What’s in a name? Petticoat Lane and Of Alley

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I had my knuckles rapped metaphorically by a Twitter bot – did I really just write that? – someone who has taken to Twitter to take umbrage at Madame D’Arblay, née Frances Burney, being referred to as Fanny in yesterday’s post on Half Moon Street. What’s the big deal, I wondered, what’s in a name? That made me think of some of the ‘proper’ names in London that are not nearly as much fun as their previous names.

Let’s start with the obvious: Middlesex Street. Boring, eh? Don’t most people know it as Petticoat Lane? I used to live in Reading where there was a passage properly called Union Street but commonly known (because of a long-term fishmonger there) as Smelly Alley. It was years before I learned that it was really Union Street.

Similarly, I remember trying to find Petticoat Lane in a London A-Z and discovering that it was really Middlesex Street. Yawn. Why, in 1830, Petticoat Lane was renamed I don’t know, but apparently the lane was once a boundary between the City of London and the county of Middlesex. 

There is a history of renaming the lane: in the 14th century this was a country lane called Berwardes Lane, after the local landowner. By the 16th century it ran through a pig farm and was renamed Hog Lane.

It then, presumably through a combination of the French silk weavers who settled in the area and the secondhand clothes dealers who established this as the centre of London’s used clothes district, became Petticoat Lane.

One of my favourite sources for information on London street names is a 19th-century writer called FH Habben who wrote a book called London street names; their origin, signification, and historic value, published in 1896. He (like the abovementioned bot) could be a little testy at times, particularly when it came to the meaningless renaming of streets and believed this to be an “instance of inappropriate name change”. He ignored the whole rag trade, stating firmly that the name came from the English form of petit court, a little short lane.”

York Place.jpgAnother favourite name of mine that has, again I have no idea why, been changed from fun to boring is Of Alley, which is now York Place and was once part of the house and gardens belonging to George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. Both of them: father and son, royalists both, who were the first two holders of the title of Duke of Buckingham, and both called George Villiers.

The second duke, a loyal follower of Charles II, fled the country with his king when England became an unhealthy place for them. Although his property was confiscated by Cromwell’s Parliament, Villiers regained it after the Restoration and own return to England.

The property didn’t do him much good: Villiers junior managed to run up so much in the way of debt that he was forced to sell his land. In 1674 it became the possession of a property developer on the condition that the streets built on the land were given Villers’ name. All of them. There were five in total, and they became George Street, Villiers Street, Duke Street (now gone), Of Alley, and Buckingham Street.

At least the street signs there still proclaim that it is York Place, formerly Of Alley.

London’s culinary streets: from Haymarket to Mint Street

Haymarket cropWhere were we? Oh, yes, we left off last time at Lime Street but I thought I should backtrack again to include Haymarket. Not culinary, you say? Tell that to various farm animals. And tell it also to various cheffy people on TV who made cooking with hay trendy.

So, Haymarket, which takes its name from hay: from Elizabethan times there was a market for hay on the site, and in 1697 the street was paved, each cartload of hay contributing to the expense. However, there were merchants other than those dealing in hay: one of the earliest tradesmen in the Haymarket appears to have been a vendor of sea-coal. A token used by him is in the Museum of London; on one side it says: “Nathaniel Robins, at the Seacoale seller, 1666” and on the other, “Hay Markett, in Piccadilla, his half-penny”.

In 1708 Haymarket was described as “a very spacious and public street, in length 340 yards, where is a great market for hay and straw”. In 1720 an enterprising carpenter named John Potter built a small playhouse in the Haymarket. The small playhouse was later called the Hay Market and then the Little Theatre in the Hay. It is now the Theatre Royal Haymarket, the UK’s third oldest playhouse still in use.

According to London historian Edward Walford, “The cost of the building was £1,000, and Potter further expended £500 in decorations, scenery, and dresses. He leased the theatre, immediately after its completion, to a company of French actors, who were at that time much favoured by the English aristocracy.”

In 1729 Henry Fielding started what might today be called a string of hits in the theatre, starting with a burlesque and ending with a political satire that so enraged the prime minister, Robert Walpole, that he introduced what became unprecedented censorship powers that effectively closed the theatre for several years.

In 1807 Haymarket was described as “an excellent street, 1,020 feet in length, of considerable breadth, and remarkably dry, occasioned by the descent from Piccadilly”.

A few years later, the Prince Regent, later King George IV, thought that London was looking tired and old and he instructed John Nash to enhance the appearance of the city. One enhancement included the Little Theatre in the Hay and the Theatre Royal Haymarket opened in 1821 with a production of Sheridan’s ‘The Rivals’.

