Seasonal London names: Snow Hill and Spring Street

This morning, while I was out walking the dogs I found a huge crop of snowdrops on the river bank, which cheered me up immensely. I know they’re called snowdrops because they flower in the winter and can cope with low temperatures but they always make me think of spring and I fool myself momentarily that the weather will be getting warmer now. My early years in the tropics has left me still sullen about winter and seasons in general (give me warmth all year round), so to cheer myself up I have rushed to my text to see what London can offer me. It didn’t disappoint, providing me with both Snow Hill and Spring Street.

Snow Hill, however, has nothing to do with snow and most London historians, while calling it a name of unknown origin, have also put forward many theories. 

The street which originally followed a rather circuitous route, was known as ‘Snore Hylle’ as early as the reign of Henry III, and therein lies more than one tale.

Snore, apparently, could have come from a Scandinavian trader called Snorro who lived there. It could also have come from the Celtin word ‘snuadh’, a brook, because the hill once led to the Fleet River. Or it could be that, because of the hill’s winding nature, the name derives from an old word meaning ‘twist’.

There is another theory that is much more fun, however unlikely. The Saracens Head inn at Snow Hill (demolished in 1868) was a coaching inn dating back to the time of Richard the Lionheart (who stopped there when he came back from the Crusades and gave the landlord permission so to name it). Passengers arriving at the tavern after travelling a long way would generally, by then, be sound asleep and snoring, giving rise to the hill’s earlier name.

The steepness of the hill made it ideal for one particular, non-commendable, 18th-century pastime. Groups of young men (called Mohocks, from the Mowhawk Indians) would seize elderly women, put them in tubs or barrels, and roll them to the bottom of the hill; they would also upend coaches onto rubbish heaps.

At one point, in 1715, it was not a good place to pass if you were not a Jacobite supporter: a group of Jacobites congregated at the bottom of the hill, toasting the memory of James. If any passers-by were foolish enough to decline to join in the toast, they were stripped.

Snow Hill historically was the site of one of the City of London conduits and on days of great celebration it was made to run with red and white wine. Sadly, this tradition is no longer upheld.

Snow Hill is where John Bunyan died in 1688, at the sign of the Star, a shop run by his grocer friend Mr Strudwich.

From snow to spring: Spring Street near Paddington Station takes its name from water. (I used to work nearby and spent far too much time round in the corner in the pub we immaturely referred to as the Sawyer’s Armpits.) The Bayswater area, with springs, reservoirs, and conduits, once supplied much of the City of London with water.

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London’s watery streets: from Jacob’s well to Lamb’s conduit

Here’s another Twitter buddy-inspired blog: was there, someone asked me, a story behind Lamb’s Conduit Street?

Indeed, there is. And there’s also a story behind Jacob’s Well Mews in Marylebone, so let’s start (because it’s first alphabetically) with that. This story involves both Jacob and a well, and for those of you who have read some of this blog, a straightforward name like that is relatively rare in London streets.

The mews was named for an 18th-century resident and landowner of Marylebone, Jacob Hinde, who also gave his name to nearby Hinde Street (where the novelist Rose Macaulay lived) There was a Jacob’s Well tavern at the end of the mews until 1893. The Tyburn river flowed through the area, which is probably where the water for the well came from.

The young Michael Faraday lived in a house in this mews, his journeyman blacksmith father having moved his family there in 1796 when the boy was five years old.

And on to Lamb’s Conduit Street which, like Jacob’s Well Mews, has a water connection and is what it says it is: there was someone called Lamb, and there was a conduit.

The 16th-century William Lambe (or Lamb) was “a rich citizen and clothworker” who was something of a philanthropist, and the conduit was one example of his generosity. In 1577 he spent £1,500 of his own money to have several springs connected to form a head of water, which was then conveyed by a lead pipe around 2,000 yards long to Snow Hill where a derelict conduit was rebuilt.

The generous Mr Lamb also provided for “poor women, such as were willing to take pains to carry and 120 pails therewith to carry and serve water”.

The original pump from which they drew water has long vanished, but a stone inscribed ‘Lamb’s Conduit, the property of the City of London. This pump is erected for the benefit of the Publick’ was fixed into a building on the site. (On the corner of Long Yard; I missed that one in my London’s ‘length street’ post.)

The conduit was damaged in the Great Fire of London and rebuilt the following year from a design by Sir Christopher Wren.

The area around the conduit, known as Lamb’s Conduit Fields, later became a favourite area in which local residents would stroll and where the air was clean enough that convalescents could be sent there to recover.

Wine, Mohawks, and snow

wine18 February is National Drink Wine Day, the purpose of which is “to spread the love and health benefits of wine”. (The nation in the national is the US but there’s no reason, surely, why the UK couldn’t adopt such a worthy holiday?) Appropriately, if somewhat gruesomely, on this day in 1478 George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence was drowned in a butt of Malmsey – in today’s terms, about 480 litres of sweet Madeira wine. (And it happened at the Tower of London, so there is a London connection.)

Pilgrim's ProgressOn this day in 1678, John Bunyan’s Christian allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress or, more properly, The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come; Delivered under the Similitude of a Dream, was published. Bunyan died in 1688, at the sign of the Star, a shop in Snow Hill run by his grocer friend Mr Strudwick.

Meteorological conditions have nothing to do with this name Snow Hill, which has been described as “a mysterious name of unknown origin”. It was once known as ‘Snore Hylle’ (as early as the reign of Henry III) and therein lies more than one tale.

Snore could have come from a Scandinavian trader called Snorro who lived there. It could also have come from the Celtin word ‘snuadh’, a brook, because the hill once led to the Fleet River. Or it could be that, because Snow Hill is steep and winding, the name derives from an old word meaning ‘twist’.

Snow HIll 19th century
Snow Hill in the 19th century

Once again, there is another theory that, while unlikely, is much more fun. The Saracen’s Head inn at Snow Hill was a coaching inn dating back to the time of Richard the Lionheart (who stopped there when he came back from the Crusades and gave the landlord permission so to name it). Passengers arriving at the tavern after travelling a long way would generally, by then, be sound asleep and snoring, giving rise to the hill’s earlier name.

In John Stow’s time, it was a “fair and large inn for the receipt of travellers”, but it was demolished in 1868.

The steepness of the hill made it ideal for one particular, non-commendable, 18th-century pastime. Groups of young men (called Mohocks, from the Mowhawk Indians) would seize elderly women, put them in tubs or barrels, and roll them to the bottom of the hill. They would also upend coaches onto rubbish heaps (presumably whether or not there were any elderly women inside them).

At one point, in 1715, it was not a good place to pass if you were not a Jacobite supporter: a group of Jacobites congregated at the bottom of the hill, toasting the memory of James. If any passers-by were foolish enough to decline to join in the toast, they were stripped.

And, lest you think we have given up on the wine theme: Snow Hill historically was the site of one of the City of London conduits and on days of great celebration it was made to run with red and white wine. Sadly, this tradition is no longer upheld.

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