Milton Street, EC1Y

Place Name

Previously Grub Street. Despite the street’s long-standing literary connections it is not named after the poet but after a Mr Milton, a carpenter and builder who in 1829, at the time of the name change, owned the building lease of the street. Or more likely a happy coincidence. The street was famous for its concentration of impoverished “hack writers”, aspiring poets, and low-end publishers and booksellers, Grub Street existed on the margins of London’s journalistic and literary scene. According to Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary, the term was “originally the name of a street… much inhabited by writers of small histories, dictionaries, and temporary poems, whence any mean production is called grubstreet”. Johnson himself had lived and worked on Grub Street early in his career. The contemporary image of Grub Street was popularised by Alexander Pope in his Dunciad. There are several suggestions as to the origins of the original name variously spelt Grubbestrete in the early 13thCentury, Grobstrat sometime around 1240, Grubbestrate in 1281. They include being the family name or nickname of the original owner probably named Grubbe; that the street was at one time infested by worms or caterpillars; or as grube an Old English word meaning drain. Whichever one it is this was an early 19thCentury example of gentrification, as the call to change the name came from the residents themsleves and, according to Gillian Bebbington in London Street Names chose Milton, “to show that while the Inhabitants of the greatest City in the world are attentive to their own interests, they are not unmindful of the claims of Literature and Science.” So John Milton, who spent the last 12 years of his life in nearby Bunhill where he wrote Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, may have been an influence after all.

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