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’ 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.

Ham Yard and other pig-related street names

Revisiting Ham Yard: I have a special occasion coming up next week and my research for a special pre-theatre dinner restaurant led me to, among others, a new Japanese restaurant in Ham Yard. (Engawa – anyone heard of it or have any experience of it?)

Ham Yard properly belongs in the ‘gastronomy street names’. Food played a large part in the naming of taverns – and hence London streets; often the speciality of the house would be featured in the sign. There was a Ham tavern here as early as 1739 and there was also once a Tudor mill in this area (commemorated in Great Windmill Street). The Ham tavern became the Ham and Windmill, was renamed the Lyric in 1890 and still stands there today.

Ham Yard was once the congregation point for London’s ‘sandwich men’, which is only a mental hop, skip, and jump to the Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu, who is popularly believed to have created the sandwich because he did not to move from his gaming table and ordered some meat between two slices of bread so that it would be easier to eat. (Another version is that he came up with the concept when he was working at a desk rather than gambling at a a table.)

Still, the Earl was a ‘bit of a one’ as the expression goes, and whether his sandwich came about because of work or play, he was a member of the notorious Knights of St. Francis of Wycombe, otherwise known as the Hellfire Club. Another member was the radical journalist John Wilkes, who had one of the best comeback lines in history.

Wilkes, quick-witted and acerbic, is one of the people to whom the following is attributed: when Sandwich said to him, “Sir, I do not know if you will die on the gallows or of the pox,” Wilkes replied, “That, my lord, depends on whether I embrace your lordship’s principles or your mistress.”

But back to gastronomy and street names; in particular, pig-related streets. In addition to Ham Yard there is also a Bacon Street in East London, described as a ‘drab little turning off Brick Lane’; a Bacon’s Lane in Highgate, and a Bacon Grove in Bermondsey.

Bacon Street, the origin of the name of which I am still investigating, may be most famous for its ‘king’: Charlie Burns, who died in 2012 aged 96. He grew up in the street and ran the family business there, visiting it every day until his death. For a in-depth look at Burns, there is a fascinating article about him on the Spitalfields Life website.

Bacons Lane in Highgate is named after Sir Francis Bacon; it marks the spot of the house where he died, a victim of his own thirst for knowledge: he contracted pneumonia after investigating the principles of refrigeration, a pursuit that involved him stuffing a fowl with snow to see if it would preserve the meat.

Huggin HillBacon Grove takes its name from a Josiah Bacon, a 17th-century leather merchant whose will provided for the foundation of Bacon’s School (later a City Technology College, and now an Academy called Bacon’s College), along with an endowment of £150 per year.

While not strictly speaking gastronomy, there are two other fun ‘pig’ street names: Huggin Hill, which takes its name from hogs rather than hugs, and Swains Lane, which takes its name from swine rather than gallant pastoral gentlemen.

Incidentally, the Ham Yard and Bacon Street signs are compliments of the excellent website, with photos of just about every gastronomic street sign in London.

Horse & Dolphin Yard: inns, boxers and hangmen

Horse & Dolphin Yard2 cropIt may not be the year of the horse, but it is the Chinese New Year and we were in Soho yesterday, so where better to go than Horse & Dolphin Yard in Chinatown, just a few minutes’ walk from Soho Square?

This tiny passageway, with its sign showing the name in Chinese characters as well as English, takes its name from a coaching inn that was built in 1685 (it was later named the Macclesfield Arms, Macclesfield Street being just around the corner, and later still De Hems after a retired Dutch captain who leased it and ran it as an oyster house).

The derivation of the name is unclear: the horse is a common emblem on tavern signs, nearly always either qualified (Trotting Horse, Galloping Horse, Pack Horse) or in conjunction with something else (Horse and Groom, Horse and Hounds, Horse and Jockey). Dolphin is also not uncommon in signs, either as the friendly creature who brought luck to sailors, or as the dauphin, the eldest son of the king of France.

Unless there is some special and now unknown significance behind the horse and dolphin combination, it could have been an example of two pub signs being combined to keep two sets of customers happy.

When the inn was still the Horse and Dolphin, in the early 19th century, it was owned by the American bare-knuckle boxer Bill ‘The Black Terror’ Richmond. Apart from his boxing prowess, he is also noted in history as being one of the hangmen who executed Nathan Hale. Richmond was only 13 at the time.

Nathan Hale, considered a spy by the British and a hero by the Americans, ranks among those people with the most famous of dying words, his being, “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.”

