London misnomers: Brook Street to Orchard Street

brook-streetI recently spent some time wandering around Mayfair or, rather, a small section of Mayfair, during which time I found a few more of London’s ‘misnomers’. There is a charming 19th-century poem (more of which later) by James Smith that spells out many of London’s misnomers, so let’s start with Brook Street, which is “wanting in water”.

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Brook Street: “wanting in water”

Though the street may have been (and still is) wanting in water, there was a brook: the now underground River Tyburn; it flowed from Tyburn across Piccadilly, leading to the neighbourhood being called Brookfield. The earliest published use of the name was an ad in the London Gazette of September, 1688: “His Majesty [Charles II] has been graciously pleased to grant a market for live cattle to be held in Brookfield, near Hyde Park Corner, on Tuesday and Thursday in every week”.

When the land became more desirable for buildings than for cattle markets, the designers and architects descended on the area and building was at its height in the 18th century. The principal street at the time was called Brook Street, though early on it was sometimes referred to as Lower Brook Street to distinguish it from Upper Brook Street, and part of it was known as Little Brook Street.

farm-streetFrom fields to farms, and Farm Street, where building began around the 1740s. This street does take its name from a farm in the area, called Hay Hill Farm, which seems pretty straightforward; however, the Hay is not hay as such. The name was a late 17th-century corruption of Ayehill, from the nearby Aye (or Eye) Brook, a tributary of the Tyburn.

In 1927 Tallulah Bankhead bought a house in Farm Street, four years after she had first moved to London.

The farm also gave its name to the nearby Hay Hill and Hay’s Mews; of Hay Hill Smith writes: “And (tho’ it abuts on his garden) Hay Hill/Won’t give Devon’s duke the hay fever”. This is a reference to Devonshire House, originally Berkeley House, from John Berkeley, 1st Baron Berkeley of Stratton, who built it. The name was changed to Devonshire House when it was purchased by William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Devonshire. Hay Hill and many other streets in the area, formed part of the gardens of the house.

Beau Brummell is supposed to have had a sentimental connection to Hay Hill, which is adjacent to Berkeley Square. Thomas Raikes, a London dandy and friend of Brummell’s, recorded this in his journal:

hays-mews-2“At five o’clock on a fine summer’s morning, in 1813, [Brummell] was walking with me through Berkeley Square, and was bitterly lamenting his misfortunes at cards, when he suddenly stopped, seeing something glittering in the kennel. He stooped down and picked up a crooked sixpence, saying, ‘Here is an harbinger of good luck.’ He took it home, and before going to bed drilled a hole in it, and fastened it to his watchchain. The spell was good: during more than two years he was a constant winner at play and on the turf, and, I believe, realised nearly £30,000.”

Brummell was also a friend of the future King George IV, who had less fortunate associations with Hay Hill. Despite – or perhaps because of – the area’s wealth and luxury in the 18th century, it was infested with highwaymen and footpads. George IV, then the Prince of Wales, and his brother, the Duke of York, were apparently stopped one night by highwaymen on Hay Hill, whilst riding in a hackney coach, and robbed of what valuables they had about them”.

hays-mews-contextHay’s Mews (once spelled Hayes Mews), which also takes its name from the farm, is adjacent to Charles Street (a family name of the Berkeley family). On the corner of Charles Street and Hay’s Mews is a pub, originally called I Am the Only Running Footman(supposedly the longest pub name in London), and later The Running Footman.

Back in the day, a running footman did just that – he ran ahead of his master’s coach to clear people out of the way, pay tolls, and perform other essential tasks to ensure a hassle-free journey. Apparently, at the beginning of the 19th century only one such running footman remained, employed by William Douglas, 4th Duke of Queensberry. The Duke lived in Piccadilly, so why a pub in Hay’s Mews should have been named after his footman is something of a mystery.

The pub now calls itself, alas, just The Footman.

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Hill Street, which crosses Farm Street, was so named because there was a hill there (as was Hay Hill). Elizabeth Montagu – social reformer, patron of the arts, literary critic, and writer – lived in Hill Street, She helped organize and lead the Blue Stockings Society, and hosted a literary salon at her house. Her circle was known as the Blue Stockings Society and Doctor Johnson called her the “Queen of the Blues”.

