‘Why not fish?’ Paxview enquired of me, making reference to Shadwell. Why not indeed? I hadn’t made the Shadwell – or Shad Thames – connection with fish before, but once the fishy idea was in my head it was like an earworm, so I rushed off to my favourite culinary street name resource, streatsoflondon.
Borrowing heavily (with prior permission, of course) from that site, I can give you the following: Albacore Crescent, Bream Street, Brill Place, Coley Street, Dace Road, Drum Street, Grayling Road, Ling Road, Mullet Gardens, Perch Street, Pike Close, Roach Road, Salmon Place, Shad Thames, Sturgeon Road, Tench Street, Trout Road, and Whiting Avenue.
And, if we’re not being purist about fish rather than seafood, we can also include Oyster Row and streets that are precluded from inclusion on that website, such as Bream’s Buildings, Fish Street Hill and Pickle Herring Street, more of which shortly, but – as is my wont – let’s start on a bit of a tangent with Billingsgate, originally one of the old water gates of the City of London.
That doesn’t have a fishy name but is certainly loaded with fish associations. According to John Stow, the market was originally a general market for a number of goods including corn, coal, iron, wine, salt, pottery – and fish, and by the 16th century had become a specialist fish market. The cries of the vendors gave their name to an expression of vulgar language, as in swearing like a fishwife, particularly a Billingsgate fishwife.
Near to Billingsgate is Fish Street Hill, once New Fish Street, the main road leading to London Bridge. In the 13th century it became the centre for fishmongers who settled there because of its proximity to the main fish market of Billingsgate; the street was one of the authorized spots for retail fish sales. Samuel Pepys mentions it in his description of the Great Fire of 1666:
“By and by Jane comes and tells me that she hears that above 300 houses have been burned down tonight by the fire we saw, and that it was now burning down all Fishstreet by London Bridge.”
We’ve touched on Pickle Herring Street, before; this, sadly, no longer exists, having given way to modern developments in the Tooley Street area. The name could be because the street was on the site of one of the Thames River’s old wharves – where cargoes of pickled herrings were shipped.
On the other hand, the name may also have come from the fact that Sir John Falstofe, who gave his name to Shakespeare’s Falstaff – and was once a fish merchant – lived on this spot in 1447. Incidentally, though herrings were pickled in England as far back as the 14th century, it was more of a Dutch speciality. There is a record, in 1584, of a ‘Peter Van Duraunte alias Pickell Heringe’ being buried in Bermondsey; he was actually a brewer, but he may have had an inn called the Pickled Herring.
As you can see in the map section pictured left, Pickle Herring Street led into Shad Thames under the Tower Bridge Road, so we can stop being tangential and lead into Shad Thames ourselves.
And, surprise, surprise, the name is nothing to do with fish. It is, instead, probably a contraction of St John at Thames; the Priory of St John at Jerusalem owned about 25 acres of land here from the 13th century until the Dissolution. In Oliver Twist, Bill Sikes lived and died on Jacob’s Island, east of Shad Thames.
(Incidentally, while I am singing the praises of other blogs such as Paxview and streatsoflondon, and we are on the subject of Charles Dickens, you could do worse than have a look at another great London-related blog, David Perdue’s Charles Dickens Page.)
On to another fish name that has nothing to do with fish: Salmon Lane in Limehouse. This takes is name from the church of St Dunstan’s in Stepney. Work that one out. No, don’t bother, I’ll tell you: ‘Salmon’ in this instance is a corruption of ‘sermon’; this was the closest church for Limehouse residents until 1729 when St Anne’s church was built in Newell Street. So the lane was the route people would walk to church to hear a sermon.
See? Easy when you know. Incidentally, the church of St Anne’s was designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, contemporary of Sir Christopher Wren; he also contributed to the design of St Paul’s Cathedral and Blenheim Palace.
While I’m not sure about Bream Street, Bream’s Buildings, which leads off Chancery Lane, was once a cul-de-sac. In 1877 it was extended into Fetter Lane; it may have been named after the landowner or builder. The name itself may come from the word ‘breme’ meaning fierce or energetic. Likewise, Coley Street is named for a person rather than a fish: Henry Coley was a 17th-century astrologer and mathematician. That name comes from ‘colig’, meaning dark or swarthy.
Back, briefly to Shadwell – the reason for this entire blog. When I was first in the UK there was a TV comic program called ‘Naked Video’ and one of the regular characters was geeky Welsh Siadwell (pronounced Shadwell). I thought it was one of the funniest things I’d ever seen even though, as a recent arrival to these shores, I understood very few of the references. Does anyone else remember Siadwell? I seem to recall that he was always being threatened with a kicking by the school bully.
