Tag Archives: Samuel Pepys

The Streets Of London (113)

Bond Street, W1

Although there is a tube station bearing its name, there is not actually a Bond Street anymore. What links Piccadilly to the south with Oxford Street to the north is a street bearing two names, the northern and longer part being New Bond Street and the southern section, Old Bond Street. It is and has been for more than a couple of centuries a fashionable area, packed with what are known as high-end aka expensive shops selling fashionable and luxury goods.

The story of the Bond streets begins in earnest in the late 1660s when eight acres of open land to the north of Piccadilly was granted by Charles II to the Earl of Clarendon. An enormous house, designed by Sir Roger Pratt, was built there at the cost of £40,000, described by Samuel Pepys as “the finest pile I ever did see in my life”. After Clarendon’s political disgrace and exile, the Duke of Albemarle bought Clarendon House for a snip, £26,000, but he got into financial difficulties and after a fire on the premises, he sold the land and what was left of the house to a group of investors, amongst whom was Sir Thomas Bond, for £33,000.

After some discussion the investors decided that there was money to be made from the ground rents of small properties and proceeded to demolish Clarendon House and lay out a series of roads, along which housing or commercial properties with housing on the upper floors could be built. One of the streets, which was completed in 1686 and ran from Piccadilly to Burlington Square, the northernmost point of the Clarendon estate, was named Bond Street, after Sir Thomas.

Just after 1700, Bond Street was extended on to land that formed part of the Conduit Mead Estate, owned by the Corporation of London with the purpose of securing and protecting the conduits that carried drinking water into the City. During the building boom of the 1720s Bond Street was further extended to reach Oxford Street, the only street to run all the way there from Piccadilly. The newer part of the street, though, was called New Bond Street and the original 1686 thoroughfare, Old.

What made the Bond Streets the place for the fashionable members of society to go to and be seen was the fact that the streets came with pavements, stone walkways raised above the mud and detritus of the roadway. It was the place to be seen and you could walk without the fear that your fine footwear and clothes would be coated with mud.

If you went there during the latter part of the 18th and the early 19th centuries, you would see a group of young men parading up and down, walking with a distinctive rolling gait. These were known as the Bond Street Loungers performing the Bond Street Roll, something that was much imitated and took hours of practice to accomplish. An Irish visitor in 1809 rather sniffily noted that the original Loungers had attracted a host of imitators, mainly “City gents and other middling class workers… the most important part of their routine was to read newspapers to see if their names appeared on the list of attendees at fashionable events”.     

The Bond streets offer a half-mile of some of the world’s most exclusive shops, whilst unusually for a London street, signally failing to provide their customers with anything that is necessary for daily existence. In many ways, they are the equivalent of the Parisian Rue Faubourg-St Honore or the Via Condotti in Rome or upper 5th Avenue in Manhattan, with which three thoroughfares they are twinned.

We will investigate some of its famous shops and residents next time.

What Is The Origin Of (261)?…

According to Cocker

It is rare in my etymological researches to be have nailed the origin of a phrase but I am pretty confident I have done so with this phrase I stumbled upon when reading one of R Austin Freeman’s Thorndyke detective stories, Pontifex, Son and Thorndyke from 1931. It means something that is done properly and in accordance with established rules and methodologies. But who was Cocker?

Edward Cocker, that’s who, who lived between 1631-75.,His Cocker’s Arithmetick, published posthumously in 1677, was to become the bane of the lives of many a schoolboy (and the odd lass) for centuries to come. So successful was the book to become that there were 112 editions of it, reaching its 20th edition by 1700 and its 52nd edition in 1748. Freeman would almost certainly have sampled its delights as a boy.

The delicious irony, of course, is that Cocker, although a master at a grammar school in Southwark, was better known for his penmanship and his mastery of the art of engraving in his time rather than his mathematical prowess. He appears several times in the diaries of Samuel Pepys, particularly as the only man the diarist knows who has the skill to engrave some tables on his new slide rule. On August 10, 1664 the diarist noted, “so I find out Cocker, the famous writing-master…well pleased with his company and better with his judgement upon my Rule, I left him and home”.   

