13 August 2019

I don’t actually believe it,
but I have seen a place
called Litchfield Street

Litchfield Street off Charing Cross Road in London … could have benefitted from Samuel Johnson’s ‘Dictionary’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

‘I don’t believe it! … I just don’t believe it.’

I don’t want to sound like Victor Meldrew in the BBC sitcom One Foot in the Grave. But I simply could not believe it.

Someone from Lichfield recently posted on a Lichfield social media platform a photograph of a street sign in London that declared the name of a street: Litchfield Street.

It might be a common misspelling outside England.

There is a place called Litchfield in Antarctica, a handful in Australia, and a larger number in the United States, most notably in Connecticut.

But surely everyone in England – apart from a handful of people in a remote part of Hampshire – knows that the name of the cathedral city in south-east Staffordshire is spelled Lichfield and not Litchfield.

Dictionaries owe their provenance and existence to Samuel Johnson, and the cultural contributions of Lichfield to civilised life in the English-speaking world include Erasmus Darwin, David Garrick, Anna Seward and Maria Edgeworth.

Could anyone call a street in London ‘Litchfield Street’ – unless they had spent some time in the Antipodes or Antarctica?

My first reaction was to blame this not on Samuel Johnson but on Boris Johnson. His failure to pay attention to detail dates back long before his time as Prime Minister, and long before his time as Mayor of London.

And then I saw it for myself, with my own two eyes.

There is a street in the City of Westminster that is actually called Litchfield Street, and I saw it yesterday as I was walking along Charing Cross Road.

Litchfield Street is close to Covent Garden, Soho and Trafalgar Square. Today it is only half its original length. and the street runs west-east from Charing Cross Road in the west to West Street in the east.

I wondered. Is it named after Litchfield Island in the Palmer Archipelago near the South Pole, one of the places named Litchfield in America, or, perhaps, even after tiny, almost unnoticeable Litchfield in a remote corner of Hampshire.

So, I checked it out.

It appears Litchfield Street off Charing Cross Road was named after Edward Lee (1663-1716), 1st Earl of Lichfield, who married Lady Charlotte Fitzroy, daughter of King Charles II and Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland. He was related by marriage to the Duke of Grafton, who gave his name to nearby Grafton Street.

Litchfield Street today is only half its original length. It once stretched west as far as King Street, now part of Shaftesbury Avenue. The houses on the north side of the street west of No 24 and all the houses on the south side were bought and demolished by the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1881-1886 to build Charing Cross Road.

The first building leases on this street were granted by Nicholas Barbon in October 1684, and the street first appears by name in the following year. The development of the street was completed by 1691.

Litchfield Street may have been more fashionable than the other streets on the Newport Ground estate, and the early residents included several knights and titled ladies.

A large number of Huguenots, including some skilled craftsmen, were living in the street by the mid-18th century. They included goldsmiths and plate-workers as well as Peter de la Fontaine, who ran a shop known as the ‘Golden Cup’ and whose trade card as designed by William Hogarth (1697-1764), nest known for A Rake’s Progress.

Hogarth also said to have painted the ceiling of the principal room of the first floor at No 3 Litchfield Street, now demolished.

Saunders Welch, High Constable of Holborn and a Justice of the Peace, ran a metropolitan public office at No 21 from 1763 to 1770. Indeed, he was a friend of Samuel Johnson from Lichfield … the real Lichfield.

Today, Le Beaujolais is hidden away at 25 Litchfield Street. It claims it is steeped in history and that it has managed to stay in French hands ever since World War II. It says it is London’s oldest French wine bar and ‘a bastion of all that is French.’ Indeed, it describes itself as ‘a little piece of France tucked away in the heart of London.’

Bunjies Coffee House and Folk Cellar, one of the original folk cafés of the 1950s and 1960s, was located at 27 Litchfield Street.

As for Edward Lee, he was given the title of Earl of Lichfield in 1674. He was only an 11-year-old at the time, but he had become engaged to Lady Charlotte Fitzroy, one of the six children born to the king’s mistress.

The title of Earl of Lichfield died out in the Lee family with the death of Robert Lee (1706-1776), 4th Earl of Lichfield in 1776. His niece, Lady Charlotte Lee, had married an Irish aristocrat, Henry Dillon (1705-1787), 11th Viscount Dillon, in 1774 but their descendants did not inherit the title of Earl of Lichfield. Instead, it was revived for the Anson family in 1831.

But, in the years that have passed, someone should have walked along Charing Cross Road and noticed that Litchfield Street ought to be Lichfield Street.

Litchfield Street off Charing Cross Road was named after the Lee family, Earls of Lichfield in the 17th and 18th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Does anyone want to
drive sheep through
Paternoster Square?