The bluestockings were not restricted to women; one regular attendee of the meetings was botanist and published Benjamin Stillingfleet. The story goes that Stillingfleet once attended a meeting in the blue woollen stockings normally worn by working men, instead of the more formal silk stockings. The term was taken up to refer to the informal quality of the gatherings and the emphasis on conversation over fashion.

mount-street-painted-signIn contrast to Hay Hill and Hill Street, Mount Row and Mount Street are not particularly hilly; however, there was once an earthwork there, known as Oliver’s Mount. According to Old and New London, this mount was part of a “line of fortification so hastily drawn round the western suburbs in 1643, by order of the Parliament, when an attack from the royal forces was expected”. The attack didn’t happen and the mount was flattened at some point, but the name lived on in Mount Field, on which the streets were built.

orchard-streetAnd on to Orchard Street, which does contain some trees, but not what you would call an orchard. There is an Orchard Street near Westminster Abbey, and that takes its name from the fact that it was built on land once part of the Abbey’s orchard. This orchard, however, is from Orchard Portman in Somerset, part of the country estates of the Portman family who developed much of the Marylebone area.

Oh, yes, I promised more about that poem, and here it is:

From Park Lane to Wapping, by day and by night,
I’ve many a year been a roamer,
And find that no lawyer can London indict,
Each street, ev’ry lane’s a misnomer.
I find Broad Street, St. Giles’s, a poor narrow nook,
Battle Bridge is unconcious of slaughter,
Duke’s Place cannot muster the ghost of a duke,
And Brook Street is wanting in water.

I went to Cornhill for a bushel of wheat,
And sought it in vain ev’ry shop in,
The Hermitage offered a tranquil retreat,
For the jolly Jack hermits of Wapping.
Spring Gardens, all wintry, appear on the wane,
Sun Alley’s an absolute blinder,
Mount Street is a level, and Bearbinder Lane
Has neither a bear nor a binder.

No football is kicked up and down in Pall Mall,
Change Alley, alas! never varies,
The Serpentine river’s a straightened canal,
Milk Street is denuded of dairies.
Knightsbridge, void of tournaments, lies calm and still
Butcher Row cannot boast a cleaver,
And (tho’ it abuts on his garden) Hay Hill
Won’t give Devon’s duke the hay fever.

The Cockpit’s the focus of law, not of sport,
Water Lane is affected with dryness,
And, spite of its gorgeous approach, Prince’s Court
Is a sorry abode for his highness.
From Baker Street North all the bakers have fled,
So, in verse not quite equal to Homer,
Methinks I have proved what at starting I said,
That London’s one mighty misnomer.

Jane Austen, Oliver Cromwell, and a notorious pickpocket

16 December in London’s history: Jane Austen was born on this day in 1775. One of the most widely-read authors in English history, Austen spent her early life in Hampshire, moving to Bath and later Southampton with her family.

Austen did, however, visit London on occasion to visit her brother Henry, who was also her literary agent. One of the places she would have stayed was Henry’s residence in Hans Place, Knightsbridge. Hans Place was named after Hans Sloane, who founded the British Museum and also brought cocoa to England.

Also on this day in London’s history, Oliver Cromwell was appointed as appointed as Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland. There are many London associations with Cromwell, including Whitehall and Long Acre, where he lived; Cripplegate, where he was married; Tyburn, where his body underwent a mock execution on the 12th anniversary of the beheading of Charles I; and Red Lion Square, where his remains were reputed have been interred briefly before that mock execution.

Other Cromwell connections include Horseferry Road, where he is supposed to have taken the ferry; and Fleet Street, where the pickpocket Moll Cutpurse targeted Cromwell supporters.

Newgate: prisons, executions, and Roman graffiti

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The old gatehouse and prison
Another London gate is Newgate, one of the original seven gates within London Wall, and one of the six that date back to Roman times; it was so named because it was, in the 12th century, a new gate, built to replace the original Roman gate.

Newgate will, for many people, conjure up thoughts of Newgate Prison, possibly one of the world’s most famous, and infamous prisons and the gatehouse was indeed used as a prison later in the 12th century.

