Pubs, pelicans and the Prospect of Whitby

Pelicans in St James’s Park

I’ve finished watching ‘Whitechapel’, which wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be – in fact, I was strangely deflated when it ended. I think the show was cancelled unexpectedly so there wasn’t any neat wrapping up of loose ends.

Still, the show did thrown out some interesting references to London history – though I was a little taken aback when in one episode the camera kept showing the street sign for Old Peppermill Street, which doesn’t appear to exist. Pinchin Street, which was covered recently in this blog, also made an appearance in the context of unidentified female torsos being found in the river.

Towards the end there was a shot of the Prospect of Whitby pub in Wapping, with Pelican Stairs alongside it. The stairs would have been part of the network of stairs used by watermen to taxi passengers across and along the Thames.

Back to the pub, which dates back to 1520 and lays claim to being the oldest riverside pub in London. Its original name was The Pelican but, because it was the haunt of smugglers and cut-throats.

See what happens when you start wondering about London street names? I then wondered why a a pub in London, even a waterside one, would have been called Pelican. There is a Pelican pub in Gloucester that dates back to the 17th century and one in Wales called, intriguingly, The Pelican in her Piety. That gave me the clue: the pelican is not uncommon in heraldry: a pelican plucking at her breast and letting the blood to fall into the mouths of her chicks symbolises Christ feeding his flock with his blood.

The ship Sir Francis Drake used to sail around the world was originally called the Pelican. When he reached the Pacific Ocean, Drake renamed his ship the Golden Hind to honour both Sir Christopher Hatton, whose coat of arms features that animal.  Hatton was a major investor in Drake’s voyage. That, however, was all after 1520.

There have been pelicans in St James’s park since they introduced were to the park in 1664 as a gift from the Russian Ambassador.

Oh, yes, the Prospect of Whitby came from another boat name.

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From Batty Street to Pinchin Street: murder sites of London

I’ve been feeling murderous of late – vicariously, I hasten to add; over the past few weeks I have been catching up on British television dramas that I missed the first time around. I am now up to date on Luther, Unforgotten, and have started on Whitechapel. 

Naturally, all these murderous thoughts drove me to my notes, in which there are a few murders, so I thought I would focus for a while on the darker history of some of London’s streets and kick off in the east.

We start with Pinchin Street (which I found after looking for the fictional – or disappeared – Pinchin Lane that appears in the Sign of the Four, both the Sherlock Holmes TV drama (with Jeremy Brett) and the book itself. 

Holmes says to Watson, “When you have dropped Miss Morstan I wish you to go on to 3 Pinchin Lane, down near the water’s edge at Lambeth.” When Watson goes there he finds: “Pinchin Lane was a row of shabby, two-storied brick houses in the lower quarter of Lambeth.”

The real Pinchin Street in Whitechapel is where, on the 10th of September 1889 a female torso was discovered under a railway bridge. The poor woman’s head and legs were never found, and she was never identified. Some bloodstained clothing was later found in Batty Street (which has its own murderous connection) but amounted to nothing in the investigation.

The brutality of the murder, the geographical location of the torso, and the fact that the time of death was estimated to be the day before – the one year anniversary of the murder by Jack the Ripper of Annie Chapman – led many to speculate that this was yet another notch on the Ripper’s belt. This theory, however, is generally discounted, there having been two similar murders earlier in the year, and not enough evidence to tie them to the Ripper killings.

As to the derivation of the name of Pinchin Street, it could be from the surname, which is of Old French origin.

Speaking of Batty Street, that has its own sinister association, the stuff of fiction: a locked room murder that took place here in 1887. Miriam Angel, one of the lodgers in a building at number 18 Batty Street was found dead in her locked room. She had been killed by the very unpleasant method of having nitric acid poured down her throat.

Another lodger, Israel Lipski, was discovered under her bed with acid burns in his mouth, so it was a pretty safe bet he was the culprit. He professed his innocence at first and was found guilty and sentenced to hang so swiftly that it aroused public outrage and claims of anti-semitism. 

