Weird London Street Names With A Story Behind Them (Part 2)
I wrote about some of my favourite weird London street names about two years ago. (You can read the post here). But, as ever, London is the city which keeps on giving and there’s a few more brilliant strange names to celebrate…
1. Pardon Street, EC1V
Can you think of anything more fabulously English than ‘Pardon Street’? I had high hopes of a fun story about a history of over politeness from this corner of Clerkenwell. Sadly, it’s named after Pardon Chapel, founded in the wake of the Black Death in 1348.
Burial grounds for plague victims were built around the chapel but the name comes from the mass held to ‘pardon’ the souls who had died before receiving the last rites. So actually, pretty horrible!
2. Lizard Street, EC1V
For a while I considered that this Islington Street could be named after a nest of monstrous green reptiles. However I was fully expecting that it was named after someone’s surname. I was wrong.
It is named after the animal. The land is own by the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers, whose earliest records date back to 1300. The link comes from the lizards used as supporters on their coat of arms.
But why does the ironmongers company use lizards on their coat of arms? Well, lizards sometimes thought of as being born from fire. Usually because they hide inside logs and when you set them alight they dash out!
3. Took’s Court, EC4A
Have to admit that this name caught my eye simply because in my head as I saw it, I heard Ian Mckellen as Gandalf saying “Fool of a Took”. Turns out this street off Chancery Lane is named after Thomas Tooke of London Esquyre.
There’s a Charles Dickens connection with number 15. It was renamed Cook’s Court in Bleak House and was the home by Mr Snagsby. It’s also believed that Dickens himself lived here while working as a parliamentary reporter.
4. Tweezer’s Alley, WC2
Just off the Strand, Tweezer’s Alley has been on maps since the late 1600s however an earlier reference in the City of London archives mentions the City paying for a forge here in 1235.
Presumably the name therefore comes from the heavy duty tweezers used by blacksmiths to hold items in the fire.
5. (Formerly) Of Alley, WC2
Before Charing Cross Station appeared on the site, this area was owned by George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. A favourite of King James I, he was made a Duke in 1623 but then was assassinated in 1628, leaving his title to his son. Also, conveniently, named George Villiers.
The second Duke sold off the land in 1670 but made a strange agreement with the developers. If they were going to lay out streets, they should name them after him. As so the streets duly became; George Street, Villiers Street, Duke Street, Buckingham Street and even Of Alley!
Above is the relevant section of John Rocque’s 1746 map of London
The name was changed to York Place in 1855, but thankfully there’s a reminder of its previous name on the sign today.
6. Turnagain Lane, EC4A
Off Farringdon Road, you’ll want to take a second look at this name.
The name refers to the River Fleet which used to run along this street from North to South, emptying into the Thames. The street was a warning to those wishing to cross that there was no bridge here, so they’d better turn back now!
7. Sherborne Lane, EC4N
On the face of it, there’s nothing that unusual about this street name.
But I wanted to include it purely because of its previous Medieval name; Shiteburne Lane, referring to the public lavatories that used to line the street!
On that note, I think I’ll end the post there! Got any other weird street names you’re curious about? Let me know!
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