‘Why not fish?’ Paxview enquired of me, making reference to Shadwell. Why not indeed? I hadn’t made the Shadwell – or Shad Thames – connection with fish before, but once the fishy idea was in my head it was like an earworm, so I rushed off to my favourite culinary street name resource, streatsoflondon.
Borrowing heavily (with prior permission, of course) from that site, I can give you the following: Albacore Crescent, Bream Street, Brill Place, Coley Street, Dace Road, Drum Street, Grayling Road, Ling Road, Mullet Gardens, Perch Street, Pike Close, Roach Road, Salmon Place, Shad Thames, Sturgeon Road, Tench Street, Trout Road, and Whiting Avenue.
And, if we’re not being purist about fish rather than seafood, we can also include Oyster Row and streets that are precluded from inclusion on that website, such as Bream’s Buildings, Fish Street Hill and Pickle Herring Street, more of which shortly, but – as is my wont – let’s start on a bit of a tangent with Billingsgate, originally one of the old water gates of the City of London.
That doesn’t have a fishy name but is certainly loaded with fish associations. According to John Stow, the market was originally a general market for a number of goods including corn, coal, iron, wine, salt, pottery – and fish, and by the 16th century had become a specialist fish market. The cries of the vendors gave their name to an expression of vulgar language, as in swearing like a fishwife, particularly a Billingsgate fishwife.
Near to Billingsgate is Fish Street Hill, once New Fish Street, the main road leading to London Bridge. In the 13th century it became the centre for fishmongers who settled there because of its proximity to the main fish market of Billingsgate; the street was one of the authorized spots for retail fish sales. Samuel Pepys mentions it in his description of the Great Fire of 1666:
“By and by Jane comes and tells me that she hears that above 300 houses have been burned down tonight by the fire we saw, and that it was now burning down all Fishstreet by London Bridge.”
We’ve touched on Pickle Herring Street, before; this, sadly, no longer exists, having given way to modern developments in the Tooley Street area. The name could be because the street was on the site of one of the Thames River’s old wharves – where cargoes of pickled herrings were shipped.
On the other hand, the name may also have come from the fact that Sir John Falstofe, who gave his name to Shakespeare’s Falstaff – and was once a fish merchant – lived on this spot in 1447. Incidentally, though herrings were pickled in England as far back as the 14th century, it was more of a Dutch speciality. There is a record, in 1584, of a ‘Peter Van Duraunte alias Pickell Heringe’ being buried in Bermondsey; he was actually a brewer, but he may have had an inn called the Pickled Herring.
As you can see in the map section pictured left, Pickle Herring Street led into Shad Thames under the Tower Bridge Road, so we can stop being tangential and lead into Shad Thames ourselves.
And, surprise, surprise, the name is nothing to do with fish. It is, instead, probably a contraction of St John at Thames; the Priory of St John at Jerusalem owned about 25 acres of land here from the 13th century until the Dissolution. In Oliver Twist, Bill Sikes lived and died on Jacob’s Island, east of Shad Thames.
(Incidentally, while I am singing the praises of other blogs such as Paxview and streatsoflondon, and we are on the subject of Charles Dickens, you could do worse than have a look at another great London-related blog, David Perdue’s Charles Dickens Page.)
On to another fish name that has nothing to do with fish: Salmon Lane in Limehouse. This takes is name from the church of St Dunstan’s in Stepney. Work that one out. No, don’t bother, I’ll tell you: ‘Salmon’ in this instance is a corruption of ‘sermon’; this was the closest church for Limehouse residents until 1729 when St Anne’s church was built in Newell Street. So the lane was the route people would walk to church to hear a sermon.
See? Easy when you know. Incidentally, the church of St Anne’s was designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, contemporary of Sir Christopher Wren; he also contributed to the design of St Paul’s Cathedral and Blenheim Palace.
While I’m not sure about Bream Street, Bream’s Buildings, which leads off Chancery Lane, was once a cul-de-sac. In 1877 it was extended into Fetter Lane; it may have been named after the landowner or builder. The name itself may come from the word ‘breme’ meaning fierce or energetic. Likewise, Coley Street is named for a person rather than a fish: Henry Coley was a 17th-century astrologer and mathematician. That name comes from ‘colig’, meaning dark or swarthy.
Back, briefly to Shadwell – the reason for this entire blog. When I was first in the UK there was a TV comic program called ‘Naked Video’ and one of the regular characters was geeky Welsh Siadwell (pronounced Shadwell). I thought it was one of the funniest things I’d ever seen even though, as a recent arrival to these shores, I understood very few of the references. Does anyone else remember Siadwell? I seem to recall that he was always being threatened with a kicking by the school bully.
First, in the 80s I worked for an estate agent (a shameful thing in the 80s; the only people worse then than estate agent were the people, like me, who marketed them); when Docklands was up and coming most press releases about the area mentioned the fact that Ian McKellen lived there.
Far more recently, I was reading a story about a theft of vegetables from the Grapes pub, owned by Sir Ian McKellen, aka Gandalf, and located in Narrow Street. The pub was the model for the Six Jolly Fellowship-Porters tavern in Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend, described as “a tavern of a dropsical appearance”. All that, naturally, made me think about the streets that have names related to length, starting with Narrow Street, so named because – surprise! – it is.
Limehouse was once a centre for world trade, being as it was a good landing place for ships. The area takes its name not from the ‘limeys’, or sailors who would have been much in evidence there, but from the lime kilns used for making pottery.
(Incidentally, another historic pub in the street in the street, now, alas, closed and a private residence, was the House They Left Behind, so called because it was the only building left standing after bombing during World War II.)
From Narrow Street to Broad Yard. Which isn’t. In 1865 it was described by a local historian, William Pinks, who wrote a History of Clerkenwell, as “a nest of squalid human kennels and fever dens, with reeking dust-heaps before the doors – places without light or ventilation”. It was still, Pinks went on to say, broader than its neighbour, Frying Pan Alley, which was only two feet six inches wide at one point: “there not being room in it to get a full sized coffin out without turning it on edge”, Pinks tells us helpfully.
From width to length, we can start with ‘short’ streets, of which there are a few, including Short Street, Shorter Street, and Short’s Gardens. Short’s Gardens, near Seven Dials, was named for William Short who acquired land here in 1590 and Short Street was named for a 19th-century carpenter, Samuel Short, who built the street. I regret to say that I have yet to discover the reason behind the name of Shorter Street, but presumably it was shorter than something else.
And on to Long Acre, which was formerly a plot of land called ‘The Elms’ or ‘Seven Acres’ and belonging to the monks of Westminster Abbey. The name, as with Bow Street, comes from the shape of the land, which was long and narrow. Its present name dates back to 1612 and the street itself was first laid out in 1615.
The street became a fashionable place to live, and one of its residents was Oliver Cromwell, who lived there from 1637 to 1643.The aristocrat and writer Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who was baptised at St. Paul’s Church in Covent Garden, also lived there.
Long Acre was also key to some important industries: it was once a centre for coach makers, one of whose customers in 1668 was Samuel Pepys, and it was later the home of Merryweather & Sons, builders of steam fire engines and steam tram engines.