When the gate was rebuilt again in the 15th century, Dick Whittington (or, to give him his proper title, Richard Whittington, Lord Mayor of London) provided money for the prison to be extended. The prison was eventually demolished to make way for the Central Criminal Courts, known as Old Bailey, taking their name from the street on which they stand).

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A public hanging outside Newgate Prison

In the 18th century Newgate became not just a prison but the location of public executions: the gallows at Tyburn were moved to the prison in 1783 and prisoners no longer made the long journey west from Newgate to be executed.

The public appetite for witnessing these executions did not diminish and the spectacle was as popular as it had been at Tyburn. The 16th century inn, the Magpie and Stump (which still exists), was a popular spot for viewing executions while enjoying a pint of ale.

In addition, the publication entitled The Newgate Calendar (subtitled The Malefactors’ Bloody Register), was immensely popular. It was originally a monthly bulletin of executions, produced by the keeper of the prison, and later became series chronicling the lives and times of the more notorious criminals of the day. According to one source, some contemporary editions of the Calendar could outsell Dickens.

Within the walls of Newgate, conditions were horrific, with overcrowding the norm and disease rife. The 19th-century prison reformer Elizabeth Fry played a strong role in having the conditions of Newgate improved and, later in the 19th century, executions ceased to be carried out in public.

A few of the many prisoners to grace Newgate were Ben Jonson; Daniel Defoe; Jack Sheppard, the inspiration for Macheath in John Gay’s The Beggars’ Opera; and Thomas Neill Cream, a serial poisoner who claimed to be Jack the Ripper.

The gate itself was rebuilt after the Great Fire, and eventually demolished in 1767. It gives its name to Newgate Street, where once a Roman tile was discovered with the graffito: “Austalis has been running off on his own for the past fortnight.” Unfortunately there is no record of who Austalis was, or what he was up to when he was running off on his own.

Pissing alleys, meat markets, and revolting peasants

EAS_3912We ended yesterday’s Moonwalk-themed blog post with a passing reference to Passing (once Pissing) Alley, which is near Smithfield Market, and the subject of the post – Knightrider Street – was a route to Smithfield. Guess where we start today?

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Smithfield Market [Photo: James Ketteringham]
Smithfield played an important, albeit gruesome, part in the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. Incensed by unjust taxation, peasants from Kent and Essex marched on London, ransacking buildings and beheading the Archbishop of Canterbury on Tower Hill.The revolt ended abruptly when one of the rebel leaders, Wat Tyler, was slashed by the Lord Mayor William Walworth’s sword and stabbed by an esquire of King Richard II at Smithfield.EAS_3909Before Smithfield became a meat market, it was the Smooth field where jousting tournaments were held; knights rode through Giltspur Street (which was originally called Knightrider Street) to reach the tournament.

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The Golden Boy of Pye Corner

According to one of our favourite London historians, John Stow: “Gilt Spurre, or Knightriders’ street of the knights and others riding that way into Smithfield was replenished with buildings on both sides up to Pie Corner.” (Pie, or Pye, Corner marks the spot at the corner of Giltspur Street and Cock Lane where the Great Fire ended, and there is a Golden Boy there to commemorate it.)

Spurs were an essential part of the knight’s life in medieval times; the expression ‘to win one’s spurs’ – to prove oneself – comes from the fact that originally it meant to obtain knighthood. (The word ‘spur’ itself derives from the Anglo-Saxon spura, to kick.)

Gilt spurs, therefore, would have been a real mark of oneupmanship. It is assumed that there were spurriers’ shops in the street at some point, possibly specializing in gilt spurs, or perhaps an enterprising spurrier wanted his shops to be noticeable as the ‘sign of the golden spur’.

Tyburn
A hanging at Tyburn

Giltspur Street later had a far less glamorous side to it. It was the site of the Giltspur Street Compter (a debtors’ prison), built at the end of the 18th century. When the Wood Street compter was closed in 1791, the prisoners were moved to the Giltspur Street compter, which in turn was demolished in 1855.

The street also formed part of the route from Newgate Prison to Tyburn, leading into the steep ascent of Holborn Hill, sometimes called Heavy Hill. As prisoners on that journey rode backwards, the expressions ‘to ride up Heavy Hill’ or ‘to ride backwards up Holborn Hill’ indicated that someone was on their last journey.

