London’s culinary streets: Pickled Egg Walk to Saffron Hill

Well, dear reader(s), you could be forgiven for thinking I don’t know my way around the alphabet. Last time we left off at Poultry and here I am backtracking again to pickles, starting with Pickled Egg Walk. This walk which, alas, no longer exists, was once apparently a “place of low amusements” and took its name from the Pickled Egg tavern. The tavern, in its turn, took its name from the fact that the proprietor had a particularly delectable recipe for pickled eggs.

The story goes that Charles II (though some version say it was his father, Charles I) once stopped there, sampled that delicacy for the first time, and enjoyed it. Royal pleasure was something that any canny landlord would capitalize on and this proprietor was no exception, promptly naming the inn for his speciality.

Piclle Herring StreetThere was once also a Pickle Herring Street – again, sadly, no longer there, having given way to modern developments in the Tooley Street area. The easy explanation for its name is that the street was on the site of one of the Thames River’s old wharves – where cargoes of pickled herrings were shipped. The area was once known as ‘London’s larder’, from its use as the primary storage area for butter, cheese and, later, canned meat.

As always, there are other possible explanations: though herrings were pickled in England as far back as the 14th century, it was more of a Dutch speciality. There is a record, in 1584, of a ‘Peter Van Duraunte alias Pickell Heringe’ being buried in Bermondsey. Van Duraunte was actually a brewer, so the nickname is not obvious, unless he had an inn called the Pickled Herring; such an inn may have given rise to the street name.

The name may also have come from the fact that Sir John Falstofe – who gave his name to Shakespeare’s Falstaff – lived on this spot in 1447. Falstofe was once a fish merchant, so it could have been his pickled herrings that gave the street its name.

(Incidentally, Tooley Street comes from St Olave’s Street, with a connection to London Bridge falling down, so maybe there could be a nursery rhyme theme coming up in the future.)

st016_fruit_pineapple
Photo courtesy of streatsoflondon

From pickles to fruit, and Pineapple (strictly speaking, Pine Apple) Court, another tavern-derived name. The Pineapple tavern was recorded there in the late 18th century and its name reflects the fashions of the times. The fruit was introduced to England in the 17th century; its shape and novelty made it popular on signs, especially those of confectioners. Christopher Wren was said to be so taken with the shape that he adopted it in the decorations of all his buildings (though many of them resemble acorns more than pineapples).

There was was once also a Pineapple Place in Maida Vale; the painter George Romney kept a retreat here where he could go to sleep and to have “rural breakfasts”. Romney painted many of the leading society figures of the day, including Emma Hamilton, the mistress of Lord Nelson and the mother of Nelson’s daughter, Horatia. (Emma has links to various London streets, including Pall Mall with its stories of celestial beds.)

Pudding Lane 3And on to where we should have been alphabetically, with Pudding Lane (once called Red Rose Lane), entrenched as it is in London’s history. Straight away, you need to ut aside any notion of cakes or desserts that this name may bring to mind: the truth is far from appetising. The lane, once part of the meat centre of London, was on the route where the ‘puddings’ – parcels of offal – were transported to be thrown into the river. Stow explains it most eloquently:

“Red Rose lane, of such a sign there, now commonly called Pudding Lane, because the butchers of Eastcheap have their scalding house for hogs there, and their puddings, with other filth of beasts, are voided down that way to their dung boats on the Thames.”

Pudding Lane is most famous for being where the Great Fire of 1666 first broke out, causing the destruction of 13,000 houses and 14 streets – though, amazingly, only 11 deaths. The street was a narrow one with pitch-covered wooden houses and led to the riverside warehouses full of oil and combustible materials such as hay, coal, and timber.

But let’s not leave it there with a tenuous link. There is a tenuous dessert connection: the fire started in the house of a man called Faynor (or Farryner), the king’s baker.

