From Fashion to Threadneedle: London street names and the Great British Sewing Bee 

It seemed only logical that, having written a post on baking-related themes for the final of the Great British Bakeoff last October, the recent final of the Great British Sewing Bee should also prompt me to find street names related to sewing and fashion. (First, I should apologise for the hiatus in posting. I apologise.)

The most obvious is Fashion Street in Spitalfields and I have to go off on a slight tangent here: I was excited, in double-checking something for this post on Wikipedia, to discover that one of my posts is cited as a reference for Flower and Dean Street. But I digress.

Fashion Street is nothing to do with clothes or sewing: it was so named when it was built in the 1650s; the land upon which it stands belonged to the Fasson brothers – Thomas and Lewis, skinner and goldsmith respectively. By 1708 Fasson Street had been corrupted to Fashion Street. They also owned the land upon which stood Flower and Dean Street, where two of Jack the Ripper’s victims lived, and that street was named for bricklayers John Flower and Gowen Dean. 

For a long time Fashion Street – and, indeed, the whole area – was a dirty and dangerous place to live. Jack London lived in Flower and Dean Street in 1902-3 and wrote a book, The People of the Abyss, about the state of life in the Whitechapel and Spitalfields areas of London.

Another obvious sewing street name is Threadneedle Street, home of the Bank of England. The Bank of England. The derivation of the name is not as straightforward as might first appear. Thread and needle certainly make contextual sense, but the street was originally Three Needle Street and was known as such for a long time.

The name is likely to derive from the arms of the The Worshipful Company of Needlemakers, whose coat of arms includes three needles, but the sewing connections don’t end there. The Merchant Taylors, who began life as the Company of Tailors and Linen-Armourers, have had their hall here since 1347, and once owned almshouses in Threadneedle Street for its aged members.

Petticoat Lane belongs to this category, even though it is no longer called that; the lane was covered in a recent post about names that aren’t what they seem, and you can read that here. This name could derive from the fact that secondhand clothes dealers established this as the centre of London’s used clothes district, or from the English form of the French petit court, a “little short lane”.

There is Cloak Lane, which is one of those nice-sounding but icky names, like Maiden Lane, which takes its name from ‘midden’ or dung heap. Cloak in this instance is likely to derive from the Latin cloaca, or sewer. The lane was once called Horseshoe Bridge and led over the Walbrook; there was probably a sewer draining into the brook at that point.

If you prefer a more romantic story, then let’s look to the recently-posted tale of Bleeding Heart Yard, which you can read here. As Saint Nick was carrying off the beautiful gypsy maid who had sold her soul to him, her heart fell in Bleeding Heart Yard, her cloak in Cloak Lane, and one of her shoes in Shoe Lane.

Some might argue that shoes fit in the fashion category, but I am sticking with the clothing and sewing side of fashion and we can look at shoes another time.

Cloth Fair takes name from Bartholomew Fair; this three-day event was held in the Smithfield area from the 12th century to the 19th century. The fair was, early on, essentially a trade fair for the woollen and drapery industries, with Italian and Flemish cloth merchants, and money charged on tolls for goods was a source of income for the priory of St Bartholomew. The nearby Cloth Court and Cloth Street also took their name from the fair.

Bartholomew Fair gradually attracted more and more people, and soon the speciality of cloth was virtually overlooked. Ben Jonson, who immortalised it in the comic play Bartholomew Fair, first staged on 31 October 1614.

Clothier Street in Houndsditch, which was known previously as Crab Court and Carter Street, has a connection to the clothing industry that goes back to Elizabethan times when it was famous as a gathering area for “sellers of old apparel”. An official Clothes Exchange was established there in 1875 and the current name was assigned in 1906.

There isn’t a City of London worshipful company of clothiers, but there is Worshipful Company of Clothiers in Worcester.

In 2008 Prince Charles visited the city of Worcester and paid £453.15 to the Company, thus settling a Royal debt dating back to 1651. Prior to the Battle of Worcester that year, Charles II commissioned the Company to make uniforms for his troops, promising to pay after winning the battle. However, Cromwell won and Charles II fled to Europe, leaving a debt of £453.3s which he did not settle after he acceded to the throne. That is what you call serious welshing on a deal. (And before any Welsh readers complain about me feeding into negative stereotypes, don’t forget I supported Wales in the Six Nations.)

Haberdasher Street in Shoreditch takes its name from a bequest by Robert Aske, silk merchant and member of the Haberdashers’ Company. He left land and money to the Company; it was used to establish a school in 1690. The Haberdashers’ Company maintains a strong tradition of supporting schools.

Silk merchant takes us onto Silk Street, which was built either in 1799 or 1879 and takes its name from silk weaving in 17th-century London, which was carried on largely by French refugees who settled in the Spitalfields area. By the 19th century they had been joined by their English counterparts from the north, who set up silk factories. Many of them lived in this street, which was finally named in recognition of that fact. (Since there’s always one in every crowd, the theory has also been put forward that the name may have come from a builder.)

London’s occupational streets: from apothecaries to wrestlers

London’s street names are full of those relating to, or seeming to relate to, occupations, and an earlier post looked at the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker, as well as Dean Street, Pardoner Street, and Pimp Hall Park.

Today let’s look at some more occupations, trades, and titles in London street names, starting with Apothecary Street, south of Fleet Street. Many ‘trade’ streets take their name from an association with one of the City Livery Companies, and Apothecary Street is one of them.

The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London was founded in 1617 by James I to prevent unqualified people from making medicine. His Royal Apothecary established the first hall here in 1633. It was destroyed over 30 years later in the Great Fire of London, which started in Pudding Lane, and was rebuilt in Blackfriars Lane in 1786.