Today let’s go back to Greenwich and the blog that gave us Pigsty Alley and inspired our recent theme of London’s grubby streets. Paxview’s ‘A day in Greenwich’ also discusses One Tree Hill, which gave me the idea of London’s tree-related streets, of which there are many. Starting, naturally, with One Tree Hill – and thank you to @JR_justJR for the photograph, which he took half way between One Tree and the Royal Observatory.
The hill, which is the site of an oak tree, was once called Five Tree Hill; what happened to the other four is uncertain. The one tree was Honor Oak, which took its name from the fact that it marked a boundary of the ‘Honor of Gloucester’ – land belonging to the 12th-century earls of Gloucester.
The tree itself, however, is supposed to date far earlier than that, and there are several stories attributed to it. Queen Boudicca (was supposed to have been defeated here in battle in the year 61. Queen Elizabeth dined under it on the last May Day (for more on May Day celebrations, see )of her life, and Dick Turpin used it as a lookout.
In the late 19th century the oak was destroyed by lightning and another planted close by. The tree was used for the prayers involved in the local beating of the bounds, as with Gospel Oak, and the last of the ceremonies took place there in 1899.
George Cruikshank, cartoonist and satirist, mentions the area in his Comic Almanack):
Then won’t I have a precious lark
Down One Tree Hill in Greenwich Park
(We’ve already covered Gospel Oak which 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.)
Since mighty oaks from little acorns grow, let’s look at Acorn Lane (which no longer exists, alas, but there are Acorn Court, Acorn Parade and Acorn Walk). This name come from an inn sign: the acorn was used in signs partly because it was an attractive design; there is also the theory that it was an indication of the landlord’s intention to grow his business to impressive proportions, however small the beginnings.
The oak itself has long been a common tavern sign as well, Royal Oak being particularly popular. The heart of the oak was used in shipbuilding, and the expression ‘heart of oak’ is used for someone of exceptional bravery. In the language of plants, bravery and hospitality are said to be the qualities of the oak tree; this was particularly true for King Charles II, as he hid in the Royal Oak at Boscobel in Shropshire after losing losing the Battle of Worcester in 1651. Boscobel House is now part of English Heritage and is open to visitors who can see a descendant of The Royal Oak.
Another oak tree that has a London street connection is Allgood Street. In the words of Mae West, “goodness had nothing to do with it” and this street, named for a local antiquarian, HGC Allgood, was previously called Henrietta Street and had somewhat scandalous associations. The Henrietta refers to Henrietta Wentworth, mistress of the married Duke of Monmouth, natural son of Charles II.
Henrietta used her jewels and wealth to help fund Monmouth’s unsuccessful attempts to capture the throne from James II. Monmouth was beheaded in July 1685 and Henrietta died the following year, supposedly from a broken heart. Her mother had an elaborate monument built to Henrietta’s memory in the church at Toddington, the Wentworth’s estate in Bedfordshire. However, a more personal and touching memorial existed in the form of her name, carved by Monmouth, on an oak tree in the Toddington estate. The tree became known locally as the Monmouth Oak.
From acorns to cherries, because of Mary Poppins, who was the magical nanny to the Banks family who lived at Number Seventeen Cherry Tree Lane in London. While there is no real Cherry Tree Lane in central London, there is one in Romford in Essex. In the capital itself, there are at least one each of a Cherry Tree Close, a Cherry Tree Drive, a Cherry Tree Road, and a Cherry Tree Way.
Elder Street, near Shoreditch High Street, is named for the flowering plant Sambucus nigra, otherwise known as an elder tree. It is part of an estate developed by the Tillard family, Huguenots who acquired land and developed the estate in the 1720s.
The elder tree is surrounded by a multitude of beliefs and superstitions – for instance, it was thought at one time to be the tree from which Judas Escariot hanged himself, and also to be the wood from which the Cross of Calvary was made, giving rise to its reputation as a symbol of death and sorrow. (Still, the elderflower and the elderberry make great country wines, and I speak from experience of both making and drinking them.)
The painter Mark Gertler, who served as the basis for DH Lawrence’s character Loerke in Women in Love lived in Elder Street from 1911 to 1915.
And on from One Tree Hill to Seven Sister Road in north London. This takes its name from a tavern called, the Seven Sisters, which in turn commemorated the fact that, in front of it, stood a circle of elm trees with a walnut tree in the centre. The trees, removed in the 1840s, were supposed to have dated back to around the 14th century, planted on the spot where a martyr had been burned.
