London’s culinary streets: Salmon Lane to Sugar Loaf Court

Salmon Lane
Photo courtesy of streatsoflondon

Let’s start with fish, and Salmon Lane in Limehouse, which is part of a fishy theme that we’ve explored earlier in this blog, and it is nothing to do with fish.

This takes is name from the church of St Dunstan’s in Stepney. Work that one out. No, don’t bother, I’ll tell you: ‘Salmon’ in this instance  a corruption of ‘sermon’; this was the closest church for Limehouse residents until 1729 when St Anne’s church was built in Newell Street. So the lane was the route people would walk to church to hear a sermon.

See? Easy when you know. Incidentally, the church of St Anne’s was designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, a contemporary of Sir Christopher Wren; Hawksmoor also contributed to the design of St Paul’s Cathedral and Blenheim Palace.

Shad ThamesStaying with fish, we have Shad Thames (no, I never knew Shad was a fish until I was challenged to do the aforementioned fishy blog post), which is nothing to do with fish. It is, instead, probably a contraction of St John at Thames; the Priory of St John at Jerusalem owned about 25 acres of land here from the 13th century until the Dissolution. In Oliver Twist, Bill Sikes (who drank in a dive in Little Saffron Hill, now Herbal Hill), lived and died on Jacob’s Island, east of Shad Thames.

From fish back to meat, with Shoulder of Mutton Alley. Another inn sign, indicating the food specialities available in that particular tavern or, apparently, in one case outside of London, the shape of the land where the inn was located. We have already looked at Cat and Mutton Bridge, named from a tavern formerly called the Shoulder of Mutton and Cat which, confusingly, may have been to do with sheep rather than a food speciality.

There was once another use of the word ‘mutton’ (though I am not sure it was related to Shoulder of Mutton Alley): it was a slang term for prostitutes, extended also to ‘laced mutton’. Mutton Alley, which no longer exists was apparently where many such women plied their trade. John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester, poet, satirist, and courtier of Charles II referred to the term in his unkind epitaph for Charles II (written while the king was still alive):

Here lies our mutton-eating king,
Whose word no man relies on;
He never said a foolish thing,
And never did a wise one.
The king responded wittily, saying, “True, for my words are my own, and my actions are my Ministers!”

st016_meal_stew
Photo courtesy of streatsoflondon

And on to Stew Lane which, like Pudding Lane and Grape Street, is far removed from the culinary delight indicated by its name, and is more in keeping with the term ‘mutton’ as used above. A ‘stew’ or ‘hothouse’ were once terms for a brothel and, from the 12th century to the 17th, the banks of the Thames teemed with such houses. They tended to be on the south side but some – like this lane – were on the north bank. (Though one source says that this lane led down to the waterside embarkation point for women working in the Bankside brothels.)

The stews were licensed and regulated by the government to prevent any debauchery of the respectable wives and daughters of London and, says London historian John Stow in a somewhat judgemental fashion, “for the repair of incontinent men to the like women”.

Some of the regulations governing the stews were that they could not be opened on holidays; that women of religion, or married women (presumably even if they were ‘incontinent’), could not work there; that men could not be enticed into them; that no woman could be “kept against her will that would leave her sin”; and that a woman could not “take money to lie with any man, but she lie with him all night till the morrow”.

The women of the stews were not allowed the rites of the church, and were not permitted Christian burial; they had their own plot of land, called the Single Woman’s churchyard, a respectable distance from the parish church.

st016_cereals_sugar
Photo courtesy of streatsoflondon

From meat to sweeteners and Sugar Loaf Court (there is also a Sugar Loaf Alley), which, hurray, takes its name from sugar. More precisely, from the sign of a sugarloaf (a tall cone of refined sugar with a rounded top), which was a common shop sign for grocers, when sugar was sold in conical ‘loaves’. These loaves were broken up for general household use, and this was called loaf sugar.

Not all households settled for pieces of sugar loaf: the household accounts of Lady Moseley show that, in 1707, £3 [nearly £600 in 1750] was paid for one of these loaves. Although initially used mainly as a grocer’s sign, the shape was easily recognizable, which, like artichokes and pineapples, made it useful for tavern signs (see Artichoke Hill).

