Stoke Poges, Thomas Gray, and the Cornhill Devils

St Giles church copy

St Giles church, Stoke Poges

Hello, gentle readers, and forgive me for the brief absence from this blog. We were last looking London squares mentioned in University Challenge, and I hope for today you will indulge me in a few moments’ reminiscence. One of the places I have had on my ‘must visit’ list for as longs I can remember is Stoke Poges.

Gray plaque copyWhy, you ask? (Though for some of you it may be obvious.)

Well, one of the very first poems I remember being aware of (after ‘The Goblin Market’ by Christina Rossetti) was Thomas Gray’s ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’. The very first lines I knew of it were: “Full many a flower is born to blush unseen/And waste its sweetness on the desert air.”

Gray tomb copy

Thomas Gray’s final resting place

That churchyard belongs to the parish church of St Giles, where Gray is buried. In the adjacent field there is a large memorial to Gray. So I got to visit Stoke Poges; see the churchyard; see where Gray is buried; and see a memorial to Gray.

Ok, enough indulgence and reminiscence. But Gray does, of course, have London connections: he was born in Cornhill. As far as I know that’s the only real London connection. We’ve visited Cornhill before, in the pages of this blog, but here’s a recap of some of the facts about that ancient street.

Gray memorial copy

The Thomas Gray memorial

Walter Thornbury, author of the first two volumes of Old and New London, said of it that, “Cornhill, considering its commercial importance, is a street by no means full of old memories.” However, there is lots of interesting ‘stuff’ about the street. First of all, it is (despite the claims of Panyer Alley) the highest point in the City of London.

In fact, one of my favourite tidbits of information about Cornhill involves the church of St Peter’s Cornhill, which stands on that highest point. The church was, for a time, considered to be the oldest church in England and has the only chancel-screen known to have been designed by Christopher Wren.

EAS_4101Facing the church, at 54-55 Cornhill, is a building with three 19th-century gargoyles known as the Cornhill Devils. These are, supposedly, an architect’s revenge on an obstreperous rector.

When the buildings in that area were being designed, the rector of the time discovered that one of the buildings would encroach fractionally on church land. He insisted the plans be redrawn so, forced literally back to the drawing board, and facing no small expense as a result, the architect gave one of the gargoyles the face of the rector.

Apart from Gray, Cornhill has some literary connections: the publishers Smith and Elder had an office there in the 19th century; and two sisters had to appear there in person to prove that they were Anne and Charlotte Bronte rather than Acton and Currer Bell.

And Daniel Defoe had a hosiers shop there; in between his writing he was a trader and one of the goods in which he dealt was hosiery.

London squares and connections to art, religion, and the British Museum

University Challenge was on the other night and I was not quite listening when suddenly I heard Jeremy Paxman say “London squares”. Yay! – there was a round of questions on London squares. I don’t remember the questions in detail (though I did get all the answers, luckily, as I would have been mercilessly mocked had I not), but the three squares involved were Paternoster Square, Mecklenburgh Square, and Sloan Square.

I don’t have much on Mecklenburgh Square; it was named for Charlotte, queen of George III and Victoria Woolf lived there for a time. Oh, yes, George and Charlotte were patrons of Johan Zoffany, who gives his name to Zoffany Street.

Paternoster Square takes its name from Paternoster Row near St Paul’s Cathedral. It is argued by some that, before the Reformation, there was a regular procession of the clergy around the cathedral. This 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.( There are quite a few streets in London with religious (or religious-sounding) names, as you can see here.)

Another, less colourful but possibly more accurate, theory is that Paternoster Row, the oldest of the streets and dating from the 14th century, is where rosary beads (paternosters) were made. The other names may have followed on naturally in the religious context, especially as clerks who copied religious texts lived there.

Sloane Square is named for the physician, naturalist and collector Sir Hans Sloane. Among other achievements, he introduced cocoa to England and bequeathed the 70,000-plus objects in his collection to George II so that his collection would be preserved intact. That collection formed the basis of the British Museum.

National Puppy Day, leopards, and medicinal waters

Update: how could I forget to mention this? There is a Baskerville Gardens in Dog Lane.

