Leading up to International Women’s Day with connections to London street names

March 8 is International Women’s Day, so I thought I would lead up to it with an edited rerun of my post from two years ago on that very topic. You can read the post here in full, but I am also providing below synopsis. (Warning: some of the links to London streets are tenuous even by my standards.)

We start with Phillis Wheatley, a former slave who became the first published African-American female poet. The Boston-based US publishers of the 18th century did not want to be associated with a book written by a slave so her work Various Subjects, Religious and Moral was published by a company based in Aldgate.

Aldgate was one of the original gates of London and is the most easterly; it is first recorded in 1052 as Æst geat, or east gate, bu in 1108 is recorded as Alegate by 1108. All of which makes the most sense for the derivation of the name, but some of the other theories are that it is Old Gate (Aeld Gate), Ale Gate, from a tavern, or All Gate, meaning the gate was free to all.

Margaret Cavendish, born in 1623, was a poet, philosopher, essayist, and playwright who had her works published under her own name, unusual for women of the time. One of her brothers was an original member of the Royal Society and, after much argument and dissatisfaction, Margaret was eventually granted permission to attend a session of the Society, and she became the first woman to do. (The Royal Society was founded in 1660, but women were not permitted by statute to become fellows until 1945.)

The Society was once based in Crane Court, which takes its name from a 14th-century brewhouse called the Crane and Three Hoops. There is another theory that it was once called Two Crane Yard from a family coat of arms with two cranes. 

Frances (Fanny) Burney, later Madame D’Arblay, was a talented and gifted – and largely self-taught – writer and a woman of huge courage. She was a breast cancer survivor and wrote the earliest known patient’s perspective of a mastectomy – in her case, performed without anaesthetic. I recently wrote about her and her connection with Jane Austen, and you can read that post here.

There is a D’Arblay Street, named after her (but no Burney Street) and Fanny lived for a time in Half Moon Street, which was built in 1730 and takes its name from an old ale house that stood at the corner.

Another famous resident of Half Moon Street was Lola Montez, who was arrested for bigamy in a house in the street. Born Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert in Limerick, Ireland, she later claimed to be Spanish, adopted the name Lola Montez, and became a dancer and adventuress who was as famous for her lovers as for her dancing. She was the inspiration for the song ‘Whatever Lola Wants’.

Mary Frith, otherwise known as Moll Cutpurse, was born around 1584 and lived and died in Fleet Street. She was described by the Newgate Calendar as “A famous Master-Thief and an Ugly, who dressed like a Man, and died in 1663”. She is considered to have been, at least in part, inspiration for Daniel Defoe’s book Moll Flanders. It is believed that John Milton wrote her epitaph, though her headstone was destroyed in the Great Fire of London.

Fleet Street takes its name from the River Fleet, which was not necessarily fast, but took its name from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning a tidal inlet. Although it still flows, the Fleet is now underground and is used as a sewer.

Phoebe Hessel, who gives her name both to Amazon Street and Hessel Street, is another woman who was famous for dressing as a man; in her case she disguised her gender to enlist as a man in the 5th Regiment of Foot, supposedly to be with her lover, Samuel Golding. She eventually moved to Brighton where she died in 1821, at the alleged age of 108 and was buried in the parish churchyard with honours.

Lady Elizabeth Hatton provides one of the many, theories behind the name of Bleeding Heart Yard: she was the basis of the legend about a beautiful gypsy who made a deal with the devil in order to be able to capture the heart of a rich lord. A more recent post on the Ingoldsby Legend of Bleeding Heart Yard story can be found here.

Another real woman to provide a theory behind a London street name (in this case, La Belle Sauvage Yard, which no longer exists) is Pocahontas, a Native American who was captured by the English during Anglo-Indian hostilities in 1613, and held for ransom. During her captivity, she converted to Christianity, took the name Rebecca, and chose to remain with the English. She married tobacco planter John Rolfe with whom she had a son, was feted by London Society, and died at the age of 21 in Gravesend on the family’s way to Virginia.

Tomorrow I hope to publish a post about more women worthy of note, and streets with which they are, however tenuously, associated.

Half Moon Street, Fanny Burney, and Jane Austen

fanny burneyI noticed the other day that the 18th-century historian – let me rephrase that – expert on
18th-century history, Catherine Curzon, aka @MadameGilflurt on Twitter, commented on the fact that Fanny Burney had died on that day (6th January) in 1840. 

