London’s Bare Necessities

One of the many lovely things about the City of London is the abundance of street names coined after the simple necessities of life. Several of these streets are offshoots of Cheapside, formerly the City's main market ('chepe' broadly meaning 'market' in Medieval English) including Milk Street, Bread Street, Honey Lane and Poultry, each reflecting the goods sold there.

Both Bread Street and Milk Street, shown below on John Rocque's beautiful map of 1746, pre-date the Great Fire by hundreds of years. Milk Street is first recorded as early as 1140 and in 1302 the bakers of London were ordered not to sell bread from their houses but rather from the market in Bread Street.

A short wander around the area soon reveals other 'bare necessities' captured in street names. Love Lane is one of many similarly named streets in England 'so-called of wantons', as John Stow put it in his Survey of London.

Further East towards the Tower of London, Water Lane was the site of the offices of the corporation of Trinity House, an organisation responsible for lighthouses and navigation of which Samuel Pepys was Master. It figures frequently in Pepys' Diary.

Next to Water Lane is Sugar Quay, formerly the appropriately-named site of the HQ of Tate & Lyle. This is a more recent name than those described above, and its origins not sweet but rooted in the slave trade as explained in this article by the Museum of London.

Finally, as we travel further East we arrive at Brick Lane. Its name stems from the brick manufacturing started in the 15th century, which used the local clay deposits to fuel the eastward expansion of London beyond the City walls. Today Brick Lane is the centre of Banglatown, filled with its famous curry houses and a centre for the clothing trade. But 200 years ago it was home to the subject of my forthcoming book, 'Joseph Merceron: The Godfather of Bethnal Green'. Please follow this blog or my twitter account @HistoryLondon for further updates.


PS. If you enjoyed this post, you may like this one about the lovely old hanging signs of Lombard Street!