How London's Food And Drink Streets Got Their Names

Sejal Sukhadwala
By Sejal Sukhadwala Last edited 6 months ago
How London's Food And Drink Streets Got Their Names
Cheapside in 1639. Photo by Wellcome Images from Wellcome Trust. Via Wikimedia Commons.

While walking around London, have you ever wondered how the streets named after food and drink got their names? We did too — and, armed with the map on our phone, we decided to find out.

A Londoner even more curious than us, however, is Mykal Shaw, an art director who created the unique Streatsoflondon photographic project. From around 2005, in the days before Google Maps, he cycled 1,600 miles around the capital taking photos of every street sign named after food and drink. He has kindly given us street sign images to use here.

Out of hundreds of foodie streets, our round-up focuses on 32 that we could find the most reliable information on. We’ve only listed existing streets, not historical ones; nor have we included anything that’s likely to be a brand name.  

Bread Street signage. Photo by Mykal Shaw of Streatsoflondon.com

Bread Street, EC4

Cheapside — which meant ‘bargain place’ or market in medieval English — is believed to be London’s oldest street and the original ‘high street’. It was once home to the capital’s main food market — the Borough Market of its day, but larger, noisier and more crowded. The streets leading off Cheapside were named after the speciality items that they sold.

The street was already named Bredstrate in 1180, but it was turned into a bread market and named Bread Street in 1302. Edward I announced that the bakers of Bromley and Stratford-le-Bow, and ones already living on the street, were forbidden from selling bread from their own homes or bakeries, and could only do so from Bread Street.

The Liber Albus: The White Book Of The City Of London — the first book of English common law, originally published after 1419 — states:

“Of bakers… that no baker shall sell bread before his oven, but only in the market of his Lordship the King.”

Milk Street, EC2

Also off Cheapside, Milk Street was named Melcstrate in the 12th century. In the medieval period, milk sellers sold milk here; cows for milking were also kept here.

A foodie trivia of interest is that Mrs Beeton lived here as a toddler, as her father worked in the area as a linen trader.

Honey Lane, EC2

Another street leading into Cheapside’s food market, Honey Lane was known as Huni Lane at the beginning of the 13th century. As the name makes it clear, honey producers sold honey here. It existed as London’s smallest market, at 193 feet, between shortly after the Great Fire of 1666 and 1835.

John Stow. Image taken from A Survey Of London from British Library on Flickr.

Poultry, EC2

Located off Cheapside too, Poultry was named Puletry in the 14th century because — yes, you guessed it — poultry was sold here. In a somewhat gruesome twist, the poulterers sent their birds to be scalded in preparation for being plucked in the nearby Scalding Alley. Thankfully, this no longer exists, and neither does the practice of scalding birds in the area.

By 1598, historian John Stow in his iconic Survey Of London — a major source for London historians, including much of the information in this article — was already writing: “the poulterers are but lately departed from thence into other streets”.

Before the Great Fire, the street was renowned for its taverns, although most of these were not rebuilt after the fire.

Bread Street Ward and Cordwainer ward, 1720, by John Stow. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Stew Lane, EC4

If the name of this street near Mansion House conjures up a homely image of hearty casseroles bubbling away on a stove, you’re in for a surprise. In medieval England, the word ‘stew’ was a derogatory term for brothels.

In writer Alan Stapleton’s London’s Alleys, Byways and Courts (1924), he writes:

Stew Lane… had the unsavoury reputation of being the embarking place for the ladies (who, in the reign of Edward III, were ordered to “wear striped hoods of party colours and their garments the wrong side outwards”) on their passage across the river to the ‘Bordello’ or ‘Stews’.

The description of “striped hoods in party colours” sounds remarkably like today’s teenagers.

Pudding Lane signage. Photo by Mykal Shaw of Streatsoflondon.com.

Pudding Lane, EC3

If you’re visualising a dessert trolley piled with cakes, cookies and crumbles, hold it right there. There were no patisseries in Pudding Lane.

Pudding is, in fact, a medieval term for offal or animal guts. In the old days, pudding was savoury meat wrapped in sausage-like casing that was steamed or boiled; over the centuries, it has evolved into the sweet dessert that we know today. The clue is in the original name of the street, Offal Pudding Lane, which changed to Pudding Lane in the 15th century.

This street near Monument was once a prominent meat district, a riverside avenue home to several butchers’ shops. The butchers would throw out offal from the high windows of the buildings and from carts travelling down towards the waste barges of the Thames, and the animal guts would float down as sewage.

In John Stow’s unappetising but widely quoted words: “the Butchers of Eastcheape have their skalding House for Hog there, and their puddings with other filth of Beasts, are voided down that way to their dung boats on the Thames”.

Pudding Lane is, of course, most famous for being the location where the Great Fire of London started in 1666. It broke out in the bakery of Thomas Farriner (there are a few different spellings of his name) — but, as we have seen by now, the fact that he was a baker was coincidental and nothing to do with puddings.

Fish Street Hill, EC3

Fish Street Hill was once an ancient street named New Fish Street (to distinguish it from Old Fish Street, which was eventually demolished in 1870). From as early as the 13th century it’s where fishmongers gathered, as it was one of the authorised places to sell fish due to its close proximity to Billingsgate market. (Billingsgate was a general market then, with a thriving fish trade, officially becoming a fish market only after an Act Of Parliament in 1699.)

New Fish Street was the main street that led to London Bridge, but it was destroyed in the Great Fire. Today’s Fish Street Hill stretches past the Monument. The nearby Fishmonger Hall supervised the sale of fish at Billingsgate, and is still standing today. So that’s a lot of fishy business for one humble street.

