From Fashion to Threadneedle: London street names and the Great British Sewing Bee 

It seemed only logical that, having written a post on baking-related themes for the final of the Great British Bakeoff last October, the recent final of the Great British Sewing Bee should also prompt me to find street names related to sewing and fashion. (First, I should apologise for the hiatus in posting. I apologise.)

The most obvious is Fashion Street in Spitalfields and I have to go off on a slight tangent here: I was excited, in double-checking something for this post on Wikipedia, to discover that one of my posts is cited as a reference for Flower and Dean Street. But I digress.

Fashion Street is nothing to do with clothes or sewing: it was so named when it was built in the 1650s; the land upon which it stands belonged to the Fasson brothers – Thomas and Lewis, skinner and goldsmith respectively. By 1708 Fasson Street had been corrupted to Fashion Street. They also owned the land upon which stood Flower and Dean Street, where two of Jack the Ripper’s victims lived, and that street was named for bricklayers John Flower and Gowen Dean. 

For a long time Fashion Street – and, indeed, the whole area – was a dirty and dangerous place to live. Jack London lived in Flower and Dean Street in 1902-3 and wrote a book, The People of the Abyss, about the state of life in the Whitechapel and Spitalfields areas of London.

Another obvious sewing street name is Threadneedle Street, home of the Bank of England. The Bank of England. The derivation of the name is not as straightforward as might first appear. Thread and needle certainly make contextual sense, but the street was originally Three Needle Street and was known as such for a long time.

The name is likely to derive from the arms of the The Worshipful Company of Needlemakers, whose coat of arms includes three needles, but the sewing connections don’t end there. The Merchant Taylors, who began life as the Company of Tailors and Linen-Armourers, have had their hall here since 1347, and once owned almshouses in Threadneedle Street for its aged members.

Petticoat Lane belongs to this category, even though it is no longer called that; the lane was covered in a recent post about names that aren’t what they seem, and you can read that here. This name could derive from the fact that secondhand clothes dealers established this as the centre of London’s used clothes district, or from the English form of the French petit court, a “little short lane”.

There is Cloak Lane, which is one of those nice-sounding but icky names, like Maiden Lane, which takes its name from ‘midden’ or dung heap. Cloak in this instance is likely to derive from the Latin cloaca, or sewer. The lane was once called Horseshoe Bridge and led over the Walbrook; there was probably a sewer draining into the brook at that point.

If you prefer a more romantic story, then let’s look to the recently-posted tale of Bleeding Heart Yard, which you can read here. As Saint Nick was carrying off the beautiful gypsy maid who had sold her soul to him, her heart fell in Bleeding Heart Yard, her cloak in Cloak Lane, and one of her shoes in Shoe Lane.

Some might argue that shoes fit in the fashion category, but I am sticking with the clothing and sewing side of fashion and we can look at shoes another time.

Cloth Fair takes name from Bartholomew Fair; this three-day event was held in the Smithfield area from the 12th century to the 19th century. The fair was, early on, essentially a trade fair for the woollen and drapery industries, with Italian and Flemish cloth merchants, and money charged on tolls for goods was a source of income for the priory of St Bartholomew. The nearby Cloth Court and Cloth Street also took their name from the fair.

Bartholomew Fair gradually attracted more and more people, and soon the speciality of cloth was virtually overlooked. Ben Jonson, who immortalised it in the comic play Bartholomew Fair, first staged on 31 October 1614.

Clothier Street in Houndsditch, which was known previously as Crab Court and Carter Street, has a connection to the clothing industry that goes back to Elizabethan times when it was famous as a gathering area for “sellers of old apparel”. An official Clothes Exchange was established there in 1875 and the current name was assigned in 1906.

There isn’t a City of London worshipful company of clothiers, but there is Worshipful Company of Clothiers in Worcester.

In 2008 Prince Charles visited the city of Worcester and paid £453.15 to the Company, thus settling a Royal debt dating back to 1651. Prior to the Battle of Worcester that year, Charles II commissioned the Company to make uniforms for his troops, promising to pay after winning the battle. However, Cromwell won and Charles II fled to Europe, leaving a debt of £453.3s which he did not settle after he acceded to the throne. That is what you call serious welshing on a deal. (And before any Welsh readers complain about me feeding into negative stereotypes, don’t forget I supported Wales in the Six Nations.)

Haberdasher Street in Shoreditch takes its name from a bequest by Robert Aske, silk merchant and member of the Haberdashers’ Company. He left land and money to the Company; it was used to establish a school in 1690. The Haberdashers’ Company maintains a strong tradition of supporting schools.

Silk merchant takes us onto Silk Street, which was built either in 1799 or 1879 and takes its name from silk weaving in 17th-century London, which was carried on largely by French refugees who settled in the Spitalfields area. By the 19th century they had been joined by their English counterparts from the north, who set up silk factories. Many of them lived in this street, which was finally named in recognition of that fact. (Since there’s always one in every crowd, the theory has also been put forward that the name may have come from a builder.)