Soho: hunting cries, Manhattan, and a house of charity

House of St Barnabas

The House of St Barnabas

I was just watching a programme about the Crossrail project in London; Soho Square was mentioned, so of course, that was a great cue to mention Soho and its name.

The name is generally accepted to have come from an ancient hunting cry; apparently ‘tally ho!’ is the cry when a fox breaks cover and ‘soho!’ is when huntsmen uncouple the dogs.

There is also a SoHo district in Manhattan; that comes from the fact that the area is South of Houston. And here’s an interesting thing about pronunciation: Houston, Texas is pronounced ‘hugh-ston’ (or, if you’re British, ‘hoo-ston’); Houston Street in Manhattan is pronounced ‘how-ston’

But back to Soho Square, which was built in the late 17th century and was originally called King’s Square, after Charles II. When building began in 1681, apparently there were only a few residents, one of whom was the Duke of Monmouth – one of Charles II’s illegitimate sons. The square eventually took its name from the area, known previously as Soho or Sohoe.

Interestingly, the Duke of Monmouth used ‘Soho!’ as a rallying cry for his troops at the Battle of Sedgemoor, the final battle in his rebellion.

The square is home to the House of St Barnabas, a charitable organization was founded in 1846 and was “the only Home in London gratuitously afforded to such distressed persons as are of good character, upon a recommendation from some one who knows them”.

In 1859, Charles Dickens’ ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ was published and immortalized the garden and a plane tree beneath which Dr Manette and Lucy were portrayed entertaining.

Ironmonger Row: lizards, Formosans and laudanum

Following on from yesterday’s post about livery companies and their connections with London’s streets, let’s revisit the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers, partly because I gave them such short shrift and partly because of a (tenuous) connection to a great eccentric.

To start with, the company does give its name to Ironmonger Lane near St Paul’s cathedral. It was was once known as ‘Ysmongeres Lane’ around the turn of the 12th century and was also the haunt of ironmongers. The Ironmongers Company had their original hall here until the 15th century, when they acquired buildings in Fenchurch Street and moved there, along with most of the ironmongers.

It also gives its name to Ironmonger Row further north; once largely inhabited by ironmongers, the row was built in the 18th century on land bequeathed to the Ironmongers Company in 1527 by Thomas Mitchell, ironmonger and citizen of London. The bequest involved 10 acres, so there was lots of room for more streets to be built, and others were Mitchell Street, Helmet Row, and Lizard Street.

The derivation of the name Mitchell Street is pretty obvious, but Helmet Row and Lizard Street may give pause to think. Unless you see the coat of arms of the Ironmongers Company, which features two salamanders (lizards) and a helmet.

But back to Ironmongers Row and perhaps its most eccentric inhabitant: George Psalmanazar, who was, perhaps, as famous for being an enthusiastic user of laudanum as for being a fraud. He claimed to be the first Formosan (Formosa being Taiwan today) to visit Europe and wrote extensively about the country in his book An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa, an Island subject to the Emperor of Japan.

As the name alone suggests, it was as fictional as it was detailed. A couple of its highlights were the ‘facts’ that men walked naked except for a gold or silver plate to cover their genitals and that Formosans were polygamous and husbands had a right to eat their wives for infidelity.

Psalmanazar lived to be eighty-four and attributed his good health to the “ten or twelve spoonfuls of laudanum, and very often more” that he drank every night.

London’s livery companies and street names

Throgmorton pillarYesterday’s post touched on the Drapers Company, so I think it’s time to start taking a look at the City of London livery companies, inextricably linked into London’s history and to many of its famous streets (or unusual street names). They are also linked to a common expression – ‘at sixes and sevens’ – and a curious pub name, both of which are explained later in this post.

The Drapers Company has a hall at one end of Throgmorton Avenue; at the other end is the hall of the Carpenters Company. (To give them their proper names, they are the Worshipful Company of Drapers (number 12 in order of precedence, and we’ll get to that shortly) and the Worshipful Company of Carpenters (number 26).

Livery companies can be seen as early trade associations, incorporated under Royal Charter, with some of them dating back to medieval times. In 1515 an order of precedence was set, with the top 12 still referred to as the Twelve Great Livery Companies. Between 1746 and 1926 no new companies were created; those post-1926 are considered the modern livery companies.

