The Rents

For some time I’ve been trying to find the origin of the ‘Rents’. I could find only scant reference to them in books and nothing on the web. Even the seminal London Encyclopaedia only makes scant reference to them.

The obvious answer is that the relevant area was owned by a titled gentleman who derived an income from collecting the dues owed to him by his tenants, or quite possibly the name comes from the landlord or even rent collector.

[T]he oldest Chichester Rents close by Chancery Lane takes its name from Ralph Neville the then Bishop of Chichester in the early 13th century.

Baker’s Rents just off Hackney Road carries a possessive apostrophe, so there possibly could have been a Mr Baker who owned, or collected rent from properties there.

Wild’s Rents near Long Lane, SE1 is probably named after someone, in fact, a Paul Wild Making enquiries upon the origin of his namesake received some pretty unhelpful replies.

A Mr Perkins possibly had a road named after his rent collecting activities. Perkin’s Rents originally built social housing where the slums of Westminster once stood. The tenements were later sold to the Peabody Trust, so at least he had cause to have a street named after his rent collecting days.

Poor old Mr Greenhill [featured image] isn’t even given credit by the Borough of Finsbury for his contribution to collecting revenue, or could it be a pastoral hill upon which dues are collected?

If anyone has more information upon London’s ‘Rents’ I would be grateful.

4 thoughts on “The Rents”

  1. Oxford English Dictionary suggests the following:

    c. A piece of property for which rent is charged or paid; an apartment for rent; (in pl.) a number of tenements or houses let out to others, freq. named after the proprietor (now arch. and hist.). Also in fig. context (in quot. a1631). Now U.S. regional (New England).

    1422 in R. W. Chambers & M. Daunt Bk. London Eng. (1931) 125 (MED), Le preuy in Richard Osberne Rent endited for grete stenche that commyth out in-to the hye way of fylthe, the which is noyance to the peopl.
    1467 in Manners & Househ. Expenses Eng. (1841) 341 (MED), It was agreid..that my said mastyr schal paye hym for the rente that the [read he] rentythe to hym..wyche drawyth be yere iiij marc.
    1491–2 in H. Littlehales Medieval Rec. London City Church (1905) 175 Reparacyons of the new howse in the cherche Rentes.
    1517–18 in H. Littlehales Medieval Rec. London City Church (1905) 299 Ress’ of Thomas Clayton for that Remayned in his hondes of the byldyng of Nasynges Renttes next baattes howse xjs. iijd.
    1550 R. Crowley Way to Wealth sig. Aiiiv, Whole allyes, whole rentes, whole rowes, yea whole streats.
    a1631 J. Donne Poems (1635) 91 Which hath divided heaven in tenements, And with..theeves, and murderers stuft his rents So full.
    1732 Acc. Workhouses 21 Another workhouse..belonging to the liberty of Hatton-Garden, Saffron-hill, and Ely-Rents.
    1847 J. S. Coyne How to settle Accts. with Laundress 6 You used not to wear such waistcoats as that when you lived in Fuller’s Rents.
    a1902 S. Butler Way of All Flesh (1903) lv. 254 A rag and bottle merchant in Birdsey’s Rents.
    1913 Dial. Notes 4 1 Rent, tenement. ‘Have you found a rent yet?’
    1926 Dial. Notes 5 388 Rent,..apartment or rentable house.
    1950 Portland (Maine) Press Herald 4 Sept. 2 (advt.) Perhaps it’s a rent or a tenant that you have been wanting.
    1977 Kennebec (Maine) Jrnl. 14 May 15/1 As anyone who has gone apartment hunting in the last few years knows it has become harder to find a rent in Augusta.
    1993 P. Ackroyd House of Dr Dee i. 35, He lived in a rambling tenement in the Bishop of London’s rents.
    1998 in Dict. Amer. Regional Eng. (2002) IV. 557/2 It sounded odd to me when I first moved here… People around here would say, ‘She’s looking for a rent.’


    1. Thanks Andrew, that’s a few more ‘rents’ for me to discover.
      Another English term, not used in America is To Let. I once had to explain to some American tourists that was a type of rent.


  2. Assuming that the tenanted properties ‘back in the day’ were not well maintained [Medieval Bishop involved? Take that as read.] & probably were, in more modern parlance, ‘slums or rookeries’ an alternative origination presents itself. It is possible that the word ‘Rents’ is more a reference to the dilapidated state of the streets & properties since the word ‘rent’ also had a meaning from Germanic ‘rend’ that covered ‘broken – torn-up – to tear’ etc. but I especially like in this context the fact the it also referred to a ‘broken house/place’. It is not likely that the owner would call ‘his’ street ‘Wild’s Rents’ which would be the admission that it was a ‘slum’ so the word ‘Rents’ may have been local London street slang which would explain why you can’t track anything down about it.


    1. That is the best explanation. Take Baker’s Rents just off Hackney Road, it almost touches the site of the Old Nichol slum which was so dilapidated, or rendered as you put it, they pulled it down and built the Boundary Estate, London’s first social housing. Just a pity those evicted from the slums couldn’t afford to move back again.


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