Paternoster Square Paternoster Square Column, beside Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

As I strolled around Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London, I noticed once again how the streets, squares and alleyways have an interesting collection of names that have survived from the Middle Ages and that point to a tradition that predates the Great Fire of London: Paternoster, Ave Maria, Creed, Canon, Amen …

How I would have rejoiced in photographs of Paternoster Row or Paternoster Row to illustrate resources I posted a few weeks ago on the version of the Lord’s Prayer in Saint Luke’s Gospel.

The names of Paternoster Square and Paternoster Row are reminders of a street in Saint Paul’s Churchyard that was once a centre of the publishing trade in London, with a narrow street that was once lined with the shops and stalls of booksellers operating from the street.

This is the highest ground in the City of London, at the top of Ludgate Hill, on the north bank of the Thames, and I had always thought it was open, public space.

Saint Paul’s Cathedral … seen from Paternoster Row through Canon Alley (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The name of Paternoster Row dates back to the 16th-century at least. It is said to have its origins in the monks and clergy of Saint Paul’s Cathedral going in procession chanting the great litany and reciting the Lord’s Prayer in Latin along this part of the route: Pater Noster

The prayers in these processions may have also given the names to nearby Ave Maria Lane and Amen Corner.

However, an alternative etymology claims the early booksellers and stationers in this street sold a type of paper that was known as a ‘pater noster.’

The Great Fire of London burned down the old Saint Paul’s Cathedral in 1666, and damaged many houses in Saint Paul’s Churchyard. When Sir Christopher Wren built the new Saint Paul’s Cathedral, booksellers returned to Paternoster Row once again.

The Bible publisher Samuel Bagster placed a bust of the writer and publisher Aldus Manutius above the fascia of No 13 in 1820. Charlotte Brontë and Ann Brontë are said to have stayed at the Chapter Coffeehouse on the street when visiting London in 1847 to meet their publisher regarding Jane Eyre.

A fire broke out at No 20 Paternoster Row, the premises of the music publisher Fredrick Pitman, on 6 February 1890. The blaze was followed months later on 5 October by ‘an alarming fire’ after midnight at No 24 and 25, the premises of W Hawtin and Sons, wholesale stationers.

The street was devastated by aerial bombardment during the Blitz in World War II, and suffered heavy damage during the night raid of 29-30 December 1940, later described as the Second Great Fire of London.

On that night, it is said, 5 million books were lost in the fires caused by tens of thousands of incendiary bombs. Buildings on Paternoster Row housing the publishing houses of Simpkins and Marshall, Hutchinsons, Blackwoods, and Longmans and Collins were destroyed. But Saint Paul’s Cathedral remained intact.

After the raid a letter published in the Times described a stone inscription in Latin that was found in the fire-charred ruins of Paternoster Row after that night: Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum (‘The word of God remains forever’).

Paternoster Row has been replaced, but its name has not been forgotten (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Paternoster Row was replaced in 2003 with Paternoster Square, the modern home of the London Stock Exchange, although a street sign in the square is a reminder of the place where Paternoster Row once stood.

The London Stock Exchange relocated there from Threadneedle Street in 2004. It is also the location of investment banks such as Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch and Nomura Securities Co, and of fund manager Fidelity Investments. The plaza itself is privately-owned public space.

Rebuilding work began in the area the 1960s and 1970s, but this involved only the area of Paternoster Square between Saint Paul’s churchyard and Newgate Street.

However, the new Paternoster Square soon proved to be very unpopular, and by the late 1980s many tenants had moved to other parts of London, leaving many vacant premises.

Sir William Whitfield had a vision that involved anew plan for Paternoster Square. The redeveloped square was complete by October 2003, and the first new tenants included the London Stock Exchange.

The London Stock Exchange was the initial target for the Occupy London protests on 15 October 2011. Their attempts to occupy Paternoster Square were thwarted by police, who sealed off the entrance to Paternoster Square, and a High Court ruling defined the square as private property.

The ruling surprised many, because the square was repeatedly described as ‘public space’ in the plans for Paternoster Square. But, while the public is granted access, the square is not designated as a right of way under English law, meaning the owner can limit access at any time.

The main monument in the redeveloped square is the 23-metre tall Paternoster Square Column, designed by Sir William Whitfield. This Corinthian column of Portland stone is topped by a gold leaf covered flaming copper urn that is illuminated by fibreoptic lighting at night.

At the north end of Paternoster Square is ‘Paternoster,’ also known as ‘Shepherd and Sheep,’ is a bronze sculpture by Dame Elisabeth Frink (1930-1993). The statue was commissioned for the previous Paternoster Square complex in 1975.

It was first unveiled by Yehudi Menuhin in 1975, and was reinstated by Mitsubishi Estate, the private owners of Paternoster Square, in 2003. But, obviously, it does not signify that protesters are free to drive their sheep through Paternoster Square.

‘Paternoster’ or ‘Shepherd and Sheep’ … a bronze sculpture by Dame Elisabeth Frink in Paternoster Square (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)