London’s streets: what’s in the name?

Pepys St Tower view copyI was having a grumpy old lady moment recently about things named for large global companies; I can’t remember what specifically sparked it off, but something like the O2 Arena.

Isn’t it a pity, I thought, that so many venues and sporting events are now named after big corporations. How long, I wondered, before airports, instead of being named John Lennon, John Wayne, or Sir Grantley Adams, were called The [insert name of large global corporation] Airport? And then, of course, I wondered further when that would happen to streets.

So that’s the tenuous connection between a grumpy moment and London streets. Today we’ll look at some of the streets named after people, particularly those where it’s not as obvious as, say, Pepys Street.

Fashion Street cropFirst of all, Fashion Street, 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.

Savage GdnsSavage Gardens is nothing to do with vampire novels: it was named for Sir Thomas Savage, who was created Viscount Savage in 1626 and who had strong ties to George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, and to Charles I. He was also married to an admirable woman, Elizabeth, who bore him eleven sons and nine daughters.

As we’ve seen recently, Short Street is nothing to do with length, but is Short was named for a 19th-century carpenter, Samuel Short, who built the street. Similarly, Greenhills Rents near Smithfield market was nothing to do with scenery but was named for John Greenhill, an 18th-century landowner who also owned the Castle tavern on Cowcross Street.

Askew Road isn’t particularly crooked: it takes its name from Anthony Askew, an 18th-century local landowner who studied medicine and 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.

Batty Street 2Goaters Alley is nothing to do with animals, but relates to John and William Goaters, occupants of a neighbouring farm. Baker Street is nothing to do with an earlier Mary Berry or Paul Hollywood, but is named from someone called Baker (there is disagreement as to which one). Batty Street is (probably) nothing to do with ditziness, but is more likely to relate to a William Batty who developed property in London.

Worship Street’s name is nothing to do with religion (though it does have religious connections): it is probably a corruption of ‘Worsop’ from an Elizabeth merchant tailor, John Worsop, who owned over six acres of land in the area. And Speedy Place nothing to do with swiftness or haste. There was once a tavern, called the Golden Boot, the licence of which was held by the Speedy family. An earlier landlord, and member of the Speedy family, used to meet with the ringleaders of the 1780 Gordon Riots.

And on the subject of things not being what they seem, I leave you with Sly Street. This devious-sounding street has a perfectly innocent reason for its name: in 1890 the St Georges in the East member of the London County Council was a Mr RS Sly.

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London’s streets: Jack the Ripper and Flower and Dean Walk

Flower & DeanWell, I finally got around to watching Season 3 of ‘Ripper Street’ and I’ve made it partway through the third episode. I used to really enjoy it when the storyline was intertwined with historical events and people, like early photography and John Merrick. Now it seems to me to be just a period soap opera with lots of blood and implausible story lines. And it wasn’t even filmed in London.

But there really was an Inspector Abberline who was involved in the Jack the Ripper murders, and by coincidence, I also recently saw a ‘Ripper’ documentary. That laid the blame for the murders squarely at the feet of one Charles Lechmere, a witness to the murder of Polly Nicholls. So that all got me thinking about Jack the Ripper, Whitechapel, and some of the streets involved in those grisly murders.

First, Flower and Dean Street, which no longer exists, although the name lives on in Flower and Dean Walk. The street (along with Thrawl and Dorset Streets) was a squalid centre for doss houses in the 19th century, particularly favoured by prostitutes. Two of the Ripper’s victims – Elizabeth (Long Liz) Stride and Catherine Eddies – lived in Flower and Dean Street.

At the height of the Ripper attacks the philanthropist Thomas Barnardo visited the house where Stride lived and, days later, wrote to the The Times, saying, “Only four days before the recent murders I visited No. 32, Flower and Dean-street, the house in which the unhappy woman Stride occasionally lodged.”

The women, he said, were frightened by the Whitechapel murders and one of them said, “Perhaps some of us will be killed next! If anybody had helped the likes of us long ago we would never have come to this!”

How right the anonymous speaker (some say it was Stride herself) was: as Barnardo said, four days later Stride was found in Berner Street (now Henriques Street, and where Charles Lechmere once lived with his mother) relatively unmutilated, compared with the Ripper’s other victims.

Stride had suffered merely a cut throat and a nicked ear – due, the theory goes, that her killer was interrupted at his work by the man who discovered her still-warm body.

Not one to be easily thwarted, the Ripper then proceeded on to Mitre Square where he was able, uninterrupted, to kill Eddowes, perform his customary atrocities and – if it were him, though that is still a point of dispute – leave a cryptic message chalked on the wall. “The Juwes are the men that will not be blamed for nothing” has been the linchpin of many an argument about Jack the Ripper’s identity.

Ah, yes, the street’s name comes from the fact that the street was built by two bricklayers, John Flower and Gowen Dean, in the 1650s. The land upon which it was built belonged to the Fashion Street cropFasson brothers (who gave their name to Fashion Street). In 1677 it was known as Dean and Flower Street and in 1702 the name was corrupted to Floodrun.

In the early 20th century, conditions were little better in the area than they were in the Ripper’s day: 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.

Pinchin Lane, Sherlock Holmes, and Jack the Ripper

Pinchin Lane: I was recently watching a rerun of ‘Sign of the Four’ with Jeremy Brett as Holmes, and noticed the street sign of Pinchin Lane. (No, I hadn’t really been paying attention and, yes, streets signs are everywhere for me.) Of course I rushed to look it up. I think it must have existed only in the mind of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle because I could find no mention of it outside of the pages of his story.