We can only deduce that Crocker perfected his skills in drumming mathematical techniques into the unwilling skulls of his pupils whilst teaching. Part of his Arithmetick phenomenal success was due to the extremely practical approach to teaching the subject, concentrating specifically on the techniques and skills that tradespeople, builders and the like would need to go about their daily lives. The playwright, Arthur Murphy, gave it an early namecheck in The Apprentice in 1756 in this exchange between a despairing father, Wingate, and his reckless son, Dick; “Wingate: Let me see no more Play-Books. Dick: Cocker’s Arithmetick, Sir? Wingate: Ay, Cocker’s Arithmetick – study Figures, and they’ll carry you through the World”.  

Well-meaning men would give a copy of the book to children. Samuel Johnson, whilst visiting the Isle of Skye in September 1773, recorded in a letter that a little girl he had met “engaged me so much that I made her a present of Cocker’s Arithmetick”. Her reaction to this gift is unrecorded. And James Boswell recorded in his Life of Samuel Johnson that the great man, when asked why he travelled with a copy of Cocker’s, pontificated thus; “when you have read through a book of entertainment, you know it, and it can do no more for you; but a book of science is inexhaustible”.      

Inevitably, Cocker’s name, and by inference his methodology, became the yardstick of mathematical accuracy. The Town and Country Magazine of March 1785, reporting on a failed attempt to raise the stakes in a card game, noted that “she never played for above sixpences, and added, that her husband had calculated, according to Cocker, that an alderman might be ruined in a month, if his wife cut in for shillings”.  

It was also used in newspaper articles to confirm the veracity of a calculation. The Morning Post on October 25, 1816 reported that “the Dividend payable at the Bank upon 23l. 8s. is (according to Cocker) 23s. 22d. per annum”. By the time of Tom Brown at Oxford, written by Thomas Hughes and published in 1861, it had become a general bit of slang, used to denote what should happen; “According to Cocker. Who is Cocker? Oh, I don’t know; some old fellow who wrote the rules of arithmetic, I believe; it’s only a bit of slang”. In the negative, as Freeman used it, it meant something was not quite right; “there was no sign of the driver, and no one minding the horse; and as this was not quite according to Cocker, it naturally attracted his attention”.

The phrase has almost disappeared from sight these days. Now that can’t be according to Cocker.

What Is The Origin Of (236)?…


One of the great strengths of the English language is that it is dynamic and constantly evolving, acting like a sponge to absorb influences and words from other cultures and tongues. Even the most ardent logophile would be hard pressed to keep track on every word let alone find the opportunity to use them all. Inevitably, some words fall out of fashion and languish in ill-deserved obscurity. I see it as part of my mission to resurrect some of them and get them in front of a twenty-first century audience.

Take dandiprat. It is defined in Samuel Johnson’s magnificent but unreliable Dictionary of the English Language, published in 1755, as “a little fellow; an urchin: a word used sometimes in fondness, sometimes in contempt”. He even ventures a derivation of the term, from the French dandin. Randle Cotgrave in his bilingual dictionary of 1611, A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues, defined dandin as “a noddie or a ninnie; a hoydon, sot, lobcocke; one that knows not how to looke, and gapes at everything he knows not.” In defining the French noun nambot, he wrote, “a dwarf, elfe, a dandiprat”. There is some circularity here, but Johnson does seem to have got the meaning of dandiprat right and possibly even the derivation.

But the word may have an earlier provenance, from the world of numismatics. The English economy hit hard times in the late 15th century to such an extent that the treasury was depleted, the church coffers had been empties and the poor workers and serfs were on their uppers. The king at the time, Henry VII, hit on the bright idea of adding a new silver coin to the coinage in circulation to the value of three halfpennies. The antiquarian, William Camden, noted in his Remaines of a Greater Worke Concerning Britain, published in 1605, that “K. Henry the Seuenth stamped a small coin called dandyprats”.

The coin barely lasted his reign but its more lasting legacy is to provide a word for something slight, insignificant and insubstantial. As a word, its hey day was the seventeenth century, appearing in Anthony Brewer’s Lingua or The Combat of the Five Senses for Superiority, from 1607: “the vile dandiprat will overlook the proudest of his acquaintances”; and in the Jacobean tragedy, The Virgin Martyr, written by Thomas Dekker and Philip Massinger in 1622, a play seen by Samuel Pepys in 1668; “the smug dandiparat smells us out, whatsoever we are doing”.

