In honour of International Women’s Day: from Fanny Burney to Phillis Wheatley

As it is International Women’s Day today, I’d thought I revisit briefly some of the women who have appeared in this blog by virtue of a connection, however tenuous, with London and its street names.

Let’s start with Phillis Wheatley, who was the first published African-American female poet. Born in West Africa and taken to the US in 1761, she was bought by a wealthy Boston merchant and tailor John Wheatley (and given his name as was the custom of the time). Phillis was schooled by Wheatley’s daughter Mary and accompanied his son Nathaniel to London, where she had an audience with the Lord Mayor of London and met with other significant members of British society.

The Boston publishers of the 18th century did not want to be associated with a book written by a slave so her work Various Subjects, Religious and Moral was published by a company based in Aldgate.

Margaret Cavendish (born Margaret Lucas and later the Duchess of Newcastle), who was born in 1623, was a poet, philosopher, essayist, and playwright who had her works published under her own name, unusual for women of the time. She wrote The Blazing World, one of the earliest examples of science fiction, she was an early opponent of animal testing, and she argued philosophy and science with the great minds of the time.

One of Margaret’s brothers, John Lucas, was an original member of the Royal Society and, in 1667, Margaret asked permission to attend a session of the  Society. This request caused a great deal of argument and dissatisfaction, but was eventually granted, and she became the first woman to attend a session. (The Royal Society, which was once based in Crane Court, was founded in 1660, but women were not permitted by statute to become fellows until 1945.)

Fanny Burney, later Madame D’Arblay, was an extraordinary woman; she was a talented and gifted – and largely self-taught – 18th century writer, but she should also go down in history as a woman of huge courage. Fanny was a breast cancer survivor and wrote the earliest known patient’s perspective of a mastectomy – in her case, performed without anaesthetic.

Fanny married Alexandre-Jean-Baptiste Piochard D’Arblay on 28 July 1793, relatively late in life. Her father did not attend the wedding, having expressed disapproval of his daughter marrying a penniless foreigner. The couple remained happily married and had one son.

There is memorial window to her at Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey, and London’s oldest surviving plaque for a woman was erected in 1885 at her residence in Mayfair’s Bolton Street. According to English Heritage, “It is a sign of the times in which it was made that its inscription gives greater prominence to her married name – Madame D’Arblay – than to the one by which posterity knows her.” There is also a D’Arblay Street, and Fanny lived in Half Moon Street.

Lola Montez, universally described as an adventuress, also lived in Half Moon Street, where she was arrested for bigamy in 1849. Lola was born Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert in Limerick, Ireland. She later claimed to be Spanish, adopted the name Lola Montez, and became a dancer whose dancing apparently involved more enthusiasm than talent. Her most renowned dance was the Tarantula, in which she searched for an imaginary spider in her clothes.

Lola is perhaps better known for her lovers, among the more famous of whom was Ludwig, King of Bavaria, who was dominated by the strong-willed Lola and became a strong political force. Her meddling in politics sparked off riots that eventually led to her banishment and the king’s abdication. Another famous lover was the equally temperamental Franz Liszt.

Mary Frith, otherwise known as Moll Cutpurse, was born around 1584 and lived and died in Fleet Street. She was described by the Newgate Calendar as “A famous Master-Thief and an Ugly, who dressed like a Man, and died in 1663”. She is considered to have been, at least in part, inspiration for Daniel Defoe’s book Moll Flanders.

As Moll Cutpurse the pickpocket, she was successful and made a great deal of money. Eventually, a spell in various prisons, and having her hand burned (a punishment for theft) four times, she took to highway robbery instead. When she grew tired of, or nervous about, stealing, Moll turned to a variety of activities, including fencing stolen goods and running a bawdy house.

Mary, or Moll, died of dropsy when she was in her seventies, was interred in St Bridget’s churchyard, and it is believed that John Milton wrote her epitaph, though the headstone was destroyed in the Great Fire of London.

Phoebe Hessel, who gives her name both to Amazon Street and Hessel Street, is another woman who was famous for dressing as a man; in her case she disguised her gender to enlist as a man in the 5th Regiment of Foot, supposedly to be with her lover, Samuel Golding. She hid her secret successfully even from her comrades-in-arms, that is, until Golding was wounded and invalided home. Phoebe then revealed her secret to the wife of the commanding officer; once her secret was out, she was discharged and returned to the UK where she married Golding and bore nine children.