EAS_4059Since I’m including bibendiary in with culinary, we can turn next to Milk Street which was, as with so many others, a Cheapside shopping street. According to John Stow, anyway who says of it, “there be many fair houses for merchants and other”. Among these other was Gregory Rokesley, “the chief assay officer of the king’s mints, and mayor of London in the year 1275”.

Thomas More, later knighted and beatified, was born in Milk Street on 7 February 1478. The young More originally planned to devote his life to the church, and led a highly ascetic life: he wore hair shirts, scourged himself regularly, and slept on the ground with a log as a pillow.

Although More later turned to law, he never lost those ascetic tendencies or his religious convictions – which would eventually cost him his life. He entered Parliament in 1504, was knighted in 1521 and became Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor in 1529 following the fall of Cardinal Wolsey.

[Wolsey had made the mistake of disagreeing with Henry VIII, a mistake that More would later echo. Wolsey had been unable to have Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled so that Anne Boleyn could become the next queen. He was stripped of his property and died the following year, with the famous line: “If I had served my God as diligently as I did my king, He would not have given me over in my grey hairs.”]

More is, perhaps, as famous for his views on social reform and his book Utopia and for his position in Henry VIII’s government. It is not generally known that, as a judge, he specialized in heresy. That is to say, during his time as Lord Chancellor six heretics were executed – not, relatively speaking, a great number, but possibly more than one would expect from a future saint.

The problems with Henry came to a head when More not only opposed the annulment to Catherine of Aragon, but also refused to take an oath renouncing the authority of the pope over that of the king. That double whammy led to him being tried and convicted of treason, and sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered.

More also made the history books for his death as much as for his life, with his famous last words: when he mounted the dilapidated and shaky scaffold, he said to the attending official, “I pray you, I pray you, Mr Lieutenant, see me safe up and for my coming down, I can shift for myself.”

On a lighter note, there are two entertaining stories about marriages in the More family. Sir Thomas himself, when presented with John Colt’s three daughters, took a fancy to the middle one. However, according to More’s son-in-law, Sir William Roper, More thought that it would be “great grief and some shame to the eldest to see her younger sister in marriage preferred before her”, and so he settled for marrying the eldest daughter.

William had no such compunction; though his wife Margaret was in actual fact More’s elder daughter, the reason for his choice was not as noble as More’s own. When the time came for a marriage to be arranged between William and one of More’s daughters, the prospective groom was taken by the girls’ father into their bedroom as they slept.

More flung back the sheet and the naked girls rolled over in their sleep. William was powerfully attracted to the sleeping Margaret, and patted her naked bottom, saying, “Thou art mine.”

This displaying of future brides was not an uncommon practice: it was one way of proving that they had no marks of a witch.

Also born in Milk Street was Isabella Mary Beeton (neé Mayson, who married publisher Samuel Beeton, so here’s another good culinary connection. Her organisational abilities and dynamism contributed greatly to the success of their publishing house and she is perhaps best known Beeton’s book of household management.

Mrs Beeton was, possibly, the original domestic goddess; she was the author of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, a bible of domestic information from Victorian times to the present. It seems, by the way, that Mrs Beeton was not much of a cook herself: being more of a journalist she collected and edited recipes rather than creating them.

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Photo courtesy of streatsoflondon

Speaking of mints, which we were above with Gregory Rokesley, we now come to Mint Street, which is nothing to do with sweets, but currency.

Henry VIII established a royal mint here around 1543 at the home of his brother-in-law Charles Brandon. Brandon was consoled for the loss of his home with a town house, which formerly belonged to the Bishop of Norwich, in the Strand. The mint was used until its demolition in 1557; smaller houses were then built in the area.

Until the early 18th century the Mint area was a criminal quarter, a recognized sanctuary for thieves and debtors, and a haunting ground for marriage brokers. In John Gay’s 1728 The Beggars’ Opera , there was a character referred to as Matt of the Mint; in real life one of the people who sought refuge here was Jack Sheppard, a notorious highwaymen. It was Sheppard upon whom Gay based Macheath, the central character of the Beggar’s Opera.

Pageantmasters, Lord Mayors, and quills

EAS_4010Following on from a Twitter snippet provided by @CityandLivery today, let’s take a quick look at Pageantmaster Court. That, happily, takes its name from a Pageantmaster, currently Dominic Reid, and its connection to the Lord Mayor’s Show.

The Lord Mayor’s Show – the largest unrehearsed procession in the world – takes place this year on 8 November, the day after the new Lord Mayor takes up office. The tradition dates back to 1215 when King John allowed the Mayor of London to become one of the first elected offices in the modern world.