In 1650, the English physician, John Bulwer, used it in his Anthropometamorphosis; or The Artificial Changeling in a context that is suggestive of something slight and slender; “sometimes with lacings and with swaiths so straight./ for want of space we have a Dandiprat”. William Beloe’s Anecdotes of Literature and Scarce Books, published in 1814, it has the meaning of something with no value or consequence; “beware a rolling ey, which wayerynge thought make that,/ and for such stuffe passe not a Dandy Pratt”.

However, it is clear from a letter written by the Irish novelist, Maria Edgeworth, in April 1795 that Beloe’s usage was that of an antiquarian. Commenting on a book she had recently read, Edgeworth noted, “it is a scarce and very ingenious book; some of the phraseology is so much out of the present fashion, that it would make you smile: such as the synonym for a little man, a Dandiprat”.

Alas, dandiprat has never returned to present fashion but from starting out as the name of a small coin, it had a century in the sun, a useful portmanteau word to describe something small and insignificant. Time for a revival, methinks.

The Streets Of London – Part Eighty Eight

Cardinal’s Cap Alley, SE1

Towards the western end of Bankside and to the west of the Globe Theatre is to be found the quaintly named Cardinal’s Cap Alley, which then joins Skinmarket Place. When I went to take a look at it, it was gated off but never mind. It sheds a fascinating light on the seamier side of the area’s history.

Bankside, as the southern side of the Thames was called, was outside the jurisdiction of the City of London and was notorious for activities that were frowned upon in the City, not least public theatres, bull and bear baiting pits and its stews, as the brothels were called. Each stew had the name of the establishment painted on the wall facing the Thames, as a form of advertisement or, perhaps, as a two-fingered gesture to the prudes on the other side of the river.

Up to twelve brothels operated under licence from Henry VII but in 1546 Henry VIII thought enough was enough and decided to “extinguish such abominable license.” With great ceremony the brothels were proclaimed by “sound of trumpet, no more to be priuleged, and vsed as a common Bordell,” but you cannot keep a good man down. Brothels, albeit unlicensed, continued to ply their dubious trade.

One such brothel was called the Cardinal’s Cap or Hat, which almost certainly stood at the site occupied by No 49, Bankside and which is the entrance to the modern-day alley. It is possible that an establishment stood there from at least 1360 but even allowing for the vagaries of royal licence, it seems to have had a precarious existence. John Skelton, in his poem Why come ye not to court from 1522, noted, “but at the naked stewes. I vnderstande how that/ the syne of the Cardynall hat/ that Inne is now shyt vp/ with gup, whore, gup, now, gup.

As late as the mid 17th century the Cardinal’s Hat was associated with prostitution, as this rather bawdy couplet from the anonymous play, Vanity of Vanities, from 1660, shows: “they talk’t of his having a Cardinalls Hat, / they’d send him as soon an Old Nun’s Twat.

Given its proximity to the Globe Theatre it is tempting to think that the Bard of Stratford popped in for a refreshing drink and to take in the rather picaresque atmosphere. In King Henry VI, Part 1, he makes an allusion to prostitution and the headwear of a cardinal, the Duke of Gloucester warning the Bishop of Winchester thus; “thou that giv’st whores indulgences to sin,/ I’ll canvas thee in thy broad cardinal’s hat/ if thou proceed in this thy insolence.

Why cardinal’s cap or hat?

There were a number of establishments in and around London through the ages with that name. Samuel Pepys popped into one in Lombard Street for a drink on June 23, 1660. So it may just have been a common pub name with no specific associations with the area. Others, though, think it may be a reference to the fact that Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester, who was appointed a cardinal, once owned it or that it is an ironic allusion to the similarity between a cardinal’s hat and the tip of a penis. I suspect there is no specific allusion in the name but who knows for certain?

After the Great Fire of London in 1666, Sir Christopher Wren based himself in Bankside while supervising the reconstruction of the city. It affords a superb view of St Paul’s, his crowning glory. There is even a plaque on No 49, Bankside which states “here lived Sir Christopher Wren during the building of St Pauls Cathedral. Here also, in 1502, Catherine, Infanta of Castille & Aragon, afterwards the first Queen of Henry VIII, took shelter on her first landing in London.

