If you ever walk around the centre of London you will see many names of streets that may make you think. Where does that name come from? Is there a connection to anything that happened in this street in years past? Some are quite easy to deduce. Near St Paul’s is Milk Street and yes, there used to be a dairy there. There is also Bread Street; yes, a bakery was located there.
Those are the simple ones. There are a lot more interesting ones which I will come back to in later articles, but in this one, I want to concentrate on the streets which have and had names which would not be allowed in this day and age. We think ourselves today to be a liberated and permissive society. If challenged, we might retort that we are much more open than the strict Victorians or further back to the Puritan times.
You would be correct in both of these examples. However, much of history allowed things to happen or accepted behaviour which would be frowned upon or be illegal today. For example, Nell Gwynn, the lover of Charles II was regarded more highly than the king’s wife. Even so, Nell was often referred to as the “King’s Whore.” Not very nice but in those days the word “whore” was not taken as an unacceptable term which it would today.
And this change in how we accept things includes some street names of the past. If we journey back to the fifteenth century, we would find parts of London where sex acts were carried out in the streets. And some of these were recorded as street names to let you know what happened there. An example would be Addle Street which means it is a “dirty spot.” Let your imagination tell you why.
Just off Cannon Street in the City of London, there used to be a street called Shiteburn Lane. This came about because of the number of cess pits located there. If you still wish to visit this street, you can. It has been renamed Sherborne Lane. You don’t need to hold your nose these days either. How about a street name that still exists but I would bet that the vast majority of people have no idea what the name means. I’m talking about Fetter Lane, again in the City of London. Fetter is an old term for “dirty beggars.”
So, let’s finish with a street that stretches taste to a maximum; so much so that I will remove some of the letters. But you will probably have no doubt what it is. It was a narrow lane which led off the north side of Cheapside, between St Paul’s and the Bank. It was a well-known meeting spot for prostitutes and their clients to do what they do. And so, the street was officially named “Gropec**t Lane. Suffice it to say, we have gone far enough down this road…or Lane. But it is our history and therefore needs to be told. I hope you agree.