From Bleeding Heart Yard to Snow Hill: London streets in The Ingoldsby Legends

I keep promising to look at myth and legend in London street names; that’s still on the cards, but let’s start with The Ingoldsby Legends, a 19th-century collection of myths, legends, ghost stories and poetry written (and invented) for the purposes of satirizing topics of the time. One of these ‘legends’ was ‘The House Warming!! A legend of Bleeding Heart Yard’ and purports to explain the name of this little courtyard.

The story centres around the beautiful wife of Sir Christopher Hatton, who was a real person and a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I (though he never married). Alice Fanshawe had sold her soul to the devil in order to advance herself and her husband, with the result that the queen confiscated the place of the Bishop of Ely to give to the couple – hence the housewarming party.

While the festivities were going on, the devil, who had become lazy, realized that Alice’s account was long overdue, and he hastened to the party, where he bounds in and capers around, knocking over furniture and scattering the food and drink. He grasps Alice’s hand (which caused her arm to shrivel), and leads her in a frantic dance that ends with them performing a grand pirouette from which they never return.

The following morning, the house is in ruins, there is a hole the shape of a hoof in the roof (that sounds like something out of Dr Seuss), and there is no sign, then or ever, of poor Lady Hatton.

“But out in the court-yard – and just in that part
Where the pump stands – lay bleeding a LARGE HUMAN HEART!”

There were also traces of blood and brains on the pump, as though a head had been smashed against it. The pump was replaced, yet on some moonlit nights a ‘Lady in White’ could be seen pumping endlessly and fruitlessly.

“And hence many passengers now are debarr’d
From proceeding at nightfall through Bleeding Heart Yard!”

Apart from telling us how the yard got its name, Ingoldsby mentions various other streets, all of which deserve some mention as part of our legend theme.

Ely Place, once a seat of the Bishop of Ely, was indeed occupied by Sir Christopher Hatton, and was famous for its gardens, which produced a fine crop of strawberries. Shakespeare makes reference to this in Richard III, when Richard says, “My lord of Ely, when I was last in Holborn,I saw good strawberries in your garden there.”

When guests are arriving at (and fleeing from) the Hattons’ housewarming party, the streets along which they travel are listed: the Strand, Chancery Lane, Shoe Lane, Cheapside, St Mary-le-Bow, Fewtar’s (corrupted to Fetter) Lane, Bishopsgate Street, Dowgate Hill, Budge Row, Snore Hille (which we have since whitewashed to Snow), Holborn Hill, Fleet Ditch, Harp Alley, and Gray’s Inn.

Let’s look at them all in order, starting with the Strand. This name is of Saxon origin, meaning ‘water’s edge” and is mentioned by name in the Saxon Chronicle; apparently it is recorded that this is where Earl Godwin and his son Harold drew up their land forces in the insurrection that they headed against Edward the Confessor in 1052.

Chancery Lane takes its name either from the fact that a building in the lane was used to store the Rolls of Chancery, the Chancellors’ official documents. The present name came into use during the reign of Elizabeth I and could also have been an abbreviation of Chancellors Lane. Another theory is that the name comes from ‘cancelli’ – lattice screen – which once divided the court of Chancery from the court of Common Pleas when they shared the Law Courts in Westminster.

There is an early reference to Shoe Lane as ‘Scholanda’ (Show-land) is taken to mean that the lane was once a place for the setting out and showing of water-borne merchandise to tax collectors and customers. Scholanda could also, however, have meant ‘land shaped like a shoe’; the lane itself is not shoe-shaped but it may have led to a piece of land that was. Alternatively, it could have taken its name from an ancient well – Showelle – at the north end of the lane.

Cheapside comes from the Anglo-Saxon ‘ceap’, to buy or barter. West Cheap, as it was known, to distinguish it from Eastcheap, was one of the busiest thoroughfares in London and the city’s main food market. The medieval grocery shopper would have gone there for staples such as Bread, Milk, Honey, and Fish, and the streets that lead off Cheapside were named for their specialities. 

