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.

The long and short of London’s streets: from Gandalf’s Grapes to Pepys’s coach

Grapes pubHere are two tenuously connected stories (and there will be a bearing on London streets, I promise).

First, in the 80s I worked for an estate agent (a shameful thing in the 80s; the only people worse then than estate agent were the people, like me, who marketed them); when Docklands was up and coming most press releases about the area mentioned the fact that Ian McKellen lived there.

Far more recently, I was reading a story about a theft of vegetables from the Grapes pub, owned by Sir Ian McKellen, aka Gandalf, and located in Narrow Street. The pub was the model for the Six Jolly Fellowship-Porters tavern in Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend, described as “a tavern of a dropsical appearance”. All that, naturally, made me think about the streets that have names related to length, starting with Narrow Street, so named because – surprise! – it is.

Limehouse was once a centre for world trade, being as it was a good landing place for ships. The area takes its name not from the ‘limeys’, or sailors who would have been much in evidence there, but from the lime kilns Shorts context 2used for making pottery.

(Incidentally, another historic pub in the street in the street, now, alas, closed and a private residence, was the House They Left Behind, so called because it was the only building left standing after bombing during World War II.)

From Narrow Street to Broad Yard. Which isn’t. In 1865 it was described by a local historian, William Pinks, who wrote a History of Clerkenwell, as “a nest of squalid human kennels and fever dens, with reeking dust-heaps before the doors – places without light or ventilation”. It was still, Pinks went on to say, broader than its neighbour, Frying Pan Alley, which was only two feet six inches wide at one point: “there not being room in it to get a full sized coffin out without turning it on edge”, Pinks tells us helpfully.

From width to length, we can start with ‘short’ streets, of which there are a few, including Short Street, Shorter Street, and Short’s Gardens. Short’s Gardens, near Seven Dials, was named for William Short who acquired land here in 1590 and Short Street was named for a 19th-century carpenter, Samuel Short, who built the street. I regret to say that I have yet to discover the reason behind the name of Shorter Street, but presumably it was shorter than something else. Shorter Street

And on to Long Acre, which was formerly a plot of land called ‘The Elms’ or ‘Seven Acres’ and belonging to the monks of Westminster Abbey. The name, as with Bow Street, comes from the shape of the land, which was long and narrow. Its present name dates back to 1612 and the street itself was first laid out in 1615.

The street became a fashionable place to live, and one of its residents was Oliver Cromwell, who lived there from 1637 to 1643.The aristocrat and writer Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who was baptised at St. Paul’s Church in Covent Garden, also lived there.

Long Acre was also key to some important industries: it was once a centre for coach makers, one of whose customers in 1668 was Samuel Pepys, and it was later the home of Merryweather & Sons, builders of steam fire engines and steam tram engines.

London’s lost trees and rivers: Gospel Oak and the Fleet

On Twitter today I read about plaques that mark the great trees of London, so I thought that seemed like a good cue for discussing the reason behind the name of Gospel Oak. Strictly speaking, this is an area rather than a street, but never mind.

There would, at one time, have been an oak tree on or near the boundary between two parishes, in this case, the parishes of Hampstead and St Pancras. The tree, sadly, no longer exists, having last been recorded on an 1801 map.

The name itself comes from an old custom of ‘beating the bounds’ and part of this custom was a gospel reading under a large tree. St Augustine and John Wesley were among the many people who are said to have preached under this particular oak.

Beating the bounds took place in or just before Ascension Day. Schoolchildren, accompanied by clergyman and parish officers, walked around the parish boundaries, equipped with special wands for beating stones or other boundary markers. Sometimes the children themselves might also be whipped (nominally only) and have water poured on them so that they would remember the boundaries.

In the mid 19th century there were grand plans for developing the Gospel Oak area, up until then largely rural. The railways got there first, and the houses that were built were not the elegant villas that had been planned; instead of being a leafy suburb, Gospel Oak became more of a slum. There was at one time a tavern called the Gospel Oak that was the “noisiest and more objectionable public house in the district”.

