Coldbath Square: bath-related streets and Roman graffiti on National Bubble Bath Day

It’s a bit late to say ‘Happy New Year’, but welcome to 2019 in the world of London street names. Today, bath-related streets, but first please indulge me as I provide a bit of back story to this blog. The aim of starting a blog was to help me focus my mind on getting all my street name notes and draft text into shape so that I could try and have it all published as a book.

The other day my husband pointed out gently but firmly that while I was a natural-born blogger (subtext: I like to witter), the blog had been going for some years now and the book itself has been in the making for decades rather than years. Wasn’t it time, he asked, that I did what my mother would inelegantly phrase as ‘piss or get off the pot’? I also have an old friend who keeps asking me (his own way of gentle nagging) to let him know when it’s published so he can buy a copy. Yes, you, you know who you are, if you’re reading this.

That means trying to draw a line under all the new street names and bits of information I keep coming across and trying to crystallise what I already have. So, for my most loyal readers, and you also know who you are, there may be a fair amount of repetition as I start to distill my blog ramblings and clean up text of streets that have been covered more than once in this blog.

On that note, let’s look at some bath-related streets as I have seen various references to National Bubble Bath Day.

We can start with the most obvious, in terms of name, which is Coldbath Square. (Pete, if you are reading this, I know you are bound to have been there.) The name comes from a local spring discovered in 1697 by Walter Baynes and converted to a bath, which was said to be a great cure for nervous illnesses.

There was, evidently, no good reason for supposing that, despite the name, the water was any colder than that of any other spring or well, such as the nearby Clerkenwell. In any case, the bath was famous with Londoners and remained open until 1870.

A famous 18th-century strong man, Thomas Topham), had a pub in Coldbath Fields, called the Apple Tree, but the area was, however, far more notorious for its prison. 

The Coldbath Fields Prison was built in 1794 with 280 cells for individual confinement; soon there were nearly a thousand prisoners. It was built on swampy ground and the over-crowding and unhealthy air were responsible for prisoners dying off at an alarming rate. There was a great deal of rioting and the troops were often called in to try and install calm. The prison was closed in 1877 and demolished in 1889.

The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge mentions the prison in his poem ‘The Devil’s Thoughts’:

As he went through the Cold-Bath Fields he saw
A solitary cell;
And the Devil was pleased, for it gave him a hint
For improving his prisons in hell.

Stew Lane takes its name from the ‘stews’, or brothels, which crowded along the banks of the Thames from the 12th to the 17th century. They tended to be on the south side but some – like this lane – were on the north bank. 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, “for the repair of incontinent men to the like women”.

A less colourful explanation for the name is that it was from a bath house for those in need of a hot bath.

Water Lane, to the east, was the setting for an old Roman bath, popular at one time with visitors to London, and described by Charles Dickens in David Copperfield. 

Cheapside, which takes its name from the Anglo-Saxon ‘ceap’, to buy or barter, was once known as West Cheap to distinguish it from Eastcheap, and was one of the busiest thoroughfares in London and the city’s main food market. It was also the location of the main baths of Roman London, built in the first or second century. Two individuals of this time left their mark: a child evidently ran across the tiles of the baths when they were still soft, leaving the mark of footprints.

My very favourite bath reference in all of my collected street names and their stories is   another tile that bears an early example of graffiti: “Austalis has been running off on his own for the past fortnight.”

If anyone reading this knows any more I would be exceedingly grateful for any further light that can be shed on Austalis or what or who he was running to or from.

 

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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.

Telling it like it is: bawdy London streets

Love Lane Greenwich cropLove Lane near London Wall is so called, John Stow wrote candidly in his Survey of London, “of wantons.” There is not much more that can be said, though some people theorize rather wistfully that it could have been a sort of lovers’ lane where courting couples used to stroll. (There is also a Love Lane in Greenwich; that may or may not have been named for the same reason.)

Even more unflinching was the original name of Grape Street, which was once Grope Lane and now, sadly, no longer exists. Early, non-euphemistic, forms of the name appear, as early as 1276, as ‘Gropecontelane’ and ‘Groppecountlane’. In Oxford, lanes of this name appeared as early as 1230. The name, says one source tactfully, is “an indecent one’. When it wasn’t changed completely, the name was altered to less drastic forms such as Grope Lane and Grape Lane.

(There is also a Grape Street, near High Holborn, named from a house that belonged to the leper hospital of St Giles ‘Le Vyne’. It is possible that a vineyard once stood on this spot as the area was particularly fertile and the vines were mentioned in the Domesday Book. The street was once called Vine Street.)

Stew Lane, just north of the Thames is not as appetizing as it may sound: a ‘stew’ or ‘hothouse’ was 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. (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, “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”.

Cardinal CapPretty much directly across the Thames from Stew Lane, Cardinal Cap Alley takes its name from one of the licensed stews of the Bankside area; they often had their names painted on the walls rather than on a hanging sign. These stews, which were licensed under strict regulations, were leased from the Bishops of Winchester, and the working women therein were known as ‘Winchester Geese’. (For more London animal connections in London streets, read our recent post here.)

Holland StreetOther streets with particularly bawdy connections include Holland Street, south of the river, which was named for a notorious procuress – the self-proclaimed Donna Britannia Hollandia. She rented the moated manor house of Paris Gardens and ran a ‘stew’ frequented by James I and his court (including George Villiers). Mother Holland was a force to be reckoned with: when during Charles I’s reign, there was an attempt by soldiers to storm the house, she waited until they were on the bridge before drawing it up and depositing the soldiers in the unpleasant waters of the moat.

Although not officially listed in many London street atlases, there is a Cuckold’s Point and the name is what it says. The point, at a sharp bend on the Thames in East London, was once marked by a pole, crowned with a set of horns, which delineated the boundary of land granted to a miller who had been cuckolded by King John.

The story goes that the miller returned home unexpectedly one day to find his beautiful wife disporting herself with the king. Not unnaturally, the fact that it was royalty in his bed did not stop the miller from being somewhat upset about the whole matter. In order to appease him, King John granted the miller as much land as he could see; the furthest spot was the point that bears the name.

There was, however, a catch (there often was with royal generosity back then): the king also granted the new landowner the privilege of an annual fair – but on the condition that, on the day of the fair, he should walk to the point wearing a pair of buck’s horns on his head. The miller’s jealous neighbours had to wrest some satisfaction from this downside to his newfound wealth: they dubbed the fair Horn Fair and gave the name of Cuckolds Point to the termination of the miller’s journey.