The lane is immortalized first when Holmes says to Watson, “When you have dropped Miss Morstan I wish you to go on to 3 Pinchin Lane, down near the water’s edge at Lambeth.” When Watson goes there he finds: “Pinchin Lane was a row of shabby, two-storied brick houses in the lower quarter of Lambeth.” (As an aside, it’s interesting how many people have seen the BBC’s Sherlock but never read any of the books. They’re worth it.)

So much for the fictional Pinchin Lane. There is, however, a Pinchin Street in Whitechapel where, on the 10th of September 1889 a female torso was discovered under a railway bridge. The poor woman’s head and legs were never found, and she was never identified. Some bloodstained clothing was later found in Batty Street (which has its own murderous connection) but amounted to nothing in the investigation.

The brutality of the murder, the geographical location of the torso, and the fact that the time of death was estimated to be the day before – the one year anniversary of the murder by Jack the Ripper of Annie Chapman – led many to speculate that this was yet another notch on the Ripper’s belt. This theory, however, is generally discounted, there having been two similar murders earlier in the year, and not enough evidence to tie them to the Ripper killings.

Oh, yes, as to the derivation of the name of Pinchin Street, once more I have to hold up my hand and admit ignorance, though it is likely that is from the surname, which is of Old French origin.
According to genealogical research sites, it is possibly a ‘nickname’ surname from the Old French word for finch, so referring to a bright and cheerful person. Or it could be an ‘occupation’ surname from the word ‘pinson’ or pincers – forceps. Alternatively, the name, introduced into Britain after the Norman conquest, could derive from the Normandy place name of Pontchardon.

Incidentally, two other London streets on this blog with Jack the Ripper associations include Flower and Dean Street and Dorset Street.

Flower and Dean and Jack the Ripper

This day in London history: on 27 November 1843, Elizabeth (‘Long Liz’) Stride was born; on 30 September 1888 she became the third victim of Jack the Ripper. Stride lived in a lodging house on Flower and Dean Street, which had been built by two bricklayers, John Flower and Gowen Dean, in the 1650s.

FLower and Dean
Flower and Dean street highlighted with three murder sites in red.

The street was a squalid centre for doss houses in the 19th century, particularly favoured by prostitutes. At the height of the Ripper attacks the philanthropist Thomas Barnardo visited the house where Stride lived and, days later, wrote to the The Times, saying, “Only four days before the recent murders I visited No. 32, Flower and Dean-street, the house in which the unhappy woman Stride occasionally lodged.”

The women, he said, were frightened by the Whitechapel murders and one of them said, “Perhaps some of us will be killed next! If anybody had helped the likes of us long ago we would never have come to this!”

How right the anonymous speaker (some say it was Stride herself) was: as Barnardo said, four days later Stride was found in Berner Street (since renamed) relatively unmutilated, compared with the Ripper’s other victims. She had suffered merely a cut throat and a nicked ear – due, the theory goes, that her killer was interrupted at his work by the man who discovered her still-warm body.

Not one to be easily thwarted, the Ripper then proceeded on to Mitre Square where he was able, uninterrupted, to kill Catherine Eddowes – who, coincidentally, also lived in Flower and Dean Street – and perform his customary atrocities.

“I am Jack––” Lambeth poisoner not Whitechapel killer

On this day in London’s history… the 15th of November 1892 saw Dr Thomas Neill Cream executed for murder. The Scottish doctor allegedly said “I am Jack ––” just before he was hanged. However, he is not a candidate for the Whitechapel murders as he was out of the country at the time they occurred and, in any case, his murder method of choice was poison.

Cream, who studied in Canada and then went to London, was forced to marry a woman when she became pregnant; he moved back to Canada, and then returned to the UK when his wife died in suspicious circumstances. He spent some time in Scotland until a woman with whom he was associated was found dead, pregnant and poisoned, in an alleyway, at which point he crossed the Atlantic once more, this time to Chicago.

There, Cream had an affair with a married woman, poisoned her suspicious husband and then was sentenced to life imprisonment after his lover turned state’s evidence. He was released after ten years, returned to the UK and proceeded with a career of carrying out illegal abortions and poisoning prostitutes. This ten-year span covers the time period of all the Ripper murders as well aslater killings over which there is some debate.

The over-confident doctor was caught when he tried both to frame innocent men for the Lambeth murders; in the process he exhibited knowledge of one murder that had not been considered a suspicious death and the police put two and two together.

The name Lambeth is thought to come from ‘lamhithe’, meaning the lamb harbour: either a place where lambs were loaded and unloaded, or just a muddy wharf.

The last of Jack the Ripper

This day in London history: on the 9th of November 1888 Jack the Ripper claimed his fifth and last victim, Mary Kelly, who was found in Miller’s Court off Dorset Street in the Spitalfields area of London.

Spitalfields church
A view through the roof of the market

The Dorset Street of the time, considered to be the worst street in London, was in what was a dirty and crime-ridden  slum area.

The area is now known for the modern and bustling Spitalfields market, a market that began in the 13th century, in the fields that forms part of its name. The rest of the name comes from the ‘spital’ – hospital and priory of St Mary, founded in 1197 by Walter Brune.

Now, 125 years after the first Ripper killing, theories as to the killer’s identity still abound, from Queen Victoria’s surgeon to a German sailor to no one killer at all. There have been innumerable movies and TV shows about or based on Jack the Ripper, from Alfred Hitchock’s The Lodger to From Hell with Johnny Depp as  Inspector Abberline – possibly one of the most famous policemen of all time.