Pudding Lane was the site of the original first Apothecaries Hall, established there in 1633 by the Royal Apothecary of James I. The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London was founded in 1617 by James I to prevent unqualified people from making medicine. The Apothecaries Hall was destroyed in the Great Fire of London and was rebuilt in Blackfriars Lane in 1786.

In 2013, six students studying Game Art Design at DeMontfort University in Leicester took part in a new competition called ‘Off the Map’. They established Pudding Lane Productions, took part in the competition, and won with a 3D reproduction of 17th-century London.

Saffron Hill cropFrom puddings to spices with Saffron Hill. In 1290, John Kirkby, who had been awarded the bishopric of Ely, bequeathed his estate to the see of Ely to be used as a palace. The gardens there were famous for, among other things, vines and strawberries – and herbs, including saffron, the main source of the spice for the City dwellers. Apart from its colour, it was, like garlic, useful for disguising meat that may have seen its best.

Saffron was widely used in ancient times, as a dye, a spice, a deodorant, and a healing drug. Romans would put in on their beds on their wedding night, giving rise to the expression ‘having slept in a bed of saffron’ (dormivit in sacco croci), to be light of heart, or enlivened.

From light heart to light pockets: according to the Victorian London historian Walter Thornbury in his Old and New London, Saffron Hill “once formed a part of the pleasant gardens of Ely Place, and derived its name from the crops of saffron which it bore. But the saffron disappeared, and in time there grew up a squalid neighbourhood, swarming with poor people and thieves”.

Dickens wrote about many of the streets in this area, including Little Saffron Hill, a herb garden attached to the palace of the Bishops of Ely. That features in Oliver Twist, when Bill Sikes is seem drinking in a sleazy dive there with the unfortunate Bulls-eye: “in an obscure parlour, of a low public-house, in the filthiest part of Little Saffron Hill…sat, brooding over a little pewter measure and a small glass…Mr William Sikes”.

Little Saffron Hill was renamed Herbal Hill in the 1930s, in honour of the 16th-century herbalist John Gerard and his work.

I should have added more photos to this post but I am in Scotland at the moment and the internet connection is kind of slow. I’ll add them later.

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London’s spicy streets: Shakespeare, Mack the Knife, and murder

Saffron Hill cropOn Twitter today, I saw a story about what is thought to be what could be the only known portrait of Shakespeare made in his lifetime. The illustration appears in the frontispiece to a biography of pioneering botanist John Gerard, author of The Herball or Generall Historie of Plants, the first catalogue of any one garden, public or private.

There is still a Saffron Hill near Smithfield (it was at one time a slum mentioned by Charles Dickens), but the street once called Little Saffron Hill was renamed Herbal Hill in the 1930s to honour Gerard and his work.

All of which leads us nicely to London’s spicy streets, of which there are many. In fact, according to the excellent website www.streatsoflondon.com, there are 493 roads named after food and drink in Greater London; of these over half consist of either fruits or herbs and spices. Lavender is the second most popular food item and can be found in 29 streets.

Camomile StreetOne of these is Lavender Hill, which was so named because of the lavender was grown in the area’s 18th-century market gardens. There are also a Lavender Road and Lavender Terrace nearby.

Similarly, Camomile Street and Wormwood Street are so called because they form part of the route of the original London Wall, where the land was once kept free of houses and allowed to grow wild.

One of the wild flowers that grew here were camomile (from the Greek for ‘earth apple’), used to treat ills such as hay fever, insomnia, and upset stomachs. Wormwood, used to flavour vermouth and absinthe, was said to have gained its name because it grew up in the path followed by the serpent when he was evicted from Paradise.

Mint Street in Southwark is named for mint, but of a different kind: Henry VIII established a royal mint here around 1543 at the home of his brother-in-law Charles Brandon. The mint was used until its demolition in 1557; smaller houses were then built in the area. Until the early 18th century the area was a criminal quarter, a recognized sanctuary for thieves and debtors, and a haunting ground for marriage brokers.