The expression ‘going west’, unlike the ‘go west’ of American pioneering times, referred to that last journey towards Tyburn.

Hangings at Lime Street and Tyburn (or Tyburnia)

Claude Duval painting
Claude Duval portrayed in art

This day in London history: on 21 January 1664, Colonel James Turner (thief) was hanged at the end of Lime Street, and on 21 January 1670, Claude Duval, or Du Vall (highwayman), was hanged at Tyburn.

Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary on the day of Turner’s execution that he sent his wife to his aunt’s house, in the area of Lime Street, to save him a good place for viewing the execution.

When the time came, says Pepys, “And there I got for a shilling to stand upon the wheel of a cart, in great pain, above an houre before the execution was done; he delaying the time by long discourses and prayers one after another, in hopes of a reprieve; but none came, and at last was flung off the ladder in his cloake. A comely-looked man he he was, and kept his countenance to the end: I was sorry to see him.”

Not, presumably, sorry enough to have held off watching the execution; according to Pepys there were “at least 12 or 14,000 people in the street”.

EAS_4130Lime Street was the scene of Turner’s crime: the robbery of a jeweller. According to the Newgate Calendar, “There was one Mr Francis Tryon, a great merchant, who lived in Lime Street, whom Colonel Turner knew to be very rich”. It seems that Turner was very charismatic and though his guilt was proved conclusively, “all who knew him wondered at the fact”.

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The Lloyd’s of London building

Lime Street is an ancient street that now serves as the location of the ‘Inside-Out Building’ that is the headquarters of Lloyd’s of London, though the institution began life in Pope’s Head Alley near Leadenhall Street. The street was Limestrate in the 12th century, and one of the documents in which it appears also mentions one ‘Ailnoth the limeburner’, so it seems safe to assume that it was a street where lime was burned and sold.

There is, as ever, a conflicting theory: the name derives from a row of lime trees that ran along it. Possibly, but somehow a row of lime trees does not seem likely in 12th-century London.

And on to Duval, who was also a charismatic villain who dressed well and behaved in a gentlemanly fashion using no violence in his hold-ups. Following his execution he was said to have been given a grand funeral and buried at St Paul’s, Covent Garden, where his memorial stone stated:

Here lies Du Vall. Reader, if Male thou art
Look to thy purse: if female, to thy heart.

According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, however, states that Duval was “a figure more of literary invention than of history”. His name does not appear in the death register for St Paul’s and he is now known to be buried at St Giles-in-the-Fields.

Tyburn
A hanging at Tyburn

The Tyburn River supposedly took its name from a word meaning ‘boundary stream’; in the middle ages it served as the boundary for Westminster. The Tyburn tree, the site of public hangings from at least 1196 to 1793, is near modern-day Marble Arch. The river flowed through Marylebone and the novelist William Makepeace Thackeray is supposed to have dubbed the area from Portman Square to the Edgware Road ‘Tyburnia’. That area is now touted by estate agents as one of the hottest residential areas in London.

Cromwell, ghosts, Tyburn, and umbrellas

This day in London history: on 16 December 1653, following the lack of success of the Barebones Parliament, Oliver Cromwell became the Lord Protector of England, Wales, and Scotland. The decision was made by the new Protectoral government at a meeting Cromwell did not attend). Centuries after Cromwell’s death (in 1658, probably of septicaemia following a urinary infection), opinion is still divided as to whether he was a hero or a villain.

In any event, over two years after his death (on the 12th anniversary of the beheading of Charles I), the bodies of Cromwell and two other men were disinterred from Westminster Abbey, taken to Tyburn where they were ceremonially hanged and decapitated, and their heads displayed on poles above Westminster Hall.

One line of thought is that the bodies had been left overnight in Red Lion Square in Holborn before being taken to Tyburn, and that later the bodies were taken back there and secretly buried. This would appear not to be true, but there was a rumour that the spirits of the three men haunted the area for many years.

Nicholas Barbon
Nicholas Barbon

Red Lion Square takes its name from the Red Lyon tavern, “in olden times the most important hostelry in Holborn”, which gave its name to the square and the nearby street.The square was one of the first licensed developments outside the City, when London was still rapidly spreading west. It was developed by the speculator Nicholas Barbon, the son of Praisegod Barebone.

