London’s green streets and hiking for Macmillan

I’ve signed up for the Wye Valley Mighty Hike – a 26-mile hike in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support – which I will be undertaking in memory of my cousin Pat who lost a short but brave battle with pancreatic cancer. My welcome pack arrived recently and the training shirt is a very bright green, so in honour of Macmillan and my cousin, I thought I would have a green-themed post.

Let’s start with Bowling Green Lane near Farringdon. I used to work near there, and this is one of the streets, along with Bleeding Heart Yard, that started me on my quest of finding out more about weird and wonderful street names. The lane was so called because in the 17th century there were two bowling greens here, the last of which was closed in the 19th century. John Stow disapproved of bowling – he thought it distracted archers from their proper pastime.

Less than a mile away we have Emerald Street, which reflects the ingenuity of some of those responsible for naming and renaming streets. It was originally called Green Street, possibly after a local resident. Towards the end of the 19th century there were far too many Green Streets in London and so it was given a name that allowed it to take its place in the rank of precious stone streets, such as Diamond Street and Ruby Street. But precious stones are for another time.

Also in that general area is Greenhills Rents. Back in the day, many lanes and alleyways were built either by one person or with one person’s money, and given the name of ‘buildings’ or ‘rents’. The latter, unsurprisingly, were buildings built specifically to be rented out. John Greenhill was an 18th-century landowner; he and his wife Agnes owned, among other land and property, the Castle tavern on Cowcross Street. In 1736 John applied unsuccessfully for a market to be built on his land; the last of his property was sold by Edith Minnie Greenhill in 1920.

Green Dragon Court, near Southwark Cathedral, is named – like so many streets – from a pub; there was a tavern here as early as 1542. 

It may seem like cheating to include Laurence Pountney Hill, but it was once called Green Lettuce Lane. The name is nothing to do with salad; it is, apparently, a corruption of Green Lattice Lane and, some say, comes from a lattice gate that opened into what is now Cannon Street. 

A much jollier explanation is that, although lattice in its corrupted form does play a part, it was not a gate. In earlier days taverns were designed so that customers could see out without being observed by people going past. This was sometimes achieved with latticework over the window, traditionally painted green or red.

Green Man Lane in West Ealing comes from another common tavern sign, a reference to an ancient figure in folk customs: Jack-in-the-Green. He was originally part of the traditional May procession, and represented one aspect of the summer. The Jack was a man enclosed within a wicker cage, which was covered by green leaves and boughs. (Who can think of that without remembering The Wicker Man with Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee?)

Later on, Jack-in-the-Green became associated with chimney sweeps, who were traditionally supposed to be carriers of good luck, and during their May Day celebrations, the street procession would include a boy dressed in the wicker costume.

There is a Greencoat Place, which takes its name from the Green Coat School. In 1624 the Churchwardens of St. Margaret’s, Westminster, established St. Margaret’s Hospital to which Charles I granted a Charter of Incorporation in 1633. As the children of St. Margaret’s were dressed in green, the Hospital became known as The Green Coat School.

But back to Macmillan and my hike: if you would like to sponsor me for this walk, click for my fundraising page.

London’s culinary streets: Grape Street to Honey Lane

Today’s post on culinary streets starts with explicit content, so those of you with delicate sensibilities should look away now and skip to Green Lettuce Lane.

Grape Street
Photo courtesy of streatsoflondon

We start with Grape Street off Shaftesbury Avenue; the street, once called Vine Street, was named from a house called ‘Le Vyne’ that belonged to the leper hospital of St Giles in the Field. The church of St Giles in the Field started as a chapel of the parish of Holborn attached to a monastery and leper hospital founded by Matilda of Scotland, the wife of Henry I.

It is likely that that a vineyard once stood on this spot as the area was particularly fertile and the vines were mentioned in the Domesday Book. In fact, there were once many vineyards in London and many Vine Streets in London; there is still a Vine Street near Piccadilly.

There was once also a Grape Street that was a lane, now gone, in the parish of St Pancras. Early, non-euphemistic, forms of the name appear, as early as 1276, as ‘Gropecontelane’ and ‘Groppecountlane’. In Oxford, lanes of this name appeared as early as 1230. The name, says one source tactfully, is “an indecent one”. When it wasn’t changed completely, the name was altered to less drastic forms such as Grape Lane, thus disguising the prostitution activities of the street.

Green Lettuce Lane (in 1556, “the lane called grene lettyce”) is cheating slightly, because it is now called Laurence Pountney Hill. In fact it’s cheating completely because it is nothing to do with the edible lettuce but is, apparently, a corruption of Green Lattice Lane and comes from a lattice gate that opened into what is now Cannon Street.

Another, much jollier, explanation is that, although lattice in its corrupted form does play a part, it was not a gate. In earlier days taverns were designed so that customers could see out without being observed by people going past. This was sometimes achieved with latticework over the window, traditionally painted green or red.

The lane was mentioned in the 18th-century bankruptcy courts with a reference to “Richard Bruce of Green Lettuce Lane, Cannon Street, London, insurance broker and merchant (dealer and chapman), bankrupt.”