St Mary-le-Bow is the church in Bow Lane, destroyed in the Great Fire and rebuilt by Christopher Wren. Traditionally someone is only a Cockney if they are born within the sound of the church’s bells. The name of Bow Lane has nothing to do with its shape: the church was originally called St Mary de Arcubus from the arches, which are shaped like bows, upon which it was built.

The church of St-Mary-le-Bow

Fetter Lane we looked at not long ago, but at the risk of boring with repetition, here are some of the possible derivations of the name. The lane was once a spot where people in various stages of inebriation would congregate, passing on cheery greetings and advice to passersby. As Stow puts it, the lane was “so called of Fewters (or idle people) lying there, as in a way leading to gardens, but the same is now of latter years on both sides built through with many fair houses”.

There is also the theory that the name could have come from the ‘faitours’ – fortune tellers who were prevalent in medieval and Elizabeth times. The name may have come from the lance vests worn on cuirasses (also known as fetters) because of the armorers whose workshops were located there. One final theory is that the name derived from ‘felter’ – makers of felt also carried on their business in the lane.

Bishopsgate was one of the seven main London gates and the street is one of the longest in the City of London. The gate itself was named for Bishop Erkenwald, who became Bishop of London in 675.

Dowgate Hill (or Downgate) may have derived from the fact that the River Walbrook, once a main water supply for the City of London, flowed down the hill and through a gate into the Thames. The lovely Mr Habben, however, eschews this theory and states that, “it is an inscrutable corruption of, or deviation from, the original name, which it would now be difficult and inconclusive to conjecture, though Dock-Gate is tempting.” Sir Francis Drake lived in Dowgate Hill. 

Budge Row, which no longer exists, was the centre of dealers of ‘budges’, or fine lambskin fur, used for the edging of scholastic gowns. Apparently the word ‘budget’ comes from a bag made from lambskin, which may have been used to hold revenue, and transferred its meaning to the contents.

Snow Hill we covered in a recent seasonal post, which you can read here but, as the legend says, it was once called Snore Hylle and could have come from a Scandinavian trader called Snorro, or from the Celtic word ‘suadh’, a brook.

Holborn Hill comes from ‘Hol-Burne, the part of the old River Fleet that flowed under what is now Holborn Viaduct – the ‘burne’, or river, in the hollow. Fleet Ditch, similarly, took its name from the River Fleet; fleet comes from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning a tidal inlet.

Harp Alley takes its name from a 17th-century inn that once stood here. It is now a court off Farringdon Street. 

Finally, Gray’s Inn, which takes its name from the town house of Lord Gray of Wilton, which was leased to lawyers in the 16th century. Inn once meant a large house and was used for the grand residences of the nobility.

From parliament to idlers in London’s street names

Praisegod Barebone

Bring back names for parliament, I say. I’m not going to use this blog for political comment, but I thought I would keep it topical today and I did what I usually do: refer to my notes to see what London streets have to offer me on topical items. (Bear with me, street names do feature here eventually.)

Between my notes and Wikipedia, I have come up with the fact that there were 25 parliaments between 1604 and 1690. There are some wonderful names in the list, including the Blessed Parliament, the Happy Parliament, the Useless Parliament, the Rump Parliament, and the Barebones Parliament (also known as the Little, or Nominated, Parliament).

The Rump Parliament was set up following the Civil War when the New Model Army wanted to prevent a treaty to reinstate Charles I. In December of 1648 the army prevented 231 known supporters of the treaty from entering the House, and imprisoned 45 for a short time. The remaining free members then became the Rump Parliament.

However, the Rump Members soon showed that their main concern was to create legislation that would ensure the survival of Parliament. Oliver Cromwell lost patience after learning that Members was attempting to stay in session despite an agreement to dissolve the Parliament. He attended a sitting and lambasted the Rump Members, with a speech often quoted as: “You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately. Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”

Fetter Lane.jpgThe Barebones Parliament was then convened with ‘godly’ men chosen by Cromwell. The name came from one of the members, a godly by name and godly by nature man called Praisegod Barebone, a fierce anti-royalist and supporter of Cromwell. Pamphlets of strong opinion and language usually flew around from and in answer to Barebone. He certainly incurred the disapproval of the local lads: Pepys, in his diary, makes more than one mention of the fact that “the boys had last night broke Barebone’s window”.