This reaction led to Lipski’s execution being delayed while the Home Secretary and trial judge met to consider a reprieve. While the meeting was taking place, Lipski broke down and confessed his guilt to a rabbi, stressing that his motive was robbery and not, as the prosecution claimed, rape.. He was hanged in the prison at Newgate.

The origin of this street name is also uncertain but there was a William Batty who developed property in London so it could have been named for him. 

In Brick Lane, in 1888, a woman called Emma Smith was set upon, raped and beaten and, though she was able to make her way back to her lodging house, she later died of her injuries. Some people attributed her murder to Jack the Ripper, but that is considered unlikely, particularly as Emma had said that she was attacked by more than one man.

The name comes from the fact that in the 15th century, the earth in this area was suitable for brick and tile making and the area became a centre for that industry.

Just off Brick Lane was once Flower and Dean Street; while the street no longer exists, there is now a Flower and Dean Walk. The street was at the heart of the Jack the Ripper activities and it was, and is, considered to be where the Ripper may have lived.

Two of the Ripper’s victims lived in the street: Elizabeth (‘Long Liz’) Stride and Catherine Eddowes; coincidentally, they were murdered on the same night. Stride’s body was discovered in Berners Street; her throat was cut but she had sustained none of the Ripper’s trademark mutilations, which gave rise to speculation that the Ripper had been interrupted. He then went on to Mitre Square where he murdered Eddowes, whose body did not escape his customary atrocities.

The street name arises from the fact that the street was built by two bricklayers, John Flower and Gowen Dean, in the 1650s. In 1677 it was known as Dean and Flower Street and in 1702 the name was corrupted to Floodrun.

Pinchin Lane, Sherlock Holmes, and Jack the Ripper

Pinchin Lane: I was recently watching a rerun of ‘Sign of the Four’ with Jeremy Brett as Holmes, and noticed the street sign of Pinchin Lane. (No, I hadn’t really been paying attention and, yes, streets signs are everywhere for me.) Of course I rushed to look it up. I think it must have existed only in the mind of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle because I could find no mention of it outside of the pages of his story.

The lane is immortalized first when Holmes says to Watson, “When you have dropped Miss Morstan I wish you to go on to 3 Pinchin Lane, down near the water’s edge at Lambeth.” When Watson goes there he finds: “Pinchin Lane was a row of shabby, two-storied brick houses in the lower quarter of Lambeth.” (As an aside, it’s interesting how many people have seen the BBC’s Sherlock but never read any of the books. They’re worth it.)

So much for the fictional Pinchin Lane. There is, however, a Pinchin Street in Whitechapel where, on the 10th of September 1889 a female torso was discovered under a railway bridge. The poor woman’s head and legs were never found, and she was never identified. Some bloodstained clothing was later found in Batty Street (which has its own murderous connection) but amounted to nothing in the investigation.

The brutality of the murder, the geographical location of the torso, and the fact that the time of death was estimated to be the day before – the one year anniversary of the murder by Jack the Ripper of Annie Chapman – led many to speculate that this was yet another notch on the Ripper’s belt. This theory, however, is generally discounted, there having been two similar murders earlier in the year, and not enough evidence to tie them to the Ripper killings.

Oh, yes, as to the derivation of the name of Pinchin Street, once more I have to hold up my hand and admit ignorance, though it is likely that is from the surname, which is of Old French origin.
According to genealogical research sites, it is possibly a ‘nickname’ surname from the Old French word for finch, so referring to a bright and cheerful person. Or it could be an ‘occupation’ surname from the word ‘pinson’ or pincers – forceps. Alternatively, the name, introduced into Britain after the Norman conquest, could derive from the Normandy place name of Pontchardon.

Incidentally, two other London streets on this blog with Jack the Ripper associations include Flower and Dean Street and Dorset Street.