By coincidence, a couple of days later, on my way to exercise class (that’s not a smug new-year’s-resolution type comment, I’ve been going to that class for a while) I noticed the new moon hovering just above the horizon. It was a mere sliver of light but looked huge that evening: a spectacular sight.

half-moon-street-21Yes, there really is a connection between those two observations, and this is where I beg the indulgence of my more loyal readers who may have seen some of this text on earlier occasions, and it is that Fanny Burney once lived in Half Moon Street.

The street, which was built in 1730, takes its name from an old ale house that stood at the corner and was still standing in 1780. Although not quite as common as the sun, the moon is used in many tavern signs. The half moon could be representative of the Virgin Mary: a crescent moon is sometimes shown under her feet in pictures of the Assumption.

Other famous (and real) residents of Half Moon Street include James Boswell, Henry James, William Hazlitt, and Somerset Maugham, who said in 1930 that the street was “sedate and respectable”.

There were also various fictional residents of the street, including Bulldog Drummond, a gentleman adventurer; Algernon Moncreiff from Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest; and PG Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster, who had a flat there where he was looked after by the unflappable Jeeves.

But back to Fanny Burney, later Madame D’Arblay, who was an extraordinary woman. She was a talented and gifted – and largely self-taught – 18th century writer. She was also, as one writer describes it, “a morally upright figure in the decaying court circles of King George III in his later, deranged years.”

Fanny, whose grave demeanour earned her the family nickname of ‘the Old Lady’ when she was about eleven, was small, slender, and short-sighted. She was educated at home, but was teased by her brother because, at the age of eight, she did not know her letters.

darblay stA quick learner, Fanny became an avid reader and writer; she wrote a novel (The History of Caroline Evelyn) when she was ten, but possibly burned that and other writings when she was fifteen and trying to “to combat this writing passion”. In Fanny’s time, women were not supposed to spend time writing more than the occasional letter.

The family had moved to London when Fanny was about six, and lived in Poland Street where her father, who was closely acquainted with Samuel Johnson and David Garrick, worked as a music teacher. When Fanny was twelve, her sisters went with their father to France; it was feared that Fanny, who was close to her French – and Catholic –grandmother, might succumb to Catholicism. Undeterred, Fanny taught herself French.

She began a diary, the first entry of which is dated 27 March 1768, and experimented with different literary styles. Under a cloak of extreme secrecy she later began writing her first novel, Evelina, apparently composed in part of “disjointed scraps and fragments” she had assembled in 1772, as a sequel to The History of Caroline Evelyn. She wrote the manuscript in a disguised hand, and approached a publisher under the name of Mr King.

Following an unsuccessful first attempt, Fanny, along with her siblings and a cousin who had been taken into her confidence, approached the Fleet Street bookseller Thomas Lowndes, who agreed to publish the book. The book became popular, though it was some time before even her father learned the identity of the author. Samuel Johnson was a great admirer of the book, saying that it was better than the efforts of both Henry Fielding and Samuel Richardson.

In her lifetime Fanny did enjoy commercial success. Her book Cecilia, or Memoirs of an Heiress was reprinted it at least twice within a year and her book Camilla, or, A Picture of Youth, sold out all 4,000 copies within a few months of publication. She was an inspiration to many writers, including Jane Austen, who was a great admirer. Austen took the title Pride and Prejudice from the final paragraph of Cecilia, in which the capitalised phrase ‘PRIDE and PREJUDICE’ recurs three times.

Fanny married Alexandre-Jean-Baptiste Piochard D’Arblay on 28 July 1793, relatively late in life. Her father did not attend the wedding, having expressed disapproval of his daughter marrying a penniless foreigner. The couple remained happily married and had one son.

Apart from her literary successes, Fanny should also go down in history as a woman of huge courage, having written the earliest known patient’s perspective of a mastectomy – in her case, performed without anaesthetic.

In this harrowing description, penned several months after the operation and taking her three months to write it as she relived the agony, she wrote:

“Yet — when the dreadful steel was plunged into the breast – cutting through veins – arteries – flesh – nerves – I needed no injunctions not to restrain my cries. I began a scream that lasted unintermittingly during the whole time of the incision – & I almost marvel that it rings not in my Ears still, so excruciating was the agony.”

The pain, she told her sister, continued after the cut had been made, when the delicate area became exposed to air; the ordeal was by no means over at that point as the surgeon needed yet to “separate the bottom, the foundation of this dreadful gland from the parts to which it adhered”, at which point, “I then felt the knife (rack)ling against the breast bone – scraping it!”

This is but a small portion of the letter, not for the faint-hearted, in which she also urges Esther and her daughters not to wait as long as she had with any similar health concerns. Ironically, Fanny outlived most of her family, including her husband, son, sister, and one of her nieces.

