Hanway Street is a narrow street connecting Oxford Street with Tottenham Court Road and is named after Major John Hanway the developer whose eccentric nephew dared to invade the rights of coachmen. This ancient lane can be traced back to the time of Henry VIII, first known as Hanover Yard then named Hanway Yard. By the 1740’s it was developed and closely associated with coaching inns situated at this busy crossroads, it later was renamed Hanway Street.
The enterprising Major’s nephew was an interesting individual. After the death of his father, the result of a riding accident, Jonas Hanway at the age of 16 was sent to live with his uncle. The next year his uncle, keen to be rid of his charge, young Jonas was apprenticed as a merchant to an English factory in Lisbon.
It was here, during his 12 year stay that he developed eccentricities in dress and views. After a failed love affair he enjoyed the company of reformed prostitutes and against the custom of the day, would tip servant girls.
Returning to London he planned to lead an expedition to Persia to assess the trading of English broadcloth for Persian silks. Ambushed in Russia, with all his goods stolen, he was forced to escape in disguise.
The indefatigable Jonas then spent 5 years trying to recover his trade before returning to London in 1750. Here he developed his most famous eccentricities, always carrying a sword long after their use had fallen from fashion. He would wear flannel underwear and several pairs of socks to ward off ill-health.
He wrote an essay on tea, claiming it blackened one’s teeth, and which he considered the ‘flatulent liquor . . . pernicious to health, obstructing industry and impoverishing the nation’ . . . causing ‘men to have lost their stature and comeliness, women their beauty and chambermaids their bloom.’
Having failed to popularise the use of stilts as a way of sidestepping the muck and grime that covered 18th century streets, his use of an umbrella which were only used by ladies to give shade and as a fashion accessory would bring ridicule but prove a useful shield against mud and stones hurled by mischievous boys.
The umbrella of Hanway’s, which at the time was called a portable room, could not be furled (it would be another 20 years before a folded version would be seen), and carrying one in the crowded streets of London proved unpopular not least from the coachmen and chairmen who carried sedans.
As with today they regarded rain as a boost to their earnings. It was recorded that Hanway underwent:
All the staring, laughing, jeering, hooting, and bullying; and having punished some insolent knaves who struck him with their whips as well as their tongues, he finally succeeded in overcoming the prejudices against it.
The umbrella shop James Smith & Sons a short walk from Hanway Street has his portrait hanging in their shop, the first Londoner who owned an umbrella.
Hanway died at his home in Red Lion Square on 5th September 1786. During his life he published 85 works, many about improving the lot of the poor. Hanway’s Act, put on the Statute Book in 1762, required all London parishes to keep records of children in their care. He was governor of the Foundling Hospital and donated £50 to their cause.
In 1788 a memorial was unveiled in Westminster Abbey, the first ever commemorating charitable deeds, for his philanthropic work.