London’s (watery) culinary streets: Water Lane to Watergate Walk

EAS_3924Before I continue with a few more culinary street names, I must stand corrected, with thanks to MattF, as to Salmon Lane. Once again, I have let myself get carried away with a name derivation that is more fun than accurate.

According to the delightfully named Hector Bolitho and Derek Peel in their book Without the City Walls, the lane is named after Captain Robert Salmon, Master of Trinity House at the time of the Spanish Armada. But we can’t leave it there; that’s what sparked the idea for this book in the first place: not just where names came from but what the story is behind the derivation.

By the way, though I missed Salmon Lane the first time around, Bolitho and Peel were one of my sources in the early days of my research, and I was fortunate enough to acquire a copy recently at not too great an expense. The book is charmingly written, in a tone chatty enough that you can imagine you are walking along with the couple as they stroll the streets of London, listening to them muse about streets and their names. A great deal of well-researched information backs up this musing, which makes the book a good read as well as a useful resource.

But on to Trinity House: this, says the official website, a charity dedicated to safeguarding shipping and seafarers, providing education, support and welfare to the seafaring community with a statutory duty as a General Lighthouse Authority to deliver a reliable, efficient and cost-effective aids to navigation service for the benefit and safety of all mariners. It started with Henry VIII, whose charter led to the formation of what was, in 1513, the Trinity House Corporation. The Corporation was not a military body, but has served, on occasion, a military function and Salmon was involved in one of them.

When Elizabeth I became concerned about the threat of a Spanish invasion she ordered Trinity House to prepare for war, as part of its charter. It was then that Salmon stepped in, telling the queen’s advisor, Lord Burghley, that Trinity House could fit out 30 merchant ships in four days for the use of the Lord High Admiral, Lord Henry Seymour.

As it happened, none of the Trinity House ships were used in battle; however, the flag taken from the Spaniards by Sir Francis Drake was display at Trinity House in Water Lane, but was lost in 1715 when fire destroyed Trinity House.

Once again, taking liberties with the alphabet and its order since water fits in so nicely here, Water Lane takes us neatly back to culinary street names, though for some reason the latter part of the alphabet seems to favour those that are bibendiary rather than culinary.

Water Lane in Stratford, the former location of Trinity House, was the setting for an old Roman bath, popular at one time with visitors to London, and described by Dickens in David Copperfield.

A Water Lane (which no longer exists) in the City was, in medieval times, called Sporiars Lane and took its name from the spur makers of the time. The name was changed in the 15th century with the erection of a water gate in the lane; 20th century development destroyed the lane completely.

There is also a Water Street, WC2, near to the Thames, which is the only survivor of a number of similarly names streets that led to the river before the Embankments made access easier. According to John Strype in his Survey of London, it was “a Place much pestered with Carts and Carrs, for the bringing of Coals and other Goods from the Wharfs by the Water side.

EAS_3928The watergate of Watergate Walk, just off the Strand, was an extension to York House, originally the London home of the Bishops of Norwich, later the palace of the Archbishop of York, and eventually acquired by George Villiers, the first Duke of Buckingham, who had the watergate built. Villiers was a favourite of James I; it was the 2nd Duke of Buckingham who gave his name to Of Alley.

York House was one of several mansions that lined the Strand; those on the south side were the more desirable, having as they did direct access to the Thames (especially if you had your own watergate). The watergate is now part of Embankment Gardens and is an indication of much the river bank has moved.

While for me, as a university student in the US during the 1970s, Watergate had a completely different connotation, the name has since acquired more pleasant associations: you can sit outside Gordon’s Wine Bar in Watergate Walk. The wine bar itself has a rich history: the house in which the bar is situated was home to Samuel Pepys in the 1680s and Rudyard Kipling lived in the building in the 1890s. It was here that he wrote ‘The Light That Failed’.

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London’s lost streets: La Belle Sauvage Yard, Pocahontas, and a dancing horse

Another of those streets with a wonderful name and colourful stories to with it but which, unfortunately, no longer exists: La Belle Sauvage Yard. The name of the yard has had an “incredible quantity of ink” shed over it, and theories range from forgers to pub landladies by way of Pocahontas.

There is no disputing the fact that the yard was once home to an “antient inn” and one theory was that the yard was named in honour of Pocahontas, who was a guest at the inn and who later became the symbol for the publisher Cassell, once based in the yard.

By happy coincidence, I was reading up some more on La Belle Sauvage Yard and someone asked me what happened to a statue of Pocahontas that had been commissioned by Cassell. It appears that the statue, originally situated in Red Lion Square when the publisher moved there, was removed in the 1980s and sold to a private buyer in the 1990s.