The seven sisters is a term that refers to the Pleiades, and to the cliffs on England’s Sussex coast, from Cuckmere Haven to Beachy Head, and to a loose association of seven liberal arts colleges in the Northeastern United States that are historically women’s colleges. It also refers to a set of cannons used in the Battle of Flodden, a 16th-century conflict between the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland.
Singer Dame Shirley Bassey was a resident of Seven Sisters Road during the 1950s before she became famous and Rob Fleming, the main character in Nick Hornby’s book High Fidelity, lives in Seven Sisters Road. (The book was(made into a movie with the wonderful John Cusack, but it is set in Chicago rather than London.)
Counting up to nine and Nine Elms Lane, which is now more of a major road than a lane, running on the south bank of the Thames and past the New Covent Garden market. It was, however (yay! it makes sense) once a country lane which did run past nine elm trees.
There was once a Nine Elms train station which opened in 1838. Nine – appropriately enough – days after it opened it was over-run by more than 5,000 racing fans who rushed there for the eight special trains going near Epsom for the Derby Day. The station was closed to the hoi polloi ten years later; it was, however, still used by Queen Victoria and other worthies such as Giuseppe Garibaldi, who visited England only once, in 1864. When he arrived by special train at Nine Elms station, there was such a huge reception for him that his journey by carriage to Piccadilly (a little over two miles) took six hours.
After being damaged during the World War II, Nine Elms station was finally closed in the 1960s.
Wood Street could be considered cheating, but wood is from trees. This name dates back to the 12th century, supposedly from the fact that all the houses there were built of wood. Some sources have it that, as one of the Cheapside streets, it was given the name because timber and firewood were sold there.
Others, including John Stow, also point to the fact that there was a Thomas Wood, Sheriff of London, who lived in the street and built a row of houses there (“the beautiful row of houses over against Wood street end”), but as he was there in 1491 the name would seem to be more happenstance than commemoration.
There is another tree connection: Wordsworth immortalized the street in his poem ‘The Reverie of Poor Susan’. Susan, a homesick country girl, passes a plane tree at the end of Wood Street, and the song of a thrush emanating from the tree reminds her of her rural life:
At the corner of Wood Street when daylight appears
Hangs a thrush that sings loud, it has sung for three years
Poor Susan has passed by the spot, and has heard
In the silence of the morning, the song of the bird.
And to end on a grisly note, we shouldn’t really overlook one of London’s most infamous trees: Tyburn Tree, the site for centuries of London’s public hangings. Prisoners were originally hanged from trees near the Tyburn River, and in the 16th century an ingenious gallows that could handle several prisoners at once was erected on the spot still marked by a plaque.
Yes, there are lots of yew, acacia and other tree names in London but they are, in the main, just named because the area has been given a lot of horticultural names.
Thanks to a new Twitter buddy (PaxView Jeff @JR_justJR) and his excellent post on Greenwich, I have discovered Pigsty Alley in Greenwich, a shocking omission from my own blog post on pig-related street names. I hope he doesn’t mind me borrowing his picture.
(In my defence, however, the name does not appear on any of my reasonably up-to-date London maps and atlases: it is, according to another excellent blog, The Greenwich Phantom, relatively new and is “a revival of an 18th Century name for what remains of a ancient thoroughfare. David, who sent me the photo, tells me that the alley, which runs between Maidenstone Hill and Winforton Street, originally ran much further north but post-war clearances severed it”.)
So pigsties lead us to London’s grubbier streets, come of which have been covered in various posts on this blog, but let’s bring some of them together in a mini muck-fest, starting with Grub Street, though that may be cheating a bit as it is now called Milton Street.
Grub Street was known as ‘Grubbestrete’ in the 13th century and could have meant, in the London tradition of not mincing words when it came to street names, ‘street infested with maggots’. It could also have been from ‘grube’, a ditch or drain, or from a personal name – Grub was not an uncommon name in the 13th century.
From grubby streets to gutters and Gutter Lane. This – and don’t you love London street names? – it is nothing to do with gutters. It is, instead, from a 12th-century, possibly Danish, name, variously Gutherun, Goderun, or Gutherson. The lane was known as Goudron Lane and then Gutheran Lane and, according to Isaac Disraeli, who wrote Curiosities of Literature, the first owner of the lane was a citizen of great trade.
