Ever wondered how the streets of London got their name?
Join Hazel Baker as she explores some of the food-related streets of London, how they got their names and how nothing is as it seems.
London Street Names: Food Edition:
Hazel Baker: Hello and welcome to London Guided Walks London History podcast. In the coming episodes, we will be sharing our love and passion for London, its people, places and history in an espresso shot with a splash of personality. For those of you who don’t know me, I am Hazel Baker, founder of London Guided Walks, providing guided walks and private tours to Londoners and visitors alike.
For those of you unfamiliar with London, I have included these food-related streets in a map so you can see where they all are.
Our first food is perhaps the most contested forbidden ingredient on a pizza: The Pineapple.
Tucked away, just south of Buckingham Palace is Pine Apple Court. The pine apple (as they were first known) was introduced to England in the 17th century. It was a rare and vastly expensive fruit which became a popular symbol for wealth as they first had to be imported from the Caribbean. Pineapple were used on signs, for e.g. pubs and confectionery shops, on churches and galleries (look up at the National Gallery) and on fences of London Squares (Granville Square comes to mind).
There was a pub in pineapple court, just like there is now and in 1750 a sailor who was a regular customer returned from his travels from across the seas and brought back a pineapple for the pub landlord. The landlord loved the tropical fruit and hung its leaves on the door, after which the pub became known as the Pineapple. As with many streets in London, it is said that the street named after the pub.
Ham Yard gets its name from a once popular C18th tavern. The full name of the popular Piccadilly pub, (built in 1730) was Ham and Windmill. And yes, there was indeed a working Tudor windmill here all the way up until around 1780, hence Great Windmill Street. When you’re there you can still see that Great Windmill Street is uphill, when going North. The Ham and Windmill tavern was renamed the Lyric in 1890 and still stands there today.
Where the ham part of the pub name comes from does remain a mystery. The word ham doesn’t just have connections with the shoulder or buttock of a pig but is also used to describe “an actor whose style of acting is artificial and old-fashioned, often using movements and emotions that are too obvious” Considering the number of theatres in the West End at the time, including the Little Theatre (now rebuilt as the Haymarket), having been built in 1720, a little further down the said hill, I’d put my money on that being the inspiration for its original name.
If you don’t like ham on a pizza, perhaps you prefer it in a sandwich?
Talk about coincidence, for our food theme at least. Ham Yard was once the congregation point for London’s ‘sandwich men’. These sandwiches were nothing to do with food but were the walking billboards of the 19th century. You may have seen photos of them (link to photo). This was a result of a tax on advertising posters. The sandwich men would “walk the main streets of London from morning to night with their boards high above their heads, secured to their shoulders by iron slips and a strap”. It couldn’t have been the most comfortable of jobs; out in all weathers, especially when high winds pushing against the board. Sandwich men generally worked twelve hour shifts; from 10am to 10pm with one break. There is a Victorian advert from 1899 for Reynolds’ Newspaper Xmas Fund for a ‘Sandwichmen’s Fund’ with a Christmas dinner for the ‘hopeless, penniless and friendless’ workers. On the pamphlet it says “Hopeless! Penniless!! Friendless!!!”
Charles Dickens described these advertisers as “a piece of human flesh between two slices of paste board.”
In living memory, perhaps the most famous human billboard was Stanley Owen Green (1915-1993), known as the Protein Man. He patrolled Oxford Street for 25 years, from 1968 until 1993 with a placard recommending “protein wisdom”. Do you remember seeing him?
There is indeed a Sandwich Street in WC1. Keep your eyes peeled for when you’re on Ian’s King’s Cross walk. John Montagu, First Lord of the Admiralty and the 4th Earl of Sandwich is widely believed to have invented the sandwich. Surely such a simple combination of meat and bread needn’t have been invented? Well, here’s the story….
As with other men of his station the Earl of Sandwich liked to gamble. It is said that in approx.1762, the Earl was having a particularly long game when he became hungry. He asked for meat to be served between slices of bread, to avoid interrupting a gambling game and dirtying his hands whilst playing. Montagu enjoyed his meat and bread so much that he often ate it whilst out. This new way of eating with one’s hands grew popular in London society circles where they ordered “the same as Sandwich”, and the name stuck!