It could be that the court was the site of a refinery for making sugar loaves. There is also the argument that the court itself is in the shape of a sugar loaf, being broad at the base and narrow at the top.

London’s fishy streets: from Fish Street Hll to Shad Thames

Albacore Crescent
Photo: streatsoflondon

‘Why not fish?’ Paxview enquired of me, making reference to Shadwell. Why not indeed? I hadn’t made the Shadwell – or Shad Thames – connection with fish before, but once the fishy idea was in my head it was like an earworm, so I rushed off to my favourite culinary street name resource, streatsoflondon.

Borrowing heavily (with prior permission, of course) from that site, I can give you the following: Albacore Crescent, Bream Street, Brill Place, Coley Street, Dace Road, Drum Street, Grayling Road, Ling Road, Mullet Gardens, Perch Street, Pike Close, Roach Road, Salmon Place, Shad Thames, Sturgeon Road, Tench Street, Trout Road, and Whiting Avenue.

And, if we’re not being purist about fish rather than seafood, we can also include Oyster Row and streets that are precluded from inclusion on that website, such as Bream’s Buildings, Fish Street Hill and Pickle Herring Street, more of which shortly, but – as is my wont – let’s start on a bit of a tangent with Billingsgate, originally one of the old water gates of the City of London.

That doesn’t have a fishy name but is certainly loaded with fish associations. According to John Stow, the market was originally a general market for a number of goods including corn, coal, iron, wine, salt, pottery – and fish, and by the 16th century had become a specialist fish market. The cries of the vendors gave their name to an expression of vulgar language, as in swearing like a fishwife, particularly a Billingsgate fishwife.

Fish Street Hill 2Near to Billingsgate is Fish Street Hill, once New Fish Street, the main road leading to London Bridge. In the 13th century it became the centre for fishmongers who settled there because of its proximity to the main fish market of Billingsgate; the street was one of the authorized spots for retail fish sales. Samuel Pepys mentions it in his description of the Great Fire of 1666:

“By and by Jane comes and tells me that she hears that above 300 houses have been burned down tonight by the fire we saw, and that it was now burning down all Fishstreet by London Bridge.”

We’ve touched on Pickle Herring Street, before; this, sadly, no longer exists, having given way to modern developments in the Tooley Street area. The name could be because the street was on the site of one of the Thames River’s old wharves – where cargoes of pickled herrings were shipped.

Piclle Herring StreetOn the other hand, the name may also have come from the fact that Sir John Falstofe, who gave his name to Shakespeare’s Falstaff – and was once a fish merchant – lived on this spot in 1447. Incidentally, 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; he was actually a brewer, but he may have had an inn called the Pickled Herring.

As you can see in the map section pictured left, Pickle Herring Street led into Shad Thames under the Tower Bridge Road, so we can stop being tangential and lead into Shad Thames ourselves.

Shad ThamesAnd, surprise, surprise, the name is nothing to do with fish. It is, instead, probably a contraction of St John at Thames; the Priory of St John at Jerusalem owned about 25 acres of land here from the 13th century until the Dissolution. In Oliver Twist, Bill Sikes lived and died on Jacob’s Island, east of Shad Thames.

(Incidentally, while I am singing the praises of other blogs such as Paxview and streatsoflondon, and we are on the subject of Charles Dickens, you could do worse than have a look at another great London-related blog, David Perdue’s Charles Dickens Page.)

On to another fish name that has nothing to do with fish: Salmon Lane in Limehouse. This takes is name from the church of St Dunstan’s in Stepney. Work that one out. No, don’t bother, I’ll tell you: ‘Salmon’ in this instance is a corruption of ‘sermon’; this was the closest church for Limehouse residents until 1729 when St Anne’s church was built in Newell Street. So the lane was the route people would walk to church to hear a sermon.

