A HISTORY OF LONDON STREETS
Including extracts from an early 20th century encyclopaedia
PATERNOSTER ROW is in the precinct of St Paul’s Church where the medieval clergy would recite the Pater Noster, Our Father, in procession around the small quadrant with many narrow streets. The makers of Pater Noster beads or rosary beads were called turners and lived there, it became known as Paternoster Row. There was also Ave Maria Lane and Amen Corner. Mercers, makers of silk and lace, also lived there long before the Great Fire of 1666. It was also noted for text writers and stationers and it became the centre of publishing and bookselling. During the Second World War the area was devastated and six million books were destroyed. The northern end of the street was rebuilt as Paternoster Square.
PETTICOAT LANE in the medieval period was a tree-lined country lane called Hogs Lane because pigs were kept in the surrounding fields. At the end of the 16th century the lane was part of a residential area of small cottages and by 1608 it was called Petticoat Lane, probably due to the selling of old clothes but it was still a fashionable area. The Spanish lived there in the reign of James I but in 1655 the plague drove out the well-to-do residents who were replaced by Huguenot weavers and Jewish traders. By 1750 it was a market-trading centre.
PALL MALL takes its name from a game like croquet that originated in Italy. ‘Pallo a Maglio’ meaning, ball to mallet, had become popular in France in the late 16th century. Mary, Queen of Scots, probably brought the game to Scotland and her son James I recommended it to his sons. It was made popular after the Restoration by Charles II, who played it in a roped-off area of St James’ Park later to be known as Pall Mall.
BETHLEHEM ROYAL HOSPITAL, commonly called Bedlam, was founded in 1274 as the Priory of St Mary Bethlehem and was known to have had a hospital attached to it in 1329. In 1377 ‘distracted’ people were taken as patients but were chained to the wall by leg or ankle. When they were violent they were ducked in water and whipped. When the priory was dissolved the Corporation bought it from the King and re-established it as a lunatic asylum in 1547. It was replaced by a beautiful building with landscaped gardens in 1675.
CHEAPSIDE was the chief market place of medieval London. Ceap or chepe is an Old-English word for market. The bakers were in Bread Street, goldsmiths in Goldsmith Row, Friday Street was where fishmongers sold their fish and dairymen sold their milk in Milk Street.
FLEET RIVER is an underground river rising in a Hampstead pond and flows towards the River Thames. The name only refers to the lower part of the river and is an Anglo-Saxon word meaning a tidal inlet, the word fleet means moving swiftly, and the higher reaches were known as Hole Bourne (stream) and became known as Holborn. In the 12th century stones for building old St Paul’s were brought upstream, tanners and cutlers lived and worked along its banks up to the 16th century and five bridges had been built across the river. As a waterway it soon became impassable and in 1666 the Great Fire burnt all the bridges, houses and wharfs. In 1739 the Stocks Market was moved to make room for the Mansion House, now the official residence of the Lord Mayor of London and the river was culverted.
FLEET PRISON, believed to have been built soon after the Norman Conquest, stood on the east bank of the Fleet River but was not recorded until 1170. The post of Keeper was hereditary and with it went the privilege of receiving the customs duty levied on the Fleet and fees from prisoners for food and lodging. This was a source of great abuse, asking for payments for larger rooms and better food and a few prisoners managed to escape. Edward III rebuilt it but it was burned down during the Peasants’ Revolt in the reign of Richard II. The Fleet was again rebuilt and held by various members of the Court until it was again burned down in the Great Fire of 1666. After a third rebuilding it was finally demolished in 1846.
FLEET STREET, in medieval London, was a main thoroughfare with great houses belonging to many bishops. A Church of St Bride was established in the 6th century and St Dunstan in 1185. The street became well known for bookselling, printing and publishing. The first newspaper was published about 1702 and has ever since been the home of the English newspaper industry. Fleet Street leads to Ludgate Hill and St Paul’s Cathedral.
ST PAUL’S CATHEDRAL stands on Ludgate Hill, where a Roman temple once stood. Ethelbert, King of Kent, founded the first church in 604 but it burned down and was later rebuilt in stone between 675 and 685 only to be destroyed by the Vikings in 961. A later church was once again destroyed by fire in 1087. What became known as Old St Paul’s had the tallest spire known at the time but after being struck several times by lightning it was decided in 1561 not to replace it. One could say that the old Roman gods did not look with favour upon the new churches as Old St Paul’s was finally burned down in the Great Fire. But like the phoenix it rose from the ashes under the guidance of Christopher Wren and is the most beautifully designed cathedral and well worth a visit.
FURTHER INFORMATION CAN BE FOUND ON THE INTERNET