Shakespeare-related streets: from Aldersgate to Worship

William_Shakespeare_1609Who am I to buck the trend of the Shakespeare frenzy that is gripping the UK? In the run-up to the various events marking the 400th anniversary of the bard’s death, let’s revisit some of the bard-related London streets – a small fraction of them, I’m sure – that have graced this blog over the years. (And, yes, in keeping with tradition, some of the connections are very tenuous.)

Aldersgate Street was once, in part, called Pickax Street and delineated the northern extremity of the ward; according to English Heritage’s Survey of London the name was perhaps derived from Pickt Hatch, an Elizabethan name for an area of brothels said to be in this part of London”. It is mentioned by William Shakespeare in The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Bell Yard, off Fleet, takes its name from a pub sign; the Bell was once one of the most common pub names in the UK. Another Bell Yard (off Carter Lane) was also named from an inn; William Shakespeare was a frequent patron of the original inn, and the only surviving letter to him was penned here in 1598 by Richard Quyney (who wrote to his ‘loving friend and countryman’. Quyney’s son Thomas married Shakespeare’s younger daughter.

Curtain Road in Shoreditch marks the site of the first London theatre, established by James Burbage and his brother-in-law John Brayne around 1576. Surprisingly, though Curtain is a great name for a lane with a theatre, it was the land, belonging to the priory of Holywell, which was called the ‘Curtayne’. The origin of the name is uncertain.

The theatre was, rather unimaginatively, called the Theatre; a rival one, built nearby, was actually called the Curtain. Both theatres provided entertainment for Londoners for several years, staging plays by Shakespeare and others.

Aldersgate StreetEastcheap, which had been a market in Roman times and continued as an ,important medieval meat market, looks its name from Old English ‘ceap’, or ‘market’. It was called East Cheap to differentiate it from West Cheap (now Cheapside). It was also a drinking area, with “many hostelries”, the largest and most famous of which was the Boar’s Head Tavern.

Plays were performed in the tavern, which was frequented by Shakespeare who immortalized it as “the very tavern where Falstaff and his joyous companions met”. This gave rise in the 18th century to a Falstaff Club; members would meet at the tavern and assume the names of various Shakespeare characters.

Friday Street, the only day of the week to be represented in London street names, may take its name from Frigdaeges, an Old English name. There is also John Stow’s theory that it was “so called of fishmongers dwelling there and serving Friday’s market”. There was a famous tavern that stood in Bread Street but had a side entrance on Friday Street: the Mermaid tavern.

It was here, tradition holds, that Sir Walter Raleigh instituted the Mermaid Club, which included Ben Jonson and William Shakespeare among its members. Grave doubts have been cast, from many quarters, on the truth of the club’s existence, but it is certain that Jonson was an habitué of the Mermaid, and at least possible that he was joined on occasion by Shakespeare.

Laurence P HillThe Laurence part of Laurence Pountney Hill comes from the nearby church of St Laurence, called St Laurence next the Thames in 1275, and which burned down in the Great Fire. (St Lawrence is famous for having been broiled alive upon a gridiron; apparently he said, partway through his torture, “I’m well done. Turn me over!”)

Pountney derived from Sir John de Polteney, a prominent citizen of London and four times Mayor in the 1330s. He owned a mansion near to the church and leased it in 1348 to the Earl of Hereford and Essex for the rent of one rose per annum. The house, known as the ‘Manor of the Rose’ was mentioned in Shakespeare’s Henry VIII.

The name of Old Jewry dates back several hundred years; it was an area occupied by Jewish financiers who had been invited to England by William the Conqueror. In the reign of Richard I, however, the anti-semitism, as portrayed by Shakespeare in The Merchant of Venice, began to take hold. many of the Jews were murdered and their homes destroyed.

Pickle Herring Street, in the Tooley Street area, no longer exists, alas, but it supposedly took its name from the fact that the street was on the site of one of the Thames’ old wharves – where cargoes of pickled herrings were shipped. The name may also have come from the fact that Sir John Falstofe – who gave his name to Shakespeare’s Falstaff – lived on this spot in 1447. Falstofe was once a fish merchant, so it could have been his pickled herrings that gave the street its name.

Playhouse Yard was named for the Blackfriars Theatre (on the site of the ruined Blackfriars monastery), which was opened in 1596 by James Burbage, the father of Richard Burbage, who owned a share in the playhouse. This was to be a backup for the winter months when theatregoers would be reluctant to travel as far as the Globe in Southwark, where Burbage’s company was to be transferred. Shakespeare, who had a share in the theatre, bought a house nearby in 1612 so that he could be on hand for the performance of his plays.

