London’s culinary streets: Oat Lane to Poultry

But first, a slight diversion. Kind of. The other day I saw a big arctic lorry advertising the country’s favourite meat auctioneer. That set me off wondering about meat auctions: do you bid, along the lines of the restaurant at the end of the universe, on the meat while it’s still walking around? If not, what’s the window of opportunity? How soon do you have to bid on meat and then get it to the customer? What happens if the air conditioning breaks down?

Oat Lane
Photo courtesy of streatsoflondon

None of which is particularly relevant, but what’s the point of a blog if you can’t muse at your reader(s)? Of course, meat has featured in this culinary theme: so far we’ve had bacon (Bacon’s Lane); mutton (Cat and Mutton Bridge); ham (Ham Yard); and venison (Haunch of Venison).

And now on to a vegetarian option: Oat Lane. That name is probably nothing to do with oats; it was known at various times as Sheers Alley and Bulls Head Passage (ooh, back to the meat) and, in the 16th century, the one that has stuck: Oatelane.

It is possible that it could have been so named because it was where oats were sold, but that is not the popular theory. “It appears,” says the 19th century London street name expert and opinionated FH Habben, “to be indebted for its name to the owner or builder. The neighbourhood never had any connection with grain.

Orange Street is, perhaps not surprisingly, nothing to do with fruit. One explanation is that it was named after Charles I’s grandson William III, William of Orange, who became joint monarch with his wife Mary in 1689.

Another explanation is that building of the street was begun in the 1670s and the area at that time was a favoured spot for stabling of courtiers’ horses. There were several mews there, including the Green and Blue Mews. The stables of James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, stood partly on the site of Orange Street; it is likely that his stables were called Orange Mews to differentiate from the other colours.

The development of the street was finished in the 1690s; by then the unfortunate Monmouth would have had no interest in his horses, having been beheaded in 1685.

The story of Monmouth’s execution is a particularly grisly one: the executioner, Jack Ketch, had a bad day (though not quite as bad as Monmouth’s): he took five attempts with his axe to complete the job and even then had to finish it with a knife.

The post of public executioner was a hated, albeit lucrative, one; Ketch, who held the post for more than two decades, was particularly loathed. After his death in 1686 his name was used to refer to all public executioners. The name Jack Ketch can also be used to refer to death or the devil.

Back briefly to Orange Street: some of the famous names associated with the street include the dramatist Thomas Holcroft who was born in Orange Street. In the late 18th century there was a small chapel in the street where Augustus Toplady – who wrote the hymn ‘Rock of Ages’ – was minister for a short time.

Perhaps the most famous person with an Orange Street connection is the actor Edmund Kean, who went to school here. (He was also a regular patron of the Cole Hole tavern near Farting, I mean Carting, Lane.)

EAS_4084Poultry brings us back to meat names; It was once called Scalding Alley, says Stow, from the poulterers who dwelt there and “their poultry, which they sold at their stalls, were scalded there. The street doth yet bear the name of the Poultry”. And, of course, it still does, though today there is no scalding or stalls. Even by Stow’s time, poultry stalls had given way to houses inhabited by grocers, haberdashers, and upholsterers.

Not all poultry sellers traded at Poultry however: a proclamation of 1345 declared that the ‘strangers’ (out-of-towners) had to have their poultry stalls at Leadenhall. This segregation was due to the fact that the non-Londoners were wont to charge too much for their wares; the declaration was equally firm that residents of the city were not to join the outcasts in Leadenhall, but to “sell their poultry at the stalls [in Poultry] as of old”.

However,by the time of the Great Fire in 1666, Poultry had become famous more for taverns Elizabeth Fry plaquethan anything else.

At number 22 Poultry was Dillys, the booksellers where Boswell’s Life of Johnson was published; Johnson had dined there with John Wilkes and found him to be “excellent company”. Poultry was also the location of the “house where I was born” – the poet Thomas Hood, who penned the immortal lines “I remember, I remember, the house where I was born,” was born in a house at what is now 31, and where a blue plaque commemorates the fact.

