More of London’s livery companies and street names

EAS_4079Once again, I have to ask where I would be without my readers, for constructive criticism, for positive feedback, for further ideas, and for additional information. BeetleyPete (who mentioned Comet Street in Deptford and Mercury Way, New Cross as space-related) thought myth and legend would be a good idea for a future post.

MattF provided the following regarding feline-related streets: “Cateaton street was mentioned by Dickens in The Pickwick Papers but it was replaced by Gresham Street in the 1880s. Its original name of Cattestrate (1271) meant simply a street frequented by cats although it’s not clear why the name changed via the intermediate forms Catteten Streete and Catton Street.” He also thought something on livery companies and their connections to London streets would be good.

Myth and legend is proving even more of a challenge than cats did, so that may have to go on hold for a while.

Regarding the livery companies, I have covered some of them in an earlier post, which touched on, among others, four of the twelve great companies: Drapers, Ironmongers, Mercers, and Merchant Taylors. In total, there are 110 companies (at least last time I checked), which is way too many for one post so let’s look at some of the other eight great companies.

The Grocers, second on the list, started in 1100 with the first record of the Ancient Guild of Pepperers; in 1373 they became the Company of Grossers and in 1376 the Company of Grocers of London. The first Grocers Hall was in Old Jewry, which gets its name from the fact that it was the centre of the former medieval Jewish ghetto, and was destroyed in the Great Fire of London.

London bridge streetThere have been other halls, the fourth and most recent of which is located in Princes Street. That street, formed after the Great Fire, was named along with the also new at the time King Street and Queen Street.

Grocers and Drapers we have mentioned in the earlier post, so on to number four in order of precedence, which is the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers. One of the most famous members of the company was Sir William Walworth, who stabbed Wat Tyler during the Peasants’ Revolt.

The company’s current hall, known as Fish Hall (the original was destroyed in the Great Fire), houses the dagger with which Walworth stabbed Tyler. It is located on London Bridge which was originally wood and became famous when it was sold to the Americans and transported to Arizona piece by piece.

Next we have the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, whose original hall stood in the ‘Goldsmithery’ or goldsmiths’ area of the City, was also destroyed in the Great Fire. The current hall stands on Foster Lane in the same area, making it the longest tenure of any livery Company. Foster Lane takes its name from a church dedicated to St Vedast; the name ‘Vedast’ became corrupted to ‘Foster’.

The Worshipful Company of Skinners alternates the position of six and seven with the Merchant Taylors, giving rise to the expression ‘at sixes and sevens’. Skinners’ Hall, which is Grade I listed, and a unique scheduled ancient monument, has been home to the Skinners’ Company for over 700 years.

Staining LaneThe hall is located in Dowgate Hill, which takes part of its name from one of the ancient water gates of London; the ‘dow’ appears to be shrouded in mystery. The ever-helpful John Stow said it was derived from Downe Gate because it suddenly descended to the river. Dowgate is also the name of a City of London ward.

The Worshipful Company of Haberdashers had a hall on the corner of Staining Lane and Gresham Street (formerly Maiden Lane) which was, like so many others, destroyed in the Great Fire. The current hall stands in West Smithfield (named to differentiate it from East Smithfield). Smithfield itself was once ‘smooth field’ where jousting tournaments were held and, incidentally, was where Walworth stabbed Wat Tyler.

The Worshipful Company of Salters started off in Bread Street, which was once the home of many salt traders; their hall is now in Fore Street. This street gets its name from the fact that it was built outside (before) the London city walls.

Bread StThe Worshipful Company of Vintners has a hall in Upper Thames Street and has done so since the 15th century. The piece of land on which Vintners’ Hall stands was bequeathed to the Vintners’ Company in the will of Guy Shuldham, citizen and Vintner of London, dated 7 November 1446. Upper Thames Street (and Lower Thames Street) formed what was the longest of the medieval City roads. The street was probably once the bank of the river Thames; buildings would have moved it away from the river’s edge.

Although mentioned in Pepys’s diary, Thames Street was first mentioned in 1013 when the Custom-house was founded on the street. During the reign of King Henry VIII, the street contained the London residences of many courtiers, including that of William Compton, where Henry VIII allegedly met his mistresses. (Or so says Wikipedia.)