And here is where London streets come into it (“Finally!” I hear you cry.): Praisegod Barebones once lived in Fetter Lane, the name of which has many possible sources, including the words faiter, faitour, faytor, felter, and fewter.

The lane was a spot where people in various stages of inebriation would congregate, passing on cheery greetings and advice to passersby. As Stow puts it, the lane was “so called of Fewters (or idle people) lying there, as in a way leading to gardens, but the same is now of latter years on both sides built through with many fair houses”.

The Old French word ‘faitor’ meant a lawyer, and by the 14th century the reputation of that august profession had fallen so far into disrepute that the word was synonymous with idlers. There is also the theory that the name could have come from the ‘faitours’ – fortune tellers who were prevalent in medieval and Elizabeth times.

Shoe Lane.jpgOther theories include the idea that the name may have come from the lance vests worn on cuirasses (also known as fetters): many armourers had workshops in the area. One final theory is that the name derived from ‘felter’ – makers of felt also carried on their business in the lane.

Barebones also lived in Shoe Lane, the name of which also has many interesting theories. An early reference to it as ‘Scholanda’ (Show-land) is taken to mean that the lane was once a place for the setting out and showing of water-borne merchandise to tax collectors and customers. Scholanda could also, however, have meant ‘land shaped like a shoe’; the lane itself is not shoe-shaped but it may have led to a piece of land that was. Alternatively, it could have taken its name from an ancient well – Showelle – at the north end of the lane.

New year London names: from New Scotland Yard to Newgate

Well, loyal reader(s), it’s been a while. Long enough that it’s too far after Christmas to continue that theme (and I was coming to a bit of a dead end on that anyway). But it’s still sort of the New Year, so let’s take a quick look at ‘new’ names – that is, names with new in them.

New Scotland YardBut first a bit of a cheat with New Scotland Yard, which is a building rather than a street. And it isn’t even in Great Scotland Yard, which is what it was named for. That name came about because the Palace of Westminster, which no longer stands, once served as the main residence for the English monarchs –and a parcel of land belonging to the palace, including a house given by King Edgar to Kenneth III of Scotland in the 10th century, was reserved for royal Scottish visitors and their retinues.

Great Scotland YardIn 1829 the Metropolitan Police Force was formed and the new force (consisting of around 600 men, six of whom were discharged on the first day for being drunk) set up headquarters in Great Scotland Yard (Little and Middle had by then combined to become Whitehall Place). Scotland Yard (or the ‘Yard’ then became the name by which the police force was known.

From police to prisons, and Newgate, one of the original gates of London. (The others were Aldersgate, Aldgate, Bishopsgate, Cripplegate, Ludgate, and Moorgate.) Newgate was so named because it was new: in the 12th century, a new gate, built to replace the original Roman gate.

Newgate is perhaps best known for Newgate Prison, possibly one of the world’s most famous, and infamous prisons and the gatehouse was indeed used as a prison later in the 12th century. When the gate was rebuilt again in the 15th century, Dick Whittington (or, to give him his proper title, Richard Whittington, Lord Mayor of London) provided money for the prison to be extended.

The prison was eventually demolished to make way for the Central Criminal Courts, known as Old Bailey, taking their name from the street on which they stand). In the 18th century Newgate became not just a prison but the location of public executions: the gallows at Tyburn were moved to the prison in 1783 and prisoners no longer made the long journey west from Newgate to be executed.

EAS_3968From prisons to fetters, or manacles for prisioners. There is a Fetter Lane and a New Fetter Lane and on the corner of these two streets is a statue of John Wilkes, a journalist and member of the notorious Hellfire Club.

The word ‘fetter’ in this instance, however – you guessed it – is nothing to do with manacles. Many alternative spellings include faitor, fewter, felter, and faitour.

As the historian John Stow puts it, the lane was “so called of Fewters (or idle people) lying there, as in a way leading to gardens, but the same is now of latter years on both sides built through with many fair houses”. (The Old French word faitor meant a lawyer, and by the 14th century the reputation of that august profession had fallen so far into disrepute that the word was synonymous with idlers.)