On Golding’s death, Phoebe moved to Brighton where she married William Hessel and became something of a local character. The then Prince Regent, later George IV, granted Phoebe a small pension and invited her to his coronation parade. She died in 1821, at the alleged age of 108 and was buried in the parish churchyard with honours.

follow her lover into battle, and served overseas as a man, having was later a local character in Brighton, becoming a favourite of George IV, Price Regent and living to the ripe old age of 108.

Lady Elizabeth Hatton provides one of the many, many theories behind the name of Bleeding Heart Yard: she was the basis of a legend about a beautiful gypsy who made a deal with the devil in order to be able to capture the heart of a rich lord. The devil then appeared unexpectedly at a ball one night and carried her off, after which revellers at the ball were revolted to discover a bleeding human heart in the courtyard.

Elizabeth, who died in 1646, was indeed a woman to inspire legends. The young and beautiful (and rich) woman was the toast of 17th-century London society; her Annual Winter Ball in Hatton Garden was one of the highlights of the London social season, and invitations were much sought after. Her suitors were many and varied, including Sir Francis Bacon and Sir Edward Coke.

Coke won Elizabeth’s heart – possibly to his detriment, because the two quarrelled virtually throughout their long marriage. Elizabeth retained the Hatton name and the couple lived in separate houses for much of their marriage. There were indeed rumours of Elizabeth being carried off by the devil – after defying him to do so if she could not open the door to the wine cellar which thwarted the efforts of her servants.

Another real woman to provide a theory behind a London street name (in this case, La Belle Sauvage Yard) is Pocahontas, a Native American who was captured by the English during Anglo-Indian hostilities in 1613, and held for ransom. During her captivity, she converted to Christianity, took the name Rebecca, and chose to remain with the English. In April 1614, she married tobacco planter John Rolfe in what is the first recorded inter-racial marriage in North American history.

The Rolfes travelled to London to seek investment for their tobacco farm, and the couple became celebrities. When the couple set sail to return to Virginia, Pocahontas became ill, died at the age of 21, and was buried in Gravesend.

The printing works of Cassell, Petter and Galpin were based at one point in the yard, and Pocahontas became the symbol for what became today’s publishing company of Cassell’s. There was once a statue of Pocahontas in Red Lion Square, commissioned by the company when it moved there.

From Batty and Prudent to Sly and Wild: adjectives in London’s street names

Batty Street cropToday’s random fact: the Livery Companies of London (which have direct connections with many street names) were also known as ‘mysteries’. From the Latin misterium, which in this instance roughly translates as ‘closed circle’, or ‘professional skill’. I got to that by looking up more about the Fruiterers’ Company, of which Edward Lear’s father was a member.  The Worshipful Company
of Fruiterers, has been in existence since before 1300 AD, and is 45th in order of precedence of the Livery Companies.

Edward Lear died on this day in 1888. He was born in Bowman’s Mews in Islington (off Seven Sisters Road) the mews takes its name from the fact that the area was a popular site for archery in Elizabethan times.

All of which is nothing to do with my intended post for today, but it shows how wondering about street names is a journey with many varied and wonderful destination. A recent post featured verb street names, and Allgood Street was one of yesterday’s offerings. That made me think ‘parts of speech’ and today I give you adjectives.First a disclaimer: I’m not including colours in this, but there are colourful streets here and here, or the old and new type of street names. There are more than enough adjectives, of which I can cover only a few here, starting with Batty Street.

Prudent PassageBatty is actually, in this, instance, probably a name: There was a William Batty who developed property in London so it could have been named for him. It has connections with a Victorian locked room murder mystery (not a professional skill type), which occurred around the time of the Jack the Ripper murders.

Crisp Road in Hammersmith is also a name: it honours Sir Nicholas Crisp (or Crispe) who, according to Samuel Johnson was “a man of loyalty that deserves perpetual remembrance”. Crisp was a supporter of King Charles I, and his loyalty was such that his funeral arrangements included provision for his heart to be placed in an urn under the effigy of his king. The heart was to be refreshed annually with a glass of wine.