Surely the Earl was hardly the first person to put some meat between bread. In 1738-39, when he was a young man, he embarked on a Grand Tour, which was what all gentlemen of good breeding seemed to do back then. He travelled round Continental Europe as well as visiting some more unusual destinations such as Greece, Turkey, and Egypt which were then part of the Ottoman Empire. He would surely have been served mezze, where platters of cheeses, and meats were served with flatbread but didn’t mention them in his journal which was published after his death.
The first sandwich sighting occurred on the evening of 24 November 1762 at the Cocoa Tree club, on the corner of St James Street and Pall Mall in London. Edward Gibbon wrote “That respectable body affords every evening a sight truly English. Twenty or thirty of the first men in the kingdom … supping at little tables … upon a bit of cold meat, or a Sandwich.”
The sandwich is a food of convenience, taking us an average 3 and a half minutes to eat. It went against the more sociable way of slow eating in the eighteenth century. At the time, English high society had their main meal of the day at around 4pm. This clashed with the Earl’s duties at the Admiralty. Perhaps he came up with the beef sandwich as a way of eating at his desk and continued this new convenience at the card table? The sandwich industry (pre-COVID) was worth £8bn-a-year- in the UK.
The building of Sandwich Street began twenty years after the death of our John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich. The first house was built in 1812 and by the end of 1824 had forty-eight four storey terraced houses . Why the name Sandwich Street? The street was part of Skinners’ (Tonbridge) Estate, acquired by Sir Andrew Judd in the seventeenth century, who vested it in the Skinners’ Company as Trustees for the benefit of the Tonbridge School in Kent. Sandwich is a town in Kent.
Sandwich Street was originally called Hadlow Street, presumably named after the town Hadlow, also in Kent. The street was renamed in 1841, perhaps James (alias John) Shearman and his wife Mary (alias Maria) were to blame > They were prosecuted for keeping a brothel in “Sandwich (late Hadlow) Street” (The Times, 4 February 1841.
I don’t know about you but I’m getting a little thirsty. On Flask Walk in Hampstead there is a pub called The Flask. The name comes from an important activity that occurred here and that was the bottling up of water from the Chalybeate Wells of Hampstead about 100 or so yards up the hill. You can’t see the source now as it was filled up in the 1880s. This bottled spring water was sold to Londoners.
The trustees posed an advertisement in the “Postman”, April of 1700. It highlights that the Chalybeate Waters at Hampstead were “carefully bottled up in flasks and sent to Mr. Phelps Apothecary at the Eagle and Child in Fleet Street every morning at the rate of 3d per flask and if any person desires to have them brought to their own houses, they will be conveyed to them upon their leaving a note to Mr Phelps’ aforesaid at 1d more” Great effort was taken by Mr Phelps the Apothecary to ensure the flasks were untampered and not counterfeits as he sealed the flasks with a sealed ticket of a “wolf rampant with 7 Crosslets.” Recycling was a natural part of the service for the advert continues “Note! the messengers that come for the waters must take care to return the flasks daily.”
When visiting a Chinese restaurant, you may have been served an orange at the end of your meal. And yes, we do have some Orange-related streets in London. First up, Orange Street. Orange Street is just south of Leicester Square.
Building work began in the 1670s and was completed twenty years later. There were several Mews in the area, part of the Great Mews complex. I’ll link to the 1796 plan at the British Library. Where Orange Street is now would have one been Green Mews but just north of Green Mews there is an Orange Court. Orange Street could be named after William III, also known as William of Orange, grandson of Charles I, who became joint monarch with his wife Mary in 1689, so we are in the right date range.
Orange Yard which is in between Charing Cross Road and Greek Street in Soho. So, why the name Orange Yard? This, strangely, seems to have been left off many a list. I can find little mention of it other than its only venue there today. Perhaps it was where a teenage Nell Gwyn bought her oranges to sell at the King’s Theatre? Perhaps it’s something to do with the Duke of Monmouth, who’s property had been close by in Soho Square? Who knows?! If you do, please do get in touch.
What I do know is that Mrs. Mary Delany lived in Rose street (now Manette Street which Orange Yards feeds off). She lived there with her first husband, Mr. Pendarves, in c. 1721–2, when she considered it ‘a very unpleasant part of the town’. So let’s leave it there… for now.