London’s streets: Jack the Ripper and Flower and Dean Walk

Flower & DeanWell, I finally got around to watching Season 3 of ‘Ripper Street’ and I’ve made it partway through the third episode. I used to really enjoy it when the storyline was intertwined with historical events and people, like early photography and John Merrick. Now it seems to me to be just a period soap opera with lots of blood and implausible story lines. And it wasn’t even filmed in London.

But there really was an Inspector Abberline who was involved in the Jack the Ripper murders, and by coincidence, I also recently saw a ‘Ripper’ documentary. That laid the blame for the murders squarely at the feet of one Charles Lechmere, a witness to the murder of Polly Nicholls. So that all got me thinking about Jack the Ripper, Whitechapel, and some of the streets involved in those grisly murders.

First, Flower and Dean Street, which no longer exists, although the name lives on in Flower and Dean Walk. The street (along with Thrawl and Dorset Streets) was a squalid centre for doss houses in the 19th century, particularly favoured by prostitutes. Two of the Ripper’s victims – Elizabeth (Long Liz) Stride and Catherine Eddies – lived in Flower and Dean Street.

At the height of the Ripper attacks the philanthropist Thomas Barnardo visited the house where Stride lived and, days later, wrote to the The Times, saying, “Only four days before the recent murders I visited No. 32, Flower and Dean-street, the house in which the unhappy woman Stride occasionally lodged.”

The women, he said, were frightened by the Whitechapel murders and one of them said, “Perhaps some of us will be killed next! If anybody had helped the likes of us long ago we would never have come to this!”

How right the anonymous speaker (some say it was Stride herself) was: as Barnardo said, four days later Stride was found in Berner Street (now Henriques Street, and where Charles Lechmere once lived with his mother) relatively unmutilated, compared with the Ripper’s other victims.

Stride had suffered merely a cut throat and a nicked ear – due, the theory goes, that her killer was interrupted at his work by the man who discovered her still-warm body.

Not one to be easily thwarted, the Ripper then proceeded on to Mitre Square where he was able, uninterrupted, to kill Eddowes, perform his customary atrocities and – if it were him, though that is still a point of dispute – leave a cryptic message chalked on the wall. “The Juwes are the men that will not be blamed for nothing” has been the linchpin of many an argument about Jack the Ripper’s identity.

Ah, yes, the street’s name comes from the fact that the street was built by two bricklayers, John Flower and Gowen Dean, in the 1650s. The land upon which it was built belonged to the Fashion Street cropFasson brothers (who gave their name to Fashion Street). In 1677 it was known as Dean and Flower Street and in 1702 the name was corrupted to Floodrun.

In the early 20th century, conditions were little better in the area than they were in the Ripper’s day: Jack London lived in Flower and Dean Street in 1902-3 and wrote a book, The People of the Abyss, about the state of life in the Whitechapel and Spitalfields areas of London.

Pinchin Lane, Sherlock Holmes, and Jack the Ripper

Pinchin Lane: I was recently watching a rerun of ‘Sign of the Four’ with Jeremy Brett as Holmes, and noticed the street sign of Pinchin Lane. (No, I hadn’t really been paying attention and, yes, streets signs are everywhere for me.) Of course I rushed to look it up. I think it must have existed only in the mind of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle because I could find no mention of it outside of the pages of his story.

The lane is immortalized first when Holmes says to Watson, “When you have dropped Miss Morstan I wish you to go on to 3 Pinchin Lane, down near the water’s edge at Lambeth.” When Watson goes there he finds: “Pinchin Lane was a row of shabby, two-storied brick houses in the lower quarter of Lambeth.” (As an aside, it’s interesting how many people have seen the BBC’s Sherlock but never read any of the books. They’re worth it.)

So much for the fictional Pinchin Lane. There is, however, a Pinchin Street in Whitechapel where, on the 10th of September 1889 a female torso was discovered under a railway bridge. The poor woman’s head and legs were never found, and she was never identified. Some bloodstained clothing was later found in Batty Street (which has its own murderous connection) but amounted to nothing in the investigation.

The brutality of the murder, the geographical location of the torso, and the fact that the time of death was estimated to be the day before – the one year anniversary of the murder by Jack the Ripper of Annie Chapman – led many to speculate that this was yet another notch on the Ripper’s belt. This theory, however, is generally discounted, there having been two similar murders earlier in the year, and not enough evidence to tie them to the Ripper killings.

Oh, yes, as to the derivation of the name of Pinchin Street, once more I have to hold up my hand and admit ignorance, though it is likely that is from the surname, which is of Old French origin.
According to genealogical research sites, it is possibly a ‘nickname’ surname from the Old French word for finch, so referring to a bright and cheerful person. Or it could be an ‘occupation’ surname from the word ‘pinson’ or pincers – forceps. Alternatively, the name, introduced into Britain after the Norman conquest, could derive from the Normandy place name of Pontchardon.

