London’s dirty street names: pigsties and gutters

greenwich-pigstyThanks to a new Twitter buddy (PaxView Jeff @JR_justJR) and his excellent post on Greenwich, I have discovered Pigsty Alley in Greenwich, a shocking omission from my own blog post on pig-related street names. I hope he doesn’t mind me borrowing his picture.

(In my defence, however, the name does not appear on any of my reasonably up-to-date London maps and atlases: it is, according to another excellent blog, The Greenwich Phantom, relatively new and is “a revival of an 18th Century name for what remains of a ancient thoroughfare. David, who sent me the photo, tells me that the alley, which runs between Maidenstone Hill and Winforton Street, originally ran much further north but post-war clearances severed it”.)

So pigsties lead us to London’s grubbier streets, come of which have been covered in various posts on this blog, but let’s bring some of them together in a mini muck-fest, starting with Grub Street, though that may be cheating a bit as it is now called Milton Street.

Grub Street was known as ‘Grubbestrete’ in the 13th century and could have meant, in the London tradition of not mincing words when it came to street names, ‘street infested with maggots’. It could also have been from ‘grube’, a ditch or drain, or from a personal name – Grub was not an uncommon name in the 13th century.

EAS_4049From grubby streets to gutters and Gutter Lane. This – and don’t you love London street names? – it is nothing to do with gutters. It is, instead, from a 12th-century, possibly Danish, name, variously Gutherun, Goderun, or Gutherson. The lane was known as Goudron Lane and then Gutheran Lane and, according to Isaac Disraeli, who wrote Curiosities of Literature, the first owner of the lane was a citizen of great trade.

Ha ha sign 5Gutters, ditches – and a ha ha, which in this case is a type of ditch, not an involuntary giggle from yours truly. Ha Ha Road (in Greenwich) inspired the book (and its name) that brought about this blog and on which I am still working and aiming to get published. A ha ha is a sunken ditch, which may have taken its name either from an exclamation of surprise from the person who falls into it or the laughter from observers of said fall.

Carting Lane, which features in the post ‘Scatalogical London: from Farting Lane to Pissing Alley’ could also be considered a mucky street as it was once called Dirty Lane. In the past, there were many streets called things like Dirty Lane, Filth Alley, and Stinking Lane, because they were.

Catherine Wheel AlleyBefore we leave London’s grubby streets, we could include Catherine Wheel Alley which, though perfectly clean in itself, is the location of a famous London pub called Dirty Dicks (now in the process of being refurbished).

What’s so funny about Ha Ha Road?

Ha ha sign 4Following on from yesterday’s post about the Top 10 most unusual names in the City of London, it seemed a good idea to look at some other unusual names, not just in the City but in all of London, starting today with perhaps, one of the most fun(ny) names in London: Ha Ha Road in Greenwich. Not only is this most definitely a name to catch the attention, it one about which there is no dispute as to the derivation.

Simple: a ‘ha ha’ is a sunken ditch which serves as a boundary marker for property, rather than a high wall that could block the landowner’s view.However, there is slight dispute as to the derivation of the term ‘ha ha’ itself. One school of thought says it is an exclamation of surprise from the unwary strollers who suddenly find themselves in a ditch, another that it is the reaction of any spectators who see their companions abruptly disappearing from sight.

Ha ha 4
The ha ha of Ha Ha Road

Whatever the derivation of its name, this cunning device was adopted in Kensington Gardens by Charles Bridgman, a fashionable designer of gardens in the 18th century who was hired by George II’s queen, Caroline of Ansbach. The gardens, which had been a part of Kensington Palace since William III bought Nottingham House and converted it for his use, went though several changes before George II first opened the gardens to the public – provided that they were “respectably dressed people”.

Respectably dressed they may have been, but that didn’t prevent George II from being mugged there. He was in the habit of taking a solitary stroll around the gardens every morning and one day was approached by a man who jumped over a wall (had there been a ha ha in that spot presumably the mugging would never have taken place).

The man, who claimed to be financially distressed, very respectfully asked the king to hand over his money, watch and shoe buckles. The one-sided transaction was carried out, and the king mentioned that there was a seal on his watch chain of little monetary, but great sentimental, value. The man promised to take it off the chain and return it provided George said nothing of the robbery. The king agreed, and the seal was returned the next day at the same time.