Breton Highwalk, EC2Y

Place Name

Named after the Elizabethan poet Nicholas Breton (1545 – 1626) whose name was¬†variously spelt Breton, Britton and Brittaine, but pronounced Britton. His father, William Breton, was a wealthy merchant who lived in Red Cross Street (bombed flat in the war and now buried along with its name under the Barbican estate), and it is assumed that Nicholas was born there. His father died when he was just 14. Elizabeth, his mother, then married the poet George Gascoigne who being permanently in debt, probably married her for her money. He became stepfather to Nicholas, his brother and two sisters. Somebody must have been concerned at the prospect of Gascoigne dissipating the family fortune, because a court action was begun before the Lord Mayor to protect the children’s rights to their father’s estate. It is not known how this turned out, and whether there was any animosity between Gascoigne and his young stepson. But since Nicholas then turned his hand to poetry, it seems likely that he was inspired, or at least helped, by Gascoigne. After his stepfather’s death in 1577, Nicholas was known to be in Antwerp, which probably means he was fighting in the wars against the Spanish. In 1592, he married Ann Sutton at the church of St Giles’ Without Cripplegate (the Barbican church), and they went on to have several children. His last published work appeared in 1625. According to the City Corporation, another of Breton’s connection to the Barbican is that he was one of the Grub Street (later renamed Milton Street) hacks, the road being infamous for down at heel writers.


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