January 9, 2017
The hospital, which was named at St Katharine – whom tradition holds was martyred in the 4th century by the Roman Emperor Maxentius – was founded by Matilda, the wife of King Stephen, in 1147, for the maintenance of 13 poor people.
It was supported by various English queens over the ensuing centuries, including Eleanor, beloved wife of King Edward I, who granted it a new charter in 1273, and Queen Philippa, wife of King Edward III, who drew up new regulations for the running of the hospital in 1351.
Having survived an attempt to have the hospital abolished by Puritans in the 17th century and an attempt to burn it down during the late 18th century Gordon Riots, in the early 19th century demand for new docks brought about the old hospital’s final demolition.
In 1825, the hospital relocated to Regent’s Park. Now known as the Royal Foundation of St Katharine, it is currently located in Limehouse, having moved there in 1948 (we’ll take a more in depth look at the history of St Katharine’s Hospital in an upcoming post).
The docks, meanwhile, was opened in 1828 following the removal of more than 1,200 homes and a brewery as well as the old hospital – works carried out despite a public outcry and, apparently, no compensation. Designed by Thomas Telford (of the Iron Bridge fame – this was apparently his only London project), the docks occupy a 23 acre site and featured a central basin opening to two docks lined with brick warehouses.
The docks were closed in 1968 and in the years since, the warehouses have been converted into shops, eateries, offices and residences while the waters are now used as a marina for luxury yachts.
November 21, 2016
The moniker came from the square’s landlord, the Duke of Grafton, who owned a country seat called Euston Hall near Thetford in Suffolk, and apparently derives from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Efe’s Tun’ meaning the ‘farmstead of a man called Efe’.
The now much altered square (the gardens of which are pictured) was originally developed in the 1820s; in the 1850s the New Road – which had been developed by the second Duke of Grafton, Charles Fitzroy, in the 1730s to take farm traffic off Oxford Street and Holborn – was renamed Euston Road.
It only makes sense then that when the mainline station on that road was developed in the 1830s (it opened in 1837, exactly a month after Queen Victoria became the monarch), it too was named Euston (as was the now long-gone Euston Arch – see our earlier post here).
Euston Underground Station opened in 1907 while Euston Square Underground station, which originally opened as Gower Street in 1863, was renamed Euston Square in 1909.
Interestingly the area around Euston Road also features numerous references to Grafton in honour of the duke – Grafton Street, Grafton Place and Grafton Way among them – while other streets also have links to the names of the dukes’ family – Warren Street (which also lends its name to a Tube station), for example, is named for Anne Warren, the wife of the second duke’s grandson.
PICTURE: Kevin Gordon/CC BY-SA 2.0
October 24, 2016
Mansion House, perhaps best known as a tautological-sounding Tube station, is actually the name of the official residence of the Lord Mayor of London (a suitable subject, we felt, given the upcoming Lord Mayor’s Show in November).
Designed by George Dance the Elder and built between 1739 to 1753 (many years after the idea of an official residence for the Lord Mayor was proposed in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London), the Palladian-style property – located a stone’s throw from the Royal Exchange and the Bank of England on a short stretch of street named after the property – has been the home of the Lord Mayor since the latter date.
It was built on the site of what was known as the Stocks Market (it had previously been the location of some stocks – used to punish people for various misdemeanours), the name isn’t actually as repetitive as it looks but actually means “official residence” and was previously used to designate homes which went with particular ecclesiastical jobs.
As well as accommodation for the Lord Mayor, the interior of the Grade I-listed property features two halls known as the Egyptian Hall and what was initially known as the Dancing Gallery but is now the Ballroom (we’ll be taking a more in-depth look at the property at a later date).
The Tube station opened in 1871 as the eastern terminus of the Metropolitan District Railway. Interestingly, Bank station is actually closer to the property with Mansion House station located to the south-west down Queen Victoria Street.
September 17, 2016
Sure, it’s quite obvious that this well-known thoroughfare through Chelsea and Fulham in west London was named for a king but which king and why?
Access was granted only to those whom the monarch permitted – initially via ticket and from the 1720s via a copper pass stamped with the king’s monogram. Entry was controlled by a series of gates located along its length.
King George III was also known to use the route to travel to his palace at Kew and it was only in 1830 that it was finally opened to the public.