But back to the inn, which marked the end of Wyatt’s 1554 rebellion; it was here that he turned back and rested when he discovered that the people would not support him. It was also one of the most splendid of London’s coaching inns. At one time it had 40 rooms and stabling for 100 horses; by the 19th century the capacity for horses had increased to 400.

The inn was also a place for all kinds of entertainment, serving roles as disparate from coffee house to a centre for bull baiting, and a place where plays were performed before the advent of theatres.

One of the favourites who acted there was Richard Tarlton (or Tarleton) the actor and clown said to be the basis for the character of Yorick in Hamlet. (And the the source of one of the most quoted misquotes. It is, correctly: “Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him, Horatio” but is often quoted: “Alas poor Yorick, I knew him well”.)

The sculptor Grinling Gibbons used to live in the yard and is said to have carved a pot of flowers that shook with the motion of passing coaches. John Evelyn saw the carving and was so impressed that he recommended its creator to Charles II.

Another famous person associated with the inn was the William Banks (or Bankes); a prosperous vintner of Cheapside, and also a showman, who was mentioned by Tarleton. Banks’s most famous act involved a trained gelding called Marocco.

Marocco could play dead, identify certain members of the audience (such as those wearing glasses), distinguish between certain colours, and even urinate on command. He could also count: if coins were collected from spectators, Marocco, by stamping his hoof, could indicate from whom the coins came and how many came from each person.

Banks and Marocco later moved to Paris, where Banks was arrested and accused of sorcery; he had to reveal that the horse’s tricks were in the main accomplished through subtle gestures. From there the pair went to Orléans where Banks was again arrested for sorcery and sentenced to burn at the stake. He was given one last chance and, to redeem himself, Banks taught Marocco to kneel down before a cross, proving that he was not a devil.

One account of Banks suggest that, following Marocco’s death in 1605, he worked in James I’s stables, and later trained horses for George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham (who gave his name to, among others, Of Alley).

Two houses, two scandals, and Georgie Porgie

20131109-115052.jpgUpdate to the posts on Of Alley and George Villiers (both of them). Regarding the recent post on Cock Lane, someone asked if that was related to the nursery rhyme ‘Georgie Porgie’. Whether or not it is (and any light that can be shed on that issue will be gratefully received) the name of Of Alley does have a roundabout link to that particular nursery rhyme.

George Villers father
George Villiers, the first Duke of Buckingham

In the 17th century there were two dukes, father and son, both called George Villiers, who were the first two holders of the title of Duke of Buckingham. The father was the original owner of York House (once the palace of the Archbishop of York) and the surrounding land. He was also a favourite of King James I, who referred to him affectionately as ‘Steenie’, a diminutive of Stephen (according to the Bible, Stephen had a face like an angel) and told his privy councillors that he “loved the Earl of Buckingham more than any other man”.

Opinion appears divided as to whether or not the men were lovers; one argument in favour of that thesis is that the 2004-8 restoration of Apethorpe Hall (a manor house where royalty and their courtiers were entertained) revealed a previously unknown passage linking the bedchambers of James and Villiers. The first Duke continued to be a royal favourite when Charles I acceded to the throne, but was murdered by a professional soldier who had served under Buckingham and blamed him for lack of promotion.

Opinion is also divided as to whether or not George the father was the inspiration for the nursery rhyme ‘George Porgie, pudding and pie’.

George the son is described as a politican, a poet, and a wit, and was a loyal follower of Charles II, fleeing the country with his king when England became an unhealthy place for monarchs and royalists. Although his property was confiscated by Cromwell’s Parliament, Villiers regained it after the Restoration of the monarchy and his own return to England.

Cliveden House
Cliveden House

At one point the second Duke owned the Cliveden estate and built the first grand house there in which to entertain his mistress, whose husband he later fatally in a duel. Cliveden achieved notoriety in the 1960s when it transpired that it was where John Profumo met Christine Keeler, a meeting that led to the political scandal known as the Profumo Affair. The movie Scandal is based on that particular scandal and the events surrounding it.

The second duke was less than sensible with money. He never got around to restoring the house either, and managed to run up so much in the way of debt that he was forced to sell his land. In 1674 it became the possession of a property developer on the condition that the streets built on the land were given Villers’ name. All of them. There were five in total, and they became George Street, Villiers Street, Duke Street (now gone), Of Alley, and Buckingham Street.

The name may have been changed, but the street signs there still proclaim that it is York Place, formerly Of Alley.