Last in the Great Twelve, there is the Worshipful Company of Clothworkers, formed by an amalgamation of the Fullers and the Shearmen. It was incorporated by Royal Charter in 1528, and has its hall in in Dunster Court, between Mincing Lane and Mark Lane.

Mincing Lane cropMincing Lane we’ve covered a few times: it was originally from Mincheon Lane, from the Old English feminine of ‘monk’, and the name dates back to the 12th century.

Mark Lane was once either Mart Lane or Marthe Lane, depending on your source. If Mart, then the theory is that it was part of the area where, in the 15th century, basketmakers were allowed to ‘mart’, or sell, their wares. The other theory is that it was once owned by a lady called Martha.

Carting, Mincing, and Staining Lanes: London’s verb streets

But first, a random fact for today. (I love learning random snippets of information and in the assumption that my readers are of similar mind, I will start to share some of them, mostly nothing to do with London street names.)

I’ve had occasion to mention Hereford before in this blog, as being one of the cities that lays claim to being the birthplace of Nell Gwynn. Well, I learned recently that Frank Oz was born there. Yes, that Frank Oz: voice of Miss Piggy, Grover, and Yoda, among others; corrections officer in Blues Brothers, and booking cop in Trading Places; and director of a number of movies including Little Shop of Horrors, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and In & Out.

EAS_3844
A replica of the Webb lamp still stands in Carting Lane.

Back to London street names, starting with Carting Lane.

This is one of those streets where residents said it like it was and in the mid 19th century the name was changed in deference to the residents’ sensibilities. This lane off the Strand and near to the Savoy Hotel was once Dirty Lane. The new name may reflect the traffic of carts bringing goods to and from the wharfs at the end of the lane.

But of more interest and entertainment than the derivation of the new name is the reason for the lane’s erstwhile nickname.

Towards the end of the 19th century a Mr JE Webb patented an invention that was destined to shake the world. His sewer gas destructor lamp, which was designed both to reduce the hazards (and odour) of explosive methane gas that built up in sewers, and also to cast light on the streets of England’s cities.

With a flame generated by burning the normal gaslight gas, sewer gases were drawn up and burnt off along with the regular gas to produce less unstable (and less smelly) carbon dioxide and water vapour. The invention was hailed as a brilliant innovation, and Webb soon sold thousands of lamps worldwide. One of his masterpieces even stood in Carting Lane, next to the nearby Savoy, and cast its light on the rich and famous guests of the day (whose waste also helped to power it).

The lamp, not unnaturally, also gave rise to the nickname of ‘Farting Lane’.

Mincing Lane cropMincing Lane, whatever pictures the name may conjure up, is nothing to do with an odd way of walking or of meat grinding.

John Stow tells us (and this seems to be generally accepted) that it was once “Mincheon lane, so called of tenements there sometime pertaining to the Minchuns or nuns of St Helens in Bishopsgate.” The word derives from the Old English feminine of ‘monk’, and the name dates back to the 12th century.

The 17th-century speculator Nicholas Barbon, who has connections to Red Lion Square, and was not always known for attention to detail on his building projects, developed some houses in Mincing Lane; with one development “all the vaults fell in and the houses came down most scandalously”.

Somewhat more successful is Minster Court; a complex of three office buildings in Mincing Lane, it made a cameo appearance in Disney’s 101 Dalmations as the exterior of Cruella De Vil’s fashion house.

Staining LaneStaining Lane was called Staningelane in the 12th century; this is from the Old English ‘Staeninga haga’. The ‘Staeninga’ part refers to people of Staines but the ‘haga’ is viewed variously by different people as an enclosure, a town house, or a part of the city under a different jurisdiction.

John Stow’s theory, however, and one which no-one else seems to buy into, is that the lane was named for the ‘painter stainers’ who lived there; a picture on canvas was at one time known as a stained cloth.

A church of St Mary Staining, said to be dedicated to the men of Staines, was lost in the Great Fire of 1666 and never rebuilt, though there is now a park on the site where the church stood.

Incidentally, Staines was once in Middlesex, which no longer exists as a county, and is now in Surrey. In 2012 the town changed its name to Staines-upon-Thames, apparently because of the town’s association with spoof rapper Ali G, created by Sacha Baron Cohen.