The livery companies were powerful bodies in their time, regulating their respective trades and the practitioners of that trade. Interestingly, the original companies would seem to indicate the importance of textiles in medieval times: of the great twelve companies (see table below), five are textile related in some way; number 13 in order of precedence is the Worshipful Company of Dyers, and there is also a Worshipful Company of Weavers. The twelve great companies are:

  1. Worshipful Company of Mercers
  2. Worshipful Company of Grocers
  3. Worshipful Company of Drapers
  4. Worshipful Company of Fishmongers
  5. Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths
  6. Worshipful Company of Skinners/Merchant Taylors
  7. Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors/Skinners
  8. Worshipful Company of Haberdashers
  9. Worshipful Company of Salters
  10. Worshipful Company of Ironmongers
  11. Worshipful Company of Vintners
  12. Worshipful Company of Clothworkers

The Skinner and Taylors have no fixed order of precedence; instead they swap annually between sixth and seventh. This comes about because of a long-standing dispute about which was granted a charter first; both received charters in 1327 but there is with no proof as to which was earlier. The dispute, apparently, eventually reached bloodshed and was taken to the Lord Mayor of London. He decreed that the respective Masters should be entertained to dinner by each other’s company annually and that each company should alternate the ranks of sixth and seventh from year to year.

This is often said to have originated the expression ‘at sixes and sevens’, (though some sources say it is more likely to have come from dicing).

So that’s the potted history of livery companies; now here are some connections, however tenuous, between the livery companies and some of the street names that have adorned this blog.

Garlick Hill cropGarlick Hill, where the Worshipful Company of Leathersellers’ Company is based. The company is ranked fifteenth in the order of precedence and was founded by royal charter in 1444 with authority to control the sale of leather within the City.

Mincing Lane cropMincing Lane, where the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers make their home in the Clothworkers’ Hall (their own hall was destroyed in the Blitz). The company, which was granted a Royal Charter in 1439, is one of the oldest, dating back to at least 1272. Cordwainers make “fine soft leather shoes and other luxury footwear articles”. The name comes from the soft leather, or cordwain, that its members used; this originated from Cordoba in Spain. And, yes, Jimmy Choo is a member of the Cordwainers.

EAS_3880Elephant and Castle, where theories about its name include the emblem of the Worshipful Company of Cutlers (number 18 on the list). The Cutlers are now based in Warwick Street but their original hall (destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666) was in what is now Cloak Lane.

EAS_4136St Mary Axe, where the the John Stow Memorial Service is held in the church of St Andrew Undershaft. Stow was a member of the Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors and that august body organizes the biannual service, which includes the ceremonial changing of the quill.

Threadneedle Street, which takes its name from the Worshipful Company of Needlemakers, and where the Merchant Taylors once had their hall.

The Swan with Two Necks (ok, cheating; it’s a pub name, rather than a street name, but so what? it’s a great name), which takes its name from the Worshipful Company of Vintners and the practice of swan upping. The Vintners, along with the Drapers and the ruling monarch, are the only people or bodies allowed to own swans on the Thames.

Pudding LanePudding Lane, home to the first great hall of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries (not a typo, it is the Society and not the Company). The hall, like so many other halls and London landmarks, was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 and was later rebuilt in Blackfriars Lane. The Apothecaries also have a connection with the British Museum and the Chelsea Physic Garden, which has an entrance in Swan Walk and therefore a connection with the famous Doggett Coat and Badge race, which is organized by the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers.

Petticoat Lane viewWeaver Street and Petticoat Lane, with connections to The Worshipful Company of Weavers, which, while it is number 42 in precedence, received its charter in 1155, making it the oldest recorded City Livery Company.

And last, at least for now, Ironmonger Lane, with connections to the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers (which has its hall in Aldersgate StreetAldersgate Street) and The Worshipful Company of Mercers, which has its hall in the lane. The first Mercers’ Hall was off Cheapside but was – you guessed it – destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666.

More on livery companies in the next (or at least a future) post.

Austin Friars, Thomas Cromwell, and a botched execution

Drapers plaque websiteNow that we’re in the middle of ‘Wolf Hall’, the BBC’s dramatization of Hilary Mantel’s superb novels about Thomas Cromwell, it seems a good time to revisit Austin Friars, where Cromwell lived.

Austin Friars is one of several London streets whose names fall into the ‘doubling up’ category. Like streets such as Piccadilly, Strand, Haymarket, Cheapside, and many others, they don’t have street, lane, road, or anything like that in their name. A few other examples are London Wall (not too difficult to figure out), Bevis Marks, Petty France, Shad Thames, and The Baulk.

Austin Friars 2 cropAustin Friars takes its name from a dissolved Augustinian friary established in the 13th century and dissolved in 1538. In addition to the priory buildings, some of the land belonging to the friars was used for buildings rented out to people such as Cromwell. Cromwell continued to extend his estate by obtaining more of the friary land and building one of the largest private mansions in the city.

