There have been passing mentions to money, coins and other currency in this blog, but I don’t seem to recall a specifically money-themed post. Now that I am over my shame about King Cole and Ursula (I recovered quickly), let’s look at the filthy lucre in London’s streets.
First of all, we have Allfarthing Lane in Wandsworth; nothing to do with money, this lane derives its name from the manor of Alferthyng, upon which site it is located. Healf-feorthung in Old English means ‘half a fourth’ and was an indication of a small piece of land.
Change Alley, mentioned recently in the nautical-themed post as the street where the Marine Society was formed, is an abbreviation of ‘Exchange Alley’ – from the Royal Exchange. Towards the end of the 17th century, the Exchange was so crowded that many of the brokers transacted their business in local coffee houses, Jonathan’s Coffee House (the setting for the South Street Bubble) in particular.
Coin Street in Lambeth takes its name from a royal mint established here around 1543 at the home of Henry VIII’s brother-in-law Charles Brandon. (Brandon was consoled for the loss of his home with a town house, which formerly belonged to the Bishop of Norwich, in the Strand.) In 1833 a number of coins were found in a nearby field. The nearby Mint Street also marks the royal mint, which was used until its demolition in 1557; smaller houses were then built in the area.
Until the early 18th century the Mint area was a criminal quarter, a recognized sanctuary for thieves and debtors, and a haunting ground for marriage brokers. In John Gay’s 1728 The Beggars’ Opera, there was a character referred to as Matt of the Mint.
Farthing Alley, on the edge of Bermondsey, is the sole survivor of a pair of quaintly-named pair of alleys: Farthing and Halfpenny. The names, like Allfarthing Lane, were an indication of their size. Or, if you prefer, it was named for Aleyn Ferthing, a Southwark representative in the 14th-century.
New Change near Cheapside was formerly Old Change, originally just Change (it became Old in 1293); it took its name from a building where bullion was stored before being taken to the Mint to be coined.
Pennyfields, in Poplar, was recorded as Penny Field in 1663; the name was probably an indication of the rental level. At the turn of the century the Limehouse area, centring around Pennyfields, was London’s Chinatown, considered to be be a hive of crime and opium dens.
The writer Arnold Bennett visited the area, in the company of a police inspector, in 1925. “We saw no vice whatsoever,” he remarked. The worst that he saw was tea-drinking in restaurants at around eleven o’clock in the evening . The people looked decent, he added, and there were a few “nice-looking prostitutes”.
Pound Lane in Willesden has an affluent-sounding name is nothing to do with money: it was the location of a pound for stray animals, and was once called Petticote Stile Lane.
I am going to cheat and include Clink Street in Southwark, on the basis that money clinks. This is a centuries-old name that still lives on in modern idiom when people talk about being put ‘in the clink’, or in prison. The name dates back to the prison there as early as the 14th century, but there is no clear derivation of the name.
The most popular theory is that ‘clink’ was the sound made when the irons when the blacksmith’s hammer secured the irons around the wrists or ankles of the prisoners. Another theory is that the Flemish word ‘klink’ means ‘latch’, and may have referenced that on the door of the prison.