Salmon Lane
Photo: streatsoflondon

See? Easy when you know. Incidentally, the church of St Anne’s was designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, contemporary of Sir Christopher Wren; he also contributed to the design of St Paul’s Cathedral and Blenheim Palace.

While I’m not sure about Bream Street, Bream’s Buildings, which leads off Chancery Lane, was once a cul-de-sac. In 1877 it was extended into Fetter Lane; it may have been named after the landowner or builder. The name itself may come from the word ‘breme’ meaning fierce or energetic. Likewise, Coley Street is named for a person rather than a fish: Henry Coley was a 17th-century astrologer and mathematician. That name comes from ‘colig’, meaning dark or swarthy.

Back, briefly to Shadwell – the reason for this entire blog. When I was first in the UK there was a TV comic program called ‘Naked Video’ and one of the regular characters was geeky Welsh Siadwell (pronounced Shadwell). I thought it was one of the funniest things I’d ever seen even though, as a recent arrival to these shores, I understood very few of the references. Does anyone else remember Siadwell? I seem to recall that he was always being threatened with a kicking by the school bully.

Doubling up on London street names

London WallHere’s another fun type of London street names: ones that aren’t the singleton, but are not an alley, road, yard, or any other street-sounding name. For instance, Austin Friars, Bevis Marks, Crutched Friars, London Wall, Perkins Rent, Petty France, and Shad Thames, to name but a few.

Let’s start with Bevis Marks, which leads into Camomile Street in the City of London: the ‘marks’ of the name was just that – a boundary, or something that marked the edge of a property. In this case it was the 12th century mansion and gardens owned by the Abbots of Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. The modern name is a corruption of Bury’s Marks. The abbey is yet another on the long list of those dissolved by Henry VIII.

Bevis MarksIn keeping with the theme of religion, the nearby Bevis Marks synagogue is the oldest in the UK, though its actual address is Heneage Lane because, according to the synagogue’s official website, “The site of the synagogue was tucked away in a back alley because Jews were not allowed to build on the public thoroughfare. A contract was signed with a builder in 1699 and the synagogue, which has been designated a monument of national importance, was built in 1701.”

There was a synagogue in Creechurch Lane, just off Bevis Marks, at least as early as 1663, when Pepys recorded a visit there.

Petty France cropPetty France takes its name from petit – little – France, because of French settlers there as early as the 15th century. The street, which once housed the Passport Office, is associated with a book of “pernicious tendency”. Other streets were called what they were because, well, that’s what they were, such as Docwras Buildings, from houses built by Thomas Docwra & Son, well-borers. In time others became known as Rents from the people who collected the rents on the buildings, such as Perkins Rents in Victoria, from an unknown Perkins.

Shad ThamesChurches were responsible for many other non-street names, including Shad Thames, which is probably a contraction of St John at Thames; the Priory of St John at Jerusalem owned about 25 acres of land here from the 13th century until the Dissolution. In Oliver Twist, Bill Sikes lived and died on Jacob’s Island, east of Shad Thames.

Similarly, Austin Friars takes its name from a dissolved friary of Augustian monks; the friary covered the area between London Wall and Throgmorton Street.

Drapers plaqueReaders of the excellent Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel will know it as the home of Thomas Cromwell; it is where, when Thomas Cromwell wished to extend his nearby garden, he dug up the house belonging to John Stow’s father, put it on rollers and moved it out of the way without any warning to Stow senior. After Cromwell’s death the Drapers’ Company – the third of the livery companies – took over Cromwell’s house along with the nefariously extended garden.

Crutched FriarsCrutched Friars, known as Hart Street prior to the 18th century, also takes its current name from a holy order, the Crossed Friars, an Augustinian order that began in Bologna in 1169 and was established in London by Ralph Hosiar and William Sabernes in 1298. The name derived from the friars’ habits, which were blue with, usually, a red cross on the back.

The monastery fell, as did so many others in the reign of Henry VIII (the order was then suppressed by the Pope in 1656). Henry granted the land to Sir Thomas Wyatt who built a mansion on the site. Later it was used as a carpenter’s yard, a tennis court, and the Navy Office where Pepys worked.