Today is National Puppy Day, so naturally I’ve had to check, and while there’s no puppy street in London, never fear. We do have Dog Lane in Neasden, a Dog and Duck Yard in Bloomsbury, and a Dog Kennel Hill in East Dulwich.

Dog Lane takes its name from the Old Spotted Dog pub that stood at the end of the lane, but it may in fact have had nothing to do with dogs. Centuries ago signs were largely pictorial, to cater for a bit part of the population who may not have been able to read.

Shop and tavern signs were then often given nicknames that reflected public opinion on the merits, or at least representational accuracy, of the painter. For instance, one proud shopkeeper had a sign painted, showing a human leg with a garter and a star (possibly to reflect the fact that he had received the Order of the Garter). To his chagrin it was not long before he discovered that his sign was referred to as the Leg and Star.

So in this case, it is likely that the spotted dog may have been a leopard from from a family coat of arms.

Dog and Duck Yard almost certainly takes its name from an inn sign, which referred either to the more common form of duck hunting with guns and retrievers, or possibly from one of Charles II’s sports, known in 1665 as the ‘Royal Diversion of Duck Hunting’. The fun of this diversion was to throw ducks, often with pinioned wings, into a pond and watch them try to escape from the spaniels that were sent in after them.

By the beginning of the 19th century the pleasure of that type of duck hunting had begun to pall and the sport went out of fashion, leaving only the name (and, no doubt, generations of traumatized ducks) behind. There has been a Dog and Duck pub in Soho’s Bateman Street since 1734, built on the site of the Duke of Monmouth’s house, and there was once a notorious Dog and Duck tavern in the St Georges Fields area of Southwark.

At first, this tavern’s claim to fame was the medicinal waters nearby, recommended in 1771 by Dr Johnson.Just a few years later, however, its reputation was in decline and after spending some time as a favoured spot for criminals and prostitutes, it was finally closed permanently by magistrates in 1799.

The Royal Bethlehem Hospital, built on the site in the early 19th century, had associations with a different kind of ‘medicinal waters’. The original hospital, once located near Moorgate, was better known as Bedlam and patients who became violent were, among other carefully considered treatments, ducked in water.

Dog Kennel Hill does (probably) have a real connection with dogs in that Prince George of Denmark had kennels for his hounds here. However, there is also a theory that an earlier landowner (date unknown), one Monsieur de Canel, resided there, and Dog Kennel is a heavily anglicized version of his name.

Poetry, loyalty, and dancing on graves

I read a lovely article today about Joseph Grimaldi and being able to dance on his grave (or an artwork representation of it) in Pentonville Road. The grave itself is Grade II listed, but a memorial to Grimaldi was created by artist Henry Krokatsis.

The concept of dancing on a grave brings us back both to Marylebone, and to Camberwell, by way of one of my favourite stories about Robert and his loyalty to his wife and fellow poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. And if it’s not true, it should be.

Apparently Edward Fitzgerald, a critic and also a poet, famous for his translation of ‘The Rubayiat of Omar Kayyam’, once wrote disparagingly about Elizabeth’s poetry, including the rather tasteless remark that her death was something of a relief to him.

Browning, who read the article some years later after Fitzgerald’s own death, travelled to Suffolk for the sole purpose of dancing upon Fitzgerald’s grave.

But back to Marylebone and Camberwell: on Wednesday we visited the church in Marylebone where the couple were married. Elizabeth lived with her family Marylebone’s Wimpole Street prior to her marriage. The street takes its name from the Cambridgeshire seat of the Harley family, who owned land in the area. (And of course, also gave their name to Harley Street, but that’s for another time.)

Camberwell? Oh, yes, Rainbow Street, SE5 retains the name of the earlier Rainbow Lane that led to the manor house of the Dovedales, called Rainbow House. Part of the estate included Rainbow Cottage, which is where Browning was born. But why Rainbow I don’t know, so any light that can be shed on that would be gratefully received.

Oh, and Pentonville Road? From Henry Penton, a lawyer and landowner of the area; his descendant of the same name laid out the land for development in the 18th century.

Tothill Street: burial grounds and ping pong

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marylebone and the church by the stream

Following on from Monday’s post about Grotto Passage in Marylebone, and with a diversion for St Patrick’s Day, let’s go back to Marylebone and its name.