The subterranean River Fleet, which gives its name to Fleet Street, flows under Gospel Oak and along to the Thames. Incidentally, ‘fleet’ in this instance is nothing to do with speed: it comes from an Anglo-Saxon word, fleot, meaning a creek or tidal inlet. The Fleet is now underground and is used as a sewer – a function that it has performed since 14th-century butchers used it for cleaning out entrails and others took up the habit by dumping refuse into the stream. In the 18th century, Alexander Pope wrote in his Dunciad of where “Fleet-ditch with disemboguing streams, rolls the large tribute of dead dogs to Thames.”

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.

London’s lost rivers: The Who, Lillie Langtry, and Pont Street

Langtry plaque

Pont Street plaque; photo courtesy of Open Plaques

The Who song ‘Pictures of Lily’ was being played on the radio the other day, so naturally I thought of Lily (or Lillie) Langtry as I have always assumed the song was about her. Both real and fictional Lily died in 1929.

When I researched it, I was a bit taken aback to find on Wikipedia a quote from Pete Townshend about what the meaning of the song was. Many of my friends (the same ones who accuse me on occasion of being cynical) say that I have a mind that can descend rather often and far down into the gutter but that was an interpretation that never occurred to me.

Be that as it may, I also researched Lillie Langtry and London connections. Yes, there are some, notably Pont Street in Knightsbridge, and Inverness Terrace.

Lillie lived at number 21 Pont Street, now the Cadogan Hotel, for five years from 1892 to 1897. The building became a hotel in 1895 but she always stayed in her former bedroom. The hotel was also where, shortly after it opened, Oscar Wilde was arrested. Pont Street features in John Betjeman’s poem, ‘The Arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel’:

To the right and before him Pont Street
Did tower in her new built red,
As hard as the morning gaslight
That shone on his unmade bed,

Pont Street takes its name from the word pont, the French for bridge; the street was built to bridge the river Westbourne. This river formed the Serpentine in Hyde Park after Queen Caroline (George II’s wife) suggested it be dammed up to form a 40-acre lake.

People have offered up the theory that Bridge Street might not have sounded upmarket enough to properly developers. At least they didn’t decide to change the Knightsbridge name, street or area, to Knightspont; Knightsbridge the street was also a bridge over the Westbourne. (No, I promise after my earlier post on blood sport street names, I’m not going to bang on about name changes. Well, not today, anyway.)

Westbourne, apparently, takes its name from an old village, ‘Westburne’; this was west of the river and Paddington was east. The river also gave its name to Bayswater, once known as ‘Baynard’s watering-place’, where animals were taken to drink.

Which brings us nicely back to Lillie Langtry – there is a hotel in Inverness Terrace, off Bayswater Road, where she is supposed to have performed in a theatre when she was the mistress of the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII. However, the Theatres Trust, a National Advisory Public Body for Theatres in the UK, declares icily that:

“There is a persistent tradition that the theatre was created for Lillie Langtry by her Royal patron. Their affair was notorious twenty years earlier when he was Prince of Wales but by 1905 he was king. No evidence has been found to support the story but without positive disproof it is likely to go on running.”

London’s streets: cock fighting, bear baiting, and hunting

Cock HillI see in the news that an animal rights group has asked (or demanded, depending on whose report you read or listen to) that Britain’s oldest pub, Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in St Albans, change its name to Ye Olde Clever Cocks, “in recognition of society’s growing compassion for animals and in celebration of intelligent, sensitive chickens”.

People have accused me on occasion of being cynical (yes, really), and I guess they might accuse me of it again when I say that my first thought was, “Is this a joke?” and then, “Is this a publicity stunt? If so, who for? Or both parties?”

But let me get relatively swiftly to the subject of this blog post. The whole cock fighting thing –naturally – made me think of London’s street names and how many of them the animal rights group should look to change.