Two of the people who sought refuge in the area were Jonathan Wild and Jack Sheppard, notorious highwaymen. It was Sheppard upon whom John Gay based Macheath, the central character of his 1728 work The Beggar’s Opera. Macheath later became Mack the Knife in The Threepenny Opera by  Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill.

Cinnamon Street in London first appeared at the end of the 17th century and probably comes from the fact that the spice was sold there. It has rather gruesome connections: it was in this street that John Williams was staying when a blood-stained knife was discovered among his belongings and suspicion fell upon him in relation to the Ratcliff Highway Murders.

These murders, which pre-dated the activities of Jack the Ripper, caused the Wapping area as much terror and confusion. It cased a public outcry, rewards were offered by the government, and over 40 people were arrested for the crimes before the finger of suspicion pointed at Williams. Whether or not he was actually guilty (and there is a modern theory that he was framed) was never proved: he hanged himself before the hearing.

Hop Gardens cropOther spicy streets include Basil Street, Caraway Close, Clove Street, Coriander Avenue, Fennel Close, Mace Street, Nutmeg Close, Oregano Drive, Saffron Hill, Sage Way, Tarragon Close, and Thyme Close.

Hatton Garden: diamonds, underworlds, and herbs

Hatton Garden has been much in the news lately following an audacious jewellery raid, so let’s have a look at the name and history of the street, which is named after Sir Christopher Hatton. Hatton was a favourite of Elizabeth I, and was appointed Lord Chancellor.

The queen also formally granted him the Bishop of Ely’s palace in Ely Place, Holborn (much to the Bishop’s dismay and – overruled – protests). The Holborn area of London was an extremely fertile one, abounding with gardens and vineyards, including a herb garden attached to the palace; it was once called Little Saffron Hill.

Gerard's Herball Science Museum London
A 1633 Edition of Gerard’s Herball. Photo: Science Museum London

John Gerard was a skilled herbalist who lived in the area, carefully tended his garden, and in 1596 published a list of all the plants that grew there.

The Herball or Generall Historie of Plants was the first catalogue of any one garden, public or private. (Although some scholars claim that the original book was essentially a translation of a popular earlier Flemish herbal.)

In the late 1930s Little Saffron Hill was renamed Herbal Hill after Gerard’s work.

The gardens of the Bishop of Ely’s palace were also famous for saffron, which was the main source of the spice for the city dwellers. Apart from its colour, it was – like the garlic that gave Garlick Hill its name – useful for disguising meat that may have seen its best.

Saffron was widely used in ancient times, as a dye, a spice, a deodorant, and a healing drug. Romans would put in on their beds on their wedding night, giving rise to the expression ‘dormivit in sacco croci’ (having slept in a bed of saffron), to be light of heart, or enlivened.

Saffron Hill cropFrom light heart to light pockets: Saffron Hill later became an evil slum, and features in Oliver Twist: “in an obscure parlour, of a low public-house, in the filthiest part of Little Saffron Hill…sat, brooding over a little pewter measure and a small glass…Mr William Sikes”.

EAS_3921Nearby is another street – Bleeding Heart Yard – which was highlighted by Charles Dickens, who devoted an entire chapter to it in Little Dorrit. One of the legends behind the name is the story of Lady Elizabeth Hatton, who brings us back to Sir Christopher Hatton.

Hatton himself never married; his nephew, William Newport, inherited his estate, took the Hatton name and died six years later, leaving Elizabeth a widow. The young and beautiful Elizabeth was the toast of 17th-century London society; her Annual Winter Ball in Hatton Garden was one of the highlights of the London social season, and invitations were much sought after.

Cloak LaneThe story goes that she was carried off by the devil one night after her ball; her cloak fell in Cloak Lane, her shoe in Shoe Lane and her heart in Bleeding Heart Yard.

EAS_4009All of which brings us back to Hatton Garden, still the centre of London’s diamond and jewellery trade.

The street sits atop a network of underground works including ancient passageways rumoured to be built by the monks of Ely, abandoned railway platforms, decommissioned bunkers, and the remains of the Fleet river.