New year London names: from New Scotland Yard to Newgate

Well, loyal reader(s), it’s been a while. Long enough that it’s too far after Christmas to continue that theme (and I was coming to a bit of a dead end on that anyway). But it’s still sort of the New Year, so let’s take a quick look at ‘new’ names – that is, names with new in them.

New Scotland YardBut first a bit of a cheat with New Scotland Yard, which is a building rather than a street. And it isn’t even in Great Scotland Yard, which is what it was named for. That name came about because the Palace of Westminster, which no longer stands, once served as the main residence for the English monarchs –and a parcel of land belonging to the palace, including a house given by King Edgar to Kenneth III of Scotland in the 10th century, was reserved for royal Scottish visitors and their retinues.

Great Scotland YardIn 1829 the Metropolitan Police Force was formed and the new force (consisting of around 600 men, six of whom were discharged on the first day for being drunk) set up headquarters in Great Scotland Yard (Little and Middle had by then combined to become Whitehall Place). Scotland Yard (or the ‘Yard’ then became the name by which the police force was known.

From police to prisons, and Newgate, one of the original gates of London. (The others were Aldersgate, Aldgate, Bishopsgate, Cripplegate, Ludgate, and Moorgate.) Newgate was so named because it was new: in the 12th century, a new gate, built to replace the original Roman gate.

Newgate is perhaps best known for Newgate Prison, possibly one of the world’s most famous, and infamous prisons and the gatehouse was indeed used as a prison later in the 12th century. When the gate was rebuilt again in the 15th century, Dick Whittington (or, to give him his proper title, Richard Whittington, Lord Mayor of London) provided money for the prison to be extended.

The prison was eventually demolished to make way for the Central Criminal Courts, known as Old Bailey, taking their name from the street on which they stand). In the 18th century Newgate became not just a prison but the location of public executions: the gallows at Tyburn were moved to the prison in 1783 and prisoners no longer made the long journey west from Newgate to be executed.

EAS_3968From prisons to fetters, or manacles for prisioners. There is a Fetter Lane and a New Fetter Lane and on the corner of these two streets is a statue of John Wilkes, a journalist and member of the notorious Hellfire Club.

The word ‘fetter’ in this instance, however – you guessed it – is nothing to do with manacles. Many alternative spellings include faitor, fewter, felter, and faitour.

As the historian John 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.)

The name could have derived from ‘felter’ – makers of felt also carried on their business in the lane, or from ‘faitour’ – a type of fortune teller prevalent in medieval and Elizabeth times. As well as all the iidlers, the area did have workers in the form of the armorers whose workshops were located there. and the name may have come from the lance vests worn on cuirasses (also known as fetters).

EAS_3905And finally, from lawyers to bankers: New Change was formerly Old Change, originally just Change (it became Old in 1293); it took its name from a buiEAS_4102lding where bullion was stored before being taken to the Mint to be coined. (There is also a Change Alley; that takes its name from the Royal Exchange, founded in 1565 by Sir Thomas Gresham to act as a centre of commerce for the city, and officially opened by Queen Elizabeth I.)


London’s coffee connections

EAS_4101As it is International Coffee Day today (National Coffee Day in the US), let’s have a look at coffee and London. Coffee follows on nicely from our last post on London’s singleton street names, as 1652 saw London’s first coffee house open in St Michael’s Alley, off Cornhill. Coffee was advertised as “a very good help to digestion, quickens the spirits, and is good against sore eyes”.Cornhill, according to London historian John Stow, takes its name “of a corn market, time out of mind there holden”. The street has literary connections including Charlotte Bronte, Daniel Defoe, and Thomas Gray. It was also once a place dear to the hearts of fences and drinkers.

EAS_4102One of London’s strongest coffee connections, at Change Alley in the City of London, the name of which 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 in particular. Jonathan’s was also the scene of the disastrous ‘South Sea Bubble’ scheme, speculation that ruined the purses and lives of thousands of investors.

Samuel Pepys (who pre-dated the Bubble) mentions the coffee house in his diary: “At noon by coach to the ’Change with Mr. Coventry, thence to the Coffee-house with Captain Coeke”.