Staying with the cock fighting theme, straightaway we have Cock Lane near Smithfield, probably named because it was a breeding ground for cocks. The fighting kind. The intersection of Cock Lane and Giltspur Street marks the spot where the Great Fire of 1666 finally halted. The spot is commemorated by the statue of a fat little boy (the Golden Boy of Pye Corner).

Cockspur Street signHeading west, we get to Cockspur Street, off Trafalgar Square. That is so named because the spurs with which the birds were equipped to ensure even greater flow of blood were made and sold there. Incidentally, the gilt spurs that gave the Giltspur Street its name were those used by knights on horseback so arguably could fit into the cruelty to animals category.

(There are a lot of ‘cock’ street names in London but maybe not all of them are related to cock fighting so would be able to keep their names. One I like is Cock Hill, which has a statue of a large ram overhead.)

Birdcage WalkMoving on, again a little further west, we arrive at Birdcage Walk, which is the site of an aviary started by James I (ok, to give him his full titles, James VI and I) and enlarged by his grandson, Charles II. However, the site also once housed a royal cockpit. Cock fighting, incidentally, is said to be the world’s oldest spectator sport.

Let’s leave cock fighting and head south to Bankside where we arrive at Bear Gardens, once the site of a 17th-century bear pit. Bear baiting involved chaining bears in pits of this type and setting dogs on them. The dogs were replaced if they got too tired or were killed. Sometimes, for extra sport, the bears were released so they could chase the dogs –  or the spectators.

Bear GdnsThe Bear Gardens pit was visited by the diarists Samuel Pepys, who described it as “a very rude and nasty pleasure; and John Evelyn, who noted that it was a “rude and dirty pastime”. However, Henry VIII was apparently a fan of the sport, and had a pit built in the grounds of Whitehall palace so that royalty could watch the sport in comfort from the palace windows. Henry VIII’s daughter, Elizabeth I, was also a big fan and overruled parliament when the members tried to ban bear baiting on Sundays.

Before we leave blood sports generally, it’s worth mentioning that the area of Soho in London is named from a hunting cry, apparently, the cry made by huntsmen when they uncouple the dogs in hunting the hare.

So that’s just a few of the names that may need to be changed to reflect society’s growing compassion for animals.

London’s spicy streets: Shakespeare, Mack the Knife, and murder

Saffron Hill cropOn Twitter today, I saw a story about what is thought to be what could be the only known portrait of Shakespeare made in his lifetime. The illustration appears in the frontispiece to a biography of pioneering botanist John Gerard, author of The Herball or Generall Historie of Plants, the first catalogue of any one garden, public or private.

There is still a Saffron Hill near Smithfield (it was at one time a slum mentioned by Charles Dickens), but the street once called Little Saffron Hill was renamed Herbal Hill in the 1930s to honour Gerard and his work.

All of which leads us nicely to London’s spicy streets, of which there are many. In fact, according to the excellent website, there are 493 roads named after food and drink in Greater London; of these over half consist of either fruits or herbs and spices. Lavender is the second most popular food item and can be found in 29 streets.

Camomile StreetOne of these is Lavender Hill, which was so named because of the lavender was grown in the area’s 18th-century market gardens. There are also a Lavender Road and Lavender Terrace nearby.

Similarly, Camomile Street and Wormwood Street are so called because they form part of the route of the original London Wall, where the land was once kept free of houses and allowed to grow wild.

One of the wild flowers that grew here were camomile (from the Greek for ‘earth apple’), used to treat ills such as hay fever, insomnia, and upset stomachs. Wormwood, used to flavour vermouth and absinthe, was said to have gained its name because it grew up in the path followed by the serpent when he was evicted from Paradise.

Mint Street in Southwark is named for mint, but of a different kind: Henry VIII established a royal mint here around 1543 at the home of his brother-in-law Charles Brandon. The mint was used until its demolition in 1557; smaller houses were then built in the area. Until the early 18th century the area was a criminal quarter, a recognized sanctuary for thieves and debtors, and a haunting ground for marriage brokers.