The name could have derived from ‘felter’ – makers of felt also carried on their business in the lane, or from ‘faitour’ – a type of fortune teller prevalent in medieval and Elizabeth times. As well as all the iidlers, the area did have workers in the form of the armorers whose workshops were located there. and the name may have come from the lance vests worn on cuirasses (also known as fetters).

EAS_3905And finally, from lawyers to bankers: New Change was formerly Old Change, originally just Change (it became Old in 1293); it took its name from a buiEAS_4102lding where bullion was stored before being taken to the Mint to be coined. (There is also a Change Alley; that takes its name from the Royal Exchange, founded in 1565 by Sir Thomas Gresham to act as a centre of commerce for the city, and officially opened by Queen Elizabeth I.)

 

Barebones Parliament, lawyers, idlers, and fetters

This day in London history: on 12 December 1653, the unrest in Britain that followed the execution of Charles I for treason continued. This unrest was particularly evident in the English Parliament as the replacement to the Rump Parliament – the Barebones Parliament – came to an end.

Parliament
The Houses of Parliament. Photo from the UK Parliament.

The Rump Parliament had not served the purpose that Oliver Cromwell had intended; the members were distrustful of the army and their main concern was to create legislation that would ensure the survival of the Parliament.

Cromwell lost patience after learning that Parliament was attempting to stay in session despite an agreement to dissolve. He attended a sitting of Parliament and lambasted the Rump Members. “You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately … Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!” he declared.

Barebone’s Parliament was then established: 144 Members of Parliament who not elected, but selected by Cromwell’s officers for their religious fervour. This group still didn’t satisfy Cromwell, and on 12 December 1653, while the more pious of the Members were at a prayer meeting, a group of army supporters, led by the general John Lambert, gathered together to vote to dissolve Barebone’s Parliament. A few days later, Cromwell was installed as Lord Protector of the realm.

ibarbop001p1
Engraving of Praisegod Barebone

Barebone’s Parliament takes its name from a man who rejoiced in the name of Praisegod Barebone, the Parliamentary nominee for the City of London. He was a fierce anti-royalist, supporter of Cromwell, anabaptist, leather seller, politician, Freeman of the Leathersellers’ Company in 1623, and was minister for a baptist congregation.

Barebone’s fierce anti-royalist stance meant that pamphlets of strong opinion and language usually flew around from and in answer to him. He certainly incurred the disapproval of the local lads: Pepys, in his diary, makes more than one mention of the fact that “the boys had last night broke Barebone’s window”.

Barebone had two, possibly apocryphal, brothers, called Christ-came-into-the-world-to-save Barebone and If-Christ-had-not-died-thou-hadst-been-damned Barebone (abbreviated to just Damned Barebone). Presumably if these brothers did exist, they were older than Praisegod, whose parents must by then have been exhausted by the naming of children.

EAS_3968In addition to all his interests and achievements, Barebone was also once a resident of Fetter Lane, the derivation of which name is up for grabs. Take your pick from just some of the options, which include faitor, fewter, felter, faitour, and even fetter are some of the options.

The Old French word ‘faitor’ meant a lawyer, and by the 14th century the reputation of that august profession had fallen so far into disrepute that the word was synonymous with idlers. Alternatively, it appears that the lane became a spot where people in various stages of inebriation would congregate, passing on cheery greetings and advice to passersby.

As the historian John Stow puts it, the lane was “so called of Fewters (or idle people) lying there, as in a way leading to gardens, but the same is now of latter years on both sides built through with many fair houses”.

Or the name could have derived from ‘felter’ – makers of felt also carried on their business in the lane.

There is also the theory that the name could have come from the ‘faitours’ – fortune tellers who were prevalent in medieval and Elizabeth times.

As well as the idlers, the area did have workers in the form of the armorers whose workshops were located there. and the name may have come from the lance vests worn on cuirasses (also known as fetters).

In 1988 a statue of John Wilkes, a journalist and member of the notorious Hellfire Club, was erected at the location where Fetter Lane joins New Fetter Lane. In 2011 the Rolls Building, a new court of the High Court of Justice principally for commercial and property cases, was formally opened by Queen Elizabeth II.