Post Date: 15th December 2014
Author: Matt Gedge
One of the most common bits of trivia you may have heard a City of London guide mention is that although there are streets, alleys and lanes, you will never find a road in the Square Mile. No water-tight theory explains this, although it may be because the word ‘road’ only became popular from the 17th century, by which time the names of the streets in this ancient city had already been decided upon.
Unfortunately, for the purist, this wonderful anomaly is no longer technically true, as due to boundary changes in 1994, part of Goswell Road sits firmly in the Square Mile. Ah well…
However, venturing into the labyrinth of lanes and alleys in the City you will be struck by the stupendous array of evocative street names, testament to a fascinating past. Fish Street, Cloth Fair, Amen Corner, Ball Court – the list goes on – and despite the rather prudish decision to alter some names which may offend our modern sensibilities there are still enough beauties to make a ‘top 10’ list rather difficult and contentious!
But here are some of our favourite street names in the City of London, in a rather exciting countdown format. It is of course by no means a definitive list, so please add your own thoughts!
10. Knightrider Street
This road is but a remnant of a much longer street used by knights to ride to Smithfield for jousting tournaments in the 14th and 15th centuries. Near Smithfield is the similarly evocative Giltspur Street, formerly called Knyghtryders Strete. And yes, don’t worry Hoff fans, David Hasselhoff has his own little shrine in the adjacent Centrepage pub!
9. Friday Street
Thank God Its… Most probably named after a medieval fish market that was held here on Fridays. It is one of many streets in the Square Mile named after a product which was traded – for instance Milk Street, Wood Street, Poultry, Pudding Lane.
8. French Ordinary Court
This bizarre name for a gloomy passageway is supposedly derived from a 17th century French restaurant which served fixed price meals, known as ordinaries.
7. Love Lane
If you wanted to pay for sex in the middle ages, this was where you would come (conveniently just round the back of the Guildhall…) Talking of lurve, or more accurately, lust, check out the brilliantly named Cock Lane, supposedly renowned for its brothels in the 14th century.
6. Wardrobe Place
This really was the place where our fashionable monarchs kept their wardrobe in the late 1300s! A building stored the clothes used for state visits here.
5. Cripplegate Street
Named after one of the gates built by the Romans. It isn’t entirely clear where the word comes from, with three contenders. It could be derived from cripples who begged there, or from the legendary miraculous cure of cripples when Edmund the Martyr’s body was carried through in 1010, or possibly from the Anglo Saxon word Crepel, which means underground passage.
4. Mincing Lane
This isn’t the most camp street in the Square Mile, but the houses on this lane were once owned by the nuns of the church St Helen’s Bishopsgate. The medieval name for nun was mynchen, from which mincing derives.
3. St Mary Axe
This street takes its name from the now lost St Mary Axe church which once held an axe said to have been one of three used by Attila the Hun in slaying 11,000 handmaidens of an ancient English King. Of course!
2. Crutched Friars
Crutch or crouch is derived from the latin crux or cross, and on this street stood the Convent of the Crouched Friars, who were formed in 1298.
1. Hanging Sword Alley
This ominous passage just off Fleet Street was almost certainly named after a fencing and sword fighting school. It was also known as Blood Bowl Alley, located as it was in Alsatia – an area exempt from City laws after the Reformation, and known haunt of dangerous criminals.
Others which deserve an honourable mention:
Back Passage, Poultry, Prudent Passage, Pope’s Head Alley, Turnagain Lane, Staining Lane, Seething Lane, Magpie Alley, Little Britain, Cannon Street, Bull’s Head Passage, Savage Gardens, Old Jewry, Catherine Wheel Alley.
And these would have made the list if they hadn’t been changed by the prudish City of London Corporation. I mean, really, there’s nothing offensive about any of these is there?
Shiteburn lane (now Sherborne Lane), Pissing Alley (absorbed into Cannon Street), Stinking Lane (King Edward Street), not forgetting the ever popular Gropec*nt Lane…
Before you ask, alas such treasures like Bleeding Heart Yard and Frying Pan Alley are outside the Square Mile…