Maids a-milking in London’s street names

EAS_4059Regular readers may feel this is kind of cheating: both Maiden Lane and Milk Street have been covered in earlier posts, but they fit nicely with the eight maids a-milking in our 12 days of Christmas in London streets.

Milk Street leads off Cheapside, which was an early shopping street. It was one of the busiest thoroughfares in London and the city’s main food market. The medieval grocery shopper would have gone there for staples such as bread, milk, honey, poultry, and fish, and the streets that lead off Cheapside were named for their specialities.

Sir Thomas More was born in Milk Street, as was Mrs Beeton (née Isabella Mayson), possibly, the original domestic goddess; she was the author of Beeton’s Book of Household Management, a bible of domestic information from Victorian times to the present. Despite her modern reputation, however she, however, was not a regular and a recipe for soup was the only recipe in the book that was hers – all the rest came from other sources.

Isabella also died very young – just short of her 29th birthday. She died of peritonitis and puerperal fever eight days after the birth of her son Mayson, her fourth child and only the second to survive infancy. (Some biographers believe that her husband Samuel contracted syphilis from a prostitute and passed it on to his wife; this, they believe, accounted for the fact that Isabella had several miscarriages; if so, perhaps the condition contributed to her death.)

EAS_3935Maiden Lane in Covent Garden, according to Disraeli (Isaac, not Benjamin), took its name from a statue of the Virgin Mary which once stood on the corner of the lane. However, it is more likely that the name actually derives from the ‘middens’ – dung heaps – that once proliferated in the area.

The artist JMW Turner was born in Maiden Lane; Benjamin Disraeli and Voltaire lived here, and apparently Edward
VII and Lily Langtry dined here.

EAS_3937More gruesomely, a celebrated actor of the 19th century, William Terriss, was murdered as he was entering the Adelphi Theatre through the stage door, located in Maiden Lane. His killer was a mentally unstable actor, Richard Archer Prince, who bore a grudge against Terriss for having him dismissed. Prince was found guilty but not responsible for his actions and was sent to Broadmoor where he lived the rest of his life.

Incidentally, there is a Maiden Lane in Manhattan’s financial district (apparently unrelated to dung heaps) that inspired a 1936 crime film, 15 Maiden Lane.

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Scatalogical London: from Farting Lane to Pissing Alley

EAS_3912Londoners, like New Yorkers, are not afraid to tell it like it is, and many of the city’s street names reflect (or reflected) that forthright quality. Street hygiene centuries ago was not what it could have been, and residents were by no means shy about calling streets by their most noticeable, however unflattering, attributes – such as Dirty Lane, Filth Alley, Pissing Alley, and Stinking Lane.

Many of these names have been changed to protect the innocent minds; others have been corrupted over the years and are no longer as obvious as they once were.

For instance, Passing Alley near Smithfield Market was changed from Pissing Alley, a name that served to sum up the popular use of the lane. At one end of the the alley was a tavern where prisoners on their way from Clerkenwell to Newgate were allowed to pause for refreshment. Presumably they then also stopped in Pissing Alley for relief.

EAS_3935Maiden Lane in Covent Garden, according to Disraeli (Isaac, not Benjamin), took its name from a statue of the Virgin Mary which once stood on the corner of the lane. However, it is more likely that the name actually derives from the ‘middens’ – dung heaps – that once proliferated in the area. Incidentally, there is a Maiden Lane in Manhattan’s financial district (apparently unrelated to dung heaps) that inspired a 1936 crime film, 15 Maiden Lane.

The most charming theory behind the name of Cloak Lane in the City of London is that it is where Lady Elizabeth Hatton dropped her cloak as she was being carried off by the devil and about to leave her heart in Bleeding Heart Yard. Sadly, the name, which first appears in the late 17th century (thus, alas, predating Lady Elizabeth), is more likely to have derived from the Latin ‘cloaca’, or sewer.

Also in the City of London, Addle Hill has at least two different theories as to the derivation of its name: one is that was once King Adele Street, from the grandson of King Alfred. But, for the purposes of this blog, the other theory is that that the name derives from the Old English word adela (translated variously as stinking urine or liquid manure).

EAS_3844
The sewer gas lamp replica in Carting Lane

Carting Lane just off the Strand doubly deserves its place in Scatological London. First of all, it was once called Dirty Lane; the name was was changed during the mid 19th century in deference to the residents’ sensibilities.

However, Carting Lane became Farting Lane to many people because of the sewer gas lamp that once stood in the lane – a replica of which is still there.

The satirist, the Virgin Mary, and the dung heaps

This day in London’s history: on 21 November 1694 François-Marie Arouet, known as Voltaire,  a French writer famous for his wit, was born. He wrote over two thousand books and plays and is perhaps best known for his satire Candide. Voltaire lived in London for a time and lodged in a house at 10 Maiden Lane between 1727 and 1728.EAS_3935The name Maiden lane, which goes back at least to the early 17th century as Mayden Lane, is in Isaac Disraeli’s book Curiosities of Literature. According to Disraeli it derives from a statue of the Virgin Mary which once stood on the corner of the lane.

Far more probable, albeit less glamorous, is that the name actually derives not from the Virgin Mary or even some local maid, but from the ‘middens’ – dung heaps – that proliferated in the area.