Czar Street in Deptford was named for Peter the Great, Czar of Russia, who lodged here at the end of the 17th century, supposedly learn shipbuilding at the local shipyard, famous since the reign of Henry VIII. His – originally delighted – landlord was the diarist John Evelyn, who had moved to Deptford to escape the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire.

Evelyn had let the propery, Sayes Court, to Captain (later Admiral) John Benbow, which he began to regret, writing that he had “the mortification every day of seeing much of my former labours and expense there impairing for want of a more polite tenant”.

To make matters worse, Benbow in turn sublet the property to the Czar of Russia who delighted in being trundled in a wheelbarrow through Evelyn’s holly hedge. Evelyn’s manservant wrote that the house was “full of people, and right nasty”.

Evelyn later writes sadly of his “now ruined garden, thanks to the Czar of Moscovy”. The government later agreed to compensate him and Christopher Wren, along with the King’s gardener, was assigned the job of assessing the situation and supervising the repairs, though much of the damage caused was irreparable. The extent of the damage was assessed at 162 pounds and 7 shillings – an amount that would equate to thousands of pounds today.

Dame Street in Islington was named for Dame Anne Packington (nee Dacres), who is also remembered in nearby Packington Street. This area was once part of Middlesex; when the canons of St Paul’s who owned the land, divided it into six parishes and disposed of much of it, they retained the prebendal land of Islington.

The Clothworkers Company became one of the largest landowners here, especially after Dame Anne’s death in 1563, as she bequeathed 60 acres of land to them.

So far, so good on names making sense, but Dancer Road in Parsons Greet is nothing at all to do with dance, The road was named in 1881 after the Dancer (or Dauncer) family who had connections with the area since the early 17th century.
In 1656 one Nathaniel Dancer or Dauncer) left a fund for the poor of Fulham, to be paid out of two acres of land. The family also had a market garden in this area until 1884.

Goldsmith’s Row and Goldsmith Street do take their name from goldsmiths. The goldsmiths plied their trade in Goldsmith’s Row and Lombard street but, according to Walter Thornbury in Old and New London, “In 1622 the traders of the Goldsmiths’ Company began to complain that alien traders were creeping into and alloying the special haunts of the trade, Goldsmiths’ Row and Lombard Street; and that 183 foreign goldsmiths were selling counterfeit jewels, engrossing the business and impoverishing its members.”

Goldsmith Street is near to where, in 1339, a merchant’s house was purchased; this house was on the site of where Goldsmith’s Hall still stands today. The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths is number five in the City Livery Companies, and by Elizabethan times they owned much of the property in the area.

EAS_4083Grocers’ Hall Court, unsurprisingly, takes its name from the fact that the Grocers Hall Company has been there since 1427. The company, once called the Pepperers, became the Grocers in 1345 and are second in the list of City Livery Companies. They were a powerful company for centuries but their power was diminished somewhat in 1617 when the Apothecaries seceded and took the profitable drug trade with them.

Haberdasher Street takes its name from a bequest by Robert Aske, silk merchant and member of the Haberdashers’ Company. He left land and money to the Company; it was used to establish a school in 1690.

Hosier Lane was a medieval streets with specialized tradesmen. In the 14th century the hosiers lived and worked here, making their age’s equivalent of today’s trousers: fashionable garments that replaced the robes of previous generations. These hose were brightly dyed, often with legs in contrasting colours.

The houses in the lane were, at one time, nearly all built of timber, probably dating back to the 17th century. There was a barber’s shop on the corner, in which was displayed a dagger said to be the one with which Walworth killed Wat Tyler, virtually on that spot.

Ironmonger Row was once largely inhabited by ironmongers, the row was built in the 18th century on land bequeathed to the Ironmongers Company in 1527 by Thomas Mitchell, ironmonger and citizen of London. the bequest involved 10 acres, so there was lots of room for other streets to be built, and others were Mitchell Street, Helmet Row, and Lizard Street.

Jockeys Fields does have an equestrian connection, albeit with a rather more sedate pace than horse racing. The fields in question may have formed part of the route taken by the mayor and other dignitaries – on horseback – to inspect the City Conduit, built in the 13th century to provide drinking water piped from the River Tyburn to the City of London.

This annual event later developed into a grand mayoral hunt, but use of the conduit ceased after the Great Fire of 1666.

Managers Street in the Docklands area does take its name from managers. In this case, the managers of the Metropolitan Asylums Board (MAB), formed by legislation to deal with London’s sick poor. TheThe MAB established floating smallpox hospitals, and Managers Street led to the wharf used for these ships.

EAS_4010Pageantmaster Court takes its name from the Pageantmaster who organizes the procession of the Lord Mayors show. This duty includes inspecting the route and ensures that all runs smoothly and to time on the day.

Ropemaker Street was one of many ‘rope walks’ that existed on the outskirts of medieval London. Lengths of rope were twisted as long as possible, and this street was longer and straighter than many of the time. The ropemakers were living there up until the 17th century. Daniel Defoe died, impoverished and unknown, in lodgings in this street.

Wrestlers Court is from, well, wrestlers. Wrestling was a popular sport in London; Pepys mentions it in his diary when he writes, “Thence homewards by coach, through Moorefields, where we stood awhile, and saw the wrestling.”
John Stow writes of it being “against the wall of the city… a large inn or court called the Wrestlers, of such a sign”.

We shouldn’t really end this occupation-themed post without mentioning Occupation Road in south London. This, however, comes from occupation as in occupied by, rather than career. At one time occupation of the land went with rights of access: this was the way to a strip of land, used for cultivation and owned by a Walworth villager.