Gutters, ditches – and a ha ha, which in this case is a type of ditch, not an involuntary giggle from yours truly. Ha Ha Road (in Greenwich) inspired the book (and its name) that brought about this blog and on which I am still working and aiming to get published. A ha ha is a sunken ditch, which may have taken its name either from an exclamation of surprise from the person who falls into it or the laughter from observers of said fall.
Carting Lane, which features in the post ‘Scatalogical London: from Farting Lane to Pissing Alley’ could also be considered a mucky street as it was once called Dirty Lane. In the past, there were many streets called things like Dirty Lane, Filth Alley, and Stinking Lane, because they were.
Before we leave London’s grubby streets, we could include Catherine Wheel Alley which, though perfectly clean in itself, is the location of a famous London pub called Dirty Dicks (now in the process of being refurbished).
Indeed, there is. And there’s also a story behind Jacob’s Well Mews in Marylebone, so let’s start (because it’s first alphabetically) with that. This story involves both Jacob and a well, and for those of you who have read some of this blog, a straightforward name like that is relatively rare in London streets.
The mews was named for an 18th-century resident and landowner of Marylebone, Jacob Hinde, who also gave his name to nearby Hinde Street (where the novelist Rose Macaulay lived) There was a Jacob’s Well tavern at the end of the mews until 1893. The Tyburn river flowed through the area, which is probably where the water for the well came from.
The young Michael Faraday lived in a house in this mews, his journeyman blacksmith father having moved his family there in 1796 when the boy was five years old.
And on to Lamb’s Conduit Street which, like Jacob’s Well Mews, has a water connection and is what it says it is: there was someone called Lamb, and there was a conduit.
The 16th-century William Lambe (or Lamb) was “a rich citizen and clothworker” who was something of a philanthropist, and the conduit was one example of his generosity. In 1577 he spent £1,500 of his own money to have several springs connected to form a head of water, which was then conveyed by a lead pipe around 2,000 yards long to Snow Hill where a derelict conduit was rebuilt.
The generous Mr Lamb also provided for “poor women, such as were willing to take pains to carry and 120 pails therewith to carry and serve water”.
The original pump from which they drew water has long vanished, but a stone inscribed ‘Lamb’s Conduit, the property of the City of London. This pump is erected for the benefit of the Publick’ was fixed into a building on the site. (On the corner of Long Yard; I missed that one in my London’s ‘length street’ post.)
The conduit was damaged in the Great Fire of London and rebuilt the following year from a design by Sir Christopher Wren.
The area around the conduit, known as Lamb’s Conduit Fields, later became a favourite area in which local residents would stroll and where the air was clean enough that convalescents could be sent there to recover.
Another two tenuously linked threads: recently a Twitter buddy posted a photo of Haunch of Venison Yard, which aroused a flurry of interest.
Then, not so long ago, I posted a story about London street names with parts of the body (though, I regret to admit, I neglected to mention a couple of relevant ones, including Haunch of Venison).
So here we go.
Haunch of Venison Yard is a delightful name, deriving from a tavern that stood at the entrance of the yard from the 1720s to the early part of the 20th century.
The sign was more commonly found near royal hunting forests: though ‘venison’ now means only deer meat, the word derives from the Latin venari, to hunt, and was originally used for the edible flesh of any animal that had been captured and killed in a hunt.
The yard is not far from the Soho area, once grazing farmland and then taken by Henry VIII as a royal park for the Palace of Whitehall, so that may have had some influence in the name.
The sign was also once used, incongruously, by Robert Wills, Confectioner and Pastrycook, whose shop was near St Paul’s cathedral, but there seems to be no explanation of why Mr Wills used a name with such meaty connections. Perhaps he specialized in meat pies alongside his confectionery.
More recently, the name was used as an art gallery, later taken over by the prestigious auction house Christie’s. It also opened Haunch of Venison galleries in New York and Berlin; the Berlin gallery was closed and those in New York and London changed for private sale exhibitions.
A similar name, and also one with a body part, is Shoulder of Mutton Alley, which leads off Narrow Street in Limehouse.
This also takes its name from an inn sign, one indicating the food specialities to be had within that particular establishment. In some cases, particularly in villages, the sign could have meant that the innkeeper was also the local butcher.
There is an inn of that name near Milton Keynes; it was once the local slaughterhouse but is thought to have taken its name from the shape of the land upon which it stands.
There was also a Cat and Mutton Bridge in Hackney, named from a tavern formerly called the Shoulder of Mutton and Cat and now called the Cat and Mutton.
I 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.
First 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 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.
Goaters 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.
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 used 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.
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.
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.”
Well, 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 Fasson 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.
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.”