The Merriam-Webster Dictionary describes a cut through as: ‘to get quickly and directly through or past (something that blocks one or slows one down)’. These days, what is left of cabbies’ cut throughs, those useful back-doubles, learnt by rote on The Knowledge, have all but disappeared through CrossRail construction, pedestrianisation and cycle lanes. This occasional feature CabbieBlog will give away the odd trade secret.
JUST NORTH OF TRAFALGAR SQUARE is a very useful cut through, which circumvents Trafalgar Square, and takes you to Charing Cross Road from Haymarket, this narrow thoroughfare is the curiously named Orange Street, which stands on the site of The Duke of Monmouth’s stables, known as Orange Mews, a reference to the colour of Monmouth’s coat-of-arms. So far pretty dull trivia with which to use remembering the name of this handy cut-through.
The Duke of Monmouth was the eldest illegitimate son of Charles II. In 1685, after declaring himself King, he led an unsuccessful rebellion to depose his uncle King James II, but lost at the Battle of Sedgemoor. Tried for treason he had the misfortune to meet his Maker at Tower Hill via the good offices of Jack Ketch, London’s most inept executioner. Ketch took six or eight blows, witnesses said that Monmouth started to rise in an effort to reproach the executioner for his incompetence, but eventually the deed was finished with a knife.
Just another chapter in England’s bloody history, but according to a popular, if dubious legend, it was realised that no official portrait existed of the Duke.
His body was exhumed, the head reaffixed to the body and he sat unknowingly for his portrait.
However, there are at least two formal portraits of Monmouth tentatively dated to before his death currently in the National Portrait Gallery, which curiously is on the corner of Orange Street and Charing Cross Road.
Another exists of a painting once identified with Monmouth that shows a sleeping or dead man that could have given rise to this story.
Buried in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London, Monmouth holds the distinction of being the only executed body there with the head attached, albeit sewn on.