Crooked Usage in North London has a name that goes back to Anglo-Saxon times when land was divided into strips – usages – which were separated by grass borders. The theory is that, though the usages should have been straight, there was a crooked allotment that, by virtue of being different was worthy of having its name live on.

Early Mews in Camden, alas, has no Late or Tardy street to balance it out. But, of course, this name has nothing to do with time: it comes from the Early family. Joseph and George, plumbers, and John, a builder, built the mews as well as much of the early 19th-century development that was carried on around Camden High Street.

The song ‘Electric Avenue’ by Eddy Grant refers to the Brixton riots of 1981, and the Electric Avenue of the song is a street that was opened as a 19th-century late-night shopping street, complete with electric lighting that was designed to be adequate for evening shoppers: “lined with shops, with a lavish display of electric light everywhere”.

Fleet Street comSavage Gdnses from the River Fleet, so named not because it was swift, but from an Anglo-Saxon word ‘fleot’ meaning a creek or tidal inlet. Although it still flows, the Fleet is now underground and is used as a sewer – a function that it has performed since 14th-century butchers used it for cleaning out entrails and others took up the habit by dumping refuse into the stream.

Lacy Road in Putney has a lovely, delicate-sounding name that is, however, nothing to do with lace. It takes its name from John Lacy – who was, by happy coincidence, a cloth worker; he had a house by the river, Putney Palace, which was demolished in the early 19th century. Centuries ago the Putney area was a fashionable one; wealthy London citizens liked to have a ‘country’ house in a riverside location, and Lacy was no exception. Elizabeth I and James I were apparently among the guests whom Lacy entertained at his country home.

The derivation of Prudent Passage is uncertain. One theory is that it may have been something to do with “the foresight displayed in its construction”. More entertaining is the theory that it once served the same useful function as Passing Alley, and therefore was a prudent route to take on the way home after spending too many hours in the pub.

Peerless Street is more of a disguise than an indication of any superlative quality. The name comes from a spring that overflowed and formed a pond – Perilous Pond – so-called, says Stow, because “divers youths, by swimming therein, have drowned”. The pond, with its unfortunate propensity for drowning people, was finally closed off. In 1743, William Kemp, a jeweller, converted the pond to a luxury swimming bath with a well-stocked fish pond next to it. The path alongside the bath was called Peerless Row and later became Peerless Street. The pool was closed in 1850 and then built over.Sly Street

There is a Quick Street in Islington, and also a a Speedy Place near King’s Cross, but neither of these names are anything to do with swiftness. The first was named for John Quick, George III’s favourite comedian, and the second for the Speedy family who held the licence for a tavern there called the Golden Boot.

Savage Gardens, near Tower Hill, 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.

Sly Street in East London sounds pretty devious, but it has a perfectly innocent name: in 1890 the St Georges in the East member of the London County Council was a Mr RS Sly.

Wild CourtVigilant Close, though it sounds worthy, comes from one of the locomotives on the Crystal Palace High Level railway, which ran on this site.

Wild Court (and Wild Street) are tamer than they sound. In this case, ‘wild’ is a corruption of Weld, and refers to the wealthy Humphrey Weld who, in the 17th century, had an elaborate mansion in the area. The house had its own chapel and extensive library and, at the time of its construction, enjoyed splendid isolation in what is now the Covent Garden and theatre area. At the time, what later became Wild Street was only a track leading to Weld’s house.

Tothill Street: burial grounds and ping pong

From Marylebone to Westminster; I read an article today about a Tothill-fields bridewell prisoner dying of starvation in 1817. (Bridewell: a place of correction, from one that was originally near St Bride’s church in Fleet Street.) So let’s head off to Tothill Street to discover the origin of the name.

Tothill Street takes its name from Tothill Fields near Westminster Abbey and there are a number of theories as to the origin of the name itself. The most likely is that, as the highest point in Westminster, it was a ‘toot’ or beacon hill. Another theory is that it was from the Druid divinity Teut.

Tothill Fields was a once burial ground; following the Battle of Worcester – the final battle of the English Civil War – many of Charles II’s Scottish allies were either buried here or (for those remaining alive), “driven like a herd of swine through Westminster to Tuthill Fields” where they were sold to merchants and sent to the island colony of Barbados.

