Like reading Thackeray edited by Elmore Leonard

Titles of the Pitt Series Books

You will have noticed that the titles of the Pitt series of books all contain a place name. Some are real and some are fictitious. We hope this guide will prove of interest.

ASHWORTH HALL. Fictitious

BEDFORD SQUARE. It is the only complete Georgian square in Bloomsbury. It was built in 1775-80 on the Bedford Estate and probably designed by Thomas Leverton, William Scott and Robert Grews. Several houses have interiors with fine chimney pieces and ceilings painted by Angelica Kauffman and Antonio Zucchi. Until 1893 the square was sealed off by gates and the tradesmen were required to deliver goods in person. The square is no longer residential and most of the houses have been turned into offices, and until recently, occupied by publishers.

BELGRAVE SQUARE. It takes its name from the small Leicestershire village of Belgrave. In 1826, the owner of the land, Earl Grosvenor, later the first Marquess of Westminster obtained an Act of Parliament enabling him to build on it and he came to an agreement with Thomas Cubitt to do the construction. The damp clay was dug from the ground and made into bricks on site and the excavations made from soil from St Katherine’s Dock. The houses were large and stuccoed, 12 on the south terrace, 11 on the others, with large detached houses at each corner. The houses are no longer residential and have been converted into embassies or offices.

BETHLEHEM ROAD. Fictitious – there is no Bethlehem Road, but there was the Royal Bethlehem Hospital, founded in 1247 by Sheriff Simon Fitz Mary but it was not until 1377 that ‘distracted’ patients were looked after – by which is meant they were kept chained to wall by the ankles, or when violent, ducked in the water or whipped. At the beginning of the 17th century visitors were admitted, for a fee, to come and amuse themselves by ‘making sport and diversion of the miserable inhabitants’. It is from the name of this hospital that we get the word ‘bedlam’, meaning a scene of uproar and confusion.

BLUEGATE FIELDS. In ‘The Picture of Dorian Grey’ by Oscar Wilde, chapter 11, the narrator says, ’...Then, suddenly, some night he would creep out of the house, go down to dreadful places near Blue Gate Fields, and stay there, day after day, until he was driven away...’ it was the name used for one of the worst slum areas in east London, just north of the old London docks.

BRUNSWICK GARDENS. Fictitious, but there was Brunswick Square, named after Caroline of Brunswick, wife of the Prince Regent. Built in 1795-1802, in the grounds of the Foundling Hospital, to balance Mecklenburgh Square on the other side, to add a bit of class to the area! None of the original buildings survive.

BUCKINGHAM PALACE GARDENS. Fictitious, but Buckingham Palace, of course, does exist.

CALLANDER SQUARE. Fictitious

CARDINGTON CRESCENT. Fictitious

CREMORNE GARDENS. This was originally opened in 1832 as the Cremorne Stadium by Charles Random de Berenger, self-styled Baron de Baufain and the Baron de Berenger, for ‘manly pursuits’ (with a separate section for women) but proved unprofitable, and in the 1840’s changed into a pleasure gardens, with mock tournaments, pony races, banqueting halls, a theatre, an American-style bowling saloon, and staged circus acts, balloon ascents and firework displays. It was, of course, a popular place for men and women to get together!

DEATH IN THE DEVIL’S ACRE. The Devil’s Acre was a particularly notorious part of the slums of the east end of London, and referred specifically to the area round Old Pye Street with half the population estimated to be criminals. Here the pubs acted as meeting places and receiving houses for stolen goods and it was a virtual no-go region for the police

EXECUTION DOCK. This is a dock on the River Thames, between Wapping New Stairs and King Henry’s Stairs, where pirates and mutinous sailors were hanged, ‘at the low-water mark, and there to remain till three tides had overflowed them.’ The scaffolding stood on the river bed and the victims were left dangling there and by the time the water had washed over them three times the bodies were grotesquely bloated; there are those who say it is the origin of the term ‘whopper’ (=Wappinger).

