Legge, Skin, and Bleeding Heart: more of London’s body part streets

Skinners Lane

Further to yesterday’s post, I think that Legge Street, which I didn’t have on my original body parts list (Pete to the rescue again) must have taken its name from Thomas Legge, who in 1354 became the first Lord Mayor of London. This was his second term, the first having been when the title was still Mayor of London. (The City of London, that is, not Greater London.) In 1354 King Edward III granted the title of Lord Mayer to Legge, who was a member of the Skinners’ Company. As well as being the first Lord Mayor of London, he was the first Skinner to hold that post.

Speaking of skin, that brings us nicely back to body parts, so let’s have a look at the Skinner’s Company. 

In the order of the twelve great livery companies, The Worshipful Company of Skinners, which obtained their first charter from King Edward III in 1327, alternates the position of six and seven with the Merchant Taylors. That gave rise to the expression ‘at sixes and sevens’.

Skin Market Place in Southwark was named for the skin trade. The market itself appears on maps in the late 1700s but is gone by the turn of the century, though the name continued. 

There is also Skinners Lane, near Garlick Hill, once known as Maiden Lane and renamed because it was a central location for the fur trade.


Skinner Street is Clerkenwell was part of eight acres of land that were bequeathed to the Worshipful Company of Skinners in 1630 by John Meredith. It was not, however, until two hundred years later that the street was built by James Whiskin, who gave it the name. Whiskin, a plumber by trade, became a prominent figure in local affairs and a substantial businessman. He was a vestryman from 1815, a JP from 1835, and became Deputy Lieutenant for Tower Hamlets in 1846.

No-one has commented on the fact that I omitted Bleeding Heart Yard from my list of body parts; I didn’t forget it (and I should have mentioned it) but it always seems to deserve a post all of its own. That was not only the street that started my quest for information on street names, but it has also piqued the curiosity of many others.

The name is probably from a sign, but (in short) a better story is that a beautiful woman sold her soul to the devil; when the time came for him to collect he carried her off from a party and the her bleeding heart was later discovered by horrified partygoers.

All of which reminds me that someone once suggested myth and legend in London street names and I don’t think I ever followed up on that, so watch this space.

London’s clothing streets: from Boot Street to Whalebone Court

Buckle Street2Before Boot Street (alphabetically speaking) there are various Ascot Houses, Courts, and Lodges, but they are all buildings rather than streets. So let’s move along alphabetically to Boot Street near Old Street station in Islington.

One thing I have learned about this street is that it was used as a location for the filming of The Crying Game: the exterior of the Metro Pub, where Dil sings the title song, was an empty property behind a pub on the corner with Coronet Street.

Buckle Street, in East London (not far from Amazon Street, Batty Street and Coke Street) may, like Bucklersbury, take its name from the Bukerel (or Buckerell or Bucherel) family who were London property owners in the 12th century. The family had a fortified mansion, or bury, on the banks of the Walbrook – one of London’s now subterranean rivers, which gave its name to a ward and to the street that still bears its name.

(By the 13th century it was less than salubrious as it had to keep being cleared of dung.) Stow refers to “a manor and tenements pertaining to one Buckle, who dwelt there, and kept his courts”.

Cloak LaneSpeaking of the Walbrook and dung, that takes us to Cloak Lane, which has featured a few times in this blog and is also included in the ‘scatalogical London’ category. Fittingly, it once led over the Walbrook, when it was called Horseshoe Bridge. The current name first appears in the late 17th century and is likely to have derived from the Latin ‘cloaca’, or sewer.
Clothier Street cropA more glamorous, though unlikely in the extreme, explanation is that it refers to the cloak dropped by Lady Elizabeth Hatton as she was carried away from a party by Old Nick from Bleeding Heart Yard. Similarly, Shoe Lane is supposed to be where she dropped her shoe; again, this is – alas – unlikely. More likely is the theory that an early reference to it as ‘Scholanda’ (Show-land) means that the lane was once a place for the setting out and showing of water-borne merchandise to tax collectors and customers.

Other explanations are that Scholanda could also have meant ‘land shaped like a shoe’ and that the lane led to such a piece of land. Alternatively, it could have taken its name from an ancient well –
Showelle – at the north end of the lane.

Give me Lady Elizabeth any time.

Next, we have Cloth Court, Cloth Fair, and Cloth Street, all of which presumably get their name in the same way. From the 12th century to the 19th century a three-day fair – Bartholomew Fair – was held in the Smithfield area; money charged on tolls for goods was a source of income for the priory of St Bartholomew.

The fair was, early on, essentEAS_4009ially a trade fair for the woollen and drapery industries, with Italian and Flemish cloth merchants, though it later became a rowdy free-for-all. By the early 19th century, pickpockets and brawlers dominated, and the fair was discontinued in 1855.

Incidentally, 41 Cloth Fair, built between 1597 and 1614, is one of the only houses in the City to have escaped the flames and lays claim to being the oldest London house in existence.