The road, which now runs west from Sloane Square for two miles through Chelsea, transforming into the New King’s Road after entering Fulham, is now known for its shopping (not to mention the site of the UK’s first Starbucks in 1999) although in the 1960s and 1970s it served as something of a hub for London’s counter-culture.
The road has been associated with many famous figures over the years – the king aside. Composer Thomas Arne lived at number 215 and apparently composed Rule Britannia while he did, actress Ellen Terry lived in the same property from 1904-1920 and bon vivant Peter Ustinov after her.
Other famous associations include one with Mary Quant, who opened her ground-breaking boutique Bazaar at number 138a in 1955 and Thomas Crapper, toilet entrepreneur, who had a premises at number 120.
August 22, 2016
Originally named Little Brittany, it was settlers from Brittany in the east of modern France that inhabited the area where the street can be found after the Norman Conquest. Foremost among them apparently was the Duke of Brittany who apparently had a house here prior to the 1500s.
Between the late 15th century and early 18th century, the street was known as a location for booksellers (it was here that Britain’s first daily newspaper, the early 18th century Daily Courant, was printed in the area after moving from Fleet Street).
Famous residents over the years have included the 17th century poet John Milton (there’s also a much-repeated anecdote that has a Little Britain-based bookseller trying to convince the Earl of Dorset to buy as many copies of the apparently immoveable Paradise Lost as he could carry) , a very young Samuel Johnson (the then three-year-old and his mother lodged with a bookseller when she brought him to be touched by Queen Anne as a cure for his scrofula), and Benjamin Franklin who stayed here in 1724.
Literary references included a mention in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations – the office of the lawyer Mr Jaggers were placed here.
St Bartholomew’s Hospital now occupies many of the buildings in the street.
June 20, 2016
Now the name of a dock on Bankside (pictured below), St Mary Overie (also spelt as Overy) also forms part of the formal name of Southwark Cathedral, more properly known as The Cathedral and Collegiate Church of St Saviour and St Mary Overie.
The simple version of the name’s origins is that it simply means St Mary “over the river” (that is, St Mary on the south side of the Thames) which was used in relation to a priory founded there in the Norman era by two knights (it’s to this foundation that what is now Southwark Cathedral owes its origins, something we’ll take a more detailed look at the nunnery in an upcoming Lost London post).
But there’s also another, more romantic version, of the name’s origins. That story, as it’s told on a plaque located at the dock (pictured above), goes back to before the Norman founding of priory, back to the days when, before the building of London Bridge, a ferry ran between the two banks of the River Thames.
The man responsible for the ferry was John Overs, a “notorious miser”, who decided to save money by feigning his death and thus plunging his household into mourning, saving that day’s provisions. As one may imagine, however, Overs was not a popular man and his servants, instead of fasting in their mourning, held a feast in celebration of his death.
In rage, the old master leapt out of his bed and a servant, terrified and imaging some sort of demonic manifestation, struck him fatally with an oar on the head.
Overs’ daughter, Mary, sent for her lover so that he may come and together with her claim her father’s inheritance but such was his haste, he fell from his horse and broke his neck. So overcome was Mary by her misfortunes that she founded a convent into which she subsequently retired (this was subsequently ‘refounded’ by the two Norman knights).
The dock, meanwhile, is today the berthing place of the Golden Hinde II, a sea-worthy replica of the flagship in which Elizabethan explorer Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the globe (for more on the ship, see our earlier post here).
May 16, 2016
This West End district, located between Bloomsbury, Marylebone and Soho, probably owes its name to the Fitzroy Tavern, a public house which in turn is believed to owe its name to the Dukes of Grafton, whose family name was Fitzroy.
The Fitzroys (the name derives from a Norman-French phrase and was typically associated with base-born royal sons), owned land in the area until the end of the 1800s.
The family first become associated with the area after the Manor of Tottenham (more on that name in an upcoming post) came into the possession of Henry Fitzroy, an illegitimate son of King Charles II who became the Earl of Euston and later Duke of Grafton.
Incidentally, the grand Fitzroy Square, developed by the duke’s grandson, and Fitzroy Street are both also named after the family as are numerous other locations in the area including Grafton Street.
Fashionable as a residential area in the 1700s, the houses were gradually transformed into workshops – the area was noted for furniture-makers in particular – or cheap tenements and it’s during this period in the early 1800s that artists like John Constable were living in the area.