Throgmorton pillarIt wasn’t just friary land that Cromwell acquired, according to London historian John Stow, whose father had a house in Throgmorton Street. When Cromwell decided to extend his nearby garden, he just moved Stow senior’s house. As Stow junior puts it: “this house they loosed from the ground, and bare upon rollers into my father’s garden twenty-two feet, ere my father heard thereof; no warning was given him”.

When Cromwell was executed following his fall from Henry VIII’s favour, his estate was seized and sold off. His execution was a fine example of the punishment not necessarily fitting the crime. The decapitation was seriously botched and, according to a contemporary chronicler, Cromwell “paciently suffered the stroke of the axe, by a ragged Boocherly miser whiche very ungoodly perfourmed the Office”.

Drapers Hall Plaque copy

Coat of arms of the Drapers Company

The Drapers Company, which is one of the twelve great livery companies of London, bought his mansion from Henry VIII for the sum of about £1,200. The house then became Draper’s Hall, which is at one end of Throgmorton Avenue – a private road that runs from Throgmorton Street to London Wall. The Hall, which was destroyed by the Great Fire of 1666, was rebuilt but was again severely damaged by fire in 1772.

Threadneedle Street and a tenuous connection with Cromwell

30 January marks two executions in history: one genuine and one ceremonial. On 30 January 1649 Charles I was beheaded, following the Rump Parliament declaring him guilty of treason. On 30 January 1661 the remains of Oliver Cromwell, the man behind the the Rump Parliament and the king’s execution, were exhumed from Westminster Abbey and ceremonially executed.

There’s already a post on streets with Cromwell connections, but I’m working to an ongoing challenge to find ever-more tenuous connections between historical figures or events and London streets, and there’s a Cromwell association I missed before. It is tenuous, so bear with me.

The City Livery Companies of London play an important role in the city’s history and street names, and one of them, the The Worshipful Company of Needlemakers, was granted livery in 1656 by Oliver Cromwell. The coat of arms of the Company includes three needles, which probably give its name to Threadneedle Street – originally known as ‘three needle’ street, according to John Stow.

The Bank of England is known as the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street, but the nickname comes not from the institution’s age but from the sad story of a bereaved sister. Another tidbit of information about the street is that it is where Sir Thomas Hariot, who introduced the potato to England, died.

Pall Mall, Emma Hamilton, and Curtain Road

Update to Curtain Road (below): it takes its name from the curtain wall (a defensive wall) of the priory.

Update to Pall Mall (more below): it is also possible that there is a connection between Pall Mall and the expression ‘pell mell’ generally taken to mean disorderly confusion or reckless haste.

Today’s blog will start yesterday in the sense that on 28 January 1807, London’s Pall Mall became the first street to have public lighting by gas. Continuing the Pall Mall theme, however, on 29 January 1801 Lady Emma Hamilton, Horatio Nelson’s mistress, gave birth to a daughter christened Horatia. So with two Pall Mall connections, we should revisit that street briefly.

Pall Mall takes its name from a French game, paille-maille (also known as palla a maglio), mentioned as early as the reign of James I, who recommended the game for his eldest son, Prince Henry. The game was similar to croquet, involving a “wooden hammer set to the end of a long staff to strike a boule with”. Pall Mall was allegedly constructed by Charles II especially for the playing of this game.

The expression ‘pell mell’ has been linked with the street; although they have different derivations there are, apparently, early records of both being called ‘pell mell’.

The disorderly confusion comes from the Old French to mix and, as The Phrase Finder puts it: “Whether the game was disorderly and confused and the name was coined from that is speculative. It may be that the similarity between the two is merely coincidence, backed up by indifferent spelling.”

Schaumburg House, at number 82 Pall Mall, has a number of historical connections, but most fascinating was its use as a ‘Temple of Health and Hymen’ or, not to put too fine a point on it, sex therapy clinic and fertility centre. The ‘temple’, established by James Graham, employed at one stage a young girl, known as Vestina, Goddess of Health. She was Emy Lyon, later better known as Emma Hart and then even more famously as Lady Hamilton.

(Incidentally, Horatia was born in a house at 23 Piccadilly – another street name with many theories about its derivation.)

But back to today’s date, and from Nelson to Shakespeare: according to some sources, Romeo and Juliet was staged for the first time on 29 January 1595 in the unimaginatively named Theatre theatre. By happy coincidence, the theatre was on what is now Curtain Road in Shoreditch and, though Curtain is a great name for a lane with a theatre, it was the land, belonging to the priory of Holywell, which was called the ‘Curtayne’. The origin of the name, apparently, is uncertain.