From cloth to clothiers: Clothier Street (also known once as Crab Court and Carter Street), near Houndsditch has a connection to the rag trade that goes back to Elizabethan times when it was famous as a gathering area for “sellers of old apparel”. An official Clothes Exchange was established there in 1875 and the current name was assigned in 1906.

Petticoat Lane viewNot far away is Middlesex Street, otherwise known as Petticoat Lane. The earlier, 17th-century, name could be from silk weavers, who would have made petticoats, and who settled in the area; or from the secondhand clothes dealers who had begun to trade in the lane even back then.

Henry Mayhew, a 19th-century social researcher, journalist, and playwright, said of the lane that to look down it was “to look down a vista of many-coloured garments”. Less poetically, FH Habben, a contemporary of Mayhew, and a somewhat curmudgeonly scholar of London’s streets, stated firmly that the name was “The English form, I presume, of petit court, the little short lane.”

Fashion Street is nothing to do with fashion but takes its name from the Fasson brothers, Thomas and Lewis, who owned the land upon which the street was built in the 1650s. On second thought, there is also a clothing connection of sorts: Thomas was a skinner.

Hanger Lane in West London was called Hanger Hill in 1710; it was the site of a wood called ‘le Hangrewood’ in the 14th century. The word comes from the Old English ‘hangra’, meaning a wooded hill with clinging steep slopes.

Hat & Mitre Court, little more than a slight gap between buildings, doubles up on the headgear theme, as ‘mitre’ is an ecclesiastical hat of sorts. The second half of the name comes from an 18th-century tavern called the Mitre, a common tavern name, especially in areas, such as this (the priory of St John was nearby), with a large ecclesiastical population.

Why hat as well is not clear , though it was also common in signs, both for hatters’ shops and for taverns. Possibly a new landlord of the Mitre once had a tavern called the Hat and was reluctant to give up the name and possibly lose customers. Combining the names of two taverns was a ruse often employed for landlords to get the best of both worlds as far as customers went.

From head to foot with Hosier Lane, which is exactly as it sounds. In the 14th century the hosiers lived and worked here, making their age’s equivalent of today’s trousers: fashionable garments that replaced the robes of previous generations. These hose were brightly dyed, often with legs in contrasting colours.

The houses in the lane were, at one time, nearly all built of timber, probably dating back to the 17th century. There was a barber’s shop on the corner, in which was displayed a dagger said to be the one with which Walworth killed Wat Tyler, virtually on that spot.

Keeping up with the clothes theme, in the 18th century, the lane was a resort spot during the time of Bartholomew Fair, when “all the houses were made public for tippling”.

Sadly, Naked Boy Court no longer exists, but takes its name from a sign that was supposed to have been a comment on the rapidly-changing fashions of the time. Apparently the sign painters had so much difficulty keeping up with them that the artist responsible for this one didn’t even try.

Silk Street apparently comes from the silk weaving carried on in 17th-century London largely by French refugees who settled in the Spitalfields area. By the 19th century they had been joined by their English counterparts from the north, who set up silk factories. Many of them lived in this street, which was finally named in recognition of that fact.

Skinners LaneSkin Market Place behind the Globe Theatre takes its names from London’s (legal) skin trade: “the skins from nearly all the sleep slaughtered in London” were sold in the market here. Skinners Lane on the other side of the Thames, was known as Maiden Lane and renamed for much the same reason, except that the skins in this case were furs.

There is also a Skinner Street; although one theory is that in the early 19th century an Alderman Skinner was the driving force behind building the street, it is more likely that it is named because in 1630 eight acres of land were bequeathed to the Worshipful Company of Skinners by John Meredith.

Wardrobe Terrace cropWardrobe Place and Wardrobe Terrace take their name from a house that belonging to Sir John Beauchamp was purchased in 1359 by Edward II for use as the storeroom for the royal clothing worn on state occasions. In Shakespeare’s will he bequeathed, to his daughter, land near the Wardrobe.

Weaver Street, like Silk Street, is named for the weaving industry that became prevalent in this area, especially after the 19th century. There is also a Weavers Lane, on the south bank of the Thames, probably so named for the same reason.

Whalebone CourtFinally, Whalebone Court, according to an 18th-century source, was so called because whalebone was boiled there, presumably in preparation for it being made into corsets.

London’s occupational streets (part 2): Frankenstein, gambling, and a famous transvestite

Following on from ironmongers and rope makers, London’s streets contain more occupations, from brewers to skinners. But first, let’s look at one ‘occupation’, which may be cheating a bit: Boss Street, south of the river near Shad Thames.

A boss was once a reservoir of water; there was once a Boss Alley which, London historian John Stow tells us was, “Named from a Bosse of spring water continually running standing by Billingsgate against this alley, erected by the executors of Richard Whittington”.

Brewer Street cropFrom water to beer, and bosses to brewers: brewing is represented in, among others, Brewer Street, Brewers’ Hall Gardens, and Brewer’s Green.

