Tothill Street: burial grounds and ping pong

From Marylebone to Westminster; I read an article today about a Tothill-fields bridewell prisoner dying of starvation in 1817. (Bridewell: a place of correction, from one that was originally near St Bride’s church in Fleet Street.) So let’s head off to Tothill Street to discover the origin of the name.

Tothill Street takes its name from Tothill Fields near Westminster Abbey and there are a number of theories as to the origin of the name itself. The most likely is that, as the highest point in Westminster, it was a ‘toot’ or beacon hill. Another theory is that it was from the Druid divinity Teut.

Tothill Fields was a once burial ground; following the Battle of Worcester – the final battle of the English Civil War – many of Charles II’s Scottish allies were either buried here or (for those remaining alive), “driven like a herd of swine through Westminster to Tuthill Fields” where they were sold to merchants and sent to the island colony of Barbados.

It later, during the Great Plague of 1665-1666, became a communal burial ground and Samuel Pepys noted in his diary with some dismay that, “I was much troubled this day to hear at Westminster how the officers do bury the dead in the open Tuttle Fields, pretending want of room elsewhere”.

An indication of how many people were buried in pits, and not just during the Plague years, was highlighted during the Crossrail excavations, which unearthed thousands of skeletons in the Bedlam burial ground near Liverpool Street station.

On a lighter note, the first table tennis tournament was held on 14 December 1901 at the The Royal Aquarium and Winter Garden in Tothill Street.

Passports, Parliamentarians, and Fanny Hill

Petty France cropThe  Moonwalk London 2014 route goes through Westminster and so today we look at Petty France. The name is fairly straightforward: from petit – little – France, because of French settlers there as early as the 15th century. Nestling close to Parliament Square and the seat of government, it was, for many years, the home of the London passport office; the office relocated in 2002. Jeremy Bentham plaqueFamous residents of the street included Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, and William Hazlitt. John Milton also had a “pretty garden house” there, from 1652, when he was secretary to Oliver Cromwell and starting work on Paradise Lost, to the Restoration of 1660. At that time, as a supporter of the Parliamentarians, he had to make himself scarce from the re-established monarchy in the form of Charles II, whose father Cromwell had beheaded.

Fanny Hill
An early edition of Fanny Hill

The most colourful and infamous resident was the novelist John Cleland (1709-17899, who died there, in obscurity, at the age of 82. Cleland, who is said to have spent a fair amount of time in debtors’ prisons, made his mark and his money in 1750 when his Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (better known as Fanny Hill) was published. The book (of “pernicious tendency”) was a bestseller and brought the publishers £10,000 (according to some calculations, as much as £15,000,000 today) in profits. Cleland himself earned 20 guineas, or around £80,000).

Fanny Hill whips
An illustration from the book: Fanny Hill whips Mr Barville

Money notwithstanding, the privy council was not amused and summoned Cleland to explain himself. He pleaded poverty as his excuse for the scandalously indecent book, and the president of the council granted him an annuity of £100 (around £20,000) on the condition that he never again wrote that kind of book. If you want to support Walk the Walk and its efforts on behalf of breast cancer charities, you can sponsor me by visiting my fundraising page here.

Horses, ferries, and cartographers

Horseferry RoadHere’s a new theme for the blog posts, at least until the 11th of May: places on or near the London Moonwalk 2014 route. I am taking part in this year’s Moonwalk, a 26.2 mile walk in aid of breast cancer charities, so it seemed a good idea to look at street names along the route. The route has not been released in its entirety, so the choice of streets is arbitrary and may not reflect what is actually on the route.

Let’s start with Horseferry Road, which leads into Lambeth Bridge.

The road takes its name from a horse ferry, supposedly older than London Bridge (the earliest known reference goes back to 1513, but there may have been a ford near the site in Roman times), and the only one of its kind allowed in London. At one time communication between the north and south banks of the Thames was not easy, especially without bridges, and for a long time this ferry was the only means, between Westminster and the City of London, of crossing the river.

The horse ferry was supposed to have been established when St Peter was taken across to consecrate Westminster Abbey (properly titled the Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster); while this is certainly a legend it makes a good story, and there was probably a monastery there as early as the 8th century.

Another story about the ferry is that once, when Oliver Cromwell was being taken across the river, his coach sank in mid-stream. Other notable people associated with the ferry are James II, who allegedly started his escape from England at the ferry pier, and Princess Augusta, later the mother of George III, who crossed the Thames via the horse ferry on the way to her wedding.