It later, during the Great Plague of 1665-1666, became a communal burial ground and Samuel Pepys noted in his diary with some dismay that, “I was much troubled this day to hear at Westminster how the officers do bury the dead in the open Tuttle Fields, pretending want of room elsewhere”.

An indication of how many people were buried in pits, and not just during the Plague years, was highlighted during the Crossrail excavations, which unearthed thousands of skeletons in the Bedlam burial ground near Liverpool Street station.

On a lighter note, the first table tennis tournament was held on 14 December 1901 at the The Royal Aquarium and Winter Garden in Tothill Street.

Books, more books, and sack posset

Anthony Askew
Anthony Askew, book collector extraordinaire

On World Book Day, two London street names with strong book connections: Askew Road in West London and Falcon Court, off Fleet Street.

Askew Road is named not because of any lack of symmetry, but for Anthony Askew, an 18th-century local landowner who studied medicine and had a good practice – serving as a physician in St Bartholomew’s and Christ’s hospitals and as registrar of the College of Physicians. He later became known more as a classical scholar rather than a doctor, helping to develop people’s tastes for curious manuscripts, rare editions, and well-preserved books.

Askew’s house was a bibliophile’s delight, piled high with books; after his death in 1774 the sale of his library lasted 20 days and fetched the princely sum of £3,993 (and sixpence) – around half a million pounds today. Among the keen buyers of his books were George III, Louis XV, and the British Museum.

EAS_4020
The Stationers’ arms, with the sign of the falcon

Falcon Court takes its name from a 16th century shop sign, but which was is unclear. The falcon was a common symbol in heraldry; it appeared in the Stationers arms, and was thus popular with booksellers. According to some sources, Wynkyn de Worde had a shop in the court, though that is disputed.

Jan van Wynkyn (de Worde was a place name) was an apprentice to the printer William Caxton and on Caxton’s death in 1491 continued the business. He believed in mass production: success, he decided, lay in producing popular books for the general public rather than large, expensive folios for rich people. The output of his press was greater than any other pre-1600 printer, and included the second edition of the Morte d’Arthur and the third edition of the Canterbury Tales.

GorboducWhether or not he had a shop in Falcon Court, it is undisputed that the falcon appeared often in the book world. The first edition of Gorboduc, a play by Norton Thomas (who wrote the first three acts) and Thomas Sackville, Earl of Dorset, was “Imprinted at London in Flete Street at the sign of the Faucon by William Griffith”. Described as a “masterpiece of dullness” Gorboduc is considered to be both the first play in verse and the first regular English tragedy.

There was also a tavern that stood nearby by in Fleet Street; in 1547, along with four houses in Falcon Court, it was bequeathed to the Cordwainers Company by John Fisher. The reason for the bequest was gratitude – inspired, evidently, by the large number of excellent dinners that Fisher had enjoyed as a guest of the Company. In fairness to Mr Fisher, he had also decreed that the income from the property should provide the poor of the local parish with 12 pence per annum.

There was, however, a catch to this generosity: in return a sermon had to be preached every year, on 10 July, in the parish church of St Dunstan in the West. Luckily this obligation was not too much of a strain, as for many years sack posset (a drink of hot milk curdled with alcohol and flavoured with spices) was drunk to Fisher’s memory in the church vestry. This custom, alas, has been discontinued.

Engineers, journalists, and Moll Cutpurse

Fleet StreetThis day in London history: 2 January 1818 saw the birth of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE). Three young engineers, Henry Robinson Palmer, James Jones, and Joshua Field, kicked off with a meeting in Fleet Street’s Kendal Coffee House. However, it was not until two years later, when Thomas Telford was appointed president, that the institution began to make a name for itself. Telford increased membership and obtained a Royal Charter for the ICE in 1828. He remained president until his death.

Fleet Street in 1890

Fleet Street has, over the years, been famous for many and varied reasons. For instance, London’s first public lavatory and pillar box were in Fleet Street and the pub, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, is a landmark in its own right. There has been a pub on that spot since 1538.

The street itself was named for the Fleet River, which has nothing to do with speed: it comes from an Anglo-Saxon word ‘fleot’ meaning a creek or tidal inlet. Although it still flows, the Fleet is now underground and is used as a sewer – a function that it has performed since 14th-century butchers used it for cleaning out entrails and others took up the habit by dumping refuse into the stream.

