From Bleeding Heart Yard to Snow Hill: London streets in The Ingoldsby Legends

I keep promising to look at myth and legend in London street names; that’s still on the cards, but let’s start with The Ingoldsby Legends, a 19th-century collection of myths, legends, ghost stories and poetry written (and invented) for the purposes of satirizing topics of the time. One of these ‘legends’ was ‘The House Warming!! A legend of Bleeding Heart Yard’ and purports to explain the name of this little courtyard.

The story centres around the beautiful wife of Sir Christopher Hatton, who was a real person and a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I (though he never married). Alice Fanshawe had sold her soul to the devil in order to advance herself and her husband, with the result that the queen confiscated the place of the Bishop of Ely to give to the couple – hence the housewarming party.

While the festivities were going on, the devil, who had become lazy, realized that Alice’s account was long overdue, and he hastened to the party, where he bounds in and capers around, knocking over furniture and scattering the food and drink. He grasps Alice’s hand (which caused her arm to shrivel), and leads her in a frantic dance that ends with them performing a grand pirouette from which they never return.

The following morning, the house is in ruins, there is a hole the shape of a hoof in the roof (that sounds like something out of Dr Seuss), and there is no sign, then or ever, of poor Lady Hatton.

“But out in the court-yard – and just in that part
Where the pump stands – lay bleeding a LARGE HUMAN HEART!”

There were also traces of blood and brains on the pump, as though a head had been smashed against it. The pump was replaced, yet on some moonlit nights a ‘Lady in White’ could be seen pumping endlessly and fruitlessly.

“And hence many passengers now are debarr’d
From proceeding at nightfall through Bleeding Heart Yard!”

Apart from telling us how the yard got its name, Ingoldsby mentions various other streets, all of which deserve some mention as part of our legend theme.

Ely Place, once a seat of the Bishop of Ely, was indeed occupied by Sir Christopher Hatton, and was famous for its gardens, which produced a fine crop of strawberries. Shakespeare makes reference to this in Richard III, when Richard says, “My lord of Ely, when I was last in Holborn,I saw good strawberries in your garden there.”

When guests are arriving at (and fleeing from) the Hattons’ housewarming party, the streets along which they travel are listed: the Strand, Chancery Lane, Shoe Lane, Cheapside, St Mary-le-Bow, Fewtar’s (corrupted to Fetter) Lane, Bishopsgate Street, Dowgate Hill, Budge Row, Snore Hille (which we have since whitewashed to Snow), Holborn Hill, Fleet Ditch, Harp Alley, and Gray’s Inn.

Let’s look at them all in order, starting with the Strand. This name is of Saxon origin, meaning ‘water’s edge” and is mentioned by name in the Saxon Chronicle; apparently it is recorded that this is where Earl Godwin and his son Harold drew up their land forces in the insurrection that they headed against Edward the Confessor in 1052.

Chancery Lane takes its name either from the fact that a building in the lane was used to store the Rolls of Chancery, the Chancellors’ official documents. The present name came into use during the reign of Elizabeth I and could also have been an abbreviation of Chancellors Lane. Another theory is that the name comes from ‘cancelli’ – lattice screen – which once divided the court of Chancery from the court of Common Pleas when they shared the Law Courts in Westminster.

There is an early reference to Shoe Lane as ‘Scholanda’ (Show-land) is taken to mean that the lane was once a place for the setting out and showing of water-borne merchandise to tax collectors and customers. Scholanda could also, however, have meant ‘land shaped like a shoe’; the lane itself is not shoe-shaped but it may have led to a piece of land that was. Alternatively, it could have taken its name from an ancient well – Showelle – at the north end of the lane.

Cheapside comes from the Anglo-Saxon ‘ceap’, to buy or barter. West Cheap, as it was known, to distinguish it from Eastcheap, was one of the busiest thoroughfares in London and the city’s main food market. The medieval grocery shopper would have gone there for staples such as Bread, Milk, Honey, and Fish, and the streets that lead off Cheapside were named for their specialities. 

St Mary-le-Bow is the church in Bow Lane, destroyed in the Great Fire and rebuilt by Christopher Wren. Traditionally someone is only a Cockney if they are born within the sound of the church’s bells. The name of Bow Lane has nothing to do with its shape: the church was originally called St Mary de Arcubus from the arches, which are shaped like bows, upon which it was built.

The church of St-Mary-le-Bow

Fetter Lane we looked at not long ago, but at the risk of boring with repetition, here are some of the possible derivations of the name. The lane was once a spot where people in various stages of inebriation would congregate, passing on cheery greetings and advice to passersby. As Stow puts it, the lane was “so called of Fewters (or idle people) lying there, as in a way leading to gardens, but the same is now of latter years on both sides built through with many fair houses”.

There is also the theory that the name could have come from the ‘faitours’ – fortune tellers who were prevalent in medieval and Elizabeth times. The name may have come from the lance vests worn on cuirasses (also known as fetters) because of the armorers whose workshops were located there. One final theory is that the name derived from ‘felter’ – makers of felt also carried on their business in the lane.

Bishopsgate was one of the seven main London gates and the street is one of the longest in the City of London. The gate itself was named for Bishop Erkenwald, who became Bishop of London in 675.

Dowgate Hill (or Downgate) may have derived from the fact that the River Walbrook, once a main water supply for the City of London, flowed down the hill and through a gate into the Thames. The lovely Mr Habben, however, eschews this theory and states that, “it is an inscrutable corruption of, or deviation from, the original name, which it would now be difficult and inconclusive to conjecture, though Dock-Gate is tempting.” Sir Francis Drake lived in Dowgate Hill. 

Budge Row, which no longer exists, was the centre of dealers of ‘budges’, or fine lambskin fur, used for the edging of scholastic gowns. Apparently the word ‘budget’ comes from a bag made from lambskin, which may have been used to hold revenue, and transferred its meaning to the contents.

Snow Hill we covered in a recent seasonal post, which you can read here but, as the legend says, it was once called Snore Hylle and could have come from a Scandinavian trader called Snorro, or from the Celtic word ‘suadh’, a brook.

Holborn Hill comes from ‘Hol-Burne, the part of the old River Fleet that flowed under what is now Holborn Viaduct – the ‘burne’, or river, in the hollow. Fleet Ditch, similarly, took its name from the River Fleet; fleet comes from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning a tidal inlet.

Harp Alley takes its name from a 17th-century inn that once stood here. It is now a court off Farringdon Street. 

Finally, Gray’s Inn, which takes its name from the town house of Lord Gray of Wilton, which was leased to lawyers in the 16th century. Inn once meant a large house and was used for the grand residences of the nobility.

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.

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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