There is memorial window to Fanny at Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey, and London’s oldest surviving plaque for a woman was erected in 1885 at her residence in Mayfair’s Bolton Street. According to English Heritage, “It is a sign of the times in which it was made that its inscription gives greater prominence to her married name – Madame D’Arblay – than to the one by which posterity knows her.”

Portland Street,  near Poland Street where Fanny lived as a child, was renamed D’Arblay Street and, apart from Half Moon Street, Fanny also lived in Lower Sloane Street, Mount Street, and Grosvenor Street.

Half Moon Street and 18th-century breast cancer survivor Fanny Burney

Half Moon Street 2This afternoon I’ll be setting off to take part in the Moonwalk London 2014, a 26.2 mile power walk in aid of Walk the Walk, a breast cancer charity trust. What better time to commemorate Fanny Burney, an 18th-century writer and breast cancer survivor, as well as mention Half Moon Street, where she once lived?

The street, which was built in 1730, takes its name from an old ale house that stood at the corner. Although not quite as common as the sun, the moon is used in many tavern signs. The half moon could be representative of the Virgin Mary: a crescent moon is sometimes shown under her feet in pictures of the Assumption.

Fanny Burney
Fanny Burney

There are many fictional residents of Half Moon Street, and other literary figures associated with the street, but for now we will focus on Fanny Burney, also known as Madame D’Arblay, who lived there for a time.

Frances (Fanny) Burney, born in 1752, was a talented and gifted – and largely self-taught – writer, but she should also go down in history as a woman of huge courage, having written the earliest known patient’s perspective of a mastectomy – in her case, performed without anaesthetic.

In this harrowing description, penned several months after the operation and taking her three months to write it as she relived the agony, she wrote:

“Yet — when the dreadful steel was plunged into the breast – cutting through veins – arteries – flesh – nerves – I needed no injunctions not to restrain my cries. I began a scream that lasted unintermittingly during the whole time of the incision – & I almost marvel that it rings not in my Ears still? so excruciating was the agony.”

The pain, she told her sister, continued after the cut had been made, when the delicate area became exposed to air; the ordeal was by no means over at that point as the surgeon needed yet to “separate the bottom, the foundation of this dreadful gland from the parts to which it adhered”, at which point, “I then felt the knife (rack)ling against the breast bone – scraping it!”

This is a small portion of the letter, not for the faint-hearted, in which she also urges Esther and her daughters not to wait as long as she had with any similar health concerns, can be read in its entirety here. Ironically, Fanny outlived most of her family, including her husband, son, sister, and one of her nieces.

Fanny, whose grave demeanour earned her the family nickname of ‘the Old Lady’ when she was about eleven, was small, slender, and short-sighted. She was educated at home, but was teased by her brother because, at the age of eight, she did not know her letters.

A quick learner, Fanny became an avid reader and writer; she wrote a novel (The History of Caroline Evelyn)when she was ten, but possibly burned that and other writings when she was fifteen and trying to “to combat this writing passion”.

The family had moved to London when Fanny was about six, and lived in Poland Street where her father, who was closely acquainted with Samuel Johnson and David Garrick, worked as a music teacher. When Fanny was twelve, her sisters went with their father to France; it was feared that Fanny, who was close to her French, and Catholic grandmother, might succumb to Catholicism. Undeterred, Fanny taught herself French.

She began a diary, the first entry of which is dated 27 March 1768, and experimented with different literary styles. Under a cloak of extreme secrecy she later began writing her first novel, Evelina, apparently composed in part of “disjointed scraps and fragments” she had assembled in 1772, as a sequel to The History of Caroline Evelyn. She wrote the manuscript in a disguised hand, and approached a publisher under the name of Mr King.

Following an unsuccessful first attempt, Fanny, along with her siblings and a cousin who had been taken into her confidence, approached the Fleet Street bookseller Thomas Lowndes, who agreed to publish the book. The book became popular, though it was some time before even her father learned the identity of the author. Samuel Johnson was a great admirer of the book, saying that it was better than the efforts of both Henry Fielding and Samuel Richardson.

In her lifetime Fanny did enjoy commercial success: her book Camilla, or, A Picture of Youth, sold out all 4,000 copies within a few months of publication.

Fanny Burney windowFanny married Alexandre-Jean-Baptiste Piochard D’Arblay on 28 July 1793, relatively late in life. Her father did not attend the wedding, having expressed disapproval of his daughter marrying a penniless foreigner. The couple remained happily married and had one son.

There is memorial window to her at Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey.

If you want to sponsor me on the Moonwalk London 2014, my fundraising page is here.