Silver Street (no longer there) was, says Stow, named from the silversmiths who lived there, and earlier forms included ‘Silvernestrate’. Shakespeare took lodgings on the corner of the street and, according to a marvellous website, Shakespearean London Theatres, he spent a number of years living there, from 1604, with a French family called the Mountjoys.

Apparently legal evidence, which survives from May 1612, shows that Shakespeare gave evidence in a lawsuit about a marriage dowry of £60. The evidence confirms his presence as a lodger at a house on Silver Street in the Jacobean period.

Wardrobe TerraceWardrobe Terrace does take its names from a wardrobe. In 1359 a house belonging to Sir John Beauchamp was purchased by Edward II and became the storeroom for the royal clothing worn on state occasions. The Wardrobe is mentioned in Shakespeare’s will: he bequeathed, to his daughter, land near the Wardrobe.

Worship Street was once known as Hog Lane and may have taken its name from John Worshop, a merchant tailor, who owned over six acres of land in the area. Shakespeare is reputed to have once lived here, possibly when it was still Hog Lane.

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From health and love to worship: London’s abstract noun streets

I forgot to mention in the last (Groundhog Day inspired) post that someone has already tackled the thorny issue of the name of Punxsutawney Phil’s home: Gobbler’s Knob. Which generally causes amusement in Britain and not in America. You can read more here on that issue.

But back to noun streets. The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that the last post was limited to concrete nouns. That’s partly because they have better names and stories, and – full disclosure here – I had more pictures of those street signs. (And I have more information on them.)

I can offer you, however, a couple of abstract noun street names, including the Vale of Health in Hampstead, which was once marshy land and anything but healthy. According to Volume 9 of A History of the County of Middlesex, “The name the Vale of Health, recorded in 1801, may have originated as a euphemism which was exploited or as a new name invented in a deliberate attempt to change the image of the place.”

By the 19th century the area had become more fashionable; Leigh Hunt lived there and attracted a circle of literary friends including Byron and Shelley. DH Lawrence lived in the Vale, as did Edgar Wallace.

Building in the Vale was halted towards the end of the 19th century when the 1871 Act for the Preservation of the Heath decreed that development in the Vale could not encroach on the heath.

From health to love, or something like it: there is a Love Lane near London Wall, which – is so called, John Stow wrote candidly in his Survey of London, “of wantons.” Bawdy street names were not uncommon in early London, and you can read more about them here.

There were once other Love Lanes in the City of London (and there is still one in Greenwich), and a more innocent connotation was that the name referred to a sort of lovers’ lane where courting couples used to stroll.

Worship Street (one known as Hog Lane), has a name that, technically, is nothing to do with worship. There was once a merchant tailor called John Worshop who owned over six acres of land in the area. It is likely that the street was named for him, and then corrupted to its present form. Happily, though, the street contained an old foundry once used as a place of worship by John Wesley.

There is a Retreat Place in Hackney, which takes its name from almshouses. In 1812 Samuel Robinson founded and funded almshouses for twelve poor widows. The houses were called ‘The Widow’s Retreat’ and the street that ran past it was similarly named.

Along those lines, Asylum Road in Peckham takes its name from the Victuallers Asylum, built in the 19th century to aid distressed members of the Victuallers Trade or their wives.

London’s streets: what’s in the name?

Pepys St Tower view copyI was having a grumpy old lady moment recently about things named for large global companies; I can’t remember what specifically sparked it off, but something like the O2 Arena.

Isn’t it a pity, I thought, that so many venues and sporting events are now named after big corporations. How long, I wondered, before airports, instead of being named John Lennon, John Wayne, or Sir Grantley Adams, were called The [insert name of large global corporation] Airport? And then, of course, I wondered further when that would happen to streets.

So that’s the tenuous connection between a grumpy moment and London streets. Today we’ll look at some of the streets named after people, particularly those where it’s not as obvious as, say, Pepys Street.

Fashion Street cropFirst of all, Fashion Street, 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.

Savage GdnsSavage Gardens is nothing to do with vampire novels: it was named for Sir Thomas Savage, who was created Viscount Savage in 1626 and who had strong ties to George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, and to Charles I. He was also married to an admirable woman, Elizabeth, who bore him eleven sons and nine daughters.

As we’ve seen recently, Short Street is nothing to do with length, but is Short was named for a 19th-century carpenter, Samuel Short, who built the street. Similarly, Greenhills Rents near Smithfield market was nothing to do with scenery but was named for John Greenhill, an 18th-century landowner who also owned the Castle tavern on Cowcross Street.