Another coffee connection lies in Dean Street, where Number 33 was the site of a coffee house known as Jack’s, which was frequented by artists and writers such as Samuel Johnson, Joshua Reynolds, and Oliver Goldsmith. It later became Walker’s hotel, where it is alleged that Nelson slept the night before he sailed to the battle of Trafalgar.

In the 18th century, part of St John’s Gate was a coffee house run by Richard Hogarth, father of the painter William Hogarth. It was also the base for the Gentleman’s Magazine, a publication edited by Edward Cave and which provided the first use of the word ‘magazine’ as we know it today. Some of the more frequent visitors of the time (and contributors to the magazine) were Samuel Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith, and David Garrick.

And, last but not least, the inn at La Belle Sauvage Yard once also served as a coffee house.

Incidentally, there is, alas, no Coffee Street, Lane, Yard or anything else in London, though there are many scattered about the US.

Exchanges, decapitations, and Throgmorton Street

Royal Exchange aerial view
Royal Exchange aerial view

This day in London history: on 23 1571 January Queen Elizabeth I awarded the Exchange its Royal title. The Exchange was founded in 1565 by Sir Thomas Gresham to act as a centre of commerce for the city. The original building was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 and it was then rebuilt in 1669, providing the beginnings of today’s Stock Exchange.

In 1697 an Act of Parliament imposed heavy penalties on unlicensed brokers, as well as fixing the number of brokers at 100. This led to many stockbrokers leaving (or being forced to leave) the Exchange and transacting their business in local coffee houses, Jonathan’s Coffee House in particular.

In the 18th century, a new and more formal Stock Exchange was opened, occupying part of Throgmorton Street. The street itself is named for Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, diplomatist and a relative of Catherine Parr.

Nicholas Throckmorton
Sir Nicholas Throckmorton

Throckmorton managed to survive several monarchs: he was among those who signed the document that limited the succession of the throne to Lady Jane Grey and her descendants. His support of Jane was not entirely sincere, however: he also made sure not to lose the good will of Mary, and was able to maintain a staunch Protestant for the whole of his life.

The closest Sir Nicholas came to real danger was being sent to the Tower for a time in 1544, having been accused of complicity in Wyatt’s rebellion. He was acquitted, however, and managed to see another monarch (Elizabeth) succeed to the throne. He also survived to become one of her favourite ministers, and it is alleged that he was poisoned by Dudley, another of the queen’s favourites.

Bess Throckmorton
Bess Throckmorton

Throckmorton’s daughter Elizabeth (Bess) was a maid of honour to Queen Elizabeth; when she had an affair with yet another of the queen’s favourites – Sir Walter Ralegh – they were both sent to the Tower in 1592. Queen Elizabeth relented before long, however, and Ralegh married Bess Throckmorton soon after their release.

The Raleghs were a devoted couple; in her case, perhaps too devoted. When Ralegh’s charm no longer worked on his queen and he was executed, his wife had his head embalmed and she carried it around with her, for the rest of her life, in a red leather bag.

John Stow’s father had a house in Throckmorton Street; when Thomas Cromwell wished to extend his nearby garden, in order to make room for the extension, he dug up Stow senior’s house, put it on rollers and moved it out of the way with so much as a ‘by your leave’. According to Stow junior, “this house they loosed from the ground, and bare upon rollers into my father’s garden twenty-two feet, ere my father heard thereof; no warning was given him”.

Thomas Cromwell by Holbein
Thomas Cromwell by Holbein

Cromwell got his comeuppance eventually: he was executed in 1540 (though not for moving the Stow house). He was accused of a long list of  crimes including treason, heresy, corruption, and plotting to marry Lady Mary Tudor. He suffered a gruesome decapitation at the hands of an incompetent executioner; according to a contemporary chronicler, Edward Halle, he “paciently suffered the stroke of the axe, by a ragged Boocherly miser whiche very ungoodly perfourmed the Office”. After the execution, his head was displayed on a spike on London Bridge.

Drapers Hall interior
Drapers’ Hall Interior

The Drapers’ Company – the third of the livery companies – took over Cromwell’s house along with the nefariously extended garden. The company’s hall still stands there at one Throgmorton Avenue, a private road that runs from Throgmorton Street to London Wall. At the other end is the Carpenters’ Company.