In the course of our walking tour around Jack the Ripper’s London we make our way through several streets that are, quite literally, marinated in London’s past. Even the names some of these wonderful old thoroughfares have a story, or even two, to tell.
Perhaps. the most famous of these is Middlesex Street. Oddly enough, when we tell the groups on our Jack the Ripper Tour that we’ve now arrived in Middlesex Street, we tend to draw blank stares. However, the moment we refer to it by its original name of Petticoat Lane faces of our walk participants change to, almost instant, recognition.
Petticoat Lane is synonymous with the street market that takes place in the area every Sunday. It was known as Petticoat Lane as far back as 1608, probably named for the old clothes tat were sold there, before changing its name to Middlesex Street in th early years of the 19th Century.
Another street that we encounter on our Jack the Ripper Walk is the wonderfully named Houndsditch. Now, to be honest, we don’t know for certain how this London thoroughfare came by its name. We do know, historically speaking, that it used to run on the outer side of the old City wall. According to the 17th century chronicler of London’s past, John Stow, it was the fact that it was the ditch outside the City wall that gained it its name as, well let him tell you in his own words, “from that in old time , when the same lay open, much filth (conveyed forth of the City) especially dead dogges, were laid there or cast.”
Moving on, our Jack the Ripper walk around the East End of London, also encounters Frying Pan Alley. The moment they see the name people on the walk ask why it is so called?
Well, quite simply, in the middle ages the frying pan was the symbol, or the emblem, of braziers and ironmongers, and it was customary for them to hang the sign of frying pan outside their shop to advertise their trade and wares. Undoubtedly, it was the presence of the ironmongers shops in this vicinity that led to the alleys somewhat unusual name.
So, there you have it. Three unusual street names, all of them in close proximity to each other, that, simply reading them, give a terrific insight into the colourful history of their immediate surroundings.