Marylebone takes its name from St Mary’s, an old local parish church of the area, which replaced the original church of St John of Tyburn. In the 14th century, violent criminals haunted parts of Marylebone and the local parishioners at the church became so distressed at the fact that their little church was continually broken into, robbed,and vandalized, that they petitioned the Bishop of London, Robert de Braybroke, to let them move their church to a safer area.

The new church of St Mary’s, less than a mile away from the old site, and located near the Tyburn river (from teoburna, or boundary stream), was known as St Mary by the bourne, or St Mary-le-Bourne, which eventually became Marylebone.

The original church no longer exists but there is a ‘Garden of Peace’ on its site, with plaques commemorating many famous resident of, and visitors to, the area. Among these was Charles Wesley, brother of John Wesley, who founded the modern Methodist church; there is a monument erected there to mark the site of his original gravestone.

George Stubbs, the 17th-century artists known for his paintings of horses, and Edmond Hoyle, card expert and author of books on card games – hence the expression ‘according to Hoyle’ – were both buried in the old churchyard. Others mentioned on a plaque are Sir Edmund Douce (Cupbearer to 2 Queens) and James Figg (Pugilist).

From funerals to weddings and baptisms: Lord Byron was baptized there, and Lord Nelson, who worshipped in the church, had his only child – daughter Horatia – baptized there.

William Hogarth portrayed the interior of the church in the marriage scene from his famous series ‘A Rake’s Progress’ and the old church also saw the weddings of Francis Bacon, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, and Elizabeth Barrett, who lived in nearby Wimpole Street with her family from 1838 until she eloped with fellow poet Robert Browning.

St Patrick’s Day and green street names

Let’s not miss out on the green theme for today: London has a fair number of green street names, so here are a few, starting with Emerald Street. This street was originally called Green Street, presumably either because it was close to a bowling green, or it was named after a local resident. Towards the end of the 19th century there were far too many Green Streets in London and it was renamed.
Another green street that was renamed is Green Lettuce Lane, now called Laurence Pountney Hill; the name is nothing to do with salad leaves but is, apparently, a corruption of Green Lattice Lane and comes from a lattice gate that opened into what is now Cannon Street.
A much jollier explanation is that, although lattice in its corrupted form does play a part, it was not a gate. In earlier days taverns were designed so that customers could see out without being observed by people going past. This was sometimes achieved with latticework over the window, traditionally painted green or red.
A couple of streets that have remained green include Green Man Lane in West London. The Green Man was once a common in sign and, presumably the origin of this street name, a reference to that of an ancient figure in folk customs: Jack-in-the-Green. He was originally part of the traditional May procession, and represented one aspect of the summer. The Jack was a man enclosed within a wicker cage, which was covered by green leaves and boughs. (A darker take on this tradition was immortalized in the 1973 movie The Wicker Man with Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee, remade in 2006 with Nicolas Cage.)
Later on, Jack-in-the-Green became associated with chimney sweeps, who were traditionally supposed to be carriers of good luck, and during their May Day celebrations, the street procession would include a boy dressed in the wicker costume.
Moving back east, we come to Greenhills Rents near Smithfield Market. There was a time when many lanes and alleyways were built either by one person or with one person’s money, and given the name of ‘buildings’ or ‘rents’. The latter were buildings built specifically to be rented out.
John Greenhill was an 18th-century landowner; he and his wife Agnes owned, among other land and property, the Castle tavern (still there) on Cowcross Street. In 1736 John applied unsuccessfully for a market to be built on his land; the last of his property was sold by Edith Minnie Greenhill in 1920.
Finally, moving north of London, there is a street in Hull called Land of Green Ginger; although this is the title of a book by Winifred Holtby, no-one has been abel to come up with a definitive reason for the street name. A blue plaque attests to the fact by stating, “ One of the oddest street names in the country. Land of Green Ginger was the title of a Winifred Holtby novel. The name’s origina remains a mystery.”