Cornhill, EC3

Located near Bank, the hill is one of the three oldest in London. The name goes back to 1100, when it was part of an early network of markets connected with Eastcheap. At Cornhill’s eastern side, there was a major corn market.

Vine Street, EC3

It’s difficult to imagine the chilly and occasionally (historically) fog-ridden London as having any vineyards — but there were several in ancient times, and one of them was located here, near Fenchurch Street.

Camomile Street, EC3

Nothing to do with any tea companies trying to promote herbal infusions, Camomile Street was named after the wild flowers that grew in the waste land around the London Wall in the 12th and 13th centuries (though the name came much later).

Wormwood Street, EC2

Located close to Camomile Street, Wormwood Street, too, was named after the wild plants that grew around the London Wall. Wormwood was once used as a medicinal herb, and is added to alcoholic drinks such as vermouth and absinthe. The street was badly damaged in the IRA bombing of 1993 and had to be rebuilt — which rather destroys the bucolic associations with its name.

Shoulder Of Mutton Alley, E14

This Limehouse street is named after an old food market here of the same name.

Lime Street, EC3

Located near the Leadenhall Market, Lime Street was known as Limestrate in the 12th century. It’s nothing to do with limes, or indeed any other fruit. Lime burners lived in the street, and made and sold lime here (a chemical substance derived from limestone) for use in building and construction work. Their presence gave name to the district of Limehouse — ‘the houses where lime was burned’.

Water Lane, EC3

This is a curved lane near Tower Hill that leads to a water gate near Custom House. Streets leading to the river, or connected with seamen, were sometimes given the name Water Lane — and there’s more than one in London.

Garlick Hill signage. Photo by Mykal Shaw of Streatsoflondon.com.

Garlick Hill, EC4

The hill was built in the 9th century to lead up to the Cheapside markets, and originally sloped down to the river and hythe — an Old English word that means ‘landing place’. (Many areas of London were named after their landing places.) Shipments of imported garlic arrived here in the Middle Ages, and the area became known as Garlickhythe (there’s still a St James Garlickhythe church here). At the bottom of the hill, there was once a bustling garlic market.

Wine Office Court, EC4

Close to Fleet Street, Wine Office Court is where an office that once granted wine licences was located. The entrance to the historic Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub is still here — so you can say that the association of cheese and wine goes back well beyond the days of middle class dinner parties.

Saffron Hill signage. Photo by Mykal Shaw of Streatsoflondon.com.

Saffron Hill, EC1

These days we relate saffron to Indian and Middle Eastern cooking, but in fact it was the main spice used in England in the 13th century. It grew abundantly, along with strawberries and grape vines, in the gardens of Ely palace which once belonged to bishop John Kirkby. Gradually the saffron supplies became depleted, and this pretty Clerkenwell neighbourhood became impoverished.

Herbal Hill, EC1

Close to Saffron Hill, there was a Little Saffron Hill, named after Ely palace’s herb garden. In the 1930s, it was renamed Herbal Hill as a tribute to the 16th century herbalist John Gerard. In his ground-breaking book Herball, he catalogued every plant in his substantial garden — the first book to do so, which made him the celebrity gardener of his day.

Artichoke Hill signage. Photo by Mykal Shaw of Streatsoflondon.com.

Artichoke Hill, E1

If you think artichokes were introduced to the British table in the 1980s along with sun-dried tomatoes, raspberry vinegar and pink peppercorns, you’d be mistaken.

Artichokes were first brought to England in the 16th century during Henry VIII’s reign. Their rarity and unusual shape made them a popular symbol for gardeners, and artichoke signage became common for inns located in areas with gardens.

Artichoke Hill, located east of Tower Bridge, was named after a pub that was once situated on its corner.

Cinnamon Street, E1

Part of St Katherine’s & Wapping, Cinnamon Street was named in the 17th century because cinnamon was sold here.

Nutmeg Lane, Sorrel Lane, Saffron Avenue, Coriander Avenue, Rosemary Drive, Oregano Drive, Clove Crescent, E14

Located close to each other near East India Dock, this fragrant network of streets were named after herbs and spices that were once stored in large warehouses in the area.

Shad Thames, SE1

You may not know what a shad is: it’s a fish that belongs to the subfamily of herring. The area around Shad Thames is where many of them were caught.

Charles II of England being given the first pineapple grown in England by his royal gardener, John Rose. 1675. Picture by Hendrick Danckerts (1645–1679). Via Wikimedia Commons.

Pine Apple Court, SW1

It might make unwarranted appearances in pizzas these days, but the pineapple was introduced to England with great fanfare and excitement in the 17th century. Like the artichoke, its exotic novelty value made it a popular symbol on signs, especially for pubs and confectionery shops.

There was a pub here in 1750. As the story goes, a sailor who was a regular customer returned from his travels and brought back a pineapple for the landlord. The landlord loved the tropical fruit and hung its leaves on the door, after which the pub became known as the Pineapple. The street is said to be named after the pub.

Haunch of Venison Yard, W1

The grand name of the street matches its Mayfair location. There was a Haunch of Venison Tavern to one side of the yard, which is believed to have been named after the chef’s special dish. The street takes its name from the pub.

Ham Yard, W1

Also named after a tavern, the full name of the Piccadilly pub, which was built in 1730, was Ham and Windmill. There was indeed a brick windmill here until around 1780 — but we don’t know where the ham part comes from.

Baker Street, W1

Surely there were bakery shops here long before Sherlock Holmes was conjured up? With apologies to the sweet-toothed once again, no. Baker Street was named after William Baker, who built the street in the 18th century.

Last Updated 19 May 2017

Mark Woods

What about Bleeding Heart Yard? Anything to do with butchers???

GeoBlogs

How about Sandwich Street :)