Askew Road isn’t particularly crooked: it takes its name from Anthony Askew, an 18th-century local landowner who studied medicine and later became known more as a classical scholar rather than a doctor, helping to develop people’s tastes for curious manuscripts, rare editions, and well-preserved books.

Batty Street 2Goaters Alley is nothing to do with animals, but relates to John and William Goaters, occupants of a neighbouring farm. Baker Street is nothing to do with an earlier Mary Berry or Paul Hollywood, but is named from someone called Baker (there is disagreement as to which one). Batty Street is (probably) nothing to do with ditziness, but is more likely to relate to a William Batty who developed property in London.

Worship Street’s name is nothing to do with religion (though it does have religious connections): it is probably a corruption of ‘Worsop’ from an Elizabeth merchant tailor, John Worsop, who owned over six acres of land in the area. And Speedy Place nothing to do with swiftness or haste. There was once a tavern, called the Golden Boot, the licence of which was held by the Speedy family. An earlier landlord, and member of the Speedy family, used to meet with the ringleaders of the 1780 Gordon Riots.

And on the subject of things not being what they seem, I leave you with Sly Street. This devious-sounding street has a perfectly innocent reason for its name: in 1890 the St Georges in the East member of the London County Council was a Mr RS Sly.

Worship Street: tenuous connections to bets, pigs and brothels

Bishopsgate mitreFollowing on from yesterday’s pig-related streets we can go, in a sense, from the ridiculous to the sublime: from hoggish to holy, starting with Worship Street in Shoreditch. The reason for starting with that street? I’m not the queen of tenuous connections for nothing: Worship Street was once called Hog Lane.

And guess what? The name has nothing to do with religion, worship, or prayers. It takes its name from an Elizabethan merchant tailor, John Worsop, who owned over six acres of land in the area. By happy coincidence, however, there was once a foundry there used by John Wesley as a place of worship. Shakespeare is reputed to have once lived here, possibly when it was still Hog Lane.

Then there’s Bishopsgate, which is named after a bishop: according to John Stow, the original London gate was named for Bishop Erkenwald, who became Bishop of London in 675. The site of the former gate is marked by a stone bishop’s mitre and, for the trivia lovers among you, the street is one of the longest in the City of London.

EAS_4093In no particular order or geographical proximity or otherwise, we move to to Pope’s Head Alley, where Lloyd’s of London was first established. The alley takes its name from a 15th-century tavern that was destroyed in the Great Fire and then rebuilt. One of the earliest mentions of the tavern occurs in Edward IV’s reign: a wager took place as to whether a goldsmith from Alicant was as talented as one from England.

Crutched FriarsFrom there we can go to to Crutched Friars (an arbitrary choice as there are various friar-related streets), which takes its name from a holy order, the Crossed Friars. This was an Augustinian order that began in Bologna in 1169 and was established in London by Ralph Hosiar and William Sabernes in 1298. The name derived from the friars’ habits, which were blue with, usually, a red cross on the back.

And on to Dean Street, which I can quite happily count in the ‘occupations’ category as well as this religious category. It is generally agreed (and who am I to argue with historians and scholars?) to have been named as a compliment to Bishop Henry Compton, Dean of the Chapel Royal.

The good bishop was a great philanthropist and gave lie to the notion that charity begins at home. He died a poor man, having spent his money aiding those who were refugees from persecution in foreign countries, helping poor children and rebuilding hospitals and churches.
Two famous names associated with the street are Marx and Mozart.

Cardinal CapAnd of course, London street names being what they are, we have to include a little smut with the holy-sounding Cardinal Cap Alley, which in fact takes its name from a brothel, possibly named for Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester. If that seems a bit incongruous, it’s not: the brothels of Bankside, which flourished for centuries, were leased from the Bishops of Winchester.

There are too many streets with churches, cathedrals, temples, and saints in their names for me to go into them here, but we could take a(nother) quick look at the area around St Paul’s Cathedral, where there is a group of streets with religious names. It is argued by some that, before the Reformation (the anti-Catholic movement originating with Martin Luther), there was a regular procession of the clergy around the cathedral.

EAS_4022This procession involved reciting the Lord’s Prayer in Paternoster Row, the Hail Mary in Ave Maria Lane, the Credo in Creed Lane, and the Amen in Amen Corner.

Incidentally, there is a Dean’s Court nearby, as well as Sermon Lane, Friar Street and – but this may be too much of a stretch, even for me – a Godliman Street.

I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s reverential post and now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to dash off to see what I can learn about Godliman Street.