Soho: hunting cries, Manhattan, and a house of charity

House of St Barnabas
The House of St Barnabas

I was just watching a programme about the Crossrail project in London; Soho Square was mentioned, so of course, that was a great cue to mention Soho and its name.

The name is generally accepted to have come from an ancient hunting cry; apparently ‘tally ho!’ is the cry when a fox breaks cover and ‘soho!’ is when huntsmen uncouple the dogs.

There is also a SoHo district in Manhattan; that comes from the fact that the area is South of Houston. And here’s an interesting thing about pronunciation: Houston, Texas is pronounced ‘hugh-ston’ (or, if you’re British, ‘hoo-ston’); Houston Street in Manhattan is pronounced ‘how-ston’

But back to Soho Square, which was built in the late 17th century and was originally called King’s Square, after Charles II. When building began in 1681, apparently there were only a few residents, one of whom was the Duke of Monmouth – one of Charles II’s illegitimate sons. The square eventually took its name from the area, known previously as Soho or Sohoe.

Interestingly, the Duke of Monmouth used ‘Soho!’ as a rallying cry for his troops at the Battle of Sedgemoor, the final battle in his rebellion.

The square is home to the House of St Barnabas, a charitable organization was founded in 1846 and was “the only Home in London gratuitously afforded to such distressed persons as are of good character, upon a recommendation from some one who knows them”.

In 1859, Charles Dickens’ ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ was published and immortalized the garden and a plane tree beneath which Dr Manette and Lucy were portrayed entertaining.

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