Barbon was, in his own way, as much of an eccentric as his father. He started off with a career in medicine, having studied in Holland and been admitted to the College of Physicians in 1664, and later became involved in financial matters.

Barbon wrote two treatises on money and was the originator of fire insurance in Britain; he was also a persuasive man who radiated charm and arrogance in equal measure, depending on his objective. A contemporary referred to him as a “rogue, knave and damned”. He became, after the Great Fire, one of the most active and influential builders in London. He did get it wrong sometimes: not all of his buildings stayed up, but even ones that didn’t collapse could cause excitement and Red Lion Square was no exception.

Red Lyon Fields, as it was known prior to the 17th century, was purchased by Barbon for speculative development and building commenced in the late 1680s. However, lawyers in the area (the “gentlemen of Graies Inn”) were unamused at the thought of their rural surroundings being spoiled, and they began a campaign against the development and its workmen.

This campaign, or riots, if you prefer, began in 1684 and the legal men had the upper hand at first: despite the bricks being hurled at them by workmen they were able to take two hostages. Barbon was not the sort to take that kind of thing lightly, and returned the following day with hundreds of workmen, shouting threats and promising not to be intimidated. The excitement eventually died down when the square proved that it was attractive, and it became a commercial success.

Even in death, Barbon proved that he was not a man who could easily be daunted – his will directed that none of his debts was to be paid.

Red Lion Square also had its fair share of famous residents, and the most delightfully eccentric of them all was Jonas Hanway (1712-1786), explorer and philanthropist, who lived and died there. Among other things, Hanway was known for instituting the Foundling Hospital. Samuel Johnson said of Hanway that he “gained some reputation by travelling abroad, but lost it by travelling at home”. In any event, Hanway’s reputation lives on mainly because he was instrumental in introducing that great British accessory – the umbrella – to the men of the UK.

Although long used by ladies in the UK, and a status symbol in China in the 11th century BC, the umbrella was considered effeminate and unseemly for British men. They were originally viewed as a sunshade rather than protection against the rain. It was not until Hanway, incurring the wrath of cab drivers and the amusement of small boys and passersby, persevered in his use of the umbrella that they became associated with rain.

For years after his death, however, it was still considered unmanly to use them – as late as 1818 the Duke of Wellington banned his troops from using them. Towards the end of the 19th century the curved steel frame rib, which allowed the umbrella to be furled, made the use of them more widespread.

The umbrella more recently was made even more famous by the Barbadian singer Rihanna, who had an award-winning song in 2007 entitled simply ‘Umbrella.

Treason, adultery and a hanging at Tyburn

This day in London history: the same day, 29 November, 200 years apart, saw the death of two men who were declared to be traitors to their king. Roger Mortimer was executed by hanging at Tyburn on this day in 1330 and Cardinal Wolsey died in London on this day in 1530. He was en route to the Tower of London to be executed for treason but died of ill health on the way.

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The Tyburn gallows

Roger Mortimer, along with Humphrey de Bohun, both of whom were appointed as Marcher Lords to guard the English borders against the Welsh, led a revolt against Edward II. It was Edward’s father who had been so successful in besieging the Welsh, but the son, allegedly bisexual, was unable to refuse his favourites even the most outlandish requests.

Hugh Despenser the Younger was one such favourite, leading to the revolt being called the Despenser War. Although the revolt was unsuccessful, ending up with Mortimer being imprisoned in the Tower, he was able to escape and fled to France where he took up with Edward’s wife, Isabella. The pair returned to England, where they had Edward imprisoned, and his son made king.

The lovers, however, were the true power behind the throne; however, in due course, Mortimer was imprisoned by the young king, Isabella’s son, condemned, and hanged at Tyburn as a commoner, stripped of his property and left to hang in full view on the gallows for two days and nights.

In Wolsey’s case, he had been unable to have Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled so that Anne Boleyn; Anne was said to be outraged at this and convinced Henry that Wolsey was deliberately obstructing their marriage, and the Cardinal was stripped of his property.

Wolsey may be as famous for his last words as for all of his diplomatic work: he said, ruefully: “If I had served my God as diligently as I did my king, He would not have given me over in my grey hairs.”