HorseferryThe ferry was made virtually redundant by the opening of Westminster Bridge in 1750, but remained in use until Lambeth Bridge opened in 1862. At one time the City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court was located at number 70, and was called Horseferry Road Magistrates. Today, the Channel 4 corporate headquarters building is located at 124 Horseferry Road.

Perhaps most notable of all the people associated with the road – at least from the point of view of London street names – is Phyllis Pearsall, who conceived and created the iconic London A to Z map while living in a bedsit here. In her autobiography, Pearsall tried to find her way to a party using a map of the time and found the experience less than satisfactory as she got lost. A conversation at the party gave her the idea of mapping London and, like John Stow, she carried out her research by walking the streets of London. In her case, she supposedly walked 3,000 miles to check the names and house numbers of 23,000 streets.

Back, briefly, to the Moonwalk: if you are interested in sponsoring me for this endeavour, my fundraising page can be found here.

Why Scotland Yard isn’t in Scotland Yard

Duke of Wellington and Robert Peel
Sir Robert Peel (right) with the Duke of Wellington

This day in London’s history: on 5 February 1788 Robert Peel was born; he would later become Sir Robert Peel and establish the city’s first organized police force. That law enforcement body, London’s Metropolitan police force, has long been known as Scotland Yard or just the Yard.

However, the modern building called New Scotland Yard, which serves as headquarters for the police force, is nowhere near Great Scotland Yard. And here’s why:

The Palace of Westminster, which no longer stands, once served as the main residence for the English monarchs – that is, until Henry VIII decided that Whitehall Palace (also gone) would suit him better. A parcel of land belonging to the palace, including a house given by King Edgar to Kenneth III of Scotland in the 10th century, was reserved for royal Scottish visitors and their retinues; Margaret, sister to Henry VIII, was such a guest. Some of the names for spaces between the houses, which had begun to proliferate on this parcel of land known as Scotland were, unimaginatively, things like Great, Middle and Little Scotland Yard.

In the meantime, London lacked organization in its law enforcement; Henry Fielding had established the Bow Street Runners in 1749, which proved effective though few in number, but as the city expanded during the 18th and 19th centuries the question of maintaining law and order had become a matter of public concern. In 1812, 1818 and 1822, Parliamentary committees were appointed to investigate the subject of crime and policing, but it was not until 1828 when Peel set up his committee that the findings paved the way for his police Bill. That bill led to the setting up of an organized police service in London.

In 1829 the Metropolitan Police Force was formed and the new force (consisting of around 600 men, six of whom were discharged on the first day for being drunk) set up headquarters in Great Scotland Yard (Little and Middle had by then combined to become Whitehall Place). The police of the time became known affectionately as Bobbies, from Sir Robert or, sometimes, and not so affectionately as ‘Peelers’. They were not popular to start with but proved very successful in cutting crime in London. It was not long before the street and the force itself both became known as Scotland Yard.

New Scotland YardThe Yard has moved twice since then: first in 1890 to the Victoria Embankment near Westminster Bridge. The site for the building, which was designed by architect Norman Shaw, was originally set aside for an opera house but waterlogged foundations and lack of funds put paid to that idea. It took the police several years to purchase the land and start building, by which time the proposed cost had increased nearly eightfold. The police stayed there for nearly 80 years and then moved again in 1967 to new headquarters off Victoria Street. In 2013, it was announced that the force will move to a smaller building on the Victoria Embankment in 2015, which will be renamed Scotland Yard.

It’s tempting to try and link Great Scotland Yard with the exclamation ‘Great Scott!’ but that’s stretching it, even for this blog. There are various theories as to the derivation of the expression, the most fun being that it comes from Mark Twain’s dislike of Sir Walter Scott and his writing. In A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, the main character utters “Great Scott” as an oath, and in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, he names a sinking boat the Walter Scott.

However, it is more likely that the source was the American Civil War general, Winfield Scott, who was a rather large man.

Sir Francis Bacon, the Savoy Hotel, and Farting Lane

Savoy Palace
The original Savoy Palace

This day in London history: on 22 January 1561, Sir Francis Bacon was born at the Strand (or Strand, if you prefer) in London. This blog has dealt with both Sir Francis Bacon and the Strand in other posts, and the Strand is probably now more famous as the location of the Savoy Hotel than as the birthplace of Bacon, so here are a few historical snippets about the Savoy. Including its contribution to the nickname – Farting Lane – of a nearby passageway.