Incidentally, two other London streets on this blog with Jack the Ripper associations include Flower and Dean Street and Dorset Street.

Amazon Street and a great British Eccentric

Phoebe Hessel portraitMarch 9 is as good a day as any to commemorate a great British eccentric, Phoebe Hessel, who was born in March 1713 in the Whitechapel area. The local street, Amazon Street, is named after her, as is Hessel Street off which it leads.

The Dictionary of National Biography says of Hessel, somewhat icily, that while some of the stories about her may have an element of truth, they are “utterly inconsistent with each other and with the facts of regimental history”.

So what? They make a good story anyway.

Phoebe Hessel (nee Smith) was born in Stepney in 1713 and enlisted as a man in the 5th Regiment of Foot, supposedly to be with her lover, Samuel Golding. She successfully concealed her gender even from her comrades-in-arms, that is, until Golding was wounded and invalided home. Phoebe then revealed her secret to the wife of the commanding officer; once her secret was out, she was discharged and returned to the UK where she married Golding and bore nine children.

On Golding’s death, Phoebe moved to Brighton where she married William Hessel and became something of a local character. The then Prince Regent, later George IV, who spent much time in Brighton and built the famous Pavilion, granted Phoebe a small pension and invited her to his coronation parade. She died in 1821, at the alleged age of 108 and was buried in the parish churchyard with honours.

Phoebe_Hessel's_GravestoneThe inscription on her gravestone reads: In Memory of PHOEBE HESSEL who was born at Stepney in the Year 1713. She served for many years as a private soldier in the 5th Regt. of foot in different parts of Europe and in the year 1745 fought under the command of the DUKE of CUMBERLAND at the Battle of Fontenoy where she received a Bayonet wound in her arm. Her long life which commenced in the time of QUEEN ANNE extended to the reign of GEORGE IV by whose munificence she received comfort and support in her latter years. She died at Brighton where she had long resided: December 12th 1821 Aged 108 Years.

A great British eccentric and his umbrella

Jonas Hanway with umbrella10 February is Umbrella Day, so it is a good day to remember a true British eccentric, explorer and philanthropist, Jonas Hanway, who was instrumental in introducing that great British accessory – the umbrella – to the men of the UK.

Hanway was sent to London as a young boy, where he lived with his uncle, Major John Hanway, in Oxford Street; the nearby Hanway Street is named after that uncle. The teenaged Jonas was sent to Portugal as a merchant apprentice and spent many years there. According to one source, “Some of his later eccentricities in dress, as well as his philanthropy, can be traced to these formative years.”

His eccentricities of dress included carrying a sword and umbrella; swords by then were unfashionable and umbrellas were considered effeminate and unseemly for British men. In those days umbrellas were used primarily by women and were viewed as protection from the sun rather than from 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.

According to John Pugh, Hanway’s contemporary biographer, Hanway “loved the society of women”; he was a supporter of the Magdalen Hospital for Penitent Prostitutes in Whitechapel and he would entertain reformed prostitutes in his home, providing them with small gifts.

Back to the umbrella: Hanway also raised funds to relieve victims of foreign fires, one of which was in Bridgetown, Barbados, in 1766. Barbados is the birthplace of singer Rihanna who had a hit song called ‘Umbrella’.

Among the streets associated with Hanway are Red Lion Square, once rumoured to be haunted by the ghost of Oliver Cromwell and Strand, where he lodged and could be seen walking to the Coffee House near the Royal Exchange, where he conducted business.

Flower and Dean and Jack the Ripper

This day in London history: on 27 November 1843, Elizabeth (‘Long Liz’) Stride was born; on 30 September 1888 she became the third victim of Jack the Ripper. Stride lived in a lodging house on Flower and Dean Street, which had been built by two bricklayers, John Flower and Gowen Dean, in the 1650s.

FLower and Dean
Flower and Dean street highlighted with three murder sites in red.

The street was a squalid centre for doss houses in the 19th century, particularly favoured by prostitutes. At the height of the Ripper attacks the philanthropist Thomas Barnardo visited the house where Stride lived and, days later, wrote to the The Times, saying, “Only four days before the recent murders I visited No. 32, Flower and Dean-street, the house in which the unhappy woman Stride occasionally lodged.”

The women, he said, were frightened by the Whitechapel murders and one of them said, “Perhaps some of us will be killed next! If anybody had helped the likes of us long ago we would never have come to this!”

How right the anonymous speaker (some say it was Stride herself) was: as Barnardo said, four days later Stride was found in Berner Street (since renamed) relatively unmutilated, compared with the Ripper’s other victims. She had suffered merely a cut throat and a nicked ear – due, the theory goes, that her killer was interrupted at his work by the man who discovered her still-warm body.

Not one to be easily thwarted, the Ripper then proceeded on to Mitre Square where he was able, uninterrupted, to kill Catherine Eddowes – who, coincidentally, also lived in Flower and Dean Street – and perform his customary atrocities.