Ham YardHam Yard has a culinary connection: food played a large part in the naming of taverns – and hence London streets; often the speciality of the house would be featured in the sign. There was a Ham tavern in this small yard in the heart of the theatre district as early as 1739 and there was also once a Tudor mill in this area (commemorated in Great Windmill Street). The Ham tavern became the Ham and Windmill, was renamed the Lyric in 1890 and still stands there today.

Ham Yard, by happy coincidence, was once the congregation point for London’s ‘sandwich men’. Those sandwiches were nothing to do with food however: these were the walking billboards of the 19th century. These hardy souls, a result of a tax on advertising posters, would “walk the principal thoroughfares from morning to night with their boards high above their heads, secured to their shoulders by iron slips and a strap”. It was not an easy life, especially when high winds would pose a serious threat to their wellbeing. The sandwich men generally worked from 10am to 10pm with one break.

We can’t leave Ham Yard and sandwiches without mentioning the Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu, who is popularly believed to have created the sandwich because he did not want to move from his gaming table and ordered some meat between two slices of bread so that it would be easier to eat. (Another version is that he came up with the concept when he was working at a desk rather than gambling at a a table.)

The Earl was a member of the notorious Knights of St Francis of Wycombe, also known as the Hellfire Club or the Medmenham Monks, a society founded by founded by Sir Francis Dashwood and largely dedicated to drinking, eating, and fornicating. Allegedly.

Another club member was the radical journalist John Wilkes, who had one of the best comeback lines in history. Wilkes, quick-witted and acerbic, is one of the people to whom the following is attributed: when Sandwich said to him, “Sir, I do not know if you will die on the gallows or of the pox,” Wilkes replied, “That, my lord, depends on whether I embrace your lordship’s principles or your mistress.”

HaunchofVenisonHaunch of Venison Yard derives from a tavern that stood at the entrance of the yard from the 1720s to the early part of the 20th century.

The sign was more commonly found near royal hunting forests: though ‘venison’ now means only deer meat, the word derives from the Latin venari, to hunt, and was originally used for the edible flesh of any animal that had been captured and killed in a hunt.

The yard is not far from the Soho area, once grazing farmland and then taken by Henry VIII as a royal park for the Palace of Whitehall, so that may have had some influence in the name.

Another culinary connection is that the sign was also once used by Robert Wills, Confectioner and Pastrycook, whose shop was near St Paul’s cathedral.

Herbal Hill, near Hatton Garden, is also as it sounds. This area of London was an extremely fertile one, abounding with gardens and vineyards (as with Grape Street above) and the hill was once a herb garden attached to the palace of the Bishops of Ely. In the late 1930s the hill, formerly known as Little Saffron Hill was renamed Herbal Hill after the work of John Gerard.

Gerard was a skilled herbalist, and lived in the area. He carefully tended his garden and in 1596 published a list of all the plants that grew in it. His Herball or Generall Historie of Plants was of great interest, being the first catalogue of any one garden, public or private.

(Although some scholars claim that the original book was essentially a translation of a popular earlier Flemish herbal.)The first edition of the Herball was published in duodecimo; only one copy is known to be in existence and it is housed in the British Museum.

In 1597 a folio volume of this Herball, dedicated to Lord Burghley, was published and made Gerard’s name a household word. The book is charmingly written in a chatty tone; for instance, he describes sugar cane, which grows in warm climates: “my selfe did plant some shoots thereof in my garden, and some in Flanders did the like, but the coldness of our clymat made an end of mine, and I think the Flemish will have the like profit of their labour”.

Honey LaneHoney Lane is another Cheapside grocery street: it is where the medieval shopper would go there to buy honey in times when sugar was an expensive luxury that only the rich could afford. Modern researchers believe that the lane was also where the beekeepers lived, and was therefore one of the shopping lanes of Cheapside.

John Strype says of it, “”Adjoining to this street, on the north side, is Honey Lane, being now, as it were, an alley with a Freestone pavement, serving as a passage to Honey Lane Market ; the former Lane, and other buildings, being since the fire of London converted into this market. Among which buildings, was the Parish Church of St Allhallow’s, Honey Lane ; and, because it was thought fit not to rebuild it, the parish is united to St. Mary-le-Bow.”

John Stow’s charming, though somewhat far-fetched, theory for the name is that it was “so called, not of sweetness thereof, being very narrow, and somewhat dark, but rather of often washing and sweeping, to keep it clean”.

Shakespeare-related streets: from Aldersgate to Worship

William_Shakespeare_1609Who am I to buck the trend of the Shakespeare frenzy that is gripping the UK? In the run-up to the various events marking the 400th anniversary of the bard’s death, let’s revisit some of the bard-related London streets – a small fraction of them, I’m sure – that have graced this blog over the years. (And, yes, in keeping with tradition, some of the connections are very tenuous.)

