Edmund Kean, who went to school here. (He was also a regular patron of the Cole Hole tavern near Farting, I mean Carting, Lane.)

EAS_4084Poultry brings us back to meat names; It was once called Scalding Alley, says 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”. And, of course, it still does, though today there is no scalding or stalls. Even by Stow’s time, poultry stalls had given way to houses inhabited by grocers, haberdashers, and upholsterers.

Not all poultry sellers traded at Poultry however: a proclamation of 1345 declared that the ‘strangers’ (out-of-towners) had to have their poultry stalls at Leadenhall. This segregation was due to the fact that the non-Londoners were wont to charge too much for their wares; the declaration was equally firm that residents of the city were not to join the outcasts in Leadenhall, but to “sell their poultry at the stalls [in Poultry] as of old”.

However,by the time of the Great Fire in 1666, Poultry had become famous more for taverns Elizabeth Fry plaquethan anything else.

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, and where a blue plaque commemorates the fact.

There is also a blue plaque in memory of Elizabeth Fry, a notable prison reformer, who lived there from 1800 to 1809. 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.