There are two contenders after whom this road could be named, both extraordinary men in their own way. Either way, it was laid out between 1718 and 1724 by the lawyer and gentleman Simon Michell (born about 1676), and was first known as Garden Alley Street, as the upper half followed the line of Garden Alleys. Mitchell retained control of the development but from the outset leased plots to other builders and developers. By 1719 it had been changed to – the perhaps catchier – Red Lion Street, after the 15thCentury public house, the Red Lion Tavern (later the Jerusalem Tavern). Sometime around 1937 the name was changed to its present one. The first suggestion is that it was after Thomas Britton (1654 – 1714), a Clerkenwell coal-vendor who established a musical club over his shop and lived in a house at the corner of Jerusalem Passage and Aylesbury Street. Britton apparently had a wonderful opera voice and performed with a Mr Handel in nearby Jerusalem Passage creating the first musical concerts in England. The so-called musical ‘small-coal man’ is commemorated by a plaque that can be seen at the North East corner of Jerusalem Passage. The second is that it is in honour of the antiquary John Britton (1771 – 1857), who was celebrated as a topographer and architectural writer and lived in Rosoman Street circa 1800. In 1787 he was employed at the then Red Lion by the landlord, his uncle. It was not a happy experience, his years “dragged on as a lengthened and galling chain; for my health, always weak, was greatly impaired by constant confinement in damp, murky cellars”. Six months before he was due to complete his apprenticeship he quit and took up his true calling as the author of the Dictionary of Architecture and Beauties of England and Wales.
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