Down Your Alley: Greenhill’s Rents

Two week’s ago I asked the question: Where do the Rents get their name?

It would appear from the comments that the word rent is derived from the Germanic ‘rend’ that covered ‘broken – torn-up – to tear’ and in this context it referred to a ‘broken house/place’ and was probably a pejorative term. At the time I couldn’t find any reference to the rents (or dilapidated houses) of Mr Greenhill until I came across this piece.

[G]reenhill’s Rents are to be found just off the south side of Cowcross Street just before the junction with Charterhouse Street, about 165 yards east of Farringdon Station.

When John Greenhill bought the Castle Tavern at number 34 Cowcross Street he already owned many of the houses in the area. He was a notable businessman with an ever-open eye for speculative opportunity.


Google Streetview of Greenhill’s Rents

In 1737 he purchased a newly built row of houses on this site and let them out at attractive rents, hence the appendage to his name. However, his subsequent profit-making plans to erect market stalls met with violent demonstrations and as a result, his application to the City Council was flatly turned down.

There is also a more entertaining story concerning the Castle Tavern; it goes like this: George IV, feeling lucky one day, called in to try his hand at the local cockfighting venue. Fortune was with him and on the first four or five bouts, he made a reasonable killing. Chuckling and stamping his feet he thought he would go the whole hog on the next fight and increased his stakes multifold, leaving only his taxi fare home.

Waiting for the fight to begin he heard on the grapevine that the opposition had been doped. Naturally, he wanted to be in on a good thing and reached into his pocket for his last few coins. As fate had it, the information was wrong and his bird lost. Fearful of returning home penniless he scurried round the corner to the Castle, where the landlord was just calling time. ‘You’ll have to be quick’, he shouted as the King breathlessly scrambled through the door. ‘Look’, he said, ‘I’m a bit short of the readies, how about lending me a few quid till next week’.

On this, the landlord grabbed him by the throat and threatened to throw him through the window. ‘Hang on’, the King screeched, ‘you know me, I’m the King’. ‘Yeh, and I’m Oliver Cromwell’, laughed the landlord. The King pulled out his watch and chain, a fine specimen handed down through the family. ‘What about this as security?’ Closely examining it the landlord agreed. ‘Three quid’, he announced, ‘and not a penny more.’ George IV was so overjoyed that he took the cash and granted him a pawnbroker’s licence on the spot.

The three brass balls of the pawnbroker still hang in the bar today but it is inadvisable to turn up at the Castle on the expectation that you will be fed and watered in return for your all-singing-all-dancing quartz watch.

CabbieBlog-cabMuch of the original source material for Down Your Alley has been derived from Ivor Hoole’s GeoCities website. The site is now defunct and it is believed Ivor is no more. Thankfully much of Ivor’s work has been archived by Ian Visits and Phil Gyford.

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