The name Fitzrovia apparently became popularised for the district which in the inter-war years, due to the community of artists and writers that met at the pub; it is said to have first appeared in print in the 1940s. Among those who were associated with the area during this period were the likes of writers Dylan Thomas and George Orwell and artists like Roger Fry and Augustus John.
More recently the area has become home to numerous media companies, particularly TV-related companies, and still hosts ample pubs, restaurants and cafes.
Notable buildings in the area include the BT Tower, a communications tower completed in 1964 which was until 1980, the tallest building not only in London but in the UK (and from where panoramic views could once be had – sadly it’s been long closed to the public).
Fitzrovia is also home to the quirky Pollock’s Toy Museum.
PICTURE: David Castor (caster)/Wikipedia
April 11, 2016
A street and small district based just to the north of Holborn in the Borough of Camden, the origins of Hatton Garden’s name stem from the Elizabethan-era courtier Sir Christopher Hatton.
Sir Christopher, Lord Chancellor during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and one of her favourites, acquired land here in the 1570s after the Queen forced the bishops of Ely to rent him some of the land they owned which was attached to their London residence, Ely Palace (commemorated today in nearby Ely Place, still home to London’s oldest Catholic church).
Hatton, whose annual rent was apparently fixed at £10, 10 stacks of hay and a red rose at midsummer, subsequently built a property, Hatton House, on the garden.
This survived until the mid-1600s when a series of properties were laid out on the site, centred on what is now the street known as Hatton Garden (Sir Christopher, who was buried in Old St Paul’s Cathedral, had died in 1591). Wren House, originally apparently a chapel and later a charity school, which still stands in Hatton Garden, was built around this time.
The houses were mostly replaced in the mid 18th century with new homes built for prosperous merchants but, as the years passed, while the street itself remained home to some of the wealthy, the same could not be said of some other streets nearby, like Saffron Hill, which became notorious slums.
In the early 1800s artisans started moving into Hatton Garden – London’s Little Italy was born around this time just to the north when Italian craftsmen started moving in (the St Peter’s Italian Church opened in 1863 in Clerkenwell Road) – and the area was gradually transformed into a commercial district.
Jewellery and watch-makers, who had long been based in Clerkenwell, started moving in and the street soon became particularly noted as a centre for cutting diamonds, initially those from India. It was an association which only grew stronger following the discovery of diamonds in South Africa’s Kimberley diamond field in the 1870s.
Today, the street known as Hatton Garden – which runs between Holborn and Clerkenwell Road – still contains the most concentrated cluster of jewellery retailers in the UK (as well as apparently an extensive subterranean network of tunnels and passageways as well as many heavily guarded underground vaults) and is still the centre of London’s diamond trade.
Incidentally, the street was also home to workshops at number 57 which, from 1881, produced the rapid firing Maxim Gun following its invention by Sir Hiram Maxim (and, of course, it was also the location of last year’s safe depository robbery and another famous jewellery robbery back in 1993).
A short side note – it was the wife of Sir Christopher Hatton’s nephew, Lady Elizabeth Hatton, who become associated with Bleeding Heart Yard (you can revisit that story in our earlier post here).
February 22, 2016
As with so many London locations, the name Camden Town comes from a previous landowner – but more indirectly it originates with the great 16th and 17th century antiquarian and topographer William Camden.
The story goes like this: late in his life William Camden – author of Britannia, a comprehensive description of Great Britain and Ireland – settled near Chislehurst in Kent on a property which became known as Camden Place.
In the 18th century, the property came into the possession of Sir Charles Pratt, a lawyer and politician (among other things, he was Lord Chancellor in the reign of King George III), who was eventually named 1st Earl of Camden.
It was Pratt who, having come into the possession of the property by marriage, in about 1791 divided up land he owned just to the north of London (which has apparently once been the property of St Paul’s Cathedral) and leased it, resulting in the development of what became Camden Town (Pratt, himself, meanwhile, is memorialised in the name of Pratt Street which runs between Camden High Street and Camden Street).
In 1816, the area received a boost when Regent’s Canal was built through it – the manually operated, twin Camden Lock is located in the heart of Camden Town.
