With a city as old as London, which was founded by the Romans soon after their invasion in AD43; who eventually surrounded the City with a wall enclosing 330 acres and making it the 5th largest city in the Roman Empire, it’s not surprising that some strange street names have appeared over the centuries.
In the Square Mile of the City for example, an ancient ordinance defines a road as a highway without houses, which is why to this day, no thoroughfare in the City may be called a road; it’s either a street, lane, passage or an alley, much to the dismay of modernisers.
Here are some of the more unusual street names with that Square Mile:
Bucklesbury: An ancient city street from 14th Century named after the Buckerei a powerful family in the 12th century city. In Shakespeare’s time it was known for its apothecaries and the peculiar smell they made he made mention of the smell in the Merry Wives of Windsor.
Cripplegate: Derived from the crepel an Anglo-Saxon word for den or underground passage. After the curfew bells had been rung and the city gates were closed for the night it was impossible to enter, that is apart from that underground passage.
Crutched Friars: Not as rude as it sounds, but is an old form of ‘cross’ and takes its name from the holy order that stood nearby.
French Ordinary Court: Not about mundane Frenchies. ‘Ordinary’ is an eating house, this one dates back to 1670 for French ex-pats.
Frying Pan Alley: The frying pan was the emblem once used by braziers and ironmongers. It was the custom for ironmongers to hang a frying pan outside their premises as a means of advertising their business.
Idol Lane: Formerly ‘Idle Lane’ where lazy sods hung around.
Jewry Street: Again renamed from Poor Jewry to denote it from the rich Jews in Old Jewry.
Little Britain: Alas not as colourful as its name suggests. The Duke of Brittany had a house here before the 16th Century.
Minories: The Sorores Minores (Little Sisters) established a convent here in 1293. In 1958 we thought it a rather splendid idea to demolish their church.
Undershaft: Not what you might be thinking, it’s a boring maypole or shaft was erected nearby, but its use then banned for many years after the 1571 May Day Riots.
Wardrobe Place: From 1359 until burned down by the Great Fire, a place where, you’ve guessed it, ceremonial robes were kept.
A few more to throw into the mix: Threadneedle Street; Pudding Lane; Hanging Sword Alley; Poultry.
And a small reminder for our Mayor of London, Boris who was a student of history, and for all I know bases his current strategy on what he reads in CabbieBlog, you have only 33 years left to plan for the bi-millennium of the arrival of the Romans to London.