A condition of this was that every year the newly-elected Mayor should present himself at court and swear loyalty to the Crown. This duty became a more and more grand affair and, by the 16th century, was known worldwide as the Lord Mayor’s Show. London’s most famous diarist, Samuel Pepys, regularly recorded the event in his diaries, starting in 1660.

Key to the show is the Pageantmaster, who organizes the procession, inspects the route, and ensures that all runs smoothly and to time on the day. The importance of this role is reflected in Pageantmaster Court, a 20th-century name for a court that runs off Ludgate Hill. Every year the Pageantmaster processes past Pageantmaster Court during The Lord Mayor’s Show.

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The quill in question

Incidentally, another duty of the Lord Mayor is to officiate at the Changing of the Quill ceremony, part of the John Stow Memorial Service at St Andrew Undershaft Church in St Mary Axe. This year’s event was presided over by the incumbent Lord Mayor, Fiona Woolf, who is only the second woman to have held the post.

May Day celebrations, riots, and Puritans

EAS_4139As it is May Day (also known as International Workers’ Day) today, it’s a good time to revisit Undershaft (which does happen to be close to, if not on, the route for the Moonwalk London 2014). Yes, this single-named street takes its name from the church of St Andrew Undershaft, but why Undershaft?

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St Thomas Undershaft in the shadow of the Gherkin

The name from the church itself came from a huge maypole that once stood in front of the church, so tall that it rose above the tower. A maypole was the centre of many May Day celebrations – a carry-over from ancient festivities of nature worship. People would dance around the maypoles, elect May Queens, and carry on other activities that were generally fun and harmless – until 1517.

By that time, there had been a growing resentment among London apprentices at the number of foreigners in the city. On May Day 1517 – Evil May Day – this resentment erupted in rioting at the St Andrew Undershaft maypole.

The rioting spread and the pole was pulled down; though never re-erected, it was stored along the houses in nearby Shaft Alley and remained there for over 30 years. A local clergyman then decided to preach a sermon denouncing the maypole as a heathen object.

Our favourite London historian John Stow reported on how the householders, who had so long lived with the pole over their doorways, reacted.

“I heard his sermon at Paules cross, and I saw the effect that followed; for in the afternoon of that present Sunday, the neighbours and tenants to the said bridge, over whose doors the said shaft had lain, after they had well dined, to make themselves strong, gathered more help, and with great labour raising the shaft from the hooks, whereon it had rested two-and-thirty years, they sawed it in pieces, every man taking for his share so much as had lain over his door and stall, the length of his house; and they of the alley divided among them so much as had lain over their alley gate. Thus was this idol (as he poor man termed it) mangled, and after burned.”

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John Stow’s quill

Stow himself has a strong connection with the church: he and his wife worshipped there and, following his death, she had a monument to him erected inside the church. Every three years there is a John Stow Memorial Service, following which the quill in his effigy’s hand is ceremonially changed by the Lord Mayor of London.

The fun had more or less gone out of May Day celebrations after 1517, and then the Puritans banned them completely anyway. They were reinstated after the Restoration of Charles II; in a memo to the king from the Duke of Newcastle, it was suggested that maypoles and their related festivities would “amuse the people’s thoughts and keep them in harmless actions which will free your majesty from faction and rebellion”.

Back to the Moonwalk: if you want to support Walk the Walk and its efforts on behalf of breast cancer charities, you can sponsor me by visiting my fundraising page here.

Quills, maypoles, and intolerant curates

St Andrew and Gherkin
St Andrew Undershaft in the shadow of the Gherkin

Yesterday saw the Changing of the Quill ceremony at St Andrew Undershaft Church in St Mary Axe, and more of that shortly. The derivation of the name St Mary Axe has been dealt with in an earlier post, so this post will explain how Undershaft got its name.

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The effigy of John Stow with its new quill