The Savoy stands on the site of a palace built in 1245 by Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester but later granted by Henry III to Peter of Savoy. A nice bit of nepotism as Savoy was the uncle of Eleanor of Provence, Henry’s queen; it was not a complete gimme, however, as Savoy had to give “yearly at the Exchequer three barbed arrows for all services”.

The palace was also once the London residence of John of Gaunt but, according to the wonderful Walter Thornbury in Old and New London (Volume 3), “the palace of the Savoy was fired, pillaged, and almost demolished with gunpowder by a lawless mob of rebels, led by Wat Tyler, in 1381”. It was “for the malice which they bore to John of Gaunt and his principles”, which principles being, as Tyler saw it, the introduction of the poll tax. It was not the only building to suffer because of the poll tax; the Priory of Clerkenwell was another.

Later on, and before the Savoy Hotel was built, it was restored by Henry VII, dedicated to St John, and opened in 1512 for use as a hospital for the poor. The hospital closed in 1702 and the area, once full of grand residences, became something of a sleazy neighbourhood and was the site of the Dog and Duck tavern where those behind the Gunpowder Plot would meet. By the 19th century, the building was in ruins.

EAS_3847Enter impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte; the money he made from the Gilbert and Sullivan operas enabled him to build the country’s first luxury hotel, with features like electric lights throughout, and bathrooms in some of the more lavish rooms. The Savoy opened in 1889 and is still a name synonymous with luxury.

That is not to say, however, that it didn’t play its part in the sewer gas lamp innovation of Mr Joseph Edmund Webb. The grand hotel was able to provide fuel for these lamps, and a replica of one still stands next to the hotel in Carting Lane. Not unnaturally, given the nature of these lamps, the lane was nicknamed Farting Lane by local residents.

The sewer gas lamp replica in Carting Lane

The Coal Hole tavern, the sign of which can be seen next to the sewer gas lamp replica was, according to the pub’s website, once the coal cellar for the Savoy Hotel. The website goes on to say: “In the Victorian era, the pub was a ‘song and supper’ club where regulars were encouraged to sing comical songs and sentimental ballads. Gilbert and Sullivan regularly performed here in Edwardian times, the Shakespearean actor Edmund Kean started the Wolves’ Club here for oppressed husbands forbidden to sing in the bath!”

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”.

Lloyds of London Image Portfolio Feb2011
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.

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.

Janis Joplin, Kensington Gore, and Green Ginger

Janis Joplin Update: Although Gore of Kensington Gore does not derive from anything to do with blood, a retired British pharmacist, John Tinegate, used to make fake blood for the stage and screen and it was trademarked Kensington Gore. The term has now become a generic term for fake blood. Apparently Stanley Kubrick used several thousands of gallons of Kensington Gore in The Shining. (But one of the most famous blood scenes in movie history, the shower scene in Psycho, made use of chocolate syrup.)

This day in London history: on 19 January 1943, American singer-songwriter Janis Joplin was born. She sang first with Big Brother and the Holding Company, and then pursued a solo career; some of her more famous songs were ‘Cry Baby’, ‘Mercedes Benz’, and ‘Me and Bobby McGee’. She died of a heroin overdose at the age of 27; though there is apparently no evidence to show that singers are more likely to die at 27 than any other age, people speculate about a Forever 27 group. In addition to Joplin, members of this club include Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse. During her singing career, Janis Joplin appeared in concert at the Royal Albert Hall in Kensington, the official address of which is Kensington Gore. The ‘gore’ part of the name is innocent of anything gruesome: it comes from the Old English word ‘gara’, which was a triangular piece of land left after irregularly shaped fields and been ploughed. This could be the triangle formed by Knightsbridge, Queen’s Gate and the Brompton Road.

William Wilberforce

Although now in the borough of Kensington, the land of Kensington Gore was for years the property of the City of Westminster and there was a Gore Estate on the site for many years until the Victorian property developers took over. Gore House, now the site of the Royal Albert Hall, was once the home of William Wilberforce, a strong force in the movement to abolish slavery. The house was later opened as a restaurant to help cater for the 1851 Great Exhibition in Hyde Park. The Royal Albert Hall was officially opened by Queen Victoria in 1871. Gore HotelThere is a Gore Hotel in Queen’s Gate, opened in 1892 by the Cooke sisters, descendants of Captain James Cook. (Incidentally, William Wilberforce was born in Kingston upon Hull. There is a street in Hull called The Land of Green Ginger, the derivation of which is uncertain.)