Cow Lane, located in the Ward of Farringdon Without, began at Holborn Street, and then curved north and east to West Smithfield. Smithfield was a meat market, so the street likely got its name because cows were led through it to market (Bebbington 100). A nearby bridge over the Fleet Ditch was called Cow Bridge, likely for the same reason, and led into Chick or Chicken Lane (Stow 1:26). Just as Ironmonger Lane and Milk Street in Cheapside market were named for the goods located there, these streets leading into Smithfield meat market were named for the animals that could be bought there.
Smithfield served many purposes in various times. It was the location of two churches, St. Bartholomew the Less, and St. Bartholomew the Great. Public executions were at times held there, and each year it was the site of Bartholomew Fair, which lasted three days (Stow 2:27). As its title suggests, Ben Jonson’s city comedy Bartholomew Fair was set there.
In modern times, Cow Lane no longer exists (Bebbington 100). The old Cow Bridge across the Fleet River (where Farringdon Station is now) is recalled in the name of the modern Cowcross Street (the site of Chick Lane on the Agas Map).
See also: Chalfant 60.
- Bebbington, Gillian. London Street Names. London: B.T. Batsford, 1972.
- Chalfant, Fran C. Ben Jonson’s London: A Jacobean Placename Dictionary. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1978.
- Stow, John. A Survey of London. Reprinted from the Text of 1603. Ed. Charles Lethbridge Kingsford. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1908. [Also available as a reprint from Elibron Classics (2001). Articles written before 2011 cite from the print edition by volume and page number.]
Last modification: 2016-05-27 14:37:29 -0700 (Fri, 27 May 2016) (tlandels)