Today, London is a dynamic global city and a cultural confluence, providing its lucky inhabitants with an exciting medley of places to see and things to do. With a history that stretches back well over 2,000 years, it is one of ye oldest cities on earth, and it has a varied and intriguing history spanning the reign of tyrannous kings, civil wars, the plague, and a constant cultural flux. All cities with such a history will sport plenty of peculiar place names that in today’s context might seem ridiculous, silly, or completely inappropriate. This article goes over some of the weirdest, funniest, and most inspiring place names that London has to offer.
The why behind the weird and the wonderful
In the London area, place names are usually named after landmarks and historical buildings, the trades and occupations that took place in a given area, the people who were vain enough to permanently imprint their contribution to the city, or after common London events, fairs and occasions.
Examples such as East Poultry Avenue and Shoulder of Mutton alley relate to food markets, and Silver Street points clearly to a long past silver smiths, but don’t get complacent in these methods of reasoning because there are many names which will catch you out, such as Pudding Lane which is the place where the Great Fire of 1666 begun. You might think a careless cook left the hob on while baking, but in-fact the term pudding was delightfully an old term for animal entrails. Mincing Lane is a source of laughs for many nowadays, but back then it was not so, as the word derives from the old English word for nuns, being a much holier term than today’s connotation. There are plenty of other street names that will make you giggle, such as the well-known Cockspur Street which connects Pall Mall and Trafalgar Square, Cheapside, Batman Close located in Shepherd’s Bush and Kitcat Terrace. There are also some more enchanting names such as Half Moon Street, named after the Half Moon Inn which once stood there, and Paradise Walk, though anyone who has actually walked down this street will tell you it is anything but a paradise.
Town planners were obviously unafraid in being practical to the point of absurdity, for example Spitalfields, which was named in response to the Plague and the fields here that were used for the many plague hospitals during the crisis.
Bleeding Heart Yard
The ominously named cobbled ‘Bleeding Heart Yard’ is located in the City of London’s Farringdon area, inconspicuously found off of Greville Street. There are two possible reasons for why this yard was named so, one being very harmless and the other not quite so harmless. The urban legend is that the name commemorates the gruesome murder of the Lady Elizabeth Hatton, who was related by marriage to the Queen Elizabeth I’s Lord Chancellor. She was apparently found in 1626 “torn limb from limb” on the cobblestones, but with her heart still pumping blood. The more realistic explanation for the name however is that it was named after ‘The Bleeding Heart’ Pub located nearby on Charles Street.
Located between the Thames and St Paul’s Cathedral, you would be forgiven for thinking that this name pays homage to the popular 80’s American show, and the all-powerful David Hasselholf. In fact, it is most likely named after a knight’s procession which travelled from the Tower of London to Smithfield, where they would take part in popular jousting tournaments.
The political incorrectness of this name raises many eyebrows, but this gate and the small region outside the gate with the same name, was long an important landmark for early London before its destruction during the Second World War. The gate was already present when the first city wall was built, serving a Roman fort around 120 AD. No-one is sure over the origins of this name, though apparently it could derive from cripples who would apparently beg by the gate. It could also derive from the Anglo Saxon word ‘crepel’ which means underground passageway.
Next time you’re walking around London, make sure you check the signs – you’ll never know what you might find!