FARRIER’S LANE. Fictitious

HALF MOON STREET. It extends from Piccadilly to Curzon Street, and takes its name from a public house which formerly stood on the corner of Piccadilly. In 1930, Somerset Maugham found the place to be ‘sedate and respectable’.

HIGHGATE RISE. Fictitious. However, Highgate is a famous part of north London that once belonged to the Bishop of London, who placed a toll gate on the road over the hill, hence the name ‘Highgate’. Legend has it that Dick Wittington rested at the bottom of the hill, and heard the bells of Bow telling him to ‘turn again’.

HYDE PARK HEADSMAN. Hyde Park is the largest of the Royal parks, and covers some 340 acres, extending from the Bayswater Road in the north, to Knightsbridge in the south; Park Lane marks the eastern boundary, and on the west, merges with Kensington Gardens. The Great Exhibition of 1851 was held here, in the Crystal Palace (before it moved). Hyde Park became a popular meeting place where people would walk, ride or be driven in a carriage, to parade their wealth and status, to see and be seen.

LONG SPOON LANE. Fictitious

PARAGON WALK. Fictitious. However, there was a part of Blackheath that was developed as the Paragon, and wishing to promote a good class of tenant, there were a long series of prohibitions against exercising the ‘art, mystery or trade’ of such varied occupations as schoolmaster or fishmonger!

PENTECOST ALLEY. Fictitious

RESURRECTION ROW. Fictitious

RUTLAND PLACE. Fictitious. However there are Rutland Gardens, Gate, Lodge and Street, connected with property once owned by the Duke of Rutland.

SEVEN DIALS. In 1694 John Evelyn went to see ‘the building beginning neare St Giles’s where seaven streetes make a start from a Doric Pillar plac’d in the middle of (a) Circular Area.’ The column, which supported a clock with six dials and had become a general rendez-vous for criminals, was removed in 1773. It was falsely rumoured that a large sum of money had been buried under the base. It had been intended as a fashionable residential area adjoining Soho and Covent Garden, but in the 18th and 19th centuries, it became a hide-out for thieves and the poorest sort of street vendors. Dickens described the area in Sketches by Boz.

SILENCE IN HANOVER SQUARE. It forms the centre-piece of the 13 acre Millfield or Kirkham Close estate which was bounded by Oxford Street on the north, Regent Street on the east and on the south and west by the backs of the houses of Conduit and New Bond Street. It was started soon after the Elector of Hanover acceded to the throne as George 1 in 1714. The original houses were large and inhabited by ‘persons of distinction’.

SOUTHAMPTON ROW. It is the continuation north of Kingsway from High Holborn to Russell Square. At one time Edgar Allen Poe lived there.

THE CATER STREET HANGMAN. Fictitious

THE WHITECHAPEL CONSPIRACY. Originally in Stepney, it soon developed as a suburb of the City of London because of its position as a main route in and out of London to Essex. The original white chapel was built in the 13th century and became the parish church of St Mary Whitechapel in about 1338. According to Mayhew in the middle of the 19th century, ‘the lodgings here were occupied by dredgers, ballast heavers, coal whippers, watermen, lumpers and others whose trade is connected with the river as well as the slop workers and sweaters working for the Minories.’ It became the headquarters of the second hand clothes trade when that became taken over by the Jews. It was known for low rents and a rapidly changing population – and for the activities of Jack the Ripper.

TRAITOR’S GATE. It was originally just a Water Gate, and was an entrance to the Tower, part of St Thomas’s Tower, which was designed to provide additional accommodation for the Royal Family. It became known as Traitor’s Gate in the early 17th century when many prisoners were brought along the Thames, under London Bridge, where the heads of recently executed prisoners were displayed on pikes.

Much of this information is taken from The London Encyclopædia edited by Ben Weinreb and Christopher Hibbert, published by MacMilllan. This is an excellent reference book and should never be more than an arm’s length away from anyone interested in learning the history of individual places and streets in London.