Aldersgate Street was once, in part, called Pickax Street and delineated the northern extremity of the ward; according to English Heritage’s Survey of London the name was perhaps derived from Pickt Hatch, an Elizabethan name for an area of brothels said to be in this part of London”. It is mentioned by William Shakespeare in The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Bell Yard, off Fleet, takes its name from a pub sign; the Bell was once one of the most common pub names in the UK. Another Bell Yard (off Carter Lane) was also named from an inn; William Shakespeare was a frequent patron of the original inn, and the only surviving letter to him was penned here in 1598 by Richard Quyney (who wrote to his ‘loving friend and countryman’. Quyney’s son Thomas married Shakespeare’s younger daughter.

Curtain Road in Shoreditch marks the site of the first London theatre, established by James Burbage and his brother-in-law John Brayne around 1576. Surprisingly, though Curtain is a great name for a lane with a theatre, it was the land, belonging to the priory of Holywell, which was called the ‘Curtayne’. The origin of the name is uncertain.

The theatre was, rather unimaginatively, called the Theatre; a rival one, built nearby, was actually called the Curtain. Both theatres provided entertainment for Londoners for several years, staging plays by Shakespeare and others.

Aldersgate StreetEastcheap, which had been a market in Roman times and continued as an ,important medieval meat market, looks its name from Old English ‘ceap’, or ‘market’. It was called East Cheap to differentiate it from West Cheap (now Cheapside). It was also a drinking area, with “many hostelries”, the largest and most famous of which was the Boar’s Head Tavern.

Plays were performed in the tavern, which was frequented by Shakespeare who immortalized it as “the very tavern where Falstaff and his joyous companions met”. This gave rise in the 18th century to a Falstaff Club; members would meet at the tavern and assume the names of various Shakespeare characters.

Friday Street, the only day of the week to be represented in London street names, may take its name from Frigdaeges, an Old English name. There is also John Stow’s theory that it was “so called of fishmongers dwelling there and serving Friday’s market”. There was a famous tavern that stood in Bread Street but had a side entrance on Friday Street: the Mermaid tavern.

It was here, tradition holds, that Sir Walter Raleigh instituted the Mermaid Club, which included Ben Jonson and William Shakespeare among its members. Grave doubts have been cast, from many quarters, on the truth of the club’s existence, but it is certain that Jonson was an habitué of the Mermaid, and at least possible that he was joined on occasion by Shakespeare.

Laurence P HillThe Laurence part of Laurence Pountney Hill comes from the nearby church of St Laurence, called St Laurence next the Thames in 1275, and which burned down in the Great Fire. (St Lawrence is famous for having been broiled alive upon a gridiron; apparently he said, partway through his torture, “I’m well done. Turn me over!”)

Pountney derived from Sir John de Polteney, a prominent citizen of London and four times Mayor in the 1330s. He owned a mansion near to the church and leased it in 1348 to the Earl of Hereford and Essex for the rent of one rose per annum. The house, known as the ‘Manor of the Rose’ was mentioned in Shakespeare’s Henry VIII.

The name of Old Jewry dates back several hundred years; it was an area occupied by Jewish financiers who had been invited to England by William the Conqueror. In the reign of Richard I, however, the anti-semitism, as portrayed by Shakespeare in The Merchant of Venice, began to take hold. many of the Jews were murdered and their homes destroyed.

Pickle Herring Street, in the Tooley Street area, no longer exists, alas, but it supposedly took its name from the fact that the street was on the site of one of the Thames’ old wharves – where cargoes of pickled herrings were shipped. The name may also have come from the fact that Sir John Falstofe – who gave his name to Shakespeare’s Falstaff – lived on this spot in 1447. Falstofe was once a fish merchant, so it could have been his pickled herrings that gave the street its name.

Playhouse Yard was named for the Blackfriars Theatre (on the site of the ruined Blackfriars monastery), which was opened in 1596 by James Burbage, the father of Richard Burbage, who owned a share in the playhouse. This was to be a backup for the winter months when theatregoers would be reluctant to travel as far as the Globe in Southwark, where Burbage’s company was to be transferred. Shakespeare, who had a share in the theatre, bought a house nearby in 1612 so that he could be on hand for the performance of his plays.

Silver Street (no longer there) was, says Stow, named from the silversmiths who lived there, and earlier forms included ‘Silvernestrate’. Shakespeare took lodgings on the corner of the street and, according to a marvellous website, Shakespearean London Theatres, he spent a number of years living there, from 1604, with a French family called the Mountjoys.

Apparently legal evidence, which survives from May 1612, shows that Shakespeare gave evidence in a lawsuit about a marriage dowry of £60. The evidence confirms his presence as a lodger at a house on Silver Street in the Jacobean period.

Wardrobe TerraceWardrobe Terrace does take its names from a wardrobe. In 1359 a house belonging to Sir John Beauchamp was purchased by Edward II and became the storeroom for the royal clothing worn on state occasions. The Wardrobe is mentioned in Shakespeare’s will: he bequeathed, to his daughter, land near the Wardrobe.

Worship Street was once known as Hog Lane and may have taken its name from John Worshop, a merchant tailor, who owned over six acres of land in the area. Shakespeare is reputed to have once lived here, possibly when it was still Hog Lane.