Two of the people who sought refuge in the area were Jonathan Wild and Jack Sheppard, notorious highwaymen. It was Sheppard upon whom John Gay based Macheath, the central character of his 1728 work The Beggar’s Opera. Macheath later became Mack the Knife in The Threepenny Opera by  Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill.

Cinnamon Street in London first appeared at the end of the 17th century and probably comes from the fact that the spice was sold there. It has rather gruesome connections: it was in this street that John Williams was staying when a blood-stained knife was discovered among his belongings and suspicion fell upon him in relation to the Ratcliff Highway Murders.

These murders, which pre-dated the activities of Jack the Ripper, caused the Wapping area as much terror and confusion. It cased a public outcry, rewards were offered by the government, and over 40 people were arrested for the crimes before the finger of suspicion pointed at Williams. Whether or not he was actually guilty (and there is a modern theory that he was framed) was never proved: he hanged himself before the hearing.

Hop Gardens cropOther spicy streets include Basil Street, Caraway Close, Clove Street, Coriander Avenue, Fennel Close, Mace Street, Nutmeg Close, Oregano Drive, Saffron Hill, Sage Way, Tarragon Close, and Thyme Close.

London’s lost streets: La Belle Sauvage Yard, Pocahontas, and a dancing horse

Another of those streets with a wonderful name and colourful stories to with it but which, unfortunately, no longer exists: La Belle Sauvage Yard. The name of the yard has had an “incredible quantity of ink” shed over it, and theories range from forgers to pub landladies by way of Pocahontas.

There is no disputing the fact that the yard was once home to an “antient inn” and one theory was that the yard was named in honour of Pocahontas, who was a guest at the inn and who later became the symbol for the publisher Cassell, once based in the yard.

By happy coincidence, I was reading up some more on La Belle Sauvage Yard and someone asked me what happened to a statue of Pocahontas that had been commissioned by Cassell. It appears that the statue, originally situated in Red Lion Square when the publisher moved there, was removed in the 1980s and sold to a private buyer in the 1990s.

But back to the inn, which marked the end of Wyatt’s 1554 rebellion; it was here that he turned back and rested when he discovered that the people would not support him. It was also one of the most splendid of London’s coaching inns. At one time it had 40 rooms and stabling for 100 horses; by the 19th century the capacity for horses had increased to 400.

The inn was also a place for all kinds of entertainment, serving roles as disparate from coffee house to a centre for bull baiting, and a place where plays were performed before the advent of theatres.

One of the favourites who acted there was Richard Tarlton (or Tarleton) the actor and clown said to be the basis for the character of Yorick in Hamlet. (And the the source of one of the most quoted misquotes. It is, correctly: “Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him, Horatio” but is often quoted: “Alas poor Yorick, I knew him well”.)

The sculptor Grinling Gibbons used to live in the yard and is said to have carved a pot of flowers that shook with the motion of passing coaches. John Evelyn saw the carving and was so impressed that he recommended its creator to Charles II.

Another famous person associated with the inn was the William Banks (or Bankes); a prosperous vintner of Cheapside, and also a showman, who was mentioned by Tarleton. Banks’s most famous act involved a trained gelding called Marocco.

Marocco could play dead, identify certain members of the audience (such as those wearing glasses), distinguish between certain colours, and even urinate on command. He could also count: if coins were collected from spectators, Marocco, by stamping his hoof, could indicate from whom the coins came and how many came from each person.

Banks and Marocco later moved to Paris, where Banks was arrested and accused of sorcery; he had to reveal that the horse’s tricks were in the main accomplished through subtle gestures. From there the pair went to Orléans where Banks was again arrested for sorcery and sentenced to burn at the stake. He was given one last chance and, to redeem himself, Banks taught Marocco to kneel down before a cross, proving that he was not a devil.