Unusually for London street names, Brewer Street does take its name from the noble art (or science) of brewing, and there were two 17th-century breweries here. One of these was opened in 1664 by Thomas Ayres (who gave his name to Air Street), and continued brewing until the 19th century. The other, opened a few years later, lasted only 70 years.

A contemporary caricature of the Chevalier D’Eon, depicting him as half man, half woman

Brewer Street was also the residence of that enigmatic character, the Chevalier D’Eon, who first came to England in 1762 as an undercover agent for Louis XV. The Chevalier started life as a man, and then, for the last 33 years of his life, lived as a woman; upon his death he was discovered to be anatomically male. He is considered to be one of the earliest openly transvestite people.

Brewers Hall Gardens cropBrewers’ Hall Garden takes its name from the Hall of the Company of Brewers, one of the oldest City Livery companies, and number fourteen in order of precedence.

The Brewers were granted a Royal Charter in 1438, at which time they rejoiced in the name of ‘The Wardens and Commonalty of the Mystery of Brewers in the City of London’. There has been a Brewers Hall on the site for over 600 years.

Brewers GreenBrewer’s Green, however, is nothing to do with brewing; it takes its name from one 17th-century William Brewer, who was a gardener.

Potters Fields, near Tooley Street, was once called Potts Field and takes its name from – you guessed it – pottery. Following religious persecution in Holland, many Dutch potters fled to England, and the Pickleherring Pottery, one of the earliest Delftware kilns in England, was established here in the early 17th century. (Perhaps another piece in the puzzle that lies behind the name of Pickle Herring Street? I just love it when street names mesh.)

Potters Fields has rather more unpleasant connotations, being the name for a place where unknown people are buried. This term comes from the Bible; ground that was rich in the clay used by potters was useless for agriculture and therefore a handy burial spot.

Bursar Street is another occupational street, of which there are quite a few in the Tooley Street area. Others are Carter Lane (no longer there, but there is one near St Paul’s), Druid Street (possibly stretching to call it an occupation, but it’s still a great street name, and Weaver’s Lane.

EAS_3891Why Bursar and Druid I have yet to find out, so any insights gratefully accepted; Carter Lane near St Paul’s probably does take its name from carts. Either because carters lived in the area or because, in the 13th century, St Paul’s churchyard was walled up and carts would have to detour through the lane.

The reason for closing the courtyard was that, “by the lurking of thieves and other lewd people, in the night-time, within the precinct of this churchyard, divers robberies, homicides, and fornications had been oft times committed therein”.

The London street name expert FH Habben, generally to be relied on to poor cold water on some of the more fun theories of London’s street names, had this to say of that theory: “The statement hardly lends itself to one’s credulity, and one would be rather inclined to connect it with a builder or owner’s name, but there is no evidence to warrant this.”

But back to the Tooley Street area, and Weaver’s Lane, which probably does take its name from the many weavers who lived in London and who may also have given the name to Petticoat Lane.

Shavers Place 2 cropShaver’s Place, near Piccadilly, has two shaving reasons for the name, one occupational and one more of an occupational hazard. Simon Osbaldeston, formerly the barber to the Lord Chamberlain, set up a gambling house here in the 17th century.

As with Piccadilly, however, local wits were responsible for the naming of his house: they dubbed it ‘Shaver’s House’ in honour less of his former profession than of the treatment that visitors to the gambling house received.

Skin Market Place takes its name from London’s (legal) skin trade: here, in the market, were sold “the skins from nearly all the sleep slaughtered in London”. The market appears on maps in the late 1700s but is gone by the turn of the century. There is also Skinners Lane, EC4, once known as Maiden Lane and named for much the same reason, except that the skins in this case were furs.

Skinners LaneSkinner Street, however, has differing theories for its name. One is that in the early 19th century an Alderman Skinner was the driving force behind building the street.

More probably, and earlier, is that in 1630 eight acres of land were bequeathed to the Worshipful Company of Skinners by John Meredith. It was not, however, until two hundred years later that the street was built by James Whiskin, who gave it the name.

One resident of the street was William Godwin, an atheist philosopher and novelist himself, but perhaps more famous for his literary wife and daughter. His first wife was the feminist Mary Wollenstonecraft, who wrote Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792 – a work that demanded equal educational opportunities for men and women.

The daughter of that marriage (sadly her mother died from a fever less than two weeks after the birth of her daughter) was Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, née Godwin, wife of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and author of the Gothic novel Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus.

A less savoury claim to fame for the street is that a sailor called Cashman was hanged in a gunsmith’s shop: he had stolen a gun during the Spa Field Riots of 1816 and was the last person in England to be executed at the scene of the crime.

There is also a Skinner’s Lane, which took its name from the fur merchants of the time.

More occupational names, that will have to wait for another time, included Clothier Street, Cutler Street, Grocers’ Hall Court, and Gunner Lane, among (many) others.