London’s streets: what’s in the name?

Pepys St Tower view copyI was having a grumpy old lady moment recently about things named for large global companies; I can’t remember what specifically sparked it off, but something like the O2 Arena.

Isn’t it a pity, I thought, that so many venues and sporting events are now named after big corporations. How long, I wondered, before airports, instead of being named John Lennon, John Wayne, or Sir Grantley Adams, were called The [insert name of large global corporation] Airport? And then, of course, I wondered further when that would happen to streets.

So that’s the tenuous connection between a grumpy moment and London streets. Today we’ll look at some of the streets named after people, particularly those where it’s not as obvious as, say, Pepys Street.

Fashion Street cropFirst of all, Fashion Street, so named when it was built in the 1650s; the land upon which it stands belonged to the Fasson brothers – Thomas and Lewis, skinner and goldsmith respectively. By 1708 Fasson Street had been corrupted to Fashion Street. They also owned the land upon which stood Flower and Dean Street, where two of Jack the Ripper’s victims lived.

Savage GdnsSavage Gardens is nothing to do with vampire novels: it was named for Sir Thomas Savage, who was created Viscount Savage in 1626 and who had strong ties to George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, and to Charles I. He was also married to an admirable woman, Elizabeth, who bore him eleven sons and nine daughters.

As we’ve seen recently, Short Street is nothing to do with length, but is Short was named for a 19th-century carpenter, Samuel Short, who built the street. Similarly, Greenhills Rents near Smithfield market was nothing to do with scenery but was named for John Greenhill, an 18th-century landowner who also owned the Castle tavern on Cowcross Street.

Askew Road isn’t particularly crooked: it takes its name from Anthony Askew, an 18th-century local landowner who studied medicine and later became known more as a classical scholar rather than a doctor, helping to develop people’s tastes for curious manuscripts, rare editions, and well-preserved books.

Batty Street 2Goaters Alley is nothing to do with animals, but relates to John and William Goaters, occupants of a neighbouring farm. Baker Street is nothing to do with an earlier Mary Berry or Paul Hollywood, but is named from someone called Baker (there is disagreement as to which one). Batty Street is (probably) nothing to do with ditziness, but is more likely to relate to a William Batty who developed property in London.

Worship Street’s name is nothing to do with religion (though it does have religious connections): it is probably a corruption of ‘Worsop’ from an Elizabeth merchant tailor, John Worsop, who owned over six acres of land in the area. And Speedy Place nothing to do with swiftness or haste. There was once a tavern, called the Golden Boot, the licence of which was held by the Speedy family. An earlier landlord, and member of the Speedy family, used to meet with the ringleaders of the 1780 Gordon Riots.

And on the subject of things not being what they seem, I leave you with Sly Street. This devious-sounding street has a perfectly innocent reason for its name: in 1890 the St Georges in the East member of the London County Council was a Mr RS Sly.

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Elbow Lane, Dick Whittington, and Savage Gardens

In yesterday’s post about Hand Court, I promised more body parts. Although anatomy does not play a very big role in London street names, there are some instances besides Hand Court, such as Head Street in Stepney, Knee Hill in Greenwich, and Elbow Lane in the City of London. (And of course, one of my favourites, Bleeding Heart Yard.)

After my enthusiastic promise of more information on these, so far I have been able to find information only on Elbow Lane, which intersects Cloak Lane. It could be argued that even that example is cheating as it is now, less interestingly, called College Street and in fact it has been covered in an early post about Dick Whittington, who founded the college after which the street is now named.

Savage GdnsI hang my head in shame for having promised and not delivered. So to make up for it, and for no reason other than it is a great sounding name, I give you the poetically named Savage Gardens.

This takes its name from Sir Thomas Savage, who was created Viscount Savage in 1626. He married Elizabeth Darcy, who deserves admiration above all for having provided her husband with eleven sons and nine daughters. Unluckily for Elizabeth, her father and her husband (both of whom she survived) had strong ties to George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, and to Charles I.

Elizabeth suffered the price of being a Catholic at the time: her houses were looted and her belongings confiscated by parliament. Although she did receive popular support from Catholics and Protestants alike, she is said to have incurred losses of £100,000 and eventually died bankrupt.

The term Savage Garden was used in an Anne Rice novel The Vampire Lestat, when Lestat says: “Beauty was a Savage Garden”. The phrase was later adopted by an Australian pop duo.

If I wanted to cheat I could always turn to a number of streets named after pub signs with body parts, such as various queens, kings and nobles with their arms and heads but I’ll admit graceful defeat and return in the next post with something completely different.