It’s where Ebury Street meets Pimlico Road and is a triangular shaped paved area where a bronze statue of an 8 year old Mozart by Philip Jackson stands. For many years this triangle of land was “Pimlico Green” but was renamed Orange Square, thought to have derived from a tavern called The Orange, or Royal Orange which was a coffee house, tea garden and latterly a private theatre which was then displaced by St Barnabas Church. Opposite the church is now The Orange Public House & Hotel. Thanks to our very own Westminster Guide Mark Unsworth for solving this mystery.
The name does seem fitting as now a farmer’s market is held here every Sunday. I did find a light-hearted article in the New York Times about the square which I will link to in the show notes.
I think you can guess why the small court in the city of London was named Wine Office Court is easily guessed. Yes, it was from buildings in this London alley that licenses to sell wine were once granted up to 1665.
It’s just off Fleet Street, past the Cheshire Cheese pub and takes a right at Gunpowder Square. If you do wander up there you’ll notice a sign that says this:
“Voltaire came and, says tradition, Congreve and Pope, Dr Johnson lived in Gough Square (end of the Court on the left), and finished his Great Dictionary there in 1755. Oliver Goldsmith lived at No.6 where he wrote “The Vicar of Wakefield” and Johnson saved him from eviction by selling the book for him.
Here came Johnson’s friends, Reynolds, Gibbon, Garrick, Dr Burney, Boswell and others of his circle.
In the 19th C. Came Carlyle, MacAulay, Tennyson, Dickens, (who mentions the Court in “A Tale of Two Cities”) Forster, Hood, Thackeray, Cruikshank, Leech and Wilkie Collins. More recently came Mark Twain, Theodore Roosevelt, Conan Doyle, Beerbohm, Chesterton, Dowson, Le Gallienne, Symons, Yeats – and a host of others in search of Dr Johnson, or “The Cheese”.”
Look up on your left in the re-bricked modern building and you will see, on the first floor, stone reliefs highlighting the alleyway’s forgotten trade including depicting tools used by the Vintners.
Wine Office Court was first documented in the John Ogilby map of 1676. Ogilby owned a shop on Wine Office Court, the bit on the right of Gunpowder Court.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is also on Wine Office Court. It was built immediately after the Great Fire of London, directly on the site of previous taverns. Amazingly it has seen the reign of 15 monarchs; you’ll see that from a list outside the pub.
I have deliberately left streets named after foods in the City of London out of this week’s episode for I do believe they warrant their own episode, at some point in the future so we shall head back into the West End to Grape Street, just off Shaftesbury Avenue. It was once called Vine Street, it’s name derived from a house called ‘Le Vyne’ which belonged to the leper hospital of St Giles in the Field. The church of St Giles in the Field started as a chapel of the parish of Holborn attached to a monastery and leper hospital founded by Matilda of Scotland, the wife of Henry I. You can hear more about Leper Houses in London in Episode 48.
It is likely that a vineyard once stood on this spot as the area was particularly fertile and the vines were mentioned in the Domesday Book. You may be surprised to learn there were once many vineyards in London and many Vine Streets in London too; there is still a Vine Street near Piccadilly. Long gone now, but there was once a Grape Street in the parish of St Pancras.
You may think the idea of English-grown wine a little strange, but vines have been grown in England since Roman times for winemaking. Over 42 vineyards in Southern England are accounted for in the Doomsday Book.
There was once a Vine Street off Piccadilly, which changed its name to Piccadilly Place in the 1940s.
The name Vine Street seems to derive from the c. 18th Vine public house which existed in the 18th century and probably earlier.
Vine Street was formerly best known for its police station, which came into existence with the creation of the Metropolitan Police in 1829.
It was to Vine Street police station, said to have been the busiest in the world, that the Marquess of Queensberry was taken in March 1895 to be charged with criminal libel against Oscar Wilde, thus setting in train the series of events that eventually led to Wilde’s imprisonment.
There’s also Vine Street in the City of London, near Fenchurch Street and Vine Yard, Southwark. Needless to say that food, and drink, have helped keep some of London’s history from disappearing.
If you are into your drink, and let’s admit it who isn’t, then you will enjoy Episode 34: London’s Old Shops: Food and Drink.
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