Grotto Passage: shells, schools, and Jezebels

Here’s one of the London street names that is exactly what it sounds like: Grotto Passage in Marylebone is named for a grotto and is the 18th-century testament to one man’s enduring passion. John Castle, or Castles, a creative artist who used shells as his medium, presented George II with the king’s arms in shell work and received a Royal Acknowledgement for his pains.He was later invited by Sir Robert Walpole to construct a grotto in the Royal hospital garden at Chelsea and his fame grew.

Castle built his own grotto on one and a half acres of land near Moxon Street (Grotto Passage stands on the original site) and people flocked to see his intricate shell designs housed in tents and sheds. In 1748 one newspaper reported, “At Marybon is to be seen, Castle’s great and inimitable GROTTO, or SHELL-WORK, so much admired by the Curious”.

The Grotto also offered meals and various entertainment and even attracted members of the royal family – leading Castle to call it the ‘Royal Grotto’ and to raise the entrance fee from one shilling to half a crown. According to one 19th-century London historian, it was an ““Exhibition of Shell-work, called the Great Grotto, the property of one John Castles, who died in 1757; the ingenuity of this artist appears to have been duly appreciated by the Public, his Exhibition have been a celebrated place of fashionable resort.”

Castle died in 1757 and the Grotto was never the same afterwards; it closed finally in 1759 and was built over, but at least its name lives on in the passage and also on the name of a school carved into a wall in the passage: The Grotto Ragged and Industrial Schools.

The school was established in 1845, part of the 19th-century movement of ragged schools, charitable organisations dedicated to the free education of destitute children. A report on the school paints a vivid portrait of what the area was like in the Victorian age, pointing a particularly disapproving finger at the oldest profession.

“The district selected by the founders for their beneficent efforts is notoriously one of the most debased spots of London. The nest of courts midst which it is planted form an oblong square, so flanked by the residences of the aristocracy that a stone’s- throw suffices to divide the homes of penury from the halls of luxury. In no part of London does the “great social evil,” as it has been aptly termed, form a more prominent feature—the only distinction being that, whilst the reveller of the Haymarket flaunts in silk and satin, with brandied-eye and rouge-cheek, the wretched tenants of this place are too poor to disguise their vice, or too degraded to seek to hide their occupation, Jezebel like, by paint.”

St David’s Day, Nell Gwyn, and David Garrick

Today’s blog is based on the facts that, first, it is St David’s Day; St David being the patron saint of Wales and, second, that I had a recent ‘I never knew that’ moment when I learned that the Pretenders were (apart from Chrissie Hynde) from Hereford. Or at least the original band members were.

So, here we go again with the tenuous connections, and leap straight to Nell Gwyn (or Gwynne). The city of Hereford claims to have been the birthplace of Nell Gwyn, mistress of Charles II, and supporters of that theory point to the fact that Gwyn is a name of Welsh origin and Herefordshire borders Wales.

It is, however, considered more likely that she was born in London, in Coal Yard Alley off Drury Lane. The alley did actually lead to an old coal yard; in the 19th century it was described as “a row of miserable tenements”. Much of the ‘facts’ about Nell Gwyn are largely a matter of speculation: Pepys records that Nell said she was “brought up in a bawdy-house to fill strong water to the guests”.

Incidentally, there is a Hereford Road in West London; the land in this area was developed by a Mr William Kinnaird Jenkins, a Herefordshire lawyer and landowner (with a Welsh name) who named many streets after places in Herefordshire and the neighbouring Welsh area.

But back to Nell, who was described as the “indiscreetest and wildest creature that ever was in court”; it was also said of her that “the King loved more for her wit than the attractions of her person … it was difficult to remain long in her company without sharing her gaiety”. Indeed, Charles II’s last words were reputed to have been “Let not poor Nellie starve.”

Nell did not try to hide her humble beginnings or her status as a concubine; one example of her wit was when she was bing booed by people mistaking her for Louise Renée de Penancoët de Kérouaille, another of Charles’s mistresses, Nell said, “Pray, good people, be civil – I am the Protestant whore.”

Nell spend the last years of her life in Pall Mall, where she spent her last years and where she had a solid silver bed in a room lined with mirrors.

And even more – not even that tenuous – connection: Nell was reputed to have sold oranges outside of the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane; the actor and playwright David Garrick managed the theatre for nearly 30 years. Oh, yes, and Garrick was born in Hereford.

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.