Having taken a short break from my usual weekly ‘culture’ gig routine, due to the seasons festivities and mainly because there being no trains services running in my area, between Xmas and New Year – I was finally pleased this week to be able to put on my London Shoes and get back out on the road to track down more examples of the ‘smokes’ more unusual historical facts etc.
So – this week’s subject matter was yet again, something that I was not even aware existed, but a topic which I enjoyed researching and tracking down – albeit in some lousy weather conditions.
The topic this week was London’s “oldest” street name signs!!!
Today, we take it for granted that wherever we may be in London (or any of our towns and cities) we can promptly identify our location by referring to clearly displayed street names, or by using technical navigation tools such as apps on our mobile phones/tablet etc – so really, there is no longer any excuse to get ‘lost’.
However, historically, London streets did not always have street name signs. The formal introduction of street signage came in to full force following the aftermath of the Great Fire of London in 1666 – when it became quite evident that for there to be any kind of future prompt ‘emergency’ assistance, London’s streets would need to be noticeable and promptly identified – and so laws were passed which decreed that all streets should have ‘name boards’ displayed along them.
But even before all that came into force, it was often customary for some of the more prestigious streets to have signs made of plaster attached at the entrances to them, bearing the name of the street and the year that the sign was introduced.
Amazingly, some of these early London street signs, are still on display to this very day – and therefore my quest this week, was to attempt to track them down, find out a little bit of history behind them, and then photograph them, before they disappear altogether.
My exploration started in Westminster and the streets that are located just down the road from the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey – where there are 2 old street signs.
The first is in Smith’s Square – and dates back to 1726. The other one in this area is located at Cowley Street, where the sign dates back to 1722.
I discovered the next one in Tavistock Street, just down the road from Covent Garden tube station. The sign on display there is located high up near the roof of a four storey building – and it is impossible to see its engraving from street level – so either the folks from a few hundred years ago had incredible eyesight, or they were exceptionally tall!!!
The street sign in Tavistock Street was erected there in 1636 (pre the Great Fire of London) and is interesting as it refers to the streets previous name of “Yorke Street”.
Another old street sign is located in Great James Street, just north of Holborn tube station, and dates back to 1727.
Two similar old signs are located in the Soho district – one in Meard Street, which dates back to 1732 – and the other in Livonia Street, which has been on display since 1736. Again, the one in Livonia Street relates to the streets earlier name of Bentick Street.
Moving eastwards, away from the City, there is an old plaster tablet street sign on display on the corner of Sclater Street and the popular Brick Lane – which was put up way back in 1708.
Still in the east, but in the Whitechapel district – there is an old street sign built into the exterior walls of the old Whitechapel Bell Foundry in Plumbers Row. This sign displays the streets old name of ‘Baynes Street’ and it was erected there in 1746.
The final example can be found in the same area but a little more towards the Thames, in a place called Shadwell – on the corner of The Highway and Chigwell Hill.
This particular street sign can be found above the entrance to an old long time derelict pub “The Old Rose” and this sign has the accolade of being the ‘oldest’ street sign in London – as it dates way back to 1678.
So, all in all, an interesting little trek out and about this week searching for these long lost historic landmarks, that have most certainly lasted the test of time, and hopefully will remain in situ for future generations to seek out and appreciate.
On my way back home I popped into a pub, in the Whitechapel/Aldgate area, for the mandatory cheeky one.
The “White Hart” pub dates back to 1888, and is a boozer that is steeped in history – mainly relating to London’s ‘dark’ side – as it is a place where one ‘Severin Klosowski’ (later to be known as George Chapman) ran a barber shop in the pubs basement………..‘Severin Klosowski’ was one of the main suspects said to be ‘Jack the Ripper’!!!
He already had ‘form’, and became even more suspected, as interestingly the murders appeared to stop when he immigrated briefly, to the USA.
In 1903 ‘Severin Klosowski’ (aka George Chapman) was found guilty of the murder of three of his wives for which he was hanged on 3rd April 1903.
It is no surprise that the “White Hart” gets a lot of its business from the popular ‘Jack the Ripper’ tours.
Hope you found the street sign stuff interesting and you enjoy the accompanying photos.