From Deadman to Paradise: walks in London street names

Walking has been featuring quite a prominently in my life lately, so I thought I would have a  look at some of London’s streets that are a ‘walk’ rather than a ‘street’. Or a road. Or a lane… that could be a post for another time. I’d never noticed before but a high proportion of these are in Chelsea.

Birdcage Walk, the location of a royal aviary and of a murder, features in the recent In the recent women in London street names post, which you can read here.

Deadman’s Walk was once the nickname for Amen Court; at the back of the court was part of a Roman wall that formed the boundary of Newgate prison’s graveyard. Amen Court was the path leading to the graveyard.

Cactus Walk in Acton (or is it White City?) is a fine example of the seemingly arbitrary method of naming streets. Just south of the A40 Westway from Cactus Walk, there is a cluster of streets that are named after plants of various kinds, including the less than comforting Hemlock Road. Others include Byrony Road, Daffodil Road, Foxglove Street, Lilac Street, Old Oak Road, Orchid Street, Primula Street, Wallflower Street, and Yew Tree Road.

(I had to look up ‘byrony’ too: it is a genus of flowering plant in the gourd family, native to western Eurasia rather than western London. But then again, the cactus is native to the Americas rather than western London.)

Cheyne Walk in Chelsea takes its name from Charles Cheyne, First Viscount Newhaven, who bought the manor of Chelsea in 1657. His son, William Cheyne, later laid out Cheyne Walk and Cheyne Row. Famous residents of the walk have included JMW Turner, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskill, Sylvia Pankhurst, Henry James, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Flask Walk in Hampstead takes its name from the fact that the area was once the health centre of London. In the 18th century it was still very much a rural area and waters from the chalybeate springs there were every bit as good as those in Bath. Flasks were filled and sold in Flask Walk, by permission of the trustees of the springs.

Flower and Dean Walk featured in a recent post on London’s murder streets. Flower and Dean Street, just off Brick Lane, no longer exists, but there is now a Flower and Dean Walk. The street was at the heart of the Jack the Ripper activities and it was, and is, considered to be where the Ripper may have lived.

Friendship Walk in Northolt takes its name from an aircraft (the Fokker F27 Friendship); appropriate in view of its proximity to Northolt and Heathrow airport.

Justice Walk in Chelsea was once a leafy avenue lined with trees, and Justice of the Peace Mr John Gregory was said to have taken his perambulations there. This is the less plausible theory, and it is more likely that the Justice referred to is Sir John Fielding, magistrate and brother of Henry Fielding.

Paradise Walk in Chelsea was not always heavenly by nature: the name ‘paradise’ was often used for an enclosed garden or burial ground. In the latter half of the 19th century, the area was a dismal slum, with more than one family often crammed into small houses. Oscar Wilde, who lived in the area and had a window that overlooked the walk, hid the view with a screen.

Quaggy Walk in Blackheath takes its name from the Quaggy River, which flows nearby and was so called because it moved sluggishly (as opposed to the Fleet River. Rivers provided boundaries for ecclesiastical property in Saxon times and the Quaggy was part of the bounds of the Manor of Bankhurst.

Sans Walk in Clerkenwell is not ‘without” anything in particular, French or otherwise. This little passage was named in 1893 to honour Edward Sans, the oldest vestryman in the Finsbury Vestry. There was also a Sergeant Sans in the 39th Regiment of the Finsbury Rifle Corps. Earlier names were Short’s Buildings and Daggs Yard.

Swan Walk, also in Chelsea, takes its name from a tavern sign; the swan was a common sign for inns, partly because it featured on Henry IV’s coat of arms, and it was especially popular for waterside inns. This Chelsea inn was a common gathering ground for the fashionable set of 17th-century London, of whom Samuel Pepys was one. The Swan was also the finishing post for the famous Doggett Coat and Badge race – the oldest annually contested event in the British sporting calendar.

Watergate Walk, just off the Strand, was an extension to York House, originally the London home of the Bishops of Norwich and later the palace of the Archbishop of York. The house was eventually acquired by George Villiers, the first Duke of Buckingham, who had the watergate built by Inigo Jones.

Well Walk in Hampstead is named for the same reason as Flask Walk: the chalybeate springs there. Legend has it that the springs arose on the spot where a monk, who was carrying a bottle of the Virgin Mary’s tears, tripped and spilled his precious cargo.

Wilder Walk in Soho is so named, according to Westminster City Council, which approved the name in 2010, “The naming of a newly constructed pedestrian walkway as ‘Wilder Walk’ is a fitting tribute to the contribution and service provided by the late Ian Wilder to the West End community in his capacity as a West End Ward Councillor.”

Winchester Walk takes its name from Winchester House, formerly the London house of the Bishop of Winchester. Many shops used as brothels were leased from the Bishops of Winchester, and the working women therein were known as ‘Winchester Geese’.

Oh, yes: the reason walking is featuring so heavily in my life just now is because I am taking on the September Wye Valley Mighty Hike (a 26-mile hike) in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support and in memory of my cousin. It is for a very good cause, so if anyone wants to sponsor me, my fundraising page is here.