Although it has long carried a reputation of one of the less salubrious of London’s residential neighbourhoods (a reputation which is changing), Camden Town is today a vibrant melting pot of cultures, thanks, in no small part, to the series of markets, including the Camden Lock Market, located there as well as its live music venues.
Past residents have included author Charles Dickens, artist (and Jack the Ripper candidate) Walter Sickert, a member of the so-called ‘Camden Town Group’ of artists, and, in more recent times, the late singer Amy Winehouse.
Of course, the name Camden – since 1965 – has also been that of the surrounding borough.
January 18, 2016
Famous around the world as the home of bespoke tailoring in London, Savile Row owes its name – like so many other streets in Mayfair – to landowner Richard Boyle, the 3rd Earl of Burlington.
Burlington (1612-98) resided at Burlington House (now home of the Royal Academy of Arts) on Piccadilly and after his death the land around his former home was developed and the streets named for Burlington and members of his family.
Among them was his wife, Lady Burlington, née Lady Dorothy Savile, after whom Savile Row was named. Laid out in 1695, the street was actually located on the site of the former kitchen gardens of Burlington House and was given its name (originally Savile Street) in the 1730s.
The first to reside here were apparently mostly military and politicians (these included PM William Pitt the Younger) and it was only in the early 19th century that the first tailors started to set up shop here. With clients including society dandy Beau Brummell (see our our earlier post here) and the Prince Regent (later King George IV), the street’s fame grew rapidly and continued into the 20th century when customers included some of the biggest names in Hollywood – Cary Grant, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra among them.
Among the famous tailoring firms still operating in Savile Row are Anderson & Sheppard (at number 30, it’s where the Prince of Wales has his suits made), Henry Poole (at number 15, Victorian-era owner Henry Poole is credited as the inventor of the tuxedo), and Hardy Amies.
Headquartered at number 14 (with a shop at number 8), Amies gained an international reputation when appointed dressmaker to Queen Elizabeth II in 1955/the address was previously owned by the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan and was also the address Jules Vernes gave Phileas Fogg in Around the World in Eighty Days).
One last tailor worth a particular mention is that of Tommy Nutter, who set up shop at number 35 in the late Sixties with a nameplate out front simply reading Nutters and shocked traditionalists with his modern take on tailoring – this modern approach continues among some tailors in the street even today.
The street also has a famous claim in the story of the Beatles – the moved their company Apple Corps Company into number 3 in July, 1968, and it was on the roof of this building that they played their last live gig on 3rd January, 1969.
December 14, 2015
A Marylebone street which is synonymous the world over with the private medical profession, Harley Street’s name is taken from the surname of the second Earl of Oxford, Edward Harley.
As was the fashion, he named Harley Street after himself – but it’s certainly not the only street which he dubbed with his own moniker. The earl also held the titles of Earl Mortimer (Mortimer Street) and Baron Wigmore (Wigmore Street, Wigmore Place and hence the music venue Wigmore Hall) and also came to own Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire (Wimpole Street) and Welbeck Abbey in Northamptonshire (Welbeck Street and Welbeck Way).
But the ties to the earl don’t end there: in 1713 he married Lady Henrietta Cavendish Holles (Henrietta Place, Cavendish Square, New Cavendish Street and Holles Street) while their daughter Margaret married William Bentinck (Bentinck Street), the 2nd Duke of Portland (Great Portland Street, Little Portland Street and Portland Place).
Incidentally, after the earl’s death, the area passed to his daughter and become known as the Portland Estate. It remained the property of the Dukes of Portland for five generations until the fifth duke died without issue in 1879 and the land passed to Lucy Joan Bentinck, widow of the 6th Baron Howard de Walden. Thus Harley Street now forms part of a 92 acre area known as the Howard de Walden Estate.
But back to Harley Street itself. Its association with the private medical profession dates from the latter half of the 19th century when there was a dramatic increase in the number of those engaged in the profession moving into the area, attracted by its quality housing and accessibility (the numbers still remain significant today). The name Harley Street today refers to both the street and also more generally to the surrounding area.
The long list of famous residents who have lived in the street have included painter JMW Turner (number 64 between 1799 and 1805), Victorian-era PM William Ewart Gladstone (number 73 and geologist Sir Charles Lyell also lived here in a premises which is now The Harley Street General Practice) and, made famous through the film, The King’s Speech, Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue who had his practice at number 146.
