Sunday, 19 April 2009


Bucklersbury, a small road between Victoria Street and Walbrook in the City of London, has yielded two major Roman London finds: the Temple of Mithras and Bucklersbury Pavement mosaic. When Markeroni webmistress Linda commented that there is also a Bucklersbury in Hitchin, a little more research seemed called for: what does the name mean and why was it shared by two towns?

London's Bucklersbury is in the heart of the city, a few steps from Bank. In the fourteenth century, it was ordained that exchanges of gold and silver should take place there; pepperers and grocers later took over, before they in turn were replaced by druggists and herbalists - Shakespeare's Falstaff described 'these lisping hawthorn buds, that come like women in men's apparel, and smell like Bucklersbury in simple time'. The street also earned a rather grumpy mention in Pepys' diary for 13 June 1663:
Thence to see Mrs. Hunt, which we did and were much made of; and in our way saw my Lady Castlemaine, who, I fear, is not so handsome as I have taken her for, and now she begins to decay something. This is my wife’s opinion also, for which I am sorry. Thence by coach, with a mad coachman, that drove like mad, and down byeways, through Bucklersbury home, everybody through the street cursing him, being ready to run over them.
In Hitchin, Bucklersbury also enjoys a central location, running from the marketplace to Tilehouse Street. Indeed, it was the site of an open market in the thirteenth century but evolved into a street of permanent buildings, with some dating back to the fifteenth century. Today, there are three public houses and Hawkins of Hitchin, an independent department store founded in 1863. You can make a virtual visit to the street here.

How did Hitchin and London come to share this street name? There are two competing explanations. First, the London street most probably took its name from the family of Bokerel, involved in municipal affairs in the thirteenth century. (Henry A Harben, writing in 1918, rejected the suggestion that the family name was 'Buckler'.) Originally the name referred to an estate, and only in the following century did it become attached to the street - that is consistent with 'bury' referring to a manor house. However, were there Bokerels in Hitchin?

An alternative explanation is that the street was named for buckle-makers, but that sounds suspiciously like Victorian guesswork! Nonetheless, it's the explanation adopted by Reginald Hine in his History of Hitchin when he suggests that smiths and armourers practised their trade there. So the mystery is not altogether solved...


ChrisP said...

The Oxford Book of London Place names supports the 'manor of the Bukerel family' theory. Apparently a tenement called Bokerelesbury was recorded in 1270.

Linda said...

Awesome! Thank you very much! :)

I am familiar with the 15th century buildings, as one of those is my home from home when I go to Hitchin. There are several blue plaques in the town, as well.

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