No Known Address
I was tooling through the online version of ‘A Topographical Dictionary of London and Its Environs’ by James Elmes (as you do), which lists all of the streets and squares, alleys and wharves now largely lost to London, and my reading coincided with an article in Red Herrings, the ‘Confidential Monthly Bulletin of the Crime Writers Association’, which ran a list of sinister lost streets, from Cut-Throat Lane and Breakneck Steps to Crackbrain Court.
You can find London’s lost addresses in ‘The History and Survey of London from its Foundation to the Present Time’, ‘The Compleat Compting-House Companion’, and ‘The New Complete Guide to all Persons who have any Trade or Concern with the City and Parts Adjacent’, written by Richard Baldwin in 1783. Virtually any gory term you can think of is in those pages coupled with ‘Alley’ or ‘Lane’. Streets were named after the activities that took place in them, which is entirely logical.
The buildings have been so repurposed that few streets now describe their occupants. But what about addresses which are deliberately obscured? We may have lost most of those wonderfully arcane descriptors, but the British public love testing the Royal Mail with finding modern addresses. For years postmen (post-people?) have so prided themselves on deciphering deliberately hidden addresses that for a while the winners were announced on television. If you write ‘The best hatters in the world’ it will be delivered to Lock & Co, 6 St James’s Street. If you write ‘The best hotel in the world’ it will be sent to the Savoy Hotel (which houses the world’s number one-voted cocktail bar).
Pranksters, artists and people with too much time on their hands have been testing the Post Office for years with anagrams, puzzles, drawings, crosswords and dot-to-dot pictures of their intended destinations. W Reginald Bray wrote addresses backwards, then posted, unwrapped, a bee, a carved turnip, an onion, a pipe, a bicycle pump, a clothes brush, a shirt, a drawing slate, a clump of dried seaweed and a cyclist. All of which got delivered.
I wonder if Bray was the model for Albert Haddock in the ‘Misleading Cases’ books, AP Herbert’s charming tales of a man who constantly tests obscure English laws. The Royal Mail remain remarkably good-natured about such tests. A couple recently received a Christmas card from an old friend despite the address simply saying ‘Somewhere near the sea in Suffolk’. Antony and Sarah Wren live in Lowestoft, received the post from a former colleague who had lost their address. Written on the envelope was the note: ‘Good luck with that postie.’ The card arrived in four days.
Perhaps it’s time to start messing with the Royal Mail’s head again. Among the regular visitors to this site, I nominate Snowy, Brooke, Helen and Terenzio for the challenge.