London’s great names: Kitcat Terrace and Clotworthy Skeffington

Once again, apologies for the gap in posts on this blog; I am trying to work out a system that means posting something at least once a week; daily is proving to be something of a challenge and less frequently than weekly means losing momentum.

But enough about me. I’ve been reading up on some of the fascinating people who, in one way or another, have contributed something to my knowledge of London streets.

Some of these people are fascinating by virtue of their names: Sir Harbottle Grimston, for instance; and Praisegod Barebone (who was demurely named compared with his brothers). And Clotworthy Skeffington, of course, more of whom shortly.

Which brings us back to people who have made a contribution to London’s history, such as Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who lived in Covent Garden and has a (tenuous, of course) connection with Kitcat Terrace in Bow, East London.

The delightfully named Kitcat Terrace rather sedately commemorates the Reverend Henry James Kitcat, rector of St Mary’s Bow from 1904 to 1921. The name derives from Kitcott, a place name in Devon.

Ok, the connection is tenuous enough that she doesn’t really have a connection with the terrace, but rather with the Kit-Kat Club, founded in 1700 by a bookseller called Jacob Tonson. The club was comprised of Whig Patriots dedicated to ensuring that Protestants would continue on the throne after the reign of William III, and also to encouraging the fine arts.

The club had a yearly toast to honour a lady of the day whom the members wished to honour. The toast was elected by ballot and the lady’s name was written on the club’s drinking glasses with a diamond. (Presumably they got through an awful lot of drinking glasses.)

Lady Mary’s father, Evelyn Pierrepont, 1st Duke of Kingston-upon-Hull, took her to the club when she was a child, and she was made the toast for the year. Apparently, in her old age, she said that it had been the happiest day of her life: “Petted, praised, fondled, and fed with sweetmeats.”

Toasts and sweetmeats notwithstanding, Lady Mary is perhaps best known for the letters she wrote when she was in Turkey, wife to Edward Wortley Montagu, the British Ambassador in Istanbul.

And a little sidenote to history: apparently, at the time of her marriage, Mary was in love with another man but eloped with Wortley to avoid marriage to her father’s choice of suitor. The rejected suitor rejoiced in the name of Clotworthy Skeffington.