Seven swans a swimming in London’s streets

I am feeling Christmassy, and I have on The Mighty Jamma’s ‘Reggae Pan Christmas’ to soothe the writing process. (If you think you are sick of Christmas music, try listening to steel band versions.) I wasn’t quick enough off the mark to think of doing an advent calendar of street names, but then I thought of doing 12 street names of Christmas and seven swans a-swimming seemed as good a start as any.

IMG_2569In addition, following on from the bird name streets, one reader rebuked me gently, at least I hope it was meant to be a gentle rebuke. “One bird that surely deserves a mention is the swan with Swan Lane and Great Swan Alley in the City,” said MattF.

As if in agreement, the swans around here have been gathering of late and I have been watching as many as 30 swans at a time swimming up the river. If anyone knows about swan habits, I’d be grateful for any insights. It’s fascinating to watch the dynamics of the group: who’s in an out of favour, who is being chased away from the group and then allowed back, why the youngster is being ostracized…

But I digress. MattF was absolutely right: apart from mentioning Cygnet Street, I completely omitted the swan. In my defence, there have been previous posts with swans, though they largely focus on pub names, such as the Swan with Two Necks and a boat race.

So, with apologies to swans and thanks to MattF, here we go.

To revisit briefly the boat race, the connection there is to Swan Walk in Chelsea; the walk takes its name from a tavern sign; the swan was a common sign for inns, particularly waterside inns. This Swan was the finishing post for the Doggett Coat and Badge race.

Great Swan AlleyAnd you learn something new every day: I’ve been looking into the race some more and I was so focused on Swan Walk that I missed the fact that the race originally ran from a Swan Inn at London Bridge to the Swan Inn in Chelsea. (Some sources refer to them both as the Old Swan.)

Whatever their names, the inns are gone but the course has remained the same since 1715. The Swan Inn, or Old Swan, at London Bridge gave its name to Swan Lane. The Fishmongers’ Company is headquartered near Swan Lane, and the website gives the history of the Coat and Badge race.

Another thing about Swan Walk is that it is, apparently, mentioned by Pepys in his diary. A lovely snippet that I have been able to find only in one source (Gillian Bebbington, Street Names of London) is a reference to the fact that Pepys went there with his wife and their friend Mrs Knipp and his wife was “out of humour, as ever when that woman is by”.

It seems that all the swan street take their names from inns, so named either from the bird itself, or referring to coats of arms in which it featured, such as those of Henry VIII and Edward III.

Black swans also gave their name to inns; the black swan was considered a rare bird and the name may have been a self-promoting reference to the landlord being a rare bird. There is a Black Swan Yard in Southwark.

Great Swan Alley took its name from an old inn called the White Swan; there were once a Great and Little Swan Alley, but they were much curtailed by the building of Moorgate Street.

There are other swan streets in London, including Swan Street, SE1; Swan Passage, E1; Swan Road, SE16; and, of course, Cygnet Street, E1.

One last thing about swans: after watching all the swans on the river I wondered what the collective noun is for them. There are many of them, none appearing to be the definitive term. You can choose from ballet, bank, bevy, drift, eyrar, flight (in flight), flock, gaggle, gargle, game, herd, sownder, squadron, team, wedge (in flight), whiteness, and whiting.

But my favourite, considered by some sources to be ‘fantastical’, is a lamentation of swans. There is something about the word ‘lament’. Years ago, in a Chinese restaurant in Oxfordshire (or maybe it was Buckinghamshire) I had to order the chef’s special called ‘Lamentable Prawns’. I still don’t why they were called that as they were delicious. Maybe the chillies in them were supposed the diner weep.

Royal mistresses, swans, and Big Ben

Big Ben close-upOn 20 October 1714, George I was crowned king of England and on the same date in 1858 the great bell, nicknamed Big Ben, was winched into place (but it didn’t ring until the following year).

George, German by birth, ruled for 13 years but never learned to speak English. He is remembered, among other things, for his two mistresses, one of whom was very thin and the other very large. They were known as the Elephant and the Maypole (or Scarecrow), though some sources say they were also known as the Elephant and Castle.

There is a Swan Walk in Chelsea, which takes its name from a tavern sign; the swan was a common sign for inns, particularly waterside inns. This Swan was the finishing post for the famous Doggett Coat and Badge race – the oldest annually contested event in the British sporting calendar – a race founded in honour of George I’s accession to the throne.

Back to Big Ben: the bell is in what is now officially called the Elizabeth Tower, in honour of Elizabeth II, but is also, like the bell, referred to as Big Ben. At the top of the tower is In the lantern at the top of Elizabeth Tower is the Ayrton Light, which is lit when either House of Parliament is sitting after dark.

The light, named for Acton Smee Ayrton, the First Commissioner of Works (a cabinet post that no longer exists) in the early 1870s, was installed in 1885 at the request of Queen Victoria so that she could keep an eye on the Members of Parliament to make sure they weren’t shirking their duties.

The bell was cast by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, which was established in 1570 and lays claim to being Britain’s oldest manufacturing company. Thousands of people turned out to watch the bell being taken from Whitechapel to Westminster in a cart that needed sixteen horses to pull it.

Incidentally, the Whitechapel Bell Foundry also cast the original Liberty Bell. More information on the foundry and both of these famous bells can be found here.