Modern research suggests that this was not where Wren was based but rather somewhere slightly to the east, behind what is now the Founders Arms. The then owner, Malcolm Munthe, rescued the plaque from the Wren house when it was about to be demolished and put it on his house, No 49. Nevertheless, this false attribution has helped the preservation of a splendid house, the present incarnation of which was built in 1710, from the predations of so-called developers.

And finally, before we leave this fascinating area of London, we should note that it was much nearer the banks of the Thames. In the 1970s the Greater London Council, in their wisdom, altered the waterline to construct the pedestrianised area that exists today.

The Streets Of London – Part Eighty Five

Whitefriars Street, EC4

A good starting point for investigating some of London’s history is the street name itself. Take Whitefriars Street which is to be found at the eastern end of Fleet Street and runs southwards towards the Thames, intersecting Tudor Street, before it becomes Carmelite Street. If you think there is a monastic feel about the nomenclature of the thoroughfares in this area, you would not be wrong.

The river Fleet ran above ground until it was forced to take a subterranean route in 1766. On either side of its banks, close to the Thames, sat two large monasteries, nestling cheek by cowl, you might say. On the eastern bank of the Fleet was the monastery of the Dominican order, the Blackfriars, whilst on the western side the Carmelites had their gaff. Because they wore distinctive white mantels over their brown habits on formal occasions, they were known as the White Friars.

The White Friars built a small chapel on the site in around 1253 and then a century later constructed a larger establishment. Eventually this was expanded to occupy land which was bounded by Fleet Street and the Thames to the north and south with what are today Whitefriars Street and Temple Lane marking its eastern and western perimeters respectively. It was described as having “broad gardens, where the white friars might stroll, and with shady nooks where they might con their missals.” As well they might.

In 1538 the Friary was dissolved by Henry VIII and a large part of the land was parcelled off to the Royal Physician who had treated Ann Boleyn for sweating sickness, Sir William Butts. When he died in 1547, the area quickly fell into disrepair, the steeple of the church was toppled and it became known for cheap accommodation and its motley collection of ne’er do wells, attracted to the place by its legal designation as a Liberty and so outside the control of the City of London. It even gained a nickname, Alsatia, defined at the time as “everlastingly the seat of war and the refuge of the disaffected.

In 1608, the old hall in the Friary was converted into a theatre, the Whitefriars Theatre, lasting for five years before it closed. The Salisbury Court Theatre opened its doors in 1629 before taking an enforced rest from 1649 until the restoration of Charles II. Samuel Pepys was a theatre-goer, commenting in diary on 1st March 1661, “To White-fryars and saw the Bondsman acted; an excellent play.” One of the first public concerts was staged at his house in Whitefriars by violinist John Banister in 1672. Admission was a pricey one shilling.

From some time in the 17th century the area was the home of a company called Whitefriars Glass which came into its own in the 19th century because of the demand for stained glass fuelled by the Gothic revival. Later known as James Powell and Sons it later diversified into domestic and decorative glassware and specialist industrial glassware.

There was also a gas works in the area in the 19th century and inevitably its proximity to Fleet Street meant that the newspaper industry made its mark on the street, from the 1890s Associated Newspapers and the London Evening News having offices and printing works on Whitefriars and Carmelite Streets.

If you are looking for any vestige of the original Friary, you will have to search hard. In 1896 the owner of 4, Britton Court, just off Whitefriars, was having his property valued and, in the process, a Gothic vaulted ceiling was discovered, part of the Prior’s house. The News of the World bought the premises in the 1920s and the owners had the crypt restored and allowed people to see it by prior permission. In the 1980s when the building was to be redeveloped, it was decided that what remained of the Friary was in an inconvenient place and so it was surrounded in steel and moved to a place which would have been the friars’ latrine, much more convenient! With a bit of detective work you can still see it.

And finally, on the intersection of Whitefriars and Fleet Street on the right-hand side as you look towards the Thames, you will see a blue plaque informing you that this was the site of the London offices of the Anti-Corn Law League between 1844 and 1846, one of the first manifestations of a political pressure group with a popular base. The Corn Laws were finally abolished in 1846, job done.

A fascinating area.