A 200-Year-Old Pun-Fest On London's Street Names

M@
By M@
A 200-Year-Old Pun-Fest On London's Street Names
Street sign for Old Pye Street
A good one for bakers

Ever made a joke about Cheapside or Little Britain? As this 200-year-old article shows, you're not the first.

"Mr Editor — I beg to offer to your notice... a plan for the classification of the tradespeople of London..."

So opens a letter to the editor of the Quizzical Gazette of 27 August 1831. The correspondent's wheeze is to place various tradespeople on streets with the most appropriate name. So, bakers should open premises on Doughty Street, Millman Street, Bread Street or Baker Street. Soldiers should lodge on Artillery Lane or Cannon Street.

A list of trades followed by the streets most appropriately named

The writer seems not to realise that this is how many of the streets got their names in the first place. Bread Street was indeed the home of medieval bakers, Milk Street for dairy sales. And so on.

But no matter. It's still fascinating to see someone from two centuries thinking about local street names in this way.

A sign saying Pleasant Place N1
Who would you recommend moves here?

Some of the allocations are ingenious. Children could be housed on Minories, butchers on Lambeth Cut, dandies on Bow Street and gardeners on Grafton Street.

Many of the entries take a bit of thought. Why might a doctor practice from Long Acre... oh, hang on, yeah! Undertakers on Pall Mall? Ah yes, pallbearers.

Others require a bit of historical insight. Why would a maker of blacking (shoe polish) trade from Warren Street? Warren's was the leading brand of blacking in the early 19th century, and a household name. It's remembered today as the factory in which a 12-year-old Charles Dickens was sent to work in the 1820s. Turnmill Street, meanwhile, is listed as a haunt of thieves not for any flourish of wordplay, but presumably because it was indeed a notorious haunt of thieves.

A sign saying Horselydown Old Stairs SE1
Recommended for horse dealers

Still others elude me. Why put gamblers on Windmill Street? Dandies in Euston Square? Or carpenters on Goodge Street? I think we can all agree that MPs belong on Rotten Row, however.

A sign saying Little Britain closed
Absolutely no satirical mileage in this sign

The short-lived Quizzical Gazette was a remarkable publication for its time, packed with wit and observation. It hoped to "in a good humoured way... make men laugh at their own pleasant errors".

According to an appeal for submissions, the periodical wanted "Bon mots, Repartees, Double Intendres [sic], Innuendos, Puns, Jokes, Comical Ideas, &c., &c." Sadly, not all the content lived up to the quality of the trade-street list. Among its pages we also found this, which we believe to be the worst joke ever written:

The Quizzical Gazette issue 1 can be read in full on Google Books. My thanks to Lee Jackson of victorianlondon.org for the tip-off. Photos by the author.

Last Updated 13 December 2022

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