November 16, 2015
There’s a couple of different suggestions as to how Bleeding Heart Yard – a small courtyard located in the Farringdon area of the City of London, just north of Ely Place – obtained its rather descriptive – and gory – name.
The more prosaic answer is that it was named after an inn which, from the 16th century, stood on the yard and had a sign showing the heart of the Virgin Mary pierced by five swords.
The more interesting answer, on the other hand, is that the name commemorates the horrible murder of Lady Elizabeth Hatton (of the famed Cecil family), second wife of Sir William Hatton (formerly known as Newport), and, after his death, wife of Sir Edward Coke.
The story goes that her corpse was found here on 27th January, 1626, with the beating heart torn from the body.
A version of the legend – albeit with a slightly different protagonist – appears in a story published in Bentley’s Miscellany in 1837 which told of how the wife of Sir Christopher Hatton (he was actually the uncle of Sir William Hatton), made a somewhat ill-conceived pact with the Devil to secure wealth, position and a mansion in Holborn. The Devil dances with her during the housewarming party at the new home and then tears out her heart, found beating in the yard the next morning.
The yard also features in Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit where it is the location of the home of the Plornish family.
October 19, 2015
Famed for its market, the area around the southern end of London Bridge is generally simply known as Borough. But that’s just an abbreviation – Borough is actually a contracted version of Borough of Southwark.
The origins of the word borough come from the Old English burh, a word which originally simply referred to a ‘fortified place’ and, in this case, referred to the settlement which, since Roman times, had grown up outside the city walls around the southern approaches to London Bridge.
It later came to mean a town with its own locally-based government and, according to Cyril M Harris in What’s In A Name?, Southwark was, in the later Middle Ages, the only London borough outside the City Wall which had its own MP.
The fact that the borough was outside City jurisdiction meant it become a popular place for inns, theatres and other forms of entertainment including the infamous Southwark Fair.
Although ‘Borough’ can still be used as an alternative word for the entire Borough of Southwark, these days when people refer to ‘The Borough’, they’re often referring to just a small district of the much larger borough.
While it’s hard to get a fix on exactly where the boundaries of this district are, at the heart of this area is Borough High Street and landmarks particularly associated with it include the Borough Market (see our earlier post here) as well as Southwark Cathedral and the galleried George Inn as well as the Church of St George The Martyr (and, of course, its own Tube station, which opened in 1890).
August 17, 2015
Renowned as the heart of the UK’s fashion industry in the 1960s, Carnaby Street’s origins go back to a mansion built here known as Karnaby House (with a ‘k’, although the street always apparently started with a ‘c’).
The house was built in 1683 although who it was built for remains something of a mystery. It was apparently was demolished within 50 years or so when the east side of the street, which had been laid out in the late 1600s, was recorded as the site of a series of “pest” (plague) houses.
The street was later home an abbatoir and while tailors had moved in during the late 19th century, it wasn’t until the middle of the 20th century that it began to attract a reputation for fashion, becoming the epicentre of Swinging London during the 1960s.
Boutiques included John Stephen’s pioneering men’s boutique His Clothes – which attracted high profile customers including members of The Small Faces, The Rolling Stones and The Who – as well as Lady Jane, Lord John, and the wonderfully named I was Lord Kitchener’s Valet.
The street – which was pedestrianised in 1973 – is still home to a large number of fashion boutiques. It’s numerous pop-culture references include its appearance in U2’s video for the 1992 song Even Better Than The Real Thing and it being named as the location of the flat of ‘spy’ Austin Powers. In recent years it’s also has its own stage show: Carnaby Street: The Musical.
For more on Carnaby Street today, check out www.carnaby.co.uk.
July 20, 2015
Famous for its associations with London’s theatreland, Drury Lane takes its name from the Drury family who once owned a mansion here.
Previously known as the Via de Aldwych (apparently for a stone monument the Aldwych Cross which stood at the street’s northern end), Drury Lane – which runs between High Holborn and Aldwych – was renamed after Drury House which was built at the southern end of the street.
Some accounts suggest it was Sir Robert Drury (1456-1535), an MP and lawyer, who built the property around 1500; others say it was his son, Sir William Drury, also an MP and a Privy Councillor, who did so in around 1600 – which may mean there were two versions of the one property.