One account of Banks suggest that, following Marocco’s death in 1605, he worked in James I’s stables, and later trained horses for George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham (who gave his name to, among others, Of Alley).

London’s great names: Kitcat Terrace and Clotworthy Skeffington

Once again, apologies for the gap in posts on this blog; I am trying to work out a system that means posting something at least once a week; daily is proving to be something of a challenge and less frequently than weekly means losing momentum.

But enough about me. I’ve been reading up on some of the fascinating people who, in one way or another, have contributed something to my knowledge of London streets.

Some of these people are fascinating by virtue of their names: Sir Harbottle Grimston, for instance; and Praisegod Barebone (who was demurely named compared with his brothers). And Clotworthy Skeffington, of course, more of whom shortly.

Which brings us back to people who have made a contribution to London’s history, such as Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who lived in Covent Garden and has a (tenuous, of course) connection with Kitcat Terrace in Bow, East London.

The delightfully named Kitcat Terrace rather sedately commemorates the Reverend Henry James Kitcat, rector of St Mary’s Bow from 1904 to 1921. The name derives from Kitcott, a place name in Devon.

Ok, the connection is tenuous enough that she doesn’t really have a connection with the terrace, but rather with the Kit-Kat Club, founded in 1700 by a bookseller called Jacob Tonson. The club was comprised of Whig Patriots dedicated to ensuring that Protestants would continue on the throne after the reign of William III, and also to encouraging the fine arts.

The club had a yearly toast to honour a lady of the day whom the members wished to honour. The toast was elected by ballot and the lady’s name was written on the club’s drinking glasses with a diamond. (Presumably they got through an awful lot of drinking glasses.)

Lady Mary’s father, Evelyn Pierrepont, 1st Duke of Kingston-upon-Hull, took her to the club when she was a child, and she was made the toast for the year. Apparently, in her old age, she said that it had been the happiest day of her life: “Petted, praised, fondled, and fed with sweetmeats.”

Toasts and sweetmeats notwithstanding, Lady Mary is perhaps best known for the letters she wrote when she was in Turkey, wife to Edward Wortley Montagu, the British Ambassador in Istanbul.

And a little sidenote to history: apparently, at the time of her marriage, Mary was in love with another man but eloped with Wortley to avoid marriage to her father’s choice of suitor. The rejected suitor rejoiced in the name of Clotworthy Skeffington.

London’s occupational streets (part 2): Frankenstein, gambling, and a famous transvestite

Following on from ironmongers and rope makers, London’s streets contain more occupations, from brewers to skinners. But first, let’s look at one ‘occupation’, which may be cheating a bit: Boss Street, south of the river near Shad Thames.

A boss was once a reservoir of water; there was once a Boss Alley which, London historian John Stow tells us was, “Named from a Bosse of spring water continually running standing by Billingsgate against this alley, erected by the executors of Richard Whittington”.

Brewer Street cropFrom water to beer, and bosses to brewers: brewing is represented in, among others, Brewer Street, Brewers’ Hall Gardens, and Brewer’s Green.

Unusually for London street names, Brewer Street does take its name from the noble art (or science) of brewing, and there were two 17th-century breweries here. One of these was opened in 1664 by Thomas Ayres (who gave his name to Air Street), and continued brewing until the 19th century. The other, opened a few years later, lasted only 70 years.


A contemporary caricature of the Chevalier D’Eon, depicting him as half man, half woman

Brewer Street was also the residence of that enigmatic character, the Chevalier D’Eon, who first came to England in 1762 as an undercover agent for Louis XV. The Chevalier started life as a man, and then, for the last 33 years of his life, lived as a woman; upon his death he was discovered to be anatomically male. He is considered to be one of the earliest openly transvestite people.

Brewers Hall Gardens cropBrewers’ Hall Garden takes its name from the Hall of the Company of Brewers, one of the oldest City Livery companies, and number fourteen in order of precedence.

