New year London names: from New Scotland Yard to Newgate

Well, loyal reader(s), it’s been a while. Long enough that it’s too far after Christmas to continue that theme (and I was coming to a bit of a dead end on that anyway). But it’s still sort of the New Year, so let’s take a quick look at ‘new’ names – that is, names with new in them.

New Scotland YardBut first a bit of a cheat with New Scotland Yard, which is a building rather than a street. And it isn’t even in Great Scotland Yard, which is what it was named for. That name came about because the Palace of Westminster, which no longer stands, once served as the main residence for the English monarchs –and a parcel of land belonging to the palace, including a house given by King Edgar to Kenneth III of Scotland in the 10th century, was reserved for royal Scottish visitors and their retinues.

Great Scotland YardIn 1829 the Metropolitan Police Force was formed and the new force (consisting of around 600 men, six of whom were discharged on the first day for being drunk) set up headquarters in Great Scotland Yard (Little and Middle had by then combined to become Whitehall Place). Scotland Yard (or the ‘Yard’ then became the name by which the police force was known.

From police to prisons, and Newgate, one of the original gates of London. (The others were Aldersgate, Aldgate, Bishopsgate, Cripplegate, Ludgate, and Moorgate.) Newgate was so named because it was new: in the 12th century, a new gate, built to replace the original Roman gate.

Newgate is perhaps best known for Newgate Prison, possibly one of the world’s most famous, and infamous prisons and the gatehouse was indeed used as a prison later in the 12th century. When the gate was rebuilt again in the 15th century, Dick Whittington (or, to give him his proper title, Richard Whittington, Lord Mayor of London) provided money for the prison to be extended.

The prison was eventually demolished to make way for the Central Criminal Courts, known as Old Bailey, taking their name from the street on which they stand). In the 18th century Newgate became not just a prison but the location of public executions: the gallows at Tyburn were moved to the prison in 1783 and prisoners no longer made the long journey west from Newgate to be executed.

EAS_3968From prisons to fetters, or manacles for prisioners. There is a Fetter Lane and a New Fetter Lane and on the corner of these two streets is a statue of John Wilkes, a journalist and member of the notorious Hellfire Club.

The word ‘fetter’ in this instance, however – you guessed it – is nothing to do with manacles. Many alternative spellings include faitor, fewter, felter, and faitour.

As the historian John Stow puts it, the lane was “so called of Fewters (or idle people) lying there, as in a way leading to gardens, but the same is now of latter years on both sides built through with many fair houses”. (The Old French word faitor meant a lawyer, and by the 14th century the reputation of that august profession had fallen so far into disrepute that the word was synonymous with idlers.)

The name could have derived from ‘felter’ – makers of felt also carried on their business in the lane, or from ‘faitour’ – a type of fortune teller prevalent in medieval and Elizabeth times. As well as all the iidlers, the area did have workers in the form of the armorers whose workshops were located there. and the name may have come from the lance vests worn on cuirasses (also known as fetters).

EAS_3905And finally, from lawyers to bankers: New Change was formerly Old Change, originally just Change (it became Old in 1293); it took its name from a buiEAS_4102lding where bullion was stored before being taken to the Mint to be coined. (There is also a Change Alley; that takes its name from the Royal Exchange, founded in 1565 by Sir Thomas Gresham to act as a centre of commerce for the city, and officially opened by Queen Elizabeth I.)

 

Advertisements

Newgate: prisons, executions, and Roman graffiti

Old_Newgate
The old gatehouse and prison
Another London gate is Newgate, one of the original seven gates within London Wall, and one of the six that date back to Roman times; it was so named because it was, in the 12th century, a new gate, built to replace the original Roman gate.

Newgate will, for many people, conjure up thoughts of Newgate Prison, possibly one of the world’s most famous, and infamous prisons and the gatehouse was indeed used as a prison later in the 12th century.

When the gate was rebuilt again in the 15th century, Dick Whittington (or, to give him his proper title, Richard Whittington, Lord Mayor of London) provided money for the prison to be extended. The prison was eventually demolished to make way for the Central Criminal Courts, known as Old Bailey, taking their name from the street on which they stand).

Hangin_outside_Newgate_Prison
A public hanging outside Newgate Prison

In the 18th century Newgate became not just a prison but the location of public executions: the gallows at Tyburn were moved to the prison in 1783 and prisoners no longer made the long journey west from Newgate to be executed.

The public appetite for witnessing these executions did not diminish and the spectacle was as popular as it had been at Tyburn. The 16th century inn, the Magpie and Stump (which still exists), was a popular spot for viewing executions while enjoying a pint of ale.

In addition, the publication entitled The Newgate Calendar (subtitled The Malefactors’ Bloody Register), was immensely popular. It was originally a monthly bulletin of executions, produced by the keeper of the prison, and later became series chronicling the lives and times of the more notorious criminals of the day. According to one source, some contemporary editions of the Calendar could outsell Dickens.

Within the walls of Newgate, conditions were horrific, with overcrowding the norm and disease rife. The 19th-century prison reformer Elizabeth Fry played a strong role in having the conditions of Newgate improved and, later in the 19th century, executions ceased to be carried out in public.

A few of the many prisoners to grace Newgate were Ben Jonson; Daniel Defoe; Jack Sheppard, the inspiration for Macheath in John Gay’s The Beggars’ Opera; and Thomas Neill Cream, a serial poisoner who claimed to be Jack the Ripper.

The gate itself was rebuilt after the Great Fire, and eventually demolished in 1767. It gives its name to Newgate Street, where once a Roman tile was discovered with the graffito: “Austalis has been running off on his own for the past fortnight.” Unfortunately there is no record of who Austalis was, or what he was up to when he was running off on his own.