The street, meanwhile, is said to have been briefly renamed Prince’s Street during the reign of King James I (1603-1625) but, following the Restoration in 1660, the name Drury once more gained supremacy.
The origins of the street’s famous theatre (London’s oldest), the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, dates from the same year (see our earlier post here). Other theatres in the street included the Cockpit Theatre which had been designed at one stage by Inigo Jones.
The street is also famous for being the site of the worst outbreak of the plague in London – the Great Plague of 1665, burned away the following year by the Great Fire – and by the 18th century was a slum noted for its seediness, in particular for prostitution (it features in William Hogarth’s work The Harlot’s Progress).
This didn’t change until the second half of the 19th century – author Charles Dickens had been among others who had commented on the poverty he had seen there – when gentrification took hold. Among the shops opened there during this time was the first Sainsbury’s, founded at number 173 in 1869.
Alongside the Theatre Royal Drury Lane (although the main entrance is in Catherine Street), other theatres in the street today include the New London Theatre and the London Theatre.
June 22, 2015
Given the recent commemorations surrounding the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo (including a re-enactment of the arrival of news of Wellington’s victory in London where it was delivered to the Prince Regent), we thought it only fitting to take a look at the use of the name in London.
The name Waterloo, which now refers to a district in Lambeth centred on Waterloo Station, was first used to designate the bridge which crosses the Thames here.
Opened in 1817 as a toll bridge, the John Rennie-designed structure was known as Strand Bridge during its construction but renamed Waterloo at its opening two years after the battle. (Rennie’s bridge was later demolished and rebuilt in the 20th century – the current bridge is pictured above).
The name was also used to designate Waterloo Road and in the early 1820s was given to the church St John’s Waterloo (now St John’s and St Andrew’s at Waterloo) located on the road.
In 1848, Waterloo Station opened and it was after this that the surrounding district, known in past ages for its swampiness (hence streets like Lower Marsh), generally became known as Waterloo.
On 3rd July, Waterloo will host the Waterloo Carnival with a picnic on Waterloo Millennium Green and a procession (for more on that, see www.waterlooquarter.org/news/come-and-support-this-years-waterloo-carnival) while the month-long Waterloo Food Festival kicks on on 1st July. For more on events in Waterloo commemorating bicentenary, see www.wearewaterloo.co.uk/waterloo200/.
May 25, 2015
This City of London thoroughfare runs between St Botolph and Outwich Streets and its name – first recorded in the 13th century – apparently relates to its location on the outer side of the wall, dating from the Roman era, which once encircled the city.
On the outer side of the wall lay a ditch which, although filled and redug several times in its history, was eventually filled permanently in the 16th century (and became the street you can now walk upon).
Dogs were associated with this ditch – the skeletons of some dogs were found here in 1989 during an archaeological dig at the wall, possibly dating back to Roman times – although there’s a couple of theories on exactly how.
According to one version, the ditch, before it was finally filled, had become the repository of all sorts of rubbish but was particularly known as a site to deposit the corpses of dogs. An alternate theory, meantime, suggests that kennels which housed dogs used in hunting were once located here.
The name ‘houndsditch’ was apparently used for many sections of the ditch which lay outside the city wall before it came to be associated with this particular stretch of ditch.
The street (and the area in which it sits, also known as Houndsditch) has apparently been associated with several different trades over its history including bell founding, gunmaking and cannon founding and, later for the rag trade. In the 20th century, it was the site of department store, The Houndsditch Warehouse.
It was in Houndsditch that Dr Thomas Barnardo found 11 boys sleeping huddled together on the roof of the old rag market – a fact which helped push him to found the first of the Barnardo’s homes for the destitute in Stepney.
Famously, of course, it was also the scene of an attempted robbery and shoot-out in 1910 which led to the infamous Siege of Sidney Street (see our earlier post here).
For more on the Houndsditch murders, see Donald Rumbelow’s The Houndsditch Murders and the Siege of Sidney Street.
April 27, 2015
One of the most famous streets (and photographed) in London (though sadly not open to the public), Downing Street in Whitehall is these days most well-known for being the location, at Number 10, of the official residence of the British Prime Minister.