The Brewers were granted a Royal Charter in 1438, at which time they rejoiced in the name of ‘The Wardens and Commonalty of the Mystery of Brewers in the City of London’. There has been a Brewers Hall on the site for over 600 years.

Brewers GreenBrewer’s Green, however, is nothing to do with brewing; it takes its name from one 17th-century William Brewer, who was a gardener.

Potters Fields, near Tooley Street, was once called Potts Field and takes its name from – you guessed it – pottery. Following religious persecution in Holland, many Dutch potters fled to England, and the Pickleherring Pottery, one of the earliest Delftware kilns in England, was established here in the early 17th century. (Perhaps another piece in the puzzle that lies behind the name of Pickle Herring Street? I just love it when street names mesh.)

Potters Fields has rather more unpleasant connotations, being the name for a place where unknown people are buried. This term comes from the Bible; ground that was rich in the clay used by potters was useless for agriculture and therefore a handy burial spot.

Bursar Street is another occupational street, of which there are quite a few in the Tooley Street area. Others are Carter Lane (no longer there, but there is one near St Paul’s), Druid Street (possibly stretching to call it an occupation, but it’s still a great street name, and Weaver’s Lane.

EAS_3891Why Bursar and Druid I have yet to find out, so any insights gratefully accepted; Carter Lane near St Paul’s probably does take its name from carts. Either because carters lived in the area or because, in the 13th century, St Paul’s churchyard was walled up and carts would have to detour through the lane.

The reason for closing the courtyard was that, “by the lurking of thieves and other lewd people, in the night-time, within the precinct of this churchyard, divers robberies, homicides, and fornications had been oft times committed therein”.

The London street name expert FH Habben, generally to be relied on to poor cold water on some of the more fun theories of London’s street names, had this to say of that theory: “The statement hardly lends itself to one’s credulity, and one would be rather inclined to connect it with a builder or owner’s name, but there is no evidence to warrant this.”

But back to the Tooley Street area, and Weaver’s Lane, which probably does take its name from the many weavers who lived in London and who may also have given the name to Petticoat Lane.

Shavers Place 2 cropShaver’s Place, near Piccadilly, has two shaving reasons for the name, one occupational and one more of an occupational hazard. Simon Osbaldeston, formerly the barber to the Lord Chamberlain, set up a gambling house here in the 17th century.

As with Piccadilly, however, local wits were responsible for the naming of his house: they dubbed it ‘Shaver’s House’ in honour less of his former profession than of the treatment that visitors to the gambling house received.

Skin Market Place takes its name from London’s (legal) skin trade: here, in the market, were sold “the skins from nearly all the sleep slaughtered in London”. The market appears on maps in the late 1700s but is gone by the turn of the century. There is also Skinners Lane, EC4, once known as Maiden Lane and named for much the same reason, except that the skins in this case were furs.

Skinners LaneSkinner Street, however, has differing theories for its name. One is that in the early 19th century an Alderman Skinner was the driving force behind building the street.

More probably, and earlier, is that in 1630 eight acres of land were bequeathed to the Worshipful Company of Skinners by John Meredith. It was not, however, until two hundred years later that the street was built by James Whiskin, who gave it the name.

One resident of the street was William Godwin, an atheist philosopher and novelist himself, but perhaps more famous for his literary wife and daughter. His first wife was the feminist Mary Wollenstonecraft, who wrote Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792 – a work that demanded equal educational opportunities for men and women.

The daughter of that marriage (sadly her mother died from a fever less than two weeks after the birth of her daughter) was Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, née Godwin, wife of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and author of the Gothic novel Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus.

A less savoury claim to fame for the street is that a sailor called Cashman was hanged in a gunsmith’s shop: he had stolen a gun during the Spa Field Riots of 1816 and was the last person in England to be executed at the scene of the crime.

There is also a Skinner’s Lane, which took its name from the fur merchants of the time.

More occupational names, that will have to wait for another time, included Clothier Street, Cutler Street, Grocers’ Hall Court, and Gunner Lane, among (many) others.