From parliament to idlers in London’s street names

Praisegod Barebone

Bring back names for parliament, I say. I’m not going to use this blog for political comment, but I thought I would keep it topical today and I did what I usually do: refer to my notes to see what London streets have to offer me on topical items. (Bear with me, street names do feature here eventually.)

Between my notes and Wikipedia, I have come up with the fact that there were 25 parliaments between 1604 and 1690. There are some wonderful names in the list, including the Blessed Parliament, the Happy Parliament, the Useless Parliament, the Rump Parliament, and the Barebones Parliament (also known as the Little, or Nominated, Parliament).

The Rump Parliament was set up following the Civil War when the New Model Army wanted to prevent a treaty to reinstate Charles I. In December of 1648 the army prevented 231 known supporters of the treaty from entering the House, and imprisoned 45 for a short time. The remaining free members then became the Rump Parliament.

However, the Rump Members soon showed that their main concern was to create legislation that would ensure the survival of Parliament. Oliver Cromwell lost patience after learning that Members was attempting to stay in session despite an agreement to dissolve the Parliament. He attended a sitting and lambasted the Rump Members, with a speech often quoted as: “You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately. Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”

Fetter Lane.jpgThe Barebones Parliament was then convened with ‘godly’ men chosen by Cromwell. The name came from one of the members, a godly by name and godly by nature man called Praisegod Barebone, a fierce anti-royalist and supporter of Cromwell. Pamphlets of strong opinion and language usually flew around from and in answer to Barebone. He certainly incurred the disapproval of the local lads: Pepys, in his diary, makes more than one mention of the fact that “the boys had last night broke Barebone’s window”.

And here is where London streets come into it (“Finally!” I hear you cry.): Praisegod Barebones once lived in Fetter Lane, the name of which has many possible sources, including the words faiter, faitour, faytor, felter, and fewter.

The lane was a spot where people in various stages of inebriation would congregate, passing on cheery greetings and advice to passersby. As 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. There is also the theory that the name could have come from the ‘faitours’ – fortune tellers who were prevalent in medieval and Elizabeth times.

Shoe Lane.jpgOther theories include the idea that the name may have come from the lance vests worn on cuirasses (also known as fetters): many armourers had workshops in the area. One final theory is that the name derived from ‘felter’ – makers of felt also carried on their business in the lane.

Barebones also lived in Shoe Lane, the name of which also has many interesting theories. An early reference to it as ‘Scholanda’ (Show-land) is taken to mean that the lane was once a place for the setting out and showing of water-borne merchandise to tax collectors and customers. Scholanda could also, however, have meant ‘land shaped like a shoe’; the lane itself is not shoe-shaped but it may have led to a piece of land that was. Alternatively, it could have taken its name from an ancient well – Showelle – at the north end of the lane.

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Strange names and street names: a follow-on to Red Lion Square

Hanway Street, from Wikimedia Commons

Thank you to my loyal readers for not only being my loyal readers but also for keeping me on my toes. First of all, following on from the Red Lion Square post, I have been reminded that Jonas Hanway had a street named after him: Hanway Street, just off the Tottenham Court Road. As the Galliard Homes website puts it:

“The Street is rumoured to be named after the Portsmouth-born traveller, philanthropist and Hanway resident, Jonas Hanway (1712-1786). Records around 1740 indicate that the footpath was initially known as Hanover Yard, before becoming Hanway Yard and then finally Hanway Street. Hanway is most famous for being the first Londoner to brave ridicule by championing the use of an umbrella, however, he also founded The Marine Society in 1756, became governor of the Foundling Hospital two years later and then went on to help establish the Magdalen Hospital.”

On the subject of streets named after people, there is also a Barbon Alley, named after Nicholas Barbon, something else that I should have mentioned in the context of Red Lion Square.

This is probably a good time to point out that the Barbone, or Barebone, family were exceedingly creative when it came to names. Praisegod was christened “Unless-Jesus-Christ-Had-Died-For-Thee-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned Barebone” and Nicholas Barbon’s middle name was “If-Christ-had-not-died-for-thee-thou-hadst-been-damned”.

