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Red Cow Yard, Clerkenwell, EC1
There's a lot of red animals around London...
(Photos/words © urban75, 16th January, 2007)

Red Cow Yard, Clerkenwell, east London, January, 2007

It may not be much to look at - just a tiny stub of a road - but Red Cow Yard (off Old Street) certainly has an interesting name.

I've no idea what red cow it refers to, but looking through 'Boyle's View of London, and its Environs; 1799,' I discovered that it was quite a common name, with the following addresses listed:

Red cow alley, Church lane, Rag fair
Red cow alley, Old street
Red cow court, Church lane, Cable street
Red cow lane, Mile end turnpike

And it looks like it wasn't just the cows that were red, with the list continuing:

Red bull alley, Kent street
Red bull alley, St. Olave's street
Red bull alley, Thames street
Red bull court, Fore street, Cripplegate
Red bull court, Red bull alley
Red bull yard, Aylesbury st. Clerkenwell
Red bull yard, Islington

Further rummaging around revealed a Red hart, a Red hart court, a Red horse yard, over 60 roads with a Red lion in their title, a Redman's row in Mile End, a Red maid lane (near the Hermitage), Red rose alley in Whitecross street, Red wood alley, near Skinner street and a Reddish row off Red maid lane.

Many of these streets and alleys have since disappeared, but you can still drink in the Ye Olde Red Cow in Long Lane, EC1 (Curiously, Red Cow Yard doesn't appear in any of my A-Z Maps and I couldn't find it on the usual online mapping sites.)

Along with the cows, bulls and lions, there's loads more London streets named after animals and birds, including:

Cuckoo Hill, Sheep Lane, Dove Mews, Jackass Lane, Pole Cat Alley, Emu Road, Magpie Alley, Ram Street, Squirrels Green, Racoon Way, Lizard Street, Hare Street, Sparrow Drive, Goat Lane, Tiger Lane, Pigs Lane, Partridge Road, Eagle Street, Goat Lane, Badgers Close, Fox Road, Raven Way, Greyhound Road, Terrapin Road and Blackbird Hill.



A discussion about Red Cow Yard on our bulletin boards has come up with these possible explanations:

RJ: I'm guessing here, but I'd imagine it might have summink to do with the local proximity of smithfields - where the carcasses of a lot of reddish-brown cows end up - or with the fact they use to drive cattle and other farm beasts through clerkenwell

D: Maybe cos red/roan-coloured cows are fairly rare hence noteworthy, perhaps more valuable too. Red animals seem to end up in heraldry too, eg the Welsh Red Dragon, and the Red Lion, symbol of the Stuarts. James I decreed that the Red Lion be displayed thoughout England, hence its popularity as a pub name.

L: 'Red Cow' could also be a Biblical reference, used in the pub name: "his is the ordinance of the law which the LORD hath commanded, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring thee a red heifer without spot, wherein is no blemish, and upon which never came yoke (Numbers 19).
In the past couple of years there was some nonsense about a pure 'red' cow being found in Jerusalem, with millenarian Jewish nutters claiming that if it had no non-"red" hairs at all its sacrifice would bring the Time of the Third Temple, or shit like that. Then they found a grey hair.

E: There are several references to red cows linked with Clerkenwell Workhouse, run by the Quakers in the 18th Century. People drinking "Red cow's milk" gets several mentions in 'Richard Hutton's Complaints Book: The Notebook of the Steward of the Quaker Workhouse at Clerkenwell, 1711-1737.' One presumes they would have had to keep their red cows somewhere!

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