First, back to yesterday’s ceremony, part of the John Stow Memorial Service. There is a bust of Stow in the church, part of a monument erected there by his wife Elizabeth; the couple were regular worshippers at the church. Every three years there is a changing of the pen ceremony, central to the John Stow Commemoration Service. The old pen is removed from Stow’s stone hand and a new one presented to the Lord Mayor of London who then places it in the effigy’s hand. (This event, formerly an annual event, is organized by the Merchant Taylors, of which Stow was one, and LAMAS, the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society.) EAS_4139Back to the derivation of the name Undershaft. The simple explanation is that it takes its name from the church of St Andrew Undershaft, but that’s too simple, and is begging the question. The name from the church itself came from a huge maypole that once stood in front of the church, so tall that it rose above the tower. A maypole was the centre of many of the May Day celebrations – a carry-over from ancient festivities of nature worship. People would dance around the maypoles, elect May Queens, and carry on other activities that were generally fun and harmless – until 1517. EAS_4136By that time, there had been a growing resentment among London apprentices at the number of foreigners in the city. On May Day 1517 – Evil May Day – this resentment erupted in rioting at the St Andrew Undershaft maypole. The rioting spread and the pole was pulled down; though never re-erected, it was stored along the houses in nearby Shaft Alley and remained there for over 30 years. A local clergyman then decided to preach a sermon denouncing the maypole as a heathen object; Stow himself reported on how the householders, who had so long lived with the pole over their doorways, reacted. “I heard his sermon at Paules cross, and I saw the effect that followed; for in the afternoon of that present Sunday, the neighbours and tenants to the said bridge, over whose doors the said shaft had lain, after they had well dined, to make themselves strong, gathered more help, and with great labour raising the shaft from the hooks, whereon it had rested two-and-thirty years, they sawed it in pieces, every man taking for his share so much as had lain over his door and stall, the length of his house; and they of the alley divided among them so much as had lain over their alley gate. Thus was this idol (as he poor man termed it) mangled, and after burned.” Incidentally, the clergyman was a certain Sir Stephen, curate of St Katherine Christ’s church, who was, said Walter Thornbury, another wonderful London historian, “considerably intolerant”. In reaction against heathen practices, by which Sir Stephen meant also Catholicism, he advise “all men to alter the Popish names of churches and the names of the days of the week, to eat fish any day but Friday and Saturday, and to keep Lent any time but between Shrovetide and Easter”. The fun had more or less gone out of May Day celebrations after 1517, and then the Puritans banned them completely anyway. They were reinstated after the Restoration of Charles II; in a memo to the king from the Duke of Newcastle, it was suggested that maypoles and their related festivities would “amuse the people’s thoughts and keep them in harmless actions which will free your majesty from faction and rebellion”.

Poultry, pope’s heads, and Lloyds of London

This day in London history: on Dec 31, 1600, a charter was granted to the East India Company. For years the company had its headquarters at East India House on Leadenhall Street, once the centre of a thriving poultry industry.

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East India House in Leadenhall Street

The name of Leadenhall is basically as it sounds – from a grand mansion with a lead roof. The mansion, built by Sir Hugh de Neville, was eventually acquired by Dick Whittington, otherwise known as Sir Richard Whittington, Mayor of London, who then granted it to the City. The site, one of the oldest market sites is London, is still a market, and has appeared in the Harry Potter movies.

EAS_4124A proclamation of 1345 declared that the ‘strangers’ (out-of-towners) had to have their poultry stalls at Leadenhall. This segregation was due to the fact that the non-Londoners were wont to charge too much for their wares; the declaration was equally firm that residents of the city were not to join the outcasts in Leadenhall, but to “sell their poultry at the stalls [in Poultry] as of old”.

EAS_4080 Poultry was once called Scalding Alley, says John Stow, from the poulterers who dwelt there and “their poultry, which they sold at their stalls, were scalded there. The street doth yet bear the name of the Poultry”. However, even by Stow’s time, poultry stalls had given way to houses inhabited by grocers, haberdashers, and upholsterers.

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Lloyds of London today

The site once inhabited by East India House is now home to another London institution – Lloyds of London, which actually began life nearby in Pope’s Head Alley, so named for a 15th-century tavern that was destroyed in the Great Fire and then rebuilt.EAS_4093One of the earliest mentions of the tavern occurs in Edward IV’s reign. There was a wager between two goldsmiths, one English and from from Alicant, to the effect that “Englishmen were not so cunning in workmanship of goldsmithy as Alicant Strangers”. There was a test of the workmanship of the two men involved and the wager was declared in favour of the Englishman.

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Edison, Christmas lights, and wicked behaviour

This day in London history: On 22 December 1882, Thomas Edison created the first string of Christmas tree lights. In January that year, Edison had switched on the first steam-generating power station at Holborn Viaduct in London.

There are at least two possibilities for the derivation of Holborn’s name. It could be from the Middle English ‘hol’ (hollow), and ‘bourne’ (a brook), in this case the Fleet River. The London historian John Stow attributes the name to the Old Bourne, or old brook, a stream that he said ran into the Fleet at Holborn Bridge.

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A royal procession under Holborn Viaduct in 1869

Holborn Viaduct, which replaced Holborn Bridge, was built between 1863 and 1869. When the Viaduct was built, it bisected Turnagain Lane, which originally ran from Snow Hill to the Fleet river and was once called Windagain Lane. According to says Stow it was so called, “for that it goeth down west to Fleet dike, from whence men must turn again the same way they came, for there it stopped”.

There was an old proverb: ‘He must take him a house in Turnagain lane’, applied to those bent on a path of wicked and destructive behaviour, and who needed to make dramatic changes to their way of life.