But Downing Street’s history dates back to a time before the first British PM moved in (this was Sir Robert Walpole in the 1735 and even after that, it didn’t become a regular thing for Prime Ministers to live here until the Twentieth century). And its name bears testimony to its creator, Sir George Downing, a soldier and diplomat described as “a miserly and at times brutal” man who served first under both Oliver Cromwell and, following the Restoration, King Charles II (and was, coincidentally, one of the first graduates of Harvard University).
In the 1650s, Sir George took over the Crown’s interest in land here, just east of St James’s Park, and intended to build a row of townhouses upon it. His ambitions were delayed, however, due to an existing lease with the descendants of Elizabethan courtier Sir Thomas Knyvet who had once lived in a large home on the site of what is now Number 10 Downing Street.
By the 1680s, however, the lease had expired and between 1682-84, Downing was able to construct a cul-de-sac, closed at the St James’s Park end, featuring either 15 or 20 two storey terraced townhouses with stables and coach-houses, designed by no less than Sir Christopher Wren.
While the homes were apparently of shoddy craftsmanship and stood upon poor foundations (Churchill famously wrote that Number 10 was “shaky and lightly built by the profiteering contractor whose name they bear”), the street apparently attracted some notable residents from the start.
These included the Countess of Yarmouth, who briefly lived at Number 10 in the late 1680s, Lord Lansdowne and the Earl of Grantham, and even, briefly, apparently the diarist James Boswell in the mid 1700s. Downing himself isn’t thought to have ever lived here – he retired to Cambridge a few months after the houses were completed.
The houses between Number 10 and Whitehall – on the north side of the street – were taken over by the government and eventually demolished in the 1820s to allow for the construction of offices for the Privy Council, Board of Trade and Treasury while the houses on the south side remained until they were demolished in the early 1860s to make way for the Foreign, India, Colonial and Home Offices.
The numbers in the street have changed since Downing’s houses were first built. Of the original homes in the street only Number 10 (home of the PM) and Number 11 (home of the Chancellor of the Exchequer) survive.
Access to the street has been restricted since the 1980s with the current black steel gates put in place in 1989.
An underground tunnel apparently runs under the street connecting number 10 with Buckingham Palace and the underground bunker, Q-Whitehall, built in the 1950s in the event of nuclear war.
March 30, 2015
Farringdon is a name that crops up quite a bit in London. As well as Farringdon Road, Farringdon Street and Farringdon Lane, there’s a Tube/overground train station which also bear the name along with two of the 25 wards of the City of London.
These latter are named Farringdon Within and Farringdon Without – a distinction which relates to their placement within and without the City’s walls and dates to the late 14th century.
While the name Farringdon, which can be found elsewhere in England, apparently meant ‘ferny hill’ in Old English, its origins in London apparently relate to two medieval London goldsmiths, William de Faringdon (also spelt de Farindon and various other ways) and his son Nicholas.
Both William and Sir Nicholas were aldermen and Lord Mayors of London in the late 13th and early 14th centuries.
Sir Nicholas was apparently well favoured by King Edward II – he was several times appointed mayor, a job the king apparently said he could hold for “as long as it pleased him”. He was buried at St Peter-le-Chepe, destroyed in the Great Fire of London.
Interestingly, another well-known alderman of this ward was the radical MP John Wilkes, who was elected while in Newgate Prison.
Farringdon Street, which becomes Farringdon Road, runs along the course of the former Fleet River and dates from the 1730s when the river was arched over.
February 24, 2015
First recorded in the 11th century, the second part of the name – which apparently is related to/a derivative of the word ‘hithe’ or ‘hythe’ – means a riverside landing place while the first part of the name is exactly what it seems – ‘lamb’. Hence, Lambeth was a riverside landing or shipping place for lambs and cattle.
There has apparently been a suggestion in the past that the word ‘lamb’ actually derived from an Old English word meaning muddy place, hence the meaning was ‘muddy landing place’. That theory, however, is now generally discounted.
Lambeth these days is still somewhat in the shadow of the much more famous Westminster river bank opposite but among its attractions is the Imperial War Museum (located in the former Bethlem Hospital, see our earlier post here), Lambeth Palace (pictured above) – London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and, of course, the promenade of Albert Embankment (sitting opposite Victoria Embankment).
The headquarters of MI6 is also located here in a 1994 building designed by Terry Farrell (among its claims to fame is its appearance in the opening scenes of the James Bond film, The World Is Not Enough).