From French Ordinary Court to Great Scotland Yard: the six nations in London’s street names

I don’t know why this theme hasn’t occurred to me before, but let me set my stall out immediately and say I was delighted with the Welsh victory on Saturday. For those of my readers overseas who may not get the reference, Wales beat England in the six nations rugby tournament. Emotions run high when those two teams play each other. The other four nations are Scotland, Ireland, France, and Italy.

I wasn’t born in this country, there is Welsh ancestry on my maternal grandmother’s side, and I live close enough to the border that my nearest town is Wales rather than England, so I feel justified in supporting Wales. Not so much my husband, who is English, though he prefers to see a good game than pin his hopes on either team winning. Given the aforementioned proximity to the Wales-England border, there was great support for both sides in our local pub; in fact, I would say red shirts outnumbered white ones.

But I digress. Given the Welsh victory, let’s start with Petty Wales near Tower Hill. The name probably comes the fact that it was the settlement of a Welsh centre (from ‘petit’, French for ‘little’). There is also Petty France, not far from St James’s Park, named similarly for the settlement of French people in the area, but more fun is French Ordinary Court, an intriguing name with a simple explanation.

This small street was given its name because in the 17th century the Huguenots were allowed by the French Ambassador, who had his residence in Crutched Friars, to sell coffee and pastries. They also served fixed price meals; in those days such a meal was called an ‘ordinary’. French Ordinary Court is in good company for interesting names, being not far from Crutched Friars, Seething Lane, and Savage Gardens, among others. But they are all for another time.

And on to Great Scotland Yard, near Whitehall. The term ‘Scotland Yard’ conjures up images of policemen and detective novels and, indeed, London’s Metropolitan police force has long been known as Scotland Yard or just ‘the Yard’. However, the modern building called New Scotland Yard, which serves as headquarters for the police force, is nowhere near Great Scotland Yard.

This name comes from the fact that the Palace of Westminster, which no longer stands, once served as the main residence for the English monarchs – that is, until Henry VIII decided that Whitehall Palace (also gone) would suit him better. 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. Some of the names for spaces between the houses, which had begun to proliferate on this parcel of land known as Scotland were, unimaginatively, things like Great, Middle and Little Scotland Yard. 

England’s Lane in Hampstead in named for one James England, who leased land there from Eton College. Or it could be a corruption of ‘ing-land’ from the Old English ‘ing’, a strip of meadowland. 

There is an Ireland Yard, named for William Ireland, who owed a house there which he sold to William Shakespeare in 1612 (or 1613, depending on who you believe). The house was conveniently close to Playhouse Yard, named for the theatre opened in 1596 by James Burbage. Shakespeare owned a share in the theatre and wanted to be close by for the performances of his plays. By coincidence, there was another William Ireland (known as Samuel Ireland), born in 1775, who was famous – or infamous – as a forger of Shakespearean documents and plays.

I started with Wales, which I support because of my ancestry, so I will finish with Italy. (I feel obliged to support them in sporting matches because my mother’s parents were Italian.) This is a bit embarrassing, though, as I can’t find any Italy or Italian street names in London, so I shall go off on a complete tangent for this one.

Roman Bath Street, once located off Newgate Street between St Martin’s Le Grand and King Edward Street, was originally called Pentecost Lane. In 1679 a Turkish merchant built London’s first Turkish bath here, and the street’s name was changed to Bagnio (Italian for bath) Court. The bath was famous and, as historian John Strype describes it, “Near unto Butcher Hall Lane is the Bagnio, a neat contrived Building after the Turkish mode for that purpose; seated in a large handsome Yard, and at the upper end of Pincock Lane. Much resorted unto for Sweating, being found very good for aches, etc., and approved of by our Physicians.”

Bagnio Court later became Bagnio Street and then Bath Street. In 1885 for some reason it was named Roman Bath Street despite there being no Roman bath connections. In 1869 the houses on the east side were removed for new Post Office buildings and the court has since been engulfed by the BT Centre.

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.)