Another loyal reader, a fellow Red Sox fan, also challenged me to be fair and give some air time to the Dodgers: “Artful Dodger, Dickens…should be right up your alley”, was the comment. A very fair point and I will have to look at rising to that challenge.

Cromwell, ghosts, Tyburn, and umbrellas

This day in London history: on 16 December 1653, following the lack of success of the Barebones Parliament, Oliver Cromwell became the Lord Protector of England, Wales, and Scotland. The decision was made by the new Protectoral government at a meeting Cromwell did not attend). Centuries after Cromwell’s death (in 1658, probably of septicaemia following a urinary infection), opinion is still divided as to whether he was a hero or a villain.

In any event, over two years after his death (on the 12th anniversary of the beheading of Charles I), the bodies of Cromwell and two other men were disinterred from Westminster Abbey, taken to Tyburn where they were ceremonially hanged and decapitated, and their heads displayed on poles above Westminster Hall.

One line of thought is that the bodies had been left overnight in Red Lion Square in Holborn before being taken to Tyburn, and that later the bodies were taken back there and secretly buried. This would appear not to be true, but there was a rumour that the spirits of the three men haunted the area for many years.

Nicholas Barbon
Nicholas Barbon

Red Lion Square takes its name from the Red Lyon tavern, “in olden times the most important hostelry in Holborn”, which gave its name to the square and the nearby street.The square was one of the first licensed developments outside the City, when London was still rapidly spreading west. It was developed by the speculator Nicholas Barbon, the son of Praisegod Barebone.

Barbon was, in his own way, as much of an eccentric as his father. He started off with a career in medicine, having studied in Holland and been admitted to the College of Physicians in 1664, and later became involved in financial matters.

Barbon wrote two treatises on money and was the originator of fire insurance in Britain; he was also a persuasive man who radiated charm and arrogance in equal measure, depending on his objective. A contemporary referred to him as a “rogue, knave and damned”. He became, after the Great Fire, one of the most active and influential builders in London. He did get it wrong sometimes: not all of his buildings stayed up, but even ones that didn’t collapse could cause excitement and Red Lion Square was no exception.

Red Lyon Fields, as it was known prior to the 17th century, was purchased by Barbon for speculative development and building commenced in the late 1680s. However, lawyers in the area (the “gentlemen of Graies Inn”) were unamused at the thought of their rural surroundings being spoiled, and they began a campaign against the development and its workmen.

This campaign, or riots, if you prefer, began in 1684 and the legal men had the upper hand at first: despite the bricks being hurled at them by workmen they were able to take two hostages. Barbon was not the sort to take that kind of thing lightly, and returned the following day with hundreds of workmen, shouting threats and promising not to be intimidated. The excitement eventually died down when the square proved that it was attractive, and it became a commercial success.

Even in death, Barbon proved that he was not a man who could easily be daunted – his will directed that none of his debts was to be paid.

Red Lion Square also had its fair share of famous residents, and the most delightfully eccentric of them all was Jonas Hanway (1712-1786), explorer and philanthropist, who lived and died there. Among other things, Hanway was known for instituting the Foundling Hospital. Samuel Johnson said of Hanway that he “gained some reputation by travelling abroad, but lost it by travelling at home”. In any event, Hanway’s reputation lives on mainly because he was instrumental in introducing that great British accessory – the umbrella – to the men of the UK.

Although long used by ladies in the UK, and a status symbol in China in the 11th century BC, the umbrella was considered effeminate and unseemly for British men. They were originally viewed as a sunshade rather than protection against the rain. It was not until Hanway, incurring the wrath of cab drivers and the amusement of small boys and passersby, persevered in his use of the umbrella that they became associated with rain.

For years after his death, however, it was still considered unmanly to use them – as late as 1818 the Duke of Wellington banned his troops from using them. Towards the end of the 19th century the curved steel frame rib, which allowed the umbrella to be furled, made the use of them more widespread.

The umbrella more recently was made even more famous by the Barbadian singer Rihanna, who had an award-winning song in 2007 entitled simply ‘Umbrella.