There is also a blue plaque in memory of Elizabeth Fry, a notable prison reformer, who lived there from 1800 to 1809. Mrs Fry, of an old Quaker family, was horrified at the conditions under which as many as 300 women and children could be packed into Newgate. She worked hard at improving conditions but was forced to give up philanthropy when her husband became bankrupt.

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Virgins, churches, chickens, and a philanthropist

St Mary Axe plaque cropFollowing on from yesterday’s Moonwalk-themed story about Undershaft, we will take a fleeting glance at nearby St Mary Axe, which is covered in more detail here before we move on to Poultry.

The street takes its name from a church that was known in full as St Mary the Virgin, St Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins. Apparently there was an axe there, which gave the church its shorter name.

The church was converted to warehouses after its suppression in the 16th century and the parish was united with that of St Thomas Undershaft.

EAS_4101Moving further west, by way of Leadenhall Street and Cornhill, we come to Poultry. This was once a London speciality street where 14th-century shoppers would go for their – yes, poultry. 

Poultry was once called Scalding Alley, says John Stow, from the poulterers who dwelt there and “their poultry, which they sold at their stalls, were scalded there. The street doth yet bear the name of the Poultry”.

Elizabeth Fry plaqueThere is a plaque in Poultry to commemorate the Quaker, prison reformer and philanthropist Elizabeth Fry. In 1800 Elizabeth (Betsy) Gurney married fellow Quaker Joseph Fry, a banker, and the couple moved to St Mildred’s Court just off Poultry, where they lived for nine years.

Mrs Fry, of an old Quaker family, was horrified at the conditions under which as many as 300 women and children could be packed into Newgate. She worked hard at improving conditions but was forced to give up philanthropy when her husband became bankrupt. Since 2001 Fry has been depicted on the reverse of Bank of England £5 notes.

Thomas Hood plaque
Photo: Openplaques.org

At number 22 Poultry was Dillys, the booksellers where Boswell’s Life of Johnson was published; Johnson had dined there with John Wilkes and found him to be “excellent company”.

Poultry was also the location of the “house where I was born” – the poet Thomas Hood, who penned the immortal lines “I remember, I remember, the house where I was born,” was born in a house at what is now 31.

Back to the Moonwalk: if you want to support Walk the Walk and its efforts on behalf of breast cancer charities, you can sponsor me by visiting my fundraising page here.

Poultry, pope’s heads, and Lloyds of London

This day in London history: on Dec 31, 1600, a charter was granted to the East India Company. For years the company had its headquarters at East India House on Leadenhall Street, once the centre of a thriving poultry industry.

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East India House in Leadenhall Street

The name of Leadenhall is basically as it sounds – from a grand mansion with a lead roof. The mansion, built by Sir Hugh de Neville, was eventually acquired by Dick Whittington, otherwise known as Sir Richard Whittington, Mayor of London, who then granted it to the City. The site, one of the oldest market sites is London, is still a market, and has appeared in the Harry Potter movies.

EAS_4124A proclamation of 1345 declared that the ‘strangers’ (out-of-towners) had to have their poultry stalls at Leadenhall. This segregation was due to the fact that the non-Londoners were wont to charge too much for their wares; the declaration was equally firm that residents of the city were not to join the outcasts in Leadenhall, but to “sell their poultry at the stalls [in Poultry] as of old”.

EAS_4080 Poultry was once called Scalding Alley, says John Stow, from the poulterers who dwelt there and “their poultry, which they sold at their stalls, were scalded there. The street doth yet bear the name of the Poultry”. However, even by Stow’s time, poultry stalls had given way to houses inhabited by grocers, haberdashers, and upholsterers.

Lloyds of London Image Portfolio Feb2011
Lloyds of London today

The site once inhabited by East India House is now home to another London institution – Lloyds of London, which actually began life nearby in Pope’s Head Alley, so named for a 15th-century tavern that was destroyed in the Great Fire and then rebuilt.EAS_4093One of the earliest mentions of the tavern occurs in Edward IV’s reign. There was a wager between two goldsmiths, one English and from from Alicant, to the effect that “Englishmen were not so cunning in workmanship of goldsmithy as Alicant Strangers”. There was a test of the workmanship of the two men involved and the wager was declared in favour of the Englishman.

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