Fleet Street was one the heart of the newspaper trade, and the term is still used in that context, though it is a long time since newspaper offices were all headquartered there. The associations go back to Wynken de Worde (and is there a better name for a man who was a printer and publisher?), who worked with William Caxton, popularized the printing press in England, and had an office here in 1500.

EAS_4004There is a plaque, at the Ludgate Circus end of Fleet Street, which commemorates Edgar Wallace, Reporter, born London 1875, died Hollywood 1932: “Founder member of the Company of Newspaper Makers. He knew wealth and poverty yet had walked with kings and kept his bearings. Of his talents he gave lavishly to authorship but to Fleet Street he gave his heart.”

On the shadier side of the Fleet Street associations (though many may feel that journalism is shady enough), the street was once famous for its illegal marriages and for its prison, which dates back to the time of the Norman Conquest, was rebuilt several times, and was finally closed in 1842 and demolished in 1846.

Moll Cutpurse title page
Mary Frith depicted on the title page of The Roaring Girl

One of Fleet Street’s more colourful (and shady) characters was Mary Frith, otherwise known as Moll Cutpurse, who lived and died in Fleet Street. Born around 1584, she is described by the Newgate Calendar as “A famous Master-Thief and an Ugly, who dressed like a Man, and died in 1663”. She is considered to have been, at least in part, inspiration for Daniel Defoe’s book Moll Flanders. She was also the inspiration for two plays, only one of which survived: The Roaring Girl.

The young Mary, described as, basically, a tomboy, was bored with the traditional girls’ pastimes and occupations: “She could not endure that sedentary life of sewing or stitching; a sampler was as grievous to her as a winding sheet; and on her needle, bodkin and thimble she could not think quietly, wishing them changed into sword and dagger for a bout at cudgels.” She would also fight with boys and as often as not beat them.

Trepanning engraving
A 16th-century depiction of trepanning

Her uncle, unable to restrain this undesirable behaviour, apparently planned to have her trepanned (where a hole is drilled in the skull to relieve pressure on the brain) aboard a ship bound for New England. She jumped ship and swam back to shore. Mary grew into a “lusty and sturdy wench” who often dressed in men’s clothing (though, unlike Phoebe Hessel, she made no attempt to pretend to be a man) and, eventually, “entered herself into the Society of Divers, otherwise called file clyers, cutpurses or pickpockets”.

As Moll Cutpurse the pickpocket, she was successful and made a great deal of money. Eventually, a spell in various prisons, and having her hand burned (a punishment for theft) four times, she took to highway robbery instead. A good Royalist, Moll targeted only followers of Oliver Cromwell. When she grew tired, or nervous about, stealing, Moll turned to a variety of activities, including fencing stolen goods and running a bawdy house or, as the Newgate Calendar puts it succinctly, “To get money, Moll would not stick out to bawd for either men or women; insomuch that her house became a double temple for Priapus and Venus, frequented by votaries of both sorts.”

Moll died of dropsy when she was in her seventies, was interred in St Bridget’s churchyard, and it is believed that John Milton wrote her epitaph, though the headstone was destroyed in the Great Fire of London.

Printing presses and falcons

This day in London’s history: on the 18th of November 1477 William Caxton printed the first book in England, Dictes or Sayengis of the Philosophres (Sayings of the Philosophers), translated by Anthony Woodville, the second Earl Rivers and the king’s brother-in-law. Among the other early titles at his press in Westminster was an edition of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales and Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur

Caxton’s customers and patrons were largely from the upper classes, and he produced expensive books aimed at that market. When he died his business was taken over by his apprentice Jan van Wynkyn (also known as Wynkyn de Worde; de Worde was a place name). Wynkyn believed in mass production: success, he decided, lay in producing popular books for the general public rather than large, expensive folios for rich people. The output of his press was greater than any other pre-1600 printer, and included the second edition of the Morte d’Arthur and the third edition of the Canterbury Tales.

Caxton had offices in Falcon Court (the falcon was a common symbol in heraldry; it appeared in the Stationers arms, and was thus popular with booksellers) and in Fleet Street, which began the long association of that street with the printed word.